April 16, 2018

Rome. October, 1980

The first time I went to Rome, I was shocked when I saw SPQR on buildings, on municipal trash barrels, on manhole covers like this one. I’d always associated these imperial initials only with the glory that was the early Roman Republic, with the Caesars, Marc Antony, Nero, Spartacus. Senatus Populusque Romanus, the senate and people of Rome. It appears on ancient coins, monuments and on the standards of Roman legions. (My friend Janet’s mother had it as her vanity license plate years ago, which might tell you something about the woman’s parenting style.) Who knew that it still existed, still meant the same thing in the 20th century? I was also shocked to see that this cover was made in Florence, a longtime Roman rival in the fields of politics, culture and sport. So it came as less of a surprise when a Tuscan friend told me that many in the north of Italy translate SPQR as Sono porchi questi Romani. “What pigs these Romans are!” Nice.

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