Bread and Circuses, by Wikipedia

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Re: Bread and Circuses, by Wikipedia

Postby admin » Thu Jul 02, 2015 3:04 pm



In all the countries of the world (from Gades to Aurora and the Ganges) [i.e., from West to East.] there are few men who can put aside the mists of error and distinguish true from widely different benefits. How seldom does Reason inspire the wish or fear! How seldom do you start with so lucky an idea as not to repent when you have accomplished your effort or desire! whole households have been upset at once because the gods (in their goodness) had hearkened to the inmates' prayers. Prizes which are sought in camp and forum bring damage to the winners. In eloquence and flowing language many a man has found his own ruin. Muscle and girth of chest were fatal to Him [Milo of Crotona tried to split an oak-tree, and got his hands wedged in the wood.] who put his trust in them. Many men are smothered by money which they have piled together with overmuch taking of thought, or by the bulk of a revenue surpassing other fortunes even as the whale of Britain is bigger than dolphins. So it is in the reign of cruelty (and when there is a Nero to give the order) that Longinus [The philosopher condemned for conspiring against Nero.] and too wealthy Seneca's large gardens are invested, and the palace home of Lateranus is besieged by cohorts in full strength; but a garret lodging is seldom visited by the soldiery. [As police.]

If you have started on a journey by night, though the vessels of silver which you take are few and plain, you will go in fear of sword and bludgeon, and tremble when the shadow of a reed flickers in the moonlight. [The dangers to wealth from crime.] But an unencumbered traveller will troll his song in the highwayman's face. In most temples the first, and in all the most familiar, prayer is "Riches — let my wealth increase, let my money-chest be the biggest in the Forum Banks." But remember that the draught of aconite is not put into cups of earthenware: you need fear it only when you take jewelled goblets or bowls with the ruddy gold glowing under Setia's wine.

Do you see now that it was well for one of the Wise Men to laugh, [Democritus.] while the other shed tears, [Heraclitus.] whenever he put one foot forward and planted it out-of-doors? [The life of man is a farce which might well move the laughter of Democritus.] Jeering, indeed, and dry chuckling come easily to any man: but the wonder is where enough moisture was pumped from for the other's eyes. Democritus, however, used to shake his sides with continual laughter, although the cities which he knew had no purple robes to show him, nor striped togas nor fasces nor litters — nor the Court of Justice. [Nothing is more laughable than the would-be grandeur of Roman pageants.] What if he had seen the praetor perched on a tall chariot, raised aloft in the middle of the dusty Circus, wearing Jupiter's Tunic and carrying the Spangled Toga's Tyrian drapery on his shoulders, with a huge encircling Crown too big for one human neck to support? (Indeed it makes the public slave sweat, who is taken on the car to hold it and placed alongside of the Hero to keep his conceit down.) To this picture add The Fowl [The Aquila.] mounted on its ivory Sceptre: and in front, on one side trumpeters; on the other, a long line of homage, sons of Romulus dressed in their whitest, and become the Hero's friends — or friends of the charity which is stowed away in their money-boxes. But even before there were such doings, every contact with mankind was food for laughter to Him [Democritus.] whose wisdom is the proof that men of genius and exemplars for future ages may be bred under a foggy climate in the native land of mutton-heads. He could make merry over the business as over the pleasures of his fellowmen: sometimes over their tears even, while (for himself) he told Fortune to go and be hanged, and pointed at her with the finger of scorn.

All the petitions, then, for which Piety enjoins us to daub wax on the knees of gods, [Wax tablets containing prayers.] are either idle or mischievous. Some men are overthrown by their very greatness because it cannot escape the envy of Power: they are overwhelmed by the long and grand record of their own honours. Down their statues come, and go after the tugging rope. The very chariot wheels [Of the triumphal statues.] are smashed by the smiting axe, and the innocent horses have their legs broken. Already the flames are hissing; forge and bellows are melting the head once worshipped by the people. Sejanus is one crackling mass! [The favourite and minister of Tiberius.] Presently the face which ranked second in all the world is manufactured into jugs, foot-pans, frying-pans, and chamber-pots. Put up the laurel-boughs over your doorways! chalk the big ox white, and lead him to the Capitol! Sejanus is being dragged away by the Hook! It is a sight to see, and the joy is universal.

"What lips he had! and what a face!" cries some one. "If you believe me, I never liked the man. But tell me what charge overthrew him? who was the informer? what the evidence? who the witness?" [Conversation between two time-servers after the fall of Sejanus.]

"No such thing," it is answered. "A long and rambling letter came from Capreae." [Where Tiberius was living in seclusion.]

"I am glad of it, and that is enough for me."

Does one ask what the spawn of Remus say about it? [The lower orders of Rome.] Why, they follow Fortune's lead, and curse the fallen — that is the way of them. All the same, if Nortia had prospered her Tuscan, [An Etruscan goddess. Reference to the origin of Sejanus.] and if the old ruler had been caught napping, in that very hour the Roman People would have hailed Sejanus as their Augustus. It is a long time, dated from the day when votes were first withdrawn from the market, since the People shook off public spirit. [When Tiberius deprived the people of the right of electing magistrates.] Once the dispenser of authority, office, and commands, it renounces its pretensions and sets its heart anxiously on two things only — food and pageants free.

"I hear that there will be many deaths."

"No doubt about it. There is room enough in the furnace. At the Mars altar I met my friend Brutidius looking rather pale. I am much afraid that our Ajax, if he is beaten, will take revenge on weak supporters." [i.e., if Tiberius fails to secure the conviction of the other persons involved in the conspiracy.] [Another conversation (before the fall of Sejanus) as to impending trials.]

"Then let us run in haste, and trample Caesar's enemy while he is prostrate on the bank. But let the slaves see it done, lest one of them should deny it and drag his terrified master with neck throttled into the claws of Justice."

Such were the comments on Sejannus; such the furtive murmurs of the crowd. Do you then covet the levees of Sejannus? Would you be as rich as he was? and able to set one man in the chair of office and another at the head of armies? Be guardian to a ward [Tiberius] like the Caesar perched with his pack of Chaldeans on Capraea's cliffs? You wish, no doubt (and why should you not wish?), to command the pikes and cohorts, the knights-at-arms, and the imperial guard. Even those who have not not the will would have the power, of inflicting death on their fellows. Yet what distinction or what success is worth the winning, if the meed of pleasure is to bring an equal meed of woe? Would you wear the state robe which once decked yonder draggled corpse? would you not rather be a High Mightiness at Fidenae or Gabii to adjudicate on the imperial standard, and to break up swindling measures like the shabby magistrate at depopulated Ulubrae?

So, then, you admit that Sejanus mistook the right objects of desire? Wishing for too much honour and demanding too much wealth, he was building a tower of many stories only to lengthen the fall — the fearful force of that downward impetus. What overthrew a Crassus, a Pompeius, and him who brought the Romans in submission to his lash? [Julius Caesar.] What but scrambling and pushing for the topmost place? what but the cruel kindness of the gods in hearkening to ambition's prayers? Yes, few are the kings started on their downward road to Pluto without murder and violence, few despots by a bloodless death.

[The vanity of eloquence illustrated by the fates of Cicero and Demosthenes.] Every lad not too old to worship the Minerva image [As patroness of learning.] (bought by his single copper-piece) or to be attended by the slave urchin carrying the tiny box of books, sets his heart, and all through the Five Days' festival [Festival of Minerva.] keeps it, on the eloquence and glory of Demosthenes and Cicero. Yet that eloquence was the ruin of both orators: both were given over to destruction by the rich flood of their own genius. And "Genius" [Cicero.] found his head and hands cut off, whereas no feeble pleader has ever drenched the rostra with his blood.

"Blest state, regenerate in my consulate!" [One of Cicero's bad verses.] If the orator had been no better than the poet, Cicero might have laughed at the swords of Antonius. Myself, I would rather claim the doggerel verses than the brilliant honours of that marvellous philippic which comes second on the roll! [Against Antonius.] So, again, it was a cruel end which snatched away him [Demosthenes.] to whom all Athens would listen in amazement as he rushed on in his might, yet kept the crowded benches well in hand. Only because he had been born in the disfavour of Heaven and under an evil star was he sent to the rhetoric school away from the coals and tongs, away from the anvil and yellow flames of the sword foundry, where his father's eyes had grown purblind from the dross of red-hot ore.

[The vanity of military glory.] Spoils of war — the breastplate fastened as trophy to a tree's trunk, the cheekpiece hanging loosely from a battered helmet, the war-chariot with shattered pole, the stem-end of a defeated trireme, and the gloomy captive figured overhead upon the arch of triumph — are thought better than all human blessings. Such the height to which the captains-of-war, Roman, Greek, and Barbarian, had lifted up their spirits! such their impulse to danger and toil! So much stronger is the thirst for glory than for Merit! Who, indeed, woos Merit for its own sake if its rewards are taken away? And yet a country has ere now been ruined for one or two men's ambition, for the lust after honours and inscriptions that will only be fastened upon stones which mount guard over the ashes but are not strong enough to hold together against the tough malice of a wild fig-tree's fibres. Verily there is a last day even for the tomb.

[The exploits and ambition of Hannibal ended in suicide.] Put Hannibal in the scales, and how many pounds of flesh will you find in the famous general? Here you have all that remains of one who cannot be confined within a continent lashed on one side by the Mauretanian Ocean, on another reaching to the warm Nile and downwards again to the Ethiop tribes and the land of tall elephants. He extends the frontier beyond Spain, and springs across the Pyrenees. When Nature confronts him with her Alpine snows, he splits the rocks and breaks open the hills with floods of acid. Already he lays his hand on Italy, yet presses on to further conquests. ''All has been as naught," he cries, ''unless the soldiers of Carthage force the gates of Rome and my banner is planted in the Subura's heart."

It was a grand sight, and a grand subject for a picture, the one-eyed captain sitting his African monster! [Elephant.] What then is the end of it all? Fie on Glory! Why, he is beaten himself, and flees in hot haste to exile. There the mighty man, the novel suppliant, crouches at the palace-doors of a king, [Antiochus of Syria.] until it suits him better to dance his attendance on a Bithynian sultan. [Prusias.] The spirit which once made havoc of the world will not get its quietus from sword or sling or javelin, but from one small ring whose poison shall wipe out Cannx and avenge the carnage. [216 B.C.]Onwards then, poor fool; race across your cruel Alps — to become the hero of school-boys and the subject of "Prolusions"!

Pella's hero [Alexander.] finds one earth too small, and chafes in wretchedness within the world's cramping limits as if he were cribbed between the cliffs of Gyaros or tiny Seriphus. Nevertheless, after he has made his entry into the city of brick-bakers, he will find room enough inside a coffin. [Killed by a tile at Babylon.] Only death discovers the littleness of human bodies.

An old article of faith is the flooded shipway through Mount Athos, and so are all the lying sallies of Greek history — the bridging of the sea by the selfsame fleets [The bridge of boats.] until it made a solid road for wheels, the failure of deep rivers and the swallowing of whole streams (when the Mede broke his fast), with all the other drunken flights of singer Sostratus. But (after Salamis) [480 B.C.] what was the manner of return for him whose wont it had been to wreak the fury of a savage by whipping the winds — though they had never undergone such dishonour in the jail of AEolus -- for him who put fetters even on the Shaker of the Earth. [Poseidon.] It was grace and mercy that he did not also inflict the branding-iron! (Any god would be proud to be such a master's humble servant!) Well, what was the manner of his return? With a single ship, over waves of blood, through bodies blocking his prow in masses. Such was the price exacted by the glory which had been besought with so many prayers.

"Grant me length of life, Jupiter; grant me many years" — that is your only prayer, whether your face be healthy or overcast with pallor. Yet how grievous and unremitting are the woes of a prolonged old age. Imagine your face become ugly and beyond comparison disgusting, all your features vanished, your skin changed into ugly leather, your cheeks flabby and wrinkled like the withered jowl which a matron monkey scratches in Numidia's vast and leafy forests. There is variety amongst young men: one is fairer than the other, that other fairer than a third; or one is far stronger than the other. But the old all wear one uniform — limbs as shaky as their voices, pates worn to smoothness, and noses running like a baby's. The poor soul must mumble his bread with toothless gums; and he has become so loathsome to his wife, his children, and himself, that he would turn the stomach of fortune-hunter Cossus. The sluggish palate has lost its old relish of food and drink — sex being a sense long ago forgotten. Or if a trial is made of it, the flesh reveals its weakness, a weakness which no prurient arts can stimulate. What better hope can there be for decrepid lust? (Have we not, moreover, good reason to look shyly at the lechery which pretends to passions that it cannot gratify?) [Perhaps for extortionate purposes.] Look now at the damage done to another organ. An old man takes no delight in the music of a harper, howsoever famous, not even Seleucus or the stage fops in their dazzling cloaks of gold. It matters not whereabouts he is seated in the theatre, since he can hardly hear even the braying horns or crashing trumpets. The slave must shout aloud for his master's ear to catch a caller's name or the time of day.

[The diseases of age.] Then, again, the blood is poor in his chilled body, and gets its only warmth from fever. Diseases of every kind form in fiendish chorus and dance about him. But if you ask me for their names, it would take longer than to give you the list of Hippia's paramours or the patients sacrificed in one autumn to Themison's quackeries; the partners swindled by Basilus or the wards by Hirrus; the customers exhausted in one day by the lankey Mooress, or the pupils debauched by teacher Hamillus. It would be quicker to run through the roll of mansions now possessed by the man whose razor once grated against my young stubble. One old man you may see paralyzed in shoulder, loin, or hip; another blind of both eyes, and jealous of those who have sight in one; the bloodless lips of a third are receiving food from a servant's fingers, whilst the mouth, which once showed all the teeth at sight of dinner, gapes in helplessness, like the nestling swallow welcoming its famished mother's well-stored beak: but worse than any bodily decay is mental failure, forgetfulness of the names of servants or the features of the friend and companion at last evening's dinner — forgetfulness of the children begotten and reared in the father's house. They are cut off by a heartless will from their natural portions, and the whole estate passes to the "Virgin Harlot," so potent are the persuasions of that ingenious mouth which for many a past year had done duty at the brothel cell.

Even if the mental powers do not decay, the old man must follow sons to the grave, and behold the dear wife or brother on the funeral pyre and the ashes of sisters packed in urns. This is the penalty exacted from long-livers — havoc in the family time upon time repeated, and an old age spent amid afflictions in constant mourning and black weeds. The king of Pylos [Nestor.] was (if one puts any trust in classic Homer) an instance of long life only second to the crow's. And we must suppose that he is happy because he has put off his death for so many generations, begins to reckon his century, and drinks new vintages so often! But listen, I beseech you, how he rails himself against the rules of Fate and curses his own long-drawn thread of life, when he looks upon his son Antilochus, once a bearded and gallant warrior but now flaring on the pyre. Hear the old man put his question to all the friends about him — "why am I lingering to this day? what sin have I done to deserve so long a life?" The same words were spoken by Peleus mourning for the ravished Achilles, and by him [Laertes.] who had a father's right to mourn for the wave-tossed Ithacan. [Ulysses.]

[The vanity of long life illustrated by the disastrous close of Priam's career.] Priam might have gone down to the shades of his ancestors in honour and glory, as king of the grand old Troy, with Hector and his brothers to support his bier amid the wailing of noble women, with Cassandra to lead the strain of sorrow and Polyxena to rend her raiment, if only he had died at another time before Paris had laid the stocks for his desperate cruisers. What then did he profit by length of days? He saw his fortunes overturned, and all Asia falling before fire and sword. That was the hour when the palsied warrior flung aside his turban to bear arms, and tumbled before great Jupiter's altar — like a worn-out ox, long ago scorned by the graceless plough, submitting a lean and wretched neck to the farmer's knife. Be that as it might, his end was human: but the wife who outlived him came to snarling and barking in the image of a dog. [His wife was more unhappy.]

I pass over the King of Pontus and Croesus [273-288.] [Mithridates III.] (warned by the eloquence of Solon the Just to look to the last lap in the race of life), and I hasten on to Roman instances. It was length of days which brought Marius to exile, imprisonment, concealment in Minturnae's marshes, and the bread of beggary in the streets of conquered Carthage. [The sad end of the glorious career of Marius.] Where could the world, where could Rome, ever have shown greater happiness than would have been his, had he given up his ghost in triumph amid the pomp of war, just after he had led round his line of Teuton prisoners and just before he stepped down from the car of victory? [Pompeius was more unfortunate than the Catilinarian conspirators.] Campania (in its prescience) had granted to Pompeius [50 B.C.] the fever which should have been prayed for; but the multitude of cities and a people's prayers prevailed against it. So it came about that he was saved by his own and the city's fortune only to be conquered and robbed of his head. [63 B.C.] This agony and retribution were escaped by Lentulus; Cethegus fell unmutilated; and Catilina lay with his body undivided.

[The vanity of beauty. It's dangers for girls.] When a fond mother sets eyes on a temple of Venus, she prays in whispered accents for handsome sons, but speaks more boldly in her daughters' names, so that she ends by being dainty in her petitions.

"Why should you rebuke me?" she cries. "Does not the mother Latona take delight in her Diana's beauty?"

Yes, but Lucretia's fate is a lesson against coveting such charms as hers; and Virginia would be glad to bestow hers upon a Rutila and take the hump in exchange. [The heroine of the tale about Appius Claudius.] Surpassing beauty in a son keeps his parents in constant agony and alarm — so rare it is for modesty and beauty to dwell in peace together. Yea, though purity of life be the heirloom in a family of the rough old Sabine type, and even if Nature herself (who is stronger to help than any watch or ward) opens her generous hand to give him the greatest of her boons, chastity of spirit and a face which flushes with modest blood, still the lad must not keep his manhood. The lavishness of the seducer's vice does not even shrink from tampering with his parents. Such is the boldness of corruption! On the other hand, no ugly boy was ever mutilated by a tyrant in his cruel stronghold, nor did Nero ravish a young bandy-legs or a scrofulous and pot-bellied hunchback.

Go you, then, and rejoice, if you can, in the beauty of a son whom peculiar perils are awaiting. He will become the town adulterer, and live in fear of penalties which he owes to the angry husbands; nor will he be so much luckier than Mars as never to fall into a trap. And sometimes outraged Honour enforces more than any law allows to honour — death by the knife, stripes from the bloody scourge, or perhaps the "Mulletclyster." [An instrument of torture.] At first your Endymion will pick the partner of his sin. Afterwards, when a Servilia has offered money, he will give himself even to the woman whom he loves not, and strip her of the very clothes from her body. Be she high or low, she thinks no sacrifice too great for her passion, once it is excited; for passion is the focus of a soiled woman's whole life.

[The dangers of purity.] Do you ask, what harm can beauty do where there is purity? Ask, rather, what profit had Hippolytus, what profit had Bellerophon, from his stern resolve? Why, Phaedra flushed like a woman, insulted, and rejected Sthenoboea glowed with an equal flame; and both of them gathered themselves for the leap of vengeance. Woman's fury reaches its climax when hatred is spurred on by shame.

[The fate of Caius Silius, who was enticed into a mock marriage with Messalina.] Take your choice of the counsel which you would give to the youth whom Caesar's wife [Messalina, wife of Claudius.] marks down to become her "husband." Best and fairest of Rome's gentle blood, the unhappy youth is carried away to perish under Messalina's basilisk eyes. The bride is seated and waiting with her yellow veil prepared; the purple coverlet for the nuptial bed is spread in the gardens for all to see; the dowry of one hundred thousand sesterces will be given in time-honoured fashion; and witnesses will be present with the augur. Perhaps you thought that this matter, Silius, would be the secret of a few confidants. [Apostrophe to Silius.] No; she will not have a make-shift wedding! Tell me your decision: if you will not consent, you must die before candlelight; if you do the sin, you will gain a brief respite, until the common talk of town and populace finds its way to the Emperor's hearing. He will be the last to learn the disgrace of his own house. For that interval go and do her bidding, if you put such a value on the few days of life. [Greater fortitude on his part would have been unavailing.] But whatever course you think is the better (or the worse), still you must sacrifice that fair white neck of yours.

[The moral of this Satire is for Man to leave his fate in the hands of Heaven.] Do I cut man off from every prayer? If you would have my advice, you will leave it to the gods to decide what is right and useful in human fortunes. The gods will give us not what we desire, but what we most need. Man has a better friend in Heaven than in himself. Driven on by passion, and led by the blind guidance of a masterful desire, we set our hearts upon marriage and the hope of offspring. But the gods know — how the wife and children will turn out! Still, if you really must pray for something, and must go to the shrines with your offerings of tripe and white porker's consecrated sausage-meat, let your petition be for a healthy mind in a healthy body. [His only prayer should be for virtue.] Pray for a brave heart, which knows not the fear of death, and ranks length of life lowest among the gifts of Nature, strong in the sufferance of appointed labours, innocent of wrathfulness and lust, and counting the trials and cruel labours of a Hercules better than the loves and revelries and feather-beds of Sardanapalus. The prize which I offer you can win for yourself. The only path which leads to peace of mind goes by way of Virtue. Wheresoever Wisdom abides, there, Fortuna, thou hast no power of thine own. It is we who make a goddess of thee, and give thee thy mansion in the skies.
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