Sunday, 30 August 2015

Memo to Self

What thou lovest well remains,
                                                   the rest is dross
What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov'st well is thy true heritage
Whose world, or mine or theirs
                                             or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
        Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,
What thou lov'st well is thy true heritage
What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee

The ant's a centaur in his dragon world.
Pull down thy vanity , it is not man
Made courage, or made order, or made grace,
        Pull down thy vanity , I say pull down.
Learn of the green world what can be thy place
In scaled invention or true artistry,
Pull down thy vanity,
                                       Paquin pull down!
The green casque has outdone your elegance. 

" Master thyself, then others shall thee beare "
        Pull down thy vanity

Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail,
A swollen magpie in a fitful sun,
Half  black  half  white
Nor knowst'ou wing from tail
Pull down thy vanity
                          How mean thy hates
Fostered in falsity
                          Pull down thy vanity,
Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity,
Pull down thy vanity,
                          I say pull down

 Ezra Pound from Canto LXXXI - Pisan Cantos (1948)

 Scholarly note: wing, tail; elbow, arse.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Daily Feydeaugraph

Comedy headline here from the Faily Telegraph:

Ashley Madison data dump exposes hundreds of public servants in sensitive positions

Thursday, 20 August 2015

A Gladiator's Life for Me

Paradoxically, as the numbers of gladiators, the frequency of games, and the risks of dying increased, Romans and volunteers began enlisting, until, by the end of the Republic, somewhere around half of all gladiators were volunteers [...] Not only was the volunteer who entered the arena debased, but he was compelled to affirm, to justify, his debasement. He took a frightful oath, the sacramentum gladiatorum: he swore to endure being burned, bound, beaten and slain by the sword [...] The gladiator, by his oath, transforms what had originally been an involuntary act to a voluntary one, and so, at the very moment that he becomes a slave condemned to death, he becomes a free agent and a man with honour to uphold.

Carlin A. Barton "The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans: the Gladiator and the Monster" (1992) pp14-15

For Barton this is one of the psychic torments that characterise the period. Enslaved under an emperor whose service demands sycophantic flattery, humiliation and self-abasement, where might a man find honour?

She adds in a footnote, though, that from the early C1st AD recruitment drives began and even minor offenders were committed to the arena.

Tacitus points to some other sources. Vitellius issued strict orders that:
[2.62] Romans of equestrian rank were not to disgrace themselves by performing in the games and the arena. Previous emperors had  driven them to this kind of thing by offering payment or, more often, by the use of force, and a number of Italian towns vied with one another in holding out financial inducements to undesirables among the younger generation.

Cornelius Tacitus "The Histories" trans. Kenneth Wellesley (1995)

What need of ASBOs when you can take your rakehells, wastrels, gangstas, hooligans &c and recycle them as Entertainment?

And - before you mention the Big Brother House - kill them.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Ueading Uatin

Buogista: Saturday, having got an energetically buzzy little bee in m'bonnet about all things Roman...
Ueaders: *Sigh* wonder how we didn't notice.
Bluuustu: ...anyhows I bought Reading Latin (a teaching manual for the more - ahem - mature student) and rushed it home, only to find...
Ruudurs: What? What did you find? Pssst... could be some laughs to be had here at long last, mateys!
Uuuuuuuu: ...that the authors are slaves to that persuasion that changes all Latin "v"s to "u"s. What might once have been carved nobly as "servvs" becomes not sensible "servus" but risible "seruus".
Readers: Don't tell me th'bugger's still sober.

At least a couple of good things came out of this. I was reminded of the brilliant A P Herbert and his story from Uncommon Law Rex v. Venables and Others (1935, and note the "v"s there).

The advocate (!) Mr Wicks is showing off his 'modern' pronunciation: neesee of kairtiorahree; day yooray; pahree pahsoo; preemah fakiay and so forth.

The Lord Chief Justice pulls him up short (and quite rightly in my opinion):
Mr. Wick: My Lord, I pronounce the Latin tongue as I was taught at school.

The Lord Chief Justice: Exactly. You are not to be blamed, Mr. Wick. But I am bound to make it clear to you, to the rest of your gallant generation and to the generations that come after, that His Majesty's judges will not permit the speaking of the Latin tongue after that fashion in the King's Courts. I cannot hear you, Mr. Wick, for the very good reason that I cannot understand you.
We have taken these words from Rome, as we have taken much of her law, and made them English. I do not believe that the wisest scholars can surely say how Julius Caesar pronounced his name, and I care nothing if they can. For if I had abundant proof that the general answered to Yooliooss Kayzar I should not say that an act of the Chimney Magna justices was ooltrah weerayze. It is safe to prophesy that these hateful sounds will never proceed from the lips of an English judge, however many innocent boys are instructed to make them at school.

The same may be said of all the professions in which the 'dead' languages are not merely the toys of pedagogues but the constant tools of practical men. I suffer from lumbago; I grow geraniums; I go to the cinema. And when my doctor diagnoses loombahgo, my gardiner cultivates gerahniooms, or my cook enjoys herself at the kyneemah I shall begin to think that the pedagogues are making headway.

And in fact the pedagogues did lose out for a while post-1935. In my day (early Seventies) we were solidly back with the Lord Chief Justice.

A fuller account can be found here and the second good thing to have come out of this is the discovery of Laudator Temporis Acti, a blog after my own heart.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Arcana Imperii

[1.4] A well-hidden secret of the pricipate had been revealed: it was possible, it seemed, for an emperor to be chosen outside Rome. Galba was put up for rule (June 68) by his Spanish units, including a legion he had raised himself; Vitellius by his forces in Germany (January 69); the troops in Judaea and Egypt (and following them, in Syria and Pannonia) were to declare for Vespasian (July 69).

Only Otho (January 69) could claim a more conventional power base. Before leaving Rome to meet Vitellius' army:
[1.89] Otho then summoned a meeting of the whole populace, in which he stressed the prestige of the capital and the united support of senate and people as factors which told in his favour. 

Tacitus makes it abundantly clear that SPQR are anything but united:
[1.50] Here then were the two most despicable men in the whole world by reason of their unclean, idle and pleasure-loving lives, apparently appointed by fate for the task of destroying the empire. It was the realisation of this that now evoked unconcealed regret not only from the senate and knights, who had some stake and interest in the country, but from the man in the street as well.

Beneath the veneer of order there is continual chaos. The Praetorian Guard and City cohorts, the most prestigious of Roman formations, behave often as a drunken rabble. Late one night an issue of arms at the Praetorian barracks to the 17th Cohort, ordered from Rome to Ostia, sparks a mutiny. Suspecting that this is part of a plot to assassinate Otho, the Praetorians go on the rampage, storming the palace where Otho is entertaining the great and good to dinner. The guests stampede and Otho is reduced to standing on a couch and tearfully entreating the squaddies to return to barracks [1.81-82]. They do so and each is paid a bounty of 5,000 sesterces (five years' pay or more, ten if you're only counting disposable income). Even so, order is barely restored:
[1.85] However, peace and quiet had not returned to the capital, which clattered with arms and bore the look of war. The soldiers caused no concerted disorder. But they had insinuated themselves into all the great houses disguised as civilians, and kept a jealous eye upon all those whose station, wealth or some other uncommon distinction exposed them to gossip. It was commonly believed too, that Vitellian soldiers had entered Rome to explore the degree of support for their cause. The whole atmosphere was heavy with suspicion. Even the privacy of the home was hardly secure. But in public, anxiety reached a climax. Men had constantly to attune their attitudes and expressions to the latest rumour: it would not do to appear too upset by bad tidings and insufficiently gratified by good.

Soldiers on both sides routinely ignore (sometimes injure or murder) their officers, extort from or turn violently on peaceful communities in their path, mutiny for all sorts of reasons. The Othonian general Spurinna's soldiers, for instance, based at Placentia (Piacenza) just south of the River Po and the strategically vital west-east Postumian Way (Genoa-Piacenza-Cremona-Verona-Aquileia) go off on one [2.18], crying out that treachery is afoot, and stomp away north to the river:
[2.19] When the Po was sighted and night drew on, it was decided to entrench camp. The physical labour (a novelty for troops normally stationed in the capital) effectually broke their spirit. Then the older men began to denounce their own credulity, and point out the critical danger of their position if [the Vitellians] surrounded their slender force of cohorts in the open plain.
They return, now under orders again, to their starting point at Placentia.

There is in most formations a minority of good men who hold to their officers and the standards: this seems to render them ineffective and they play no part in quelling disorder or in the unfolding events.

Other secrets emerge into the light throughout the account. Near Cremona the Othonians score some tactical successes but the commanders keep things in check in case the Vitellians counter with reinforcemants:
[2.23] This created suspicion among the Othonian troops, who put an unfavourable construction on everything their generals did. Cowardly and loud-mouthed elements among them vied with each other in assailing [their commanders]. The accusations were varied, but the most violent incitement to mutiny and sedition was offered by the murderers of Galba, who were crazed by guilt and fear. These men caused chaos, both by provocative remarks openly made and by communicating secretly with Otho. The emperor was always ready to listen to the lowest of the low, and it was good advice he feared.
Those who have once usurped the right order of things live constantly in, and constrained by, fear of usurpation.

All quotations from Cornelius Tacitus "The Histories" trans. Kenneth Wellesley (1995)

I quote this at length not only because it is a most gripping story but...
Readers: because you are bored, drunk, unemployed and have too much time on your hands?
              no, I am not drunk
                                 ...but because in so many eerie ways (and in minor keys) it seems to speak of life in this our own Soviet-Union-on-Sea.

For example, let somebody make a remark which, wrenched out of context, might be understood by a determined few to be "immapwopwiate" or nearest offer.

Naturally since it can be it is, and a preliminary barrage is opened on the "social" media by the usual little platoons of Social Justice Warriors, One-Inch Minds, Serially Aggrieved Gripers, the Stand-By-To-Be-Offended, Persons with Degrees in Fields Nobody Ever Heard Of Before from Universities Ditto &c &c &c.

A growing horde (ooh, hundreds...) of obviously silly people join in this waste of time and typing, et voilà, Twitterstorm!!!

Eventually a small band of honest reporters put the remark back into context and note that it was, say, intended ironically, and taken as such by an audience who received the somebody's speech well. Too late: the narrative (© A Campbell, T Blair), as opposed to the truth, has been stood up, grown a millipede's-worth of legs and gone beserker.

A tangentially involved institution, one from which one might expect some assertion of principle or integrity, proves moribund and cravenly throws in its cards as quickly as it possibly can, preferably within the 24-hour news cycle (© A Campbell, T Blair).

I won't mention University College London in particular, UCL being neither the first nor the last.

Yes, got it in one, I am bored and unemployed and have too much time on my hands. But I am not drunk. The above might have had a touch of humour to it if I were.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Maakies is Back!

Yaaaaaaay MAAKIES!

How True, How Very Very True

From the excellent EatLiver.

*Sigh*'world just doesn't understand.

Here is an Englishman!

For he 'imself has said hit,
And it's greatly to 'is credit,
That he is a Henglishman!
That he is an Englishman!

For he might have been a Roosian,   [scoundrel]
A Frrench, or Turk, or Proosian,       [absolute blackguard]
Or perhaps Itali-an!
                             [the dirty dog]
 Or perhaps Itali-an!

But in spite of all temptations
To belong to hother nations,
He remains a Henglishman!               [aha! stout feller!]
He remains an Englishman!

For in spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations,
He remains an Englishman!              
[pip pip! carry on!]
He remains an Englishman!

Lavinia: Why my dear, is that a... manly tear you brush from your cheek?

Englishman: What what? Most certainly not m'dear. Something in me eye is all, polo pony or whatnot.

Thursday, 6 August 2015


Forbidding but inert, Galba only shows signs of life and interest when money and discipline are concerned. If Tacitus seems over-harsh, there are the anecdotes of Suetonius for corroboration. Galba used to say that a man ought not to be called to account for what he does after hours [snobbery, cruelty, avarice, conceit, gluttony, homosexuality].  That was not the opinion held at Rome in the days of the Scipiones.

 Otho by contrast - affable, pliant, and corrupt - belonged to his own epoch, a choice luxury product of the Neronian court. It  is on Otho when he resolves to end his life that the historian lavishes the resources of talent and sympathy, with the setting of a drama, with magnificent eloquence in farewell, with noble words of consolation for friends and family - and no hint that the capitulation of his forces is imminent or already transacted. What draws Tacitus is manifest. Not merely the opportunity to portray a theatrical suicide, such as the taste of the Romans took delight in, but a suicide more truly to be commended than when a good man took his own life in ostentatious rectitude [the proscribed opening, closing, opening their veins before an audience of friends, admirers, family], but with no advantage to the Commonwealth. Otho's resolution averted any further shedding of Roman blood in civil war. Other rulers fail by contrast. Nero could not summon energy for action, or dignity at the end. Vitellius, when his armies were lost, sank into lethargy like a fat animal. He let the futile struggle go on, incompetent even to manage aright his own abdication. The artifice of Tacitus is patent. No deception, no conflict with what the historian has previously revealed about the character, actions, and repute of Otho. Tacitus is quite clear. He sets it on record that Otho had been feared and detested much more than Vitellius.


Detesting civil strife and suspicious of power and success, Tacitus achieves a sombre and savage impartiality in the portrayal of the crime and violence of the year 69. Tacitus is harsh and bitter, offering no consolation anywhere. His despair is engendered by the contrasts between word and fact, between ambitions and achievement, by the tragic vicissitudes of men and governments. It has yet to be proved that acerbity or gloom is detrimental in an historian.

Ronald Syme "Tacitus" (1958) vol 1 pp205-206

Above: Nero; Galba; Otho; Vitellius.