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The Mast-Head: The Roman Thing

Wed, 12/27/2023 - 16:19

American men think about the Roman Empire a lot. This is after an online trend blew up in the fall (get it?), after a North Carolina woman posted on X, the app formerly known as Twitter, about it.

Kelsey Lewis Vincent wrote that she had seen something on Instagram “along the lines of ‘women have no idea how often the men in their lives think about the Roman Empire.’ ” She asked her husband: “And without missing a beat he said, ‘Every day.’ ” Her post has now been viewed more than 8.5 million times.

I wasn’t clear on what had actually been in the Times article about the Roman thing, so by the time of a Thanksgiving dinner in Bridgehampton, the stat had morphed in my head to “Something like 25 percent of American men think about Rome at least once per day.” The women at the table were dumbfounded. The other men, both gay and straight, most of us well past the 50-year milestone, thought that that was about right.

To this, I would like to offer my own observation, which is that American men, almost as surely as their eyesight goes, start to pick up books on Rome or dial in the History Channel for its endless depictions of gladiators and battle strategy almost the minute they turn 50.

I base this interest largely on personal observation. In my 30s, it seemed strange to me that an older man I knew had a stack of books out about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. Now, three decades later, I have gone through my own stack of Rome books. I may have jumped the gun a little.

For me the gateway drug was Robert Hughes’s “Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History,” which came out when I was about 48. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Now, at 60, I have lost track of all the books I have consumed on the subject.

Not long after finishing the Hughes book, I noticed that I had a hard time reading in bed and would have to hold a book increasingly far from my face. I recall vividly the Southampton eye doctor who told me, “I could write a prescription for anybody, but what you need are just reading glasses.” He went on to say that the three-packs sold by Target were a good deal.


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