Goodbye to the Begrudgers


The National begrudgers were finally routed on Tuesday, to join the snakes. From any point of view the country's St Patrick's Day festivities were a big success.

Commenting on the festivities, my colleague Brendan McWilliams has pointed out that the Romans, like ourselves were very fond of public holidays.

They certainly were, but it is pushing things a little to liken the Roman amphitheatres to Croke Park and Lansdowne Road, when the latter venues generally offer much more in the way of bloody encounters and spectacular savagery, not to mention the considerably higher entry prices, even allowing for inflation.

All right, not very funny. Rather weak in the satirical line. More juvenile than Juvenal, to whom we will come.

Just as the Paddy's day festivities have had their detractors, so too had the more regular festive occasions in ancient Rome.

Detractor-in-chief was arch-satirist Decimus Junius Juvenal, or "DJ" as he was known to his friends.

As a born begrudger, with no particular talent for anything except insulting more successful people, Juvenal quite naturally turned to poetry. Soon he had decided to write 16 satirical poems, which after long deliberation he called The Satires.

Juvenal was cynically aware of how Rome's politicians played on the people's love of amusement by endowing the various public games days with generous funds, all in the hope of re-election.

Only two things were of any interest to the people, Juvenal remarked - panem et circenses, or bread and circuses, i.e. games. He would have said "panis" et circenses, but that he happened to be using the accusative case at the time, and was a stickler for accuracy.

Fired up by the huge success of this assertion, his first serious sound-bite, Juvenal then embarked on a series of one-liners which ensured his fame for future generations. Obliquely commenting on the corruption of Imperial guards, he asked the question "who will guard the guards themselves?" (which sounds crisper in Latin), copyrighted the phrase "a healthy mind in a healthy body", gave first formal worldwide recognition to "the itch for writing" and managed to insult all Roman adults by insisting that "the greatest reverence is due to a child."

Confusingly, this latter line was not meant satirically. As a father of two, with an interest in childcare that belied his reputation as a powerful satirist, Juvenal was in many ways the precursor of the late lamented Dr Benjamin Spock. "Trust me", he used to say, "I know more than you think I do."

But because of his reputation, people imagined he was being ironic. Yet it was genuinely ironic that while satirising the depravity of Roman aristocracy, Juvenal was eventually blamed for the growth of the "permissive society" in ancient Rome.

Meanwhile, back home, we have the first signs of non-native begrudgery about our Celtic Tiger. It was only a matter of time. Some British economists have been less than enthusiastic about the recent revaluation of our pound. They have described it as a merely cosmetic change. But surely there is nothing wrong with looking good and making the best of one's appearance? This is international begrudgery at its worst.

Some of these begrudgers have also expressed fears about the economic consequences of the enormous rise in Dublin property values.

Unforgivably, the dread "bubble" word has now been applied, with all those nasty unspoken references to the South Seas Bubble, and other bursting bubbles, and nothing at all to suggest that we can blow really big bubbles in Ireland without any danger at all of them losing buoyancy. This attempt to dent Irish consumer confidence should be exposed for what it is - sheer begrudgery.

"It reminds me of Islington in the 1980's" said one commentator. At least this seems fair enough. Islington was always an attractive London suburb, even 20 years ago, and is now posher than posh, with property prices well out of reach of the ordinary wage-earner. Some people might imagine the comment referred to the disastrous bursting of the property bubble in the England of the time, but surely no one, no matter how great a begrudger, could be that insensitive.