“Listen, Children: The Greeks are Badass!”

Charles Kingsley, The Heroes:

“You can hardly find a well-written book which has not in it Greek names, and words, and proverbs; you cannot walk through a great town without passing Greek buildings; you cannot go into a well-furnished room without seeing Greek statues and ornaments, even Greek patterns of furniture and paper; so strangely have these old Greeks left their mark behind them upon this modern world in which we now live.  And as you grow up, and read more and more, you will find that we owe to these old Greeks the beginners of all our mathematics and geometry—that is, the science and knowledge of numbers, and of the shapes of things, and of the forces which make things move and stand at rest; and the beginnings of our geography and astronomy; and of our laws, and freedom, and politics—that is, the science of how to rule a country, and make it peaceful and strong.  And we owe to them, too, the beginning of our logic—that is, the study of words and of reasoning; and of our metaphysics—that is, the study of our own thoughts and souls.  And last of all, they made their language so beautiful that foreigners used to take to it instead of their own; and at last Greek became the common language of educated people all over the old world, from Persia and Egypt even to Spain and Britain.

[…]

Thus these old Greeks were teachable, and learnt from all the nations round.  From the Phoenicians they learnt shipbuilding, and some say letters beside; and from the Assyrians they learnt painting, and carving, and building in wood and stone; and from the Egyptians they learnt astronomy, and many things which you would not understand.  In this they were like our own forefathers the Northmen, of whom you love to hear, who, though they were wild and rough themselves, were humble, and glad to learn from every one.  Therefore God rewarded these Greeks, as He rewarded our forefathers, and made them wiser than the people who taught them in everything they learnt; for He loves to see men and children open-hearted, and willing to be taught; and to him who uses what he has got, He gives more and more day by day.  So these Greeks grew wise and powerful, and wrote poems which will live till the world’s end, which you must read for yourselves some day, in English at least, if not in Greek.  And they learnt to carve statues, and build temples, which are still among the wonders of the world; and many another wondrous thing God taught them, for which we are the wiser this day.”

Luxury and Societal Decadence

John Stuart Mill, The Spirit of the Age:

“All is not absolutely unfounded in the notion we imbibe at school, from the modern writers on the decline of the ancient commonwealths, that luxury deadens and enervates the mind. It is true that these writers (whose opinion, truly, was the result of no process of thought in their own imitative souls, but a faint impression left by a ray of the stoic philosophy of Greece and Rome themselves, refracted or bent out of its direction by the muddy medium through which it had passed) were wrong in laying it down as a principle that pleasure enervates; as if pleasure, only to be earned by labour and won by heroic deeds, ever did or ever could enervate the mind of any one. What really enervates, is the secure and unquestioned possession, without any exertion, of all those things, to gain which, mankind in general are wont to exert themselves. This secure and lazy possession, the higher classes have now for some generations enjoyed; their predecessors in the same station and privileges did not enjoy it.”

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Food, Love, and Horace

It was just over ten years ago that I first the door of a garish green building on the outskirts of San Antonio’s Medical Center. I hate this part of town, but I was after that day to be drawn back to it countless times as the spot became a central point in the geography of my physical and emotional world. I entered into a dimly-lit dining room, an enveloping fold of hot, garlic-infused air, through which were conveyed the sounds of Indian pop music. There was the buffet, which promised unlimited sensual delight in exchange for ten dollars and a willingness to wallow in one’s own crapulence for hours afterward. This was Bombay Hall.

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My girlfriend at that time one decade ago was craving Indian food, and whether by chance or by fate, we chose this place. We were promptly seated at one of the tables whose glass tops served as frames for the glamorous posters of Indian pop and film stars. Early in the meal, I began coughing violently. One of the two owners, who was to become a familiar face over the subsequent period of my life, mistook this as an amateur’s response to spicy food (to which I am no stranger), and offered me a sugar packet to cut the heat. It seemed that it would be churlish in the face of such generosity to save face by noting that I was simply choking and not overwhelmed by the curry, so I obligingly consumed the sugar packet which had been so kindly proffered. We enjoyed our meal thoroughly, and though I did not stay in touch with my partner in that first excursion, the memory of that meal left an indelible mark upon my heart which our relationship never did.

After receiving the news that Bombay Hall had been closed, I began to engage in that most salutary of human activities: nostalgic retrospective. In the course of this, I could see through the roseate lenses of my retrospectacles that almost everyone who matters most to me in life had been there at Bombay Hall with me.

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This small and unassuming Indian restaurant has an emotional resonance for me which no other place can even approximate. Bombay Hall was the site of the last meal that I shared with my father. It was here that Joel used to bring his students for a celebratory lunch following final exams; in the early days of our collaboration, he used to invite me to these lunches, where I saw what it meant for a teacher to be a member of a real community and not simply an extension of bureaucratic power. My brother and I made something of a ritual out of much-too-frequent visits to what we affectionately called ‘B-Hall.’ One month, I was aghast to see that after a month in which I made twenty visits there, I had spent over $400 in addition to the physical and psychic toll of my postprandial discomfort. One year, my sole contribution to Thanksgiving dinner was a large order of samosas, which introduced the rest of my family to B-Hall’s gustatory siren song.

Joel once observed that, though it was not the best food one could get, it was always consistently excellent and delivered with a certain comforting familiarity. Yet, as much as I remember and still crave the food itself, it is the personal element which makes it my all-time favorite restaurant. My lunches with Joel and dinners with my brother are tokens of the love I feel for the people who have meant most to me in life, and somehow these disparate experiences are linked together in the physical space of one dining room. Just over four years ago, I was accepted to a graduate program, and knew that I would be leaving this city behind. No one laments the loss of the buildings, the roads, or the city government. I wept when I thought of the people whom I would leave behind, consigned for the foreseeable future to the department of memory and correspondence – and then I took my brother to B-Hall.

I could have left the city, but a job offer here combined with my own anxiety about the oft-discussed disappointments of post-graduate life brought me to do something which I now (from the comfortable perch of relative economic security) cannot believe: I turned down my dream of graduate study, and stayed here.

I received a text from my brother last night indicating that Bombay Hall was permanently closed. This came as the greatest shock to me, in part because it had always seemed to be a perennial institution, and perhaps even more so because I had dreamt about just such a calamity the night before. Had I left the city, the possibility of returning and reforging the old link would have still remained. Had I been gone, I don’t think that B-Hall’s closing would have affected me so from a distance. Yet, now that it is closed, that physical link has slipped away forever in the devouring sands of time. To be sure, other rituals and other spaces may give continuity and connection to my emotional life, but they can never do what B-Hall did: Joel is now gone, my brother and I have far less free time than before, and the heady air of romance and excitement of my early 20’s could never be duplicated and imprinted upon a physical spot. Leaving B-Hall, I always felt that my stomach would explode, but the discomfort would invariably subside – now, my heart is bursting with these happy memories of times and experiences which are just as lost to me as is each bite of the food I ate there.

“As we speak, hateful time will have escaped us.”

Dum loquimur, fugerit invida aetas

We teach Horace to kids, but perhaps it’s true that one can only truly appreciate him in middle age and beyond. I knew my Horace then, and could readily explain in an abstract way the importance of seizing the day, but it is only the sense of loss – the day which is gone whether seized or not – which gives one a real appreciation of just how sad our happiness can make us.

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The Range of Epic Poetry

Matthew Arnold, On the Modern Element in Literature:

“From the very form itself of his great poem, the Aeneid, one would be led to augur that this was impossible. The epic form, as a form for representing contemporary or lo nearly contemporary events, has attained, in the poems of Homer, an unmatched, an immortal success; the epic form as employed by learned poets for the reproduction of the events of a past age has attained a very considerable success. But for this purpose, for the poetic treatment of the events of a past age, the epic form is a less vital form than the dramatic form. The great poets of the modern period of Greece are accordingly, as we have seen, the dramatic poets. The chief of these — Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes — have survived: the distinguished epic poets of the same period — Panyasis, Choerilus, Antimachus — though praised by the Alexandrian critics, have Perished in a common destruction with the undistinguished. ‘And what is the reason of this ? It is, that the dramatic form exhibits, above all, the actions of man as strictly determined by his thoughts and feelings; it exhibits, therefore, what may be always accessible, always intelligible, always interesting.

But the epic form takes a wider range; It represents not only the thought and passion of man, that which is universal and eternal, but also the forms of outward life, the fashion of manners, the aspects of nature, that which is local or transient. To exhibit adequately what is local and transient, only a witness, a contemporary, can suffice. In the reconstruction, by learning and antiquarian ingenuity, of the local and transient features of a past age, in their representation by one who is not a witness or contemporary, it is impossible to feel the liveliest kind of interest. What, for instance, is the most interesting portion of the Aeneid, — the portion where Virgil seems to be moving most freely, and therefore to be most animated, most forcible ? Precisely that portion which has most a dramatic character; the episode of Dido; that portion where locality and manners are nothing — where persons and characters are everything. We might presume beforehand, therefore, that if Virgil, at a time when contemporary epic poetry was no longer possible, had been inspired to represent human life in its fullest significance, he would not have selected the epic form.”

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Puppets vs. Poets

Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist:

“When man acts he is a puppet. When he describes he is a poet. The whole secret lies in that. It was easy enough on the sandy plains by windy Ilion to send the notched arrow from the painted bow, or to hurl against the shield of hide and flame-like brass the long ash-handled spear. It was easy for the adulterous queen to spread the Tyrian carpets for her lord, and then, as he lay couched in the marble bath, to throw over his head the purple net, and call to her smooth-faced lover to stab through the meshes at the heart that should have broken at Aulis. For Antigone even, with Death waiting for her as her bridegroom, it was easy to pass through the tainted air at noon, and climb the hill, and strew with kindly earth the wretched naked corse that had no tomb. But what of those who wrote about these things ? What of those who gave them reality, and made them live for ever? Are they not greater than the men and women they sing of? ‘Hector that sweet knight is dead,’ and Lucian tells us how in the dim underworld Menippus saw the bleaching skull of Helen, and marvelled that it was for so grim a favour that all those horned ships were launched, those beautiful mailed men laid low, those towered cities brought to dust. Yet, every day the swan-like daughter of Leda comes out on the battlements, and looks down at the tide of war. The greybeards wonder at her loveliness, and she stands by the side of the king. In his chamber of stained ivory lies her leman. He is polishing his dainty armour, and combing the scarlet plume. With squire and page, her husband passes from tent to tent. She can see his bright hair, and hears, or fancies that she hears, that clear cold voice. In the courtyard below, the son of Priam is buckling on his brazen cuirass. The white arms of Andromache are around his neck. He sets his helmet on the ground, lest their babe should be frightened. Behind the embroidered curtains of his pavilion sits Achilles, in perfumed raiment, while in harness of gilt and silver the friend of his soul arrays himself to go forth to the fight. From a curiously carven chest that his mother Thetis had brought to his ship-side, the Lord of the Myrmidons takes out that mystic chalice that the lip of man had never touched, and cleanses it with brimstone, and with fresh water cools it, and, having washed his hands, fills with black wine its burnished hollow, and spills the thick grape-blood upon the ground in honour of Him whom at Dodona barefooted prophets worshipped, and prays to Him, and knows not that he prays in vain, and that by the hands of two knights from Troy, Panthous’ son, Euphorbus, whose love-locks were looped with gold, and the Priamid, the lion-hearted, Patroklus, the comrade of comrades, must meet his doom. Phantoms, are they? Heroes of mist and mountain? Shadows in a song? No: they are real. Action!”

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Reading for Deep Erudition

Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy (1.20):

“I have imposed this penance upon the lady, neither out of wantonness nor cruelty; but from the best of motives; and therefore shall make her no apology for it when she returns back:—’Tis to rebuke a vicious taste, which has crept into thousands besides herself,—of reading straight forwards, more in quest of the adventures, than of the deep erudition and knowledge which a book of this cast, if read over as it should be, would infallibly impart with them—The mind should be accustomed to make wise reflections, and draw curious conclusions as it goes along; the habitude of which made Pliny the younger affirm, ‘That he never read a book so bad, but he drew some profit from it.’ The stories of Greece and Rome, run over without this turn and application,—do less service, I affirm it, than the history of Parismus and Parismenus, or of the Seven Champions of England, read with it.”

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The Mediatorial Function of the Poet

Walter Pater, Marius the Epicurean:

“Homer was always telling things after this manner. And one might think there had been no effort in it: that here was but the almost mechanical transcript of a time, naturally, intrinsically, poetic, a time in which one could hardly have spoken at all without idealeffect, or, the sailors pulled down their boat without making a picture in ‘the great style,’ against a sky charged with marvels. Must not the mere prose of an age, itself thus ideal, have counted for more than half of Homer’s poetry? Or might the closer student discover even here, even in Homer, the really mediatorial function of the poet, as between the reader and the actual matter of his experience; the poet waiting, so to speak, in an age which had felt itself trite and commonplace enough, on his opportunity for the touch of ‘golden alchemy,’ or at least for the pleasantly lighted side of things themselves? Might not another, in one’s own prosaic and used-up time, so uneventful as it had been through the long reign of these quiet Antonines, in like manner, discover his ideal, by a due waiting upon it? Would not a future generation, looking back upon this, under the power of the enchanted-distance fallacy, find it ideal to view, in contrast with its own languor–the languor that for some reason (concerning which Augustine will one day have his view) seemed to haunt men always? Had Homer, even, appeared unreal and affected in his poetic flight, to some of the people of his own age, as seemed to happen with every new literature in turn? In any case, the intellectual conditions of early Greece had been–how different from these! And a true literary tact would accept that difference in forming the primary conception of the literary function at a later time. Perhaps the utmost one could get by conscious effort, in the way of a reaction or return to the conditions of an earlier and fresher age, would be but novitas, artificial artlessness, naïveté; and this quality too might have its measure of euphuistic charm, direct and sensible enough, though it must count, in comparison with that genuine early Greek newness at the beginning, not as the freshness of the open fields, but only of a bunch of field-flowers in a heated room.”

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Pedantry’s Proper Place

Ulrich Von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, History of Classical Scholarship (trans. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):

“The avoidance of hiatus had been noticed earlier – another useful observation, though it has been put to improper uses. On the other hand, attempts to tie the great masters of Attic prose to hard and fast rules are doomed to failure. The microscopic examination of language, whose practitioners here often delighted in compiling statistical tables of average percentage frequencies, has sometimes achieved results. But equally often it has proved deceptive, because the mind cannot be mechanised. We must not despise little things – but neither must we forget that they are little.”

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Begging Mr. Horace’s Pardon

Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy (Chp. IV):

“It is in pure compliance with this humour of theirs, and from a backwardness in my nature to disappoint any one soul living, that I have been so very particular already. As my life and opinions are likely to make some noise in the world, and, if I conjecture right, will take in all ranks, professions, and denominations of men whatever,—be no less read than the Pilgrim’s Progress itself—and in the end, prove the very thing which Montaigne dreaded his Essays should turn out, that is, a book for a parlour-window;—I find it necessary to consult every one a little in his turn; and therefore must beg pardon for going on a little farther in the same way: For which cause, right glad I am, that I have begun the history of myself in the way I have done; and that I am able to go on, tracing everything in it, as Horace says, ab Ovo.

Horace, I know, does not recommend this fashion altogether: But that gentleman is speaking only of an epic poem or a tragedy;—(I forget which),—besides, if it was not so, I should beg Mr. Horace’s pardon;—for in writing what I have set about, I shall confine myself neither to his rules, nor to any man’s rules that ever lived.”

 

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The Tyranny of Ancient Thought

Few questions have as much staying power and contemporary relevance as those concerning the best form of governance, and few political assassinations have exercised as many minds as the slaying of Caesar. In 1400, Antonio of Aquila asked Coluccio Salutati whether he thought that Brutus and Cassius were traitors for slaying Caesar. The question possessed some immediate literary importance to both of these men, given that Florence’s poetic hero Dante had seen fit to punish Brutus and Cassius in the very inner circle of Hell. In the tradition of the times, Salutati composed a lengthy epistolary response to Antonio, beginning with an elaborately florid Florentine preface, followed by a carefully delineated set of topics: the definition of a tyrant, justifications for tyrannicide, whether Caesar was a tyrant, whether Caesar’s murder was justified, and (most important for the pedant) did Dante make the right choice in placing Brutus and Cassius in Hell? There is also an awkward appendix designed to answer the question whether Aeneas and Antenor were traitors to Troy, a question which Antonio had posed along with the apparently more salient one about Caesar’s murder.

Salutati’s tackles the definitional question in the initial section titled What Is a Tyrant and from What  is the Name Derived? by engaging in some amateur etymologizing. Salutati’s own etymologizing may not reflect the standard of scholarship achieved by men like Lorenzo Valla, but he does cite St. Gregory for what is effectively the proper definition of a tyrant:

“A tyrant is, properly speaking, one who reigns in a communal republic by something other than right.”

Proprie enim tyrannus dicitur qui in communi re publica non iure principatur.

Salutati cites Gregory again, this time displaying a Tacitean cynicism about human motives. In effect, Gregory believes that everyone is a tyrant in their own sphere, and will naturally seek to exercise as much power as they can:

“But we must recognize that every haughty person exercises tyranny in their own particular way. One person is the tyrant of a province, another of a city, another in his own house, and yet another – on account of his worthlessness – simply exercises tyranny in his mind. God is not concerned with how much evil someone can perpetrate, but only with how much they wish to perpetrate. When he is lacking causal power in the world, the tyrant is by himself, and his iniquity reigns supreme inside; because, even if he cannot afflict his neighbors outwardly, he yet harbors inwardly the desire to be able to afflict them.”

“Sed sciendum quia omnis superbus iuxta modum proprium tyrannidem exercet. Nam nonnumquam alius in provincia, alius in civitate, alius in domo propria, alius per latentem nequitiam hoc exercet apud se in cogitatione sua. Nec intuetur deus quantum quisque mali valeat facere, sed quantum velit. Et cum deest potestas foris, apud se tyrannus est, cui iniquitas dominatur intus; quia, et si exterius non affligat proximos, intrinsecus tamen habere potestatem appetit ut affligat.”

This line of thought, cited approvingly by Florentines during the Renaissance, was still popular centuries later and half a world away. Benjamin Rush, writing to John Adams, claimed that “Rulers become tyrants and butchers from instinct much oftener than from imitation.” Rome, Florence, and America are linked not only by their republican governments, but also by the cynical fear which served as the intellectual and emotional foundation of those republics. The generalized fear that any one person given sufficient latitude and power would subjugate the entire population to his will is often cited as the primary motivation for maintaining a republican (but not democratic) form of government.

Moving from his definition of tyranny to the question of tyrannicide, Salutati makes the general claim that because an individual would be justified in slaying another for violating his right to personal property, so too must it be lawful to slay one who invades the state, which is the property of all. Like Plato before him, Salutati engages himself in the pleasing error of confusing and conflating the individual and the state for the purpose of ethical reasoning.

Moral reasoning on classical principles would not be complete without the citation of ancient exempla, but Salutati makes a puzzling choice in his exemplum for justifying tyrannicide: the murder of Tiberius Gracchus. Through a curious inversion, Salutati reasons that Scipio Nasica was right to goad on the murder of Gracchus, a tribune of the people, because he was supposed by some sources to be aspiring to regal power. Salutati has let his own aristocratic bias overcome the apparently republican or demotic tone of an essay against tyranny, and has adopted the viewpoint of ancient aristocrats who likely saw Gracchus as a dangerous instrument of what they (or in modern times, someone like Mitch McConnell) would dismiss as “mob rule”.

But perhaps this is the problem with any republic – it is simply aristocracy under the guise of popular government. Perhaps that thin veneer of demotic sovereignty is just the political form of bread and circuses. When someone in America complains that the government is doing a poor job of representing the popular will, they are commonly treated to a curt civics lesson intended to remind them that this is a republic, not a democracy. Caesar was not killed for infringing the liberties of ‘the people’ more generally. Rather, in monopolizing power within the Roman state, Caesar offended the pride of other aristocrats who were denied access to the political power and prestige which they regarded as their rights. It is fashionable to dismiss the Augustan “restoration of the Republic” as a cynical PR sham, but (however much it may have later devolved into outright despotism) it is not clear that the reign of one man within a broadly constitutional framework differed substantially from the reign of a handful of traditional aristocratic families. Regardless of party, even America’s political elite are drawn almost exclusively from a class defined not by family lineage, but by access to one of a few prestigious universities (usually their law schools) which serve as bastions of privilege and entry points into the world of real and efficacious power within the political and corporate system. (This problem of elite “choke points” in the course of the rat race is similarly prevalent in academia.)

The third portion of Salutati’s essay, taken up with whether or not Caesar could be considered a tyrant, relies heavily on Cicero, whom Salutati affectionately refers to throughout as “our Cicero.” This is not wholly surprising, given that Cicero supplies the best contemporary documentary evidence for the period. Moreover, Cicero possessed for men like Salutati a kind of unparalleled authority, as is clear from the affectionate use of noster, “our” Cicero. Despite the fact that Cicero famously exulted over Caesar’s death, Salutati cites a number of Cicero’s letters and writings to prove, wholly on Cicero’s testimony, that Caesar was not a tyrant, but a popularly chosen (if supremely powerful) magistrate.

“Anyone who looks through Cicero’s writings diligently will find far greater praise than detraction of Caesar.”

Qui diligenter ipsius scripta perspexerit longe maiores Caesaris laudes invenerit quam detractiones.

Salutati rather naively or disingenuously takes the confirmation of Caesar’s political acts and appointments following his death as proof that even his enemies did not regard him as a tyrant. This may appear on the face of it to be mere idle fatuity on Salutati’s part, but he draws out a salient point: the conspirators objected to the man and the wounds which he inflicted upon their pride more than they objected to his political program.

“Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.” Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

In his dialogue with Cicero, Salutati argues that Caesar’s dictatorship was the logical and inevitable outcome of decades of simmering civil war. He then claims that Sulla’s dictatorship, though bloody, was nevertheless a stabilizing force for the Republic. At this point, it begins to seem that Salutati’s strongman theory of government depends in no small part on minute hair splitting about what exactly constitutes tyranny. Indeed, Sulla’s military seizure of the state, whether or not it was in crisis, is a perfect example of what the Greeks meant by tyranny.

Though Salutati and other Renaissance thinkers did much to throw off the shackles of scholasticism, some of the medieval schoolroom still stuck to his mind. He upbraids Cicero for forgetting his Aristotle. Salutati is only able to argue against an ancient authority by citing an even older and more august ancient authority. It is on this Aristotelian basis that Salutati makes his most appalling and dangerous claim: that nature herself fashioned some to rule and others to serve. As almost invariably happens, Greek political philosophy is being used to advocate for a reactionary aristocracy.

Salutati’s essay combines two of the most dangerous modes of classical reception and engagement: the practice of reasoning through uncritical dependence on historical exempla, and the citation of ancient philosophers as final intellectual authorities. Aristotle here represents the tyranny of auctoritas. The Enlightenment may have bequeathed to modernity its own set of intellectual horrors and stumbling blocks, but at least it helped to free the mind from this stifling tyranny of authority. As supporters of the classics, we should fear the prospect of lapsing back into this mode of reception. Indeed, the period in which classical learning suffered the most was not the 20th century decline classics courses in high schools and universities. Rather, it was the period of medieval scholasticism during which classical learning became ossified and inert – an instrument for justifying institutionalized power, a cudgel to be wielded against those without access to it.

Classical learning exhibits the most vitality when it is actively engaged – soaked in and fully digested, yes, but also thoroughly interrogated and wrangled with. Salutati attempts this kind of interrogation in his argument written directly against Cicero, but he fails in that he is only able to cite authority against authority. (If medieval and early Renaissance thought were a card game like Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon, the Plato and Aristotle cards would be so wildly overpowered as to render the game wholly unbalanced.)

Some readers of On the Tyrant have been surprised, perplexed, or disappointed with Salutati’s reasoning, perhaps especially with his ardent support for political strongmen. This is apparently at variance with his more general belief in republican government, but his thoughts on tyranny may seem less surprising when we consider more carefully the ways in which tyranny and republican government are not wholly dissimilar. If we understand a tyrant to be one who governs without securing popular consent, might this definition not clearly apply to a president who attained office without winning the popular vote? Is that not a form of constitutionally institutionalized tyranny? Any political or social thought which is not informed by but rather based upon ancient thinkers is bound to be reactionary and aristocratic, because this is what survives: endless talk of “liberty” but a generalized paranoia about both monarchic rule on one hand and democratic power on the other. The ancient partiality for “balance” and “moderation” – that peculiar fetish for the golden mean, the aurea mediocritas which certainly has a tendency to foster mediocrity – suggested strongly to ancient thinkers and their successors that aristocratic republics were the sensible middle ground between the monarch and the mob. Salutati concludes that Dante was right to place Brutus and Cassius in the deepest pit of hell – but now we’re the ones who are suffering.

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