Are You Roman or Greek?

London Portrait Magazine – 03-1984

From the bedroom to the boardroom or anywhere else you choose, most of us spend most of our lives in search of success. How we achieve it, claims CHRISTOPHER LONG, depends largely upon whether we want power or influence – whether we're basically Romans or Greeks.

If man ever succeeds in blowing all life off the face of the Earth in a nuclear Armageddon, let's hope just somebody survives long enough to put up a memorial stone. On it, perhaps, might be inscribed the words:

'Man – An Insatiably Curious and Dissatisfied Animal – R.I.P.'

It has been this insatiable curiosity and persistent dissatisfaction with the way things are that has brought us to where we are today and will take us, no doubt, to somewhere else tomorrow. My dog is content to eat, sleep, survive, reproduce and die. You and I must have success as well. We will not rest in peace until we've questioned, doubted, changed and improved things – until we've left some mark that says we were here.

The Romans came to Britain in 55 BC. They built roads, walls, temples and threw up earthworks. The vast might of a great civilisation marched across, united and marked out the land. In less than 450 years the Romans had gone, their marks were decaying and very quickly Britain was once again a diffuse and largely 'uncivilised' [cives = citizen] land of tribal peasantry.

The Greeks never invaded Britain – physically. Yet the Greeks have left a deep and indelible mark on British thinking, politics, philosophy, law, art, architecture, literature and the sciences.

If success means that which survives and endures, the Romans were successful in terms of practical power. The Greeks were successful too in terms of principled influence.

What might they have achieved in Britain if they'd joined forces and invaded us together!

Romans and Greeks need each other

In marriages, partnerships, committees, boardrooms, cabinets and everywhere else, a proper balance of Greeks and Romans is essential Romans are impotent without the ideas, policies creativity and ingenious theories of the Greeks. The Greeks are equally impotent unless there's a Roman to pick up their ideas and execute them.

Not surprisingly the most obvious Greeks and Romans crop up in politics. Of course Margaret Thatcher is a Roman. Of course Enoch Powell is a Greek (and, incidentally, a Greek scholar). Arthur Scargill is clearly a Roman – just as Jack Jones, Len Murray and Keith Joseph are Greeks.

The besetting problem facing the Labour Party in Britain has been that it is rooted in a rich and very potent history of radical ideology and that the party has a high regard for Greeks who follow the tradition. As a result it has been overloaded with Greeks such as Nye Bevan, Hugh Gaitskell and Ernest Bevin, while very few Romans apart from Ramsay Macdonald and Harold Wilson have overcome the deep suspicions of their colleagues and taken real power.

Ever since the last war too many Greeks have spoiled the Labour broth with their competing ideas, theories and principles while natural Romans such as Barbara Castle and Judith Hart had to pretend to be Greeks in order to survive.

Ironically the Conservative Party has suffered the opposite dilemma. It has a natural suspicion of Greeks such as Enoch Powell, MacLeod and Ralph Butler, men who might have given purpose and ideals to catch the public imagination and given foreign affairs statesmen such as Harold Macmillan and Douglas Home something to get their teeth into at home.

As a result the Greekish Tory Edward Heath and the Roman 'socialist' Harold Wilson came to the fore faute de mieux while in the United States President John Kennedy briefly flowered as an example of how a good Greek can mobilise a strongly Roman administration in a way that captured the hearts and minds of the whole Western world.

Margaret Thatcher should perhaps be wondering whether the loss of impetus in her government since the last election may well be because she has promoted so many Romans and ditched so many Greeks. She has left herself (like Caesar?) surrounded by a pack of young and ambitious Romans with scarcely one Greek oracle to give her a vision of what to do next. Et tu, Brute, in 1985?

True it seems she listens to an archetypal Greek such as Keith Joseph and Milton Friedman from time to time but there are too many Greeks like Francis Pim, Peter Carrington and Norman St John Stevas wandering loose in the jungle.

And Neil Kinnock? It will be interesting to see whether the publicly Roman Labour leader is really a Greek like Michael Foot or well able to handle a gladiator like Roy Hattersley?

Perhaps Mrs Thatcher would do well to listen to our Greek Queen if no-one else.

Kings and queens have always been either Romans or Greeks like the rest of us. It must have been hard for the Greeks among them in days when being a monarch meant you had to be Roman.

Henry Vlll and Elizabeth l were natural Romans at a time when Romans were needed. Edward Vll and George Vl were, fortunately, Greeks at a time when a constitutional democracy called for an influential rather than powerful monarchy.

Publicly at least the present Queen is undoubtedly an astute and brilliant Greek with more influence over her government, Commonwealth and the entire world than anyone before her.

The Prince of Wales is undoubtedly a Greek too – but a Greek who is required publicly to be something of a Roman as well. Lord Mountbatten (who clearly loved his rôle as an avuncular Greek to Prince Charles) has been replaced by Sir Laurens Van der Post who must be an invaluable Greek influence on the very Roman Princess of Wales.

Interestingly Queen Victoria & Prince Albert provide one of the best examples of the Greek/Roman principle works in marriage. Many women may instinctively feel that males are usually Roman and females usually Greek. In fact, more often than not, it's the other way round. Albert was one of the most influential men of his times – never more so than in his marriage. Victoria was the practical moving force who manipulated her family, ministers, household and people – a powerful woman who was left distraught and impotent when Albert died. If she had died first it's more than likely that he would have been equally impotent without her to put wings, claws, teeth and muscle into his moral, religious, artistic, scientific and philanthropic visions.

The best and most enduring marriages and relationships are of this sort, and a list would be endless. Mr & Mrs Malcolm Muggeridge, however, must typify the perfectly complementary rôles involved. And the situation can be more complicated than that: he, the husband, may be a Roman in his work and a Greek at home, while she may be a Roman at home needing a Greek career outside it.

Lord & Lady Longford, Mary Quant & Alexander Plunkett-Green and the Laura Ashley marriage must fall into this category – just as it seems clear that the gifted Zandra Rhodes finds the task of being Roman and Greek both at once is too much for her. Publicly she admits she wants a permanent 'other half', but which would she do best to choose?

The pitfall is when Greeks insist on choosing other Greeks or Romans are fatally attracted to other Romans. Time and again one hears a Greek girl saying that she's brilliant at sorting out other people's lives but just can't get to grips with her own. When she finds a man who says he's just the same, they think they've got a lot in common. She'd do better with a Roman.

The theatre, film studios, opera circuits and most of the show business industry is full of these Roman/Roman, Greek/Greek relationships which often don't last long. Sooner or later the Roman/Roman comes to be Burton/Taylor.

It's easy to think that the arts are largely Greek and business is largely Roman. But the National Theatre's Sir Peter Hall is Roman through and through. Sir Roy Strong spends his life trying to convince himself and the world that he's a Greek. Clearly he's a Roman, fascinated by power, but finding it hard to live with.

Sir Robert Meyer is an excellent example of a man for whom influence is everything and power of little consequence. His life-long dream of bringing the joy of music to the masses is quite different from Sir Malcolm Sargent who enjoyed public fame and power doing the same thing in the concert hall. Admittedly Meyer could afford to be influential thanks to his personal fortune while Sargent had to wield a baton to establish his position. But while both were successful, their methods would have been the same whatever their circumstances. Personal wealth does not make it easier to be a Greek.

Sir James Goldsmith is one of the richest and most successful entrepreneurs of his generation. Like so many other powerful men he longed to be influential too. The dismal failure of NOW! Magazine and his attempt to become a newspaper proprietor in Britain owes a lot to the fact that he imposed a Roman approach to what is fundamentally a Greek undertaking. No newspaper lasts long without a powerful Roman proprietor such as Beaverbrook, Thompson or Murdoch at the helm – but it must be a proprietor who leaves it to a Greek editor and Greek journalists to fill the pages. Newspapers, radio and television are seldom powerful but often very influential.

If Goldsmith finds it hard to be a Greek, other Romans have been more successful at making the switch. Chief Constables such as John Alderton and John Alderson have both become outspokenly influential figures who rose through the Roman ranks. Jimmy Savile is as Roman as they come and has sold us the plight of the disabled even if he can't sell us 'the age of the train'. But are his motives all Roman or is he trying to be Greek as well? In which case, what about Cliff Richards and his Christian mission?

Conversely there are talented Greeks who've made it as Romans – for example, Channel 4's Jeremy Issacs – and other talented Greeks such as Peter Jay who had no chance when the new TV-AM Romans played the power game.

What is it that makes so many of us fall into one category or the other? Maybe it has something to do with proving things either to ourselves or to others. While Karl Marx scribbled away in the British Library and his Roman wife barely managed to keep the family fed on the pittance he provided, surely he didn't really believe that there would be a Roman Lenin waiting to pick up the manifesto and with it build a new Roman empire?

Clearly Marx didn't want fame for himself. Equally there were better ways of trying to be rich. Nothing suggests that he wanted to impose himself on his fellow beings. Yet, somewhere, he must have hoped that his views would be recognised and acted upon and that he would have the satisfaction of knowing he had influenced events. Somehow one doubts if Khengis Khan, Attila the Hun, Napoleon, Nelson, Drake, Montgomery or De Gaulle would have settled for that.

When Hitler, the most insane Greek of all time, wrote Mein Kampf in the slums of Vienna, did he ever dream that the German nation was itching to pull the trigger if only he would point the gun?

And has the Foreign Office yet learnt that bored men and women with brains and burning ambition will follow the likes of Philby, Burgess, Maclean and Blunt, not because of anything to do with power or profit or fame, but because that's how they can influence events and make their mark.

Whitehall is full of Greek mandarins in the corridors of influence, pitting their wits against Roman politicians and saying, we are told, "Yes, Minister!".

In the courts great Greeks like Lord Denning tackle the law proposed by Greek mandarins, passed in the Roman House of Commons and the Greek House of Lords, approved by a Greek/Roman Queen in order to settle our disputes.

The skill needed by the Romans is to spot the best idea from the many options put up by the Greeks competing for the kudos of hatching the idea in the first place (e.g. Roman publishers, impresarios and film producers). If the idea works the Roman claims it as his own. If it fails he must either skilfully alter the plan to suit his own interests without anyone noticing (e.g. every politician one can think of) or publicly expose the Greek and let him carry the can.

The skill needed by the Greeks was first practised at Delphi. Whatever the outcome they must be successfully proved right, or the Roman must be shown to have mishandled it.

Where would Christ and the Christian Church have been without Romans like St Peter, St Paul and Popes and Bishops? Where would they have drawn their source material without the Old Testament Prophets?

Perhaps we can blame the failure of the League of Nations and the United Nations on the fact that we created Greek institutions without a Roman equivalent to act on the formulations. Certainly we can say that the British Empire, particularly in India, worked as well as it did because here we got the balance right.

The fundamental difference between those who seek power and those who seek influence, in their mutual search for success, is motivation. Employers would do well to spot the characteristics among their employees – giving additional power, responsibility and material rewards to deserving Romans who want little more. They should remember that ambitious Greeks are much less likely to feel successful because they are offered a large salary and a big company car. What they crave is recognition.

What the Greek wants, after his basic living needs are taken care of, is the kudos, the appreciation and the coveted award that tell him he's doing all right. The Roman, by contrast, will need promotion, more power, a larger salary with which to buy the totems of success: he'll find those much more satisfactory than someone else's opinion that he's brilliant. His rewards will already have told him that.

For this reason employers and employees should take a fresh look at each other and at themselves and then decide how to make good use of each other. We should not assume that our children are failures because they don't have that healthy respect we have for evidence of Roman success. The members of Green Peace have achieved great influence in recent years. Somewhere in that team is a great Roman mobilising great Greeks. We should cultivate our latter-day Greeks in the hope that we'll produce more people like Frank Whittle, Clive Sinclair, Charles Darwin, Alexander Fleming, Lord Denning and William Wilberforce.

Most of what the world has given the rest of the world is thanks to them and they are what America, Japan and much of the rest of the world find it hardest to produce.

When we look at the greatest earthwork the Romans left across the face of Britain, Hadrian's Wall, we might well ask why it was named after Hadrian, who merely ordered it and visited it, and not after some brilliant and quite forgotten engineer who made it possible.

© (1984) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.

Christopher Long

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