Friday, March 16, 2012

"Fel Temp Reparatio..."

01 XII 00 AE centenionalis (0.022m).  Constantinople mint.  AD 348-354.  Constantius II diademed, draped and cuirassed bust, to r.  D N CONSTAN   |   TIVS P F AVG.  Rev., Fallen Horseman (Persian embracing its neck, the fallen horse with its brow to ground).  FEL TEMP RE   |   PARATIO and in exergue CONS H; in field at left, gamma.
Sear RCV4, no. 4003 = RIC 72 (not, of course, same mint).
The coin at the heading is one of many issued for Constantius II, this one at the Constantinople mint, proclaiming the restoration of prosperous times; the Fallen Horseman motif conveying protection from the foreign powers that threatened the Roman Empire on most of its borders (or, if we believe the reputation of Constantius, of anyone that threatened his power—for P F, pius, felix, need not be taken literally).  Therefore, the Persian bonnet of the fallen rider (for which I chose this specimen for showing it clearly) probably is not meant specifically.  It had been more than a century since the legends on the coins of the Empire announcing forethought, providentia, of the emperor, or security, securitas, or the primacy, in some abstract sense, of the People, genius populi romani, was really reassuring.  I have a few of these late Roman bronzes that, following the excellent example of my professor in the history of Roman art, decades earlier, I used to make the dynasties of the Empire both concrete and alive, besides exemplifying stylistic and thematic changes.  The citizens and subjects of the Empire had no 24/7 media, but the coinage did provide the official point of view, rather as wartime posters did in the 20th century.
When I decided to write a blog, nearly three years ago, I decided that there were plenty of blogs, both independent and at media sites, about the State of the World, diplomatic, military, economic, political, spiritual, and sociological.  There were plenty of memoirs, too, and explorations of personal experiences and life choices, some of them very well written, but in these decades, it seemed to me, there was a tendency to dubious narratives and self-diagnosis; patterns recurred, reminding me of the old motif indexes of folk literature and the transformation, via oral transmission, of memory into epic and fabulous tradition.  Repressed memory is always perilous, not least in oneself, and retrieval  of merely lost memory for the sake of reconstruction of what must have been not much less so.  I had an awful time writing the last Post.  Then there is the problem of respect for others, for one's friends and associates, not merely to avoid blame but to respect their reticence.  I have told my own sister to write her own blog, not that we have "issues" but I cannot remember her memories, nor she mine.  To cover the last twenty years I have not yet figured out how to write without saying much about everyone I know and their children, who now are growing up and should not have to come across echoes of themselves in an old lady's life.  Neighborly life, in an older neighborhood of a university town, has been a real pleasure, but . . .  This reticence applies even more to my former colleagues.  Those academic novels make me cringe, except for Randall Jarrell's, somehow.
Sometimes my consciousness is so invaded by the often terrible news of the day, that I must force myself to write about trees or, if I am lucky enough to take a photograph that seems to exemplify something about photography, about a hobby that I have shared with my grandfather and father as well as several friends.
When the Oscars ceremony reminded me of John Le Carré, I sought comfort in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which, as it happened, I hadn't read.  It had been some comfort, too, to download Rose Macaulay's earlier novel, Potterism, and find her deploring the same kind of phrasemaking just after World War I.  But what next?  I had read Robert Harris's The Fear Index, and it's a very good read, but the last third of it reads like an action film with great special effects, and he may have had one in mind, but it's not up to the standard of Tinker, Tailor.  So I turned to the great, last Roman historian, the post-Constantinian Ammianus Marcellinus, whom I've resolved to read ever since I met his name first in Erich Auerbach's Mimesis when it first appeared in an Anchor Paperback.  Actually, my studying coins since 1999 proves to be a great preparation for Ammianus.  It really is a great history, which I recommend, and it suggested this Post and the use of the Fel Temp bronze for its heading.  I don't mean to say that the present age is the Late Roman Empire all over again.  History does NOT repeat itself that way, but humanity does keep explaining itself the same way and expressing its anxiety catastrophically.  But beautifully and graciously, too.  Oh, well.