This week’s unicorns include new discoveries in the history of the Roman Empire (woot!), homemaking, medical care as soul care, and redeeming lists.
Roman history news you can use: “Bedbugs came to Britain with the Romans.” A taste (if you read this headline and can’t wait to know more—I hear you, it’s a natural reaction):
Archaeologists working at Vindolanda, a Roman garrison site south of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, have unearthed fresh evidence that the Romans also brought us … bedbugs.
Dr Andrew Birley, who heads the Vindolanda archaeological team, said: “It is incredibly rare to find them in any ancient context.”
One theory is that the Romans brought bedbugs to Britain in their straw mattresses. Wyse Jackson said: “It’s very likely they came with whatever the Romans were bringing over. Today, we see bedbugs travelling on aeroplanes in luggage, in clothes. “The Romans were bringing over clothes, straw, grain in great quantities as they were setting up their camps. So it’s the perfect opportunity for one or two bedbugs to hitchhike over.”
As Monty Python once so poignantly asked, “What have the Romans ever done for us?”
Speaking of Romans, great news if you happen to like Epicurean philosophy: loads of new Herculaneum papyri are getting digitally unrolled and read by AI. Herculaneum, along with its better-known next-door neighbor, Pompeii, was buried by the Vesuvius eruption of 79 AD. Many of these papyri, charred and impossible to unroll physically, have been in storage, simply waiting for better technology to read them.
If you don’t care for Epicurean philosophy, well, this is probably (one reason) why we may be friends. You can join me and hope that maybe there’s something tastier still to be discovered in there—like the lost parts of Tacitus’ Annals or Histories. I’ll gladly take a new Roman novel too, pretty please. Basically, got a whole list of wishes here. None of them involve Epicurean philosophy.
Ivana Greco is a Harvard JD who quit her legal career during the pandemic to homeschool her kids. She has been quietly writing up a storm on the importance of homemakers for our society (not just the nuclear family). This is a great interview about her work with Katherine B. Stevens of the Early Matters Podcast. Bonus: links included to some of Ivana’s key essays elsewhere on the topic. I am very much looking forward to her book in progress on the history and policies related to homemakers in America.
Also, Ivana Greco is now a Featured Author at Fairer Disputations, and you should read her new essay there: a proposal for a “G. I. Bill” for homemakers. Here’s the opening of the essay to give you a taste:
On December 1, 2023, the first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court died. Retired Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was a remarkable jurist and legal scholar. Her legacy includes not only her groundbreaking service on our nation’s highest court, but a raft of practical, careful, and reasoned opinions that have profoundly shaped American law.
It almost didn’t happen. When O’Connor graduated third in her class from Stanford Law School in 1952, she was unable to find a job due to her sex. Eventually—after offering to work for free—she found paid employment as a deputy county attorney for California’s San Mateo County. Her difficulties are made starker by comparison with one of her Stanford Law classmates, William Renquist, with whom she would eventually serve on the Supreme Court. Renquist used the then-new G.I. Bill to pay for law school, afterwards clerking for Justice Robert Jackson. He went on to easily find work in private practice for nearly two decades. After working for the Nixon Administration, he was appointed to the Court. He had three children.
O’Connor also had three children, but unlike Renquist’s straightforward career arc, O’Connor’s path was more meandering. Once she became a mother, O’Connor struggled to balance her law practice and her children. She said: “It’s hard to have little children and a job and career at the same time. There is no time left for you, as a woman.” After her babysitter quit, she couldn’t find a replacement she liked. So O’Connor dropped out of the workforce for five years to care for her young sons. Later, she would tell an interviewer: “I didn’t know if I could even get another job as a lawyer… I had so much trouble getting work in the first place.”
Before going to law school, Renquist had also “taken time off” from the civilian workforce to enlist in the U.S. military for three years. Unlike O’Connor’s stint at home with her children, however, his service was publicly honored. Also, unlike O’Connor, the country supported his return to ordinary life, through the G.I. Bill and other forms of support.
On a related note, Jim Dalrymple reflects over at Institute for Family Studies blog: “Instead of Endless Government Programs, We Need to Rebuild Our Villages.”
Only LuElla D’Amico could combine the Barbie movie, Taylor Swift, and Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ encyclical into this incredible essay on personhood, gender, the digital world, and more. A taste:
Pope Francis reminds us in Laudato Si’ that part of the ecological responsibility we share as humans is an awareness of our integral ecology, or the interconnectedness we experience as human beings to and within our environments. In our digitally saturated age, we ought not separate our concept of ecology from the online environment we experience with others.
Pope Francis reminds us in his encyclical that “the destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement.” All one needs to do is glance at the comments section of any article about the Barbie movie or Taylor Swift’s Time Magazine win to discover debasing words about either. With that said, it is unlikely one even need venture that far to come up with a personal recent memory about an attack on these women.
To conclude, here are two essays on the medical establishment that go really well together.
First, Kristin Collier reflects on “The Dark Kenosis of Medical Education” in Public Discourse. I have appreciated Kristin’s many exhortations to physicians and those who train them to remember that we are not just bodies, but are spiritual beings too. This matters, then, for how we treat the body.
Second and related, Abraham Nussbaum asks in Plough: “Why Do We Burn Out New Physicians?” This essay is an “extra” leftover bit that didn’t make it into his forthcoming book, Progress Notes: One Year in the Future of Medicine.
Do you love lists? John Wilson has been on a lists kick in his First Things column. The latest is quite fun: “some novels I would like to read—books as yet unwritten, so far as I know.” A small taste:
I would like to read a good novel set in the “evangelical” world so much pontificated about… By “good” I mean well-written, rich with novelistic pleasures but also “true to life”: not at all uncritical, not grinding an axe either, but with people and places and events grounded in reality, however unfashionable that might be. Could this happen? Certainly. Will it happen? I don’t know. I think the best bet would be on a writer with a strong satirical bent who could portray the dreaded “evangelicals” and their woke critics with equal aplomb, combining cutting wit with deep generosity. Whoever takes it on would do well to seek inspiration from Daniel Taylor’s series of novels that enter the world of contemporary Bible translation, including Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees. Talk about a subject rich with possibilities.
Next, a novel centering on Christian missionaries who come to the U.S. from another country. China would be an obvious possibility, but there are others. A novel with this point of departure could go in many directions, profitably so. My first preference, of course, would be to read such a book by a writer who was both a believer and a talented novelist, but I think the subject could also be usefully taken up by a good writer who is not himself or herself a believer.
Last but not least, beginning this coming week, the Unicorn will be shifting from Saturdays to Fridays. It started as a bit of a more experimental thing, and now that it is a regular part of my week and requires some thought and reading, I want to give it the honored space during the week that it deserves. And if you find that you need something in your inbox on Saturday mornings, my new Substack newsletter mails out every Saturday.