Cabbages and Kings…and Olympics
February 11, 2010

Finally I got the last instalment of “I Claudius” from the library.  It has a wonderful ending.  As Claudius lies dying,  the oracle Sybil, appears to him.  Claudius has bypassed his own son and named Nero as his successor – partly in hope that the Romans, disgusted with Nero, will restore the republic.  The amused Sybil tells Claudius that Nero will murder his son and a long line of emperors will continue. 

I thought afterwards of the emperor who did step down and restore the republic – Diocletian.  He immediately left Rome and retired to a castle/farming estate in what is now the town of Split in Croatia.  After he left, factional fighting broke out again in Rome and a messenger was sent to Split, begging him to return as emperor.  Diocletian sent the reply:

 “If you could see the cabbages I have raised with my own hands, you would not ask me to return to the glories of Rome.”

 There is a fascinating and classic book, “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon” by Rebecca West.  She is a brilliant journalist who wrote of touring Yugoslavia in the 30’s.  She captured not only life in that country but the atmosphere in Europe just before WWII broke out.   At one point, West visited Split and found and commented on the remains of Diocletian’s estate there.

 The most interesting thing about West’s journey is she visited many small towns in Yugoslavian and met many characters.  She found the spiritual life there was a strange and varying mixture of pagan, Roman and Christian rites – signs that spirituality evolves constantly through the accumulating and discarding of various religions.  Lately the Christian churches, particularly Anglican and Presbyterian, are finding they are fading due to low enrolment.  They won’t disappear; just become another archaeological layer in the spiritual earth of the human psyche.

 The Romans used to bury a slave in ground under the corner of a building – a human sacrifice to bring the blessings of the gods.  Today, we still often “dedicate” the cornerstones of new buildings.   I wonder how Christianity will manifest itself, hundreds of years from now – if we are still here.

 Finally, about the Olympics – there is much secrecy and discussion on who will light the Olympic flame.  Wayne Gretzky seems to be the forerunner.  My guess is that it will be a Paralympic athlete.  We’ll see.