Pedro Huertas: ‘It is dangerous to use history as a throwing weapon’


The author presents this afternoon in the Roman Theater of Cartagena “Laurel wreaths, a horse in the Senate and the nose of Justinian”

What if I told you that there is no conclusive evidence that Emperor Nero burned Rome because he felt like it? Or that Caesar Augustus broke the nose of Alexander the Great’s mummy during his trip to Egypt? More than one is likely to throw their hands in their heads because these stories are part of popular culture but lack a strong scientific basis. However, they are not isolated events, because like these anecdotes there are many more that the historian, popularizer and archaeologist from Cartagena, Pedro Huertas (1983) has collected and explained in his book ‘Coronas de laurel, a horse in the Senate and the nose’. of Justiniano’ (Head, 2022).

After more than five years of documentation work and two years of writing, this afternoon will be Wednesday at the Roman Theater of Cartagena, at 7 p.m. A work written in an informative and comic tone that tries to “contrast what the Roman emperors were with what normally comes through popular culture”. Within his roster, he points out, are some of the usual emperors such as Caligula, Commodus or Nero; and others less known, such as Alexander Severus or Maximin the Thracian. “I’ve added others that are more unknown so people know there are more than they remember.” Likewise, he emphasizes that he also included those we know as “Byzantines” because in reality they were Romans too, just from the East.

Among the various anecdotes that populate the more than 200 pages of the work, the prologue of which was written by the trio of popularizers Ad Absurdum (El Condensador de Fluzo, in La 2), the erroneous attribution of the fire of Rome to Nero stands out . “It’s a lie, because even the classical authors disagree. The fact that people continue to believe it’s due to popular culture,” fueled by movies like ‘Quo Vadis?’ (1951), based on Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel of the same name, its influence and impact on culture was such that ‘it has permeated to this day.’ In fact, a few years ago there was a CD burning program called Nero Burning ROM (“Burning” in English means to burn and Nero refers to Nero) whose logo was the Colosseum in flames “when the Colosseum wasn’t even finished by Nero then”. In the end, “the poor thing the dead man killed without having to kill him.”

What happened to ancient Rome, however, does not stand alone, but happens to all times. For the historian, who contributed to National Geographic History and Zenda Books, our worldview is often based on clichés. For example, when people think of Egypt, people fill their heads with images of the pyramids, the desert, or the Nile, but “what happens in the pyramids and in the desert?” That information, he says, is complemented by each person’s imagination, but what can be seen in movies or novels is an idyllic picture of the past, for better or for worse. In the case of the Roman Empire, “the emperors are thought to be either very good or very bad.” An idea that, he argues, expanded with the Renaissance and the first collections of busts, and which was continued with the neoclassicism of the 18th century and also with the culture of cinema and post-cinema.

The idealization of the past is part of society, although the expression ‘the past was always better’ should be taken with a grain of salt for Pedro Huertas. “It all has to do with how you idealize it”, that is, “we idealized our childhood and adolescence a lot because it was the time when we were with our colleagues and that’s why it sucks, but maybe your country was in a bit of economic and financial crisis and you didn’t know about it because you were eight years old».

Perhaps the best question is whether history really interests people in an increasingly technological world. “There are people who are passionate about it and others who ignore it, but the problem is the people who use it. My teacher Antonino always said: [Catedrático de Historia Antigua de la UMU] that the danger of history is to use it as a throwing weapon». For this reason, when “someone in Congress or in a Senate starts spouting platitudes about Romans, Middle Ages, or whatever, and sets himself up as the heir to those lords—if he has nothing to do with them—it’s dangerous” . Normally the story is used to justify: “It is said ‘I did this because my ancestors’ and in reality they are not, they just stole their name”.

Source: La Verdad


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