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When Fools Reign

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