Ancient and modern

A happy hebdomaversary to The Spectator

25 April 2020

9:00 AM

25 April 2020

9:00 AM

The Spectator’s 10,000th hebdomaversary (hebdomas, ‘a group of seven’: a weekly cannot have an anniversary) will surely be celebrated with the same enthusiasm that units of a thousand evoked in the ancients. But for them a thousandth-year celebration had to be symbolically significant. That required careful manipulation of dates.

For example, the really big moment in both Greek and Roman history was the Trojan War. Greeks produced nine different dates for the fall of Troy, one of which was 1334 bc. That was the choice of Alexander the Great, who a thousand years after that date (334 bc) began his invasion of Asia, repeating and confirming Greek superiority over Asian peoples.

The conquest of Troy was also central to Roman history because Romans believed that Trojan Aeneas left the burning city, charged by fate and Jupiter to found a city — Rome — whose power would be ‘without end’. When the great Roman poet Ennius composed the first epic of Rome’s history, he chose the Greek date of 1184 bc for the fall of Troy. Why? Because 184 bc was the year when a temple was dedicated to celebrate an earlier Roman victory over the Greek king Pyrrhus. He had been attempting
to win back Greek control over southern Italy, but failed. It was a symbolic moment: the Romans had now avenged the Greek conquest of Troy a thousand years earlier.

The foundation of Rome was obviously a big moment too, traditionally 753 bc. But Asinius Quadratus put it back to 776 bc to fit with his ‘History of Rome’s Thousand Years’ ending in ad 235; in ad 248 the emperor Philip laid on a three-day extravaganza of ‘infinite pomp and magnificence’ (Gibbon) on the ‘right’ date. The prophecy in Revelation of Christ’s thousand-year reign illustrated the Christian interest in the time-span. His reign would end with a climactic battle against the devil: argument raged about when that thousand-year period began and ended.

All this pales into insignificance, of course, compared with the magazine’s 10,000th. If it is ten times better than Philip’s, 22 Old Queen Street may be uninhabitable (forget lockdown) for a very long time indeed.

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