A colleague and I were talking about the forthcoming film Troy the other day. I said something like, “Well, I always sided with the Trojans against the Greeks, but then I’m too Roman by half.”
The first part, certainly, is true. I have always sided with the Trojans. Not Paris, who was an idiot. (Top tip: if you have to choose from among three goddesses, you will have one powerful friend and two powerful enemies. 2 > 1. You will be sorry. Make applesauce, or throw yourself on the mercy of Zeus, or jump off a cliff.) But the story of Hector, and the image of his body being dragged round the walls of Troy, won my sympathy more than Achilles’ spoilt brat behaviour ever did.
But the second part is true as well. I am too Roman by half. Admittedly, I’m not Roman enough to mind having my own first name (Roman girls didn’t), and I’m glad my paterfamilias didn’t have the power of life or death over me (not that Dad would have done anything awful). But as time goes by, I find myself succumbing to Roman-style superstition.
The Romans believed that there were “auspicious” times and “inauspicious” times. Indeed, the superstitious Roman matron (or man – this one spanned both genders) was as much of a stereotype as the boasting soldier or the virtuous girl of good family barely saved from prostitution. Juvenal, in his Satire 6, spends a good 40 lines on the subject of superstitious women. (He was always much gentler on his own sex.)
This is not limited to Romans, of course – the main character with Asperger’s in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time judges the auspiciousness of the day by the number of red cars he sees on his way to school. And millions of people read, and even make decisions based on their horoscopes. But it feels very Roman in me.
I’ve always had the feeling that there are “good days” and “bad days”. Over the last five years, as I’ve learned to deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder, I’ve been wryly conscious of the fact that my perceptions are as much a part of this as my luck itself. But after a few weeks like I’ve just had, something in me does wonder if the auspices are against me.
In addition to the usual slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, there have been several major irritants lately:
- The carpet thing
- My work situation, which is crap, but which I don’t want to discuss in public since it’s still going on.
- Sacroiliac joint dysfunction
- Being messed about with by an ebay vendor about a cane for the above. Again, still ongoing, so not the time to discuss.
- Attempting to buy a particular sofa bed in IKEA, only to find that our penny-ante Edinburgh shop doesn’t stock it. I could have hoicked all the way out to the Glasgow one, but we were going to get it shipped, and shipping from Glasgow is much, much costlier than shipping the few miles from the Edinburgh branch. There goes my carefully composed room design…
All in all, bad luck seems to plague me right now. You’ll note, as well, that three of the five items listed there have been my attempts to spend money. Dealing with British vendors of any sort is often a trial – they usually assume that you, and your time, are of no value whatsoever, and that you’re happy to stay in the house all day waiting for deliveries that never come, or to pay through the nose for shoddy work and outright rudeness. (This is not universal, by the way – Hewit’s, my local bookbinding supplier, for instance, is a pleasure to deal with. Which is why I have too much leather under my bed, but that’s another story.) This disappointment with major purchases is leading to another great Roman virtue: frugality, since I can’t seem to spend my money anywhere.
Much more of it, though, and I’ll be tempted to follow yet another fine Roman custom, the proscription, where you write out a list of all your enemies and post it as a suggestion for the mobs…