Escapist Fantasies

Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt.
(The weather not their mind they change
who rush across the sea.)

Horace’s tagline is generally cited to illustrate the American cliché that, wherever you may go, you cannot run away from yourself.  In a country where divorce is more common than marriage, where millions every year move from one state to another, and where half the population spends more than $1,500 on an annual vacation, escaping from ourselves is not so much a national obsession as a way of life.

Horace knew that human beings cannot really escape the lives they have lived.  He also realized, following Heraclitus, that character is destiny.  However, in making his skeptical observation on the benefits of travel, he had something rather different in mind.  The poet had traveled, for study, war, and diplomacy, both within Italy and in the Greek East.  He was far from being immune to the glories of Athens or the beauties of Aegean islands.  His point is not that we should never go anywhere, but that we should be content wherever we are.  We can, as he says, sing the praises of a Greek island from the security of a house in Rome, whether Rome, Georgia; Rome, New York; or even Rome, Lazio.  The discomforts of travel distort our perspective.  Journeys can be wet and...

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