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Because I know he’s interested in this sort of thing.

Livy on Alexander the Great:

However impressive we find the great reputation of this man, the fact remains that it is the great reputation of a single individual built up from the successes of little more than ten years, and those who sing its praises on the grounds that the Romans have been defeated in many battles, even if they have never lost a war, whereas Alexander’s good fortune never failed him in a single battle, do not understand that they are comparing one man’s achievements – and those of a young man too – with the exploits of a nation now in its eighth century of warfare.  Should it be surprising, then, if on one side there have been more vicissitudes of fortune over so long a period of time than in the space of thirteen years?  Ought you not to compare men with a man, generals with a single general, their fortunes with his?  How many Roman generals could I name whose fortunes in battle never turned against them?  In the annals and lists of magistrates you can run through pages of consuls and dictators whose fine qualities and fortune never gave the people of Rome a single day’s regret.  And what makes them more remarkable than Alexander or any king is this:  some were dictators for no more than ten or twenty days, and no one held the consulship for more than a year; their levies were obstructed by the people’s tribunes; they were late going to war and were recalled early to hold elections; in the midst of their endeavours the year came full circle; the rashness or irregularity of their colleague was a hindrance or did positive harm;  they succeeded to a situation mishandled by their predecessors; they took over an army of raw recruits or one which was undisciplined and badly trained.  Kings, on the other hand, are not only free from all hindrances but are masters of times and circumstances;  their decisions determine and are not dependent on events.  Therefore, an undefeated Alexander would have made war on undefeated generals and hazarded the same stakes on fortune; indeed, he would have run greater risks than they would, seeing that the Macedonians had only a single Alexander, who was not only exposed to many dangers but also placed himself in their way, while there would have been many Romans would could have been his match in glory or in the magnitude of their exploits, each one of whom could have lived and died as his own destiny ruled, without endangering the State.

History of Rome IX.18.9

Livy also muses on the fact that success had not been kind to Alexander or his men as he proceeded East (i.e., the debauchery, the insanity, etc.), and arrives at the conclusion, based on these and other factors, that had he then turned his attention toward an attempted conquest of Italy, he’d have gotten his clock cleaned by the Romans, who at  this point – the mid- to late 300’s B.C., had a vibrant Republic and were busy establishing hegemony over central Italy.  (Funny, isn’t it, how one never connects Roman history with Alexandrian Macedonia – it’s as if the one followed the other chronologically, rayther than bookending it.  I suppose this is because most people only think of the Imperial phase of Rome, forgetting that this only started about 750 years or so after she was founded.)

You may ask why I’m reading Livy to begin with?  Well, part of it is a periodic urge to run through the classics again – Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Caesar, Livy, Tacitus, for example – just for the pure pleasure.  This time around, however, I was provoked by an interesting comparison of the Romans and Carthaginians in G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man.  It’s a long argument and I won’t go into it here, but GKC basically states that the Romans loathed the Cartheginians not just as a rival economic and military power in the Med, but also because the Carthaginians were worshippers of Ba’al and went in for such nasty things as massive child sacrifice, beliefs and practices abhorent to the Romans, whose primary focus of worship was the gods of their hearths and homes.  GKC brings this up in a discussion of what one might call comparitive paganism and goes on to suggest that there was something particular about the Roman religious character – as opposed to that of the Carthaginians and other more bloody-minded pagans – that made her more open and receptive to the concepts of monotheism in general and Christianity in particular later in her development.   Call it Roman blindness as opposed to Carthaginian devil-worship.

Anyhoo, I decided that I would go back through Livy’s description of the Punic Wars and see if I could find any clue of this.  But in order to be thorough, I started Ab Urbe Condita, as they say, and am now, as you can see, working my way through the Roman conquest of Italy.

Perhaps it’s because I’m still behind on my sleep from Christmas.  Yesterday afternoon while idly staring out the window of the Port-Swiller kitchen as I emptied the dishwasher, I happened to notice a fox.  He was in full sunlight on a little hump of ground, 20 or 30 feet out from the tree line of the woods behind the house, and he was absolutely out cold.  (Indeed, I thought he was dead at first.)  I have never seen an animal so completely and utterly relaxed, basking in the sun’s rays with a smile on its face and not a single thing on its mind.

And after staring at it for a little, I began to get so sleepy myself that I almost curled up into a ball then and there on the kitchen floor.

Eldest gel glancing at the book in Robbo’s hand: “The Hidden Manna? What’s that?”

Self: “It’s a book about the Eucharist.”

E.G.: “Oh.  I thought it might be a mystery.”

Self: “Well, as a matter of fact, it is.”

E.G.: “No, no.  I mean about supernatural powers and stuff.”

Self: “Well, again, it is, if you look at it that way.”

E.G.: “Daaa-ad! I’m talking about fragments of treasure maps and ancient curses and mummies in ruins!”

Self: “Well, okay, not so much about that.  But then again, it isn’t fiction.”


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December 2009