Roman anarchies

October 11 2012

… or the calamity of the bees

[…] the recurrent “Time of Troubles” through which the Hellenic World passed between the death of Marcus in A.D. 180 and the accession of Diocletian in A.D. 284. [Footnote: The cause of this terrible relapse into anarchy was analysed long beforehand, with a prophetic insight, by the Stoic sage and Roman statesman Seneca (vivebat circa 5 B.C.-A.D. 65) in a passage of his De Clementia (Book I, chap. 4, §§ 1-2) in which the author gives his view of the social function of a prince.

“He is the bond that holds the Commonwealth together; he is the breath of life that is breathed by subjects, in their thousands, who in themselves would be nothing but a burden and a prey if they were left to their own devices through the removal of a presence which is the soul of the Empire.

Their king is safe? One mind informs them all;
Lost? They break troth straightway.

“If this calamity [which Virgil (Georgics, IV, ll. 212-13) imagines as overtaking the bees] [bracket in original] were to overtake us, it would be the destruction of the Pax Romana and the ruin of a great people. This people will be safe from that particular danger for just so long as it has the sense to put up with the curb; but, if ever it snaps the reins – or refuses to allow itself to be bridled again if the bridle has been accidentally shaken off – then the texture of this mighty empire will be rent, and its present unity will fly apart into a hundred shreds. Rome will cease to bear rule at the moment at which she ceases to render obedience.”

A foretaste of the fulfilment of this prophecy that had been made in a treatise addressed to the Emperor Nero was inflicted upon the Hellenic World in A.D. 69 as an immediate consequence of Nero’s tyranny; but this touch of calamity acted as a stimulus. “The Year of the Four Emperors” was followed by the principate of Vespasian; and, when the Neronian reign of terror was reinaugurated by the son of an emperor who had earned the title of “Saviour and Benefactor of All Men”, this tyranny of Domitian in its turn was followed by the philanthropic régime of a series of philosopher-emperors who succeeded one another without a break from Nerva to Marcus. It was only after the death of Marcus that the new “Time of Troubles” set in; and even then the tyranny of Commodus was followed by the principate of Septimius Severus, who repeated Vespasian’s work – albeit with a rougher hand. It was not till after the death of Alexander Severus that the storm broke with an uncontrollable and shattering violence.]

Translations of Seneca and Virgil presumably by Toynbee.

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939

One Response to “Roman anarchies”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    The translation of Virgil sounds Gilbert Murrayish. Are any Victorian translations from Greek or Latin still read for pleasure?

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