Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wanting Your Opinion

This is off topic of course, but while reading Sallust's Bellum Catilinae (J.T. Ramsay's edition with many annotations, very excellent and recommended) I started to think that there are many parallels to the situation of Rome at that time and in the U.S. today.
For starters, the U.S. has been accused of imperialist tendencies, debatable but the image is certainly there, and the Romans were definitely guilty of imperialist tendencies.
There was a war in the Middle East. Pompey had been sent to quell unrest by a King Mithridates in Northern Anatolia. Mithridates wanted to overthrow the Roman puppet king of Bithynia and there were pirates in the Mediterranean. The U.S. has a war in the Middle East with people who want to overthrow what are viewed as puppet governments in various countries and there is a pirate problem in the Mediterranean.
Taxes had shot up to pay for the war.
This is a time of huge personal debt, corrupt moneylenders, punitive and unconscionable interest rates. People were crying out for debt relief.
This is where Catiline comes in. He was from an old patrician family, i.e. old money but fallen into hard times. He made a bid for consul and failed to get elected due to Cicero who saw him as an enemy of the republic even though Cicero had no problem representing him in court before this. Catiline decided that the only way he was going to gain control of the government was through armed insurrection. He had a popular following because he was advocating debt relief, redistribution of land and cancellation of debts, something that did not go over well with the powers that be. So you can see where there is a parallel with the U.S., minus the distribution of land of course and the fact that debt relief meant helping the money lenders not the starving borrowers.
Cicero posted a massive reward for anyone willing to turn Catiline in. Not one person did. In the final battle between the Roman forces and Catiline, not one person abandoned the camp. They were very loyal to Catiline and fought to the death, including Catiline, who was found at the front lines in the thick of the battle, covered with wounds but defiant to the last. When Antonius who lead the army against Catiline was later convicted of a crime and executed, people danced in the streets and laid flowers on Catiline's grave.
Caesar was suspected of being sympathetic to Catiline because, when some prominent men had been arrested and Cicero was in a big hurry to get Senate approval to execute them, Caesar gave a brilliant speech that this went against Roman law to execute citizens without due process. When Caesar became dictator, he enacted most of what Catiline had been agitating for.
As well, there is Cato who supported Cicero but was deemed the most virtuous man, impervious to bribery but leading a very conservative faction of Senators, more old money.
I am oversimplifying of course. So question is, and this may be a dangerous question to ask since people do get heated. This is for fun only, but how does Obama fit in? I am sure most Republicans would view him as Catiline, especially as Catiline had been considered almost as spawn of the devil for many centuries. Thinking has shifted on that. Is he Cato, Caesar, Cicero, or Catiline? How do you view Obama if he were a Roman senator? And is it not interesting how similar things may be between two countries separated by culture and 2000 years? Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. Let the arguing begin.


Anonymous said...

It's certainly something to think about - but I need to read up a bit more on the subject before I commit to one candidate or another (was hoping to read Robert Harris' Imperium, which has been sitting in my To Be Read pile for over a year now, for a popular but hopefully fairly well-researched version of events re: Cicero) Don't want to put my foot in it again :-/

I think it's still a little early to give any kind of verdict on Obama.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that every time someone gets killed, Cicero seems to be at the forefront of the opposition?

Anyway, I don't think we have a modern version of Catiline. We have no one who is willing to fight to the death for what they believe in.

In this sense, I'd have to say "none of the above." Obama might be sympathetic to Catiline's POV, but unlike Caesar I don't think he's going to act on it. If he did, he'd have skewered the banks to the wall a year ago and instead of bailing them out, he'd have bailed out the plebs.


The Red Witch said...

One thing that is suspicious about Cicero is that he stayed behind to 'defend the city' when the other consul, Antonius marched north to engage Catiline. At least Catiline was not afraid to lay down his life and, as much as he is vilified, he died what is considered by Roman standards, a very good death.
It is a bit early to decide on Obama but Cicero and Cato both represented the conservative factions that were supporting the moneylenders and their stranglehold on the population. Catiline and Caesar were for debt relief to the indebted since, contrary to the law, some of the lenders were charging as much as 48% and, if they called in your loan and you could not pay, you could be sold into slavery.

Tracy said...

I'm more than halfway through Robert Haris' book, Imperium and decided to re-read this post. I still think it's too early to say who Obama most resembles, but you're right that the parallels with ancient Rome are striking - democracy versus effectively a return to dictatorship because of fear of an external threat, that fear whipped up well beyond the reality of the situation.

Cicero was a politician 1st, 2nd and 3rd - everything he did was for political gain - marrying a rich woman so he could enter politics in the first place, studying the art of rhetoric (Delivery, delivery, delivery ...LOL - content isn't important) - keeping his voters sweet, supporting Pompey over Crassus, agreeing to defend Catiline originally with an eye on becoming Consul etc. even though he hated him - he deemed him the best bet, originally.

But I need to see how it ends.

The Red Witch said...

It will all end in tears. Although the series isn't completed. Number three of Harris's trilogy is yet to be published. The nice thing is, we know what happened to Cicero, so there is no anxiety about how it ends.
The Julii, Caesar's clan reminds me rather forcibly of the Kennedys. Gaius Julius Caesar especially reminds me of JFK especially with the constant boinking.