Roman Thought

Lucious Annaeus Seneca …

Posted on September 5, 2019. Filed under: Roman Thought |

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Like Pitt the Younger, Lucious Annaeus Seneca, was an equally Great Son as his Father. Unfortunately, he lived in Nero’s time and to whom for the First Five Years, he provided an excellent adminisration. …. However with Nero’s mental decline, Seneca fell from grace and his enemies hounded him, forcing him to eventually take his own life. But let us partake of his Thought —

Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness. There is none made so great, but he may both need the help and service, and stand in fear of the power and unkindness, even of the meanest of mortals.

What difference does it make how much you have? What you do not have amounts to much more. Poverty wants some, luxury many, and avarice all things.

We can be thankful to a friend for a few acres, or a little money; and yet for the freedom and command of the whole earth, and for the great benefits of our being, our life, health, and reason, we look upon ourselves as under no obligation.

There is as much greatness of mind in acknowledging a good turn, as in doing it. There is no delight in owning anything unshared.

There is a noble manner of being poor, and who does not know it, will never be rich.

Our vices will abate of themselves if they be brought every day to the shrift. We should every night call ourselves to an account: what infirmity have I mastered to-day? what passions opposed? what temptation resisted? what virtue acquired?

There is nothing in the world so much admired as a man who knows how to bear unhappiness with courage.

The greatest remedy for anger is delay. When I think over what I have said, I envy dumb people.

We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than in reality. The man who suffers before it is necessary, suffers more than is necessary. We become wiser by adversity; prosperity destroys our appreciation of the right.

Life’s like a play. It’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters. Call it Nature, Fate, Fortune – all these are names of the one and selfsame God.

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Horace …

Posted on August 27, 2019. Filed under: Roman Thought |

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Horace was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus. “He can be lofty sometimes, yet he is also full of charm and grace, versatile in his figures, and felicitously daring in his choice of words.” – 
From His Work –

Who then is free? The wise man who can govern himself. A word once uttered can never be recalled and anger is but a short madness. 

Clogged with yesterday’s excess, the body drags the mind down with it. How great, my friends, is the virtue of living upon a little!

Labor diligently to increase your property. Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work. Leave the rest to the gods. 

You traverse the world in search of happiness, which is within the reach of every man. A contented mind confers it on all. on all. Make good use of the present.

Always keep your composure; else you can’t score from the penalty box. To win, you have to score. 

When things are steep, remember to stay level-headed. Begin, be bold and venture to be wise. Don’t think – Just Do. Dare to be wise! Begin. He has half done who begins. 

In bad times we hope and in good times we fear a change in fortune. If matters go badly, it will not always be so.

Your own safety is at stake when your neighbor’s wall is ablaze. 

Whatever advice you give, be short. The pen is the tongue of the mind. Words will not fail when the matter is well considered. 

It is no great art to say something briefly when, like Tacitus, one has something to say.

He gains everyone’s approval who mixes the pleasant with the useful. Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans. It is lovely to be silly at the right moment. 

What we learn only through the ears makes less impression upon our minds than what is presented to the trustworthy eye.

Good sense is both the first principal and the parent source of good writing. I never think at all when I write. Nobody can do two things at the same time and do them both well.

Strange – is it not? That of the myriads who before us passed the Door of Darkness through; not one returns to tell us of the road, which to discover we must travel too.

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Augustus Caesar – Road to Dictatorship …

Posted on January 8, 2019. Filed under: Personalities, Roman Thought |

This article was republished by The Wire from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.  Here are Extracts –

Augustus (27 BCE to 14 CE) was Rome’s first Emperor, who established an enduring monarchy following some 20 years of civil war in the aftermath of the assassination of his adoptive father, Julius Caesar, on the Ides of March 44 BCE.

Augustus has a long line of high-profile admirers. They see him as a great statesman who brought peace to a Roman Republic long afflicted by civil wars. But what “certain things” did he do and how admirable were they?A

A prominent contemporary admirer of Augustus is Dr David Engels, a distinguished Belgian Professor of Roman history. He makes a chilling case for an authoritarian, conservative and imperial European New Order, inspired by Augustus, who effectively converted the Roman Republic to an autocracy.

Dr Engels argues Augustan-style authoritarianism would be the best practical solution to Europe’s current woes as he sees them – mass immigration, low national fertility rates, the decline of the family and traditional values, materialism, egoism, globalisation, insecurity, and a growing democratic deficit caused by spiralling inequality and technocratic tendencies.

This modern-day appeal of Augustus is perhaps being echoed in the increasing attractiveness of strongman politics in countries like the US, Russia, Turkey, Italy, Hungary, the Philippines, and Brazil.B

But the idea of Augustus as one of history’s greatest statesmen warrants a closer look at his statecraft, particularly how he handled truth and the often bloody and cynical methods he used to establish an autocracy that would endure for centuries.

Augustus’s own autobiography is a towering example of “alternative truth”. It’s a boastful retrospective, but other evidence suggests this masterly piece of propaganda closely reproduces the artful politics he adopted after his grand-uncle, the dictator Julius Caesar, was stabbed to death in the Senate in 44 BCE.

In the first chapter, Augustus boldly claims that, roughly one year after Caesar’s assassination, he raised a private army at the age of 19 “to restore liberty to the Republic when it was oppressed by the tyranny of a faction”.

Hammering home his point, Augustus goes on to assert that:

when I had extinguished the flames of civil war, being in absolute control of affairs by universal consent, I transferred the Republic from my own control to the will of the Senate and the Roman people.

However, the reality, couldn’t have been more different.

Apart from the fact that it was a criminal offence under Roman law to raise private militias for factional subversion of the state, he didn’t come out of the blue as a selfless saviour in that fateful spring of 44 BCE.

Augustus, or Octavius as he was then known, was already poised to be second-in-command in Caesar’s New Order. Styling himself as the Young Caesar, he made a brazen bid to reclaim rank and stature by ruthlessly rekindling the flames of civil war. This shattered the compromise peace made between Mark Antony, Caesar’s foremost lieutenant, and Caesar’s leading assassins, Brutus and Cassius.

His claims he took control by universal consent and subsequently restored the traditional republican polity after his military victory over Antony and Cleopatra 30 BCE are equally mendacious.

Repressing opposition

Augustus repeatedly conducted murderous as well as bloodless purges of the aristocracy from November 43 through to 29 BCE, repressing all political opposition. Late in 43, he and his then-allies Mark Antony and Lepidus ruthlessly proscribed over 300 senators and 2,000 equestrians (the lower aristocracy and business elite).

Many were hunted down and butchered in plain view, including the great orator and republican Marcus Cicero.

In 28 BCE, after his final civil war victories and shortly before his much vaunted “restoration” of the Republic, he removed another 40% of the Senate, reducing their numbers to 600.

In 27 BCE, when he finally laid down his official emergency powers – powers he had alleged were needed to confront real or imaginary crises he and his henchmen had engineered – a compliant Senate promptly reinvested him with a vast, 10-year military command.

This command was the cornerstone of his autocracy, and was suitably renewed every 10 years, invariably justified on the grounds of ongoing military exigencies in the provinces.

One major consequence of this charade was unprecedented imperialist expansion and warfare. At enormous human and material cost, Augustus would more than double the size of the Empire and add more territory to Rome’s provincial dominion than any Roman before or after him – so much for his much-vaunted peace, the Pax Augusta.A

At the same time as he consolidated his power, Augustus was careful to ensure that Rome’s ancestral republican institutions and political bodies were scrupulously upheld. This created a powerful, if hollow, semblance of normality and traditionalism. He studiously avoiding the odious title of dictator, no doubt mindful of the fate of Julius Caesar.

By his ruthless and cynical actions, Augustus arguably wrote the script for some of the most notorious tyrants of the 20th century – Stalin and Hitler.

The Soviet Constitution of 1936, duly adopted by popular vote and put into effect by Stalin, demonstrably enshrined a number of democratic and liberal rights. For example, Article 125 declared:

In conformity with the interests of the working people, and in order to strengthen the socialist system, the citizens of the USSR are guaranteed by law: freedom of speech; freedom of the press; freedom of assembly, including the holding of mass meetings; freedom of street processions and demonstrations.

But in true Augustan style, Stalin’s Constitution was marked by a staggering divide between theory and practice.

Similarly, Hitler’s power grab in Germany in 1933 was right out of the Augustan playbook.

Blaming an arson attack on the German Reichstag (parliament) on the Communist opposition, Hitler was able to pressure an ailing President Hindenburg to decree him emergency powers. This nullified many civil liberties and transferred key state powers to his Nazi-led government.

Hitler then ruthlessly exploited these powers to repress and imprison anyone deemed inimical to the Nazi regime. A month later, with his opponents purged, he passed a law allowing him to directly enact laws, bypassing the Reichstag.

By virtue of these laws, Hitler secured a legal dictatorship in the best Augustan tradition, allowing him to rule by decree while the democratic Weimar Constitution technically remained in force until the Allied Occupation.

Given the actual history of Rome’s first emperor and his subsequent imitators, anyone looking to Augustus and his methods as a source of inspiration and a role model for crisis management should be very careful what they wish for.

Frederik Juliaan Vervaet is an Associate Professor of Ancient History at University of Melbourne

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What Makes a Country Great …

Posted on December 29, 2018. Filed under: Books, Roman Thought |

“The Republic of Rome provides those who go into public life with everything they need,” …………. Reputation was far more important to this Roman – and This is what make a People Great.

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Governance – Lesson from the Roman Empire …

Posted on January 27, 2018. Filed under: Personalities, Roman Thought |

Courtesy Wikipedia

The rulers commonly known as the “Five Good Emperors” were Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius.The term was coined based on what the political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli said in 1503:

“From the study of this history we may also learn how a good government is to be established; for while all the emperors who succeeded to the throne by birth, except Titus, were bad, all were good who succeeded by adoption, as in the case of the five from Nerva to Marcus. But as soon as the empire fell once more to the heirs by birth, its ruin recommenced”

Machiavelli argued that these adopted emperors, through good rule, earned the respect of those around them:

Titus, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus, and Marcus had no need of praetorian cohorts, or of countless legions to guard them but were defended by their own good lives, the good-will of their subjects, and the attachment of the senate.

The 18th-century historian Edward Gibbon, in his work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, opined that their rule was a time when “the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of wisdom and virtue”.

Gibbon believed these benevolent dictators and their moderate policies were unusual and contrasted with their more tyrannical and oppressive successors. Gibbon went so far as to state:

“If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus’.

“The vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose characters and authority commanded respect.’

“The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws’.

“Such princes deserved the honour of restoring the republic, had the Romans of their days been capable of enjoying a rational freedom”.

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From Cicero to Trump – They’re All in Plutarch’s ‘Lives’ …

Posted on September 4, 2017. Filed under: Personalities, Roman Thought |

From The Wall Street Journal –

Thucydides has been enjoying quite the media moment, despite being dead for more than 2,400 years. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster have both been known to cite the Greek historian’s “Peloponnesian Wars,” which narrates the ancient conflict between Athens and Sparta.

Not to knock Thucydides, but Washington should reconfigure its reading list. There’s a better book for today’s times: Plutarch’s “Lives.”

“They just don’t come any better than old Plutarch,” President Harry Truman told biographer Merle Miller after he’d left office. “He knew more about politics than all the other writers I’ve read put together. When I was in politics, there would be times when I tried to figure somebody out, and I could always turn to Plutarch, and 9 times out of 10 I’d be able to find a parallel in there.”

Until fairly recently, the leading lights of Europe and America would have agreed. Plutarch’s “Lives,” which details the characters and careers of Greek and Roman men of action, were considered essential reading for citizens and statesmen.

When the Founding Fathers clashed in political pamphlets, they wrote under names like Publius, Cato and Brutus. Alexander Hamilton was a huge Plutarch fan. So was his rival Thomas Jefferson, who recommended the “Lives” to several correspondents and made sure the University of Virginia had a copy. For more than a century after America’s founding, the classicist Meyer Reinhold has claimed, Plutarch’s Lives was the country’s most-read book after the Bible.

What made Plutarch so popular? He offered an education in civic virtue, packaged in a way that was pleasant to read. Our closest translation of the Greek word for “life” used in the book’s title is “biography,” but it can also mean “way of life.” Plutarch’s “Lives” offered both: It described each subject’s actions and character from birth to death, providing models for the reader to emulate. Thanks to Plutarch’s taste for the fine details that he says reveal “the signs of the soul in men,” citizens of the new American republic could intimately know the legends of antiquity and shape their own souls accordingly.

Plutarch also wrote his lives in parallel: He paired Greeks and Romans, concluding each presentation with a short “comparison” that prodded readers to decide which of the two was superior and in what respects. The point wasn’t to show that the Greeks were better than the Romans or vice versa, but to reveal the character of the competitors and nudge readers to form judgments about virtue.

Consider one pairing: Pericles, the great Athenian general who lived around 450 B.C., and Fabius, the consul of the Roman Republic who came along about 200 years later. It’s easy to admire both passively. Asking readers which of the two is better forces them to consider what exactly “better” means and how it applies to particular cases. Plutarch put his readers into the role of citizens casting a vote between worthy statesmen.

Plutarch did so, however, long after the ancient republics had declined. A citizen of the Roman Empire, he lived around A.D. 100 in the small Greek city of Chaeronea. He held local office and spoke with disdain of talented peers who decamped for careers in the metropolis. Fellow Greeks, he advised, should keep good relations with their Roman rulers, but not be too hasty to involve Rome in local affairs.

Plutarch worried that demagogues might elicit Roman intervention, and thus he offered tips to fellow elites in how to oppose them. His “Lives” were meant in part to remind contemporaries what politics looked like before centralized Roman power eclipsed the cities. If a man acts on behalf of the polis, Plutarch once wrote, he is not ignoble; on the contrary, his “attention to duty and zeal are all the greater when applied to little things.”

Because Plutarch wrote at some remove from the lost world he depicted in his “Lives,” some readers have found him unreliable and out of touch. The British historian Thomas Macaulay wrote in 1828 that Plutarch and similarly earnest writers “conceived of liberty as monks conceive of love.” But Plutarch’s distance from the pre-imperial politics he depicted was also an advantage. It allowed him to view the sweep of history, from the formation of the Greek cities to their subjugation, and from the mythical founding of Rome to the end of the Republic. Plutarch distilled it all into a curriculum of contests meant to stimulate civic virtue no matter the context of his readers.

Today statesmen are scouring Thucydides for some rule so timeless that it applies to modern America just as well as it did to ancient Greece. To the extent that any such rules exist, Thucydides is surely a worthy guide. But Plutarch suggests that citizens and politicians need a different kind of education. The goal is teaching them to practice good judgment and hone their ability to discern when a proposition holds true and when it does not.

Plutarch aspired to shape character, whether his readers were local leaders in small Greek cities or important officials in Rome’s imperial hierarchy. He showed citizens how to admire and censure those in power, not to mention how to evaluate candidates for such positions. Two millennia later, in an age of novel threats and rising dangers, they still don’t come any better than old Plutarch.

Ms. Burgess manages the Program on American Citizenship at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Liebert is an associate professor of political science at the U.S. Military Academy and author of “Plutarch’s Politics: Between City and Empire.”

For more on Plutarch –

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A Greater than Napoleon – Scipio Africanus …

Posted on June 9, 2010. Filed under: Guide Posts, Personalities, Roman Thought |

Scipio Africanus was,. among other things, a Roman intellectual who wrote his memoirs in Greek.

As a soldier he defeated Hannibal at Zama, the final battle of the Second Punic War – by taking the War to Carthage instead of fighting it in Italy only. His offensiveness was in sharp contrast with Fabius’ tactic of not giving battle. Recognized as one of the finest commanders in military history.       He was Rome’s greatest general who never lost a battle.

Just prior to Zama, Livy writes that Scipio’s men captured a couple of Hannibal’s spies. Scipio ordered that they be fed and feted and shown around the entire camp before being escorted back midway to Hannibals camp.

Livy, the Roman historian narrates that when both were in exile from their respective countries they came across one another and reminiscenced. Hannibal when asked, took the high road and assessed that the greatest generals were Alexander, Pyrrhus and himself. When Scipio asked what would have been the order had Hannibal defeated him, he replied that then he would have been the greatest.

Here are Scipio’s few known sayings. which, mirror the man.

I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

I’m never less at leisure than when at leisure. Or less alone than when alone.

It is the part of a fool to say that which I should not have even thought.

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Marcus Fabius Quintilian …

Posted on March 19, 2009. Filed under: Roman Thought |

Quintilian was a rhetorician much referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing.

While we are making up our minds as to when we shall begin, the opportunity is lost. We must form our minds by reading deep rather than wide. 

Men, even when alone, lighten their labors by song, however rude these may be.

The perfection of art is to conceal art.

The pretended admission of a fault on our part creates an excellent impression.



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Lucretius …

Posted on March 15, 2008. Filed under: Roman Thought |

Lucretius was poet and philosopher. Author of the epic philosophical poem on Epicureanism

Pleasant it is to behold feats of war over the plains with no part of you in peril.

The fall of dropping water wears away the Stone. The sum of all sums is eternity —- Life is one long struggle in the dark.

The greatest wealth is to live content with little, for there is never want where the mind is satisfied.


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Juvenal …

Posted on March 15, 2008. Filed under: Roman Thought |

Juvenal was a poet  and author of the Satires. which inspired many authors, including Samuel Johnson

And life is given to none freehold, but it is leasehold for all.  Never does nature say one thing and wisdom another.

One globe seemed all too small for the youthful Alexander.

Censure acquits the raven, but pursues the dove. I wish it, I command it. Let my will take the place of a reason.

There is hardly a case in which the dispute was not caused by a woman.


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