Literary Contest I ~ Ludi Conditorum 2761 AUC (Nova Roma)/Winner

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by C. Aurelia Falco Silvana

Concordia Dea must indeed be wearing a lop-sided grin these days. There She stands, with Her own priest officiating Her ceremonies in the year dedicated to Her. Here we sit, during the Ludi Conditorum organized to celebrate the founding of Nova Roma back in 2751 ab urbe condita, amidst yet another flood of messages that do little to honor Concordia or this anniversary year. We seem to do and say things in our untidy virtual world that most of us would never accept in the real world. Which brings up another question.

Is Nova Roma a "real" organization? Or is Nova Roma a virtual fantasy, where some avatars play out political roles from highest to most modest, while others are content to cross the screen in roles from innocent neophyte to back-stabbing street thugs?

There are definite signs that Nova Roma is, in fact, such a fantasy. We have all heard the messages our eyes read. After all, I can fling about words and behaviors with abandon, while I hide behind the ample scutum of a fine Roman-style name and a (more or less) secure e-mail list.

The Main List, our Cloaca Maxima, runneth over at least twice a year with a flood of invective, insult and name-calling which most would not tolerate in a "real" social environment. In the fantasy, the Main List becomes a "forum" where a minority exercise the right of (constant) uninhibited speech, and imagine other conversations going on all around them. In the virtual world of the internet, the Main List is a linear e-mail system where messages must line up single file, one after the other. It is like being in a crowded room where only one person can speak at a time, and frustration clearly builds waiting for a topic to move on. Every year, some find even the fantasy too much to bear, and their avatars resign from the list. Following each resignation, other avatars usually express e-tears, at least some of which seem sincere rather than crocodilian.

Or is Nova Roma a "real" entity, as real as the Arena of Nimes under my feet when I walked its upper tier of stones? As real as the stones of Volubilis that sheltered me from the Moroccan sun? There are definite indications that Nova Roma is in fact as "real" as a hunk of cheese, a glass of wine, or the service bill from an internet provider.

At my lowly plebeian level, I have a fistful of bite-`em-with-your-teeth-and-prove-it Nova Roman coins, all shiny and brassy. I have two back-issues of Saturninus's Nova Roman calendar, all the way from Finland, on real paper with photos of real places(and must order a new one). I've even had a small Romanitas circle in my (small) town. Internationally, citizens in Romania, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and probably other "real" countries have met each other, dined together, spent "real" time getting to know each other. The Magna Mater Project is in contact with "real" archaeologists on a "real" heritage site. Real-world laws must be followed in registering the organization as a non-profit society in the country where it is based. "Real" money is transferred into Nova Roma's coffers at tax time.

There do seem to be a few things missing in Nova Roma: comprehensive, publicly-issued financial statements. Annual general meetings (also public), as are normally required in the operation non-profit societies in many real-world jurisdictions. The normal reality checks.

There is an old proverb, "Possession is nine-tenths of the law." There's a good case to be made that Nova Roma needs to accept its nine-tenths of reality and act accordingly as an organizational entity. We as citizens need to act accordingly also. The censors made the case when I was choosing a name: Nova Roma, I was told, is not a fantasizing role-play game. It is a real effort by real people to understand the nature of the Roman world.

If Nova Roma is real, then we shall need some real manners, a real sense of responsibility, a real effort to build community on a person-to-person level, and real accountability. If Nova Roma is real, as it seems it is, then it is time to put down the verbiage-spewing avatars and pick up some real-world courtesy which all of us must use in our daily social lives in the rest of the "real" world.

"Wait a minute!" I hear you say, "Courtesy isn't even a Roman concept!" True. "Courtesy" came out of the medieval European "courtly" world. But long before that, the Romans had mapped out qualities that encompassed a courteous life. They honored public virtues such as Aequitas, Clementia, Concordia, Iustitia, Liberalitas, Nobilitas, Pax, Pietas, Pudicitia. They strove for private virtues including Clementia, Dignitas, Gravitas, Honestas, Humanitas, Pietas, and Prudentia.

But ah! I hear the avatars rattling wordy swords along the web – Rome was not just some virtuous idyll. Rome was scheming, conniving, back-stabbing blood-and-guts violence, world-domination incarnate. We must have all that, too, if we are going to be "authentic"! Well, yes, Rome had all those elements – and so do we, in our real world of this present year. Human nature has not changed so very much since long before Rome was born 2761 years ago. But the shouters-after-blood forget just one thing: all through time, one other aspect of human nature has also remained strong.

However deep the wallow of blood, guts, invective and humiliation, most people have not enjoyed being in that place. The majority have wished for better things . . . always. And the few great ones have, from time to time, led the way to something better. Consider Lucius Cornelius Sulla – contradictory, violent, a monster in many ways. Yet even he fought to bring Rome back to the Republican path, and in the end he placed that drive ahead of his personal obsessions. Consider Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, last of the Five Good Emperors, two centuries later and struggling to lead Rome to a better place . . . again.

In the world around us, we have injustices and cruelties to rival anything in Rome. Out of Cambodia and Rwanda, out of Auschwitz and Abu Ghraib. modern psychologists and military strategists have come to one conclusion: war can ultimately be reconciled. Humiliation can not. If you once humiliate a person, they can never forget. Humiliation breeds true enmity.

So let's not imagine that Rome had cornered the market on rot, violence, slander and corruption. Let's understand that the world does not aspire to these qualities – that the world did not aspire to these qualities even during the original Res Publica. Let us recognize that the dark bits do not exist because they are ideals to be copied. The dark bits exist to prove that there are brighter, better ways.

Else why, in the Gods' names, would Romans have listed private virtues like Auctoritas, Clementia, Dignitas, Gravitas, Honestas, Humanitas, Industria, Pietas, Veritas? Why, in the name of all the Deities under heaven, would they have cared about public virtues like Aequitas, Concordia, Felicitas, Iustitia, Laetitia, Liberalitas, Nobilitas, Pax, Pudicitia, Uberitas, and Virtus?

Else why would one of our honored citizens have stepped forward and been approved as Priest of Concordia? Why would Nova Roma have endorsed this Year of Concordia? And why should Concordia be the first topic of these Ludi Conditorum?

I suspect it's because we seek a better way, just as our ancestors did.

~ C. Aurelia Falco Silvana

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