There is a Latin term which explains to me why the Roman Empire was such a rip-roaring success for so long.
It is their term for an instruction book: a manual. A how-to, a step-by step explanation.
They call it a vade mecum: a “walk with me,”
Surely, that is what an ideal instruction manual should do. It should take your hand and walk you through a path to success.
The Egyptians had them. The ones we take notice of are those for how to tackle the afterlife: they are called books of the dead, or more accurately, books of coming forth into the light.
The manual contained important spells to be said at all those key post-death moments: when the body regains its powers of movement and speech; travelling across the sky as part of the sun arc; that tricky interview with Osiris; what you eat once you have become a God.
To the Egyptians this was as real as a Mrs Beeton cookery book.
The Greeks calles these walk-with-me’s the enchiridion. One of the most famous is written by the stoic, Epictetus, full of dour but incredibly down-to earth instructions on how to live life. While I cannot imagine Epictetus was much fun at parties he had some rather beautiful words for his walk-with-me:
“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions. ”
Ethereal instructions those: quite unlike the gritty, grounded walk-with-me which was written in 1787 for a governor who must surely have had to be a man of steel.
Because Naval commander Arthur Philip founded the first British colony of convicts in Australia.
The instructions are issued, although not written, by George III and his Privy Council.
The original instructions give Governor Philips a commission, instructions about where he can site his new colony, how he should manage the convicts, how he should grant land to his compatriots and how he should ensure it was cultivated.
It includes strict instructions that the Aborigines’ lives and livelihoods should be respected; but absolutely no mention of any arrangements to protect their lands.
And while none of the Privy Council or his royal highness the King had ever set foot in Australia they instructed Governor Philip that this place was terra nullius: land belonging to no one. I’m not quite sure who they thought those people were, running around all over the place in New South Wales. A strange walk-with-me, written by people who never had, from the other side of the world.
It was a little earlier in our timeline that an unlikely instruction book is thought to have had a considerable effect on the moulding of one of our greatest English buildings.
It is surmised that it fell into the hands of Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop of York, Chief Minister and erstwhile favourite of Henry VIII, although there is no direct evidence that he was ever seen walking around, reading it and muttering under his breath.
The book was written by an arch administrator from the Vatican, Paolo Cortesi. Steeped in Italian court life- a hanger-on of the Medici in Florence at one point – he rose to become Apostolic Secretary to Pope Julius II.
At which point he wrote a walk-with-me for Cardinals. Cardinalism by numbers.
De Cardinalatu is a three-tome Mrs Beeton for the aspiring Cardinal. Ethicist et contemplativus deals with matters of the Cardinals powers and right to act. Politician, the third, deals with a Cardinal’s duties in society.
The second, Oeconomicus, is a down to earth manual concerning the domestic detail of being a Cardinal. It includes the Domo: instructions for how to run an efficient Cardinal’s household.
Domo covers everything a new Cardinal needs to know: how to live, how to orient one’s palace in respect to the sun and the wind, and then the really important stuff: a plan of a Cardinal’s house, advice on style, how to decorate the interior.
It was published in 1510, round about the time Cardinal Wolsey was casting his eye over the monastery compulsorily acquired from the brothers of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.
It was to become Hampton Court Palace.
Seven years it took Wolsey, and 200,000 gold coins, to transform this farmstead into the most lavish palace in England, a demonstration of the new classical style. A true demonstration of a Cardinal’s splendour.
But this Cardinal was not as well versed in securing annulments as he was in building Italian classical masterpieces. Sensing the King’s favour shifting he gifted the palace to Henry: he died two years later.
So much for following the instruction manual.
Picture source here