The ZMan is one of my favorite bad thinkers. Even if I disagree with his conclusions sometimes he is always entertaining and thought provoking. Here he looks at the civic nationalism of a loyal roman general and that of Kris Kobach who is running for the Senate in Kansas. A good read.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist by training so it is perhaps unsurprising that he finds the analogies between Petronius’s Satyricon and the cultural rot of our own age.
But I still praise him for the accuracy of his point by point comparison. Comparing the present age to post-republican Rome has become a common trope but Hanson points out just how accurate it is. Nothing new here, just the scholarly expertise of the author pointing out the exactness of the analogy.
“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”
“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”
Reading the Stoic quotes you could be tempted to think it all sounds too inhuman, too sterile. But what I remember then is that Aurelius lived his creed and selflessly struggled to hold back the forces of entropy that were inexorably waiting for his death to pummel the seemingly invulnerable Roman Empire with the first of an endless series of blows that would eventually grind it dust. A lesser man, like his son Commodus would abandon the grinding drudgery of defending the imperial frontier and devote himself to decadent pleasure while the world dissolved.
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”
“Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.”
The emperor Marcus Aurelius is for me one of the most compelling character in history, The philosopher/warrior/emperor single-handedly holding the exhausted empire together by stoic will until his old body gives out. And after him the deluge.
Cicero was saltier than I remembered him. And of course he himself was undoubtedly a politician.
Politicians are not born; they are excreted.
I’ve always been fascinated by the spectacle of Hannibal. A man who almost single-handedly tried and almost succeeded in reversing the whole order of the world. And it was all personal to him.
“I will either find a way or make one.”
Scene 1 – 30 B.C – The Roman Forum (Tuesday)
Emperor Augustus Trumpster (EAT) – Where is Philbertus Macadamius? Phil! Phil! Where in Hades are you?
Philbertus Macadamius (PM) – Right here Great Trumpster! All Hail divine Trumpster. Why, you bestride the whole world like a Colussus!
EAT – Yeah well stop looking up my toga when I do. Remember my hands are plenty big. Nothing to worry about there.
PM – Yes great Trumpster. And how may I be of service?
EAT – Listen Phil, I’m about to make a big speech before the senate and I need someone that I can trust to listen to my tweet, I mean speech.
PM – I would be honored Great Trumpster.
EAT – Sure, sure but listen I’m a little sword-shy after Mike-us Pence-tony, my right hand man, ran off with that Clintonpatra skank and tried to steal the whole eastern empire from me. That really pissed me off. So, I have to know that what I say will go no further than this portico. I have to know you’re loyal.
PM – Rest assured Great Trumpster, that I would never reveal your conversation or blab it to the Times New Roman, er I mean the New Roman Times.
EAT – Yeah, nothing to see here. Oh what the hell. If anything happens I can always feed you to the lions in the Colosseum (when someone gets around to building it that is). Anyway what do you think of this speech?
PM – (reading the scroll) Uh let’s see. Hmmm, zmmmm, hmmm, zmmm. Looks good to me. Cicero himself will rave.
EAT – Yeah except we cut off his head a few years back.
PM – Oh, that’s right. Good times, good times. Anyway, the speech is a peach. Lay it on them Mighty Trumpster.
Scene 2 – Same day, Roman Senate.
EAT – Friends, Romans, Countrymen. Lend me your ears. No, I mean really. I’m having all your ears cut off for those rude remarks you made about the Empress Melania. She’s the best- looking babe this old burg has ever seen and you claim that Clintopatra is more regal? You’re just lucky I won and she wasn’t in charge. She’d have had you guys eunuched within the week and singing soprano in the Palatine Follies before the Ides of March. But relax, I had her boiled in oil and rendered into so much soap that it’ll last the empire for a decade. Unfortunately Slickus Willius escaped into the East. But it’s probably for the better. If that joker got talking he’d have stolen the togas right off your backs. Him and that “that depends on what the definition of id est.” What a crook.
So anyway, here’s the deal. I’m going to turn this republic into an empire. Now I know that’s bad, but you folks are already too corrupt to reform. On the upside the Pax Romana will give you about two hundred years of relative prosperity and peace. The downside is that by the time the Visigoths show up you’ll be a bunch of serfs too poor and dispirited to care about defending your homes.
But look at the bright side. The bread and circuses should last right up until Alaric and the Visigoths sack this place in 410 A.D. (whenever that is). So let’s party like it’s MCMXCIX!!!!
Senators – Toga, toga, toga.