Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ultra Long Term Health Effects

I have a weakness for sword'n'sandal type historical fiction set in Ancient Rome. One author I particularly enjoy is Steven Saylor who writes detective novels set in Ancient Rome, which manage to combine a modern sensibility - with the archetypal cynical, Sam Spadeish detective hero - with a real immersion into the foreign world of the classical past. The most recent book of his I've read, Arms of Nemesis, really brought home how horrific it must have been to be a slave. And it got me thinking - millions of people, possibly the majority in the classical world (as far as I recall, the number of Athenian citizens, who were of course all free males, was a tenth of the number of Athenian slaves) lived in this state of permanent insecurity, literally dehumanised and debased.

This, to say the least, can't help but have had some profound psychological effects. And considering that, presumably, of people alive at the present moment, a good proportion have slavery somewhere, perhaps very deep, in their ancestry, perhaps this underlies many of the enduring psychological difficulties we call personality disorders. After all, we are still only beginning to realise the intergenerational effects of traumas such as the post World War II exodus and expulsions of Germans from Eastern Europe Martin's post on the enduring health effects of 9/11 rekindled this train of thought.

Obviously in the U.S. there's an ongoing controversy about reparations for slavery, the assets of companies who profited even indirectly during the Holocaust, and other such issues. Perhaps we should all try and lobby the Italian government for reparations from the slave holding of the Ancient Romans!

2 comments:

Kevin Denny said...

Eh, but on top of the trauma of slavery that we are bearing (now I know why I'm averse to sandals) you would have to include the Dark Ages (hate the dark), the Famine (hate spuds) and countless others.
Still, what did the Romans ever do for us ?

Martin Ryan said...

I like this train of thought about how radically different life experiences (slavery, torture, conscription, rape, incarceration) could have consequences for the psycholiogical well-being of the victim's descendants. I'd be inclined to suggest that most of the transamission effects phase out after five or six generations of descendants, but obviously some aexperiences are more affecting than others.

A modern example of how slavery leads to life chances with less opportunity is the Importation of Negro slaves to the USA, and their subsequent struggle to adjust to American society, once their slavery was abolished. This theme is explored very well by Danish director Lars Von Trier in his "USA - Land of Opportunities" trilogy. A series of movies that I highly recommend, well just a duo, as the third "Washington" has been shelved indefinitely.

The first movie is called "Dogville", the second "Manderlay". These are challenging movies on many levels, the most immediate being the setting of the play in a 1930's theatre-like backrop where one's imagination is called on to fill in a lot of the details. If want to see just one of these, "Manderlay" stands up on its own and touches on the theme of adjustment after slavery the best.