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  1. Wealth
November 8, 2010

Down Pompeii

By Spear's

The Italian government has once again shown that dolce far niente is not just a mode of living: it’s a credo of government.

The Italian government, and the machinery of the state through which it fails to operate, has once again shown that dolce far niente is not just a mode of living: it’s a credo of government.

The House of the Gladiators in Pompeii, supposedly where gladiators would train and relax before matches (after them they’d probably be dead), has collapsed. Details of what caused this to happen are not clear, but water infiltration is suspected.

The first emotion I felt (as a good Classicist who’s just read Mary Beard’s excellent and sceptical book on Pompeii) was shock, but this was quickly succeeded by that mixture of dismay and cynicism which so often occurs when malco Mediterranean governments manhandle their patrimony.

From a Greek plan to put the Elgin Marbles back up on the Parthenon to the widespread looting of artefacts which the Italian government for years did nothing to stem, they are heedless of one of their most valuable resources. If you want to know how they esteem their historic sites, just consider that the Greeks have securitised the future revenues from tickets to the Parthenon.

When states are in desperate circumstances, some things have to be neglected; the Comprehensive Spending Review has shown us that, and some of our grandest houses are at risk, as Ivan Lindsay wrote in the last Spear’s. (Falling masonry at Buck House is a problem.) But Italy’s institutional incompetence towards its antiquities is something else: if it’s not a building in Pompeii, it’s Nero’s Golden House in Rome which is collapsing.

The problem in Italy is not that the House of the Gladiators was neglected, but the opposite: the government’s indifferent attention is clearly fatal.

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