Four Years of Presidential Memories: Cranky about the State of the Country

Cicero, letters to Atticus 375 (11 May 44)

“I have no doubt that our state is looking at war. This affair has been managed with a man’s bravery and a child’s planning. Can’t everyone see that a king was removed but his heir was left on the throne?

What is more ridiculous? To fear this but not to consider that a risk at all! There is still in this moment much which is crooked. That the house of Pontius near Naples is held by the mother of that tyrannicide! Oh!

I should read the “Cato the Elder” I made for you more often. Old age is making me rather cranky. I am annoyed by everything. But, certainly, I have lived. Let the young men see to these things. You will care for my affairs as you do.”

Mihi autem non est dubium quin res spectet ad castra. acta enim illa res est animo virili, consilio puerili. quis enim hoc non vidit, <regem sublatum>,2 regni heredem relictum? quid autem absurdius? ‘hoc metuere, alterum in metu non ponere!’ quin etiam hoc ipso tempore multa ὑποσóλοικα. Ponti Neapolitanum a matre tyrannoctoni possideri! legendus mihi saepius est ‘Cato maior’ ad te missus. amariorem enim me senectus facit. stomachor omnia. sed mihi quidem βεβíωται; viderint iuvenes. tu mea curabis, ut curas.

cranky cicero

The Epidemic’s Over, We’re Fine

Cicero, Letters to Friends, to Terentia 8 (14.1)

“When it comes to my family, I will do what you report seems right to our friends. Concerning where I am currently, the epidemic is certainly already over and, even though it lasted a while, it didn’t touch me. Plancius, the most dutiful man, longs to keep me with him and detains me here.

I was hoping to stay in some deserted place in Epirus where Piso and his soldiers would never come, but Plancius holds me here. He posts that it will turn out to be possible for him to leave for Italy with me. Should I see that day and return to your embrace and my families and get you and myself back again, I will judge that a great profit of your commitment and mine.”

De familia, quo modo placuisse scribis amicis faciemus. de loco, nunc quidem iam abiit pestilentia, sed quam diu fuit me non attigit. Plancius, homo officiosissimus, me cupit esse secum et adhuc retinet. ego volebam loco magis deserto esse in Epiro, quo neque Piso veniret nec milites, sed adhuc Plancius me retinet; sperat posse fieri ut mecum in Italiam decedat. quem ego diem si videro et si in vestrum complexum venero ac si et vos et me ipsum reciperaro, satis magnum mihi fructum videbor percepisse et vestrae pietatis et meae.

Cicero Very Fine

How Fast A Rotten Foundation Falls

Epictetus, Discourses 2.15 (Go here for the full text)

“If you put down a rotten foundation, already falling apart, not even a little shack can be built upon it, and the greater and more forceful thing you build upon it, the faster it will fall to the ground.

So you are depriving this dear person of life without any reason, a citizen of the very same state, both the larger one and the local one. Then, as you commit an act of murder and destroy another human being who did no wrong, you claim that “you have to stick to what was decided!”  If it ever occurred to you to kill me, would you have to stick to your decisions then?

That kind of a person is scarcely persuaded to change his mind. But it is impossible to transform others today. So, now, I think I understand that proverb that used to confuse me, that “you can’t persuade or break a fool!”

May I never have a wise fool as a friend, there’s nothing harder to deal with. He says, “I have decided.” Well, people who are out of their minds decided too. But just as much as they believe that what isn’t true is solid, that’s how much hellebore they need to drink.”

ἂν δὲ σαπρὸν ὑποστήσῃ καὶ καταπῖπτον, οὐκ οἰκοδομημάτιον, ὅσῳ δ᾿ ἂν πλείονα καὶ ἰσχυρότερα ἐπιθῇς, τοσούτῳ θᾶττον κατενεχθήσεται. ἄνευ πάσης αἰτίας ἐξάγεις ἡμῖν ἄνθρωπον ἐκ τοῦ ζῆν φίλον καὶ συνήθη, τῆς αὐτῆς πόλεως πολίτην καὶ τῆς μεγάλης 11καὶ τῆς μικρᾶς· εἶτα φόνον ἐργαζόμενος καὶ ἀπολλύων ἄνθρωπον μηδὲν ἠδικηκότα λέγεις ὅτι τοῖς κριθεῖσιν ἐμμένειν δεῖ. εἰ δ᾿ ἐπῆλθέν σοί πώς ποτ᾿ ἐμὲ ἀποκτεῖναι, ἔδει σε ἐμμένειν τοῖς κριθεῖσιν;

Ἐκεῖνος μὲν οὖν μόγις μετεπείσθη. τῶν δὲ νῦν τινας οὐκ ἔστι μεταθεῖναι. ὥστε μοι δοκῶ ὃ πρότερον ἠγνόουν νῦν εἰδέναι, τί ἐστι τὸ ἐν τῇ συνηθείᾳ λεγόμενον· μωρὸν οὔτε πεῖσαι οὔτε ῥῆξαι ἔστιν. μή μοι γένοιτο φίλον ἔχειν σοφὸν μωρόν. δυσμεταχειριστότερον οὐδέν ἐστιν. “κέκρικα.” καὶ γὰρ οἱ μαινόμενοι· ἀλλ᾿ ὅσῳ βεβαιότερον κρίνουσι τὰ οὐκ ὄντα, τοσούτῳ πλείονος ἐλλεβόρου δέονται.

Epictetus

Shaking Us Down

Latin Trag. Adesp. = Ps-Cicero, Ad. Herenn. 2.26

“I cannot think…or figure out any reason why
I might impeach him. What would let you accuse someone
Who is honorable, if he is good? And if he is not honorable
What would let you impeach him if he thinks it is but a
Minor thing?”

Nequeo . . .
qua causa accusem hunc exputando evolvere.
Nam si veretur quid eum accuses qui est probus?
Sin inverecundum animi ingenium possidet,
quid autem accuses qui id parvi auditum
aestimet? . . .

Aristophanes fr 228 = Suda sigma 290

“Shaking-down”: Blackmail, this is a metaphor from people who shake trees: “I was shaking them down, I demanded money, I was threatening them and was extorting them again and again.”

σεῖσαι· τὸ συκοφαντῆσαι, ἀπὸ τῶν τὰ ἀκρόδρυα σειόντων· ἔσειον, ᾔτουν χρήματ᾿, ἠπείλουν, ἐσυκοφάντουν πάλιν

Mycenaean Goat and Tree Vase at the British Museum

Police and the Unjust State

Demosthenes, Against Timocrates 164 (See the Scaife Viewer for the full text)

“These men have committed so much horror beyond their own criminal behavior that even while running a so-called democracy they turned each person’s house into a prison and put the police in our homes.”

οὗτοι τοίνυν τοσαύτην ὑπερβολὴν ἐποιήσαντο ἐκείνων τῆς αὑτῶν πονηρίας ὥστ᾿ ἐν δημοκρατίᾳ πολιτευόμενοι τὴν ἰδίαν οἰκίαν ἑκάστῳ δεσμωτήριον καθίστασαν, τοὺς ἕνδεκ᾿ ἄγοντες ἐπὶ τὰς οἰκίας.

 

W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk 9

“For such dealing with criminals, white or black, the South had no machinery, no adequate jails or reformatories; its police system was arranged to deal with blacks alone, and tacitly assumed that every white man was ipso facto a member of that police. Thus grew up a double system of justice, which erred on the white side by undue leniency and the practical immunity of red-handed criminals, and erred on the black side by undue severity, injustice, and lack of discrimination.”

 

Juvenal, Satires

“Who will police the police?”

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Cicero: A Liar Will Probably Commit Perjury Too

Cicero, Pro Quinctui Roscio 16

“Still,” he said, “Cluvius told Lucius and Manilius he was not on sworn oath.” If he told them while sworn in, would you believe? What is the difference between a perjurer and a liar? A man who is accustomed to lying, can get used to committing perjury.

I can easily get a man to perjure himself once I am able to persuade him to lie. For once someone has departed from the truth, he is not in the habit of being constrained by greater belief from perjury than from lying. For what man who is not moved by the force of his own conscience is moved by invocation of the gods?

The reason for this is that the gods dispense the same penalty for the perjurer and the liar. The gods become enraged and punish a man not for the institution which frames the swearing of the words but because of the evil and the malice that these traps are set for another person.”

XVI. “Dicit enim,” inquit, “iniuratus Luscio et Manilio.” Si diceret iuratus, crederes? At quid interest inter periurum et mendacem? Qui mentiri solet, peierare consuevit. Quem ego, ut mentiatur, inducere possum, ut peieret, exorare facile potero. Nam qui semel a veritate deflexit, hic non maiore religione ad periurium quam ad mendacium perduci consuevit. Quis enim deprecatione deorum, non conscientiae fide commovetur? Propterea, quae poena ab dis immortalibus periuro, haec eadem mendaci constituta est; non enim ex pactione verborum, quibus ius iurandum comprehenditur, sed ex perfidia et malitia, per quam insidiae tenduntur alicui, di immortales hominibus irasci et suscensere consuerunt.

Image result for medieval manuscript perjury
Sinon. Augustine, La Cit de Dieu, Books I-X. Paris, Ma tre Franois (illuminator); c. 1475-1480.

Legal Strategies When You Can’t Deny Or Defend

Quintilian, Orator’s Education, 5.13 7-9

“Hence, what cannot be denied or put off must eventually be defended, whatever kind of case it is, or else just surrendered. We have demonstrated that there are two types of denial: either to say “this was not done” or to claim “what was done was not this.” Issues that cannot be defended or avoided must ultimately be denied and not only if there is some “redefinition” which might come to our aid, but also if there is nothing else but simple denial.

If there are witnesses, it is permitted to say much against them. If there is written proof, we can discredit the authenticity of the letter. Whatever the matter, there is nothing worse than a confession. The final option, when there is no room for defending or denying, is attacking the legality of the proceeding.”

Ergo quae neque negari neque transferri possunt utique defendenda sunt, qualiacumque sunt, aut causa cedendum. Negandi duplicem ostendimus formam, aut non esse factum aut non hoc esse quod factum sit. Quae neque defendi neque transferri possunt, utique neganda, nec solum si finitio potest esse pro nobis, sed etiam si nuda infitiatio superest. Testes erunt: multa in eos dicere licet; chirographum: de similitudine litterarum disserendum. Utique nihil erit peius quam confessio. Ultima est actionis controversia, cum defendendi negandive non est locus

Emotions in the Courtroom
nitial N: King James I of Aragon Overseeing a Court of Law, unknown illuminator c. 1290 – 1310. Courtesy of Getty Images

On Kindness and Need: Please Support the SCS-WCC COVID-19 Relief Fund

Cicero, De Legibus 1.18

“What about generosity? Is it for free or with a view towards some benefit? If someone is kind without payment, then it is freely done. If it is for payment, it is contractual. There is no doubt that a person who is called generous or kind responds to duty not to benefit. Therefore, equity seeks no reward or purchase price but it is pursued for its own worth. This is the same cause and claim for every virtue.”

quid? liberalitas gratuitane est an mercennaria? si sine praemio benignus est, gratuita, si cum mercede, conducta; nec est dubium, quin is, qui liberalis benignusve dicitur, officium, non fructum sequatur; ergo item iustitia nihil expetit praemii, nihil pretii; per se igitur expetitur. eademque omnium virtutum causa atque sententia est.

The Women’s Classical Caucus and the Society for Classical Studies have been working together since April on the COVID-19 Relief Fund. During that time, they have given out over $70,000 to classicists, mainly graduate students and contingent faculty, who are facing precarity because of our pandemic.  (See the SCS Announcement here.)

Like the Sportula (an organization you can support in the US and Europe), this initiative brings microgrants to people who really need it at a time when it can make the greatest difference. As two leading organizations in our field, the WCC and SCS are setting a new standard for stewardship and care.

Dicta Catonis 15

“Remember to tell the tale of another’s kindness many times
But whatever kind deed you do for others, keep quiet.”

Officium alterius multis narrare memento;
at quaecumque aliis benefeceris ipse, sileto.

Today, is the first day of an auction to support this important fund. There are signed books, professional support, masks, arts, crafts, and more. You can also enter a raffle for memberships to either organization. There are also many pledges to match bids and money raised, so we can do something pretty special here.

Even if you can’t spare anything to bid on these offers, please take a minute to check them out and to let your friends on social media know about it.

Demosthenes, On the Crown 268-9

“This was my behavior in my actions for the city. In private matters, if any of you do not know that I have been generous and kind and solicitous of those in need, I am silent and I say nothing and present no witness of these things, not the war prisoners I have ransomed, nor the money I have provided for daughters, nor anything like that at all.

This is a rule I live by. I believe that the person who receives a favor should remember it for the rest of time but that the person who does it should forget it immediately for the former to act rightly and the latter not to play the part of a cheap-minded person. To remind someone of a favor you have provided in private and to speak so cheaply is just like reproaching them. I will not do anything like this but however I am considered about these things will be enough for me.”

Ἐν μὲν τοίνυν τοῖς πρὸς τὴν πόλιν τοιοῦτος· ἐν δὲ τοῖς ἰδίοις εἰ μὴ πάντες ἴσθ᾿ ὅτι κοινὸς καὶ φιλάνθρωπος καὶ τοῖς δεομένοις ἐπαρκῶν, σιωπῶ καὶ οὐδὲν ἂν εἴποιμ᾿ οὐδὲ παρασχοίμην περὶ τούτων οὐδεμίαν μαρτυρίαν, οὔτ᾿ εἴ τινας ἐκ τῶν πολεμίων ἐλυσάμην, οὔτ᾿ εἴ τισιν θυγατέρας συνεξέδωκα, οὔτε τῶν τοιούτων οὐδέν. καὶ γὰρ οὕτω πως ὑπείληφα ἐγὼ νομίζω τὸν μὲν εὖ παθόντα δεῖν μεμνῆσθαι πάντα τὸν χρόνον, τὸν δὲ ποιήσαντ᾿ εὐθὺς ἐπιλελῆσθαι, εἰ δεῖ τὸν μὲν χρηστοῦ, τὸν δὲ μὴ μικροψύχου ποιεῖν ἔργον ἀνθρώπου. τὸ δὲ τὰς ἰδίας εὐεργεσίας ὑπομιμνῄσκειν καὶ λέγειν μικροῦ δεῖν ὅμοιόν ἐστιν τῷ ὀνειδίζειν. οὐ δὴ ποιήσω τοιοῦτον οὐδέν, οὐδὲ προαχθήσομαι, ἀλλ᾿ ὅπως ποθ᾿ ὑπείλημμαι περὶ τούτων, ἀρκεῖ μοι.

“No Mortal Could Rival Me In Work”: Some Greek Passages for Labor Day

Plutarch, Perikles 1.4 5-6

“Often and quite contrarily, we look down on a laborer while delighting in his work.”

πολλάκις δὲ καὶ τοὐναντίον χαίροντες τῷ ἔργῳ τοῦ δημιουργοῦ καταφρονοῦμεν

Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.56-57

“His accuser claimed that he selected the most wretched lines from the most famous poets and used them as proofs to teach his followers to be evildoers and tyrants. He is said to have used the line from Hesiod “there is nothing reproachable about work, but laziness is reproachable” (WD 311) to claim that the poet exhorted not to refrain from any work, unjust or shameful, but to do everything for profit.

Socrates, although he might agree that it is good and useful for a man to be a worker and harmful and bad for him to be lazy—that work is good and laziness is bad—he used to say that being a worker required people to do something good. Gambling or any other immortal occupation which takes from others he used to call laziness. Within these parameters, Hesiod’s claim that “there is nothing reproachable about work, but laziness is reproachable” holds true.

ἔφη δ᾿ αὐτὸν ὁ κατήγορος καὶ τῶν ἐνδοξοτάτων ποιητῶν ἐκλεγόμενον τὰ πονηρότατα καὶ τούτοις μαρτυρίοις χρώμενον διδάσκειν τοὺς συνόντας κακούργους τε εἶναι καὶ τυραννικούς, Ἡσιόδου μὲν τὸ: ἔργον δ᾿ οὐδὲν ὄνειδος, ἀεργίη δέ τ᾿ ὄνειδος·
τοῦτο δὴ λέγειν αὐτὸν ὡς ὁ ποιητὴς κελεύει μηδενὸς ἔργου μήτ᾿ ἀδίκου μήτ᾿ αἰσχροῦ ἀπέχεσθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ ταῦτα ποιεῖν ἐπὶ τῷ κέρδει.

Σωκράτης δ᾿ ἐπεὶ διομολογήσαιτο τὸ μὲν ἐργάτην εἶναι ὠφέλιμόν τε ἀνθρώπῳ καὶ ἀγαθὸν εἶναι, τὸ δὲ ἀργὸν βλαβερόν τε καὶ κακόν, καὶ τὸ μὲν ἐργάζεσθαι ἀγαθόν, τὸ δ᾿ ἀργεῖν κακόν, τοὺς μὲν ἀγαθόν τι ποιοῦντας ἐργάζεσθαί τε ἔφη καὶ ἐργάτας εἶναι, τοὺς δὲ κυβεύοντας ἤ τι ἄλλο πονηρὸν καὶ ἐπιζήμιον ποιοῦντας ἀργοὺς ἀπεκάλει. ἐκ δὲ τούτων ὀρθῶς ἂν ἔχοι τὸ: ἔργον δ᾿ οὐδὲν ὄνειδος, ἀεργίη δέ τ᾿ ὄνειδος.

Hesiod Works and Days, 289-90

“The gods made sweat the price for virtue.”

τῆς δ’ ἀρετῆς ἱδρῶτα θεοὶ προπάροιθεν ἔθηκαν
ἀθάνατοι·

Image result for ancient greek harvest vase
The “Harvesters vase” from Agia Triada ( 1500-1400 BC). Heraklion Archaeological Museum

Xenophon, Oeconomicus 4.15-16

“Critoboulos, Some say that whenever the great king gives gifts, he calls in first those who proved their excellence at war because there is no advantage to plowing many fields unless they defend them. After them, he rewards those who prepare and work the land best, because brave men cannot survive unless someone works the land.”

Φασὶ δέ τινες, ἔφη ὁ Σωκράτης, ὦ Κριτόβουλε, καὶ ὅταν δῶρα διδῷ ὁ βασιλεύς, πρῶτον μὲν εἰσκαλεῖν τοὺς πολέμῳ ἀγαθοὺς γεγονότας, ὅτι οὐδὲν ὄφελος πολλὰ ἀροῦν, εἰ μὴ εἶεν οἱ ἀρήξοντες· δεύτερον δὲ τοὺς κατασκευάζοντας τὰς χώρας ἄριστα καὶ ἐνεργοὺς ποιοῦντας λέγοντα, ὅτι οὐδ᾿ ἂν οἱ ἄλκιμοι δύναιντο ζῆν, εἰ μὴ εἶεν οἱ ἐργαζόμενοι. λέγεται δὲ καὶ Κῦρός ποτε, ὅσπερ εὐδοκιμώτατος δὴ βασιλεὺς γεγένηται, εἰπεῖν τοῖς ἐπὶ τὰ δῶρα κεκλημένοις, ὅτι αὐτὸς ἂν δικαίως τὰ ἀμφοτέρων δῶρα λαμβάνοι· κατασκευάζειν τε γὰρ ἄριστος εἶναι ἔφη χώραν καὶ ἀρήγειν τοῖς κατεσκευασμένοις.

Plutarch, fr. 43

“Let no one find fault with this line because wealth is made to be much praised ahead of virtue. Know that wealth here is the product workers get from their labors—it is a just portion gathered from their personal toil.”

Μηδεὶς λοιδορείτω τὸν στίχον εἰς τὸν πολυάρατον πλοῦτον ὁρῶν τὸν πόρρω τῆς ἀρετῆς ἐσκηνημένον, ἀλλὰ πλοῦτον οἰέσθω νῦν λέγεσθαι τὴν ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων πορισθεῖσαν ἀφθονίαν τοῖς ἐργαζομένοις δικαίαν οὖσαν καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν οἰκείων πόνων ἠθροισμένην.

Pindar, Isthmian 1.47

“Men find different payment sweet for different work.”

μισθὸς γὰρ ἄλλοις ἄλλος ἐπ’ ἔργμασιν ἀνθρώποις
γλυκύς

Hesiod, Works and Days, 303

“Gods and men alike dislike a lazy man.”

τῷ δὲ θεοὶ νεμεσῶσι καὶ ἀνέρες ὅς κεν ἀεργὸς.

Archilochus fr. 307

“The trap does the sleeping fisherman’s work”

εὕδοντι δ᾿ αἱρεῖ κύρτος

Euripides, Hippolytus 189-190

“The life of men is wholly grievous, nor is there any release from toil.”

πᾶς δ’ ὀδυνηρὸς βίος ἀνθρώπων
κοὐκ ἔστι πόνων ἀνάπαυσις.

Homer, Odyssey 15.321-324

“No mortal could rival me in work:
No one could best me at building a fire or heaping dry wood,
At serving at the table, cooking meat or serving wine–
All those tasks lesser men complete for their betters.”

δρηστοσύνῃ οὐκ ἄν μοι ἐρίσσειε βροτὸς ἄλλος,
πῦρ τ’ εὖ νηῆσαι διά τε ξύλα δανὰ κεάσσαι,
δαιτρεῦσαί τε καὶ ὀπτῆσαι καὶ οἰνοχοῆσαι,
οἷά τε τοῖς ἀγαθοῖσι παραδρώωσι χέρηες.”

Odyssey, 18.366-383

“Eurymachus: I wish the two of us could have a labor-contest
In the height of spring when the days are drawing longer,
In the thickening grass. I would grip the curved scythe
And you could hold the same thing, so we could test each other
At work, fasting right up to dusk where the grass was thick.
And then the next day we could drive the oxen, the strongest ones,
Bright and large, both stuffed full with their food,
A pair of the same age, equally burdened, their strength unwavering.
I’d wish for a four-acre parcel to put under the plow.
Then you’d see me, how I would cut a furrow straight from end to end.
Or if, instead, Kronos’ son would send me a war today,
And I would have a shield and two spears
Matched with a bronze helmet well-fit to my temples.
Then you’d see me mixing it up in the front lines
And you wouldn’t bawl about, belittling my hungry stomach.”

“Εὐρύμαχ’, εἰ γὰρ νῶϊν ἔρις ἔργοιο γένοιτο
ὥρῃ ἐν εἰαρινῇ, ὅτε τ’ ἤματα μακρὰ πέλονται,
ἐν ποίῃ, δρέπανον μὲν ἐγὼν εὐκαμπὲς ἔχοιμι,
καὶ δὲ σὺ τοῖον ἔχοις, ἵνα πειρησαίμεθα ἔργου
νήστιες ἄχρι μάλα κνέφαος, ποίη δὲ παρείη·
εἰ δ’ αὖ καὶ βόες εἶεν ἐλαυνέμεν, οἵ περ ἄριστοι,
αἴθωνες μεγάλοι, ἄμφω κεκορηότε ποίης,
ἥλικες ἰσοφόροι, τῶν τε σθένος οὐκ ἀλαπαδνόν,
τετράγυον δ’ εἴη, εἴκοι δ’ ὑπὸ βῶλος ἀρότρῳ·
τῶ κέ μ’ ἴδοις, εἰ ὦλκα διηνεκέα προταμοίμην.
εἰ δ’ αὖ καὶ πόλεμόν ποθεν ὁρμήσειε Κρονίων
σήμερον, αὐτὰρ ἐμοὶ σάκος εἴη καὶ δύο δοῦρε
καὶ κυνέη πάγχαλκος ἐπὶ κροτάφοισ’ ἀραρυῖα,
τῶ κέ μ’ ἴδοις πρώτοισιν ἐνὶ προμάχοισι μιγέντα,
οὐδ’ ἄν μοι τὴν γαστέρ’ ὀνειδίζων ἀγορεύοις.

In Honor of Labor Day: Collective Action and the Maturation of Rome

Livy 2.32 Secessio Plebis, 449 BCE

“A fear overcame the senators that if the army were dismissed, then secret assemblies and conspiracies would arise. And thus, even though the draft was made by a dictator—because they had sworn a consular oath they were still believed to beheld by this sacrament—they ordered the legions to depart the city on the grounds that the war had been renewed by the Aequi. This deed accelerated the rebellion.

At first, there was some interest in the murder of the consuls (to absolve them of their obligation); but when they then learned that no crime would release them from their oath, they seceded on to the Sacred Mount across the Anio river, which is three miles from the city, on the advice of a man named Sicinus.  This story is more common than the one which Piso offers—that the secession was made upon the Aventine hill.

There, the camp was fortified without any leader with a trench and wall quietly, as they took nothing unless it was necessary for their food for several days and neither offended anyone nor took offense. But there was a major panic in the city and because of mutual fear all activities were suspended. Those left behind feared violence from the senators because they were abandoned by their own class; and the senators were fearing the plebians who remained in the city because they were uncertain whether they stayed there or preferred to leave. How long could a mass of people who had seceded remain peaceful? What would happen after this if there were an external threat first? There was certainly no home left unless they could bring the people into harmony; and it was decided they must reconcile the state by just means or unjust.”

  1. timor inde patres incessit ne, si dimissus exercitus foret, rursus coetus occulti coniurationesque fierent. itaque quamquam per dictatorem dilectus habitus esset, tamen quoniam in consulum uerba iurassent sacramento teneri militem rati, per causam renouati ab Aequis belli educi ex urbe legiones iussere. [2] quo facto maturata est seditio. et primo agitatum dicitur de consulum caede, ut soluerentur sacramento; doctos deinde nullam scelere religionem exsolui, Sicinio quodam auctore iniussu consulum in Sacrum montem secessisse. trans Anienem amnem est, tria ab urbe milia passuum. [3] ea frequentior fama est quam cuius Piso auctor est, in Auentinum secessionem factam esse. [4] ibi sine ullo duce uallo fossaque communitis castris quieti, rem nullam nisi necessariam ad uictum sumendo, per aliquot dies neque lacessiti neque lacessentes sese tenuere. [5] pauor ingens in urbe, metuque mutuo suspensa erant omnia. timere relicta ab suis plebis uiolentiam patrum; timere patres residem in urbe plebem, incerti manere eam an abire mallent: [6] quamdiu autem tranquillam quae secesserit multitudinem fore? quid futurum deinde si quod externum interim bellum exsistat? [7] nullam profecto nisi in concordia ciuium spem reliquam ducere; eam per aequa, per iniqua reconciliandam ciuitati esse.

The secessio plebis was repeated at key times in Roman history and became a fundamental instrument to force the ruling (and moneyed/landed) class to make political compromises with the larger number of citizen soldiers upon whom the city (and the Republic) depended for its safety (and, really, existence). Modern labor strikes are not directly related to this Roman action–they developed with the rise of the Industrial state. In a short analogy, labor is to capital as the army was to the Roman state.

Labor unions are, in my ever so humble opinion, probably the last possible bulwark against not just the corporatization of higher education but also against the completion of our anglo-american metamorphoses in to technology-driven plutocracies. (And it may be too late.) But I take the limited coverage in our presses as a sign that such subjects are threatening to the very media corporations that deny collective bargaining to their ‘workers’ in the gig economy. 

Caesar, Civil War 1.7.5-7

“Whenever in the past the senate has made a decree asking officers to make sure that the republic meet no harm—and in this wording the senatus consultum is also a call to arms for the Roman people—it has been made under the condition of evil laws, a violent tribune, or during a secession of the plebs when they had occupied the temples and mounts. [Caesar] explained that these examples from an earlier age were paid for with the fates of Saturninus and the Gracchi. (At that time none of these things were done or even considered. No law was suggested; no assembly was called; no secession was made.)

quotienscumque sit decretum darent operam magistratus ne quid res publica detrimenti caperet, qua voce et quo senatus consulto populus Romanus ad arma sit vocatus, factum in perniciosis legibus, in vi tribunicia, in secessione populi, templis locisque editioribus occupatis. 6Atque haec superioris aetatis exempla expiata Saturnini atque Gracchorum casibus docet. (Quarum rerum illo tempore nihil factum, ne cogitatum quidem. Nulla lex promulgata, non cum populo agi coeptum, nulla secessio facta.)

Cicero, Republic II.58

“For that very principle which I introduced at the beginning is this: unless there is equal access in a state to laws, offices, and duties so that the magistrates have sufficient power, the plans of the highest citizens have enough authority, and the people have enough freedom, the state cannot be guarded against revolution. For when our state was troubled by debt, the plebeians first occupied the Sacred Mount and then the Aventine.”

Id enim tenetote, quod initio dixi, nisi aequabilis haec in civitate conpensatio sit et iuris et officii et muneris, ut et potestatis satis in magistratibus et auctoritatis in principum consilio et libertatis in populo sit, non posse hunc incommutabilem rei publicae conservari statum. nam cum esset ex aere alieno commota civitas, plebs montem sacrum prius, deinde Aventinum occupavit.

 

Cicero, Republic II.63

“Therefore, because of the injustice of these men [the decemviri], there was the largest rebellion and the whole state was transformed. For those rulers had created two tables of laws which included most inhumanely, a law against plebeians wedding patricians, even though marriage between different nationalities is permitted! This law was later voided by the plebeian Canuleian Decree. The [decemviri also pursued their own pleasure harshly and greedily in every exercise of power over the people.”

ergo horum ex iniustitia subito exorta est maxima perturbatio et totius commutatio rei publicae; qui duabus tabulis iniquarum legum additis, quibus, etiam quae diiunctis populis tribui solent conubia, haec illi ut ne plebei cum patribus1 essent, inhumanissima lege sanxerunt, quae postea plebei scito Canuleio abrogata est, libidinoseque omni imperio et acerbe et avare populo praefuerunt.

Here is the opening summary from Brill’s New Pauly on the secessio plebis (2006: von Ungern-Sternberg, Jürgen)

“Roman tradition terms as secessio (from Latin secedere, ‘to go away, to withdraw’) the remonstrative exodus of the Roman plebeians from the urban area delimited by the pomerium on to a neighbouring hill. This action was on a number of occasions the culmination of confrontation between the patricians ( patricii ) and the plebs . The first secessio in particular may have been instrumental in the formation of a self-conscious plebeian community under the leadership of at first two, later apparently five people’s tribunes ( tribunus plebis ), to whose protection all plebeians committed themselves by a lex sacrata (‘law subject to the sanction of execration’)”

Related image