Quotulatiousness

August 15, 2017

QotD: Platonism versus Epicureanism

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It is all this that made Epicurus and his philosophy so scandalous in the ancient world and beyond. Plato never did get to create his perfect society. But his followers did manage to establish variants of Platonism as the dominant philosophy of later antiquity. And all the other main schools of philosophy were agreed that the world should be ruled by intellectuals. These should tell the civil authorities how to govern. They should provide the moral and spiritual justification for the rule of absolute and unaccountable systems of government — systems of which the Roman imperial system was only the most developed. They should have positions of honour within these systems.

Epicureanism was a standing challenge to these pretensions. We have no precise evidence for the spread of Epicureanism in the ancient world. But it does seem to have spread very widely. Why else should Cicero, Plutarch and many of the Christian Fathers have given so much effort to sustained attacks on it? Why else, in spite of his emphatic remarks on the nature of happiness, was Epicurus, even in his own lifetime, subjected to the most outrageous accusations?

We have one statement from Cicero, that Epicureanism in his own day was one of the dominant schools of philosophy in Italy. So far, he says, Greek philosophy had been available only in the original language. But writers such as Amafinius had translated several Epicurean works — on the publishing of whose writings the people were moved, and enlisted themselves chiefly under this sect, either because the doctrine was more easily understood, or because they were invited thereto by the pleasing thoughts of amusement, or that, because there was nothing better, they laid hold of what was offered them.

There is no doubt that it influenced the classical literature of Rome. Of course, there is the great poem by Lucretius. But there is also Catullus and Horace and even Virgil. Without citing them, their works are imbued with an Epicurean outlook on life, either directly from Epicurus or indirectly from Lucretius.

Another indication of popularity is that once converted to Epicureanism, people hardly ever switched to another philosophy. The philosopher Arcesilaus testifies to this fact even as he tries to explain it:

    You can turn a man into a eunuch, but you can’t turn a eunuch into a man.

Then there is the curious testimony of the Jews. During the three centuries around the birth of Christ, the main everyday language of many Jewish communities was Greek. The Gospels and Letters of Saint Paul were all directed at mainly Jewish audiences and are in Greek. One of the most important philosophers of the age, Philo of Alexandria, was a Jew. Many Jews took on Greek ways. Many, no doubt, stopped being Jews and made themselves into Greeks. The condemnation of these Hellenised Jews is Apikorsim, which may easily be taken as a Semitic version of Epicurean. The term survives in Jewish theological writing. According to one Internet source, Apikorsim are what Chasidim refer to as Jewish Goyim, or secular Jews. They seem to be the worst opposition for Hasidic Jewry.

A term of abuse so loaded with contempt is unlikely to have been taken from the doctrines of an insignificant philosophical tradition among ordinary people of the age. It is reasonable to suppose that many lapsed Jews became Epicureans. If so, Epicureanism must already have had large numbers of adherents among at least the semi-educated classes.

Sean Gabb, “Epicurus: Father of the Enlightenment”, speaking to the 6/20 Club in London, 2007-09-06.

July 29, 2017

Latin Declensions Made Easy

Filed under: Education, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 27 Jul 2017

An explanation of what the Latin Declensions are and how they work. This video is aimed at English-speaking students with no prior knowledge of English grammar. It is deliberately slow and repetitive, and it avoids any graphics or other adornments that may distract attention from the subject matter.

If you like this video, please check out my teaching website: http://www.classicstuition.co.uk/

July 25, 2017

QotD: The republican form of government

Filed under: Government, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… it IS possible to have a Res Publica – by the people – government, but only as long as it is by the ‘deserving’ few. The worst excesses of these proto-democracies can be undercut by an extreme limiting of the franchise – preferably to an effective oligarchy of voters narrow enough to be more self-interested in keeping control against the uneducated and undisciplined rule of the genuine majority, but this is hard to achieve. The Serene Republic of Venice achieved it for almost a thousand years by limiting the franchise to the great and the good families, and the early United States managed to hold it together for about 90 years by limiting it by racial profiling as well as property franchise… but note that both were, like all the Greek and Roman republics, slave based societies: so their claims to be genuine democracies are hopelessly confused to anyone with a consistent or comprehensible ideological viewpoint. In their case ‘the people’ simply meant, the deserving few that we will allow to vote.

This limiting of the franchise to the deserving actually continues in very successful – one could even say the ONLY successful – republics of the modern world. The ancient Greek and Roman franchises were honestly based on ‘those who contribute get a say’. Contribution at that time being buying the expensive armour yourself, putting in the training time, and taking the risk in the front lines of battle: to prove you put the good of the state and your fellow citizens above your own interests. (Though it is notable that their Republics almost instantly graduated to imperialistic and aggressive expansion, which pretty quickly made republican government unworkable, and inevitably led to such champions of democracy as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.)

The only long term successful modern Republic – Switzerland – still has compulsory military service; as does Israel, the only successful democracy ever established in the Middle East.

The other ways to limit the franchise – Like the first (1770’s), second (1860’s) and third (1880’s) American attempts of a franchise limited by race/property; or the first (1790’s), second (1820’s) or third (1860’s) French attempts at a property-based franchise (which often saw as few as 20% of people with a vote): were actually much less successful than the equivalent slow Westminster-style expansions of the franchise under a developing constitutional monarchy. (No Western Westminster system state has ever had a coup, let alone a civil war.) France has had 5 republics, 3 monarchies and 2 emperors in less than 200 years; and the United States has similarly run through several major reformations of their race/property franchise system since their – 600,000 dead – little debate about their system.

(The American comparison with France is amusing. The first American republic was smashed by the Confederate Defection; the second was an anti-democratic imposition on the South – with no voting rights for Confederate ‘activists’ – after the Confederacy War of Independence was crushed; the third ‘republic’ was when the white southerners were re-enfranchised and promptly disenfranchised the blacks who had been the only voters in the south for the previous 20 years – and whose elected black representatives had not been allowed in the front door or the dining rooms of Congress; the fourth republic… well you get the idea. The US system, with all its defections, jumps and retreats, simply can’t be called a continuously expanding development the way Westminster systems are.)

Nigel Davies, “The ‘Arab Spring’, 1848, and the 30 Years War/s…”, rethinking history, 2015-09-19.

July 3, 2017

Meet the Romans with Mary Beard 3/3 – HD

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 16 May 2013

1. All Roads Lead to Rome
2. Street life
3. Behind Closed Doors

July 1, 2017

Meet the Romans with Mary Beard 2/3 – HD

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 16 May 2013

1. All Roads Lead to Rome
2. Street life
3. Behind Closed Doors

June 30, 2017

Meet the Romans with Mary Beard 1/3 – HD

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 16 May 2013

June 26, 2017

What Latin Sounded Like – and how we know

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 12 Aug 2016

Classical Latin went extinct, yet we still know how to pronounce it. Proof!

Take a trip with me back to Catholic school, then back even further to old Rome. We’ll see what Latin pronunciation did – and did NOT – sound like in the mouths of the Romans. Thanks to ancient authors and modern Romance languages, we’ll even glimpse a range of evidence for the speech of Caesar and pauper alike!

SERMO VULGARIS ALL DAY LONG, am I right? 😉

June 11, 2017

His Year(s) – Pompey (56 to 52 B.C.E.)

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 4 Apr 2017

June 4, 2017

Emperor Claudius

Filed under: History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Victor Davis Hanson outlines the career of the fourth Roman Emperor and makes an unusual comparison:

The Roman Emperor Claudius, who reigned from 41 to 54 AD, was never supposed to be emperor. He came to office at age 50, an old man in Roman times. Claudius succeeded the charismatic, youthful heartthrob Caligula — son of the beloved Germanicus and the “little boot” who turned out to be a narcissist monster before being assassinated in office.

Claudius was an unusual emperor, the first to be born outside Italy, in Roman Gaul. Under the Augustan Principate, new Caesars — who claimed direct lineage from the “divine” Augustus — were usually rubber-stamped by the toadyish Senate. However, the outsider Claudius (who had no political training and was prevented by his uncle Tiberius from entering the cursus honorum), was brought into power by the Roman Praetorian Guard, who wanted a change from the status quo apparat of the Augustan dynasty.

The Roman aristocracy — most claiming some sort of descent from Julius Caesar and his grandnephew Octavian (Caesar Augustus) — had long written Claudius off as a hopeless dolt. Claudius limped, the result of a childhood disease or genetic impairment. His mother Antonia, ashamed of his habits and appearance, called the youthful Claudius “a monster of man.” He was likely almost deaf and purportedly stuttered.

That lifelong disparagement of his appearance and mannerisms probably saved Claudius’s life in the dynastic struggles during the last years of the Emperor Augustus and the subsequent reigns of the emperors Tiberius and Caligula.

The stereotyped impression of Claudius was that of a simpleton not to be taken seriously — and so no one did. Claudius himself claimed that he feigned acting differently in part so that he would not be targeted by enemies before he assumed power, and to unnerve them afterwards.

Contemporary critics laughed at his apparent lack of eloquence and rhetorical mastery, leading some scholars to conjecture that he may have suffered from Tourette syndrome or a form of autism. The court biographer Suetonius wrote that Claudius “was now careful and shrewd, sometimes hasty and inconsiderate, occasionally silly and like a crazy man.”

Sound familiar?

May 27, 2017

Currently reading

Filed under: Books, History, Personal — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

You could say that I don’t follow a particularly chronological pattern to my reading list.

Pax Romana, Adrian Goldsworthy
AD69: Emperors, Armies & Anarchy, Nic Fields
All Propaganda is Lies: 1941-1942, George Orwell
The New Cambridge Modern History: II The Reformation 1520-1559 (no longer a library book despite the spine markings)

April 16, 2017

Damnatio memoriae

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The Latin in the title is a modern construction, but it describes a fairly common way that Romans would (to borrow from Orwell) push memories down the memory hole, including even former Emperors:

In the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin didn’t just defeat his political enemies – he purged their memories from existence. Photographs were altered and history texts changed to eliminate any trace of those who stood against him, a practice that inspired George Orwell to write 1984. But Stalin was far from the first leader to erase his enemies. The ancient Romans, too, tried to erase people from history – even Emperors.

A new show on now at the British Museum explores the use of memory sanctions against Roman emperors and their families in antiquity. It also evaluates the physical treatment of objects deemed “pagan” or heretical in the Christianized empire of Late Antiquity.

But what was the point of “damnatio memoriae“? And can you ever fully expunge someone from the historical record?

A Basanite bust of Germanicus that has a series of cuts around his ear, a shorn nose, his right ear chipped away and a cross etched on his forehead. The bust is on display now at the British Museum. (Photo by Sarah E. Bond)

The British Museum is currently displaying an exhibit on ancient memory sanctions called: “Defacing the Past: Damnation and desecration in imperial Rome.” It is a fascinating look into the ways in which we interact with objects as a proxy for the actual person. It is also a look into what ancient historian Harriet Flower has called the “art of forgetting.” Although such sanctions are often called “damnatio memoriae,” this is a modern Latin phrase and thus a construct that did not in fact exist in antiquity. Use of the term suggests a monolithic way in which Romans could legally damn the memory of a disgraced or unpopular Roman emperor, when in fact there was no one term for such sanctions or even a fully systematized procedure for it. What we have today is instead the material remnants of various senatorial, imperial, and ecclesiastical decrees — as well as a number of personal choices.

Sanctions against the commemoration of a person could take many forms in ancient Rome and can be traced back to the Republican period. The dictator Sulla had the statues of his rival, Marius, pulled down. He also banned the display of wax imagines carried in funeral processions. We are told by Plutarch (Caes. 5) that the nephew of Marius, Julius Caesar, displayed these wax casts of Marius’ face for the first time in the funeral for his aunt Julia in 69 BCE. Julia had been Marius’ wife and was Caesar’s aunt. The disgraced general and his consorts were earlier declared hostes (enemies) of the Roman state, but their memory was clearly not forgotten. The absence of the imagines under Sulla had in fact always been conspicuous, rather than a tactic that led to the erasure of their deeds or memory.

April 12, 2017

Construction on the A1 near Catterick, North Yorkshire, reveals lost Roman settlement

Filed under: Britain, History, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Rossella Lorenzi reports for Live Science on recent finds during roadwork on the A1 in North Yorkshire:

Excavations at Catterick earlier this year. The features on show are the foundations of ovens and hearths dating to the 4th century. © Historic England

Construction work to upgrade Britain’s longest road into a major highway has revealed a treasure trove of rare artifacts from one of the earliest and wealthiest Roman settlements in the country.

The findings include ancient shoes, cups, a rare silver ring, keys, a high-relief glass bowl and an elaborately carved amber figurine, archaeologists with the public group Historic England announced yesterday (April 6).

Archaeologists uncovered the artifacts in North Yorkshire along the A1, which stretches 410 miles (660 kilometers) from London to Edinburgh, Scotland, during a major project to improve the existing roadway. [See Photos of the Excavation and Roman Artifacts]

“It is fascinating to discover that nearly 2,000 years ago, the Romans were using the A1 route as a major road of strategic importance and using the very latest technological innovations from that period to construct the original road,” Tom Howard, project manager at the government agency Highways England, said in a statement.

[…]

The excavations have also led to the discovery of a major Roman settlement at Scotch Corner, one of the best-known junctions in the country.

Taking its name from an old Roman road called Scots Dyke, Scotch Corner links Scotland with England and the east coast with the west coast.

Right there, the archaeologists with the professional consultant group Northern Archaeological Associates unearthed the remains of a large settlement dating back to A.D. 60, thus predating settlements in York and Carlisle by 10 years.

October 2, 2016

The Brothers Gracchi – Lies – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 24 Sep 2016

James talks about our mistakes, and adds additional stories, for the Brothers Gracchi!

September 21, 2016

Gracchus the Elder – Prequel: In His Footsteps – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 10 Sep 2016

Special thanks to Mike Duncan for writing this episode! Check out his History of Rome podcast: http://thehistoryofrome.typepad.com/
Before Tiberius and Gracchus got famous, their father led such a break-out political career that it must have seemed impossible to live up to his legacy. Yet, his success set the stage for their falls…
____________

Tiberius Gracchus the Elder has been overshadowed by his sons, but in his lifetime he had the most successful political career imaginable. Born just as the Second Punic War came to a close, he arrived on the political stage just in time to befriend the Scipio family during the Seleucid War. He secured a route of safe passage for their soldiers which led them to catch and defeat King Antiochus. The Scipios planted themselves in the east, dealing with the spoils of war and enriching themselves in the process. Upon their return to Rome, they were charged with corruption for accepting bribes, but Tiberius Gracchus the Elder had just been elected tribune of the plebs, and he voted their trial entirely. Scipio Africanus rewarded him by giving him the hand of Cornelia, his daughter and an amazing woman in her own right. Tiberius Gracchus went on the be elected aedile, and threw such lavish public games that the Senate passed a law restricting future games. It worked for him, though: he won his next election and became a praetor assigned to nearer Spain, where he launched a fierce and successful military campaign buffered by a land redistribution effort. In that way, he solved the underlying problems of poverty among the Celtiberians and secured peace for 25 years. For his success, he received a triumph and was elected consul, two of the highest honors in Roman politics. But here he played a dangerous game. Already allied with the Scipiones, he served as consul alongside their family’s biggest rival: a Claudius. He won the game and formed a relationship that would later provide his sons with important allies. Next he went to Sardinia to protect against rebellious tribes, and again he succeeded. The Gracchi name was now honored in both Spain and Sardinia, a legacy his sons would rely upon. This won him a second triumph and a role as censor, after which he joined a traveling embassy of senators to assess Rome’s client kingdoms. Tiberius Gracchus used this opportunity to forge friendships with foreign kings, like the King of Pergamum who would one day form a key part of Tiberius’s efforts to redistribute land. Finally, he won a second consulship, but here he made the mistake of screwing over a man whose son would one day lead the assault that killed Tiberius in the forum. At the end of his days, Tiberius Gracchus the Elder wasn’t just a prominent senator, but one of the most powerful men in Rome. It was the duty of a son to surpass the fame of his father, which must have seemed impossible… but Tiberius and Gracchus, building on the legacy he left, did exactly that.

P.S. If you’ve read this far, we think it’s only fair we tell you that Mike Duncan is aware the proper Latin name for the Scipio family is “Scipiones” but he allowed us to shorten it to “Scipios” to make it easier for non-Latin speakers to understand. Cheers!

September 17, 2016

The Brothers Gracchi – V: The Final Fall – Extra History

Filed under: History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 3 Sep 2016

The Senate stole credit for all Gaius’s proposals, and stole his popular support. Once he failed to win re-election for tribune, the Senate repealed his reforms. Gaius organized a protest, but the Senate brought it down with armed force and killed Gaius. Not a century later, the Republic would fall.
____________

Gaius made a series of proposals to ease the strains on the poor people in Rome, such as new Roman colonies to ease overcrowding or renting public land to the people. The Senate, led by a man named Livius Drusus, decried him for pandering, only to implement those ideas themselves, take all the credit, and make sure that Gaius got to have no involvement with the administration of these popular public programs. Public support drained from Gaius, and he struggled to find a comeback. When he ran for a third term as tribune, he lost. With Gaius no longer a threat, the Senate started repealing all of the forms he’d fought for. Gaius organized a mob to protest these repeals, but one of his supporters got in a fight with a Senatorial supporter and killed him. The Senate seized this opportunity to declare martial law the next day. In response, Gaius planned a peaceful occupation of the Aventine Hill. The Senate sent representatives to negotiate with him, but they demanded Gaius and his closest supporters give themselves up, and his supporters refused. With no resolution in sight, the Senatorial faction had archers begin to fire into the crowd. Gaius and his supporters fled, but he did not escape: Gaus was caught and captured, his head taken for a bounty and his body thrown into to the Tiber River. The Senate congratulation itself for defeating him by building a temple to Concord, but an anonymous citizen graffiti tagged it as “The Work of Mad Discord.” A deep rift had been opened, and the Republic never managed to close it. The reforms proposed by the Gracchi were right and necessary, but extreme factions, fearmongering, a rhetoric of violence, and abuse of the letter of the law all deteriorated the democracy that held Rome together. Less than a century after Gaius falls, so does the Roman Republic.

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