Roman Civilization: Vast but Vile

James Joyce, Ulysses:

The editor came from the inner office, a straw hat awry on his brow. He declaimed in song, pointing sternly at professor MacHugh:

’Twas rank and fame that tempted thee,
’Twas empire charmed thy heart.

The professor grinned, locking his long lips.

—Eh? You bloody old Roman empire? Myles Crawford said.

He took a cigarette from the open case. Lenehan, lighting it for him with quick grace, said:

—Silence for my brandnew riddle!

Imperium romanum, J. J. O’Molloy said gently. It sounds nobler than British or Brixton. The word reminds one somehow of fat in the fire.

Myles Crawford blew his first puff violently towards the ceiling.

—That’s it, he said. We are the fat. You and I are the fat in the fire. We haven’t got the chance of a snowball in hell.

THE GRANDEUR THAT WAS ROME

—Wait a moment, professor MacHugh said, raising two quiet claws. We mustn’t be led away by words, by sounds of words. We think of Rome, imperial, imperious, imperative.

He extended elocutionary arms from frayed stained shirtcuffs, pausing:

—What was their civilisation? Vast, I allow: but vile. Cloacae: sewers. The Jews in the wilderness and on the mountaintop said: It is meet to be here. Let us build an altar to Jehovah. The Roman, like the Englishman who follows in his footsteps, brought to every new shore on which he set his foot (on our shore he never set it) only his cloacal obsession. He gazed about him in his toga and he said: It is meet to be here. Let us construct a watercloset.

Ulysses | Summary, Analysis, Characters, & Facts | Britannica

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