Thursday, May 22, 2008

Classics in City Hall

Boris's first question time as mayor was, by all accounts, an absolute hoot. Poor old Ken Livingstone, sitting in the viewing gallery like Banquo at the feast, must be wondering how on earth Boris makes it all look so much fun. It's also good to see that he is being like the Roman ina n entirely non-Hefferite way.
Having described the proceedings as his first catechism (which has the archaic meaning of rigorous and persistent questioning, as well as its more common use as the teachings of the church), Boris proceeded to trot out his Virgilian gag, last seen when asked about BNP second preference votes, non tali auxilio nec defensoribus istis (not such aid, nor such defenders does the time require). Watching from the balcony, Livingstone could at least have the comfort that uno avulso non deficit alter (When one is torn away another succeeds).
I have commented before on the continuing relevance of Roman politics to the modern day. It is clear that the time for classical allusions is not yet passed either. When looking on David Cameron's happy knack of spinning minimal policies into enormous poll leads, which of us has not thought, with Ovid, that materiem superabat opus (the workmanship surpassed the material).
In resisting the siren calls of the Orange bookers on the one hand and Simon Hughes on the other, Nick Clegg must surely have recalled Ovid's thoughts on the matter: medio tutissimus ibis (you will go most safely in the middle), although he should also bear in mind Virgil's warning that incidit in Scyllam, cupiens vitare Charybdim (wishing to avoid Charybdis, he runs onto Scylla).
As for poor Gordon Brown, though we may feel that, in following Tony Blair, sequitur patrem, non passibus aequis (he follows his father, with unequal steps) he must surely cling to Aeneas's path and say to himself tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito (yield thou not to adversity, but press on the more bravely). Sadly, the rest of us are more likely to think of the raging Polyphemus, Monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens, cui lumen ademptum (a horrible monster, misshapen, vast, whose only eye had been put out). Sorry.

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