Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Occupy Roma

If you're already depressed about the current state of the world, it may not be a great idea to read Livy's history of Rome.

From the Loeb Classical Library edition of Book II, translated by B.O. Foster (paragraph breaks added):

But not only was war with the Volsci imminent; the citizens were at loggerheads among themselves, and internal dissension between the Fathers and the plebs had burst into a blaze of hatred, chiefly on account of those ["nexos"] who had been bound over to service for their debts. [Foster's note: "The word nexus was used (1) of one who had borrowed money by 'binding' himself to work out the debt as a virtual slave of his creditor, if unable to repay the money; (2) of one so 'bound' and actually serving."] These men complained loudly that while they were abroad fighting for liberty and dominion they had been enslaved and oppressed at home by fellow-citizens, and that the freedom of the plebians was made more secure in war than in peace, amongst enemies than amongst citizens. This bitter feeling, which was growing spontaneously, the notable calamity of one man fanned into a flame.

Old, and bearing the marks of all his misfortunes, the man rushed into the Forum. His dress was covered with filth, and the condition of his body was even worse, for he was pale and half dead with emaciation. Besides this, his straggling beard and hair had given a savage look to his countenance. He was recognized nevertheless, despite the hideousness of his appearance, and the word went round that he had commanded companies; yet other military honors were openly ascribed to him by the compassionate bystanders, and the man himself displayed the scars on his breast which bore testimony to his honorable service in various battles. When they had asked him the reason of his condition and his squalor, he replied, while the crowd gathered about him much as though it were an assembly, that during his service in the Sabine war not only had the enemy's depredations deprived him of his crops, but his cottage had been burnt, all his belongings plundered, and his flocks driven off. Then the taxes had been levied, in an untoward moment for him, and he had contracted debts. When these had been swelled by usury, they had first stripped him of his farm that had been his father's and his grandfather's, then of the remnants of his property, and finally like an infection they had attacked his person, and he had been carried off by his creditor, not to slavery, but to the prison and the torture-chamber. He then showed them his back, disfigured with the wales of recent scourging.

The sight of these things and the man's recital produced a mighty uproar. The disturbance was no longer confined to the Forum, but spread in all directions though the entire City. Those who had been bound over, whether in chains or not, broke out into the streets from every side, and implored the Quirites to protect them. At no point was there any lack of volunteers to join the rising; everywhere the crowds were streaming through the different streets and shouting as they hurried to the Forum. Great was the peril of those senators who happened to be in the Forum and fell in with the mob...

And then, as the Senate and the Consuls are trying desperately to assemble a quorum and figure out how to calm the mob, scouts arrive with word that the Volscian army is on the march toward Rome.

As usual the Eternal Analogy will probably confirm whatever you already believed: "watch out, privileged classes, because the people will only take so much of your crap," or "call me when your creditors are literally chaining and scourging you, ya pussies."

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