Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 February 2012
Writing about the Founding Legend of Western Civilization, Richard Waswo shows how the Latin words for culture – culto, cultum, col – are also the root words for the verb “to cultivate,” and thereby serve to link all manifestations of high culture to the tilling of the soil. These ideas, created by and for settled agricultural communities that sow, harvest, and build walls and cities, further serve to qualify as savage all other relations that people have with nature. Indeed, for Waswo, the “image of civilization is the city, usually in the synecdochic form of walls and towers.” One obvious example of this is that for the Greeks, and even more for the Romans, the goddess Cybele – protector of agricultural and civic life – is represented as seated on a throne wearing a crown of walls and towers. Conversely, it was Herodotus who helped to define barbarians as people whose primary characteristic was their “ignorance of ploughing and sowing and the fact that they do not dwell in houses.” Accordingly, as the rhetoric that associated cultivation with civility and order began to emerge as an ideological strategy in Tudor Ireland, the humanist officials responsible for policies in Ireland became further committed to the establishment of urban settlements and the attendant material culture that they considered essential markers of civilization.