12 May 2008

Life of the Deified Augustus - Suetonius

In studying for my Roman history final (less than 24 hours from now) I reread Suetonius' account of Augustus, and fell in love with the man all over again. Here's why.

"Others criticize his words and actions, claiming that when the ships were lost in the storm he had cried out that he would conquer even against the will of Neptune and that the next time the circus games were held, he had Neptune's image removed from the festival procession."
Arrogance is sexy, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar or a fool. Also, Neptune never really got him back... Augustus 1, Gods 0.
"For he used to compare those who sought a minimal gain at no small risk to someone going fishing with a golden hook, when no catch could bring a profit equal to the loss if the hook were gone."
Translation of genius into simple words. Sounds like someone else I love.
"As for the city itself, which was not decked out in a manner fitting such a great empire... he so improved it that it was with justification that he boasted he had found it a city of brick and left it a city of marble."
Always had a soft spot for effective reformers arising from hopeless eras of suck.
"...he would rather endure some loss of revenue than that the honor of Roman citizenship be made commonplace."
oh-em-gee high citizenship theory. (Note: forward that memo to Caracalla.)
"He sought, too, to revive the ancient manner of dress and once, when he saw at a public meeting a crowd of people dressed in dark clothes, he grew angry and cried out: 'Behold the Romans, lords of the world, the toga'd race!'"
Policy enforcement through snark... I like.
"In sealing official documents, reports and letters, he first used a sphinx, then an image of Alexander the Great, and finally one of himself..."
I reiterate: arrogance is sexy, especially when merited. Subordination of Alexander the Great? May as well besmirch Charles Garland, or Alexander Nevsky, or someone equally influential and bad ass.
"He always shrank from the title 'Master' as an insult and a reproach."
Principate vs dominate, 101. Augustus shows 'em how it's done (forward memo to Diocletian).
"Yet he bore the deaths of his loved ones more readily than their disgrace."
Was ever there a better Roman? Like, really?
"Whenever anyone referred to [Agrippa] or one of the Julias he used to groan and even exclaim: 'Oh, that I had never married and died without children!' The only terms he used for them were his three sores or his three cancers."
No, no there wasn't.
"Not even his friends deny that he committed adultery, suggesting by way of excuse that his motive was not lust but policy, as he sought to find out the plans of his opponents more easily through each man's wife."
Once again, Augustus pioneers a timeless and effective political tactic.
"Mark Antony objected... that he had in front of her husband led the wife of a man of consular rank from the dining-room off into his bedroom, later returning her to the party with burning ears and disheveled hair..."
Balls and pimpery.
"He cultivated an elegant and restrained manner of speaking which avoided the vanity of an artificial style of arrangement, as well as the 'rank odor', as he termed it, 'of far-fetched vocabulary'..."
Crap. Two of my heroes come in conflict.
"When he first began to speak, he ordered some frogs to be silent who happened to be croaking in his grandfather's villa and they say that from that time no frog croaked there."
I'd just like to say here that I love cultures of mythology and am totally okay with attributing ridiculous, implausible stories to those excessively admired and reviled. Respek, yo.

25 April 2008

The Legendary Origins and Character of the Huns - Jordanes

"We learn from old traditions that their origin was as follows: Filimer, king of the Goths... found among his people certain witches, whom he called in his native tongue Haliurunnae. Suspecting these women, he expelled them from the midst of his race and compelled them to wander in solitary exile afar from his army."
The best English definition of "haliurunnae" is along the lines of "crazy bitches", "ugly bitches", or "really, really disliked bitches".
"There the unclean spirits, who beheld them as they wandered through the wilderness, bestowed their embraces upon them and begat the savage race, which dwelt at first in the swamps, a stunted, foul and puny tribe..."
I might go protest the ignored problem of acquaintance-embrace bestowal with the Women's Center next week.
"For by the terror of their features they inspired great fear in those whom perhaps they did not really surpass in war."
The John Brown theory of battle.
"They made their foes flee in horror because their swarthy aspect was fearful, and they had, if I may call it so, a sort of shapeless lump, not a head, with pin-holes rather than eyes."
Visual aid.
"...they cut the cheeks of the male [infants] with a sword, so that before they receive the nourishment of milk they must learn to endure wounds. Hence they grow old beardless and their young men are without comeliness, because a face furrowed by the sword spoils by its scars the natural beauty of a beard."
Because the problem with slicing open the faces of babies is that it renders them unable to grow facial hair. This is the kind of historian I want to be when I grow up.

21 April 2008

Unit 13, Live from Moscow

More tales of woe from my Russian textbook:

"Сержант Петров всю жизнь мечтал стать поэтом, но он стал милиционером."
Sergeant Petrov has dreamed his whole life of becoming a poet, but he became a policeman. From an exercise where we have to practice expressing regret and sympathy: Мне жалко Сержанта Петрова - I feel sorry for Sergeant Petrov.
"It's a shame that Dennis's girlfriend is coming to Moscow."
From a translation exercise.
"It's a shame that Misha became a businessman. He was a good veterinarian."
From the same translation exercise. Insight into Russian priorities... and possible issues with the Russian economy.
"У Володиных нет времени погулять с Брауном."
The Volodins don't have time to walk Brown [their dog]. Team animal neglect, go!
"Он очень любит себя."
He is very fond of himself.

17 April 2008

Summer Reading List

The semester draws ever nearer to its end, and I look more and more fondly towards the summer, when I'll have time (y'know, not counting my forty-hour-workweek) when I'll be able to do some serious reading. Here's what I have so far- let me know if you have any suggestions.

Anton Chekhov Short Stories

Boris Chicherin Liberty, Equality, & The Market

Mikhail Bakunin The Basic Bakunin: Writings 1869-1871

Vissarion Belinsky Selected Philosophical Works

Aleksandr Blok Selected Poems

Mikhail Bulgakov The Master and the Margarita

Ivan Bunin The Dark Avenue

Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Brothers Karamazov*
Crime and Punishment
Notes from Underground

Orlando Figes Natasha's Dance

Nikolai Gogol
The Overcoat
Dead Souls

Maxim Gorky Children of the Sun

Thomas Hardy Jude the Obscure*

Alexander Herzen My Past and Thoughts

Aleksey Khomyakov Whatever I can find!

Ivan Kireevsky Whatever I can find!

Osip Mandelstam The Noise of Time: Selected Prose

Vladimir Mayakovsky The Bedbug and Selected Poetry

Vladimir Nabokov Lolita

Boris Pasternak Dr. Zhivago

Richard Pipes
Russian Conservatism and Its Critics
Karamzin's Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia: A Translation and Analysis

Andrey Platonov The Foundation Pit

Aleksandr Radishchev Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow

Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin
The History of a Town
The Golovylov Family

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Leo Tolstoy War and Peace

*works I plan to reread

14 April 2008

Reluctant Acceptance by Julian of Title of Augustus - Ammianus Marcellinus

"To confer further honor on [the soldiers] at their departure on so long a journey [Julian] invited their leading men to dinner... After this liberal entertainment two sad thoughts oppressed them as they went away; through the unkindness of fortune they were losing not only their native land but a beneficent ruler. With these sorrowful feelings they returned to their quarters."
Summary: These soldiers left their homes to fight for Julian on the express condition that they never have to go beyond the Alps. Emperor Constantius, however, doesn't give a shit, and orders them to be sent there anyway. Julian throws them a going away party to soften the blow.
"But at nightfall they broke out into open revolt; they gave way to the feelings roused in each of them to a different degree by this unexpected event, took up arms, and rushed to the palace with a tremendous uproar."
Oh snap. This must be where they kill Julian.
"They surrounded it so that no one could escape, and saluted Julian as Augustus with terrifying shouts, urgently demanding that he come out to them."
Yeah, kill that oppressive bastard!... Or, uh, hail him as Augustus and make him Emperor. Always a good option.
"Julian, however, resisted one and all firmly and resolutely. At one moment he showed displeasure, at the next he stretched out his arms in passionate entreaty, begging them not to spoil so many happy victories by behaving dishonourably or to let rashness and bad judgment give rise to civil war."
You're Caesar of Rome, a giant angry riot of soldiers storms your palace in the middle of the night, and you talk to them like a kindergarten teacher begging toddlers to stop throwing the graham crackers. You're a better man than I, dear Julian.
"In spite of this appeal the shouting continued on all sides, and finding it impossible to resist the uniform pressure of this loud uproar, with which some abuse was mingled, the Caesar was obliged to give way. He was placed on an infantry shield, raised aloft, and proclaimed Augustus without a dissentient voice."
Just so we're clear- Julian is now the highest ranking man in the entirety of the Roman Empire... and got there because he was completely at the mercy of an impassioned mob. Leadership as slavery indeed.
"Then he was told to produce a diadem, and when he said that he had never had one they asked for a necklace or a head ornament of his wife's. When he protested that to wear a female trinket would be an inauspicious beginning, they searched about for a horse-trapping to crown him with..."
"This too he rejected as unbecoming, and finally a man called Maurus... took off his standard-bearer's collar and boldly placed it on Julian's head. Julian, finding that there was no way out and perceiving that continued resistance would place him in instant danger, promised each man five gold pieces and a pound of silver."
Oh, come on, Julian, seriously? What happened to Romans being manly?

But wait, the soap opera continues:
"Terrified by the change which had occurred he withdrew into seclusion, where he remained until one of the decurions of the palace, an important official, hastened to the camp of the Petulantes and Celts shouting at the top of his voice that a shameful crime had been committed and that the man whom they had proclaimed Augustus on the previous day had been secretly put to death."
It's like an episode of I Love Lucy!
"At this news the troops... rushed in the disorderly way which is natural in emergency to occupy the palace...When they were asked what had led to this sudden foolish commotion there was a long silence... they would not disperse till they had been admitted to his council chamber and had seen him in all the splendour of his imperial robes."
Splendour. Right.

A Return

Sorry for the hiatus- more regular posting will resume shortly. In the meantime, here's some stuff that's been floating around in my brain:

“When enough people share a delusion, it loses its status as a psychosis and gets a religious tax exemption instead.” - Ronald de Sousa, Why Think? Evolution and the Rational Mind

I have always said that the reason why philosophers are so disliked on university campuses is that we are brighter than anyone else and have trouble concealing the fact." - Michael Ruse, Literary Review of Canada

"As a phenomenon, I am in his debt because it turns out that - like Shakespeare and Coca-Cola - he is a brand, with brand values we respond to." - Gyles Brandreth on Oscar Wilde in the Times Online

"Pop sociologists would have us believe that the distinction between spirituality and religion arose in American culture about the same time as the musical Hair. Actually, the concept of spirituality (individualistic, mystical, pluralist) as distinct from religion (institutional, creedal, orthodox) originated in the 1830s with the flowering of Emerson's distinctive variety of Romanticism." - Michael Robertson in The Chronicle Review

"Er aber ging hin in die Wüste eine Tagereise und kam hinein und setzte sich unter einen Wacholder und bat, daß seine Seele stürbe, und sprach: Es ist genug, so nimm nun, HERR, meine Seele; ich bin nicht besser denn meine Väter." - 1 Kings 19:4

09 March 2008

The Intelligentsia and the Revolution - Aleksandr Blok

While known mostly for his (admittedly brilliant) poetry, Aleksandr Blok was also a profound essayist. If you thought Hemingway captured the ennui and detachment of the Great War, just you wait 'n see.
"What is the war like? Bogs, bogs, and bogs, overgrown with grass or covered with snowdrifts; in the west, a dreary German searchlight- groping- night after night. On a sunny day a German Fokker appears; it doggedly flies along one and the same path, as if a path could be worn and befouled even in the sky. Little puffs of smoke spread out around it, white, gray, reddish (that's us shooting at it, hardly ever hitting; like the Germans- at us). The Fokker is flustered, falters, but tries to stay on its foul little path; sometimes it methodically drops a bomb. This means that the spot it aims at has been punctured on the map by dozens of German staff officers. The bomb falls, now on a graveyard, now on a herd of cattle, now on a herd of people, but more often, of course, into a bog; that's thousands of people's rubles in a bog."
Jeez. Someone's a Debbie Downer.
"Europe has gone insane. The flower of manhood, the flower of the intelligentsia, sits for years in a bog, sits with conscious determination (isn't that symbolic?) on a narrow strip a thousand versts long, which is called 'the front.'"
I think now's a good time to mention that the Russian word for God is Бог, pronounced "bog".
"What has a people or a man to live for who... thinks that being alive 'isn't too bad but not very pleasant either,' because 'everything goes its ordained way'- the way of evolution- and that people, generally speaking, are so shoddy and imperfect that the best they can expect, God willing, is to blunder through their life span somehow, knocking together societies and states, blocking themselves off from one another with little walls of rights and obligations, conventional laws, conventional relationships."
Blok's alternate title for this piece was "Why Tristyn Bloom Should End Her Sorry Existence."
"Could even a grain of the truly precious be lost? We have loved too little if we fear for the things we love. ... A palace that is being destroyed is no palace."
Circular logic, or inspiring call to revolution? Early 20th century Russians can't tell the difference.
"The ground under the bourgeois' feet is as concrete as the muck under the hog's: family, money, position, medal, rank, God on his ikon, the Tsar on his throne. ... The intelligent has always boasted that he never had that kind of ground to stand on. ... Skill, knowledge, methods, habits, talents are nomadic, winged possessions. We are homeless, familyless, rankless, poor- what have we to lose?"
What have you to fight for?
"Proud politicking is a great sin. The longer the intelligentsia remain aloof and sarcastic, the more terror and bloodshed there will be. Dreadful and dangerous is that elastic, dry, unsavory "adogmatic dogmatics" seasoned with patronizing soulfulness. Behind the soulfulness is blood. The soul attracts blood. Only the spirit can combat horror. Why bar with soulfulness the way to spirituality? The good is hard as it is."
I have a feeling that if I wrote a script to randomly generate early Russian revolutionary tracts, the result would come out something like this.

06 March 2008

Unit 11, Live from Moscow

Been studying for my Russian exam (which is tomorrow); ignoring the damning specter of my neurolinguistics exam (six hours from now). Also think I had a Roman history writing assignment due yesterday... When Yale tells you they don't make admissions mistakes, they're wrong.

All taken exactly from my Russian textbook:
"Можно мне курить здесь?"
May I smoke here?
"В этой комнате нельзя мне работать!"
In this room, it is impossible for me to work!
"Разве это жизнь?"
Is this really a life?

Good question.

04 March 2008

Mother of Men - Brian Hooker

Lots on my mind lately... went thumbing through my copy of Songs of Yale, bequeathed to me by that other highly traditional group of which I'm a member (147 years and counting).

We don't sing this song anymore... symptom of a much larger problem, methinks.

"Mother of Men, grown strong in giving
Honor to them thy lights have led;
Rich in the toil of thousands living,
Proud of the deeds of thousands dead.

We who have felt thy pow'r and known thee,
We in whose work thy gifts avail,
High in our hearts, enshrined, enthrone thee,
Mother of Men, Old Yale.

Spirit of Youth, alive, unchanging,
Under whose feet the years are cast,
Heir to an ageless empire, ranging
Over the future and the past;

Thee, whom our fathers loved before us,
Thee, whom our sons unborn shall hail,
Praise we today in sturdy chorus,
Mother of Men, Old Yale."

28 February 2008

The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas

"For these too will one day become ancient and needful for the ages to come, even though in our own day they may enjoy less prestige because of the prior claim of antiquity."
This was written around AD 203, roughly.
"Thus no one of weak or superficial faith may think that supernatural grace was present only among men of ancient times, either in the grace of martyrdom or of visions, for God always achieves what he promises, as a witness to the non-believer and a blessing to the faithful."
Trads beware.
"She had been pregnant when she was arrested, and was now in her eighth month. As the day of the spectacle drew near she was very distressed that her martyrdom would be postponed because of her pregnancy; for it is against the law for women with child to be executed. ... And so, two days before the contest, they [the Christians in prison with her] poured forth a prayer to the Lord in one torrent of common grief. And immediately after their prayer the birth pains came upon her. ... And she gave birth to a girl."
Is that the right attitude to have towards martyrdom? Or motherhood? Or anything?
"For whenever they would discuss among themselves their desire for martyrdom, Saturninus indeed insisted that he wanted to be exposed to all the different beasts, that his crown might be all the more glorious."
Can a Catholic please explain this to me? This seems fundamentally wrong, or at least, like... impious.
"For the young women, however, the Devil had prepared a mad heifer. This was an unusual animal, but it was chosen that their sex might be matched with that of the beast. So they were stripped naked, placed in nets and thus brought out into the arena. Even the crowd was horrified when they saw that one was a delicate young girl and teh other was a woman fresh from childbirth with the milk still dripping from her breasts. And so they were brought back again and dressed in unbelted tunics."
What were they thinking, sending them to face the beast without their tunics! Gosh, how uncultured.
"First the heifer tossed Perpetua and she fell on her back. Then sitting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to fasten her untidy hair: for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph."
This is starting to sound like something out of a Mel Brooks movie.

26 February 2008

Life of Our Blessed Father Theodosius

I love all of the Russian Saints' Lives, but this one is particularly dear to me. I'm going to make a pilgrimage to the Monastery of the Caves (Киево-Печерская лавра) one day.
"He did not draw near to the children playing, as is the custom of youth, but disdained their games. His clothing was poor and patched. For this reason his parents many times tried to force him to dress in clean clothing and to go out and play with the children; but he did not obey them in this, but willed even more to be like one of the poor."
oh-em-gee he recognizes that the judgment of his parents is fallible no waiiii.
"Thenceforth he began to be more persevering in his works, as when he would go away with the serfs to the country and act with all manner of humility. But his mother would hinder him, not wishing him to do such things..."
Wait what? His mother doesn't have his best interest in mind?
"She would often get angry at him and beat him; for she was strong and solid in body as a man, and, indeed, if someone could not see her but only hear her conversing, he would begin to think she was a man."
Slavic women for the win.
"Having gotten up during the night and not letting anyone know, secretly went out of the house, not taking with him anything except the clothing he was wearing, and even that was poor. And in that manner he went away behind the pilgrims. ... After three days his mother, having found out... rode hurriedly a long way, and, catching up with them, took Theodosius. And from rage and anger his mother grasped him by the hair and threw him upon the ground and kicked him with her feet. And, having severely reproached the pilgrims, she returned home leading her son tied like a villain."
A few months prior to this his father died. See what happens in the absence of a strong father figure?
"Being gripped by such great anger, even when they had arrived home, she beat him until she could no longer. And after this she led him to a room, tied him up, and locked the door as she left. The divine youth, however, accepted all these things with joy, and praying to God, gave thanks."
He's thirteen here, by the way.
"She... began with entreaty to persuade him not to run away from her, for she loved him very much more than her other children and for this reason could not bear living without him. And when he promised that he would not leave her, she removed the irons from his legs."
Love. Right.
"Having again seen him baking sacramental wafers and becoming blackened from the fire in the oven, she deplored it greatly. And from that time she began again to scold him, sometimes with caresses, sometimes with terror, and at other times beating him to make him forsake such work."
When you're beating your eldest son for baking the fucking Eucharist, the problem is probably with you.
"The blessed Theodosius, having gone to one of the smithies, ordered him to forge an iron chain; and taking it, he girded his loins with it and went about thus. And although the iron was tight and gnawed into his body, he remained as though his body were suffering no injury from it. ... And so while he was dressing himself in the clean garment, being simple in mind and not minding her presence, she was carefully watching, wishing to see more clearly; and lo, she saw on his undergarment blood, which came from the gnawing of the iron. Having become excited with anger against him and having risen with rage and torn apart the undergarment on him, beating him, she removed the iron from his loins."
Is it manly to take this many beatings from your mother?
"Then the elder went out and said to her: 'I have pleaded with him much, but he does not deign to come out to thee.' Thenceforth she began not to speak to the elder with humility, but cried out with anger: 'So! Thou art the monk who has taken my son and hidden him in a cave and thou dost not want to show him to me. Bring my son out to me, monk, so that I may see him; for if I do not see him, I cannot bear to remain alive. ... For lo, I will kill myself before the doors of this cave if thou dost not show him to me.'"
Shut the fuck uuup. Why didn't you let her, Antonius? Why?
"But the blessed one said to her: 'Then if thou wishest to see me every day, come to this city, and having entered one of the nunneries, take the veil. ... If thou dost not do this, then I tell thee the truth: from this time forth thou wilt not see my face.'"
Finally, Theo grows a pair!
"The two younger princes started fighting with their elder brother, the religious Iziaslav, and forced him out of the capital city of Kiev. When the two brothers entered Kiev they sent for venerable Abbot Theodosius... Abbot Theodosius, who knew of the injustice accorded to Iziaslav, and being inspired by the Holy Ghost, gave an answer according to the Holy Spirit. 'I shall not go to the feast of Jezebel and taste the fruit of murder covered with blood.'"
So the Russians wrote a Bildungsroman eight centuries before the Germans figured it out... of course, in the Russian 11th century version, the protagonist attains badassery instead of self-fulfillment. I think it's pretty clear which is the superior genre (not that this is fiction).

24 February 2008

The Visigothic Code (Books I - III)

"II. What the Law Is.

The law is the rival of divinity; the oracle of religion; the source of instruction; the artificer of right; the guardian and promoter of good morals; the rudder of the state; the messenger of justice; the mistress of life; the soul of the body politic (Book I, Title II)."
7th century legislation kicks modern legislation's sorry ass.
"III. It is Permitted to No One to be Ignorant of the Law.

All true science declares that ignorance should be detested. For while it has been written, "he need not understand who desires to act with propriety," it is certain that he who does not wish to know, despises an upright life. Therefore, let no one think that he can do what is unlawful because he was ignorant of the provisions of the laws... for ignorance does not render him innocent, whom guilt has subjected to the penalties of the criminal (Book II, Title I)."

May God bless your barbarian soul, Flavius Recesvintus.
"V. How the Avarice of the King should be Restrained in the Beginning, and How Documents Issued in the Name of the King should be Drawn Up.

...we decree that no king shall, by any means, extort, or cause to be extorted, any documents whatever in acknowledgment of any debt, whereby any person can unjustly, and without his consent, be deprived of his property. And, if by the free will of any one the king should receive a gift, or should openly profit by any transaction, the character of the transaction or contribution should be clearly set forth in the document; by which means either the influence of the prince or the fraud of his accomplice may be readily detected (Book II, Title I)."
What's this? Clearly defined property rights in AD 652? Don't I feel embarrassed.
"VI. Concerning Those who Abandon the King, or the People, or their Country, or who Conduct Themselves with Arrogance.

...we have decreed by this law, which shall prevail through all ages, that whoever, from the time of King Chintilanus of sacred memory, until the second year of our reign, has deserted, or shall desert to the enemy... or even has wished, or shall wish, at any time, to act with criminal intent against the Gothic people; or shall conspire against his country; or, perchance, has attempted at any time to conspire against it, and has been, or shall be captured or detected in the commission of any of these offences... whoever shall be found guilty of all of these crimes, or of any one of them, shall undergo sentence of death; nor shall any leniency be shown him, under any condition, except that his life alone may be spared through the considerate pity of the prince. But this shall not be done until his eyes have been put out, so that he may not see the wrong in which he wickedly took delight, and may henceforth drag out a miserable existence in constant grief and pain (Book II, Title I)."
Someone get the man a copy of Strunk and White! (PS- I edited a lot of that out, too.)
"V. Women Advanced in Years shall not Marry Young Men.

The law of nature is framed in the direct hope of progeny when the nuptial contract is entered into with all due solemnity. For if a marriage takes place between persons who are incompetent, either through age or some personal defect, to properly perform their marital duties, how can their offspring be other than dwarfed or deformed? For that cannot be perfect whose origin is defective. ... For though men have received their name from the fact that they control women by their superior strength; some, in violation of the laws of nature, give the priority to women, when they unite females of advanced age with boys who are little more than children... Therefore, that an end may be put to practices whose results are unfavorable to future generations, we now decree, that, hereafter, women shall always marry men who are older than themselves, and a marriage under other circumstances shall not be valid... (Book III, Title I)."
Sounds like Flavius has been burned before...

(click to better see the lawless Visigothic invasion of enlightened Rome!)

"II. Where a Freeborn Woman Marries a Slave, or her own Freedman.

If a freeborn woman should commit adultery with her own slave, or freedman, or should marry him; as soon as this has been proved, she shall be put to death; and both adulterer and adulteress shall be publicly scourged before the judge and burned. (Book III, Title II)."
Seems reasonable.
"III. Where a Freeborn Woman Marries the Slave of Another, or a Freeborn Man the Female Slave of Another.

If any freeborn woman should marry, or commit adultery with the slave of another, even though he should belong to the king; as soon as this shall come to the knowledge of the judge, he shall order the parties to be separated immediately, that they may suffer the punishment they deserve, to wit: each one a hundred lashes. And if, after this, they should commit the offence a second time, the judge shall order them to be arrested and brought before him, and they shall each receive another hundred lashes. And if they should be guilty for the third time, they shall receive another hundred lashes... (Book III, Title II)."
The difference between her own slave and another's being?...
"I. Where a Freeman carries off a Freewoman by Force, he shall not be permitted to Marry her, if she was a Virgin.

If any freeman should carry off a virgin or widow by violence, and she should be rescued before she has lost her chastity, he who carried her off shall lose half of his property, which shall be given to her."
So attempted rape for the Visigoths was like parking in front of a fire hydrant for us... Those fines'll get ya!
"V. Where any one Carries away by Violence a Woman who was Betrothed to Another.

If any one should carry off a woman betrothed to another, we hereby decree that half of the property of the ravisher shall be given to the girl, and the other half to her betrothed."
I'm glad we call them rapists instead of ravishers- how cool does that sound? I'm a woman and even I'd want to be a ravisher.
"VI. Where a Ravisher is Killed.

If any ravisher should be killed, it shall not be considered criminal homicide, because the act was committed in the defense of chastity."

You Visigoths are just the best.

22 February 2008

The Annals of Tacitus

"In the meantime, Nero recollected that Epicharis was in custody on the information of Volusius Proculus; and, assuming that female flesh and blood must be unequal to the pain, he ordered her to be racked. But neither the lash nor fire, not yet the anger of the torturers, who redoubled their efforts rather than be braved by a woman, broke down her denial of the allegations."
Is a "you go girl" inappropriate here?
"Thus the first day of torment had been defied. On the next, as she was being dragged back in a chair to a repetition of the agony- her dislocated limbs were unable to support her- she fastened the breast-band (which she had stripped from her bosom) in a sort of noose to the canopy of the chair, thrust her neck into it, and, throwing the weight of her body into the effort, squeezed out such feeble breath as remained to her."

How unladylike.
"An emancipated slave and a woman, by shielding, under this dire coercion, men unconnected with her and all but unknown, she had set an example which shone the brighter at a time when persons freeborn and male, Roman knights and senators, untouched by the torture, were betraying each his nearest and dearest."

Well shit, if even Roman men were pussies, what hope is there of me finding a real man here at Yale?
"Paulina replied by assuring him that she too had made death her choice, and she demanded her part in the executioner's stroke. Seneca, not wishing to stand in the way of her glory, and influenced also by his affection, that he might not leave the woman who enjoyed his whole-hearted love exposed to outrage, now said: 'I had shown you the mitigations of life, you prefer the distinction of death: I shall not grudge your setting that example. May the courage of this brave ending be divided equally between us both, but may more of fame attend your own departure!'"
Now if that isn't just the most romantic thing I've ever heard. Take note, gentlemen.
"Before long, the evidence of the same group destroyed the tribune Subrius Flavius. At first he sought to make unlikeness of character a ground of defence: a man of the sword, like himself, would never have shared so desperate an enterprise with unarmed effeminates. Then, as he was pressed more closely, he embraced the glory of confession."
So, he disses his fellow conspirators, admits he hangs out with pansies, and still ends up dead. Well done, Flavius.
"Questioned by Nero as to the motives which had led him so far as to forget his military oath: 'I hated you,' he answered, 'and yet there was not a man in the army truer to you, as long as you deserved to be loved. I began to hate you when you turned into the murderer of your mother and wife- a chariot-driver, an actor, a fire-raiser.'"
Woah... who knew the Chairman of the Party of the Right was a Roman soldier in a past life?

21 February 2008

First Epistle of Prince Andrey Kurbsky

Written to the Tsar and Grand Prince of Moscow [Ivan IV] in consequence of his fierce prosecution:
"If you have understanding, may you understand this with your leprous conscience- such a conscience as cannot be found even amongst the godless peoples."
Just so everyone's clear, this is Ivan the Terrible this man's writing to. Ivan... the Terrible.
"But I cannot now recount the various misfortunes at your hands which have beset me owing to their multitude and since I am filled with the grief of my soul."
What a whiny little bitch.
"Think not that concerning these things I will remain silent before you; to my end I will incessantly cry out with tears against you to the everlasting Trinity, in which I believe; and I will call to my aid the Mother of the Lord of the Cherubims, my hope and protectress, Our Lady, the Mother of God, and all the Saints, the elect of God, and my master and forefather, Prince Fedor Rostislavich, whose corpse remains incorruptible, preserved throughout the ages, and emits from the grave sweet odours, sweeter than aromatics, and, by the grace of the Holy Ghost, pours forth miraculous healing streams, as you, O tsar, know well."
Ah, pious you may be, Prince Kurbsky, but can you overcome the sin wrought on your soul by the length of this one ungodly sentence?
"I have heard from sacred writings that a destroyer will be sent by the devil against the human race, a destroyer conceived in fornication, the Antichrist, hostile to God; and now I have seen a counsellor, known to all, who was born in adultery and who today whispers falsehoods in the ears of the tsar and sheds Christian blood like water and has already destroyed the strong and noble in Israel, as one in agreement with the Antichrist in deed."
Apparently not.
"...we who have been banished and driven out by you without justice from the land cry out day and night to God, however much in pride you may boast in this temporal, fleeting life, devising vessels of torture against the Christian race, yea, and abusing and trampling on the Angelic Form, with the approbation of your flatterers and comrades of the table, your quarrelsome boyars, the destroyers of your soul and body, who urge you on to aphrodisiacal deeds and, together with their children, act more viciously than the priests of Cronus."
Little known historical fact: emo dates back to the Riurikid dynasty.

20 February 2008

Life of Vitellius - Suetonius

"He was a man of integrity and industry but quite notorious for his love of a freedwoman. He would even mix her saliva with honey and rub this into his throat and jaws as a remedy, not secretly or occasionally but quite publicly and every day."
Lucius Vitellius, you old rascal you. No wonder your son was such a classy guy.
"His boyhood and earliest youth he spent on Capri among the favourites of Tiberius- ever after he was branded with the nickname 'tight-bum' and it was thought that it was his physical charms which were the basis and reason for his father's rise."
And in what way could a Roman son better honor his father? You go, Aulus Vitellius.
"And when he arrived at the fields in which the fighting had taken place and some of those with him expressed their horror at the stench of the corpses, he made so bold as to offer them reassurance with the following repulsive comment: 'The smell of a dead enemy is excellent- and even better in civil war.'"
Weren't you just made emperor like five minutes ago? Rejoicing at the sight of dead Romans might not be the best way to stabilize your support, amice.
"Above all, however, he was addicted to luxury and to cruelty, always having at least three feasts, sometimes four in a day- breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a drinking party- and easily finding capacity for it all through regular vomiting.
Clearly a cry for help! If only he'd been able to write in to PostSecret.
"As for the money lenders... he spared scarcely any... It was one of these whom he committed to punishment, just as the man had come to pay his respects, then called him back. Everyone was praising this act of mercy, when he gave orders that the execution should take place in his presence, for he 'wanted his eyes to have a feast'."
Bitch with a capital B.
"When he found that it was quite deserted and those who were with him were slipping away, he put on a belt full of gold coins and took refuge in the porter's lodge, having chained up a dog at the entrance and blocked the door with a bed and mattress."
At least he went out with dignity... oh, wait...

"...with his hands tied behind his back, a noose around his neck, and his clothes torn, he was dragged half-naked into the Forum and, amid gross abuse, physical and verbal, along the whole length of the Sacred Way, his head pulled back by the hair, in the way of condemned criminals, and even his chin held up with the point of a sword, so that he should let his face be seen and not lower it. Some people threw dung and filth, calling him an arsonist and a glutton. Some of the common people even criticized his bodily defects, for he was unusually tall, his face was generally very red because of his drinking, and his belly distended. ... Finally, he was butchered on the Gemonian steps with the smallest incisions and, when he was dead, he was dragged from there with a hook to the Tiber."
A noble end to a noble reign. By the way, this is a whole eight months after he was first declared Emperor.


As an undergraduate mostly-history-major, I read. A lot. Nearly half-way through my second semester here in New Haven, here's what I've learned:
  • Primary sources universally outstrip secondary sources in violence, sexuality, and general badassery
  • The older the source, the greater its frankness and vulgarity
  • Truth is stranger, funnier, raunchier, gloomier, fiercer, and deeper than fiction
With this blog, I strive to preach the gospel of these three simple truths.

Ad lucem et veritatem.