Caesar and Christ

by: Will Durant, read in 1978, 2017

23 "...the Assembly (451) chose ten men—decemviri—to formulate a new code...the first written form of that legal structure which was to be Rome's most signal achievement and her greatest contribution to civilization."
32 "...The Twelve Tables remained for nine hundred years the basic law of Rome."
34 "...the 'mixed constitution' that Polybius admired as 'the best of all existing governments': a limited democracy in the legislative sovereignty of the assemblies, an aristocracy in the leadership of the patrician Senate, a Spartan "dyarchy" in the brief royalty of the consuls, a monarchy in the occasional dictatorships."
34 "The division of power was an aid to liberty and—for a while—a restraint on malfeasance; on the other hand, it led to great military disasters like Cannae, it dissolved democracy into mob rule, and at last brought on the permanent dictatorship of the Principate. What astonishes us is that such a government could last so long (508 to 49 B.C.) and achieve so much."
35 "Rome remained great as long as she had enemies who forced her to unity, vision, and heroism. When she had overcome them all she flourished for a moment and then began to die.
56 "A clan (gens) was a group of freeborn families tracing themselves to a common ancestor, bearing his name, united in common worship, and bound to mutual aid in peace and war. The male child was designated by an individual first name (praenomen), such as Publius, Marcus, Caius; by his clan name (nomen), such as Cornelius, Tullius, Julius; and by his family name (cognomen), such as Scipio, Cicero, Caesar. Women were most often designated simply by the clan name—Cornelia, Tullia, Claudia, Julia."
64 "Religio meant the performance of ritual with religious care."
76 War is blamed for the transformation of family farms to agribusiness with city-dwelling absentee ownership during the decline of the Republic prior to the Empire.
86 "[Aemilius] Paulus paid his classic compliments to amateur strategists: 'In all public places, and in private parties, there are men who know where the armies should be put in Macedonia, what strategical positions ought to be occupied. . . They not only lay down what should be done, but when anything is decided contrary to their judgment they arraign the consul as though he were being impeached. . . . This seriously interferes with the successful prosecution of a war. . . . [If anyone] feels confident that he can give me good advice, let him go with me to Macedonia. . . . If he thinks this is too much trouble, let him not try to act as a pilot while he is on land.'"
95 "In Christian theology Greek metaphysics overcame the gods of Italy. Greek culture triumphed in the rise of Constantinople as first the rival and then the successor of Rome; and when Constantinople fell, Greek literature, philosophy, and art reconquered Italy and Europe in the Renaissance. This is the central stream in the history of European civilization; all other currents are tributaries."
97 "Panetius laid down the central ideas of Stoicism: that man is part of a whole and must co-operate with it—with his family, his country, and the divine Soul of the World, that he is here not to enjoy the pleasures of the senses, but to do his duty without complaint or stint." My modification: "...he is here not [only] to enjoy..." but also to learn, create, and help.
97 "Stoicism became the inspiration of Scipio, the ambition of Cicero, the better self of Seneca, the guide of Trajan, the consolation of Aurelius, and the conscience of Rome."
102 Cato
107 The Roman Empire actually began in 146BC at the end of the Third Punic War and with the destruction of Corinth which subdued Greece.
150 Lucretius: "...who would be so unfair as to charge them [the gods] with the wastefulness, the disorder, the sufferings, and the injustices of earthly life? No, this infinite universe of many worlds is self-contained; it has no law outside itself; nature does everything of its own accord. 'For who is strong enough to rule the sum of things, to hold in hand the mighty bridle of the unfathomable deep?—who to turn all the heavens around at once". . . . to shake the serene sky with thunder, to launch the lightning that often shatters temples, and cast the bolt that slays the innocent and passes the guilty by? The only god is Law'"
152 Lucretius: "'Some men wear out their lives for the sake of a statue and fame'; but 'the real wealth of man is to live simply with a mind at peace' (vivere parce aequo animo). Better than living stiffly in gilded halls is 'to lie in groups upon the soft grass beside a rivulet and under tall trees,' or to hear gentle music, or lose one's ego in the love and care of our children."
154 "one need not be a Lucretius to be excitable, disorderly, or dead."
154 "In the endless struggle of East and West, of 'tender-minded' and consoling faiths vs. a 'tough-minded' and materialistic science, Lucretius waged alone the most vigorous battle of his time."
179 "While the potential dictators maneuvered for position, the capital filled with the odor of a dying democracy. Verdicts, offices, provinces, and client kings were sold to the highest bidders. In the year 53 the first voting division in the Assembly was paid 10,000,000 sesterces for its vote. When money failed, murder was available; or a man's past was raked over, and blackmail brought him to terms. Crime flourished in the city, brigandage in the country; no police force existed to control it. Rich men hired bands of gladiators to protect them, or to support them in the comitia. The lowest elements in Italy were attracted to Rome by the smell of money or the gift of corn, and made the meetings of the Assembly a desecration. Any man who would vote as paid was admitted to the rolls, whether citizen or not; sometimes only a minority of those who cast ballots were entitled to vote. The privilege of addressing the Assembly had on several occasions to be won by storming the rostrum and holding it by main force. Legislation came to be determined by the fluctuating superiority of rival gangs; those who voted the wrong way were, now and then, beaten to within an inch of their lives, after which their houses were set afire. Following one such meeting Cicero wrote: 'The Tiber was full of the corpses of citizens, the public sewers were stuffed with them, and slaves had to mop up with sponges the blood that streamed from the Forum." Sadly, the US is heading directly to a similar situation. I expect a new Octavian to establish a true American Empire and usher in a Pax Americana.
180 "A century of revolution had broken down a selfish and narrow aristocracy, but had put no other government in its place. Unemployment, bribery, bread and circuses had corrupted the Assembly into an ill-informed and passion-ridden mob obviously incapable of ruling itself, much less an empire. Democracy had fallen by Plato's formula: liberty had become license, and chaos begged an end to liberty. Caesar agreed with Pompey that the Republic was dead; it was now, he said 'a mere name, without body or form'; dictatorship was unavoidable. But he had hoped to establish a leadership that would be progressive, that would not freeze the status quo, but would lessen the abuses, inequities, and destitution which had degraded democracy."
182 "On January 10, 49 [B.C.], he led one legion across the Rubicon, a small stream, near Ariminum, that marked the southern boundary of Cisalpine Gaul. Iacta est alea, he is reported to have said—'the die is cast.'"
183 "Cicero labored to effect a compromise [between Caesar and Pompey], but found his logic helpless before the rival dogmatisms of revolution.""
185 "At Pharsalus, August 9, 48 [B.C.], the decisive battle was fought to the bitter end. Pompey had 48,000 infantry, 7000 horse; Caesar had 22,000 and 1000."
194 "This conception of government, and Caesar's reorganization of Rome and Italy, completed the miracle whereby the youthful spendthrift and roisterer had become one of the ablest, bravest, fairest, and most enlightened men in all the sorry annals of politics." Trump?
198 "THE assassination of Caesar was one of the major tragedies of history. Not merely in the sense that it interrupted a great labor of statesmanship and led to fifteen years more of chaos and war; civilization survived, and Augustus completed what Caesar had begun."
199 "Antony was one half of what Caesar had been, as Augustus would be the other half; Antony was a good general, Augustus a superlative statesman; Neither would be both."
201 "To pay their troops, replenish their coffers, and revenge Caesar, the three men [- the second Triumvirate: Octavian, Antony, & Lepidus-] now let loose the bloodiest reign of terror in Roman history."
208 "Caesars heir [Octavian] had conquered those of Alexander, and absorbed Alexander's realm; the West again, as at Marathon and Magnesia, had triumphed over the East. The battle of the giants was over, and an invalid had won. The Republic died at Pharsalus; the revolution ended at Actium. Rome had completed the fatal cycle known to Plato and to us: monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchic exploitation, democracy, revolutionary chaos, dictatorship. Once more, in the great systole and diastole of history, an age of freedom ended and an age of discipline began."
212 "Octavian hesitated before abolishing the old constitution, and Dio Cassius represents him as discussing the matter at great length with Maecenas and Agrippa. Since in their judgment all governments were oligarchies, the problem could not present itself to them as a choice among monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy; they had to decide whether, under the given conditions of space and time, oligarchy was to be preferred in a monarchical form based upon an army, or an aristocratic form rooted in heredity, or a democratic form resting on the wealth of the business class. Octavian combined them all in a "principate" that mingled the theories of Cicero, the precedents of Pompey, and the policies of Caesar." Trump may be faced with a similar decision.
227-230 Augustus' soap-opera life
231 "Life's final tragedy is unwilling continuance—to outlive one's self and be forbidden to die."
260 "The only political power now left to the common man was the right of electing the emperor by assassination. After Tiberius democracy passed from the assemblies to the army, and voted with the sword."
295 "...only youth knows better than twenty centuries."
304 Seneca: "The first lesson of philosophy is that we cannot be wise about everything. We are fragments in infinity and moments in eternity; for such forked atoms to describe the universe, or the Supreme Being, must make the planets tremble with mirth."
306 "'The primary sign of a well-ordered mind is a man's ability to remain in one place and linger in his own company.'"
328 Sextus Julius Frontinus: "'The invention of engines of war has long since reached its limit, and I see no further hope for any improvements in the art.'"
333 "The census defined the proletarii not by their occupation but by their offspring (proles); an old Latin treatise called them "plebeians who offer nothing to the state but children."
333 "Exploitation of the weak by the strong is as natural as eating and differs from it only in rapidity; we must expect to find it in every age and under every form of society and government; but rarely has it been so thorough or unsentimental as in ancient Rome."
363 "The conditions that Augustus had failed to check—celibacy, childlessness, abortion, and infanticide among the older stocks, manumission and comparative fertility among the new—had transformed the racial character, the moral temper, even the physiognomy, of the Roman people."
363 "Once the rearing of children had been an obligation of honor to the state, enforced by public opinion; now it seemed absurd to demand more births in a city crowded to the point of redolence."
366 "If Rome had not engulfed so many men of alien blood in so brief a time, if she had passed all these newcomers through her schools instead of her slums, if she had treated them as men with a hundred potential excellences, if she had occasionally closed her gates to let assimilation catch up with infiltration, she might have gained new racial and literary vitality from the infusion, and might have remained a Roman Rome, the voice and citadel of the West."
366 "Much breeding overcame good breeding; the fertile conquered became masters in the sterile master's house."
391 "Roman Law* ... *This chapter will be of no use to lawyers, and of no interest to others."
394 "The word persona...came to mean the man himself—as if to say that we can never know a man, but only the parts he plays, the mask or masks that he wears."
395 "Law tends to lag behind moral development, not because law cannot learn, but because experience has shown the wisdom of testing new ways in practice before congealing them into law."
398 "...a great jurist of the third century: Ulpian, proclaimed what only a few philosophers had dared suggest—that 'by the law of Nature all men are equal.'"
405 Durant describes "Natural Law" or "The Law of Nature", as explained by Cicero, as "a fiction."
408 "The principle of adoption thus accidentally restored meant that each emperor, as he felt his powers decline, would associate with himself in rule the ablest and fittest man he could find, so that when death came there would be neither the absurdity of a Praetorian elevation, nor the risk of a natural but worthless heir, nor a civil war among competitors for the throne. It was a lucky chance that no son was born to Trajan, Hadrian, or Antoninus Pius, and that each could apply the adoptive plan without slighting his offspring or his own parental love. While the principle was maintained it gave Rome 'the finest succession of good and great sovereigns the world has ever had.'"
413 "[Trajan] set out again with his legions (113). A year later he had taken Armenia; yet another year and he had marched down through Mesopotamia, captured Ctesiphon, and reached the Indian Ocean—the first and last Roman general to stand before that sea."
425 "'If,' said Gibbon, 'a man were called upon to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would without hesitation name that which elapsed from the accession of Nerva to the death of Aurelius. Their united reigns are possibly the only period of history in which the happiness of a great people was the sole object of government.'"
439 "Seneca knew how old a pastime this is. 'Our forefathers,' he wrote, 'complained, we complain, and our descendants will complain, that morals are corrupt, that wickedness holds sway, that men are sinking deeper and deeper into sinfulness, that the condition of mankind is going from bad to worse.' Around the immoral hub of any society is a spreading wheel of wholesome life, in which the threads of tradition, the moral imperatives of religion, the economic compulsions of the family, the instinctive love and care of children, the watchfulness of women and policemen, suffice to keep us publicly decent and moderately sane."
478 "The decisions of Augustus and Tiberius not to attempt the conquest of Germany were among the pivotal events of European history."
484 "...two major tasks of the biographer—to show the derivation of his subject's character and work from heredity, environment, and circumstance, and the development of character through growth, responsibility, and crisis;"
490 "(129 B.C.), Panaetius, now head of the Stoa, defined God as a material spirit or breath (pneuma) permeating all things, appearing in plants as the power of growth, in animals as soul (psyche), in man as reason (logos)."
490 "One [a student] was Arrian of Nicomedia, later governor of Cappadocia; Arrian took down the words of Epictetus, probably in shorthand, and published them as Diatribia—"rubbings" or copies—now on all lists of the world's best books as the Discourses." Add to booklist
492 "Seek not that the things which happen to you should happen as you wish, but wish the things that happen to be as they are, and you will find tranquility."" – Epictetus
501 "God is everywhere; 'what place can a man find where God is not?' But he is not everything: matter is also eternal and increate; however, it has no life, motion, or form until infused with the divine force. To create the world by giving form to matter, and to establish relations with man, God used a host of intermediary beings, called angels by the Jews, daimones by the Greeks, and Ideas by Plato. these, says Philo, may popularly be conceived as persons, though really they exist only in the Divine Mind as the thoughts and powers of God. Together these powers constitute what the Stoics called the Logos, or Divine Reason creating and guiding the world."
502 "Philo sometimes thinks of the Logos as a person; in a poetic moment he calls the Logos 'the first-begotten of God,' son of God by the virgin Wisdom, and says that through the Logos God has revealed himself to man. Since the soul is part of God, it can through reason rise to a mystic vision not quite of God, but of the Logos. Perhaps, if we could free ourselves from the taint of matter and sense, and by ascetic exercises and long contemplation become for a moment pure spirit, we might for an ecstatic moment see God himself."
522 "We cannot know what God is, but we have an innate conviction that he exists, and we feel that philosophy without religion is a dark and hopeless thing. The only real freedom is wisdom—i.e., the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong; the road to freedom lies not through politics or revolution, but through philosophy; and true philosophy consists not in the speculations of books, but in the faithful practice of honor and virtue according to the dictates of that inmost voice which is, in some mystic sense, the word of God in the heart of man." – Dio Chrysostom
524 "After death, said its priests, all men must appear before the judgment seat of Mithras; then unclean souls would be handed over to Ahriman for eternal torment, while the pure would rise through seven spheres, shedding some mortal element at each stage, until they would be received into the full radiance of heaven by Ahura-Mazda himself."
598 "After the weakening of the ancient faiths had removed their frail support from the moral life, and the attempt of Stoicism at an almost natural ethic had failed with all but the best of men, a new supernatural ethic accomplished, at whatever cost to the free and dissolvent intellect, the task of regulating the jungle instincts of man into a viable morality."
604 "Gnosticism—the quest of godlike knowledge (gnosis) through mystic means—was not a heresy so much as a rival; it antedated Christianity, and had proclaimed theories of a Soter, or Savior, before Christ was born. That same Simon Magus of Samaria, whom Peter rebuked for "simony," was probably the author of a Great Exposition which gathered together a maze of Oriental notions about the complicated steps that could lead the human mind to a divine comprehension of all things. In Alexandria the Orphic, Neo-Pythagorean and Neoplatonist traditions, fusing with the Logos philosophy of Philo, stirred Basilides (117), Valentinus (160), and others to form weird systems of divine emanations and personified "aeons" of the world. In Edessa Bardesanes (200) created literary Syriac by describing these aeons in prose and verse."
610 Plotinus anticipates Penrose's treblism. (Read The Enneads)
611 "Through Philo, John, Plotinus, and Augustine, Plato conquered Aristotle, and entered into the profoundest theology of the Church. The gap between philosophy and religion was closing and reason for a thousand years consented to be the handmaiden of theology."
612 "Greek Christianity was theological, metaphysical, mystical; Tertullian made Latin Christianity ethical, juristic, practical." Can we thank him for the Inquisition?
621 "When, six years before his accession, his [Septimius Severus'] first wife died, he offered his hand to a rich Syrian whose horoscope had pledged her a throne. Julia Domna was the daughter of a rich priest of the god Elagabal at Emesa. There, long since, a meteorite had fallen, and been enshrined in a gaudy temple, and was worshiped as the symbol, if not the embodiment, of the deity. Julia came, bore Septimius two sons, Caracalla and Geta, and rose to her promised throne. She was too beautiful to be monogamous, but Septimius was too busy to be jealous."
622 "After expensive victories against the Scots he [Septimius] withdrew into Britain, and retired to York to die (211). 'I have been everything,' he said, 'and it is worth nothing.' Caracalla, says Herodian, 'was much vexed that his father's decease was so lingering . . . and solicited the physicians to dispatch the old man by any means that might come to hand.' Septimius had blamed Aurelius for yielding the Empire to Commodus; now he bequeathed it to Caracalla and Geta, with cynical advice: 'Make your soldiers rich, and do not bother about anything else.' He was the last emperor, for eighty years, who died in bed."
628 "In the thirty-five years between Alexander Severus and Aurelian, thirty-seven men were proclaimed emperors." Maximinus, Gordian I, Gordian II, Maximus, Gordian III, Philip the Arab, Decius, Gallus, Aemilianus, Valerian,...

Notes | Ideas Home Page
Go To Home Page

©2017 Paul R. Martin, All rights reserved.