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October 15, 2009

Neither racked by guilt nor enslaved by passion

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Robert Harris cites a debate in the Roman Senate dated December 5, 63BC - and the words of Caesar, Cicero and Cato in particular - by way of comparison with the moribund, kleptocratic technocracy at Westminster. I shall life his Cato quote but with a different target in mind.

It is long pat time we set aside our guilt and our passions and turned instead to ancient custom.

... the speaker who really won the day was Marcus Cato. His is the first parliamentary speech in history that has come down to us more or less intact, thanks to the scribes who took it down in shorthand. 'In heaven's name, men, wake up!' he thundered. 'Wake up while there's still time and lend a hand to defend the republic!

'Our liberty and lives are at stake! At such a time does anyone here dare talk to me of clemency and compassion?

'Do not imagine, gentlemen, that it was by force of arms that our ancestors transformed a petty state into this great republic. If it were so, it would now be at the height of its glory, since we have more subjects and citizens, more arms and horses, than they ever had.

'No, it was something else entirely that made them great - something we entirely lack.

'They were hard workers at home, just rulers abroad, and to the senate-they brought minds that were not racked by guilt or enslaved by passion. That is what we've lost.

Read the whole thing for context. Or pause to consider the news, the effect will be similar.

I fear the wonderful words of the late novelist J. G. Farrell are only too apt: 'We look on past ages with condescension, as a mere preparation for us - but what if we're only an afterglow of them?'

Posted by Ghost of a flea at October 15, 2009 07:17 AM

Comments

A useful article. Most interesting in the Daily Mail piece was the statement that three of these speeches are extant. Quite a lot of Cicero's are extant, I know; but I never heard of the others. I wonder where they can be found?

Posted by: Roger Pearse [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 15, 2009 08:45 AM