The Portrait of a Civic Monster

Those “foolish decriers of Classical literature” who dismiss the study of ancient texts as irrelevant to our times betray their unfamiliarity with these works as a whole. The recent political horror prompted me to flip back through my Sallust, and I could not help but be struck by his analysis of Catiline’s vicious character because it sounded rather like a prominent figure in our own time. Yet we had no Cicero to save us. (Perhaps because so few are educated on the Classics anymore?) Indeed, I would have happily borne any amount of tedious self-aggrandizement for the next twenty years if it would have spared us this nightmare.

Sallust, Bellum Catilinae 5

“His mind was bold, cunning, ever changing, and capable of pretending or concealment in any affair. He desired others’ wealth while he wasted his own and burned mad with desire. He had enough eloquence, but too little wisdom. His uncultivated mind always desired things immoderate, incredible, and excessive. After the tyranny of Sulla, the greatest desire of seizing the republic took hold of him; yet he considered it of no account how he achieved this, as long as he earned himself a throne. His vicious mind was agitated more and more each day by the want of money and the knowledge of his guilt; he contributed to this by those vices which I just mentioned. Furthermore, he was incited by degraded public morals, which those awful yet different evils – luxury and avarice – were corrupting.”

Animus audax, subdolus, varius, cuius rei lubet simulator ac dissimulator, alieni adpetens, sui profusus, ardens in cupiditatibus; satis eloquentiae, sapientiae parum. Vastus animus inmoderata, incredibilia, nimis alta semper cupiebat.  Hunc post dominationem L. Sullae lubido maxuma invaserat rei publicae capiundae; neque id quibus modis adsequeretur, dum sibi regnum pararet, quicquam pensi habebat. Agitabatur magis magisque in dies animus ferox inopia rei familiaris et conscientia scelerum, quae utraque iis artibus auxerat, quas supra memoravi.  Incitabant praeterea corrupti civitatis mores, quos pessuma ac divorsa inter se mala, luxuria atque avaritia, vexabant.

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