Parallels between troubled contemporary American society and the decline of ancient Rome have little historical basis, a Harvard classics professor said last night at the Cambridge Forum.
Glen W. Bowersock, professor of Greek and Latin, discussed the question, "Should we view the fall of Rome as a paradigm for our own time?" with Herbert Bloch, professor of Latin Language and Literature, at the session sponsored by the United Ministry at Harvard and Radcliffe.
"It's difficult to say if Rome fell at all," Bowersock said. When Germanic tribes succeeded Roman emperors in the fifth century A.D., it was "the elimination of a dynasty, not the end of an empire," he said.
Bowersock said the American-Roman comparison thrives today because of a "basic nostalgia people have in times of crisis for the past, a past about which they know very little"
Bloch said there are few valid parallels between the two societies. However, the history of Rome can still serve as lesson for America.
He cited the disappearance of a wealthy middle class as one problem common to both societies.
Bowersock said there was no such thing as a middle class Roman. Wealthy upper class Romans managed to survive Rome's traumas by passing into the Church, according to Bowersock.
The Cambridge Forum "tends to deal mostly with controversial issues where there are contrasting views," Rev. Herbert Vetter, the moderator, said yesterday. "Tonight's program is a little atypical," he added.