Amoral Romans

Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater:

There is not (I believe) in human society, under whatever form of civilisation, any trust or delegated duty which has more often been negligently or even perfidiously administered. In the days of classical Greece and Rome, my own private impression, founded on the collation of many incidental notices, is – that this, beyond all other forms of domestic authority, furnished to wholesale rapine and peculation the very amplest arena. The relation of father and son, as was that of patron and client, was generally, in the practice of life, cherished with religious fidelity: whereas the solemn duties of the tutor (i.e. the guardian) to his ward, which had their very root and origin in the tenderest adjurations of a dying friend, though subsequently refreshed by the hourly spectacle of helpless orphanage playing round the margins of pitfalls hidden by flowers, spoke but seldom to the sensibilities of a Roman through any language of oracular power. Few indeed, if any, were the obligations, in a proper sense moral, which pressed upon the Roman.


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