When Fools Reign

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

And
where are the clowns
Quick send in the clowns
Don’t bother, they’re here.

~
Barbra Streisand lyrics to "Send in the Clowns"

President
Bush's June 29th speech at Fort Bragg, North Carolina reminded me
of how the general population of Rome suffered through thirteen
years of Caesar Claudius' reign; a reign which amounted to nothing
less than a traveling freak show.

Every speech
from President Bush seems to confirm his relationship to Claudius
by means of Empirical Roman atavism.

Claudius was
not only thought a fool but "instead of keeping quiet about
his stupidity, Claudius explained in a number of short speeches,
that it had been a mere mask assumed for the benefit of Gaius (Caligula),
and that he owed both life and throne to it."[1]
No one, however, believed him and soon a book was published entitled
Fools' Rise to Power; the thesis being that no one would
act the fool unless he was a fool already.

Claudius had
ascended the Roman throne following one of history's greatest maniacs.
Officially, Caligula's name was Gaius and he reigned from 37 AD
until 41 AD. Reading the adventures of Caligula is quite accurately
a trip into depths of megalomania. Among the titles he bestowed
upon himself were "Pious," "Son of the Camp,"
"Father of the Army," along with "Best and Greatest
of Caesars."[2] He also "insisted
on being treated as a god – sending for the most revered or
artistically famous statues of the Greek deities (including that
of Jupiter at Olympia), and having their heads replaced by his own."[3]

Caligula also
seemed to have a royal complex towards the Roman gods and goddesses.
"When the moon shone full and bright he always invited the
Moon-goddess to …his bed; and during the day would indulge in whispered
conversations with Capitoline[4] Jupiter, pressing
his ear to the god's mouth, and sometimes raising his voice in anger.
Once he was overheard threatening the god; u2018If you do not raise
me up to Heaven I will cast you down to Hell.'"[5]

The question
of Caligula's sanity then becomes rhetorical; did he make this statement
because his insanity forced him to believe in a figment of his imagination
or was he perfectly sane threatening what he knew was the figment
of his imagination?

Caligula was
so mentally unstable that he often complained; "That there
had been no public disaster like the Varus massacre under Augustus,
or the collapse of the amphitheater at Fidenae[6]
under Tiberius. The prosperity of his own reign, he said, would
lead to its being wholly forgotten, and he often prayed for a great
military catastrophe, or for some famine, plague, fire, or earthquake.

The problem
was that Caligula never realized he was disaster enough!

Caligula epitomized
the religious conflict between the Greek philosophies and the ancient
state religions. The resulting battle, within the minds of man,
brought about the slow decay of the ancient priesthoods along with
many of the old gods falling into disfavor. Above everything else,
when considering the ancient religions, we must realize that these
religions were emphatically mythical, not historical; all these
gods had no real existence. They were and are the product of man's
mind and without any divine inspiration of any kind.

A nation's
rulers are a direct extension of the beliefs, attitudes and morals
of its people. The reigns of these two maniacal Roman Emperors stand
as a direct result of the Greek philosophies and the morals brought
by them into the Roman Empire.

The time from
Alexander the Great (323 BC) until the Roman Emperor Constantine
(AD 325), is the time in which mankind conducted a unique experiment
in the annals of history. This 700-year period would have a profound
effect on the lives of mankind resulting in the most intensive search
for the meaning of life which the human mind is likely to undertake.

This search
took place not only in Greece, but was transmitted to Rome and is
also found in the East, and in particular in India. The results
being that mankind was (and still is) endeavoring to subjugate the
meaning of his life to his own will by trying to dignify his ideals
of justice and morality in values which are not absolute but are
relative to the persons or groups holding them. This state of relativism
then, just as now, brings results which are horrific.

For the moment,
I will concede that the period from Pericles[7]
to Aristotle[8] was the high point in ancient
human history in terms of pure intellectual achievement. Yet by
the time of the birth of Christ these intellectual achievements
had deteriorated into the darkest and most appalling periods of
history for free man, and slave alike. It ended in a situation,
during the Roman Empire, in which the elite society came to look
upon suicide as a logical escape from life and insanity among the
ruling classes. The classes of non-freemen and slaves didn't even
have this privilege, because of the lack of control they were capable
of exerting over their own lives.

Frederick
W. Farrar[9] writes of the Roman condition:

Its marked
characteristic was despairing sadness, which became especially
prominent in its most sincere adherents. Its favorite theme was
the glorification of suicide, which wiser moralists had severely
reprobated, but which many Stoics praised as the one sane refuge
against oppression and outrage.

It was a
philosophy which was indeed able to lacerate the heart with righteous
indignation against the crimes and follies of mankind, but which
vainly strove to resist – and which scarcely even hoped to
stem, the ever swelling tide of vice and misery. For wretchedness
it had no pity; on vice it looked with impotent disdain…

Even for
those who had every advantage of rank and wealth, nothing was
possible but a life of crushing sorrow ended by a death of complete
despair.

Zeno[10]
and Cleanthes (Zeno's successor in the school of Stoics[11])
both committed suicide. Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny, and Seneca, along
with many other historians and writers of antiquity, fully document
the frequency of suicide under the Greek and Roman Empires. During
Trajan's[12] reign suicide almost became a
national pastime; accordingly the Latin phrases to describe it multiplied
to such a degree that there were more descriptive phrases for suicide
than for any other act in life, including deviate sexual behavior.

Socrates had
sought to change the sophism of philosophy into a logical conclusion
by asking questions. He did this by challenging every logical conclusion
with another set of questions. He did not ridicule religion, but
sought purity of thought rather than ridicule and confrontation.
But in spite of his intentions, he succeeded in only shifting the
direction of the argument from man's relationship to the gods and
his destiny, to "What is man?" Socrates had converted
the discussion of the corrupt pagan religions into an exhilarating
humanism. He converted sin into simple ignorance, which with ample
education, could be corrected. He made the search for truth of greater
importance than the search for righteousness. In short Socrates
had moved philosophy from sophism to sophistry; from a plausible
but fallacious conclusion to a plausible but equally fallacious
conclusion.

This had allowed
the philosophy of man to achieve the end it sought. Man had slid
into a hopeless state of either seeking escape from the hurt and
cruelties of fate and the boredom of life by allowing themselves
no feeling at all (Stoicism[13]), or by completely
abandoning all restraint and adopting a policy of eating and drinking
and being merry while living only for the pleasure of the moment
(Epicureanism[14]).

Not only was
there decay in purity of thought, Justin Martyr gives us a further
sense of the "evil" inherent in these philosophies. Writing
in around 155 AD, Justin Martyr sends his First Apology (in the
sense of “defense” or “vindication”) to the Roman Emperor Antoninus
Pius and his adopted sons. In chapter XXVII Justin Martyr, states
what is well known to the Emperor Pius concerning the "guilt
of exposing (making available) children" for the sexually deviant
desires of the Rome's wealthy and elite. Even though his Apology
was written 100 plus years after the death of Christ, the acts of
the Romans are still revealing because they are the result of the
Greek philosophies.

Man's philosophy
standing uncorrected, and unfettered by moral absolutes of right
and wrong, had resulted in a dismal failure. The search for the
"meaning of life" had only found pessimism, suicide, abandonment
of all self-restraint, drunkenness and the contradiction of all
human logic with the accompanying degeneration of moral standards.

The sinister
evil that ruled the minds of men also completely impregnated the
halls of power in the Roman Empire. All levels of authority were
affected with the same blight. Right and wrong were subject to relativism,
and with no absolutes to guide authorities, it fell to Rome to define
what was right.

In so doing
they lost their sense of honor. Rulers didn't have to behave honorably
so they masked their behavior with fine flowery words or blatant
lies. Any former love of serious discussion concerning law and morality
was debased to creative nonsense, so that the most despicable actions
and laws could be made to appear noble.

It became more
important to win the discussion or point than to learn the truth.
It became more important to pass a law for one's own self-interest
than for the welfare of the Empire. The good of the Roman Empire
thus had decayed into the sick, perverted will of the emperor, and
all authorities followed his lead. Is it any wonder that when the
law became the will of Rome that the will of Rome decayed into the
murder of any who disagreed with, questioned, or spoke against the
edicts of Caesar, or anyone that Caesar thought might be capable
of such seditious acts?

As if to emphasize
the point, Rome lined thoroughfares into and out of the major cities
of rebellious provinces, with the crucified victims as a warning
to others that the relativism of Rome was the only law. Is there
any question then that the logical result of such debauchery would
be the wholesale slaughter of life as a sport in the Roman arenas?

So totally
devoid of any moral sense were the religions and philosophies of
these centuries, that there was nearly perpetual war which only
added to the great massacres of human life being performed in the
arenas of Rome during religious holidays.

The gladiatorial
games were introduced to the Romans in 264 BC under the pretext
of religion; they were defended as a means of sustaining the military
spirit, like duels in Germany. Gladiatorial shows were given at
the public games and at the banquets of the rich. The combatants
were slaves, criminals or captives; later even freemen entered the
arena, so great was the glory of successful combat.

Exhibitors
vied with each other in the number exposed to slaughter. Caesar
put 320 pairs up at once. Agrippa caused 700 pairs to fight in one
day at Berytus. Under Augustus 10,000 fought. Titus, "the darling
of the human race," put up 3000. Trajan amused Rome for 123
days by exhibiting 10,000 captives in mutual slaughter. Rome's holiest
vestals had seats of honor in the arena while Claudius liked to
witness the contortions of the dying gladiators.

It has been
estimated that in the years from Augustus Caesar until the fall
of Rome more than 1,000,000 people were killed in the gladiatorial
shows. There is no accounting for the total number of murdered,
since the gladiatorial events were always preceded by a pre-game
show where hundreds, if not thousands, of unarmed men, women and
children were torn asunder by wild beasts, for the sole purpose
of whipping the gathered crowd into frenzy of bloody lust.

Probably the
salient point to President Bush's recent pestiferous panegyrizing
debacle is the silence and lack of applause of those troops who
were present. Maybe, just maybe, we have some who are not enamored
with being the sacrificial lambs of a maniacal administration.

However, until
we, as a nation, return to social principles of right and wrong,
grounded in absolutes, we can look forward to a continuing parade
of stuttering, nonsensical, egomaniacs that will slither into and
out of the White House, leaving behind legacies of staggering debt,
lies, murder, wars, nefarious laws, unnatural uses for cigars and
stained blue dresses. If so, we would be wise to change our national
anthem to "Send in the Clowns."

Notes

[1]
Suetonius, The
Twelve Caesars
, Life of Claudius. [38]

[2]
Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Life of Gaius [22], translated
by Robert Graves, Penguin Books, N.Y., New York 1976

[3]
Ibid.

[4]
Capitoline, one of the Seven Hills of Rome, there was a temple here
dedicated to the god Jupiter.

[5]
Suetonius, Ibid, Life of Gaius. [22]

[6]
Fidenae – An Italian tribe and town just up the Tiber River
from Rome. The Romans fought with these neighbors very early in
their history, around 725 BC.

[7]
(495–429 BC) General and statesman, of the aristocratic Alcmaeonid
family, who presided over the "Golden Age" of Athens,
and was virtually its uncrowned king (443–429 BC). Politically a
radical, he helped push through the constitutional reforms that
brought about full Athenian democracy (462–461 BC). A staunch opponent
of Sparta, it was his unremitting hostility to her and her allies
that brought about the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC). Renowned
for his oratory, his "Funeral Speech" (431/430 BC), as
recorded by Thucydides, is an impassioned apologia for Athens’ democratic
principles and system of government.

[8]
(384–322 BC) Aristotle is one of the “big three” in ancient
Greek philosophy, along with Plato and Socrates. (Socrates taught
Plato, who in turn instructed Aristotle.) Aristotle spent nearly
20 years at Plato’s Academy, first as a student and then as a teacher.
After Plato’s death he traveled widely and educated a famous pupil,
Alexander the Great, the Macedonian who nearly conquered the world.
Later Aristotle began his own school in Athens, known as the Lyceum.
Aristotle is known for his carefully detailed observations about
nature and the physical world, which laid the groundwork for the
modern study of biology. Among his works are the texts Physics,
Metaphysics,
Rhetoric
and Ethics.

[9]
Farrar, Frederick W., The
Early Days of Christianity
, Burt, New York, 1882, p.10 and
footnote.

[10]
Founder of the Stoic philosophy, 308 BC.

[11]
One who is seemingly indifferent to or unaffected by joy, grief,
pleasure, or pain. A member of an originally Greek school of philosophy,
founded by Zeno about 308 B.C., believing that God determined everything
for the best and that virtue is sufficient for happiness. Its later
Roman form advocated the calm acceptance of all occurrences as the
unavoidable result of divine will or of the natural order.

[12]
(53–117 AD) Roman emperor (98–117), selected as successor by
the aged Nerva for his military skills. He was the first emperor
after Augustus to expand the Roman Empire significantly, adding
Dacia and Arabia (AD 106). The wealth from Dacia’s gold mines enabled
him to launch an ambitious building program, especially in Rome,
where he constructed a new forum, library, and aqueduct. A sensitive
but firm ruler, he was one of Rome’s most popular emperors.

[13]
Indifference to pleasure or pain; impassiveness. Stoicism.
The doctrines or philosophy of the Stoics.

[14]
A philosophy advanced by Epicurus that considered happiness, or
the avoidance of pain and emotional disturbance, to be the highest
good and that advocated the pursuit of pleasures that can be enjoyed
in moderation. Also Epicureanism
– Devotion to a life of pleasure and luxury.

July
6, 2005

Tim
Case [send him mail]
is a 30-year student of the ancient histories who agrees with the
first century stoic Epictetus on this one point: “Only the educated
are free.”

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare