September 17, 2008

Fathers and Sons


Tyrannies for Livy were the regimes of families. When Tarquin was driven from Rome, he appealed to the Etruscan cities for aid on the basis of his children and their new found poverty (2.6), when the untrustworthy young rich Romans rebelled they rebelled to find a regime of friends instead of one of laws (2.2). Livy found that the early history of the republic demonstrated that this regime was different. The character in particular of two of the early consuls- Lucius Junius Brutus and Marcus Horatius Pulvillus demonstrated that Republican politicians had to separate their private and their public personas.

Let us take these two incidents in which Brutus and Horatius rejected claim of family for that of public duty. Both are interesting- one demonstrates the way that Republican politicians in Livy's view should act, the other the way that they have to act. In the first year of the Republic, as we have already seen, various young noblemen decided to plot against the new regime. They were swiftly found out. Amongst them were two of the sons of Brutus- they were both prosecuted, and then:

The Consuls [including Brutus] took their seats upon the tribunal; the lictors were ordered to carry out their sentence. The prisoners were stripped, flogged and beheaded. Throughout the pitiful scene all eyes were on the father's face where a father's anguish could be seen. (2.6)


Brutus's action in allowing his sons to fall victim to the law is one that we are supposed to admire- the actions of his sons, according to Livy, had 'betray[ed] the entire population of Rome, high and low alike, and all her Gods.' (2.6) Brutus performed the action and demonstrated through performing it that the law rose above his personal feelings, despite his anguish, he executed his sons.

Brutus's example was important in later history- in comparison the second incident I wish to narrate is almost forgotten. However it is almost as important in demonstrating the way that Livy wished to portray the change in Roman history. After Brutus died in battle (which I will deal with elsewhere), Marcus Horatius Pulvillus was appointed consul. Horatius was consul with Publius Valerius. When the two consuls first met, they drew lots as to which would conduct the continuing war against the Tarquins and which would dedicate the temple of Jupiter- Livy leaves us in no doubt that the more prestigous service was the latter. Valerius's family went and told Horatius that his son was dying, Horatius though preferred to continue consecrating the temple- rather than go to seek his son. Public duties came first in Roman republicanism- not merely in terms of ideology but in terms of politics too. The only use for private emotion was an attempt to deceive a consul into losing a prestigous post.

Both of these instances though demonstrate that peculiar Roman quality of stoicism in a particular context- that of family. I think what they really are about is the idea that the state for public officials comes first. In this sense Livy is endorsing an idea which would acheive its full expression centuries later in the work of Machiavelli that the moral world of the statesman and the moral world of the citizen are very different. The priorities of the statesmen are to support the law and carry out his duties- that of the citizen are to enact his private duties. What the case of Brutus demonstrates is that Livy thinks that the first state is morally preferable, what he demonstrates in the case of Horatius is that the magistrate is politically advantaged by adopting the first stance too. In this sense tyranny brings together the private and the public- a tyrant is a man who can afford private passion- whereas a republican has to put the state first whilst he is acting in a civic fashion. This argument is one that will reappear through Livy's history- and if I have not captured it well here- there will be plenty of occasions when we return to it in this commentary.

4 comments:

Crushed said...

I often come back to this very point in debates on morals.

Because, yes I DO think there is something eminently noble about that ideal, yes.

I think it is a sign of how corrup are sense of sacrfice has become in our modern society.

It is the triumph of objective morality over subjective sentiment.

I guess I see the sort of ethics showed by Brutus as being kind of the mindset of the Nietzchean Overman.

I suppose that poses the question, is preparedness to sacrifice even those you love for a higher good the truest sign of virtue, as the Romans thought it was.

I think the answer is yes.

Gracchi said...

An interesting perspective Crushed- I can see your point- I'm not sure that I wouldn't like to distinguish between on the one hand the morality needed to govern the state and on the other the morality from an objective principle- Smith's impartial spectator or Kant's leglislator- I wonder whether those two concepts are distinct.

The problem comes I think when you consider whether the good of the state is a higher good in every circumstance- I'm not sure it is always. Where it is important I think that is because the public interest actually preserves a private interest- say for example in 1940 revealing a Nazi spy preserves the freedom for others to live in peace. Personally I think the state is instrumental to private ends- rather than being an end in itself.

That's an instant response- thanks for an interesting comment.

Laban said...

From Macaulay's "Horatius" :

For Romans in Rome's quarrel
Spared neither land nor gold,
Nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life,
In the brave days of old.


Then none was for a party;
Then all were for the state;
Then the great man helped the poor,
And the poor man loved the great:
Then lands were fairly portioned;
Then spoils were fairly sold:
The Romans were like brothers
In the brave days of old.


Now Roman is to Roman
More hateful than a foe,
And the Tribunes beard the high,
And the Fathers grind the low.
As we wax hot in faction,
In battle we wax cold:
Wherefore men fight not as they fought
In the brave days of old.

Gracchi said...

Great poem which I mean to work on later.