De temporis lapsu

It has been the season when, just as teachers stop panicking about the examinations because it is too late, the students begin to do so, realising at last that time does pass.

Teaching has its joys, and also its irritations, among which is the reluctance of students to allow for the passage of time. Perhaps after all time is not our natural habitat: how it flies, people exclaim in disbelief, as if it is something alien.

The miscalculation of time is observable in children’s unreal perceptions of the past, and sometimes their failure to understand how recent are the events that they are prepared to relegate to some mental archive, when actually those events, by the network of causation, are affecting everything that happens now. Hence the Jewish insistence on reminding the young repeatedly of past events—and impressing on them that history and memory must be intimately connected.

One thoughtful sixth former discovered that his grandfather had been 70 on the day he was born, and that the same was true of his grandfather’s grandfather. Which set him thinking: two people’s lifetimes went back to the American Civil War; and he realised that only thirty lifetimes, similarly put end to end, could go back to Julius Caesar. And you could get those 30 people into one room.

This may have been the moment when he decided to be a historian.

To walk the streets of Rome amid the whispers of spring, or in the warmth of autumn, may be to snatch a moment from paradise. But to stroll in the Forum is to feel time closing up like a telescope. It all feels a short interval ago—as if it were only recently that Augustus gested his res.  Which in fact it was.