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Ursus

Machiavelli And Pagan Rome

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Machievelli, Rennaisance intellectual and the father of modern political science, wrote a book called The Discourses on Livy. It's a treatise on Roman history as recorded by Livy. Machiavelli's goal was to trace certain patterns in ancient Rome and analyze the circumstances that made Rome great. He was writing for the rulers of his day, the rulers of the city-states of Italy who were just coming out of the Middle Ages.

 

One of the striking passages in the book is the following:

 

In thinking, therefore, of whence it should happen that in those ancient times the people were greater lovers of Liberty than in these times, I believe it results from the same reason which makes men presently less strong, which I believe is the difference between our education and that of the ancients, founded on the difference between our Religion and the ancients. For, as our Religion shows the truth and the true way [of life], it causes us to esteem less the honors of the world: while the Gentiles [Pagans] esteeming them greatly, and having placed the highest good in them, were more ferocious in their actions.

 

...

 

Our Religion has glorified more humble and contemplative men rather than men of action. It also places the highest good in humility, lowliness, and contempt of human things: the other places it in the greatness of soul, the strength of body, and all the other things which make men very brave. And, if our Religion requires that there be strength [of soul] in you, it desires that you be more adept at suffering than in achieving great deeds.

 

This mode of living appears to me, therefore, to have rendered the world weak and a prey to wicked men, who can manage it securely, seeing that the great body of men, in order to go to Paradise, think more of enduring their beatings than in avenging them.

 

 

http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/m/mac...49d/bk2ch2.html

 

Now I'm not going to get into a debate about whether Christianity or paganism is better. And, by the way, no offense meant to Christians. But Machiavelli is saying that part of the appeal of Pagan Rome was its cultural values. The republican Romans had a society where service to the state through political and military office was the highest ideal. The Romans lived for glory and honor. Honor and glory were to be gained through virtus (manliness, or courage, bravery and strength) in service of the State.

 

To Machiavelli this was a superior culture to the Europe he had known. In his view, the Romans were a great society because they prized mighty deeds and worldly glory, whereas the Europe of his day had anti-thetical values. For someone to say this in the middle of Christian Europe was rather shocking, and Machivelli has been profoundly criticized in the centuries since his writing.

 

Since this is a forum about ethics and morality about Roman society, what would you say to Machievelli? Does having a strong culture and mighty republic mean emulating pagan Rome? If other cultural mores and religions obstruct our attempts to have a strong society, should we discard them?

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Guest spartacus

Ursus

 

The bottom line is that this is one mans ideals, which he obviously strongly believes in, the reader can discard or accept what he is saying!

 

I have not read his book so I cannot comment further on this, but I will look it up on my next library visit and hopefully can comment at a later date!

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It can be long and dry at times, but overall its good reading. I recommend it not just to Romanophiles, but to anyone interested in history or political theory.

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Two big differences that christianity made towards Roman and culture was it disabled, to an extent, the ability to transfuse culture and religion into Roman society and religion as the pagan days were able to do. Christianity was too constricting and too strict about who could be worshipped. That is one reason why it is hard for a chistian, such as my self, to stay dedicated to my God and study and praise Pagan Rome, but I manage.

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