Ides of March: The Noblest Roman of Them All

Saturday, March 15, AD 2014

This was the noblest Roman of them all:
All the conspirators, save only he,
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He, only in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.

Mark Antony on Brutus

Julius Caesar, Act 5, Scene 5

I think it would have amused the Romans of Caesar’s generation if they could have learned that the assassination of Julius Caesar would eventually receive immortality through a play written more than 16 centuries after the event by a barbarian playwright in the Tin Islands that Caesar had briefly invaded.  It would have tickled their well developed concept of the ludicrous, judging from Roman comedy.

The Roman Republic had been visibly dying for generations before Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger was born into this vale of tears in 85 BC, amidst one of the Roman Civil wars that were becoming the new norm, with the Republic awaiting with trepidation the eventual return of Sulla from Greece after he defeated Mithridates, and the slaughters that he would doubtless inflict on his enemies.  This was the world Brutus was born into:  a world in which he was taught the glories of the Republic as a boy, but as he grew into manhood he could see old Roman morality being forgotten, a growth of decadence fueled by ever more wealth from foreign conquests, endless amounts of slaves flooding into Italy from the same foreign conquests, factions in the Senate engaging in what amounted to a cold civil war between bouts of hot civil war, the Roman Republican government teetering on the brink of permanent military dictatorship.

Ironically the man who would establish the permanent military dictatorship, Julius Caesar, was ever his friend and mentor, Caesar being the long time lover of his mother Servilia.  Nevertheless, from his first entry into the Senate, Brutus aligned with the Optimates ” the best”, against the Populares, “the people” .  The names are really beside the point between these two factions.  By the late Republic, political and military power had become one and the same, and pretty wrappers of claims to loyalty to the Republic or to the People usually were merely masks to hide naked ambition.  However, that was not the case with Brutus, who, like his uncle Cato the Younger, was a true idealist who wished to preserve the Republic.

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17 Responses to Ides of March: The Noblest Roman of Them All

  • How much, one wonders, was Brutus influenced by the story of his famous ancestor, L Junius Brutus, who had played a leading rôle in the expulsion of the kings and the founding of the republic and whose bronze statue on the Capitol he must have seen so often.
    Did the words of Brutus’s famous oath echo in his ears: never to suffer any man to rule over Rome?

  • History was quite the vogue in the time of Brutus, and I would be surprised if were not frequently being remind of his ancestor, the founder of the Republic.

  • If Brutus was willing to kill his friend and mentor to preserve his Republic, then what should you and I be willing to do to preserve ours? I do not want to kill.

  • from his first entry into the Senate, Brutus aligned with the Optimates ” the best”, against the Populares, “the people” . The names are really beside the point between these two factions. By the late Republic, political and military power had become one and the same, and pretty wrappers of claims to loyalty to the Republic or to the People usually were merely masks to hide naked ambition.

    Why does that sound familiar?

    The life of Brutus might be regarded as one long act of futility, his devotion to a Republic manifestly in its death throes doing nothing to stop the inevitable death of the Republic. However, his example would inspire men and women across the centuries who lived under despotisms, and whenever liberty arose again, the name of Brutus was usually on the lips of those who contended for it.

    That might be the final irony of his life, given that the liberty Brutus and the other conspirators sought to preserve was the freedom of the oligarchs to continue to vie with one another for mastery over all that wealth flowing from the spoils of conquest.

  • Ernst Schreiber wrote, “[T]he liberty Brutus and the other conspirators sought to preserve was the freedom of the oligarchs to continue to vie with one another for mastery over all that wealth flowing from the spoils of conquest.”

    The Romans were a people who hated work, despised commerce and lived by plundering and enslaving their neighbours. To be successful at this (and they were very successful) it was necessary to cultivate certain very real virtues: courage, perseverance, self-control, prudence, discipline, constancy in misfortune, devotion to the community. Patriotism meant hatred of foreigners – indeed, the very word “foreigner” (peregrinus) is a late one, in Latin, as Cato observes; before the end of the Second Punic War (218 – 201 BCE), they simply made do with hostis or servus – enemy or slave.

    Liberty meant sharing in the government, that is overseeing the sharing of the spoils and the most honourable as well as the most lucrative professions were those of the soldier, the politician and the jurist.

    As Lord Acton says, “The Roman republic laboured to crush the subjugated nations into a homogeneous and obedient mass; but the increase which the proconsular authority obtained in the process subverted the republican government, and the reaction of the provinces against Rome assisted in establishing the empire. The Cæsarean system gave an unprecedented freedom to the dependencies, and raised them to a civil equality which put an end to the dominion of race over race and of class over class. The [Augustan] monarchy was hailed as a refuge from the pride and cupidity of the Roman people and the love of equality, the hatred of nobility, and the tolerance of despotism implanted by Rome became, at least in Gaul, the chief feature of the national character.”

  • “That might be the final irony of his life, given that the liberty Brutus and the other conspirators sought to preserve was the freedom of the oligarchs to continue to vie with one another for mastery over all that wealth flowing from the spoils of conquest.”

    To many Romans the Republic meant much more than that and Brutus was among their number. To Brutus it meant liberty:

    “After reflecting on this, Cassius made Brutus his first visit since the quarrel above mentioned,13 and when they were again on a friendly footing, asked him whether he had made up his mind to attend the meeting of the senate on the Calends of March; for it had come to his ears, he said, that Caesar’s friends would then move to have him made king. 4 When Brutus answered that he should not attend, “What, then,” said Cassius, “if we should be summoned?” “It would at once be my duty,” said Brutus, “not to hold my peace, but to defend my country and die in behalf of liberty.””

    That is from Plutarch’s life of Brutus written about a century and a half after Brutus died and long after the establishment of the Empire. Many of the Optimates were mere self seekers, but not Brutus nor his uncle Cato. They fought for liberty under the Republic and the mos maiorum, the ways of their ancestors.

  • Donald M McClarey wrote, “Many of the Optimates were mere self seekers, but not Brutus nor his uncle Cato.”

    I would add Cicero, who deserves to be remembered above all for his 14 Philippicae, delivered between September 44 and April 43. He must have known they could well cost him his life as, in fact, they did. Mark Anthony, one recalls insisted that the hands that wrote the Philippicae should be nailed, along with Cicero’s head, to the rostrum in the Forum.

  • Brutus committed suicide rather than working to restore the Republic that he loved. Quitter.

  • The Romans were a people who hated work, despised commerce and lived by plundering and enslaving their neighbors [at which they were very successful].

    In my humble opinion, and with great respect, I believe you have cause and effect backwards. Because of the existence of slavery, the Roman oligarchs hated work and despised commerce. The guy to read is Aldo Schiavone, The End of the Past: Ancient Rome and the Modern West. Sorry I can’t provide a link right now –computer’s acting up.

  • “Brutus committed suicide rather than working to restore the Republic that he loved. Quitter.”

    No Mary he understood that with the Senate armies defeated the wheel of history had turned and the Republic was one with Nineveh and Tyre.

  • “No Mary he understood that with the Senate armies defeated the wheel of history had turned and the Republic was one with Nineveh and Tyre.”
    .
    And Socrates became an accomplice to his own death by imbibing the hemlock with his own hand. Jesus did nothing to cause or bring about his death. Christ was as innocent as a lamb.

  • The following words are from what seems to be a tangentially contemporary Brutus. This is copy/pasted from a piece in a comment found on Zero Hedge today which title concerned Turkish news from its Brutus.

    “President Museveni of Uganda 24 February 2014-

    It seems the topic of homosexuals was provoked by the arrogant and careless Western groups that are fond of coming into our schools and recruiting young children into homosexuality and lesbianism, just as they carelessly handle other issues concerning Africa.

    Initially, I did not pay much attention to it because I was busy with the immediate issues of defense, security, electricity, the roads, the railways, factories, modernization of agriculture, etc.

    When, eventually, I concentrated my mind on it, I distilled three problems:

    1. those who were promoting homo-sexuality and recruiting normal people into it;

    2. as a consequence of No. 1 above, many of those recruited were doing so for mercenary reasons – to get money – in effect homosexual prostitutes; these mercenary homosexual prostitutes had to be punished;

    3. Homosexuals exhibiting themselves; Africans are flabbergasted by exhibitionism of sexual acts – whether heterosexual or otherwise and for good reason. Why do you exhibit your sexual conduct? Are you short of opportunity for privacy – where you can kiss, fondle (kukirigiita, kwagaaga) etc.?

    Are we interested in seeing your sexual acts – we the Public? I am not able to understand the logic of the Western Culture. However, we Africans always keep our opinions to ourselves and never seek to impose our point of view on the others. If only they could let us alone.

    It was my view that the above three should be punished harshly in order to defend our society from disorientation. Therefore, on these three I was in total accord with the MPs and other Ugandans. I had, however, a problem with Category 4 or what I thought was category 4 – those “born” homosexual.

    I thought there were such people – those who are either genetic or congenital homosexuals. The reason I thought so was because I could not understand why a man could fail to be attracted to the beauties of a woman and, instead, be attracted to a fellow man. It meant, according to me, that there was something wrong with that man – he was born a homosexual – abnormal.

    I, therefore, thought that it would be wrong to punish somebody because of how he was created, disgusting though it may be to us. That is why I refused to sign the Bill. In order to get to the truth, we involved Uganda Scientists as well as consulting Scientists from outside Uganda.

    My question to them was: “Are there people that are homosexual right from birth?”. After exhaustive studies, it has been found that homosexuality is in two categories: there are those who engage in homosexuality for mercenary reasons on account of the under – developed sectors of our economy that cause people to remain in poverty, the great opportunities that abound not withstanding; and then there are those that become homosexual by both nature (genetic) and nurture (up-bringing).

    The studies that were done on identical twins in Sweden showed that 34% – 39% were homosexual on account of nature and 66% were homosexual on account of nurture.

    Therefore, even in those studies, nurture was more significant than nature. Can somebody be homosexual purely by nature without nurture? The answer is: “No”. No study has shown that. Since nurture is the main cause of homosexuality, then society can do something about it to discourage the trends. That is why I have agreed to sign the Bill.

    Since Western societies do not appreciate politeness, let me take this opportunity to warn our people publicly about the wrong practices indulged in and promoted by some of the outsiders.

    One of them is “oral sex”. Our youth should reject this because God designed the human being most appropriately for pleasurable, sustainable and healthy sex. Some of the traditional styles are very pleasurable and healthy. The mouth is not engineered for that purpose except kissing. Besides, it is very unhealthy. People can even contract gonorrhea of the mouth and throat on account of so-called “oral sex”, not to mention worms, hepatitis E, etc.

    The Ministry of Gender and Youth should de-campaign this buyayism imported from outside and sensitize the youth about the healthy life style that is abundant in our cultures.

    We reject the notion that somebody can be homosexual by choice; that a man can choose to love a fellow man; that sexual orientation is a matter of choice. Since my original thesis that there may be people who are born homosexual has been disproved by science, then the homosexuals have lost the argument in Uganda.

    They should rehabilitate themselves and society should assist them to do so.”

  • “And Socrates became an accomplice to his own death by imbibing the hemlock with his own hand.”

    To carry out the sentence of death imposed by the government of Athens. He was urged not to do this by many of his students and to attempt to escape from jail. He refused to do so because he believed that when one is a citizen of a polity one must obey the laws of the polity. I disagree with Socrates on this point, but that was his reason for drinking the hemlock.

  • Perhaps Socrates didn’t mean it at all.

  • “he (Socrates) believed that when one is a citizen of a polity one must obey the laws of the polity. I disagree with Socrates on this point, but that was his reason for drinking the hemlock.”
    .
    So, Socrates believed that it was honorable to commit suicide to uphold the laws of Athens because of his citizenship, and Socrates committed suicide to prove it. Suicide being an intrinsic evil, a greater evil than any polity

Advent and Anti-Christ, Part III

Sunday, December 15, AD 2013

Part three of my presentation of the four sermons of John Henry Cardinal Newman on the Anti-Christ delivered in 1835 before his conversion.  Part I is here and Part II is here.

In this sermon Newman considers the City and Empire of Rome and its relation to the Anti-Christ.  Many Protestant theologians since the Reformation identified the Roman Catholic Church as the Whore of Babylon and the Pope as Anti-Christ.  Newman wrote a detailed attack in 1840 on this belief while he was still a Protestant.  It may be read here.  For Newman the Rome identified with the AntiChrist was the City and the Empire and not the Church.  Newman sums up the relationship of Rome and the Anti-Christ as follows:  “The question asked was, Is not (as is commonly said and believed among us) Rome mentioned in the Apocalypse, as having especial share in the events which will come at the end of the world by means or after the time of Antichrist. I answer this, that Rome’s judgments have come on her in great measure, when her empire was taken from her; that her persecutions of the Church have been in great measure judged, and the Scripture predictions concerning her fulfilled; that whether or not, she shall be further judged depends on two circumstances, first, whether “the righteous men” in the city who saved her when her judgment first came may not, through GOD’S great mercy, be allowed to save her still; next, whether the prophecy relates in its fulness to Rome or to some other object or objects of which Rome is a type. And further, I say, that if Rome is still to be judged, this must be before Antichrist comes, because Antichrist comes upon and destroys the ten kings, and lasts but a short space, but the ten kings are to destroy Rome. On the other hand, so far would seem to be clear, that the prophecy itself has not been fully accomplished, whatever we decide about Rome’s concern in it. The Roman empire has not yet been divided into ten heads, nor has it yet risen against the woman, whoever she stands for, nor has the woman yet received her ultimate judgment.”

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One Response to Advent and Anti-Christ, Part III

  • And what about he partial-preterist view, which says that the great city is Jerusalem judged in 70AD? It seems Newman took a historical/futurist view. More people have identified the great city with Rome than with Jerusalem. I suppose it’s possible that both cities could be had in view.

Ides of March: Brutus

Thursday, March 15, AD 2012

This was the noblest Roman of them all:

All the conspirators, save only he,

 Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;

He, only in a general honest thought

And common good to all, made one of them.

Mark Antony referring to Brutus in Julius Caesar

I think it would have amused the Romans of Caesar’s generation if they could have learned that the assassination of Julius Caesar would eventually receive immortality through a play written more than 16 centuries after the event by a barbarian playwright in the Tin Islands that Caesar had briefly invaded.  It would have tickled their well developed concept of the ludicrous, judging from Roman comedy.

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One Response to Ides of March: Brutus

Coriolanus

Thursday, August 25, AD 2011

Though the great houses love us not, we own, to do them right,

That the great houses, all save one, have borne them well in fight.

Still Caius of Corioli, his triumphs and his wrongs,

His vengeance and his mercy, live in our camp-fire songs.

Thomas Babbington Macaulay

The above film is being released on December 2, 2011 here in the US, and I am greatly looking forward to it.  Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s plays that is not performed as regularly as other plays of the Bard, which is a shame, because it is a powerful play about love and hate.  Gnaeus Marcius is a Roman patrician who fought in Rome’s wars shortly after the expulsion from Rome of the last of the Tarquin Kings and the foundation of the Roman Republic, conventionally dated at 508 BC.  Our ancient sources in regard to his career are plentiful, including Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Livy, Appian and Plutarch.  Unfortunately these writers wrote 450-600 years after the time of Coriolanus, and early Roman history is almost impossible to distinguish myth from fact.

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9 Responses to Coriolanus

2763rd Anniversary of the Fovnding of Rome

Wednesday, April 21, AD 2010

Happy Birthday Rome!

Today, 2763 A.U.C., Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus.*

According to legend, Rome was founded on April 21, 753 B.C. by twin brothers descended from the Trojan prince Aeneas.  Romulus and Remus were the grandsons of the Latin King, Numitor of Alba Longa. The King was ejected from his throne by his cruel brother Amulius while Numitor’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, gave birth.  Rhea Silvia was a Vestal Virgin who was spoliated by the pagan god Mars, making the twins half-divine.

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6 Responses to 2763rd Anniversary of the Fovnding of Rome

  • “XXVI

    But the Consul’s brow was sad,
    And the Consul’s speech was low,
    And darkly looked he at the wall,
    And darkly at the foe.
    “Their van will be upon us
    Before the bridge goes down;
    And if they once may win the bridge,
    What hope to save the town?”

    XXVII

    Then out spake brave Horatius,
    The Captain of the Gate:
    “To every man upon this earth
    Death cometh soon or late.
    And how can man die better
    Than facing fearful odds,
    For the ashes of his fathers,
    And the temples of his gods,

    XXVIII

    “And for the tender mother
    Who dandled him to rest,
    And for the wife who nurses
    His baby at her breast,
    And for the holy maidens
    Who feed the eternal flame,
    To save them from false Sextus
    That wrought the deed of shame?

    XXIX

    “Haul down the bridge, Sir Consul,
    With all the speed ye may;
    I, with two more to help me,
    Will hold the foe in play.
    In yon strait path a thousand
    May well be stopped by three.
    Now who will stand on either hand,
    And keep the bridge with me?”

    XXX

    Then out spake Spurius Lartius;
    A Ramnian proud was he:
    “Lo, I will stand at thy right hand,
    And keep the bridge with thee.”
    And out spake strong Herminius;
    Of Titian blood was he:
    “I will abide on thy left side,
    And keep the bridge with thee.”

    XXXI

    “Horatius,” quoth the Consul,
    “As thou sayest, so let it be.”
    And straight against that great array
    Forth went the dauntless Three.
    For Romans in Rome’s quarrel
    Spared neither land nor gold,
    Nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life,
    In the brave days of old.

    XXXII

    Then none was for a party;
    Then all were for the state;
    Then the great man helped the poor,
    And the poor man loved the great:
    Then lands were fairly portioned;
    Then spoils were fairly sold:
    The Romans were like brothers
    In the brave days of old.

    XXXIII

    Now Roman is to Roman
    More hateful than a foe,
    And the Tribunes beard the high,
    And the Fathers grind the low.
    As we wax hot in faction,
    In battle we wax cold:
    Wherefore men fight not as they fought
    In the brave days of old.”

    It is always a good day when I have an excuse to post a section of The Lays of the Ancient Romans!

  • I’m glad it was in English and not Latin.

  • Good thing the Romans spoke English! 🙂

  • Phillip,

    And ‘Merican English at that! 😉

  • “And ‘Merican English at that!”

    Lord Macaulay Tito would be appalled by that statement!

  • I need to learn to read poetry so I can better use my satirical skills.

    🙂

Cardinal Newman Development of Doctrine-First Note-Preservation of Type

Sunday, February 28, AD 2010

Continuing on with my series on the seven notes, I would call them tests, which Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman developed for determining whether some aspect of Church teaching is a development of doctrine or a corruption of doctrine.  We began with Note Six-Conservative Action Upon Its Past, and I would highly recommend that any one who has not read the first post in the series read it here before proceeding with this post.  We will now take the remaining notes in numerical order.  This post will deal with the First Note-Preservation of Type.

In regard to Preservation of Type, Cardinal Newman takes pains to point out that the idea underlying the doctrine remains of the same type while the external manifestations of the idea may change greatly.  His illustration from Roman history conveys his point well:

On the other hand, real perversions and corruptions are often not so unlike externally to the doctrine from which they come, as are changes which are consistent with it and true developments. When Rome changed from a Republic to an Empire, it was a real alteration of polity, or what may be called a corruption; yet in appearance the change was small. The old offices or functions of government remained: it was only that the Imperator, or Commander in Chief, concentrated them in his own person.  Augustus was Consul and Tribune, Supreme Pontiff and Censor, and the Imperial rule was, in the words of Gibbon, “an absolute monarchy disguised by the forms of a commonwealth.” On the other hand, when the dissimulation of Augustus was exchanged for the ostentation of Dioclesian, the real alteration of constitution was trivial, but the appearance of change was great. Instead of plain Consul, Censor, and Tribune, Dioclesian became Dominus or King, assumed the diadem, and threw around him the forms of a court.

In other words in determining  whether there has been the preservation of type in a development of doctrine we must look at the substance and ignore the form.  For example, in the Middle Ages laymen would often receive communion once a year out of great reverence for the body of Christ.  Now we are encouraged to be frequent communicants.  However, the underlying reverence that the Church commands for the body and blood of Christ remains the same.

Cardinal Newman concludes:

An idea then does not always bear about it the same external image; this circumstance, however, has no force to weaken the argument for its substantial identity, as drawn from its external sameness, when such sameness remains. On the contrary, for that very reason, unity of type becomes so much the surer guarantee of the healthiness and soundness of developments, when it is persistently preserved in spite of their number or importance.

Newman on the First Note:

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Book Review: Empires of Trust (Part II)

Wednesday, June 24, AD 2009

[Empires of Trust, review Part I]

Review of: Empires of Trust: How Rome Built–and America Is Building–a New World

My apologies for taking so long to get back with a second part to this review. In the first installment, I covered the history of Rome’s early expansion, and how its commitment to establishing a safe horizon of allies, and defending those allies against any aggression, led the city of Rome to effectively rule all of Italy. From southern Italy, Rome was drawn into Sicily, which in turn made it a threat to Carthage and drew those two superpowers of the third century BC into a series of wars that would end with the total destruction of Carthage as a world power.

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7 Responses to Book Review: Empires of Trust (Part II)

  • Like you (and Madden, I suppose) I found the parallels between the Roman Republic and the U.S. quite striking. The disanalogies, however, were also striking. What ultimately forced Rome to abandon it’s policy of political independence for Greece was the unwillingness of the various Greek city states to stop fighting with each other. By contrast, the countries of Europe seem to be perfectly content not to fight with one another.

  • True.

    I think an important distinction (and a very positive development) is that the US was able to use international institutions to station troops all over the place without actually assuming ruling powers over any of those nations. This allowed the US to remain in Europe after WW2 without getting into the business of trying to rule it (which would undoubtledly have been a disaster for all concerned.)

    I suppose part of the question here would be: If the US had returned to total isolationism after WW2 as it did after WW1, would we see the sort of postwar peace in Europe that we have in the real world? One might after that the development of a fairly conflict-free European political climate after WW2 was to a great extent caused by the fact that US power encouraged those nations to allow their military powers to atrophy.

    I’m sure Europhiles would not buy that argument. I’m not sure to what extent I do. But it does seem interesting that while Europe has a very long history of frequent wars, that history seems to have ended in those areas (and pretty much only in those areas) which have come into the US sphere.

  • Darwin, I don’t think there is any doubt about that. Had the US pulled out of Europe militarily and not assisted the population with the Marshall Plan (both done precisely with the idea of not repeating the mistakes of post WWI), Europe would have been engulfed in war within a year or two. Stalin would have attempted to gobble up Western Europe had it not been for the US presence.

  • “Stalin would have attempted to gobble us Western Europe had it not been for the US presence.”

    Bad Americans. Messing things up again.

  • If the US had returned to total isolationism after WW2 as it did after WW1, would we see the sort of postwar peace in Europe that we have in the real world?

    I’m inclined to doubt it. Even with the U.S. presence, you still had war in the Balkans, war between Greece and Turkey, the conflict in Northern Ireland, a French war in Algeria, a British war with Argentina, and so forth, not to mention the Cold War.

  • Fair point. Maybe I’m overplaying the postwar peace meme.

    Though it does strike me that in all of those cases, the war was either at or beyond the horizon of US presence at the time.

    I dunno. I’m trying to play out and see what I think of this theory. Prior reading this, I’d pretty much accepted the, “After starting two world wars, the Europeans decided that war wasn’t the answer and so the US had to come in and protect them from the Soviets” meme.

    After reading it, and having a couple long, late night discussions with an old history professor friend, I’m wondering if its much more the case that the US decision to stay in Europe is what allowed peace-emphasizing parties to win out — and that the gradual spread of US presence further into Eastern Europe and the Middle East could potentially have similar effects.

  • Don’t know. I think the Cold War was a real war that would have swallowed up a few (many, most)European countries if not for the US presence. Stalin was not opposed to absorbing whatever he could. Even if it would not have taken war for him to do it, he would have.