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Ancient civilizations

The British economy, rather like yours, is under considerable pressure right now. Part of the reason is the state of the economies in the very cradles of European civilisation - Greece and Rome. Now Ancient Greeks may have mastered astronomy, architecture, drama, medicine, mathematics and how to stuff dolmades - but Modern Greeks seem to have lost the ability to count.

The ratings agencies now class the country as "junk". The Government in Athens borrowed 156 billion dollars last year - to stave off bankruptcy. They got through it so fast this year they asked for 155 billion. As one of their Philosophers, Aristotle, used to say: "the Gods are fond of a joke!" And, yes, we'll ALL be kebabed in the end, because much of the cash is coming from the Washington based International Monetary Fund, of which the biggest contributor is - you guessed it - the United States of America. So thank you Uncle Sam.

Now Greece shares a currency with a lot of European nations called the Euro. So when the Greeks are in trouble, the Euro is in trouble and everyone's in trouble. Including that other seat of civilization, Italy, from where the Ancient Romans once ran a whole empire - Britain included - and gave us all culture, central heating, drainage, very straight roads and an extremely big wall to keep the Scottish people out of the way. Apart from that, what did the Romans ever do for us? But I digress.

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Today their descendants in Italy have a debt crisis of phenomenal proportions. It is, in Latin, "Nulli Secunda" - second to none - standing at 2.59 trillion dollars, which is more than the debts of Spain, Greece, Ireland and Portugal put together. But "Nil Desperandum" - never despair - as the Romans used to say.

Italy's libidinous (and that's another Latin word) Prime Minister Berlusconi has just announced huge cuts in public spending and is keeping his fingers crossed. Maybe if he had kept his trousers on and spent more time running his country, it wouldn't be in such a fine mess today. There's a famous fountain in Rome called the Trevi. Frank Sinatra used to croon about throwing three coins into it. It really happens. Every day people chuck around 3000 Euros into the Trevi desperately seeking good fortune. And the way the Euro's going, soon it won't be worth fishing out the coins. "Vitam regit fortuna, non sapienti" - fortune, not wisdom, may rule - just like Cicero said. But for Greece and Rome to survive this crisis needs a whole load of luck and a whole lot of loans. Probably from you. This is Ed Boyle for CBS News in London.