Sunday, March 25, 2012

Did Domitian Wear a Wig?

In his biography of the emperor, Suetonius claimed that Domitian was bald - and very, very sensitive on the subject:

In later life he had the further disfigurement of baldness . . ..  He was so sensitive about his baldness, that he regarded it as a personal insult if anyone else was twitted with that defect in jest or in earnest . . ..

And yet every sculpture I can find of Domitian - including those that appear to portray him later in life (he was only 45 years of age when he died) - show him with a full head of hair.

So, did he wear a wig?  Or is that a comb-over?

"Wolf By the Ear"?

Thomas Jefferson famously used the phrase "wolf by the ear" to describe the country's relationship with slavery in an April 22, 1820 letter to Massachusetts Congressman John Holmes (paragraph breaks and emphasis added):
I thank you, Dear Sir, for the copy you have been so kind as to send me of the letter to your constituents on the Missouri question. it is a perfect justification to them. I had for a long time ceased to read the newspapers or pay any attention to public affairs, confident they were in good hands, and content to be a passenger in our bark to the shore from which I am not distant.

but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once concieved [sic] and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.

I can say with conscious truth that there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach, in any practicable way. the cession of that kind of property, for so it is misnamed, is a bagatelle which would not cost me in a second thought, if, in that way, a general emancipation and expatriation could be effected: and, gradually, and with due sacrifices, I think it might be. but, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.

of one thing I am certain, that as the passage of slaves from one state to another would not make a slave of a single human being who would not be so without it, so their diffusion over a greater surface would make them individually happier and proportionally facilitate the accomplishment of their emancipation, by dividing the burthen on a greater number of co-adjutors. an abstinence too from this act of power would remove the jealousy excited by the undertaking of Congress, to regulate the condition of the different descriptions of men composing a state. this certainly is the exclusive right of every state, which nothing in the constitution has taken from them and given to the general government. could congress, for example say that the Non-freemen of Connecticut, shall be freemen, or that they shall not emigrate into any other state?

Jefferson used the same phrase - "wolf by the ear" - also referring to slavery, in a July 18, 1824 letter to Lydia Huntley Sigourney (emphasis added):
I am not apt to despairing, yet I see not how we are to disengage ourself from that deplorable entanglement, we have the wolf by the ear & feel the danger of holding or letting loose. . . . I shall not live to see it but those who come after us will be wiser than we are, for light is spreading and man improving. To that advancement I look, and to the dispensations of an all-wise and all-powerful providence to devise the means of effecting what is right.
Isn't the use of the singular "ear" like, totally weird?  Would you ever hold a wolf by one ear?  Of course not.  The wolf is lunging for your throat.  You're desperately holding him (or her, I suppose) by both ears.

It appears that the Sage of Monticello in his dotage was misremembering his classical studies.  The phrase was already a commonplace expression back in 161 BC, when the Roman comic playwright Terence used it in his play Phormio (Act 3, Scene 2).  The phrase involved, as you might expect, multiple ears :

O most fortunate Antipho!


What, I?


To have in your possession the object of your love, and have no occasion to encounter such a nuisance as this.


What I, in my possession? Why yes, as the saying is, I've got a wolf by the ears; for I neither know how to get rid of her, nor yet how to keep her.
I've checked the Latin text, and both ears are there ("auribu[s]" is plural):

mihin domist? immo, id quod aiunt, auribu' teneo lupum; nam neque quo pacto a me amittam neque uti retineam scio.

Roughly 200 years later, the phrase was a favorite saying of the Roman emperor TiberiusSuetonius reports in his biography of Tiberius that he often used the phrase to describe the danger experienced in ruling the empire: you either were the ruler, or you were dead:
The cause of [Tiberius'] hesitation [in becoming emperor] was fear of the dangers which threatened him on every hand, and often led him to say that he was "holding a wolf by the ears."
As before I've checked the Latin text, and those multiple ears ("auribus") are still there:

Cunctandi causa erat metus undique imminentium discriminum, ut saepe lupum se auribus tenere diceret.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Did Sejanus Poison Drusus the Younger?

Drusus the Younger, born in 13 BC, was the son of the emperor Tiberius and Tiberius' first wife Vipsania Agrippina.  Drusus was married, to Livia Julia, a daughter of Tiberius' dead brother, Drusus the Elder, and thus the younger Drusus' own cousin.  Drusus the Younger and Livia Julia had children, including twin brothers named Tiberius Gemellus and Germanicus (born AD 19).

As of AD 23, all indications were that Drusus the Younger was Tiberius' choice to succeed him as emperor when Tiberius died or retired.  (Born in 42 BC, Tiberius was in his mid-sixties.)  However, Tiberius expected that Drusus would in effect serve as a caretaker - but not for his own sons.  When the time came, Drusus would be succeeded as emperor by one of the sons of his dead cousin Germanicus (15 BC - AD 19, a son of Drusus the Elder) and Germanicus' surviving wife Agrippina the Elder, a granddaughter of the emperor Augustus.  The eldest of these boys, Nero (born AD 6; not the future emperor) and Drusus (born AD 7) were in their teens. (There was also a third brother, Gaius, born AD, who later became known as the emperor Caligula, but that's another story.)  In this way, the bloodline of Augustus would ultimately regain the principate, because Nero and Gaius were Augustus' great-grandchildren through Agrippina the Elder.

Obviously, Tiberius could not insure that Drusus would follow his wishes after Tiberius' died or stepped down, and cast aside his own sons in favor of one of his nephews.  However, Drusus had provided indications that he was prepared to honor his father's request.  At all events, it appeared more and more likely that within a year or two Tiberius would put aside the cares of office in favor of his son.

It was not to be.  On September 14, AD 23, Drusus died at the age of 36.  At the time there was no hint of foul play.  Drusus had been something of a high-liver, and Tiberius and everyone else were convinced that Drusus had died of natural causes.

Eight years later, however, a foul conspiracy was uncovered: the pretorian prefect Sejanus had poisoned Drusus as part of a plot to assume power.  Between the early 20s and AD 31, Sejanus had risen far indeed, becoming Tiberius' number one aide and virtual alter ego before Tiberius renounced him that year.  He was executed on October 18, AD 31.  Six days later his eldest son by his former wife, Apicata, whom Sejanus had divorced in early AD 23, was executed as well.  Two days after that Apicata committed suicide.

Before her death, however, Apicata dropped a  bombshell.  According to Cassius Dio, she composed a letter to Tiberius revealing that Sejanus had seduced Drusus' wife Livia Julia and that the two of them had then conspired to murder Drusus:
[Sejanus'] wife Apicata was not condemned, to be sure, but on learning that her children were dead, and after seeing their bodies on the Stairway, she withdrew and composed a statement about the death of Drusus, directed against Livilla, his wife, who had been the cause of a quarrel between herself and her husband, resulting in their separation; then, after sending this document to Tiberius, she committed suicide.  It was in this way that Tiberius came to read her statement; and when he had obtained proof of the information given, he put to death Livilla and all the others therein mentioned. I have, indeed, heard that he spared Livilla out of regard for her mother Antonia, and that Antonia herself of her own accord killed her daughter by starving her. These events, however, were later.
Subsequent investigation, including interrogation of the doctor and eunuch used by Sejanus to effect the murder (see below), confirmed the accusations.  Sejanus had turned Livia Julia presumably by pointing out that, if Drusus became emperor, he would insure that one Germanicus' sons would succeed him to the throne rather than her own son, Tiberius Gemellus.  With Drusus dead, however, Sejanus and Livia Julia could marry, and Sejanus would see to it that Tiberius Gemellus would eventually became emperor.  Sejanus, of course, would be the power behind the throne.  Time was of the essence, because Germanicus' sons were rapidly approaching manhood.

Having joined Livia Julia to his scheme, Sejanus then enlisted agents to poison Drusus in a way that would mimic a natural death.  As Robin Seager summarizes in his biography Tiberius:
Livia Julia's doctor, Eudemus, was made privy to the plot, and Seianus divorced his wife Apicata . . ..  The need for swift action had been underlined at the beginning of 23, when young Drusus [Germanicus' son] assumed to the toga uirilis.  The same honors were bestowed on him as had been voted to Nero [Germanicus' eldest son; again, not the future emperor] three years before. . . .  For his weapon, Seianus chose poison, the effects of which might be passed off as the symptoms of a disease.  The draught was administered by a eunuch, Lygdus, probably Drusus' taster.  Drusus was ill for several days, during which time Tiberius characteristically continued to attend all meetings of the senate, but on 14 September [AD 23] he died.  The first stage of Seianus' grand design had been successfully completed.
The ancient sources took it us incontestable that Sejanus had, in fact, poisoned Drusus.  Here, for example, is Tacitus (Annals, Book IV):
There were however obstacles to [Sejanus'] ambition in the imperial house with its many princes, a son in youthful manhood [Drusus the Younger] and grown-up grandsons [the teenagers Nero and Drusus].  As it would be unsafe to sweep off such a number at once by violence, while craft would necessitate successive intervals in crime, he chose, on the whole, the stealthier way and to begin with Drusus [the Younger], against whom he had the stimulus of a recent resentment.  Drusus, who could not brook a rival and was somewhat irascible, had, in a casual dispute, raised his fist at Sejanus, and, when he defended himself, had struck him in the face.

On considering every plan Sejanus thought his easiest revenge was to turn his attention to Livia, Drusus's wife.  She was a sister of Germanicus, and though she was not handsome as a girl, she became a woman of surpassing beauty.  Pretending an ardent passion for her, he seduced her, and having won his first infamous triumph, and assured that a woman after having parted with her virtue will hesitate at nothing, he lured her on to thoughts of marriage, of a share in sovereignty, and of her husband's destruction.  And she, the niece of Augustus, the daughter-in-law of Tiberius, the mother of children by Drusus, for a provincial paramour, foully disgraced herself, her ancestors, and her descendants, giving up honour and a sure position for prospects as base as they were uncertain.  They took into their confidence Eudemus, Livia's friend and physician, whose profession was a pretext for frequent secret interviews. Sejanus, to avert his mistress's jealousy, divorced his wife Apicata, by whom he had had three children.


Sejanus accordingly thought that he must be prompt, and chose a poison the gradual working of which might be mistaken for a natural disorder.  It was given to Drusus by Lygdus, a eunuch, as was ascertained eight years later.  As for Tiberius, he went to the Senate house during the whole time of the prince's illness, either because he was not afraid, or to show his strength of mind, and even in the interval between his death and funeral.  Seeing the consuls, in token of their grief, sitting on the ordinary benches, he reminded them of their high office and of their proper place; and when the Senate burst into tears, suppressing a groan, he revived their spirits with a fluent speech.  "He knew indeed that he might be reproached for thus encountering the gaze of the Senate after so recent an affliction.  Most mourners could hardly bear even the soothing words of kinsfolk or to look on the light of day.  And such were not to be condemned as weak.  But he had sought a more manly consolation in the bosom of the commonwealth."
Likewise Suetonius in his Life of Tiberius takes Drusus' murder as a given:
[Tiberius] increased his cruelty and carried it to greater lengths, exasperated by what he learned about the death of his son Drusus.  At first supposing that he had died of disease, due to his bad habits, on finally learning that he had been poisoned by the treachery of his wife Livilla and Sejanus, there was no one whom Tiberius spared from torment and death.
So did it really happen this way?  Was Drusus, in fact, poisoned?  While admitting that "[c]ertainty is impossible," Robin Seager maintains "[t]hat Drusus died a natural death . . . seems to me certain."  In support of his position, he raises a number of arguments.

First, "[i]t is striking that" for eight years "there had never existed the slightest suspicion that Drusus had not died a natural death," particularly "in a poison-conscious age."  There was widespread suspicion that Drusus' own father Germanicus had been poisoned only four years earlier.  And yet neither Drusus on his deathbed nor anyone else ever thought of poisoning until Apicata sent her letter.  Tiberius himself "remained convinced for eight years that his son had died of ill-health and excessive self-indulgence," an entirely reasonable conclusion given his lifestyle.

Second, Seager finds it "almost incredible that Seianus and Livia Julia should have left Eudemus and Lygdus alive to tell their tale."  They had eight years in which to liquidate the witnesses.  Their failure to do so argues powerfully "against the presumption of murder."

Finally, Seager points out that it is hard to understand how Apicata would even have been aware of the plot.  Certainly neither Sejanus nor Livia Julia would have told her.  Assuming that Apicata had taken up with Livia Julia before divorcing her, the more likely scenario is that the resentful Apicata came to sincerely believe that Drusus had been murdered based upon that fact and her familiarity with Sejanus' ambition.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Caligula on the Beach

The ancient sources for the reign of the emperor Caligula, consisting primarily of Suetonius and Cassius Dio - the relevant portions of Tacitus' Annals are lost - are so superficial and biased that it is hard enough to put together a reliable reconstruction of the basic chronology, much less separate fact from fantasy.  Under the circumstances, in his Caligula: The Corruption of Power, Anthony A. Barrett does a remarkable job sifting through the available literary and archeological evidence to come up with a coherent narrative that portrays the emperor as more a self-absorbed and arrogant autocrat than the psychotic monster of popular imagination.

A case in point is Suetonius' famous - and virtually incomprehensible - tale of Caligula's abortive "conquest" of Britain.  In a farcical scene, Suetonius has Caligula march the legions to the shores of the Ocean - and pick up sea shells on the beach:
Finally, as if he intended to bring the war to an end, he drew up a line of battle on the shore of the Ocean, arranging his ballistas and other artillery; and when no one knew or could imagine what he was going to do, he suddenly bade them gather shells and fill their helmets and the folds of their gowns, calling them "spoils from the Ocean, due to the Capitol and Palatine." As a monument of his victory he erected a lofty tower, from which lights were to shine at night to guide the course of ships, as from the Pharos.  Then promising the soldiers a gratuity of a hundred denarii each, as if he had shown unprecedented liberality, he said, "Go your way happy; go your way rich."

Then turning his attention to his triumph, in addition to a few captives and deserters from the barbarians he chose all the tallest of the Gauls, and as he expressed it, those who were "worthy of a triumph," as well as some of the chiefs. These he reserved for his parade, compelling them not only to dye their hair red and to let it grow long, but also to learn the language of the Germans and assume barbarian names. He also had the triremes in which he had entered the Ocean carried overland to Rome for the greater part of the way. He wrote besides to his financial agents to prepare for a triumph at the smallest possible cost, but on a grander scale than had ever before been known, since the goods of all were at their disposal.
Piecing together the available evidence, Barrett cogently argues that the scene was the result of miscalculation, not evidence of insanity.

Until the fall of AD 39, the troops on the Upper and Lower Rhine were commanded by Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus and Lucius Apronius, respectively.  Both commanders had had their problems containing local threats, and the evidence indicates that Gaetulicus in particular had been lax in the discipline and training of his troops.  In late October of that year, Gaetulicus was executed on suspicion of treason and replaced by Servius Sulpicius Galba, the future emperor.  It is probably that Publius Gabinius Secundus was appointed to replace Apronius in Lower Germany at about the same time.  The two new legates, both of  whom were excellent choices, set about to reimpose discipline and launched preemptive raids across the Rhine to pacify local tribes.  This would be necessary as a precondition for withdrawing troops from the area in order to use them in Caligula's planned campaign against Britain.

Meanwhile, the overeager and inexperienced emperor, rather than wait to insure that an invasion of Britain would be possible in the Spring of 40, was on his way to the German front, probably arriving at the end of October or early November, shortly after the execution of Gaetulicus and confirmation that the situation was secure.  There, Caligula apparently accompanied the troops on a stage-managed raid across the Rhine that encountered more difficulties than anticipated.

Those difficulties reflected the core problem.  Until the troops were sufficiently trained, and until the area east of the Rhine was thoroughly pacified, an invasion of Britain courted disaster.  The fact of the matter is that these preconditions were not going to be in place by the spring AD 40, as Caligula had apparently assumed.  The emperor was caught in an embarrassing dilemma.  "Caligula thus faced the prospect of an enormous loss of face if he should be obliged to return [to Rome] with expectations unfulfilled."

At this point, Barrett argues, luck may have intervened, pointing to another confused and confusing passage from Suetonius:

All that [Caligula] accomplished was to receive the surrender of Adminius, son of Cynobellinus king of the Britons, who had been banished by his father and had deserted to the Romans with a small force; yet as if the entire island had submitted to him, he sent a grandiloquent letter to Rome, commanding the couriers who carried it to ride in their post-chaise all the way to the Forum and the House, and not to deliver it to anyone except the consuls, in the temple of Mars the Avenger, before a full meeting of the senate.

Without getting enmeshed in the obscure intricacies of Iron Age British politics, suffice it to say that a member of the royal house of a British tribe was prepared to defect and submit to Rome.  Caligula may have used this "heaven-sent opportunity" to create a seaside spectacle that demonstrated that no armed invasion was necessary because Britain had already submitted:

The "surrender" would have been staged with due military pomp - a surrender, after all, can properly be made only to superior military forces. . . . It might have been arranged that the submission would take place at sea, with Caligula sailing out to receive Adminius in the trireme mentioned in Dio, and it is noteworthy that Caligula arranged the trireme should be taken back to Rome to be a part of his triumph.  A victory over Britain in such circumstances would represent in the Roman mind a victory over Oceanus.  Thus a symbolic collection of shells, the "booty" of Oceanus, to be part of the offering of spoils for the Capitoline, would not be out of order.

Having made the best he could out of a bad situation, Caligula left the north no later than March AD 40.  He was back in the vicinity of Rome by the end of May.

Short Takes

A short post to highlight two interesting items I ran across this weekend, both of which are worth your investigation.

First on the list is a post at Volokh by Kenneth Anderson that announced the launching of ConText, a site that will "crowd source" James Madison's notes of the 1787 Constitutional Convention:
Organized like the Talmud, ConText surrounds the Notes with layers of commentary - commentary on the history (what was going on in the room), current events (how these events relate to current politics), theoretical and philosophical issues, and subsequent constitutional interpretation and dispute. Like Wikipedia, that commentary will be written by a scholarly community that develops around ConText: historians, constitutional scholars and practitioners, and interested students and lay people. Both the text and the commentary are fully searchable. And anyone can get an account and begin contributing.
For those of you who are unaware of them, Madison's notes are "the most important document in American history that nobody ever reads."  This looks like a tremendously exciting - and valuable - project.

Second is a wonderful article by Edward Luttwak entitled Homer Inc. Although the article purports to be a review of a new English translation of the Iliad, the review is simply a launching pad for a wide-ranging essay on the Iliad, touching on its historical roots, method of transmission and later codification by Aristarchus and others, and concluding with a deeply felt appreciation of the poem's terrible beauty, including the following:
Spears cut through temples, foreheads, navels, chests both below and above the nipple. Even despised bows kill, and heavy stones appear as weapons. Joyful victors strip their victims of their armour and gain extra delight from imagining their weeping mothers and wives. Yet the Iliad is a million miles away from the pornography of violence offered by many lesser war books, battle paintings, martial sculptures and most obviously films, in which the enemy bad guys are triumphantly trampled or gleefully mown down, because the humanity of the victims, their terror and their atrocious pain, are fully expressed. The powerful affirmation of the warrior’s creed – we are all mortal anyway so let us fight valiantly – coexists with the unfailingly negative depiction of war as horrible carnage.
 Read, as they say, the whole thing.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Write Your Own Academic Sentence!

The University of Chicago Writing Program has a great website that will write your own academic sentence for you.  You pick the words, push the button, and voila! perfect academic nonsense appears.

I selected "linguistic transparency", "post-capitalist hegemony", "historicization" and "reification".  I got:
The reification of post-capitalist hegemony functions as the conceptual frame for the historicization of linguistic transparency.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I Threw a Pear Into the Air . . .

It's been years (decades?) since I've seen the I, Claudius miniseries and even longer since I've read Robert Graves' books.  It's therefore entirely possible that this scene was in one or the other or both, but if so I had forgotten it.

In his biography of the emperor Caligula, Robert A. Barrett relates the untimely death of Claudius' son, Claudius Drusus. In about AD 20, the boy (who could have been no more than about 11 at the time, his mother having married Claudius in about AD 9) became engaged to Junilla, the daughter of the then-rising praetorian prefect Sejanus (she was about four years of age).
It was a short-lived union. A few days later the boy, perhaps anxious to prove that he had not inherited his father's clumsiness, threw a pear into the air, deftly caught it in his mouth, then choked to death.
The ancient source of the story is Suetonius, who tells it in his biography of Claudius:
[Claudius] had children by three of his wives: by Urgulanilla, Drusus and Claudia; by Paetina, Antonia; by Messalina, Octavia and a son, at first called Germanicus and later Britannicus. He lost Drusus just before he came to manhood, for he was strangled by a pear which he had thrown into the air in play and caught in his open mouth. A few days before this he had betrothed him to the daughter of Sejanus, which makes me wonder all the more that some say that Drusus was treacherously slain by Sejanus.

The Great Cameo: Germanicus Departs for the East, AD 17

Wikipedia reports that the Great Cameo of France, a five-layered sardonyx cameo measuring 31 cm by 26.5 cm, was created about AD 23.

But what scene does it portray?  You can read Wikipedia's somewhat different take, but Anthony A. Barrett, in his biography of the emperor Caligula, argues that it may commemorate the departure of Caligula's father, Germanicus, in the autumn of AD 17 on an important diplomatic mission to the Roman East at the direction of the emperor Tiberius. "According to this view the central figure is the enthroned Tiberius, who bestows the task on Germanicus, who faces him, accoutred in battle armor.  Behind Germanicus [on the left] stand [his wife] Agrippina and [his son] the young Caligula."

Germanicus never returned to Italy.  He died in Antioch on October 10, AD 19, at the age of 33 years.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Seneca is popularly known as a Stoic philosopher, statesman and turgid dramatist who selflessly tried to gently but firmly steer the emperor Nero away from his naturally vicious tendencies and was rewarded for his troubles by an order to commit suicide.

I was therefore amused to see that Anthony A. Barrett has a refreshingly different take on the revered rhetor in his biography of Little Boots, Caligula: The Corruption of Power.  Dismissing Seneca's writings mentioning Caligula as "generally of little positive value, as he was clearly obsessed by personal antipathy," Barrett observes:
Seneca made a career from obsequious flattery of the living emperors and unfettered vilification of their dead predecessors.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Define "Smart"

I ran across this article about feral pigs in upstate New York via Ann Althouse.  But what struck me was this paragraph:
Last year, the state set a similar corral trap too soon, catching only three pigs. After that, none of the others returned to the area, even after the trap was dismantled. “I’ve never worked with an animal this smart,” Mr. Reed said.
So, if they're so smart, why didn't they return when the trap was removed?

Measuring the Pulse of the Western World Based On A Single Headline

I understand why some complain about Ramsay MacMullen’s writing style, which can be dense and convoluted. But at his finest he’s something like a great impressionist painter, or even a pointillist, daubing multiple points of color on his canvas, out of which a vivid yet maddeningly indistinct atmosphere emerges.

More importantly, his style also reflects, I think, his perception of the historian’s craft, which is not to simplify or create grand patterns, but rather just the opposite: to try to recreate the myriad complexities and contradictions of long-dead societies that are now hidden from us by bland marble statues, scattered facts and unsupported assumptions.

Two examples may suffice, both from Prof. MacMullen’s fine Paganism in the Roman Empire, to illustrate his insistence that an honest attempt to capture the past must avoid the impulse to generalize.  The first follows a review of specific examples testing "the vitality of paganism":
This is the kind of mixed bag of facts that renders general statements about religious life so hard to frame or so easily criticized if they are framed too narrowly. What, for instance, can one make of the assertion that oracles, “it is true, enjoyed a recovery in popularity in the second century” [quoting from a 1929 work by Belgian archaeologist and historian Franz Cumont] – for which a single inscription is cited, recording help sought by a city in Sardinia from Apollo in Claros? Such characterizing of the feelings and thoughts of fifty million people on any day out of thirty-six thousand has something ludicrous about it, as if one were to measure the pulse of the western world on the basis of a single headline in the St. Albans Sentinel. Worse than that, perhaps: since religious feelings are not something to talk about in public, in some of their aspects, they must prove all the harder to assess from the outside. The more need for care.
Another quote of poor M. Cumont – “In the third century, the misery of the times was the cause of such great suffering . . . that people sought asylum in the expectation of a better life” – draws a second outburst. After questioning the evidence supporting the assertion, Prof. MacMullen expresses broader misgivings about whether it is ever possible, or desirable, to make such broad characterizations:
[W]hat sense does it make to assign a single character to so long an era? – as if one were to say, “in Italy, Switzerland, the Low Countries, Britain, France, and Spain between about 1400 and 1600, people were tense and worried.” The statement denies the very change and complexity which it is the job of historians to discover . . .. As if a century, let alone two or three, could be “an age” – that is, a stretch of time in which just about everybody acted in significantly different ways from other human beings before and after, but with something close to a characteristic uniformity among themselves!
The human tendency to arrange facts into patterns and the paucity of facts available concerning the Classical world – certainly in comparison to those available to a historian of, say, the Twentieth Century – suggest that the ancient historian must be particularly wary:
It can only be the observer’s ignorance that would make all the life of a vast area for so long a span, in the mind’s eye, blur, shrink, stop. Such ignorance is the natural condition of the ancient historian, paradoxically inviting him to arrange his few scattered facts into grand patters – the fewer, the grander. Where the temptations and the hazards are so pressing, perhaps it should be a rule that no one may generalize about ancient history until he has served an old-fashioned, seven-year apprenticeship in the teaching, or at least the formal study, of modern history!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Funeral of Hiram Cronk

Here's something startling.  Did you know that the last surviving veteran of the War of 1812 was Hiram Cronk?  And did you know that there's a YouTube video of his May 1905 funeral in New York City?  Well, there is:

According to Wikipedia:
Hiram Cronk (April 29, 1800 – May 13, 1905) was the last surviving veteran of the War of 1812 at the time of his death.
Born in Frankfort, New York, Cronk enlisted with his father and two brothers on August 4, 1814. He served with the New York Volunteers in the defense of Sackett's Harbor, and was discharged November 16, 1814. For his service, he received a pension of $12 per month. In 1903, the United States Congress increased it to $25 per month. He also received a special pension of $72 per month from the State of New York.
Cronk spent most of his life working as a shoemaker. He married Mary Thornton in 1825, with whom he had seven children. At the time of his death he had 14 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren (one of whom, Jane, lived to over 100 years of age herself, making the two "serial centenarians").
He died in Ava, New York in May 1905 at the age of 105. After his death, his body was displayed in the main lobby of New York City Hall. An estimated 25,000 people paid their respects. He is buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.

The pictures, above and below, from this site:
Hiram Cronk was the oldest surviving veteran of the War of 1812. When he passed in 1905, it was a major event. 10,000 observers paid their respects as he lay in state in City Hall, and these pictures appeared in the May 19, 1905 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle as he was laid to rest in Cypress Hills.

What If Adams and Jefferson Did Attack Ads?

I can't resist pointing out this great project described at Real Clear History: What If Jefferson and Adams Did Attack Ads?
This spring, a small cadre of Williams College students is participating in an experimental history course on the American Presidents. Instead of producing papers, as is the norm in most history classes, the students will create video campaign ads for the presidential elections from Washington to Lincoln.

There’s a catch, though. The students can only use images, quotes, documents, and music from the era. They cannot use anything that came afterwards. An image of the White House burning in 1812 would not work for the election of 1808. They cannot use images of Leutze’s famous Washington Crossing the Delaware, a product more reflective of the 1840s than the 1770s. Their assignment is to capture the spirit of the age – not the spirit of our historical memory.
Real Clear History is partnering with the class and promises to display the best videos every week or so, as the students progress through the elections from 1796 through 1860.  In the first installment, linked at the top, RCP has four videos that might have been used in the 1796 contest between John (the Monarchist) Adams and Thomas (Indecisive Atheist and Jacobin) Jefferson.  I've posted a different anti-Jefferson piece here.

The videos are also posted at YouTube, and it appears there's a YouTube Channel at which all the videos will be displayed.  I'm eagerly anticipating future installments.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

"I will avenge myself"

The immensity of the autocrat's power only insures his isolation. Particularly was this so for Constantine the Great, shrouded by "elaborate remoteness" to guard against plots and to "bestow[] him with some of the mystery and holiness of a god in a temple." And yet, as Ramsay MacMullen notes, Constantine raged against the layers of bureaucracy that enshrouded him:
To all provincials:
If anyone anywhere in any rank or office believes he can truly and clearly establish anything, against any of my governors, counts, retinue, or court, that seems not to have been properly and justly handled, let him come forward with courage and in safety, let him address himself to me. I myself will hear everything, I myself will judge, and if the matter is substantiated, I will avenge myself. Let him speak! If the matter is proven, as I said, I will avenge myself.

Friday, March 02, 2012

King Kong

Haven't had a Frank Zappa Friday in a while.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Why Did Constantine Convert? Ramsay MacMullen Eliminates Possibilities

What was it that drew Constantine the Great, so momentously for Western civilization, toward monotheism and ultimately to Christianity?  In his biography of the emperor, Ramsay MacDonald eliminates possibilities.  It wasn't, for example, a personal relationship with Christ.  Constantine hardly knew him:
Writing  about the Donatists in 314, Constantine mentions Christ, but several considerations, and several modern scholars, suggest that the letter was drafted or edited by churchmen in the court . . .; otherwise he makes no reference to Christ until 321.  That peculiarity deserves emphasis.  It does much to explain the route that his spirit traveled in conversion, passing not instantaneously from paganism to Christianity but more subtly and insensibly from the blurred edges of one, not truly itself, to the edges of the other.
Nor was it the moral vision of the religion:
A decade after his conversion [Constantine] was still personally decreeing crucifixion as a punishment.  The right of parents to expose unwanted children he never attacked, despite opposite views which he might have read in the Divine Institutes; and there, too, Lactantius had harshly condemned gladiatorial spectacles as "public murders," which, notwithstanding, the emperor left untouched until 325. . . . [T]he contrast is clear between his attention to the outward parts and appearances of the Church, and on the other hand his inattention to its spiritual meaning.
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