Sunday, January 08, 2012

Tabulae Novae

Who in the world, indeed, that has the feelings of a man, can endure that they should have a superfluity of riches, to squander in building over seas and leveling mountains, and that means should be wanting to us even for the necessaries of life; that they should join together two houses or more, and that we should not have a hearth to call our own? They, tho they purchase pictures, statues, and embossed plate; tho they pull down new buildings and erect others, and lavish and abuse their wealth in every possible method, yet cannot, with the utmost efforts of caprice, exhaust it. But for us there is poverty at home, debts abroad, our present circumstances are bad, our prospects much worse; and what, in a word, have we left, but a miserable existence?

Will you not, then, awake to action? Behold that liberty, that liberty for which you have so often wished, with wealth, honor, and glory, are set before your eyes. All these prizes fortune offers to the victorious. Let the enterprise itself, then, let the opportunity, let your poverty, your dangers, and the glorious spoils of war, animate you far more than my words. Use me either as your leader or your fellow soldier; neither my heart nor my hand shall be wanting to you. These objects I hope to effect, in concert with you, in the character of consul—unless, indeed, my expectation deceives me, and you prefer to be slaves rather than masters.

Lucius Sergius Catilina, An Exhortation to Conspiracy (as presented by Sallust). This, of course, is the Catiline denounced by Cicero who attempted to overthrow the Roman Republic. People go back and forth on Catiline, depending largely on whether they judge him sincere in his advocacy for the poor or simply a rabble-rouser using them for his personal ends. But it's a little unsettling to think how well the Catilinian line would play today.

2 comments:

  1. John Perry10:54 PM

    People go back and forth on Catiline, depending largely on whether they judge him sincere in his advocacy for the poor or simply a rabble-rouser using them for his personal ends.

    I personally think this has more to do with the current zeitgeist's disdain, if not outright vehemence, for leaders like Cicero. (The HBO series, for example, misportrayed him grotesquely.) Rome had just recently survived Marius, then Sulla, and Catiline stunk for all the world of another Marius. I understand that Cicero is not a disinterested party, but still...!

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  2. branemrys5:05 PM

    That could well be, too. I also suspect that there's a bit of "appeal to the people = good even if it destroys law and order, defense of aristocratic traditions = bad regardless of importance to law and order".

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