A Failsafe for Democracy

Lycurgus, Against Leocrates 124    

“These examples are enough I think to understand the opinion your forefathers had against those who broke the laws. I still want to remind you of the monument in the Senate house which recalls traitors and those who destroy the democracy. For I make your judgement easy if I provide you with many examples.

After the reign of the Thirty, your fathers, who had suffered the kinds of things from fellow citizens no Greek ever would have considered and who barely made it back to their own land, blocked every avenue to crime because they learned from experience and knew which offices and approaches were open to those who would dissolve the democracy.

They decreed by vote and by oath that anyone who came upon someone trying to establish a tyranny, betraying the state or overthrowing democracy would not be considered guilty for killing them because it seemed better to them that people who were pursuing these actions should die than they should suffer being enslaved to them. For they believed foremost that citizens should live in such away as to never come into suspicion for these crimes.”

Ἱκανὰ μὲν οὖν καὶ ταῦτα τὴν τῶν προγόνων γνῶναι διάνοιαν, ὡς εἶχον πρὸς τοὺς παρανομοῦντας εἰς τὴν πόλιν· οὐ μὴν ἀλλ᾿ ἔτι βούλομαι τῆς στήλης ἀκοῦσαι ὑμᾶς τῆς ἐν τῷ βουλευτηρίῳ περὶ τῶν προδοτῶν καὶ τῶν τὸν δῆμον καταλυόντων· τὸ γὰρ μετὰ πολλῶν παραδειγμάτων διδάσκειν ῥᾳδίαν ὑμῖν τὴν κρίσιν καθίστησι. μετὰ γὰρ τοὺς τριάκοντα οἱ πατέρες ὑμῶν, πεπονθότες ὑπὸ τῶν πολιτῶν οἷα οὐδεὶς πώποτε τῶν Ἑλλήνων ἠξίωσε,1 καὶ μόλις εἰς τὴν ἑαυτῶν κατεληλυθότες, ἁπάσας τὰς ὁδοὺς τῶν ἀδικημάτων ἐνέφραξαν, πεπειραμένοι καὶ εἰδότες τὰς ἀρχὰς καὶ τὰς ἐφόδους τῶν τὸν δῆμον προδιδόντων. ἐψηφίσαντο γὰρ καὶ ὤμοσαν, ἐάν τις τυραννίδι ἐπιτιθῆται ἢ τὴν πόλιν προδιδῷ ἢ τὸν δῆμον καταλύῃ, τὸν αἰσθανόμενον καθαρὸν εἶναι ἀποκτείναντα, καὶ κρεῖττον ἔδοξεν αὐτοῖς τοὺς τὴν αἰτίαν ἔχοντας τεθνάναι μᾶλλον ἢ πειραθέντας μετὰ ἀληθείας αὐτοὺς δουλεύειν· ἀρχὴν γὰρ οὕτως ᾤοντο δεῖν ζῆν τοὺς πολίτας, ὥστε μηδ᾿ εἰς ὑποψίαν ἐλθεῖν μηδένα τούτων τῶν ἀδικημάτων.


Senators, Do Not Fail the Republic!

Cicero Philippic 3.14

“For this reason, Senators—by the gods almighty—take this opportunity offered to you and finally remember that you are the leaders of the most powerful council in the world. Give a sign to the Roman people that your response will not fail the Republic since they do insist that their own dedication will not fail you. You don’t need my warning!

No person is so foolish that they don’t understand that if we remain asleep at this moment we will have to live through a rule that is not only cruel and arrogant but ignoble and disgraceful too. You know this man’s arrogance, his friends, and his whole household. To serve shameful lusts, bullies, disgusting and irreverent thieves, those drunkards—well, that is the worst suffering married to the greatest dishonor.

But if—and the gods forbid this—if the final story of our Republic is being told, may we face it like noble gladiators when they fall with honor. Let us who were the leaders of the whole world and model for every people act so that we die with dignity rather than serve in disgrace. Nothing is more hateful than dishonor; nothing is more despicable than servitude. We were born into honor and freedom: let us keep them or die with dignity.

For too long we have hidden our thoughts. Now it is out in the open. Everyone is making what they think, what they want for each side clear. There are traitorous citizens—too many given the value of our Republic—but they are a mere few in comparison to those who know what’s right…”

14] Hanc igitur occasionem oblatam tenete, per deos immortalis, patres conscripti, et amplissimi orbis terrae consili principes vos esse aliquando recordamini! Signum date populo Romano consilium vestrum non deesse rei publicae, quoniam ille virtutem suam non defuturam esse profitetur. Nihil est quod moneam vos.

Nemo est tam stultus qui non intellegat, si indormierimus huic tempori, non modo crudelem superbamque dominationem nobis sed ignominiosam etiam et flagitiosam ferendam. Nostis insolentiam Antoni, nostis amicos, nostis totam domum. Libidinosis, petulantibus, impuris, impudicis, aleatoribus, ebriis servire, ea summa miseria est summo dedecore coniuncta.

Quod si iam—quod di omen avertant!—fatum extremum rei publicae venit, quod gladiatores nobiles faciunt, ut honeste decumbant, faciamus nos, principes orbis terrarum gentiumque omnium, ut cum dignitate potius cadamus quam cum ignominia serviamus. Nihil est detestabilius dedecore, nihil foedius servitute. Ad decus et ad libertatem nati sumus: aut haec teneamus aut cum dignitate moriamur.

Nimium diu teximus quid sentiremus; nunc iam apertum est. Omnes patefaciunt in utramque partem quid sentiant, quid velint. Sunt impii cives—pro caritate rei publicae nimium multi, sed contra multitudinem bene sentientium admodum pauci…

Oil painting on canvas, An Ideal Classical Landscape with Cicero and Friends, by Jacob More (Edinburgh 1740 ? Rome 1793), signed and dated: Rome, 1780.

Life After Insurrection

“This president is guilty of inciting insurrection. He has to pay a price for that.” – Nancy Pelosi

Is there life after political excommunication in the wake of a failed insurrection (particularly for a man who likes beauty pageants)?

Alcaeus 130B

. . . I’m a wretched man.
I’m living the lot of a rustic
But yearning to hear the assembly
Called, O Agesilaidas, and the council—

Privileges my father and my father’s father
Grew old having, even among countrymen
Who were wicked to one another,
And of which I’m now dispossessed.

I’ve fled to the hinterlands, like Onymakles.
And although I’m alone, a wolf-man,
I’ve made a home here after quitting the fight.
After all, isn’t it better to put an end to insurrection?

In the precinct of the blessed gods
I’ve made a home and tread the black earth.
In these gatherings I’ve found a place.
And here I’m keeping my feet out of trouble—

Here where the women of Lesbos judged on beauty
Parade, their robes trailing,
And the divine sound of the women’s holy ululations
rings out from every quarter—
a yearly affair.

Ἀγνοις . . σβιότοις . . ις ὀ τάλαις ἔγω
ζώω μοι̑ραν ἔχων ἀγροϊωτίκαν
ἰμέρρων ἀγόρας ἄκουσαι
καρυ[ζο]μένας ὠ̑ (᾿Α)γεσιλαΐδα

καὶ β[ό]λλας· τὰ πάτηρ καὶ πάτερος πάτηρ
κα<γ>γ[ε]γήρασ’ ἔχοντες πεδὰ τωνδέων
τὼν [ἀ]λλαλοκάκων πολίταν
ἔγ[ω ἀ]πὺ τούτων ἀπελήλαμαι

φεύγων ἐσχατίαισ’, ὠς δ᾿ Ὀνυμακλέης
ἔνθα[δ’] οἰ̑ος ἐοίκησα λυκαιχμίαις
[φεύγων t]ον [π]όλεμον· στάσιν γὰρ
πρὸς κρ . [. . . . ] . οὐκ †ἄμεινον† ὀννέλην·

. ] . [ . . . ] . [. . ] . μακάρων ἐς τέμ[ε]νος θέων
ἐοι[κησα] με[λ]αίνας ἐπίβαις χθόνος
χλι . [. ] . [ . ] . [.]ν συνόδοισί μ’ αὔταις
οἴκημι κ[ά]κων ἔκτος ἔχων πόδας,

ὄππαι Λ[εσβί]αδες κριννόμεναι φύαν
πώλεντ’ ἐλκεσίπεπλοι, περὶ δὲ βρέμει
ἄχω θεσπεσία γυναίκων
ἴρα[ς ὀ]λολύγας ἐνιαυσίας

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Ancestral Law For Insurrection

Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians 17

“These are the ancestral laws of the Athenians: if anyone commits insurrection to act as a tyrant or helps someone else conduct a tyranny, they and their family will be disenfranchised.”

θέσμια τάδε Ἀθηναίων καὶ πάτρια, ἐάν τινες τυραννεῖν ἐπανιστῶνται [ἐπὶ τυραννίδι] ἢ συγκαθιστῇ τὴν τυραννίδα ἄτιμον εἶναι αὐτὸν καὶ γένος

Strabo, Geography  15.12

‘When there is insurrection, as frequently happens even in our time, sometimes it turns out some ways, other times it turns out differently and not the same for everyone. A disturbance is advantageous for some people but it disappoints the expectations of others.”

στασιαζόντων δέ, ὅπερ συμβαίνει πολλάκις, καὶ δὴ καὶ ἐφ᾿ ἡμῶν, ἄλλοτ᾿ ἄλλως συμβαίνει καὶ οὐ τὰ αὐτὰ πᾶσι· τοῖς μὲν γὰρ συνήνεγκεν ἡ ταραχή, τοῖς δὲ παρὰ γνώμην ἀπήντησεν.

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