Saturday, 20 April 2013

How Enoch Powell Got Vergil Wrong



Abusing the Aeneid  led to this

45 Years ago today, classical literature was put to its most shameful use in the history of British oratory, when Enoch Powell  MP quoted  lines from the Aeneid to incite racial hatred. At a Conservative Party meeting in Birmingham, he emotively described the alleged plight of the white working-class in the face of immigration, and said that it was bound to end in violence: ‘like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”.’

'So do you want a work permit or an Italian passport?'
If Powell had written this in an essay for me, I would have failed it and pointed out that it was no ‘Roman’ who said this, but the Greek Delphic Apollo, via his priestess at the equally Greek colony of Cumae, near Naples. She told Aeneas (no Roman, either), who was applying for an Italian work permit, ‘I see wars, horrid wars, and the Tiber foaming with much blood’ (bella, horrida bella / et Thybrim multo spumantem sanguine cerno’ (6.86-7).

Powell’s speech roused the more ignorant amongst the white British working class to anger against the proposed 1968 Race Relations Bill, which at last made it illegal to refuse housing or work to anyone on the ground of their ethnicity. He was heard by racists as legitimising their abuse of citizens with Indian or African ancestry, especially the Sikhs whom Powell’s speech singled out for criticism. There was an instant rise in race-hate crimes. He helped the Conservatives win the 1970 election.

'I think I will stare at my cornucopia rather than foam with blood today'
Powell was himself from an upwardly mobile family of petit-bourgeois aspirations only two generations out of the Welsh coal fields. He never got over the fact that he was frightfully good at Latin and Ancient Greek. After grammar school in Birmingham and a glittering student career, he had been appointed Professor of Greek in Sydney at the age of only 25. But he did not exactly help Classical scholars look like desirable members of the community.

And he got the Aeneid so wrong. Of course Aeneas was going to have a few spats with the prejudiced and xenophobic indigenous Italians, but he brought Trojan style and enterprise, accepted that his people needed to learn the indigenous language if they were to stay, and helped found the alliance of peoples which constituted the Roman Republic. If the sophisticated Trojans hadn’t come to Italy, it would have remained the narrow-minded provincial backwater they discovered there. Instead, they (along with the locals and immigrants from Greece who had already got there) helped create the economic miracle that was ancient Rome.

Powell’s lauded high IQ did not help him understand economics any better than he understood Vergil. He was not bright enough to understand the benefits that immigration has always brought to Britain. In a series of important research projects conducted at UCL’s Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration, it has been proved that an immigrant is 60 per cent less likely to claim benefits than a British national, and 58 per cent less likely to live in social housing. Immigrants are mostly young, strong, healthy, enterprising, and at work. They have children in British hospitals and the children go to school. But immigrants work and demonstrably pay in more to the economy than they take out. 

'WHY CAN'T I BE VICEROY?!!!'
Powell himself made the British Tiber foam with some blood. His influence can be still be felt every time a black person is mugged. The image of Classics is still suffering from the ill-treatment of one of the world’s greatest poets by this deluded scholar-demagogue. He had never recovered his sanity after Indian Independence in 1947 forced him to realise that he couldn’t achieve his lunatic dream of becoming Viceroy of India. I still don’t know why anyone could ever have taken him seriously. But I am planning a trip to Birmingham today and a table near the hotel where Powell spoke, in an excellent restaurant specialising in Punjabi cuisine. I foresee a Tiber foaming with much lager.

18 comments:

  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKPze0dRgW8

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  2. Thanks Mr Rose! This just confirms my hunch that he was off his trolley--look at the crazed glitter in his eyes when goes on about lighting matches under piles of gunpowder.

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  3. He also tried his hand at poetry, the Collected Poems was published in 1990.

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  4. Edith,
    I am re-interpreting Greek drama for a youth company. So far I have written the first scenes of the Orestia. I intend to a scene from Sophocles and Euripides It's brief, 8 pages in total. Would like to have a quick butchers?

    Yours, in slight trepidation,

    Richard Brown

    PS I am reading a book on the Dead Sea Scroll. What tripe. Loads of Jesus impersonators. Imagine if a horde of lost tragedies were found?

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  6. The following quotation appeared as a comment on Rogue Classicism. It is by David Ganz: 'The quotation, as Professor Hall should reveal, was the subject of two articles in Vergilius by Professor Herbert Huxley (1998) and Professor Robert Todd (1999). Powell was a very complicated figure, which is not in any way to defend his speech. He condemned British treatment of Kenyans confined in the Hola Camp, attacked the monopoly of drug firms supplying the NHS, opposed hanging and supported homosexual law reform. He was the first MP to argue for a minimum income for the old and unemployed, and supported free education for all university students. Professor Hall might also have considered the quality of his edition of Thucydides.'

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  7. I was Herodotus, not Thucydides.
    I had a go at saying why Powell was wrong on Virgil a few years ago: http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/2006/10/veils_turbans_a.html

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    1. Thanks for correcting Professor Ganz's claim that Enoch Powell's edition was of Thucydides. I had not mentioned it because it was not relevant. And thanks also for reminding us about your fascinating blog on the topic.

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  10. The last time I checked, Vergil wrote those lines, and Vergil was a Roman, and quite obviously 'the Roman' to whom he was referring (and in which he was factually correct, unless you literally believe in the existence of Apollo - it wouldn't surprise me). The intellectual dishonesty by which you attempt to discredit Mr Powell sets the standard for the rest of this smear piece as much as your use of the expression 'petit-bourgeois' gives away your ideological motivation for it. After Woolwich and the rise of the Islamic State, I wonder if you will still make the assertion that the speech was 'shameful'.

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  11. Poรจte Maudit... Thanks for your comment, which expressed (far more eloquently than I would have done) everything I thought about this shameful piece. I found the blog intellectually dishonest and nauseatingly snobbish.

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  12. This blog post is trash. As somebody points out above, Powell was clearly referring to Virgil himself. Although the language used was ill-judged, much of the content of the speech was legitimate, it is a shame that the issues have rarely been discussed seriously.

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  13. Edith, please read Simon Heffer's biography of Powell to understand what Enoch was trying to say. He was in India during the troubles associated with independence and never forgot the influence of tribalism on peoples behaviour in extreme circumstances. This is the point of his Vergil quote, as Aeneas and his trojans refugees battle with resident tribes in Italy. As to the benefits of immigration financially, perhaps you have learnt the pice of everything, but the value of nothing. Immigrant groups were encouraged to bring their culture with them and liberal humanists told us the utter nonsense that all cultures are relative. So we have problems of female genital mutilation, honour killings, forced marriages, dowry fraud and grooming and sexual abuse of young girls by immigrants, or first generation men of immigrant families. Then there are the problems with all our social services, health and schools due to large scale immigration. You have, as so many, conveniently forgotten these issues which are all far worse than the problems of immigration of which Enoch warned us. Like so many of the technocrats currently running Europe, who may have liberalised the community with the best of intentions, you have neglected to allow for human nature, in particular, the worst of human nature, again, something Powell had at the forefront of his arguments.

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  14. "And he got the Aeneid so wrong. Of course Aeneas was going to have a few spats with the prejudiced and xenophobic indigenous Italians, but he brought Trojan style and enterprise, accepted that his people needed to learn the indigenous language if they were to stay, and helped found the alliance of peoples which constituted the Roman Republic. If the sophisticated Trojans hadn’t come to Italy, it would have remained the narrow-minded provincial backwater they discovered there. Instead, they (along with the locals and immigrants from Greece who had already got there) helped create the economic miracle that was ancient Rome."

    Makes Rome sound like Singapore, similarly a city founded from nothing by a mix of peoples local and not, arriving under different circumstances, and the whole thing put together by a band of rather more alien colonists from afar. Malays=Italics, Chinese=Greeks, Trojans=British. That maps inaccurately, but rather better than most such attempts to link ancient and modern examples of anything.

    Of course, more importantly, the Trojans were not "immigrants" as such, and neither had the Greeks been, but rather were colonists. Whether the Etruscans also were is above my pay grade. The Trojans in the tale didn't show up and ask for citizenship as a band of individuals or refugees and offer their skills to existing polities. They came to win a place among them, with arms. At least in the Aeneid account.

    The argument for the Trojans is the argument for the British going abroad to make an empire, for the settlers carving out territory in America or Australia, for the East India Company, just as it was the argument for the Greek and Punic colonies all over the Mediterranean in those earlier times.

    Aeneas is Francis Drake, Robert Clive, or for, per my earlier example albeit less warlike, Raffles.

    If Aeneas and his followers are the model to which modern immigrants are to be compared, then Britain of the 20th century is cast in the part of the unfortunate Etruscans or later the Sabines.

    I recognize that I'm eliding how and whether centuries passed between any historical arrival of Anatolian easterners and the actual [if any] founding event of Rome the city/town, but just working with Vergil here.

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  15. Edith Hall - I've just happened upon your hideously sententious blog page, and wish I hadn't. Your studiedly inaccurate reading of Powell's thoughts and motives suggest that you simply haven't done proper research. Read Heffer, whose unsentimental text might offer you greater insights into the real Powell, and clues on how to write in a way that readers can take seriously.

    Out!

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  16. "๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜บ ๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ข ๐˜ฝ๐™‡๐˜ผ๐˜พ๐™† ๐˜ฑ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ด๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ฎ๐˜ถ๐˜จ๐˜จ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ."

    Errr... you wot, m8?!

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