Kittie Howard

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Seneca and George Bush and Sarah Palin

On page 152 of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, one of Mary Ann Shaffer's characters states, "As Seneca says, 'Light griefs are loquacious, but the great are dumb.'" And this quote hit a responsive chord. (And you probably can guess Why.)

I remembered Seneca (also called Seneca the Younger) from an LSU lecture I didn't cut, but not much of the particulars, except that he was a Roman philosopher, one of the Stoics. So, thanks to Wikipedia, this is what I've bundled together:

Seneca, who lived from 4 BCE - AD 65, is thought by many to be the first great Western thinker, especially in regard to human relationships. As one of the Stoic Philosophers, he considered destructive emotions to be the result of errors in judgment...and the belief that it is virtuous to maintain a will that is in accord with nature. The Stoics presented their philosophy as a way of life, and they thought that the best indication of an individual's philosophy was not what a person said but how he behaved. (Wikipedia)

And, just as I was re-acquainting myself with the Stoics, I remembered Justinian I. ("Of course, Justinian!" I said to myself. "Where has my brain been?" Duh!) But back to Wikipedia for details: As the Eastern Roman Emperor in Constantinople (Istanbul), Justinian I or Justinian the Great (AD 483 - 565 AD) shut down all philosophy schools, including the Stoics, in 529 AD because he perceived their pagan character to be at odds with his Christian faith.

Now, without turning this simple blog into an historical outline (because much happened then), suffice it to say that Justinian I is considered a saint among Eastern Orthodox Christians, is commemorated by various Lutheran churches, is reviled by some as a 'cruel and incompetent ruler', and is respected by most for rewriting the Corpus Juris Civilis, the basis of civil law in modern states. (Wikipedia) Justinian's rule is also part of history's time line where the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire blur into one.

Justinian exercised the despot's self-righteousness to engage the Empire in two costly wars, in Carthage and the Kingdom of Italy, and build the very expensive Hagia Sophia Church.

Fun guy that he was, Justinian paid scant attention to the financial drain these wars cost, ignored the tactical error of splitting his troops, and didn't care that the construction of the costly Hagia Sophia Church drained coffers perilously low.

Because in the 540s the Bubonic Plague hit. And spread throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. People died in the thousands. The living stacked the dead on streets when cemeteries filled.

And because so many died, Justinian lost his tax base.

And because of this financial loss, the Empire he had somewhat succeeded in bringing together would decline. And a few wars would be lost to the marauding Arabs. And the church that would stand in glorious splendor for a couple of centuries, would become a mosque (Istanbul's Blue Mosque).

And Justinian's descendants wouldn't crawl out of this historical hole until the Ninth Century.

And the plague that hit would be known as the Plague of Justinian or Justinian's Plague.

And the reign of Justinian I would be known as a pivotal point in history.

I doubt that Bush thought about -- or knew about -- Justinian I when he invaded Iraq. I doubt that Sarah Palin and others in that self-absorbed and self-righteous circle realize that their verbal bites spread a plague that can pull the United States down.

Because these dysfunctional political hacks are a caricature of the loud loquaciousness Seneca warned against.

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