Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Bread and Circuses

PhotobucketTote bags from Maiden

Some men are hurled headlong by over-great power and the envy to which it exposes them; they are wrecked by the long and illustrious roll of their honours: down come their statues, obedient to the rope; the axe hews in pieces their chariot wheels and the legs of the unoffending horses. And now the flames are hissing, and amid the roar of furnace and of bellows the head of the mighty Sejanus, the darling of the mob, is burning and crackling, and from that face, which was but lately second in the entire world, are being fashioned pipkins, pitchers, frying-pans and slop-pails! Up with the laurel-wreaths over your doors! Lead forth a grand chalked bull to the Capitol! Sejanus is being dragged along by a hook, as a show and joy to all! "What a lip the fellow had! What a face!"----"Believe me, I never liked the man!"----"But on what charge was he condemned? Who informed against him? What was the evidence, who the witnesses, who made good the case?"-----"Nothing of the sort; a great and wordy letter came from Capri."----"Good; I ask no more."

And what does the mob of Remus say? It follows fortune, as it always does, and rails against the condemned. That same rabble, if Nortia had smiled upon the Etruscan, if the aged Emperor had been struck down unawares, would in that very hour have conferred upon Sejanus the title of Augustus. Now that no one buys our votes, the public has long since cast off its cares; the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things: Bread and Circuses!

Juvenal

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Plays, farces, spectacles, gladiators, strange beasts, medals, pictures, and other such opiates, these were for ancient peoples the bait toward slavery, the price of their liberty, the instruments of tyranny. By these practices and enticements the ancient dictators so successfully lulled their subjects under the yoke, that the stupefied peoples, fascinated by the pastimes and vain pleasures flashed before their eyes, learned subservience as naively, but not so creditably, as little children learn to read by looking at bright picture books. Roman tyrants invented a further refinement. They often provided the city wards with feasts to cajole the rabble, always more readily tempted by the pleasure of eating than by anything else. The most intelligent and understanding amongst them would not have quit his soup bowl to recover the liberty of the Republic of Plato. Tyrants would distribute largess, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, 'Long live the King!' The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them.

Etienne de La Bo├ętie, 1548 

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