October 23: There Is A Great Deal Of Ruin In A Nation


Plutarch has a great farce-quality scene in today's reading featuring cross-dressing in pursuit of adultery:

As Pompeia was at that time celebrating this feast, Clodius, who as yet had no beard, and so thought to pass undiscovered, took upon him the dress and ornaments of a singing woman, and so came thither, having the air of a young girl. Finding the doors open, he was without any stop introduced by the maid, who was in the intrigue. She presently ran to tell Pompeia, but as she was away a long time, he grew uneasy waiting for her, and left his post and traversed the house from one room to another, still taking care to avoid the lights, till at last Aurelia’s woman met him, and invited him to play with her, as the women did among themselves. He refused to comply, and she presently pulled him forward, and asked him who he was, and whence he came. Clodius told her he was waiting for Pompeia’s own maid, Abra, 1 being in fact her own name also, and as he said so, betrayed himself by his voice. Upon which the woman shrieking, ran into the company where there were lights, and cried out, she had discovered a man.
Pompeia is Julius Caesar's wife; Clodius is powerful with the mob. So Pompeia is divorced and Caesar, who's running things, makes sure that Clodius gets off (at least judicially).

This is a political order that's breaking down here; a dictator (Sulla) is introduced in the first paragraph; the people are easily bought and volatile and dangerous; conspiracies abound. And all that is before Caesar really gets his hands on power. And, as noted, men are cross-dressing and subverting sacred religious ritual to get laid. We've declined and fallen a long way from Cato the Elder's censoriousness from the other da.

So it won't be surprising to find out that Rome was wiped out a mere...400 years later. Even the death of Aurelius, which is where Gibbon defines the end of the party, is over 200 years in the future. We Americans can feel like our own Republic is in terminal condition (and I do believe that some of the liberties we have sacrificed for the National Security State are never coming back), but we shouldn't be such drama queens -- really there's quite a bit of action still to come for us. And even if we have passed our zenith, so did Rome, and yet that's still a lovely city, I am told.

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