Pax Americana, Pax RomanaI had just read of yesterday's rocket attack on the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad when I came across this passage, in the obituary of the distinguished British historian of the Byzantine empire Donald MacGillivray Nicol:
One of his last books, The Reluctant Emperor (1996), is a sympathetic portrait of the controversial 14th-century emperor of Constantinople, John VI Cantacuzene, who had also been a historian. As Nicol understood him, Cantacuzene had been one of the few leading men of his time to perceive how far the empire had declined since its heyday. When he realised the impossibility of restoring its fortunes, according to Nicol, he did the decent thing, and abdicated.Here is the full obituary, by Roderick Beaton in the Guardian (UK).
Nicol's lifelong study of the terminal dissolution of an empire that had once believed itself to be God's kingdom on earth may owe something to the same stoical pessimism that he attributed to this "reluctant emperor".
I also noted this interesting insight into how some Americans view the city we say we're liberating, in a piece in today's NYT by Joe Brinkley:
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 26 -- The Dor al Sikik neighborhood lies like a snake coiled around one side of the Rashid Hotel...