Sunday, November 18, 2012

Musings from Ostia Antica

Before I take a blogging pause for the (US) Thanksgiving holiday week, I want to pause and reflect on some items.  I was able to spend a bit of time in Rome this past week. As always "the Eternal City" is remarkable, but I was especially caught up by a visit to Ostia Antica.  This was the port of Rome in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, a city of over 75,000 people with active commerce and culture.  As the river shifted course, its use as a port facility ended, and its abandonment was helped along by a malaria epidemic.

Today, there are fairly well preserved ruins.  Notable features include mosaics spread throughout the city.  The ones along the Piazzale delle Corporazione--a town square surrounded by market stalls--are most revealing in that they symbolized the trades or services being offered in each shop (see above).

Near the theater we see decorative statues displaying some of the emotions one might experience in the productions of Greek and Roman dramas and comedies.

In another part of town, the funerary area, we find depictions of scenes from the underworld, giving hints of the activities of the gods and sea creatures.

Elsewhere, there are a number of statues, including this elegant woman or goddess.

What comes across to me in this setting is how similar the ancient Romans are to us today.  Whether engaged in commerce or the arts, or wondering about the meaning of life and death, these folks had the same kinds of interests and questions that we do.  It turns out that the passage of about 2000 years does not make much of a difference in underlying concerns.

Yet ancient Ostia fell away.  No society is guaranteed permanence.  Thinking of my home town of Boston as an example, are we still in the ascendant, or have we begun our decline?  We are too close to the situation to know, just as the Ostians of 200 AD could scarcely have known that their city would be shutting down 200 years later.

Is it unthinkable to hypothesize that a great city could become irrelevant in the course of a couple of centuries?  How could the home to great universities, hospitals, museums, and businesses wane in influence and prosperity?  Beyond environmental hazards, the key threat is a deterioration in sense of community.  If complacency, arrogance, and ad hominem attacks take the place of intellectual modesty, respectful curiosity about the other person's point of view, and manners, the kind of selfless behavior that is necessary for a community's well-being takes flight.

Whether you live in Boston or elsewhere, please take time this Thanksgiving to give thanks for the opportunity to live in a safe and vibrant place, but please recommit, also, to the virtues and behaviors that will provide the basis for its growth and sustenance as a caring community.


Anonymous said...

I know your post was not directed primarily toward health care, but the quote below, blogged by Brian Klepper, made me think of it:

"In other words, despite what they might say at local Chamber meetings about being community-focused, health care organizations that pursue excessive health care cost practices that have become the norm undermine their communities’ welfare, opportunities and futures."

In your city where health care is the dominant business, that quote should provide significant food for thought.

nonlocal MD

Nick Nace, MD said...

Thoughtful musings, Paul. A cautionary tale...perhaps. Another opportunity to learn...certainly.

Stepping back a bit from the opinion of the other person who posted, this day you reminded me of a lesson you taught me when we worked together at the BI: "intellectual modesty, respectful curiosity about the other person's point of view, and manners" are the cornerstones of meaningful dialog among thoughtful people.

Please keep sharing your thoughts. Happy holidays.