Notebook

Transmission

It is a standing joke in Italy that many of the country’s structures don’t work. What does work is the effective transmission of culture. One stumbles across ancient remnants everywhere, of course. But that isn’t all. Italians remain conscious of being heirs to a great civilisation. This heritage is taught in school, discussed in the media, fostered in excellent museums. It isn’t just about looking back to a glorious past. It’s about positioning oneself in the present. When I walked past this newsagent’s window one day last week, a copy of Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War was on display. I enjoyed seeing it. When I went back the next day to photograph it, it was gone: someone had bought it. But a book about Athens and Sparta was there instead, in among the romantic novels and autobiographies of athletes. With Europe in a state of anxious transformation, really under threat, more of us could benefit from revisiting the foundations of our civilisation, reminding ourselves of the history and core meaning of notions like ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, ‘tyranny’, etc. We need to galvanise our sense of what is worth defending, and why.