Ruin-mindedness now seems to be a general human characteristic but, as Roland Mayer will argue, it actually had an historical moment of birth in Rome, and then a slow development within and diffusion from Western Europe. Modern travellers in antique lands might suppose that the impulses to conserve, to interpret, and to derive aesthetic satisfaction from ruins have always been as widespread as they are nowadays. The evidence, however, is against such a notion.
The Greeks and Romans neither cherished ruins, nor found in them any aesthetic qualities.
The more continuous cultures of China and India have only very recently showed any interest in them. What has been called ruin-mindedness had its origins in a very specific time, place and person, namely when the Italian poet Petrarch first visited the ruins of ancient Rome.
Roland Mayer, who was born in the USA and educated in the USA and England, joined London University in 1976, first as a research scholar at Bedford College, then as a lecturer at Birkbeck and King’s College, London, where he occupied a personal chair in Classics from 1996. He retired from KCL in 2015. His academic work has focused on Roman literary culture, chiefly of the early empire (particularly Horace, Seneca and Tacitus).