Dr. Michael C. Scott, the Moses and Mary Finley Research Fellow at Darwin College, Cambridge and an affiliated lecturer at the Faculty of Classics, Cambridge.
His research focuses on the ancient history and archaeology of the Greek and Roman worlds. Dr. Scott spoke with Eat Love Savor magazine about a brief look at the ancient history of luxury.
Why are these discoveries of ancient Greek and the history of luxury so important for us to understand? Why did you feel it was important to do this documentary?
We have a conflicted relationship with luxury today, especially now in the midst of the economic crisis. As a result its crucial we understand the complexity and both the positives and negatives of luxury in our society. One way to do that is to look at how luxury has operated in our past and how that past still affects us today.
What do you see as today’s ‘Language of Luxury”?
Its incredibly diverse – luxury is almost impossible to define but everyone has their own idea of what luxury means to them. That makes it, on the one hand, something which everyone can participate in, and on the other, an even more complicated ambiguous concept for society to understand.
Knowing the history and seeing the present, do you see any indication of history repeating itself (Athens vs Spartan)?
History in one form or another often repeats itself – we after all we’re always human. But there are particular similarities between the crisis in ancient Athens in the early 6th century BC and the social and economic distress Greece and many countries find themselves in today.
Do you see the divide between the Haves and Have-nots as being on a similar plain as the divide in the ancient past?
The eternal difficulty of any democratic system of government is that while politically everyone is equal, in economic terms they will never be so. The question is how different societies have chosen to manage that imbalance.
What were 3 of the most interesting things you discovered during the course of creating these documentaries?
- The number of people a cow will feed – about 550 people per cow!
- The degree to which fish caused problems for the ancient Athenians
- The extraordinary process of writing on vellum while creating beautiful gospels like the Lindisfarne Gospel in the 8th century AD
Has your definition or opinion about the influence and necessity of luxury in society changed?
I think I have come to realise how endemic concepts of, and the need for, luxury are in human nature and human society. As a result, these programmes have made me realise how much we have to manage luxury as best we can – it is not going to go away.
What do you hope we all learn from a better understanding of the history of luxury?
That luxury can be both a positive as well as a negative, that it can unite us as well as divide us, and that it is up to us all to choose how we want to manage it within our own society. As a result, luxury is, potentially, something we can all share in.
For more about Dr. Scott and his BBC TV documentary series, visit www.michaelcscott.com