If I said America had an Epicurean side to it, most people would either blink their eyes and fuddle their brows in a vain attempt to understand what I said or let out a collective sigh or a sarcastic exhalation. But I am serious. American has an Epicurean side. And by Epicurean I do not mean the easily lampooned version of Epicureanism which amounts to perpetual and severe over-indulgence. The correct term for that is hedonism. Rather, I mean Epicurean philosophy can be seen as a unifying principle behind several key and seemingly disparate aspects of American society.
I wrote this a year ago to honor those who lost their lives in both 911 tragedies.
All night I thought about the families who lost so much on September 11, 2001, the day of the most devastating domestic terrorist attack in American history. Over 3,000 Americans lost their lives.
All week I have been debating whether or not my son, Christopher, who was born in 2001, should watch the documentaries reliving those tragic events. We watch, but it is still hard to comprehend. It is still hard to believe. Christopher says he does not remember a time when we did not think about terrorists. It is the new normal. We know when something feels like terrorism. We do not believe there is such a thing as “spontaneous attacks” anymore. Those are just words that are made up.
All morning I thought about how I could come up with the right words to honor these victims, some of whom leapt to their deaths to avoid the flames that were overtaking the towers. I also wanted to pay tribute to the four Americans who lost their lives in Benghazi one year ago today. Their names were Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Glenn A. Doherty, and Tyrone S. Woods. I thought about how there really are no words that are good enough in and of themselves to bring closure to the families and friends of the fallen who have lost so much. Only words accompanied by concrete action can really be meaningful now.
No one needs to remind me that Sept. 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. It is one of those details that is lodged in my brain and comes out when people begin to ask, “Where were you when…?” I remember it was a Tuesday, because I woke up that morning and turned the TV on so that I could watch sports highlights while I finished getting ready. The TV was on ABC because the night before I had been watching Monday Night Football. It seems a silly bit of minutia but it serves to remind me of the great divide. One evening you are watching the Giants and Broncos toss the pigskin, the next morning you realize that the world you knew when you went to bed has died in the night. Everything has been changed forever. Calamities like these are not just tragedies, they are watershed tragedies: cataclysmic events which cause the waters of history to flow in a different direction.
When people find out my area of expertise is Ancient Rome, the conversation eventually turns to the similarities between Rome and America usually culminating with some version of the question “Do you think America will fall like Rome did?”
Such questions are indeed appropriate. The American Founding fathers borrowed heavily from the Ancient Romans, asking themselves as they founded a new nation: “What caused the success of the Ancient Romans and can we copy it? And oppositely, what caused the Fall of Rome, and can we do something to avoid it?”
In latter posts, I hope to discuss specific areas of imitation and innovation. For this post, the point I wish to make is this: America does have a great deal to learn from the flow of Roman history, but if we were to compare America’s trajectory to that of Rome’s, we would discover we are not at the end of the story, but in the middle, at a far more critical juncture