A historian has suggested that the present is comparable to the 1920s, when Europe having just endured the crisis of W.W. I, was anticipating but not sure of the world that would develop.
We ran across a passage by Marcus Aurelius, which cried for a near literal translation, preserving its classical clarity. This led to other sources which led to the people who helped create the modern world. In the following, we would like to share with you some of their writings (translated with our literal high school Latin).
Reading ahead, we don’t have much doubt about a better future.
i. Aesop’s Fables are amusing parables from 5th century BC Greece that carry some of our common heritage. A philosopher once wrote about Aesop, “…like those who dine well off the plainest dishes, he made use of humble incidents to teach great truths…”
The Hawk and the Doves
Out of fear of the kites (smaller hawks), the doves asked the hawk to defend them. He agreed. But received into the dove cote, in one day he ate (to be literal) (his way to) a major disaster, more than the kite could eat in a long time. The story teaches 1, a bad patron (leader) is to be avoided.
1. Fabula docet…wonderfully direct.
ii. Greco-Roman civilization was a universal civilization. The idea of universality in nature and society came from the Greeks (that is the Athenians), and universality in fact came from the Romans (mainly around the Mediterranean). Both were trading societies.
The goddess Juno was the protector of the Roman state. Her symbol was the peacock.
(from Aesop’s Fables)
“The peacock complained bitterly in the home of Juno, her mistress, that the sweet voice of a nightingale…had been denied her. To whom Juno said, “And rightfully so, not in fact was it right that all good things be bestowed on a single creature.”
More than two thousand years ago, a Roman orator and future statesman named Marcus Tullius Cicero won his first significant case and thus his reputation. In Pro Roscio he argued from still utilized legal principles: 1
The Case - Roscius of Ameria was accused of the heinous crime
of murdering his father, after protesting the taking of
his family’s property.
In the superheated political climate of 1st century B.C. Rome, he won his case by arguing: 2
Cui bono – “L. Cassius, whom the Roman people trusted as the truest and wisest
judge, repeatedly asked in trials one question only, ‘cui bono – to
whom the benefit?’”
The Rule of Law – “Wise men with such authority and power by which you are all
gifted, by which affairs (as this) the Republic is troubled,
it is appropriate…them to cure.” 3
Roman law influenced English Common Law and formed the basis of the Continent’s legal system. This law is at the base of many of the modern world’s national and international institutions.
1. Amazing to say.
2. Along with evidence and convincing rhetoric that provided the context.
3. It is said that to really understand a culture, you must understand its literature. Cicero is quite a challenge because he was Rome’s most famous orator. His phrases unfold over time. The actual word order is, “them…to cure it is appropriate.” Which tells the judges, “do this, acquit my client,” out of your concern for the welfare of the Roman people and also in the name of logic.
iv. The Oxen
In the same meadow were grazing three oxen in maximum concord, and thus they were safe from every assault by wild beasts. But dissension appeared, one by one they were attacked by wild beasts and torn to pieces. 1 The story teaches how good concord 2 is.
1. Classical imagery can be vivid.
2. The issue is trust. How concord is achieved depends whether people are on the same sentence, the same page (as in liberal societies) or on no page.
v. Cicero in Cilicia
Cicero earned the reputation of being an honest and just administrator. Towards the end of 51 B.C., after having been chosen proconsul (governor) of the eastern Roman province of Cilicia 1, by lot, he and his party reluctantly made their way there. Cicero noted the state of the province that had been misgoverned by his rapacious predecessor.
“Let me tell you, we came upon a province in ruin and complete devastation…we hear nothing other than not being able to pay the head tax, of towns groaning, wailing…” 2
We cite this for a reason. Due to the trouble of directly administering far-off lands, popularly elected governments do not acquire empires out of simple aggrandizement. Rome, Britain and the U.S. imposed their orders on the world for reasons of their own security or trade.
According to a University of Birmingham thesis (Wilkinson, 1959), “During the long and often hesitant growth of Roman power under the Republic, the Senate (the only continuing body of the government) was loath to accept responsibility for administering overseas territories and preferred, whenever possible, to spread Roman influence and check enemy forces by alliance and treaty rather than by occupation.”
The British government acquired the increasingly maladministered East India Company, which “took an interest in territorial power and revenue only as a last-ditch effort to protect its trading activities.” 3
The U.S. imposed its rule-based international order to protect itself after the two world wars. The logical question that the architects of this order asked during W.W. II was, “Then what?”
Despite some present imbalances that need to be corrected, since the 1840s, the liberal order has “(reduced) the share of people living below the threshold of extreme poverty…from about 80% to 8%.” 4 In the modern world, countries get influence by engaging other people and addressing them where they are. The political scientist Francis Fukuyama (1992) wrote, “…(mutual) ‘recognition’ allows us to recover a totally non-materialistic historical (process) that is much richer in its understanding of human motivation than the Marxist version…” 5 The alternative to this liberal version of history is now…chaos – something to consider.
1. Now modern Turkey. The Romans annexed Cilicia in 64 B.C. out of fear of the Parthian (Iranian) tribes.
2. Lacking administrative officials, the Romans raised revenues by using tax farmers, whom we assume used rather direct methods, sometimes to bad ends.
3. Wikipedia, “John Robert Seeley,” accessed 9/18/18.
4. The Economist, 9/15/18 editorial.
5. Yes, we’re quoting, “The End of History and the Last Man,” which is now thought to be too optimistic.