Rome. A city full of myths, legend, and history. Rome’s influence to the whole world is such that we have four idioms in English that mention Rome. We Indonesian will at least be able to name one of them, as it has an Indonesian version.
‘Banyak jalan menuju Roma’ is the Indonesian version of ‘all roads lead to Rome.’ In Indonesian, it’s commonly interpreted as there are a lot of ways to achieve something, which essentially means ‘never give up.’
The English version has a slightly different meaning. It means that all methods of doing something will lead to the same result. However, the idiom ‘all roads lead to Rome’ had a literal meaning once.
To mark the starting point of the Roman road system to the rest of Italy, Emperor Caesar Augustus of the Roman Empire instructed the building of Milliarium Aureum or the Golden Milestone around 20 BCE. All roads were considered to begin at this monument and all distances in the Roman Empire were measured relative to it.
Next, we have ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’ The first known reference to this idiom was actually made by a 12th-century cleric in the court of Phillippe of Alsace, the Count of Flanders, in present-day Belgium.
It was recorded in a mediaeval French poem around the end of the 12th century as ‘Rome ne fu pas faite toute en un jour’ and then it was included in the book Li Proverbe au Vilain by Swiss linguist Adolf Tobler in 1895. This idiom means that everything takes time and effort.
Another idiom is ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ It means wherever we are in the world, it’s expected that we respect local people and local culture. The phrase’s origin can be traced back to the 4th century, written by Saint Augustine.
During that time, Saint Augustine moved from Rome to Milan to become a professor of rhetoric. In his previous Roman church, there was a custom to fast on Saturdays, but he didn’t find such tradition in Milan. Thus, he found the place quite different.
Saint Ambrose, a bishop of Milan, then advised Saint Augustine, “When I go to Rome, I fast on Saturday, but here I do not. Do you also follow the custom of whatever church you attend if you do not want to give or receive scandal (create controversies)?”
These wise words left such a deep impression that Saint Augustine wrote it in a letter. Later on, similar phrases started gaining popularity and came to a conclusion as ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do.’
The last one is ‘fiddling while Rome burns.’ It means to continue our regular activity to avoid dealing with something unpleasant or to do something trivial in the midst of an emergency. Sounds like celebrities and influencers who attend or host parties during a pandemic.
All shades aside, in July of 64 AD, a great fire ravaged Rome for six days, destroying 70 percent of the city and leaving half of its population homeless. Emperor Nero, who was notorious for being a tyrant, was believed to quite literally play music, specifically a fiddle, during the fire.
However, historians debate this theory as Nero was at his villa in Antium, around 35 miles from Rome. Music historians believe the viol class of instruments (to which the fiddle belongs) was not developed until the 11th century, making it disputable for Nero to have played one during the fire.
Nero returned to Rome immediately and began disaster relief measures, but as he was known for being an ineffective leader, his people didn’t trust him. Many Romans accused him of instructing to start the fire in order to empty some lands which would then become his Golden Palace and its surrounding gardens. Nero himself accused and subsequently arrested and executed the Christians.
He cast the blame on the Christians because Christianity was a relatively unknown religious sect at the time. But the story that Nero played a fiddle during the Great Fire is considered more of a legend than a fact.
There they are, fellas, 4 idioms that mention Rome, each with its origin and history. Feel free to add anything that we’ve missed or correct us if there is any inaccuracy.