Monday, April 30, 2012

The Panic of 1837: Two Online Articles

As I've suggested before, the causes of the Panic of 1837 remain under debate.  For many years, the weight of historical thinking tended to embrace the Whig viewpoint and place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Andy Jackson and the locofocos.  Some combination of Jackson's war on the Second Bank of the United States, his transfer of United States deposits to the Pet Banks, and in particular the Specie Circular destabilized the money supply, resulting in a massive economic collapse.

Then the weight of historical opinion shifted more or less 180 degrees, absolving Jackson of all responsibility.  Foreign events entirely outside Jackson's control, and in particular a decision by the Bank of England to increase the discount rate on American paper in an attempt to reign in a perceived specie drain from the UK to the US, led to a catastrophic decrease in the availability of credit in the US.

Most recently, however, the pendulum has been swinging back: Jackson's actions were, in fact, at the heart of the crisis.  All of which leads me to the point of this post. I recently ran into a couple of articles, available online, which are well worth a read if you're interested in information about the Panic.

The first is Jessica Lepler's The Pressure of 1836: The International Origins of the Panic in 1837 (2007).  Prof. Lepler is reportedly preparing a book on the Panic, based upon her Ph.D. thesis on the subject.  The article in question, while perhaps less ambitious, nonetheless provides some fascinating details of the events occurring in London during 1836 and 1837.  In brief, the article does not purport to grapple exactly with the underlying domestic-or-foreign debate, but instead assumes that the Bank of England's actions were central.  But having said that, Prof. Lepler shows how the actions and rhetoric of Jackson and Jackson partisans (or is that partizans?) helped to create the perception in the UK that the US money supply was approaching a crisis.  To the extent that perception and confidence are reality in the economic world, Andy Jackson contributed.

More radical is Peter L. Rousseau's article entitled Jacksonian Monetary Policy, Specie Flows, and the Panic of 1837.  Prof. Rousseau rejects the thesis that the BOE was a principal cause of the Panic, citing among other things timing issues.  Instead he returns to a variant of the older thesis.  Jacksonian legislation and policies  resulted in a dramatic outflow of specie from New York Pet Banks, which held only $1.5MM of specie on May 1,  1837.  When bank runs on May 8 and 9 removed $1.3MM of specie, the banks suspended payments, and events cascaded from there.

About the illustration, entitled Capitol Fashions for 1837 (New York 1837):
A caricature of President Martin Van Buren issued during the Panic of 1837, strongly critical of his continuation of predecessor Andrew Jackson's hard-money policies. Particular reference is made to the Specie Circular, a highly unpopular order issued by the Jackson administration in December 1836, directing collectors of public revenues to accept only gold or silver (i.e., "specie") in payment for public lands. Designed to curb speculation, the measure was blamed by administration critics for draining the economy of hard money and precipitating the 1837 crisis. Hearkening back to the anti-Jackson "King Andrew the First" (no. 1833-4), the artist portrays Van Buren as a monarch in a princely cloak, treading on the Constitution. He is crowned "in the name of Belzebub . . . Ragamuffin king" by a demon. Van Buren's cloak is trimmed with "shinplasters," the colloquial term for the often worthless small-denomination bank notes which proliferated during the panic. Van Buren says, "I like this cloak amazingly, for now I shall be able to put into execution my Designs without being observed by every quizing, prying Whig. I'm obliged to keep close since my Safety Fund is blown . . ." Under the Safety Fund law, passed during Van Buren's term as governor of New York, banks were required to contribute to a fund used to liquidate the obligations of banks that failed. The fund was quickly exhausted during the panic. On the walls are pictures of "Bequests of the Late Incumbent" (Andrew Jackson), including "The Hickory Stick," worshipped by the masses like the brazen serpent in the Old Testament, Jackson's spectacles and clay pipe, his hat, the Safety Fund balloon in flames, and "the Last Gold Coin," minted in 1829 (the year Jackson first took office). On the wall at right is a headless statue of Jackson holding a "veto" in his right hand (an allusion to Jackson's 1832 veto of a bill to recharter the Bank of the United States). Visible through a window is a street scene where a crowd mobs a theater exhibiting "a Real Gold Coin." Beneath Van Buren's feet are several documents, including the Specie Circular and "petitions," the missives from New York bankers and merchants which deluged the White House calling for repeal of the Circular. A document labeled "Indian claims" refers to another unpopular Jackson legacy: the numerous grievances by tribes like the Cherokees and Seminoles regarding unfair and inhumane government treaties by which they were being displaced and deprived of their lands.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

It's Caturday!


And Ariadne wants to sleep the day away.

Friday, April 27, 2012

"He sees to the salvation of your hen"

Having posted recently about sacred pagan chickens, I was delighted to run across a fowl reference in a post-pagan Christian setting.  It appears in Ramsay MacMullen's Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries, in the midst of a discussion of the tendency of Christians in the period to address their prayers to saints and martyrs, rather than to God himself.  The good professor sees this as a continuation of the practice of common people in the pagan world to seek relief from deities less august than the major Olympians, who were too distant and unmindful of the smaller folk:
For, by their own act [conversion to Christianity], they [common folk] found themselves without gods.  A strange way to put it.  Surely they understood that the one Omnipotence was enough.  But no, the answer was overwhelmingly no.  This was because the concerns of little people were little, and they were therefore not accustomed to apply to Jupiter or Zeus for succor; nor to Jahweh, after conversion. Like the great Lex, they thought, great gods care nothing de minimis; great gods were lords and masters, not the fathers they hoped to appeal to . . ..  Conversion and the repudiation of their old patrons and rescuers among the divine ranks had left an emptiness, a loneliness in times of trouble, not comfortably to be filled by the Power preached from urban pulpits.
Fighting against this, Church fathers such as Augustine sought to reassure the members of their flock that God was both infinite and mindful of their most mundane cares (emphasis added):
We find Augustine again and again contesting his congregation's doubts whether God should be bothered about affairs of everyday life.  "There are those who say God is good, great, the top, beyond our perception, incorruptible, who will give us eternal life and that incorruptibility which he has promised in the resurrection, while temporal matters and matters of this world belong to daemones," to superhuman beings of a lower order . . ..  Yet, Augustine insists, God heals both man and beast, yes, even your flocks and herds..  "Let us reduce it to the very least things; he sees to the salvation of your hen."
We then meet Saint Germanus of Auxerre (c. 378 - c. 448), "who almost met Augustine's challenge, ministering not to a hen but to a rooster which had somehow lost its cock-a-doodle-doo."

The photo of the beautiful fresco of Saint Germanus healing the roosters is from this site.

Greek Mythology in the News!

There were no complaints from the public when a Mayfair gallery exhibited a dramatic modern rendering of the ancient Greek myth of Leda and the swan in its window.

But the sensitive souls of the Metropolitan Police took a different view when they spotted Derrick Santini’s photograph of a naked woman being ravished by the bird.

An officer took exception as he passed the Scream gallery in Bruton Street on a bus. He alerted colleagues and two uniformed officers from Harrow arrived to demand the work be removed.

Jag Mehta, sales director at the gallery owned by Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood’s sons Tyrone and Jamie, said: “We asked them what the problem was and they said it suggested we condoned bestiality, which they said was an arrestable offence.
Thank God they didn't have any of these versions in the window. Or this. Or this.

Even the Romans Didn't Crucify Their Own Citizens

As I'm sure you know by now, a videotape recently caught an Obama EPA Administrator boasting that he modeled his enforcement philosophy on ancient Roman practice:
The Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean. They'd go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they'd find the first five guys they saw and they would crucify them. And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.
Putting aside the anachronistic reference to "Turkish" towns, there is a far more significant irony embedded in the comment: the Romans didn't crucify their own citizens.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Let them drink, since they won't eat"

Having recently discussed gluttony and hurling, I thought I'd turn briefly to their opposite - refraining from eating and hurling.  This story is pretty well known and you may be familiar with it already.  But it's one of my absolute favorites, so I just can't resist.

During the First Punic War the Romans, historically a nation of landlubbers, had managed to construct a navy from scratch and win a series of victories at sea against the Carthaginians, the preeminent naval power of the western Mediterranean.

Publius Claudius Pulcher, was the bluest of Roman bluebloods.  His patrician family, the Claudii, boasted of consular ancestors going back to Appius Claudius Sabinus Regillensis, who served as Consul in 495 BC.  Some 250 years later, in 249 BC, Appius' descendant Publius was also elected Consul.  Rome was then engaged in a vicious and longstanding (since 264 BC) grudge match with the Carthaginians, principally over the island of Sicily, known as the First Punic War.  Historically a nation of landlubbers, the Romans had somehow managed to construct a fleet from scratch and win a series of naval victories over the Carthaginians, the preeminent naval power in the western Mediterranean.

Along with his consulship in 249 BC our proud, pretty Publius ("Pulcher" meant "handsome" in Latin}was awarded command of a substantial Roman fleet, some 224 vessels strong  He proceeded to direct it to the Sicilian town of Lilybaeum, at the western point of the island, which a Roman army was then besieging.

Thirsty for glory, Publius had no intention of remaining in a supporting role.  At his insistence his fleet then set out for the harbor of Drepanum, about twenty five miles up the coast, where the Carthaginian fleet was based.  Preparing to engage, the Romans determined, in accordance with custom, to consult the sacred chickens carried in cages aboard Publius' flagship to insure that the omens were favorable.

Now the deal with the sacred chickens was pretty basic.  You let them out of their cages and threw some grain or feed on the ground (or, in this case, deck).  If they ate, the omens were good; if they didn't, watch out!  As the description suggests, the whole thing seems to have been fairly manipulable.  You want the sacred chickens to eat, well, just starve them a little beforehand.  And so it usually went.

Not today, however.  The chickens were let out from their cages, the grain was scattered - and the damned things wouldn't eat.  Maybe they were seasick.  But for whatever reason, the omens were bad, bad, bad.  The frickin' chickens' refusal to eat meant that the battle would be a disaster for the Romans.  Publius would have to break off contact and return to Lilybaeum.

The proud Publius, however, refused to take no for an answer.  No frickin' chickens (sorry, I can't resist) were going to humiliate him and deprive him of military glory.  Rather than withdraw with his tail between his leg, he promptly had the sacred chickens tossed overboard into the sea, uttering the immortal words, "Let them drink, since they won't eat" (Bibant, quoniam esse nolunt).

Two of our three sources for this wonderful story are Cicero and the biographer Suetonius,  Cicero describes the scene in his De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods):
Nihil nos P. Clodi bello Punico primo temeritas movebit, qui etiam per iocum deos inridens, cum cavea liberati pulli non pascerentur, mergi eos in aquam iussit, ut biberent, quoniam esse nollent? Qui risus classe devicta multas ipsi lacrimas, magnam populo Romano cladem attulit.

Will the presumptuousness of Publius Claudius during the First Punic War trouble us not at all?  He mocked the gods only in jest.  When the sacred chickens were taken from their cage and would not feed, he ordered them to be thrown into the water so they would drink, since they chose not to eat.  Followed as it was by the defeat of his fleet, his ridicule cost him many tears and brought great calamity to the Roman people.
Suetonius recounts his similar version in his Life of the emperor Tiberius (who was also a member of the Claudian gens):
Claudius Pulcher apud Siciliam non pascentibus in auspicando pullis ac per contemptum religionis mari demersis, quasi ut biberent quando esse nollent, proelium navale iniit; superatusque, cum dictatorem dicere a senatu iuberetur, velut iterum inludens discrimini publico Glycian viatorem suum dixit.

Claudius Pulcher began a sea-fight off Sicily, though the sacred chickens would not eat when he took the auspices, throwing them into the sea in defiance of the omen, and saying that they might drink, since they would not eat. He was defeated, and on being bidden by the senate to appoint a dictator, he appointed his messenger Glycias, as if again making a jest of his country's peril.

Our prnicipal source for the battle is the historian Polybius, who recounts it at some length in Book 1 of his Histories.  The fact that Polybius, who was writing only some 100 years after the event, fails to mention our Felicitous Fowl in his detailed account has led some to conclude that the story is apocryphal.  I would note, however, that Livy, too, apparently included the tale in his account. Book XIX (19) of Livy's History of Rome (Ab Urbe Condita Libri) has been lost, but a Fourth Century summary or epitome of the Book, known as the Periochae, includes a reference to the Sacred Squabs:
Consul Claudius Pulcher fought without success against the Carthaginian navy after evil omens (he had ordered the holy chickens to be drowned, which refused to eat). He was recalled by the Senate, ordered to appoint a dictator, and chose Claudius Glicia, a man of the lowest kind. Although he was forced to lay down his office, he afterwards attended the games in a purple-bordered toga.

Claudius Pulcher cos. contra auspicia profectus (iussit mergi pullos, qui cibari nolebant) infeliciter adversus Carthaginienses classe pugnavit, et revocatus a senatu iussusque dictatorem dicere Claudium Gliciam dixit, sortis ultimae hominem, qui coactus abdicare se magistratu postea ludos praetextatus spectavit.

The sources uniformly attest that the Holy Hens proved prescient.  The Romans suffered a catastrophic defeat.  Polybius records that in the ensuing Battle of Drepanum the Romans lost of 93 of 124 ships, with only about 31 escaping.

The defeat was also a disaster  for Publius personally.  Although his flag ship was one of the 31 that managed to slip away, Polybius records his subsequent public trial (perhaps for incompetence or impiety or both) and disgrace:
Publius . . . fell into ill repute among the Romans, and there was a great outcry against him for having acted rashly and inconsiderately and done all a single man could to bring a great disaster on Rome.  He was accordingly brought to trial afterwards, condemned to a heavy fine, and narrowly escaped with his life.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Did Muhammad Exist?

I'm guessing you find this review of Robert Spencer's Did Muhammad Exist? as surprising as I did.

The Early Middle Ages, 284-1000

When I drive- which is most days - I usually listen to lectures or podcasts downloaded from iTunes.  I recently finished an excellent Yale course that deserves a recommendation: Paul H. Freedman's The Early Middle Ages, 284-1000.  As the title indicates, the course covers the period from the accession of Diocletian (with a prequel on the Crisis of the Third Century) through the demise of the Carolingian Empire and the arrival of the Vikings.  Prof. Freedman clearly loves the age, and his well-constructed lectures guide his students through the difficult material with care and a dose of humor that had me laughing out loud more often than I care to admit.

Earlier recommendations are here.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Persistence of Paganism

Ramsay MacMullen has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Roman empire and early medieval world.  But what sets him apart is his ability to mine obscure texts for asides or offhand comments, and then use those fragments to illustrate fundamental point about the society.

A case in point.  In Christianity & Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries Prof. MacMullen uses a minor work of Gregory of Tours (c. 538-594) to demonstrate the stubborn persistence of paganism among the country folk in southern Gaul well into the Sixth Century. In a work called Vitae Patrum (Lives of the Fathers), a frustrated Gregory recounted a voyage in which he was the only Christian amidst a sea of pagans.  Prof. MacMullen sets the stage:
The depth of Christian belief had perhaps always been limited and the evidence of conversion . . . easy to exaggerate.  Even from the longest-evangelized, most completely church-ed area down to Provence, in the 580s, when a man took passage on a vessel bound for Italy, he might find "a great crowd of pagans getting aboard along with me, among all of whom, that crowd of country people, I was the only Christian."
Many would have skimmed over Gregory's observation without a second thought.  Prof. MacMullen spells out the implications:
The incident is very revealing, not least in the matter-of-fact tone of the narrative.  It fits easily with all the other evidence accumulated in the notes above, showing in still more advanced periods the persistence of this or that pagan custom, the survival of one or another ancient rite. 

The History of English in 10 Minutes


H/T Anne Althouse.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"The Compromise of 1850 must be judged a success"

I have also discussed in more than one post whether the Compromise of 1850 was a good thing or bad thing.  This breaks down, as I see it, into essentially two counterfactual questions.  Would war have erupted in 1850 or 1851 if the Compromise had failed?  And, if so, would the North have won?

In his new book on the Compromise, Fergus M. Bordewich answers the first question in the affirmative, the second in the negative.  He therefore concludes that "the Compromise must be judged a success."  (He qualifies this with the proviso, "albeit a temporary one," but that's another story. Millard and the other men who crafted the Compromise in 1850 had no way of predicting, for example, Bloody Kansas.)

As to the first issue, Bordewich has no doubt that "[f]ailure . . . meant war."  As I have argued before, he is convinced that the first shots would have been fired in Santa Fe.  But even a desultory border scrimmage between Texas and U.S. forces or New Mexican militia would have drawn in volunteers from other southern states and widened into a general war:

Failure would have meant war, with its first shots fired at Santa Fe instead of Fort Sumter.  Even if Texas had suffered an initial defeat, southerners were ready to rush to her aid. . . .  Large numbers of southerners had come to accept secession as politically reasonable, economically rational, and morally justified.

Intertwined with this issue is Bordewich's response to the second question.  The North would have lost, he maintains, primarily because it would not have put up a serious fight:

The North, if it had any stomach for war at all in 1850, would likely have lost. . . .  [F]ew northerners . . . were prepared to fight a war for the Union, much less to end slavery.  There was nothing in the North to compare with the flaming war fever that was epidemic in the newspapers of the South, and the fiery letters that war-hungry men from South Carolina to Mississippi sent to the leaders of Texas, begging for a chance to fight for slavery.

During the 1850s northern industrial resources grew by leaps and bounds.  Although this may also have contributed to the Union's victory a decade, but the crucial difference was "will":

During the decade that was purchased by the Compromise of 1850, the North's advantages in population, industrial production, and transportation steadily grew. . . .  But it took more to win the Civil War than factory output: it required will.  In the course of the 1850s, as slavery continued to gnaw at the nation's political vitals [other southern outrages omitted]. white Americans [in the North] increasingly understood that the erosion of their own rights was tied to the fate of enslaved blacks . . ..

Finally, Bordewich evocatively describes what might have happened if northerners like President Fillmore had taken the moral high road in 1850 and lost:

Had secession taken place peacefully in 1850, the South would have set a precedent that in time might well have splintered what remained of the United States still further.  The United States might then have evolved into a congeries of states - a Pacific Republic, a federation of New England, another of the upper Midwest - competitive with one another, vulnerable to foreign interference, and perhaps chronically at war.  A truncated United States would never have become a globe-striding power, or a beacon of liberty for the rest of the world, but more likely a second-tier state like Germany or France. . . .  That none of this happened, we owe to the compromisers of 1850.

Why Millard Blew It

While Erik worries about more important things, such as whether this phenomenon creates an incentive for modern-day presidents to start wars, I of course am fixated on Millard Fillmore.

Millard, as you know, gets hammered as a cross between a nebbish and the anti-Christ for facilitating and signing the bills that are collectively known as the Compromise of 1850. If only he'd sabotaged the Compromise and started a war that killed as many as died starting eleven years later.  Then maybe he'd be as revered as the Railsplitter!

"Anyone who thought that Fillmore lacked spine was now disabused"

I have explained in a number of previously published posts how Millard Fillmore's firm and decisive actions in early August 1850 formed the basis for resolution of the crisis that had been building for four years, ever since David Wilmot had introduced his fateful Proviso in August 1846.  In a nutshell (see the posts linked above for more detail), the newly-installed president made clear to the State of Texas that the federal government would fight if state forces attacked the New Mexico territory.

In his newly-published book America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union, Fergus M. Bordewich points out the guts that this move took:
The following day, August 6 [1850], Fillmore sent his own message to Congress.  [Secretary of State Daniel] Webster may have contributed to it, but to give the president his due, anyone who thought that Fillmore lacked spine was now disabused.  A weak man might well have capitulated to the Texans: Fillmore dug in his well-polished boots.  The president declared unequivocally that New Mexico was federal territory, and that Texas enjoyed no rights or powers beyond her state limits.  "If Texas militia march into any of other States or into any Territory of the United States, there to execute or enforce any law of Texas, they become at that moment trespassers; they are no longer under the protection of any lawful authority, and are to be regarded merely as intruders," he declared.  Should the laws of the United States be opposed or obstructed in any way, it was his duty as commander-in-chief to employ the armed forces as they were needed.

The response to Fillmore's message, especially from northerners in Congress, was highly favorable; from Newport [Rhode Island], Henry Clay sent a telegram offering the president his full support.  The sleekly groomed Fillmore might not be the soldier that hard-edged [Zachary] Taylor had been, but his meaning was equally unmistakable: the United States was ready to go to war.

The president's message shifted the focus from the California issue to Texas-New Mexico.  And the combination of the president's "stick" and the "carrot" represented by the Texas bond bill did the trick:
The real question was: what would [the two Texas senators, Thomas Jefferson Rusk and Sam Houston] do?  Without their support, no compromise would work. . . .  Both . . . knew that federal troops were en route to New Mexico, that the president was firmly committed to resist an invasion, and that without the camouflage of the Omnibus Texas stood no chance of winning congressional recognition for its entire elephantine claim.  Some Texans were also having second thoughts.  "It is unpleasant to impoverish the state and tax our people with insupportable burthens to make war against the U.S. although it is as we all know on our soil," one uneasy constituent wrote to Rusk.
It was over within a matter of days.  On August 9 Rusk and Houston announced their support for the Texas-New Mexico measures.  That day, Stephen Douglas' motion for a third reading of the bill squeaked by, 27 to 24.  "[T]he Texans had tipped the balance."  The final vote on the bill, later that evening, "was decisive, if anticlimactic": 30 votes to 20.

About the illustration at the top, entitled Capability and Availability:
Sharply critical of both the Democratic and Whig choice of presidential candidates in 1852, the artist laments the nomination of two soldiers, Winfield Scott (center) and Franklin Pierce (far right), in preference to several more "capable" statesmen who appear at left. The latter are (left to right): Samuel Houston, John J. Crittenden, Thomas Hart Benton, Millard Fillmore, John Bell, Lewis Cass, Stephen A. Douglas, and Daniel Webster. Most prominent in the group are Fillmore, Cass, and Webster, who also sought the presidential nomination in 1852. Fillmore: "I have sought more anxiously to do what was right; than what would please, and feel no disappointment, at finding that my Conduct has, rendered me an unavailable candidate." Cass: "We have been partizans where we differed in opinions as to the best means of promoting the prosperity and happiness of our native land, but we cast aside, party when we stood Shoulder, to Shoulder, for the Constitution & the Union." Webster: "It is not our fortune to be, or to have been successful Millitary Chieftains. We are nothing but painstaking, hardworking, drudging Civilians, giving our life, and health, and strength, to the maintenance of the Constitution and upholding the liberties of our country." Columbia, draped in stars and stripes and grasping the hands of Scott and Pierce, responds: "I acknowledge your noble services, worth and Constant devotion most Illustrious sons, and that you have the long experience, Sound sense and practical wisdom which fit you to receive the highest honor in my power to bestow, but you are "not Available." " "Availability," in the contemporary lexicon, meant the quality of broad popular appeal. Scott and Pierce were both distinguished in the Mexican War. Scott, holding a liberty staff and Phrygian cap, proclaims: "You see Gentlemen it is "availability" that is required and that is "my" qualification." Pierce holds a shield adorned with stars and stripes, adding, "I am a "Great" man and have done the country "Great" Service! I never knew it before; but it "must be so;" for the Convention has declared it, and the Democracy affirm it." Before his nomination by the Democratic convention of 1852, Pierce was a relatively little known New Hampshire attorney--a fact which Whig publicists tended to exaggerate. Pierce had, after all, served as a two-term congressman and senator from New Hampshire.

Christian vs. Christian After The Edict of Milan

Ramsay MacMullen's Christianity & Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries has generated unhappiness in some quarters, for it focuses on how Christians turned from persecuted to persecutors just about as soon as they could after Constantine and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD.  Even after the reign and decrees of Theodosius, paganism, Prof. MacMullen maintains, did not just just fade gently away.  Not even imperial blessing and official preference were sufficient.  To complete the job, Christianity and Christians had to persecute, and many did so with gusto:
It used to be thought that, at the end, the eradication of paganism really required no effort.  The empire in its waning generations had suffered a decline not only material but spiritual.  Of itself, "paganism had by late antiquity become little more than a hollow husk."  To replace it, only a preferable alternative was needed which, when supplied and explained, over the course of time inevitably found acceptance.  But historians seem now to have abandoned this interpretation . . ..  The real vitality of paganism is instead recognized; and to explain its eventual fate what must also be recognized is an opposing force, an urgent one, determined on its extinction.  Such a force is easily felt in Christian obedience to the divine commands of both Testaments, calling for the annihilation of all error.  It was this that controlled the flow of religious history from the fourth century on.
But I digress.  The point of this post is to highlight a single phrase that I find so startling that I can scarcely believe it, notwithstanding that it comes from the pen of Prof. MacMullen.  After the Edict of Milan, while Christians began to focus on external enemies (pagans, Jews, Manichees), at the same time
sectarian rivalries within the church continued unabated and with freer use of force, now that it was safe (so in the century opened by the Peace of the Church, more Christians died for their faith at the hands of fellow Christians than had died before in all the persecutions).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"Fillmore was the real thing"

I have, on more than one occasion, discussed Millard Fillmore's childhood and young manhood, which bear a striking resemblance to those of his Whig successor, Abraham Lincoln.  Born and raised in abject poverty, young Millard, like young Abe, pulled himself up by his bootstraps to become a respected member of his community by virtue of native intelligence, hard work and a little luck.

I am pleased to see that in his newly-published work on the Compromise of 1850, America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union, Fergus M. Bordewich recognizes this affinity and, indeed, concisely summarizes the hurdles that Millard navigated far more eloquently than I could:
In an era when many political careers . . . were based on exaggerated, if not faked, log cabin origins, Fillmore was the real thing.  Born in 1800 to a hard-luck sharecropper in western New York, he was bred from boyhood to backbreaking labor in a mostly losing struggled to keep his family's farm going.  He didn't learn to spell until the age of seven, and at nineteen still had never seen a map or an atlas.  Books, as they were for his equally disadvantaged contemporary Abraham Lincoln, were his escape hatch.  Once he became literate, Fillmore read with a frightening ferocity.  At the carding mill where he worked for a time, he propped a dictionary on his worktable, and looked up a word each time he passed by, and then fixed it in his memory while he changed rolls of wool.  When, a few years later, he talked a local judge into taking him on as a law clerk, he was so grateful he burst into tears.  Through superhuman perseverance, he eventually became one of the most sought after lawyers in Buffalo.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

If John Quincy Not Be Coming

In reviewing the Williams College pre-Civil War presidential attack ads that have accumulated since my earlier post on the subject, I find this pro-Quinzy anti-Andy Jackson video from the 1828 campaign particularly effective. It hits the character issue, the adultery smear is great, the Jefferson and Jackson quotes toward the end are devastating and the background song (Little Know Ye Who's Coming) is effective as well. A solid A as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"If I had not fallen ill, I surely should have died"

The ancient sources uniformly portray the Roman emperor Vitellius as a glutton and revel in recounting tales of his excesses.  But the prize for the best story goes to the historian Cassius Dio (emphasis added):
Vitellius, addicted as he was to luxury and licentiousness, no longer cared for anything else either human or divine. He had indeed always been inclined to idle about in taverns and gaming-houses, and devote himself to dancers and charioteers; and he used to spend incalculable sums on such pursuits, with the result that he had many creditors.

Now, when he was in a position of so great authority, his wantonness only increased, and he was squandering money most of the day and night alike. He was insatiate in gorging himself, and was constantly vomiting up what he ate, being nourished by the mere passage of the food. Yet this practice was all that enabled him to hold out; for his fellow-banqueters fared very badly.  For he was always inviting many of the foremost men to his table and he was frequently entertained at their houses.

It was in this connexion that one of them, Vibius Crispus, uttered a very witty remark. Having been compelled for some days by sickness to absent himself from the convivial board, he said: "If I had not fallen ill, I surely should have died."

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Mark Antony Hurls

A busy weekend at a friend's house near New Haven,  so I only have time for a quick gross out.

In his Second Philippic, Cicero paints this charming portrait of a hung over Mark Antony vomiting chunks into his toga at a public meeting in the Forum:
Let us speak rather of his [Mark Antony's] meaner descriptions of worthlessness. You, with those jaws of yours, and those sides of yours, and that strength of body suited to a gladiator, drank such quantities of wine at the marriage of Hippia, that you were forced to vomit the next day in the sight of the Roman people. O action disgraceful not merely to see, but even to hear of! If this had happened to you at supper amid those vast drinking-cups of yours, who would not have thought it scandalous? But in an assembly of the Roman people, a man holding a public office, a master of the horse, to whom it would have been disgraceful even to belch, vomiting filled his own bosom and the whole tribunal with fragments of what he had been eating reeking with wine. But he himself confesses this among his other disgraceful acts. Let us proceed to his more splendid offenses.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Poppaea's Got Milk!

According to Pliny the Elder, Poppaea Sabina, the wife of the Roman emperor Nero (at least until he "accidentally" kicked her to death), would have shown up Charlize Theron as a rank amateur in the bathing department.  Cow's milk?  Don't be an ass!

The milk of the she-ass is the richest of all, so much so, indeed, that it is often used instead of rennet. Asses' milk is also thought to he very efficacious in whitening the skin of females: at all events, Poppæa, the wife of Domitius Nero, used always to have with her five hundred asses with foal, and used to bathe the whole of her body in their milk, thinking that it also conferred additional suppleness on the skin.
Natural History, Book 11.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Didn't the Unabomber Wear a Hoodie?

With all the talk of hoodies lately, I haven't seen anyone draw this connection.

Romans and Fruit, Again

So what's the deal with ancient Romans and fruit?

A couple of months ago I noted an odd passage in which Ammianus Marcellinus praised emperor Constantius II because "so long as he lived he never tasted fruit." 

Then I noticed this little nugget from Suetonius' Life of Nero (emphasis added):
Having gained some knowledge of music in addition to the rest of his early education, as soon as he [Nero] became emperor he sent for Terpnus, the greatest master of the lyre in those days, and after listening to him sing after dinner for many successive days until late at night, he little by little began to practise himself, neglecting none of the exercises which artists of that kind are in the habit of following, to preserve or strengthen their voices. For he used to lie upon his back and hold a leaden plate on his chest, purge himself by the syringe and by vomiting, and deny himself fruits and all foods injurious to the voice.
And I don't want to know where the syringe went, either.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Nero Gives Birth to a Frog

The association of the emperor Nero with frogs is not unique to Plutarch (see my earlier post The Emperor Nero: Viper or Frog?).

Nero was not unpunished for their [St. Peter's and St. Paul's] death and other great sins and tyrannies that he committed, for he slew himself with his own hand, which tyrannies were overlong to tell, but shortly I shall rehearse here some.

He slew his master Seneca because he was afraid of him when he went to school.

Also Nero slew his mother and slit her belly for to see the place where he lay in. The physicians and masters blamed him, and said the son should not slay his mother that had borne him with sorrow and pain.

Then said he, “Make me with child, and after to be delivered, that I may know what pain my mother suffered.” Which by craft they gave to him a young frog to drink, and grew in his belly, and then he said, “But if [unless] ye make me to be delivered I shall slay you all.”  And so they gave him such a drink that he had a vomit and cast out the frog, and bare him on hand that because that he abode not his time it was misshapen, which yet he made to be kept.

Then for his pleasure he set Rome afire, which burned seven days and seven sights, and was in a high tower and enjoyed him to see so great a flame of fire, and sang merrily.

He slew the senators of Rome to see what sorrow and lamentation their wives would make.

He wedded a man for his wife.  He fished with nets of gold thread, and the garment that he had worn one day he would never wear it ne see it after.

Then the Romans seeing his woodness [madness], assailed him and pursued him unto without the city, and when he saw he might not escape them, he took a stake and sharped it with his teeth, and therewith stuck himself through the body and so slew himself.  In another place it is read that he was devoured of wolves.  Then the Romans returned and found the frog, and threw it out of the city and there burnt it.

Pindar and the Bees

In his Description of Greece, the Greek traveler and geographer Pausanias relates this delightful story about the poet Pindar:
When Pindar was a young man he was once on his way to Thespiae in the hot season.  At about noon he was seized with fatigue and the drowsiness that follows it, so just as he was, he lay down a little way above the road.  As he slept bees alighted on him and plastered his lips with their wax.

The Emperor Nero: Viper or Frog?

Toward the beginning of his biography of the emperor Nero, Edward Champlin quotes from an extremely odd reference to the emperor by the Greek biographer Plutarch.  In an essay entitled On the Delays of Divine Vengeance (De sera numinis vindicta), the gods appear to conclude that Nero was not all bad.  While he was a monster who killed his mother, he also "restored the Grecians to their liberty."  It was therefore appropriate to transform him into a frog rather than a viper:
The last things that he saw were the souls of such as were designed for a second life.  These were bowed, bent, and transformed into all sorts of creatures by the force of tools and anvils and the strength of workmen appointed for that purpose, that laid on without mercy, bruising the whole limbs of some, breaking others, disjointing others, and pounding some to powder and annihilation, on purpose to render them fit for other lives and manners.

Among the rest, he saw the soul of Nero many ways most grievously tortured, but more especially transfixed with iron nails.  This soul the workmen took in hand; but when they had forged it into the form of one of Pindar's vipers, which eats its way to life through the bowels of the female, of a sudden a conspicuous light shone out, and a voice was heard out of the light, which gave order for the transfiguring it again into the shape of some more mild and gentle creature; and so they made it to resemble one of those creatures that usually sing and croak about the sides of ponds and marshes.  For indeed he had in some measure been punished for the crimes he had committed; besides, there was some compassion due to him from the Gods, for that he had restored the Grecians to their liberty, a nation the most noble and best beloved of the Gods among all his subjects.
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