Books: Why the Romans were so heavy

The Modern Antiquarian

by Julian Cope Thorsons pounds 29.99

T he pop career of Ex-Teardrop Explodes' frontman has been secondary to his visionary tendencies for some time now. gives those tendencies concrete form. Beginning with his curiosity about the standing stones scattered around his home, he eventually visited some 300 such sites. The realisation that there was no comprehensive guide- book to the stones resulted in the current volume, split between a detailed Gazetteer (both practical and subjective) and a series of essays on Megalithic culture. His thesis is that the Stone Age temples that litter the British landscape are evidence of three millennia of sophisticated harmony between humanity and the land, on which our current Romano-Christian culture is a temporary blot.

Cope's methodology is summed up in a quote from geologist Charles Hapgood ("The specialist who starts out by learning what everybody else has done before him is not likely to initiate anything new"), and one from Linus of Peanuts, who, having a theory dismissed as an "old wives' tale", retorts, "Some of those old wives were pretty sharp." From the inticements on this beautifully produced book's slip-case ("Britain Divided into Seven Rainbow Colours") to its subtitles ("Why the Romans were so heavy") and confessions ("It's hard for me to write, these stones have got me so high"), Cope's taunting indifference to academic rules is apparent.

Even for a layman, his free-ranging thought- processes are sometimes too much, as when he makes a massive linguistic leap from a casual comment by his wife. His wistful certainty of the matriarchal nature of Megalithic society is contentious, inferring where it can't prove (as did one of his sources, Robert Graves). But as the book progresses, the obsessive rigour of Cope's on-site research and the exhilaration of his descriptions of his journeying wear down your reservations. You begin to see Britain as he does, as a landscape stitched together by ancient stones and hills, not-yet-lost technologies and relics.

It's a sensation helped by hundreds of photos showing nothing but mounds and moats, stone circles which lean, tower and totter, and glistening fields of rock, all invariably topped by clear blue sky. Cope's tethering of these images to essays on a culture which saw them as penises, breasts and menstrual flow, and which could use a hill-range both to represent a woman and as a guide to lunar transits, is impressive. When the book's final essay gives a partisan description of this society's violent destruction by Bronze Age and Roman invaders, the sense of loss is palpable. The psychic jackboot of the latter's linear culture is still felt by Cope. The stones seem like a lingering, prehistoric resistance force.

This insistence on the superiority of pre-Bronze Age culture, powerful though it is, is also the book's weakness. In the Gazetteer, Cope sounds prissy in his annoyance at incursions of modernity on his Stone Age sites. His assertion of the "inherent meaninglessness" of urban living, meanwhile, is as absurdly narrow-minded as the academics he elsewhere attacks. The only work which can bear comparison to his own obsessive monograph, ironically, is Iain Sinclair's Lights Out for the Territory. Where Sinclair conjures networks of meaning from London's byways by relentlessly traipsing them, Cope has done the same, with equal power, for the countryside. Neither approach is in conflict, as the messianic Cope seems to think. Rather, they complement each other, using verbal magic to create subversive patterns in a straitened culture. In Cope's case, you could disbelieve every word he says, and blind yourself to his pictures. You'd still be perked up by his fervent visions.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee