Rome: Bread and Circuses Quotes
"'It is scarcely possible that the eyes of contemporaries should discover in the public felicity the latent causes of decay and corruption. This long peace, and the uniform government of the Romans, introduced a slow and secret poison into the vitals of the empire. The minds of men were gradually reduced to the same level, the fire of genius was extinguished, and even the military spirit evaporated.' Now that no one buys our votes, the public has long since cast off its cares; the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things----Bread and Games!"
"Ancient history no longer is taught in our public schools - or in many private schools. That is a pity in more ways than one; for it is easy enough to trace a parallel between the decline of the Roman culture - Romanitas - and the decay of our own culture. I think of how the population of the city of Rome shrank from some two million to some five thousand, at the city's nadir - the population that had lived on bread and circuses having been extinguished by malnutrition, so far as historians are able to say, during those years when the empire of the West collapsed altogether."
"For who would embrace virtue herself if you stripped her of her rewards? Yet full oft has a land been destroyed by the vainglory of a few, by the lust for honour and for a title that shall cling to the stones that guard their ashes----stones which may be rent asunder by the rude strength of the barren fig-tree, seeing that even sepulchres have their doom assigned to them!"
"Plays, farces, spectacles, gladiators, strange beasts, medals, pictures, and other such opiates, these were for ancient peoples the bait toward slavery, the price of their liberty, the instruments of tyranny. By these practices and enticements the ancient dictators so successfully lulled their subjects under the yoke, that the stupefied peoples, fascinated by the pastimes and vain pleasures flashed before their eyes, learned subservience as naively, but not so creditably, as little children learn to read by looking at bright picture books. Roman tyrants invented a further refinement. They often provided the city wards with feasts to cajole the rabble, always more readily tempted by the pleasure of eating than by anything else. The most intelligent and understanding amongst them would not have quit his soup bowl to recover the liberty of the Republic of Plato. Tyrants would distribute largess, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, 'Long live the King!' The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them."
"In truth, there are three places in which the opinion and inclination of the Roman people may be ascertained in the greatest degree; the assembly, the comitia, and the meetings at the games and at exhibitions of gladiators. What assembly has there been of late years, which has not been a packed and bribed one, but a genuine one, in which the unanimity of the Roman people has not been very perceivable? Many assemblies were held concerning me by that most wicked gladiator, to which no one ever went who was unbribed, no one who was an honest man; no good man could endure to behold that ill-omened countenance, or to listen to that frantic voice."
"I do not imply that bread and circuses are evil things in themselves. Man needs material sustenance and he needs recreation. These needs are so basic that they come within the purview of every religion. In every religion there is a harvest festival of thanksgiving for good crops. And as for recreation, we need only recall that our word 'holiday' was originally 'holy day,' a day of religious observance. In fact, the circuses and games of old Rome were religious in origin. The evil was not in bread and circuses, per se, but in the willingness of the people to sell their rights as free men for full bellies and the excitement of the games which would serve to distract them from the other human hungers which bread and circuses can never appease. The moral decay of the people was not caused by the doles and the games. These merely provided a measure of their degradation. Things that were originally good had become perverted and, as Shakespeare reminds us, 'Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.'"
"The natives of Europe were brave and robust. Spain, Gaul, Britain, and Illyricum supplied the legions with excellent soldiers, and constituted the real strength of the monarchy. Their personal valour remained, but they no longer possessed that public courage which is nourished by the love of independence, the sense of national honour, the presence of danger, and the habit of command. They received laws and governors from the will of their sovereign, and trusted for their defence to a mercenary army. The posterity of their boldest leaders was contented with the rank of citizens and subjects. The most aspiring spirits resorted to the court or standard of the emperors; and the deserted provinces, deprived of political strength or union, insensibly sunk into the languid indifference of private life."
"In sum, we would do well to rediscover the Empire of Reason, if we are to place ourselves beyond the deadening influence of venal popular entertainment. The best personal antidote for mindless rock 'n' roll is cultivating an active interest in classical and other forms of elevating music. The best defense against the smog of propaganda-as-entertainment is immersion in the great books of the past. And the surest way to escape the rip tide of media-promoted immorality is to recommit ourselves to the moral virtues and family values of a more civilized age, an age that may yet be revived if we do not entertain ourselves into oblivion."
"There was - there was once such virtue in this republic, that brave men would repress mischievous citizens with severer chastisement than the most bitter enemy."