Archive for November, 2010

The process of voting was simple.  An informed open-air meeting (the contio) was held, at which the presiding magistrate explained the measures that were to come before the Assembly (the comitia curiata) and invited officials and prominent citizens to discuss them.  This was the only opportunity for debate.  Then the meeting reconvened as the Assembly.  The presiding officer stated the question and the voters separated into thirty-five groups by districts . . . A majority determined the vote of the district, which was at once reported to the magistrate in charge.  The votes of the eighteen or more districts carried of defeated a bill.

Unlike Athenian Greece, Rome had no understanding of or at the very least did not prefer direct democracy.  Instead the majority of the tribe held the vote, and in turn the majority of tribes held the decision of the day.  Only Roman citizen with ius suffragiorum could join in the count, and a citizen had to be in Rome on the day of the vote to take part.  With no no absentee ballots or early voting options, this posed some difficulty to the good agrarian Roman who was more concerned with crops or military service to bother with making the long and arduous trip up to Rome. In time this disparagement would not lend itself to an optimally healthy state politic.

This post is a part of the Cicero series, reading This Was Cicero, by H.J. Haskell.

Read Full Post »


“The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there — there you could look at a thing monstrous and free.  It was unearthly, and the men were — No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it — this suspicion of their not being inhuman.  It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity — like yours — the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar.  Ugly.  Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you — you so remote from the night of the first ages — could comprehend.” (44)

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad


an adjective and noun.

1. unpleasing or repulsive to sight, as an ugly beast of a bulldog, must not make ugly faces, the ugliest house I have seen, has an ugly scar on the forehead; morally repulsive, vile, discreditable, unpleasant, unpleasantly suggestive, threatening, unpromising, as ugly vices, his conduct has an ugly look, ugly rumours are about.

Hence, uglify, a transitive verb, uglily², an adverb, ugliness, a noun.

[Middle English, from Old Norse uggligr to be dreaded, from ugga to dread, see -LY¹]

Read Full Post »


From George Will’s most recent column about the conservative author and columnist William F. Buckley,

Buckley, who was gifted at discerning the metaphysical significance of the quotidian, thought that he saw civilization tottering on its pedestal. He was not mistaken:

“It isn’t just the commuters, whom we have come to visualize as a supine breed who have got onto the trick of suspending their sensory faculties twice a day while they submit to the creeping dissolution of the railroad industry. It isn’t just they who have given up trying to rectify irrational vexations. It is the American people everywhere.”


an adjective and a noun.

1.  Daily, of every day, (quotidian fever, ague, recurring every day.);  commonplace, trivial.

[Middle English, from Old French cotidien, -ian, or Latin cot-, quotidianus, (quot-,  however many occur, every + diē,  abl. of diēs,  day); quotidie, daily, -AN]

Read Full Post »

As for hard drinking, it was the accepted thing.  A statesman was proud to be know as a one-bottle, two-bottle, three-bottle man . . . Cæsar was abstemious, but the fact that this was remarked upon showed it was rather unusual.  The great Marius had ended his life in a prolonged drunk.  There were scandalous reports of the drinking parties of Sulla after he laid down his dictatorship.  Cato at times would spend a whole night over his wine.  Mark Antony was a terrific drinker.  Cicero was blameless in his habits, be we have a letter that he wrote to a friend about a dispute at dinner over their wine in which he speaks of returning home “at a late hour comfortably mellow.”  It was reputed to be the high ambition of his irresponsible son to outdrink Mark Antony.  He was so successful that on one occasion because a minor scandal by throwing a drinking cup at a distinguished general.  Long drinking parties after formal dinners were common.  While Italian wines were not so potent as the liquors served in England, continued drinking could send the guests staggering into the streets prepared for any wild adventure.


an adjective.  Sparing, not self-indulgent, especially in food and drink.  Used of persons, habits, meals. Hence abstemiously, an adverb;  abstemiousness, a noun.

[from Latin abstemius, abs–  +  tēm–  (base of tēmētuman intoxicating drink)  + -OUS]

This post is a part of the Cicero series, reading This Was Cicero, by H.J. Haskell.

Read Full Post »

The organizers of the great conspiracy against the dictator [Caesar], republican fanatics and disgruntled nobles, excluded Cicero as too old and timid.  But he welcomed the fatal Ides of March and hailed the assassins as liberators.  Later he was to lament that the “deed was done with the courage of men but the blind policy of a child.” —  that though Rome was rid of the tyrant, the tyranny remained.

Or that the tyranny had always been there.  Rome, from its inception as monarchy and into its hallowed republic, had always situated itself in the lot of Mediterranean oligarchies.  Those first old men (senex, ‘old’) advisers to the kings, would keep their hold on their elite societal position and would cut down anyone who smacked of populism, especially if this populism came from within their own, say the Brothers Gracchus and Caius Julius Caesar.  Cicero, though he was a new man, novus homo, his policy still bestrode the colossus that was ancient oligarchy and elitism.

This post is a part of the Cicero series, reading This Was Cicero, by H.J. Haskell.

Read Full Post »

From David Brooks’ most recent column,

Nothing in this past election has averted this disaster. The Republicans talk about cutting deficits, but a party that campaigns to restore the $400 million in Medicare cuts included in the health care law is not serious about averting a fiscal meltdown. Some Democrats, meanwhile, don’t even bother to pretend. Look at the way many Democrats completely rejected the draft proposal unveiled by the chairmen of the fiscal commission.

“National Greatness Agenda,” in The New York Times, November 11, 2010


(-zah-), a noun.

Sudden or great misfortune, calamity;  ill luck (a record of disaster).

So disasterous, adjective, disasterously², adverb.

[From French désastre (DIS-, astre from Latin from Greek άστρον, a star)]

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Brutus, and Caesar: what should be in that Caesar?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name;
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well;
Weigh them, it is as heavy; conjure with ’em,
Brutus will start a spirit as soon as Caesar.
Now, in the names of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed
That he is grown so great? Age, thou art shamed!
Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!
When went there by an age since the great flood
But it was famed with more than with one man?
When could they say till now that talk’d of Rome
That her wide walls encompass’d but one man?
Now is it Rome indeed, and room enough,
When there is in it but one only man.
O, you and I have heard our fathers say
There was a Brutus once that would have brook’d
The eternal devil to keep his state in Rome
As easily as a king.

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare

Read Full Post »

ειπεν δε ανθρωπος τις ειχεν δυο υιους και ειπεν ο νεωτερος αυτων τω πατρι πατερ δος μοι το επιβαλλον μερος της ουσιας ο δε διειλεν αυτοις τον βιον και μετ ου πολλας ημερας συναγαγων παντα ο νεωτερος υιος απεδημησεν εις χωραν μακραν και εκει διεσκορπισεν την ουσιαν αυτου ζων ασωτως

Ait autem homo quidam habuit duos filios et dixit adulescentior ex illis patri pater da mihi portionem substantiae quae me contingit et divisit illis substantiam et non post multos dies congregatis omnibus adulescentior filius peregre profectus est in regionem longinquam et ibi dissipavit substantiam suam vivendo luxuriose

“Luk seith that Crist tolde how, A man hadde two sones; and the yonger of hem seid unto his fadir, Fadir, gyve me a porcioun of the substance that fallith me.  And the fadir departide him his goodis.  And soone aftir theis yonge sone gederide al that fel to him, and he went forth in pilgrimage into a fer contré; and ther he wastide his goodis, lyvynge in lecherie(John Wycliffe, 1324? – 1384)

And He said, “A man had two sons.  The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.  So he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living

from The Gospel of St. Luke

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1669

prŏd’ ĭgal, adjective and noun

recklessly wasteful (person); lavish of; prodigal son, a repentant sinner, returned wanderer, etc. (Luke xv.11-32)

[from obsolete French, or from Late Latin *prodigalis from Latin prodigus wasteful, see -AL]

Read Full Post »