Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Brief clarification to the previous brief thoughts

I must beg your pardon (all two of you); I was not entirely clear as to what I had in mind with regard to Cato. It is not that it is better to weep for a lost loved one or friend than to weep for lost virtue or liberty; rather, it is that imbuing a place, whether Rome or...anywhere else (bigger than one's own homestead), with the status of "immutable symbol of virtue and liberty" is merely setting one's self up for severe disappointment.

I also confess that having read Cato: A Tragedy after reading Caesar's Commentaries (courtesy of Caesar's team of traveling PR agents, as someone admirably said on some forum), I found myself wanting in knowledge of the Roman Civil War (that one, at any rate). Cato himself appears to have been all that reputation makes him, but I must (subject to further research as time allows) question whether throwing in with Pompey was really the way to defend republican ideals. At first blush, I find little to choose between Caesar and Pompey. I can say that my younger son's second grade history curriculum, while not bad, does implicitly back Caesar against Pompey...which may be no more than the instinctive collectivist love of centralizing power that Hayek notes in discussing Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and George Bernard Shaw in The Road to Serfdom (about which I shall have somewhat to say, one of these days).

As additional evidence of the preceding, I'll note that the curriculum explicitly waxes rhapsodic about the centralizing tendency of Byzantium. I'm sure it was just that the right people weren't in charge, and not anything inherent to the centralizing tendency, that made it end as it did. :)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Brief thoughts on Addison's Cato

Just finished reading Cato on my Sony Reader, and for all that people -- including many lovers of liberty -- lionize this play, I think Addison got it exactly wrong in at least one spot. When the soldiers bring the broken body of Cato's son Marcus before Cato in Act IV, relating Marcus's heroic last battle (including the slaying of the traitor Syphax), he said only. "I'm satisfied."

Contrast this with David's "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee , O Absalom, my son, my son!"

The argument given by Addison is that Cato's (and by extension, everyone else's) tears were better saved for Rome:
Cato. Alas, my friends,
Why mourn you thus? let not a private loss
Afflict your hearts. 'Tis Rome requires our tears,
The mistress of the world, the seat of empire,
The nurse of heroes, the delight of gods,
That humbled the proud tyrants of the earth,
And set the nations free; Rome is no more.
Oh, liberty! Oh, virtue! Oh, my country!
Weep less for things, I say, than for people. For even where things -- places, countries -- are held to be the embodiment of high ideals, they do so at best imperfectly, and there is no promise they will not cease to embody those ideas altogether. One ought save one's tears for people worthy of them.

David had less cause to weep for Absalom than Cato for Marcus, yet wept the more...and I think better of him for it.