You . . . are wrong to disturb the peace . . . and not to rest content with the fine state that is yours. If you knew how everyone hates you, your hair would stand on end.

These words have a familiar resonance for an American living in Europe today. They might have been read intact from a banner at Greenham Common (an unusually literate banner), or quoted verbatim from any number of British TV chat shows or newspaper comments after the operation in Grenada. In fact, they are part of a letter written by the Duke of Milan in the fifteenth century and addressed to the rising Republic of Venice, which at the time was attracting the envious hostility of other Italian states and of powerful governments in Europe. There are tempting parallels here which I will not explore, because the real context of the passage is on this occasion not political.

The quotation occurs in the catalogue of a brilliant exhibition at the Royal...

 
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