urbanitas – you either have it or you don’t / by Anthony Gibbins

The Oxford Latin Dictionary defines urbanitas as refinement or polish or style, especially as marked by elegance, good taste and smartness of humour. Or, to put it another way (and to reveal its inbuilt prejudices), the qualities typical of a city-dweller, sophistication. Domitius Marsus, a poet of the Augustan Age and one of Maecenas’ inner circle, wrote a treatise on the subject, de urbanitate, now sadly lost. In Cicero’s de oratore, urbanitas is considered along with sal character : urbanitas being an elegant and cultured mode of expressing one’s sal to others. These references are collected by J.P. Sullivan in Martial : the unexpected classic. Sullivan also provides this elaboration;

Now the word urbanitas is essentially how a sophisticated Roman would refer to that broad and diachronically shifting quality or phenomenon once called ‘wit’.

urbanitas belongs to a family of words, the most common of which is urbs city. In the Latin context the quintessential urbs was, of course, Roma. There are also two Adverbs, urbane with refined politeness, suavely, urbanely, with refined humour, wittily and urbanatim in the style of a city-dweller. And then there is the Adjective urbanus having the style of the city, elegant and sophisticated, free from uncouthness, polished and smart. If you find the inbuilt assumptions of these terms worrying, you may not be alone. mus urbanus et mus rusticus The City Mouse and the Country Mouse, is an exploration of the highs and lows of both lifestyles. Horace has the mus rusticus conclude of urban living;

This life’s no use to me: and so, farewell: my woodland hole,

And simple vetch, safe from such scares, they’ll do for me.

One last example from the ancient literature, this time from Catullus who, mea sententia, oozes urbanitas. Suffenus, Catullus writes in poem 22, is stylish in everything that he does – except in the writing of his god-awful poetry;

            homo est venustus et dicax et urbanus.

            He is a person charming and witty and urbanus.

Claudia tells Miranda that Marcus was both urbanus and iucundus delightful. I could try hold you here longer to discuss that word too, but that would show a distinct lack of style.

I led Marcus through the streets to the baths. Without a doubt, he was a delightful and urbanus man. Walking we talked about the ancient town.

The Lego model of Pompeii is housed in the Nicholson Museum of The University of Sydney, Australia. Entry to the museum is entirely free, and you may visit Monday to Friday between 10:00 and 4:30. The Nicholson is Australia’s oldest University museum and contains the largest collection of antiquities in the Southern Hemisphere. 

The Pompeii model was commissioned by the Nicholson and constructed by LEGO Professional Builder Ryan McNaught. It is the third such model the museum has exhibited, following the Colosseum and Acropolis.  The Colosseum was returned to McNaught and recently exhibited around Australia. The Acropolis was denoted by the Nicholson to the Acropolis Museum in Athens. The Pompeii model is estimated to include 190 000 bricks and took 420 hours to complete.