“Meditations” – Marcus Aurelius

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Meditations is the personal diary/journal of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who is one of the Five Good Emperors of Rome. Written over the course of numerous years by Aurelius (he reigned as emperor from 161-180 CE), Meditations served as a way for Aurelius to improve himself as a person and to recount his successes and mistakes, a habit which should be done by all. Meditations as a journal discusses topics like Stoicism, duty, calmness, and the nature of mortality, making it an entirely worthwhile read. 

The introduction to the book (for the Dover Thrift Edition) includes an explanation of Stoicism, a philosophy that stresses inner peace by knowing what’s within and what’s outside your control. As was described in the text, “Stoicism, having flowed through some five hundred years of Greek and Roman history, is not so much a single systematic doctrine as a winding intellectual current. Arising and flourishing amidst the uncertainties of the Hellenistic domain of the third century B.C.-a time of political and social upheaval following the deaths of Aristotle (322 B.C.) and Alexander the Great (323 B.C.)-Stoicism stressed the search for inner peace and ethical certainty despite the apparent chaos of the external world by emulating in one’s personal conduct the underlying orderliness and lawfulness of nature” (v-vi). The founder of Stoicism, Zeno, disdained organized religion: he believed that if one wanted to honor a divine entity, they should do so through their everyday actions, not words. Stoicism is an extremely practical philosophy, seen in how it has been practiced by a variety of people, from the plebeians to senators. As stated before, the reason Stoicism is so practical is that it helps cultivate a sense of inner peace and detachment. As the book describes, “The Stoic … By focusing on those things that are within his power-his own will and perception-and detaching himself from the things that are not-health, death, the actions of others, natural disasters, and so on-he attains the inner peace (eudaimonia) of the wise and just man. This cultivated detachment (apatheia), achieved through disciplined self-restraint and moderation (sophrosyne), applies as well to the worldly allures of sensual indulgence, power, and fame, which the Stoic abjures not from puritanical repugnance but from his concern to free the soul for undistracted service to the logos.” (vi-vii). Stoicism, despite being a philosophy that emphasizes reasoned detachment, is still motivating, as it focuses on actions, not mere thoughts. Marcus Aurelius as the emperor embodied Stoic ideas, as despite being one of the most powerful people in Rome, he wasn’t depraved, nor did he spoil himself with sensory pleasures. He also didn’t really want to become the emperor, as Stoicism stated that it was detrimental to inner peace (the more you have, the more you have to lose): “Marcus’s path to the throne was a circuitous one. Hadrian’s first choice as his successor, Lucius Ceionius Commodus, died in 138, whereupon Hadrian adopted Titus Antoninus Pius (Marcus’s uncle), with the understanding that Titus would adopt both Commodus’s son and Marcus … seemingly setting up a duel succession. Upon Hadrian’s death that year, Marcus, at age seventeen, began, in effect, a twenty-three-year apprenticeship for the emperorship, serving in a variety of important governmental posts while continuing his philosophical studies. Before Titus died in 161, he recommended Marcus alone as his successor; Marcus magnanimously insisted that his adoptive brother, Lucius Verus, share the emperorship despite the latter’s apparent lack of real ability or political support” (viii). Marcus Aurelius’s reign was full of conflict, as the Roman Empire saw a plague, natural disasters (floods), foreign invasions, and treachery (a military commander, Avidius Cassius, rebelled but was betrayed and was murdered by his own soldiers – Aurelius refused his head and pardoned his family for his treason). Marcus Aurelius was said to have written Meditations while fighting the German tribes in the Danube in between battles, addressing the notes “To Himself.” He died there on March 17, 189: he was aged fifty-nine. All in all, Meditations can be seen as very popular due to “its unorthodox touches-its intimation of the idea of a personal god, its flashes of vulnerability and pain, its unwavering commitment to virtue above pleasure and to tranquillity above happiness, its unmistakable stamp of an uncompromisingly honest soul seeking the light of grace in a dark world-that lend the work its special power to charm and inspire … Nearly two millennia after Marcus set down his thoughts, they speak with undiminished eloquence, giving us pause to wonder at a man who stood at the pinnacle of worldly power yet preserved the inner life of a saint” (ix). 

Meditations is composed of twelve books, each of which will be respectively discussed. Book I serves as a shout-out to those who had positively influenced Marcus Aurelius. Some of the virtues he had learned from his family and teachers include “good morals,” “the government of my temper,” “modesty and a manly character, “piety and beneficence, and abstinence, not only from evils deeds, but even from evil thoughts,” “simplicity in my way of living, far removed from the habits of the rich,” a good education (he was homeschooled), the uselessness of partisanship and the resulting conflicts, “endurance of labor,” “to want little,” “to work with my own hands,” to not “meddle with other people’s affairs,” “not to be ready to listen to slander,” to be skeptical of charlatans and supposed miracle-workers, to practice good deeds instead of saying them, to read books multiple times to truly understand them, to be persevering and resistant to tribulation, to live conformably with nature, to be tolerant of others (even the ignorant), to shun flattery, to accept the flaws of others, to put aside ego (by avoiding envy and duplicity), to speak well of others, to love truth and justice, to forgive others, to hate no one, to keep few secrets, to not spend exorbitant amounts of money on worldly luxuries, and to dress simply (1-5). Aurelius proceeds to thank the gods that he got a great family, and that he had not slept with his grandfather’s concubine (or any other one before his marriage, for that matter). As he put it, “Further, I am thankful to the gods that I was not longer brought up with my grandfather’s concubine, and that I preserved the flower of my youth, and that I did not make proof of my virility before the proper season, but even deferred the time; that I was subjected to a ruler and a father who was able to take away all pride from me, and to bring me to the knowledge that it is possible for a man to live in a palace without desiring either guards or embroidered dresses, or torches and statues, and other such ostentation; but that it is in such a man’s power to bring himself very near to the fashion of a private person, without being for this reason either meaner in thought, or more remiss in action, with respect to the things that must be done for the public interest in a manner that befits a ruler” (5-6). Marcus Aurelius admits that even though his mother died not long after he was born, he was happy to have spent any time with her at all. 

Book II includes some of the basic tenets of Stoicism. Aurelius tells himself that he should visualize the worst to not be discouraged by the potential evils of the world and others. In his own words, “Begun the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I, who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participate in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. For we are made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away” (8). Aurelius then tells himself that he should make the most of his life, as he has already lived a significant portion, not to mention that the body is vulnerable to a variety of things that can spell death. He admits that he believes that gods have created the universe, and tells himself that he should do the things that he doesn’t want to do due to their difficulty, as he is a part of the universe and should do his duties. He again demonstrates the Stoic concept of Amor Fati (love of fate) by writing the following: “And you will give yourself relief, if you do every act of your life as if it were the last, laying aside all carelessness, passionate aversion from the commands of reason, hypocrisy, self-love, and discontent with the portion that has been given to you” (9). Aurelius tells people to not do harm to themselves, as they are dishonoring their souls, which can leave the body at any time. Aurelius reminds himself of the importance of purpose: hard work can be useless if one’s thoughts and goals are disorganized and confused. Aurelius then states that bad actions that are committed in a fit of desire are worse than those performed in a fit of anger: “Theophrastus, in his comparison of bad acts … says, like a true philosopher, that offenses committed through desire are more blamable than those committed through anger. For he who is excited by anger seems to turn away from reason with a certain pain and unconscious contraction; but he who offends through desire, being overpowered by pleasure, seems more intemperate and more womanish in his offenses … a person who has been first wronged and through pain is compelled to be angry; but the other is moved by his own impulse to do wrong, being carried toward doing something by desire” (10). Aurelius again reminds himself that he can die at any moment, which should serve as encouragement for himself to be the best person he can be. He tells himself that death and other phenomena are neither good nor bad – it’s perception and emotion that grants them the titles of “good” or “evil,” as “death and life, honor and dishonor, pain and pleasure-all these things equally happen to good men and bad, being things which makes us neither better nor worse. Therefore they are neither good nor evil” (10). Aurelius discusses the importance of the daimon (the spirit of reason and potential that is said to reside in each individual), as it should be kept unblemished to help people to not lose sight of their goals. Aurelius elaborates on the finality of death: “Even if you were going to live three thousand years, and even ten thousand times that, still remember that no man loses any other life than this which he now lives, nor lives any other than this which he now loses. The longest and shortest are thus brought to the same. For the present is the same to all, though that which perishes is not the same; and so what is lost appears to be a mere moment … all things from eternity are of like forms and come round in a circle, and that it makes no difference whether a man shall see the same things during a hundred years or two hundred, or an infinite time; and the second, that he who lives longest and he who will die soonest lose just the same. For the present is the only thing of which a man can be deprived, if it is true that this is the only thing which he has, and that a man cannot lose something he does not already possess” (11). Aurelius writes of anger, frustration, and dissatisfaction: he interprets them as negative emotions due to the fact that they breed resentment and unhappiness, separating the individual from the universe. He writes, “For to be vexed at anything that happens is a separation of ourselves from nature, in some part of which the natures of all other things are contained. In the next place, the soul does violence to itself when it turns away from any man, or even moves toward him with the intention of injuring, as happens when people are angry. In the third place, the soul does violence to itself when it is overpowered by pleasure or by pain. Fourth, when it playacts and does or says anything, insincerely or untruly. Fifth, when it allows any act of its own and any movement to be without an aim and does anything thoughtlessly and without considering what it is-even the smallest things should be done with reference to an end; and the end of rational animals is to follow the reason and the law of the most ancient city and polity” (11-2). Aurelius states that compared to the universe, a human’s life is a mere blip. Therefore, “everything that belongs to the body is a stream, and what belongs to the soul is a dream and vapor, and life is a warfare and a stranger’s sojourn, and after-fame is oblivion” (12). When it comes to what can help a person live their life, a great answer is philosophy, which involves keeping their daimon in good shape. That is, it “consists in keeping the daimon within a man free from violence and unharmed, superior to pains and pleasures, doing nothing without a purpose, nor yet falsely and with hypocrisy, not feeling the need of another man’s doing or not doing anything; and from the same source, wherever it is, from which he himself came; and, finally, waiting for death with a cheerful mind, as being nothing else than a dissolution of the elements of which every living being is compounded. But if there is no harm to the elements themselves in each continually changing into another, why should a man have any apprehension about the change and dissolution of all the elements? For it is according to nature, and nothing is evil that is according to nature” (12). 

In Book III, Aurelius states that a person has no guarantee of having his intellectual and physical faculties, as anything can happen to them: therefore, they should make the most of what they have in the moment. He then writes that much in the world (including other people) is beyond a person’s control. After all, “Hippocrates, after curing many diseases, himself fell sick and died. The Chaldaie foretold the deaths of many, and then fate caught them, too. Alexander and Pompeius and Gaius Caesar, after so often completely destroying whole cities, and in battle cutting to pieces many ten thousands of cavalry and infantry, themselves, too, at least departed from life. Heraclitus, after so many speculations on the conflagration of the universe, was filled with water and died smeared all over with cow dung. And lice destroyed Democritus; and other lice killed Socrates … You have embarked, made the voyage, and come to shore; get out. If indeed to another life, there is no want of gods, not even there. But if to a state without sensation, you will cease to be held by pains and pleasures, and to be a slave to the vessel, which is as much inferior as that which serves it is superior: for the one is intelligence and deity; the other is earth and corruption” (14). Aurelius tells himself to not waste time thinking of what others think about him, as the opinions of others are not only fickle, but utterly beyond his control. Furthermore, what reward is there is having others like you? As Schopenhauer wrote in his Essays and Aphorisms, the opinions of others are mostly useless, as they bring few to no benefits in themselves. Aurelius also states that people should refrain from thinking evil thoughts before moving back on the concept of praise: why would you want to be honored by those who criticize themselves endlessly and live in continuous dissatisfaction? Aurelius says that when work is being done, one should concentrate: however, it’s important to not be too busy, as that will take away time for self-reflection. Aurelius expresses his flexibility in the following passage: “If you find in human life anything better than justice, truth, temperance, fortitude, anything better than your own mind’s self-satisfaction in the things that it enables you to do according to right reason, and in the condition that is assigned to you without your own choice; if, I say, you see anything better than this, turn to it with all your soul, and enjoy that which you have found to be the best” (15). Aurelius talks about self-respect, writing that individuals should not allow themselves to be bought and sold by certain rewards, even if those things appear to be attractive, for they frequently come at the cost of inner peace and decency. He then tells himself to use his mind correctly: humans, being rational animals, should use their higher faculties to rationally make important decisions. He discusses the uselessness of fame and selfishness: “every man lives only the present, which is an invisible point, and that all the rest of his life is either past or is uncertain. Brief is man’s life and small the nook of the earth where he lives; brief, too, is the longest posthumous fame, buoyed only by a succession of poor human beings who will very soon die and who know little of themselves, much less of someone who died long ago” (16). Aurelius states that if a person is to be happy, they should focus on the present and remain free from worries about acquiring a certain result, as results are outside of one’s control. In his own words, “If you apply yourself to the task before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure, as if you might be bound to give it back immediately; if you hold to this, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but satisfied with your present activities according to nature, and with heroic truth in every word and sound which you utter, you will live happily. And there is no man who is able to prevent this” (17). He tells himself that just as how a doctor has the proper medical equipment for surgery and other medical procedures, people should keep their principles close by to help them in times of hardship. He then allots certain feelings to various faculties: “the body belong sensations, to the soul appetites, to the intelligence principles” (17-8). That is, those who allow sensual pleasure to determine their lives have little control over themselves, allowing their inner daimon to be degraded. Those who stick to their principles, on the other hand, allow themselves to be governed by the better portion of their nature, to their benefit. He ends the section with the following sentence: “And if all men refuse to believe that he lives a simple, modest, and contented life, he is neither angry with any of them, nor does he deviate from the way that leads to the end of life, to which a man ought to come pure, tranquil, ready to depart, and without any compulsion, perfectly reconciled to his lot” (18). 

Book IV begins with a fantastic piece of observation: those who frequently travel are frequently disturbed by things outside of their control and within themselves. Therefore, when they travel, they are trying to flee from their problems. However, this is ineffective: wherever they go, their conscience will follow. Therefore, the best way to deal with inner turmoil is to retreat into one’s own mind, coming to peace with what has and what will happen: “tranquility is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind. Constantly then give to yourself this retreat, and renew yourself, and let your principles be brief and fundamental, which, as soon as you recur to them, will be sufficient to cleanse the soul completely, and to send you back free from all discontent with the things to which you return” (19). Aurelius states that when it comes to disappointment, a great way to deal with it is to lower your expectations when it comes to others and accept what happens (Aurelius reminds himself to attribute whatever happens to divine providence). Aurelius speaks once again of the desire for glory (especially posthumous fame): the desire is quite foolish, seeing how insignificant humanity is. In his own words “See how soon everything is forgotten, and look at the chaos of infinite time on each side of the present, and the emptiness of applause, and the fickleness and lack of judgment in those who pretend to give praise, and the narrowness of its domain, and be quiet at last. For the whole earth is a point, and how small a nook in it is this your dwelling, and how few are there in it, and what kind of people are they who will praise thee” (20). Aurelius writes that all humans belong to the human race, despite the few differences we have. Aurelius then says that death is a natural process and shouldn’t be feared (like eating, sleeping, and defecating) and that a way to deal with envy is to remember your insignificance, as well as that of the other person. He states that much of the harm in events that occur to people happens because of their judgments and opinions: if they get rid of them, much of the unnecessary pain will be removed. He recommends that people do the right actions for the right reasons: people should change their opinions and corresponding deeds out of a sense of logic and ethics, not for glory or praise. Aurelius states that things that are beautiful need no one to validate their aesthetic appeal: they are gorgeous in and of themselves. He asks himself of the existence of souls, and implicitly introduces the fact that humans aren’t superior to other animals: if it’s true that only humans have souls, why do we deserve them and not other animals? Furthermore, a gargantuan number of animals die and are devoured every day – do their souls continue to exist? Aurelius calls for himself to get rid of activities that are unnecessary, as people have only a finite amount of time and energy: time is precious, so it shouldn’t be wasted on superfluous actions. Aurelius elegantly states the utter insignificance of organisms on Earth when the big picture is seen clearly: “Consider, for example, the times of Vespasian. You will see all these things, people marrying, bringing up children, sick, dying, warring, feasting, trafficking, cultivating the ground, flattering, obstinately arrogant, suspecting, plotting, wishing for some to die, grumbling about the present, loving, heaping up treasure, desiring consulship, kingly power. Well then, that life of these people no longer exists at all. Again, remove to the times of Trajan. Again, all is the same. Their life, too, is gone. In like manner view also the other epochs of time and of whole nations, and see how many after great efforts soon fell and were resolved into the elements” (24). Aurelius writes once again of fame: those who are most famous are remembered for only a while (even if they’re remembered for “long” periods of time, the centuries which they are remembered are utterly insignificant compared to the age of the earth and cosmos). On the other hand, regular people are almost immediately forgotten the moment they die: only their family and some friends grieve their death (if they have any by that point of time at all), yet even they have to move on with their lives (and meet their respective demises later on in the future). Aurelius uses this realization as a call to action to be a better person: “What then is that about which we ought to employ our serious pains? This one thing, just thoughts, and social acts, and words that never lie, and a disposition that gladly accepts all that happens as necessary, as usual, as flowing from a principle and source of the same kind” (24-5). Aurelius details that he believes the universe has a single soul, as this reinforces the central theme of harmony, mutual cooperation, and reasoned resignation. He writes (similarly to what he had included before): “Think continually how many physicians are dead after often contracting their eyebrows over the sick; and how many astrologers after predicting with great pretensions the deaths of others; and how many philosophers after endless discourses on death or immortality; how many heroes after killing thousands; and how many tyrants who have used their power over men’s lives with terrible insolence as if they were immortal; and how many cities are entirely dead … Add to the reckoning all those you have known, one after another. One man after burying another has been laid out dead, and another buries him: and all this in a short time. To conclude, always observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are, and what was yesterday a speck of semen tomorrow will be a mummy or ashes. Pass then through this little space of time conformably to nature, and end your journey in content, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it and thanking the tree on which it grew” (26-7). Aurelius continues with the following brilliant words: “It is a vulgar but still a useful help toward contempt of death to pass in review those who have tenaciously stuck to life. What more have they gained than those who have died early? … the interval is small between birth and death; and consider with how much trouble, and in company with what sort of people and in what a feeble body, this interval is laboriously passed. Do not then consider life a thing of any value. For look to the immensity of time behind you and to the time that is ahead of you, another boundless space. In this infinity, then, what is the difference between him who lives three days and him who lives three generations?” (27). Aurelius finalizes by stating that when it comes to doing deeds, large and fancy displays should be avoided, as they’re neither necessary nor helpful to the overall product. 

Aurelius begins Book V by stating that humans, as animals and inhabitants of the earth, should fulfill their duties, even if they don’t want to. In vivid language, he details, “In the morning, when you rise unwillingly, let this thought be present: I am rising to the work of a human being. Why then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie under the blankets and keep myself warm? But this is more pleasant. Do you exist then to take your pleasure, and not at all for action or exertion? Do you not see the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees working together to put in order their separate parts of the universe? And are you unwilling to do the work of a human being, and do you not make haste to do that which is according to your nature. But it is necessary to take rest also. It is necessary: nature, however, has fixed bounds to this, too: she has fixed bounds both to eating and drinking, and yet you go beyond these bounds, beyond what is sufficient; yet in your acts it is not so, but you stop short of what you can do. So you do not love yourself, for if you did, you would love your nature and her will” (28). Aurelius then states that if a person comes across disadvantages, they shouldn’t grumble about them and do nothing: if they truly want their situation to improve, they must be willing to put in the required effort and exertions. Aurelius calls for himself and the audience to be generous to others: when one does favors for others, they shouldn’t think only of a future repayment, as humans are social animals that need to cooperate to survive and flourish – doing the good deed should be the reward in and of itself. Aurelius recommends that when one fails, one should continue trying while remembering the big picture and what they could achieve: a few setbacks shouldn’t discourage a person from living a virtuous and decent life. Aurelius reminds himself that death isn’t the end for the body, as the body will break down into elements that will be endlessly recycled by the universe (which is eerily true to a large extent: humans and all other lifeforms on Earth have the stardust of a star which has exploded long ago): “Every part of me then will be reduced by change into some part of the universe, and that again will change into another part of the universe, and so on forever. And by consequence of such a change, I, too, exist, and those who begot me, and so on forever in the other direction. For nothing hinders us from saying so, even if the universe is administered according to definite periods of revolution” (32). Aurelius moves on to say that philosophy needs more than good words: good deeds are needed to back up the claims of the individual studying philosophy (ex. they can refrain from unhealthy and malevolent activity, they can try to actively do good, they can accept the things that aren’t in their control, and they can practice self-reflection). Aurelius writes that one’s thoughts affect one’s personality; also, repetition creates character. Therefore, it is vital for people to not only refrain from thinking of evil, but imagining the correct thoughts, like the following: “where a man can live, there he can also live well” (33). Aurelius offers the following piece of advice for those struggling with problems: “Nothing happens to any man that he is not formed by nature to bear. The same things happen to another, and either because he does not see that they have happened or because he would show a great spirit, he is firm and remains unharmed” (33). Aurelius writes that even though humanity is capable of great things, numerous individuals act out of stupidity or ill-intent: the best way to deal with them is to accept their actions and to keep to yourself. Furthermore, one can use their negative behavior as motivation for self-improvement, as one can see what one may turn into if they’re not careful (I apologize if this sounds condescending and presumptuous, but this is a key tenet of motivation for many people): “Now it is true that these may impede my action, but they are no impediments to my affects and disposition, which have the power of acting conditionally and changing: for the mind converts and changes every hindrance to its activity into an aid; and so that which is a hindrance is made a furtherance to an act; and an obstacle on the road helps us along this road” (33). 

Aurelius then states that if a person is irritated by another, they should refrain from rage: at the very least, they should inform the person making them angry of their mistake or folly so that they may correct it. After all, much of what is attributed to malice actually comes from ignorance. Also, getting angry at the individual who may be unaware of their folly is counter-productive, as that will only worsen the situation. Aurelius states that when it comes to one’s personal conduct, people should aim for other people to say the following of them: “Never has he wronged a man in deed or word.” Of course, this standard is very high, but that’s the point: living a virtuous life isn’t supposed to be easy, and it requires effort and rigorous self-examination. Book VI includes Aurelius’s statement that one shouldn’t wish for any particular thing, as every event is within life itself. He also includes the following (albeit hard to practice) piece of advice: “The best way of avenging yourself is not to become like the wrongdoer” (37). Aurelius calls for people to see things for what they really are: meat is really the corpses of animals, good clothing was made from entirely different materials, and sex (desired by most people) is a task that concludes with the relatively unspectacular process of ejaculation (and everything before that was simply supposed to lead up to it). Aurelius calls for people to not desire or actively pursue vengeance, as the appetite for “justice” isn’t easily quenched (not to mention that it causes people to loathe you even more, even if your action was relatively reasonable and understandable). Aurelius encourages people to treat animals well, as the insight of humans can be extremely fine-tuned if it is frequently practiced: therefore, people should use their intelligence charitably by conducting actions they would be fine with if they were dealt to them (this piece of advice is almost completely unheeded: humans slay more than 150 billion animals a year for sake of taste while there are plenty of other replacements that provide more than adequate nourishment). Aurelius then provides the following definition for death: it is “a cessation of the impressions through the senses, and of the pulling of the strings that move the appetites, and of the discursive movements of the thoughts, and of the service to the flesh” (41). Aurelius immediately follows up with a quote that is quite popular today: “It is a shame for the soul to be first to give way in this life, when your body does not give way” (41). Put in simpler words, “It is terrible for a person’s spirit to die before they do.” Aurelius states that one should not pursue goals that are too worldly, seeing how short life is and how unpredictable events can be: since “achievements” generally mean nothing in the long run, people shouldn’t try to reach them by hurting others (ex. by cheating, slander, or betrayal). Aurelius specifically mentions Antoninus Pius (another one of the Five Good Emperors of Rome), saying that it would be greatly advised for people to follow his behavior, as he was happy with very little, and treated others with magnanimity, fairness, and consideration. He again says that the universe is a social being, and that most humans are working towards a common goal, albeit in different ways (he says this can be seen with the division of labor: some people are doctors while others are field laborers). He encourages people to not only accept what happens to them, but to genuinely try to appreciate those around them: feigned admiration and love do not help at all. Marcus Aurelius clarifies, “One thing here is worth a great deal: to pass your life in truth and justice, with a benevolent disposition even to liars and unjust men” (45). He also says that people, instead of criticizing others, should try to find their strengths instead, as “nothing delights so much as the examples of the virtues when they are exhibited in the morals of those who live with us and present themselves in abundance, as far as is possible” (45). Aurelius writes, “That which is not good for the swarm is not good for the bee either” (45). 

In Book VII, Aurelius states that if one wants to keep their principles, they have to remember why they adhere to them, as well as memories that testify to their importance, as people require evidence to continue to do certain things. He says that people shouldn’t be ashamed when they need to be helped by others, as it is perfectly natural to occasionally require assistance. He elucidates, “Do not let the future disturb you, for you will arrive there, if you arrive, with the same reason you now apply to the present” (48). He then adds (somewhat threateningly), “Be upright, or be made upright” (48). Aurelius clarifies the difference between the mind and the body (although the mind is still heavily dependent on the body: for instance, if you’re sick and therefore unconscious, your mind will be greatly disabled): “Let the body itself take care, if it can, that it suffer nothing, and let it speak, if it suffers. But the soul itself, that which is subject to fear, to pain, which has completely the power of forming a judgment about these things, will suffer nothing, for it will never deviate into such a judgment. The leading principle in itself wants nothing, unless it creates its own needs; and therefore it is both free from perturbation and unimpeded if it does not disturb and impede itself” (49). Aurelius tersely writes about time and death: “In a little while you will have forgotten everything; in a little while everything will have forgotten you” (49). He also states, “It is peculiar to man to love even those who do wrong. And this happens, if when they do wrong it occurs to you that they are fellow humans and that they do wrong through ignorance and unintentionally, and that soon both of you will die; and above all, that the wrongdoer has done you no harm, for he has not made your ruling faculty worse than it was before” (49). Aurelius then recommends that people not scowl at all, for doing it too often quickly makes it a negative habit: “the result is that all comeliness dies away, and at last is so completely extinguished that it cannot be again lighted up at all” (50). Aurelius introduces the concept of appreciation: instead of complaining of what you don’t have, rejoice in what you do possess. That is, “Think not so much of what you lack as of what you have: but of the things that you have, select the best, and then reflect how eagerly you would have sought them if you did not have them. At the same time, however, take care that you do not through being so pleased with them accustom yourself to overvalue them, so as to be disturbed if you should ever not have them” (50). Aurelius says that vain imaginings should be abandoned: losing yourself in a hypothetical daydream does nothing to benefit your lot, and also makes you dissatisfied and unconcentrated. Aurelius makes it clear that cultivation of one’s mind is extremely important, as he bemoaned how “It is a base thing for the countenance to be obedient and to regulate and compose itself as the mind commands, and for the mind not to be regulated and composed by itself” (51). Aurelius eventually comes to provide a list of duties that should be pursued by people: “The prime principle then in man’s constitution is the social. And the second is not to yield to the persuasions of the body, for it is the peculiar office of the rational and intelligent motion to circumscribe itself, and never to be overpowered either by the motion of the senses or of the appetites, for both are animal … The third thing in the rational constitution is freedom from error and from deception. Let then the ruling principle, holding fast to these things, go straight on, and it has what is its own” (53). It is soon mentioned that people have a lot of inner potential, so long as they’re willing to be comfortable with themselves: “Look within. Within is the fountain of good, and it will ever bubble up, if you will ever dig” (53). Aurelius continues to discuss pain, specifying that “there is no dishonor in it, nor does it make the governing intelligence worse, for it does not damage the intelligence either so far as the intelligence is rational or so far as it is social. Indeed in the case of most pains let this remark of Epicurus aid you, that pain is neither intolerable nor everlasting if you bear in mind that it has its limits, and if you add nothing to it in imagination: and remember this, too, that we do not perceive that many things that are disagreeable to us are the same as pain, such as excessive drowsiness, and being scorched by heat, and having no appetite. When then you are discontented about any of these things, say to yourself that you are yielding to pain” (54). 

Aurelius states that very little is needed from a material standpoint to be happy: save basic necessities like food, shelter, and clothing, there’s not much more. Furthermore, he says that every individual can live an ethical life, even if they are in an extremely hostile environment: even if terrible things are done to you, your mind is still your own. Aurelius then provides his definition of a good individual: “passing every day as if it were the last, and in being neither violently excited nor torpid nor playing the hypocrite” (55). Aurelius again makes it clear of the importance of knowing what’s within your control: instead of criticizing the weaknesses of others, focus on yourself first. As he put it, “It is a ridiculous thing for a man not to fly from his own badness, which is indeed possible, but to fly from other men’s badness, which is impossible” (55). In Book VIII, Aurelius reminds himself to be mindful, as he should recollect his mortality and think about the consequences of the actions which he pursues. He also discusses comparisons between conquerors and philosophers: “Alexander and Gaius and Pompeius, what are they in comparison with Diogenes and Heraclitus and Socrates? For the latter were acquainted with things, and their causes (forms), and their matter, and the ruling principles of these men were the same. But as to the former, how many things had they to care for, and to how many things were they slaves” (57). Aurelius comes to state the following: “you have leisure or ability to check arrogance: you have leisure to be superior to pleasure and pain: you have leisure to be superior to love of fame, and not to be vexed at stupid and ungrateful people, nay even to care for them” (58). He soon states that people should expect to face misfortunes and to have setbacks: just like how a fig tree produces figs, the world would produce many events that can cause a large amount of suffering and pain if not handled correctly by the individuals facing it. Aurelius remembers the weakness and strangeness of the human body: if the inside and outside switch places, an unwelcome sight would be beheld: “Turn it (the body) inside out, and see what kind of thing it is; and when it has grown old, what kind of thing it becomes, and when it is diseased” (60). Aurelius writes of the three biggest types of relations for individuals and those around them: “the one to the body that surrounds you; the second to the divine cause from which all things come to all; and the third to those who live with you” (60-1). Aurelius says that while it is pleasant to possess wealth, one shouldn’t be too attached to it, and should be willing to let it go: Lady Fortuna’s affections are prone to change. Aurelius celebrates the human intellect: although it’s possible for a person to isolate themself from others, thereby violating the divine order of unity, it is still within their power to reconcile themself with others through intentional effort. Aurelius states that this is miraculous, as if a hand is cut off from a person, it cannot be simply reattached; similar to how a hand is an essential part of anatomy, the individual plays a vital role in their respective community – while the former can’t be healed, the latter can. Aurelius aptly summarizes Stoicism with the following section: “If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now. But if anything in your own disposition gives you pain, who hinders you from correcting your opinion? And even if you are pained because you are not doing some particular thing that seems to you to be right, why do you not rather act than complain? ‘But some insuperable obstacle is in the way.’ Do not be grieved then, for the cause of its not being done depends not on you. ‘But it is not worthwhile to live if this cannot be done.’ Take your departure then from life contentedly, just as he dies who is in full activity, and well pleased, too, with the things that are obstacles” (63-4). It should be mentioned that when it comes to departing from life (suicide), the Stoics were proponents for it: they believed that wise people live as long as necessary as judged by them, not as long as they could live, seeing that there is no true “ending” to life. Furthermore, they saw suicide (when done calmly and logically, frequently in the presence of friends and family) as a noble deed, as the deceased has conquered their fear of death and has taken their life into their own hands (quite literally in many occasions: Seneca, a Stoic who was the tutor of Nero, committed suicide by slitting his wrists). 

Aurelius continues to show his pragmatism: he states that if you face a problem, deal with it as effectively as possible instead of complaining as to why the obstacles were created in the first place, seeing that it is quite likely that you would be laughed at by experts in the field you are referring to who know much more about the problems than you do, not to mention that complaining doesn’t make anything better at all. Aurelius clarifies, “Men exist for the sake of one another”; therefore, “Teach them then or bear with them” (66). In Book IX, Aurelius states that committing injustice is blasphemy to the gifters of rationality for human beings and other animals (the concept of evolution, of course, wasn’t invented yet), seeing how Aurelius stated that animals were given rationality to cooperate, not to harm each other: “the universal nature has made rational animals for the sake of one another to help one another according to their deserts, but in no way to injure one another, he who transgresses her will is clearly guilty of impiety toward the highest divinity” (67). These injustices include intemperance: avoiding all pain (including constructive ones) and pursuing only vain, fleeting pleasures is an abomination, seeing how the intellect and the chance for self-improvement are being spurned when one adopts such a meaningless quest. Aurelius, keeping to the concept of morality, says that the best thing for a human is being as pure and virtuous as possible: “It would be a man’s happiest lot to depart from mankind without having had any taste of lying and hypocrisy and luxury and pride. However, to breathe out one’s life when a man has had enough of these things is the next best voyage, as the saying goes” (68). Marcus Aurelius gives the following maxims, all of which are extremely applicable in daily life: (1) “He who does wrong does wrong against himself. He who acts unjustly acts unjustly to himself, because he makes himself bad,” (2) “He often acts unjustly who does not do a certain thing; not only he who does a certain thing,” (3) ”Your present opinion founded on understanding, and your present conduct directed to social good, and your present disposition of contentment with everything that happens-that is enough,” and (4) “Wipe out imagination: check desire: extinguish appetite: keep the ruling faculty in its own power” (69). Personally, my favorite piece of advice in the prior list is the first, for many who commit foul deeds for the sake of greed and lust are only harming themselves by destroying their morality, which is quite sad to behold firsthand. Aurelius hypothesizes that animals have souls, seeing their potentially organized behavior (swarms of bees, herds of cattle, flocks of birds). Aurelius states that trying to change the world (thereby affecting others) is primarily manifest in active, not passive, action, seeing that the former involves a greater impact on a greater number of people while the latter is frequently localized and restricted to oneself. Aurelius refreshingly clarifies that politics isn’t philosophy: politics frequently involves squabbles, vicious bickering, and tribalism (frequently, people of other political parties are viewed as somehow inferior or deluded) while philosophy focuses on trying to improve the lives and conduct of everyone. Although it’s true that philosophy can be opinionated, as a whole it is a much more skeptical field than politics and religion: most philosophers don’t claim to be telling the truth, seeing that they generally know there is much more information outside of their comprehension and control. Aurelius gives the following piece of advice (although it’s very similar to some given before, I still feel it’s worth stating): “You can rid yourself of many useless things among those that disturb you, for they lie entirely in your imagination; and you will then gain for yourself ample space by comprehending the whole universe in your mind, and by contemplating the eternity of time, and observing the rapid change of every part of everything, how short is the time from birth to dissolution, and the illimitable time before birth as well as the equally boundless time after dissolution” (72-3). Indeed, the universe is calculated to have existed for 14.5 billion years, a time scale too colossal for people to imagine. Furthermore, the universe is believed by some scientists to be in its infancy: even if it’s not, it will continue to exist for an unimaginable amount of time long, long, long after our respective demises. Aurelius then discusses the problem for wishing certain things to happen: instead of asking for a desired outcome, people will do well to ask instead for the fortitude and inner peace needed to no longer care (or at least too much) about achieving said outcome, seeing that it’s very unlikely to give them lasting happiness. However, if they have inner strength, this trait will benefit them for the rest of their lives. That is, “One man prays thus: How might I sleep with that woman? Do you pray: How shall I not desire to sleep with her? Another prays thus: How shall I be released from this? Another prays: How shall I not desire to be released? Another thus: How shall I not be afraid to lose him?” (74). Aurelius recommends that even if one is sick, they should continue to pursue philosophy: when Epicurus was ill, he largely ignored his physical discomfort, talking instead of what he was passionate about (philosophy), seeing how focusing on being sick is of no use, while putting one’s energy in what one’s interested in does bring about benefits. 

In Book X, Aurelius tells himself that he should strive to be deserving of worthy adjectives (he refers to them as “names”). He discusses rationality, equanimity, and magnanimity: “the term ‘rational’ was intended to signify a discriminating attention to every object and freedom from negligence; and that ‘equanimity’ is the voluntary acceptance of the things that are assigned to you by the common nature; and that ‘magnanimity’ is the elevation of the intelligent part above the pleasurable or painful sensations of the flesh, and above that poor thing called fame, and death, and all such things. If, then, you maintain yourself in the possession of these names, without desiring to hear them addressed to you by others, you will be another person and will enter on another life” (78). Aurelius then gives a piece of practical yet motivating advice: “No longer talk at all about the kind of man that a good man ought to be, but be such” (80). Aurelius states that when it comes to accepting the past and dealing with the future, one will do well to imagine that the same type of event is happening again, just with different individuals (who are largely the same nevertheless). In his own words, “place before your eyes entire dramas and stages of the same form, whatever you have learned from your experience or from older history; for example, the whole court of Hadrian, and the whole court of Antoninus, and the whole court of Philip, Alexander, Croesus; for all those were dramas such as we see now, only with different actors” (81). Aurelius recommends that before you judge any individual for their faults, you should remind yourself of your own: anger frequently comes from a place of moral judgment, so when one is reminded of one’s own fallibilities and weaknesses, one will refrain from acting purely on wrath. Aurelius then compares leaves to human lives: just like how leaves are blown around recklessly by the wind, eventually coming to a stop on the ground, so is human life influenced largely by luck, and comes to an end shortly as well (compared to the age of the universe). Aurelius writes that another reason why people shouldn’t fear death is the problems and follies of the world: being deprived of the potential of being victimized by these follies and issues is a net positive. To be specific, he mentions that humans, though being social animals, are still very selfish and could loathe even the virtuous. As he put it, “You will consider this then when you are dying, and you will depart more contentedly by reflecting thus: I am going away from a life in which even my associates, in behalf for whom I have striven so much, prayed, and cared, themselves wish me to depart, hoping perchance to get some little advantage by it. Why then should a man cling to a longer stay here? Do not, however, for this reason go away less kindly disposed to them, but preserving your own character, friendly and benevolent and mild, and not as if you were torn away; but rather should your withdrawal from them be as that gentle slipping away of soul from body that we can see when a man makes a peaceful end. For nature united you to them, and now she dissolves the union. I am separated as from kinsmen-not, however, dragged while resisting, but without compulsion; for this, too, is one of the things according to nature” (84). 

In Book XI, Aurelius mandates that a truly rational soul undergoes self-examination and tries to improve itself. Aurelius describes that he believes that art is inferior to nature, since art is almost completely based off of nature (since it comes from the perception of human beings, who are a part of nature and frequently focus on landscapes, animals, and other human beings when it comes to the subjects of the pieces of expression). He states a major weakness of humanity by writing: “Men despise one another and flatter one another; and men wish to raise themselves above one another, and crouch before one another” (88). He says that people shouldn’t say they’re going to be fair with someone else: they should show their fairness and decency in their actions. Aurelius maintains that the most disgusting thing in the world is a “wolfish friendship” (toxic “friendship”), as that involves not only deception but flattery and willful self-delusion, seeing that the person being preyed on may suspect something unusual, only to ignore it against their better judgment. Aurelius states that people should avoid flattery and try to pursue honesty. Aside from that, they should pursue a good character: “consider that a good disposition is invincible, if it is genuine and not an affected smile and acting a part” (90). Aurelius acknowledges that there are truly wicked individuals in the world, writing that “to expect bad men not to do wrong is madness, for he who expects this desires an impossibility. But to allow men to behave so to others, and to expect them not to do you any wrong, is irrational and tyrannical” (90). Aurelius then reminds himself once more of the application of virtues: “Neither in writing nor in reading will you be able to lay down rules for others before you shall have first learned to obey rules yourself. Much more is this so in life” (92). In Book XII, Aurelius states that humans are composed of bodies, breath (life), and intelligence. “Of these the first two are yours insofar as it is your duty to take care of them; but the third alone is truly yours” (93). He says that people should trust in themselves without being arrogant, especially when it comes to their actions and perception of their worth, seeing how the opinions of others are prone to error, as they don’t know the entire story of an individual: “I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others. If then a god or a wise teacher should present himself to a man and bid him to think of nothing and to design nothing that he would not express as soon as he conceived it, he could not endure it even for a single day. So it is clear that we accord much more respect to what our neighbors think of us than to what we think of ourselves” (94). Aurelius soon provides himself with three guidelines for right action: “First, do nothing either inconsiderately or otherwise than as justice herself would act; and with respect to what may happen to you from without, consider than it happens either by chance or according to Providence, and you must neither blame chance nor accuse Providence. Second, consider what every being is from the seed to the time of its receiving a soul, and from the reception of a soul to the giving back of the same, and of what things every being is compounded and into what things it is resolved. Third, if you should suddenly be raised up above the earth, and should look down on human beings and observe their infinite variety, you will despise them. If at that time you should also see at a glance how great is the number of beings who dwell all around in the air and the ether, consider that as often as you should be raised up, you would see the same things, sameness of form and shortness of duration. Are these things to be proud of?” (96-7). Aurelius ends his work with the following section: “Man, you have been a citizen in this great state (the world): what difference does it make to you whether for five years or a hundred? For under its laws equal treatment is meted out to all. What hardship then is there in being banished from the city, not by a tyrant or an unjust judge but by nature, who brought you into it? So might a praetor who has employed an actor dismiss him from the stage. ‘But I have not played my five acts, but only three.’ Very possibly, but in life three acts are the whole drama; for what shall be a complete drama is determined by Him who was once the cause of its composition, and now of its dissolution: but you are the cause of neither. Depart then satisfied, for He also who releases you is satisfied” (99). 

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Personal thoughts: 

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is a truly great piece of personal recollection, not just a philosophical work (because, as stated before, it’s highly untraditional when it comes to what is discussed, a trend only exacerbated by Aurelius’s repeated statements of Providence and divine entities). Aurelius writes clearly and powerfully of the true essence of life, the pursuit of power, glory, and fame, death, ethics, time, and humanity’s position in the cosmos. His tips are mostly practical, and should be followed by everyone, even those who don’t believe in the gods he’s referring to (many of the Romans at the time, including him, believed the stars to be divine entities), seeing that trying to exercise reasoned resignation, inner peace, justice, kindness, understanding, discipline, and satisfaction is beneficial not just to the individual, but to society at large. I highly recommend Meditations to anyone interested in diaries, philosophy, reality, self-improvement, and human nature. 

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“Classical Mythology” – H. A. Guerber

Classical Mythology by H.A. Guerber, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble®

Classical Mythology by H. A. Guerber was published in 2016: as its name suggests, Classical Mythology focuses on the mythology of ancient Greece, and explains many of them in vivid detail. Classical Mythology is a fantastic book to read for anyone interested in the myths of Greece, as well as works of imagination and creativity. Also, I will not be discussing all the myths, but I will elaborate on most of them. 

The book begins with the definition of mythology: “Mythology is the science which treats of the early traditions, or myths, relating to the religion of the ancients, and includes, besides a full account of the origin of their gods, their theory concerning the beginning of all things” (1). For the Greeks and Romans, there were the Olympian gods (like people of all cultures, the Greeks and Romans believed in their gods for the sake of explaining things which they had trouble understanding – ex. the world): like many other peoples, they believed in a designer when it came to nature, seeing how many of the things around them seemed to be put there just for their use. According to Greek mythology, the world was created when Chaos, a powerful, massive deity, reigned with his wife Night (also named Nyx/Nox). Eventually, they grew tired of having great power but nothing to use their power on: calling their son Erebus (“Darkness”) to help them, “His first act was to dethrone and supplant Chaos; and then, thinking he would be happier with a helpmeet, he married his own mother, Nyx. Of course, with our present views, this marriage was a heinous sin; but the ancients, who at first had no fixed laws, did not consider this union unsuitable, and recounted how Erebus and Nyx ruled over the chaotic world together, until their two beautiful children, Aether (Light) and Herema (Day), acting in concert, dethroned them, and seized the supreme power” (2-3). When that happened, Aether and Hemera had their own child, Eros (also known as “Amor”/”Love”) to help them create the world, including the sea (Pontus) and the earth (Gaea). It was said that in the beginning, Earth was mostly barren. However, Eros quickly remedied this situation by shooting his arrows into the ground, causing life to arise. Guerber writes of the geography of the Earth that the Greeks believed in: “The Earth thus created was supposed by the ancients to be a disk, instead of a sphere as science has proved. The Greeks fancied that their country occupied a central position, and that Mount Olympus, a very high mountain, the mythological abode of their gods, was placed in the exact center. Their Earth was divided into two equal parts by Pontus (the Sea,-equivalent to our Mediterranean and Black Seas); and all around it flowed the great river Oceanus in a ‘steady, equable current,’ undisturbed by storm, from which the Sea and all the rivers were supposed to derive their waters” (5). The Greeks also believed in the Hyperboreans, a race of humans who lived basically in paradise in an area north of them that was always spring: “Their homes were said to be ‘inaccessible by land or by sea.’ They were ‘exempt from disease, old age, and death,’ and were so virtuous that the gods frequently visited them, and even condescended to share their easts and games. A people thus favored could not fail to be happy, and many were the songs in praise of their sunny land” (5). Another fabled people were the Ethiopians, who were said to live with the gods themselves. They were mentioned to live close to the Isles of the Blest, some blessed islands which were reserved for the best of humans: after their deaths, they go to the Isles to live with the gods in eternal bliss (some sources say that to secure entrance to the Isles, you have to live three consecutive virtuous lives in a row: you must be reincarnated repeatedly and succeed likewise). 

Uranus, the god of the sky, fell in love with Gaea, the goddess of the earth. They had twelve children, the Titans. Uranus, fearing that they may overthrow him, sent them into Tartarus (Hell). When it comes to the Titans, there are six males (Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus, and Cronus) and six females (Ilia, Rhea, Themis, Thetis, Mnemosyne, and Phoebe).  Gaea and Uranus had more children, including the Cyclopes (there were three, Brontes – “Thunder,” “Steropes” – “Lightning,” and “Arges” – “Sheet-lightning”) and the Centimani (the hundred-handed ones, who, like the Cyclopes, numbered three – Cottus, Briareus, and Gyes), who Uranus also sent to Tartarus (because he found them ugly). Gaea, irritated that her husband had sentenced their children to banishment, decided to conspire with her children against him, thereby granting them their freedom. The youngest (and trickiest) of the Titans, Cronus, was given a scythe. By using deception (Gaea was stated to have pretended to want to make-up with Cronus), Cronus defeated his father Uranus (by cutting him into small pieces, including the severing of his genitals). Before Uranus was dismembered, he told his son that just like how he was overthrowing him, his own children will overthrow him one day as well. Cronus as a ruler was initially popular, seeing how he freed the inhabitants of Tartarus, but largely ruined his reputation when he allowed his father’s prophecy to determine his action: when his sister, Rhea, gave birth to their child, he sucked it into his stomach to prevent Uranus’s prophecy from coming to pass. This cycle was repeated numerous times (because contraception didn’t exist back then, unfortunately). Rhea, however, wouldn’t allow for all her children to be devoured: she hid one, Jupiter (also known as Zeus, who was an infamous womanizer who caused the misery of countless women) from Cronus by giving Cronus a rock covered with blankets to consume (he probably wasn’t thinking too much when he ate it, seeing how he already had quite a few Olympians in his stomach and was probably overconfident in his baby-eating abilities). Rhea had Zeus sent to Mount Ida to be raised. Later, when Zeus matured (at least physically: emotionally he’s still immature and has no control over his primal impulses), he freed his siblings (Neptune, Pluto, Vesta, Ceres, and Juno) by feeding Cronus a drink that caused him to vomit them up. After they defeated the Titans, Jupiter named himself the king of the world, and sent many of the Titans to Tartarus (some sources say that Cronus was allowed to live peacefully on earth, but I find this unlikely, seeing how he deeply wronged Jupiter by devouring his siblings). That is, “Saturn, or Cronus, the leader and instigator of the revolt, weary at last of bloodshed and strife, withdrew to Italy, or Hesperia, where he founded a prosperous kingdom, and reigned in peace for many long years” (13). 

Gaea, awakening from her slumber, found her children the Titans largely sent to Tartarus or demoted by the Olympians. Angry, he summoned Typhoeus, a powerful monster, to punish Zeus. The Olympian gods were so terrified that they fled to Egypt, where they are said to have inspired the gods of the Egyptians: “Jupiter became a ram, while Juno, his sister and queen, changed herself into a cow” (14). Jupiter, ashamed at his cowardice, eventually returned and defeated Typhoeus. Gaea created another giant, Enceladus, to fight Zeus, but he was also in turn beaten, and was chained under Mount Aetna (which explained earthquakes). Jupiter divided his realm among him and his two brothers: he would reign over Olympus and the sky, Neptune was granted control over the sea, and Hades possessed dominion over the underground and underworld. Humans were said to have been invented by the titan Prometheus, who was known for his foresight, insight, and intelligence (he fashioned humans from clay). However, he enraged Zeus when he gave the best parts of a sacrificial offering to the humans (he hid the muscles in a jar that was covered with unattractive fat, and placed most of the fat in a jar that was covered with a thin layer of delicious meat). Zeus, feeling resentful that he had been cheated, got his vengeance by forbidding Prometheus to give the gift of fire to humankind. Prometheus, uncaring, gave the fire (from Vesta/Hestia’s hearth) to humans. Zeus punished him yet again by banishing him to the Caucasian Mountains, where “a voracious vulture was summoned to feast upon his liver, the tearing of which from his side by the bird’s cruel beak and talons caused the sufferer intense anguish. All day long the vulture gorged himself; but during the cool night, while the bird slept, Prometheus’ suffering abated, and the liver grew again, thus prolonging the torture, which bade fair to have no end” (18). For all his suffering, humankind came to learn the importance of technology, and thanked him for it: he was eventually freed many centuries later by the hero Hercules. To punish humans for Prometheus’s “misdeed” (please call to mind that Jupiter was an immature, immoral child at heart), Jupiter decided the best course of action was to make their lives a living hell: in the beginning, life was basically perfect. Jupiter decided to ruin the lives of mortals by sending Prometheus’s brother, Epimetheus, a beautiful wife named Pandora (whose name translates to “all-gifted,” seeing how she had everything a person would want in a human) to bear a deadly present to humankind: a jar full of the evils of the world. Pandora was told, along with Epimetheus, to not open the jar (they weren’t informed of its contents). Pandora, who was also curious, opened it anyway, causing the evils of the worlds to cause everyone immense anguish (it was described that these evils appeared like moths and traveled at a rapid speed). It should be noted that this story can be read as a patriarchal one that has misogyny: Pandora, as the first woman, was basically allotted the responsibility for all of humanity’s suffering (again, according to this tale everyone was happy when there were only men). Furthermore, at the end of the story, only hope remained, and served to comfort those who were still grieving (this can be read as an act of sadism by the gods – if people had no hope, they would end their lives, thereby ending all their suffering – the purpose of hope is to keep them alive to suffer still more torments in the future. As Nietzsche put it, hope is the greatest of all evils, for it prolongs the torments and sufferings of humankind). According to the Greeks, there were four ages: the Golden Age (reign of the Titans), the Silver Age (which saw the advent of seasons and the introduction of the concept of work and farming), the Age of Brass (which saw much fighting), and the Iron Age (full of suffering, pain, and atrocities). Jupiter and the other gods decided to annihilate humanity for its evil after seeing the depredations of the Iron Age (conveniently forgetting that they were the ones responsible for humanity’s depravity and evil: they’re completely foolish and stupid). They decided to wipe out humanity by using a deluge/flood to do the job: only Deucalion and Pyrrha, a pious old couple, survived. They were instructed to throw the bones of their mothers behind them to repopulate the world (which they really shouldn’t have done: by repopulating the world, they would allow for the potential for massive suffering, as there’s nothing stopping Zeus and the other gods from causing humanity numerous problems. They correctly interpreted that the “mother” in questioning is Gaea, Mother Earth, and her “bones” are stones. Indeed, when they threw the rocks behind their heads, those tossed by Deucalion became adult males while those thrown by Pyrrha became adult females. 

Guerber moves on to discuss Jupiter: he was married to Juno. He cheated on her innumerable times, causing intense suffering to various people. In one instance (that was one of the better ones), he turned himself into a bull to kidnap the beautiful young princess Europea: he took her to Europe, which is named after her. They had three children: Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Sarpedon. Eventually, Minos and Rhadamanthus were made judges of the underworld, and Sarpedon was killed in battle during the Trojan war. Europe’s family, in attempting to find her, was devastated: one of her family members, Telephassa, died of grief. Another, Cadmus, founded Thebes while he was searching for his long-lost sister: he was told by the Delphi oracle to follow a certain cow and to found a city on the land which it rests on. Following the instructions, he found that the place where he was supposed to build his city was close to the home of a dragon of Mars (which ate people). Slaying it, he was told to plant its teeth into the ground. Upon doing so, giants came from the ground and menaced him. He was told by a divine voice to throw a stone into their midst: heeding the instructions, the giants began fighting and started killing each other until there were only five of them left. The remaining five became the servants of Cadmus. Jupiter gave Harmonia, the daughter of Mars and Venus, to Cadmus as a wife. However, his fate on earth wasn’t a happy one: although the sources differ, he was eventually transformed into a snake along with his wife Harmonia. That is, Guerber writes that that occurred because they forgot a sacrifice, while others say that Mars, infuriated by the loss of his dragon, transformed him and his wife into snakes as punishment. For all of Jupiter’s problems, he still had at least a sense of justice when it came to certain individuals: an elderly couple, Philemon and Baucis, were allowed a long, prosperous life in a large temple when they were hospitable to their guests/travelers who needed shelter (the travelers turned out to be Jupiter and Mercury). However, like many other stories, there was a catch: the rest of the town had refused Jupiter and Mercury a place to stay, and they were punished by being put to death (they drowned in a flood). Guerber moves on to discuss Juno, who, unfortunately, married a terrible husband. To get her vengeance for her husband’s affairs, she ruthlessly punished the women he was involved with, frequently transforming them into wild animals. She was still a relatively moral goddess when it came to other topics: she rewarded the sons of a priestess who used themselves to carry her chariot around (due to them not finding the necessary bulls) with eternal happiness in Elysium (which killed them in the process, as Elysium is in the afterlife, but it was painless, seeing that they were asleep when she transported them there). The next goddess to be discussed is Minerva: she burst from the head of Zeus, seeing how Zeus devoured her mother (Metis) in a way akin to how Cronos sucked his children into his bowels in a fit of terror. Minerva was the goddess of strategy and wisdom, which is excellently seen in how she won the patronage of Athens by providing them with an olive bush, which allowed them large revenue: Poseidon’s gift of horses was rejected, seen in how the geography wasn’t very hospitable to that kind of travel. In one incident, Athena transformed Arachne (a fantastic weaver) into a spider for her arrogance (some sources say that Arachne was just as good a weaver as Athena: therefore, the gods were extremely insecure, as they didn’t want people to think that they could be fantastic at their chosen craft). 

The god Apollo was the son of Jupiter and Latona (otherwise known as Leto). As expected, Jupiter caused Latona intense anguish: after impregnating her, Juno realized the identity of the woman he had an affair with. She decided to punish Leto by warning everyone (including the land) that any who would give her shelter would be severely punished by her. The stupidity and utter inhumanity of the gods are seen in the following sentences: “Latona, weary and parched with thirst, drew near a small pool by the wayside to refresh herself; but, urged by Juno, some reapers bade her pass on, and then, seeing she paid no heed to their commands, they sprang into the shallow waters, and stirred up the mud at the bottom until it was quite unpalatable. With tear-dimmed eyes, Latona prayed these cruel men might never leave the spot whereon they now stood; and Jupiter, in answer to her prayer, immediately transformed them into huge green frogs, which creatures have since then showed great preference for muddy pools” (52). The previous quote definitively shows that the Olympian gods shouldn’t be respected at all: they’re spoiled, angry children who have immeasurable power. Furthermore, Leto shouldn’t be pitied here either: if she knew that her lover was Zeus, she should’ve had second thoughts about what she would’ve done, seeing Jupiter’s and Juno’s past records when it came to love affairs. But, however, as is present in many humans who do stupid actions and engage in unhealthy behaviors, Leto lacked any foresight, allowing her animalistic impulses to reign supreme over the gift of insight and reason. She eventually gave birth to Apollo and Diana on an island that moved in the ocean (this phenomenon wasn’t explained). One of Apollo’s disciples (Apollo also specialized in medicine) was Aesculapius, who was so good at medicine he could bring back the dead. As expected, Jupiter, fearing that people would stop paying him respect due to Aesculapius’s medical skill, struck him dead with a lightning bolt (again, he’s a spoiled child who should be mocked if he does exist). Jupiter, not having enough with merely slaying Apollo’s disciple and son, banished Apollo to earth to serve as a slave to the king of Thessaly, Admetus. Apollo, who was treated well by Admetus, asked the gods to give him eternal life. They agreed, but required a substitute to be found: “This divine decree was reported to Alcestis, Admetus’ beautiful young wife, who in a passion of self-sacrifice offered herself as substitute, and cheerfully gave her life for her husband. But immortality was too dearly bought at such a price; and Admetus mourned until Hercules, pitying his grief, descended into Hades, and brought her back from the tomb” (55). Apollo eventually slew the Python, which had tormented his mother while she was pregnant along with innumerable other humans: he shot it with arrows. Since the Python was said to have arisen from darkness and slime, not to mention the fact that Apollo could be represented by the sun, “This annihilation of Python is, of course, nothing but an allegory, illustrating the sun’s power to dry up marshes and stagnant pools, thus preventing the lurking fiend malaria from making further inroads” (57). Apollo had a male lover, Hyacinthus, who was murdered by Zephyrus, god of the south wind (he also loved him, and was so envious of Apollo that he caused a projectile thrown by him to come flying back, hitting Hyacinthus in the head, killing him). Apollo also tried to make Daphne the nymph his female lover, but was met with rejection: she fled from him, and transformed into a laurel tree rather than be with him. Apollo, unrelenting, made her branches into a symbol of victory, carrying some away with him. Apollo, like all the gods, had a dark side: one day, Minerva created the flute, which greatly embarrassed her, seeing that as she played it, her cheeks puffed. Throwing it away, she said that whoever picked it up would suffer a terrible fate. Chance had it that a satyr Marsyas found it, and he became very good at it (seeing that the divine breath of Minerva was in the flute). He became so good, in fact, that he bragged that he was better at it than Apollo. Apollo, after challenging him to a contest, flayed him alive. That is, “Apollo bound Marsyas to a tree, and slew him cruelly. As soon as the mountain nymphs heard of their favorite’s sad death, they began to weep, and shed such torrents of tears, that they formed a new river, called Marsyas, in memory of the sweet musician” (64). Apollo was the father of Orpheus (the mother was the muse of music Calliope): Orpheus was a legendary musician when it came to the lyre. When he married his wife Eurydice, tragedy soon struck: while she was fleeing from her admirer Aristaeus, a serpent bit her, causing her to die. Orpheus marched into the underworld and played his music so beautifully that no one harmed him, not even Cerberus. He begged Hades and Proserpina to allow him his wife back, and they agreed, though on one condition: if he truly believes and trusts in his wife, he must not look back at her until he is above ground. Consenting, Orpheus almost completed the task: he failed it at the last possible moment, when he was just a few steps away from reaching the surface. As Guerber put it, “His longing to feast his eyes once more upon her loved features made him forget the condition imposed by Pluto, and turn just before he reached the earth; but he only beheld the vanishing form of the wife he had so nearly snatched from the grave” (69). As she disappeared, Orpheus’s heart was shattered, and he lost the will to live. He was eventually murdered by the Bacchantes (female followers of the god of wine Bacchus) when they were angry that he wasn’t a jolly, light-hearted person anymore: they tore him to shreds with their bare hands. 

Another story when it comes to Apollo is his son Phaeton, who wished to ride the sun chariot after being humiliated by his peers. Despite Apollo’s warnings and entreaties, Phaeton persisted in his requests, causing Apollo to allow him the opportunity. Phaeton, as expected, was completely inexperienced, and caused much destruction: he couldn’t drive the chariot correctly, and flew so close to the Earth on one occasion that he tanned the skin of many inhabitants black. In other areas, he flew so far away that the land froze. Zeus, after seeing that his temples were smoldering and that people were cursing his name, took out his deadliest thunderbolt, and struck Phaeton dead. His smoldering corpse fell into the Eridanus River. The nine muses are the following: Clio (Muse of history), Euterpe (Muse of music), Thalia (Muse of poetry), Melpomene (Muse of tragedy), Terpsichore (Muse of dancing), Erato (Muse of lyric poetry), Polyhymnia (Muse of rhetoric), Calliope (Muse of heroic poetry), and Urania (Muse of astronomy). Guerber moves on to discuss Diana, the twin sister of Apollo and the goddess of the moon and hunting: Leto, after giving birth to her two children, boasted furiously of having two great children (conveniently forgetting all the pain she had undergone just to do so), clearly illustrating how obnoxious people can be (does she want Juno to become even angrier?). Therefore, when Niobe, the daughter of Tantalus (the man who cut his son into many pieces and served his flesh to the gods and was subsequently punished in the underworld) bragged that she had fourteen children (who’s proud of just having kids? Does she have anything better to do with her life?), Leto showed her true colors by ordering Diana and Apollo to brutally slay her fourteen children (instead of punishing her as they should’ve done if they had any common sense). Obeying, they followed the orders of their wicked mother, killing her fourteen children in front of her (making them serial killers: again, why would Leto be so petty to order for this punishment? After all, the father of her two children stopped spending time with her long ago, and viewed her only as a sexual object to be toyed with, then discarded – does she have any remarkable qualities that make her different from Niobe? While it’s true that Niobe’s boasting was extremely obnoxious, so was Leto’s: they’re both sad, pathetic people). Niobe, her heart shattered, turning her into stone that continued to weep over the deaths of her offspring. Diana was a virgin goddess, though she had a close relationship with some mortals, such as Endymion (she put him into a deep, eternal slumber so she can constantly watch him rest) and Orion (a powerful hunter who lost his eyesight but recovered that faculty by being helped by a Cyclops: he was blinded as punishment for trying to steal a woman instead of going through the usual martial proceedings). Diana accidentally killed Orion: her brother Apollo was petty, seeing how Diana gave Orion much much more attention than him. That is, he told her to shoot “at a dark speck rising and falling far out at sea” that turned out to be Orion’s head (91). After realizing her mistake, she didn’t chastise her brother at all: on the contrary, she “vowed never to forget him, and placed him and his faithful dog Sirius as constellations in the sky” (as if that somehow made the situation better) (91). When it comes to her vengeance, in one incident she punished Actaeon (a hunter, who had numerous dogs) by transforming him into a stag for accidentally seeing her nude. His dogs, finding him, didn’t know that he was their master and tore him to shreds. 

Guerber proceeds to discuss Venus, the goddess of love. She originated from the sea, as Cronus’s blood transformed into a deity. Despite being beautiful, she was cunning, unfaithful, and shallow (potentially a critique of those who pride their appearances above all else): she was married to Vulcan, a genius Olympian who was fantastic at engineering (who was also hideous, causing Venus to feel that she was too good for him, forgetting that she had only her appearance, while Vulcan had technical skill, knowledge, and years of experience). As expected, she had an affair with the god Mars (the god of war, who is extremely cowardly and petty, yet ruthless and murderous). Whenever they would have an affair, Mars would have his servant Alectryon stand watch at the door: however, one morning he fell asleep while on the job, causing Apollo to see the two lovers from his sun chariot. Apollo quickly went to Vulcan and told him of his wife’s affair. Vulcan, infuriated, grabbed a flexible yet unbreakable net (made of linked steel) and leapt into the room the two lovers were in before throwing it on them. Mars and Venus were thus captured, and Vulcan exacted his vengeance by showing them to all the gods, ruining their reputations (which they deserved for their lust and arrogance). When he set them free, Mars grabbed Alectryon, turning him into a rooster as punishment for his negligence. Venus had an affair with a hunter named Adonis who was gored to death one day by a wild boar. As expected, those who admired her the most were young people (who were influenced largely by hormones, emotions, and hopes, not calculated reason): in one instance, two admirers of Venus, Hero and Leander, died together. To specify, Leander made it a habit to swim to Hero’s home every evening across the ocean to be with her. One night, he perished in a particularly large storm, causing Hero to commit suicide in a fit of despair by jumping into the tumultuous waves. In another tragic incident, two lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe, also died together: they were deeply in love (only on a surface level: like most stories, they only liked each other’s appearances) and wanted to meet (to do the obvious). However, their parents wouldn’t like that, as their families were feuding. Disobeying, they decided to meet in the forest. Thisbe got there early, and saw a lion whose teeth were smeared with blood. Terrified, she dropped her veil as she fled. Later, when Pyramus happened across the scene, he saw the damaged veil (the lion had chewed on it quite a bit) and the paw-prints of the lion. Believing that Thisbe had been killed by the lion, he stabbed himself to death with a dagger. A few minutes later, Thisbe reappeared and found the body of Pyramus. Heartbroken, she used the same dagger to end her life. To honor them, “the fruit of the mulberry tree, which had been white, assumed a blood-like hue, dyed by the blood which flowed from the death wounds of Pyramus and Thisbe” (110). In another incident, there was Echo and Narcissus: Echo was a talkative nymph who fell in love with Narcissus (as his name suggested, he was very narcissistic and had no special qualities save his pleasing appearance). Narcissus, as expected, rejected her, causing her to beg Venus to make him feel the same misery as her: “she implored Venus to punish him by making him suffer the pangs of unrequited love; then, melancholy and longing to die, she wandered off into the mountains … there, brooding continually over her sorrow, pined away until there remained naught of her but her melodious voice” (110). Venus punished Narcissus one day as he was getting a drink from a pool by making him think that his reflection was another person: it didn’t take long for Narcissus to realize that he couldn’t get to the person in the reflection. However, he remained there until he died, never realizing that he was looking only at himself. The gods of Olympus changed his corpse into a flower which is frequently found near quiet bodies of water. 

In another instance, there was a sculptor named Pygmalion who was famous for his skill. One day, he created a statue that was so beautiful that he fell in love with it, so much so that he begged Venus to make it a living person. “As Pygmalion had always been an obdurate bachelor, and had frequently declared he would never marry, Venus was delighted to see him at last a victim of the tender passion, and resolved to grant his request” (113). That is, the statue came to life and Pygmalion quickly became engaged with her and they got married (and lived happily ever after? This is one of the few truly happy endings in Greek mythology). For all Venus did for lovers, she could be quite unsympathetic: when Cupid, her son (in some stories like this), was injured accidentally by Psyche, a beautiful young maiden, she refused her to see him until she proved herself by doing virtually impossible tasks. However, Psyche completed all of them save the last: nonetheless, she was made into a goddess for her devotion and perseverance, and lived happily with Cupid. Guerber proceeds to discuss Mercury: Mercury, as expected, was a son of Zeus (basically the 10,000th child he had with other women, to the rage of his rightful wife). Not long after being born, Mercury quickly demonstrated that he was very crafty by stealing some of the cattle of Apollo. In the end, he was able to save himself from being sent to Tartarus by offering Apollo his lyre, an instrument that he invented himself. Mercury is frequently portrayed with a magic wand (a Caduceus, which has two snakes intertwined around it), flying shoes (to be specific, they have wings), and a cap. Mercury, aside from being the messenger of the gods, was also in charge of “eloquence, commerce, rain, wind, and the special patron of travelers, shepherds, cheats, and thieves” (126). To demonstrate, in one instance he helped Zeus sleep with a nymph named Io (seriously, how is Zeus the king of the Olympians? I believe his role in mythology can be seen as a representation of how bad rulers frequently seize power for long periods of time) who had been turned into a cow by Hera and was guarded by a giant named Argus who had eyes on every part of his body by approaching him in a friendly way. Once he was close to him, he told such boring stories while making use of poppies that he caused Argus to fall asleep. After doing so, he callously decapitated Argus (to reiterate, he committed cold-blooded murder just because his father wanted to hump yet another woman). Juno, however, wasn’t done yet: she sent a gadfly to cause Io the cow much pain, as it wouldn’t stop following and stinging her. Once Io reached Egypt, she was transformed back into a girl by Jupiter, and even allowed Zeus to copulate with her (after he put her through unimaginable suffering): “Jupiter restored her to all her girlish loveliness, and where her son Epaphus was born, to be the first king and the founder of Memphis” (128). Guerber discusses Mars: just know that he has attendants for his war chariot, is a coward (he fled from many battles despite being the god of war), and was the father of Romulus and Remus (he seduced a temple priestess who was sworn to chastity – in other versions, he raped her). 

Guerber describes Vulcan, the god of the forge. Vulcan was born hideous, causing him to be avoided by all the other gods. In one instance, he tried to save his mother (who never liked him only because of his ugliness) from being dangled over the void by Jupiter (she was conspiring against him, and was also unhappy that he was a prolific womanizer), only to be tossed off of Olympus by Jupiter, which permanently crippled him (his legs were severely mangled). Furthermore, Juno made no attempt to communicate with him once he reached the mortal realm, causing him to become bitter towards her. He established a forge in Mountain Aetna, where he partnered with the Cyclopes to produce various miraculous creations, including two handmaidens made of gold (they were statues) that helped him walk, seeing his crippled legs. He also worked on a special throne in his free time: the throne would appear normal when no one was sitting on it, but the moment someone rests on it, they’ll be unable to rise again. He gave the chair to his mother, who fell for it. The gods begged him to release her, but he didn’t, citing her indifference towards him as a justification. Eventually, Bacchus succeeded in doing so by using wine as an incentive. For the most part, Vulcan lived in Mount Aetna, as he didn’t like Olympus, as he knew the other Olympians loathed him for his appearance. Regardless, he still built them palaces (why?) and created Cupid’s arrows and Zeus’s thunderbolts. Guerber moves on to talk about Neptune, ruler of the oceans. He possessed tremendous power, as he could control the behavior of the seas. He also disliked the Trojans greatly, as a Trojan king, Laomedon, made a habit of not keeping his promises: when he was exiled from Olympus for plotting to overthrow Zeus, he built the walls of Troy for Laomedon. Laomedon promised him a reward once he was done, but failed to deliver it. Enraged, Neptune summoned a monster from the deep to terrorize Troy. As expected, Laomedon decided to save his own skin by offering his daughter Hesione as a sacrifice. Fortunately for her, Hercules happened upon Troy from one of his labors: upon hearing of the problem, he slew the monster with his club. As expected, Laomedon refused to compensate him. Hercules soon gave him his just reward: “aided by a chosen band of adventurers … The city was stormed and taken, the king slain, and his wife and children carried to Greece as captives … Laomedon’s failure to pay his just debts was the primary cause of the enmity which Apollo and Neptune displayed towards the Trojans during their famous war with the Greeks” (146). Neptune’s official wife was Amphitrite, a Nereid (one of the fifty daughters of the deities Doris and Nereus). One of Neptune’s attendants, Proteus, could tell the future. Therefore, he was frequently badgered by those who wished to know the future, causing him to react by changing “his form with bewildering rapidity, and, unless they clung to him through all his changes, they could obtain no answer to their questions” (151). To complete the trinity, there is Pluto, the god of the underworld. There are five rivers of the underworld (the underworld is frequently referred to as “Hades” to pay homage to its ruler): the Cocytus (River of Tears), the Acheron (River of Pain), the Phlegethon (River of Fire), the Lethe (river which makes you forget things), and the Styx (toxic river that separates the underworld from the world above). Charon is the only boatman, and he requires the standard payment of an obolus (a single coin) from the spirits in return for passage. Those who have no money have to wait for a century until Charon is finally willing to provide the service for free (to dissuade those who are stingy). There are three judges that decide the fates of the souls: they are Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus. They know everything about the individual due to their station, and will therefore decide their fates fairly: if the person lived a virtuous life, they’ll be allowed into Elysium. If they were immoral, they’ll be sentenced to an eternity of pain and suffering in Tartarus. If their lives were ordinary, they would be sent to the Fields of Asphodel to wander unceasingly for eternity. 

There are three furies within the underworld: their names are Alecto, Tisiphone, and Megaera. They focused on punishing those who had committed especially egregious crimes while they were still alive (one of the crimes they loathed most was the murder of a parent), and they also kept watch over the damned souls of Tartarus. The three Fates (Morae) are Clotho (who appears as the youngest and spins the thread – the thread represents the life of a person), Lechesis (the one who twists the thread, thereby allowing the person’s life to play its course), and Atropos (the one who cuts the thread, marking the demise of the individual). Some of the prisoners of Hades include the Danaides, forty-nine (a total of fifty in the world above in the past) sisters who had callously murdered their husbands (only one of them refused to go through with the dead): they’re punished by being forced to repeatedly fill a bottomless cask (it has no bottom). Whenever they stop, they’ll be ruthlessly whipped by an attendant spirit. Tantalus was a king who insulted the gods by killing and feeding his son Pelops to them: the gods resurrected Pelops and severely punished Tantalus. That is, “he stood up to his chin in a stream of pure water, tormented with thirst; for, whenever he stooped to drink, the waters fled from his parched lips. Over his head hung a branch of luscious fruit. His hunger was as intolerable as his thirst, but, whenever he clutched at the fruit, the branch swung upward, and eluded his eager grasp … This singular punishment inflicted upon Tantalus gave rise to the expression ‘to tantalize.’” (161-2). Another one of the punished was Sisyphus, a king who tried to evade death by holding Thanatos (the god of death) captive for numerous days. When he was going to be punished, he deceived Hades himself: before being sent to the underworld, he told his wife to leave his nude body on the city streets. Therefore, when he reached the underworld, he told Hades (some sources say Persephone) that his body was dishonored, and requested permission to go to the world above to scold her. He (or she) granted his request: however, instead of keeping his promise, he reentered his body and lived out the rest of his life. When he died, he was punished even more harshly: he was forced to do a Sisyphean (that is, a pointless and impossible task that generally repeats itself) for the rest of eternity. Guerber describes, “he was condemned to roll a huge stone to the top of a very steep hill; and just as he reached the summit, and fancied his task done, the rock would slip from his grasp and roll to the foot of the hill, thus obliging him to renew all his exertions” (162). This punishment can be seen as symbolic: trying to escape from death itself is futile, just like pushing an enchanted boulder up a hill. Furthermore, Sisyphus was guilty of other misdemeanors as well: while he commercially benefited his city of Corinth (he was the king), he murdered travelers and guests to steal their valuables, therefore violating one of the key rules of Roman society, that of causing no harm to guests.  Then there’s Salmoneus, a king who pretended to be Jupiter to glorify himself: Jupiter quickly came across his behavior, and struck him down with a lightning bolt. “In Tartarus, Salmoneus was placed beneath an overhanging rock, which momentarily threatened to fall, and crush him under its mass” (163). He also obliterated the city Salmoneus had founded, murdering in cold blood most of the inhabitants. Titus was a giant who insulted Juno, and was punished in the same way (for the most part) as Prometheus: he was given a regenerating liver that was continuously attacked by a bird (in this case, a vulture). Ixion was a king (of the Lapithae) who murdered his father-in-law. Once he was summoned to Olympus (that was the first act of violence committed, thereby making him infamous), he “pleaded so skillfully, that Jupiter was about to declare him acquitted, when he suddenly caught him making love to Juno, which offense seemed so unpardonable, that he sent him to Tartarus, where he was bound to a constantly revolving wheel of fire” (164). As noted above, a dashing double standard exists: while Jupiter has cheated on his wife countless times, he becomes enraged when his wife copulates with someone else. To say the least, he’s a hypocritical fiend. Unfortunately, this kind of double standard was prevalent for much of human history: when Augustus became the emperor of Rome, he stated that husbands can kill their wives if they find them cheating, yet they have every right to openly sleep with other women, including prostitutes. 

Bacchus is next discussed: like many others, he was the illegitimate son of Zeus. Zeus’s affair with his mother (Semele) caused her death and almost ended the life of Bacchus: when Hera found out that she was cheating on him for the umpteenth time, she turned into the form of Semele’s old nurse, and goaded Semele (who, like many characters in Greek mythology, was exceedingly arrogant and foolish – it was mentioned in the text that she was proud only of her appearance, and nothing more) into asking for Zeus to appear in his divine form. Zeus, being a weak-willed individual despite all his power, complied with Semele’s requests: however, she couldn’t handle his divine form, and promptly burned to death. However, her unborn child survived (this is eerily akin to evolution: individuals that are immoral, foolish, and violent are those that leave the most offspring, thereby ensuring the world is deeply flawed due to its inhabitants). Zeus gave Bacchus to his aunt Ino, who was married to Athamas, the king of Thebes. Juno, not giving up on the idea of vengeance, ordered Tisiphone the Fury to drive Athamas insane and to punish him and his associates for harboring the child of Zeus: “In a fit of deluded frenzy, he pursued his wife and children as if they were wild beasts. One of his sons, Learchus, fell beneath his arrows; and, to escape his murderous fury, Ino plunged headlong into the sea with her second child in her arms. The gods, in pity for her sufferings, changed her into the goddess Leucothea, and her son into a sea deity by the name of Palaemon” (170). When Athamas finally came to, he escaped, terrified of being prosecuted for the atrocities he had committed while insane. Bacchus survived, for Jupiter turned him into an animal to protect him (though, to clarify, humans are animals as well: I just use the word “animal” out of convenience). One time, when Bacchus was kidnapped by pirates, he caused grape vines (that could create wine) to emerge from the sea, tangling the ship. His followers came to rescue him, and his kidnappers, incapable of processing the scene, lost their minds, jumping overboard, becoming dolphins. Bacchus was also the one who gave Midas the golden touch (Midas found Bacchus’s tutor who was drunk and wandered away from his friends, and returned him to Dionysus, thereby earning his gratitude) and was the one responsible for taking it away (he told Minos to wash his hands in the Pactolus River). Bacchus loved going to Naxos (an island) to relax. One time, he met Ariadne, who had been abandoned by Theseus (she had saved his life from the Minotaur prior, and he left her on the island while she was sleeping as the ship was passing). Bacchus and Ariadne got along well, and eventually married: though she died, Jupiter revived her and made her a deity. Bacchus had a dangerous side, though: when he was insulted by the king of Thebes, Pentheus (Pentheus ordered for Bacchus and his followers to not go into his cities to do their festivities), he caused Pentheus to be torn to shreds by his own mother when he tried to spy on what they were doing. That is, Pentheus “disguised himself, and hid in a bush near the consecrated place, hoping to see all without being seen; but an inadvertent movement attracted the attention of the already excited Bacchantes, who, led by Agave, the king’s own mother, dragged him from his hiding place and tore him limb from limb” (178). Bacchus, aside from being the patron of wine, also dominated the field of insanity. 

Guerber proceeds to discuss Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and the harvest. She had a daughter, Proserpina (another daughter of Zeus), who was kidnapped by Pluto (he had low self-esteem when it came to romance, as he was continuously rejected by goddesses due to his being lord of the underworld, which had little natural light and nature). When Ceres learned that Pluto had done the kidnapping, she ordered for her daughter to be returned to her. Pluto agreed, but by that point in time Prosperina had eaten a small part of a pomegranate: by eating the food of a host, the guest is interpreted to have consented to their stay. Therefore, Proserpina has been linked to the underworld. Fortunately, an agreement was reached: she would stay in the underworld for half a year, and would be allowed on the surface for the other half (she was sentenced to a month in the underworld each year for every pomegranate seed she had eaten). While she’s aboveground, Ceres, appeased, would allow the harvest to continue. However, when she’s in the underworld, Ceres, unhappy, would refuse to perform her duties, thereby elegantly explaining the four seasons. Ceres in one instance punished a man named Erisichthon extremely punitively: Erisichthon went to one of her sacred groves and “cut down one of her sacred oaks. At his first blow, blood began to flow from the tree; but, unfettered by the phenomenon of the entreaties of the bystanders, Erisichthon continued. Finally, annoyed by the importunities of the spectators, he turned and slew one or two, and then completed his sacrilege. Ceres, incensed by his insolence and cruelty, devised a terrible chastisement for the unfortunate man, and sent Famine to gnaw his vitals, and torment him night and day. The wretch, tortured by a hunger which no amount of food could ally, disposed of all his property to obtain the means of procuring nourishment; but his monstrous appetite continued, and, as he had but one daughter left, he sold her as a slave to obtain food” (192). When he sold his daughter as a slave, Neptune intervened on her behalf by setting her free: tormented terribly by hunger and with no means of obtaining food, Erisichthon consumed himself. Another goddess to mention is Vesta (or Hestia), the manager of the hearth who was honored by Rome with the Vestal Virgins, a tradition that was begun with the Roman king Numa Pompilius. The Vestal Virgins would begin their service when they’re only six, and would keep the sacred fire (that honored Vesta) alight at all times, for it was warned that if the flame is to go out, Rome will be plunged into catastrophe. The Vestals, as their name suggested, were supposed to remain virgins during their service: if they don’t, they’ll be buried alive. However, “The Vestals were … so pure and vigilant, that during one thousand years only eighteen failed to keep their vows satisfactorily, and suffered punishment … In return for the signal services the Vestals rendered to the state by maintaining this sacred fire, they enjoyed many privileges: among others, that of being preceded by a lictor with fasces when they walked abroad; of occupying the seats of honor in public ceremonies and festivities; of being buried within the city limits (a privilege granted to but very few); and of obtaining the pardon of criminals whom they met by accident on their way to the place of execution” (197). The Vestals continued to function until the emperor Theodosius tried to destroy religions that rivaled Christianity: in 380 AD, he “abolished the worship of Vesta, dispersed the Vestals, and extinguished the sacred fire” (199). A god that is worth mentioning is Janus, who is the patron of decision-making (seen in his two faces). Somnus (Hypnos) and Mors (Thanatos) lived in the underworld: Somnus was responsible for sleep while Mors was the god of death. Aeolus was the god of the storm and winds. 

Guerber proceeds to discuss heroes. She discusses in detail Hercules, Perseus, Theseus, Jason, Atlanta, Oedipus, Bellerophon, Ulysses, and Aeneas. She also discusses minor divinities and provides much-appreciated analysis of the myths. Hercules was a hero who was fathered by Jupiter (surprise! But seriously, Jupiter is a terrible individual) and was almost killed by Juno as an infant, seeing how she sent poisonous snakes to kill him. However, he had superhuman strength, and was thereby able to defend himself. After winning battles for his homeland, he flew into a fit of rage (he became insane, which was instigated by Juno) and killed his wife and children. To atone for his deeds, he performed his fabled twelve labors, which are listed in the following: (1) Nemean Lion (a lion that is ferocious and with skin impenetrable by daggers and arrows: Hercules kills it by strangling it with his brute strength), (2) the Hydra of Lerna (it has numerous heads, but only one is immortal: only when that head is destroyed is the Hydra dead. However, every other head, when severed, not only grows back but sprouts a second. Hercules enlisted the help of his nephew, who would torch the stump of the Hydra after its head is decapitated to prevent it from regenerating – this deed was judged as invalid by the king ordering the tasks, as Hercules received help), (3) the Stag of Cerynea (was extremely quick and was treasured by Diana and Apollo: when Hercules caught it, he promised he was only doing it for a task, and would return it once his deed was done. He kept his word, and they left him alone instead of striking him dead, which was what the king hoped to happen), (4) the Augean Stables (some treasured cows lived in conditions so filthy that the task of cleaning the stables was deemed to be virtually impossible: Hercules solved the problem by using a river to clean their living space – this was also judged to not count by the king, as the river technically helped Hercules do the task), (5) to capture the Erymanthian Boar (that possessed much physical strength: Hercules completed the task by using sticky snow), (6) the Cretan Bull (the bull which was the father of the Minotaur – the sorceress Pasiphae was forced to fall in love with it by the conspiring of Venus and Neptune, seen in how Neptune raised the bull from the ocean at the request of Minos, expecting for it to be sacrificed in his honor, only to be betrayed by Minos, who wanted to keep it for breeding – some foreshadowing, huh? The task proved to be remarkably easy, as Minos no longer wanted the bull around, for it was a reminder of the Minotaur), (7) Diomedes’s steeds (Diomedes was a vicious and sadistic ruler who fed his horses human flesh – Hercules was able to harness them by feeding him and his guards to his own horses, who didn’t discriminate when it came to what they were being fed, so long as they were being given the food they had grown to crave), (8) Hippolyte’s girdle (the king’s spoiled brat of a teenage daughter wanted it. While Hercules was initially able to get along with the queen of the Amazons, Hippolyte, Juno caused the Amazons to believe that their queen was being seduced and lied to, thereby causing an armed conflict. Hercules was still able to get the girdle and complete his task), (9) the Stymphalian Birds (these birds were extremely dangerous, as they were quite sadistic, seen in how they enjoyed terrorizing the people near the Stymphalian swamp by throwing poisonous feathers that were as sharp as darts at them. Hercules was able to shoot some of them with arrows, and used a cowbell to produce a noise so terrible that they moved quickly to some other area), (10) the Cattle of Geryones (Hercules was supposed to get the cattle from Geryones, a person that watched over his livestock with great jealousy and scrutiny. Geryones, upon learning that Hercules wanted his cattle, attacked. Hercules killed him with ease), (11) the Hesperian Apples (which was guarded by an almighty dragon: Hercules got them by asking Atlas, who was forced to carry the world on his shoulders and also had control over the dragon, to do the task. He outwitted Atlas: Atlas didn’t plan to return himself under the burden of the sky, but Hercules appealed to his sense of vanity and pity, thereby trapping him under his burden once more), and (12) getting Cerberus from the underworld (he did so using his strength, and returned Cerberus once his task was done). After Hercules gained his freedom, he committed murder once again (in a fit of rage, he pushed a person who suspected him of thievery off a great height): to atone for this crime, he became the slave of Omphale, the Queen of Lydia. He eventually married a woman named Deianeira after rescuing her from a river spirit, and a centaur named Nessus soon tried to kidnap her, but was slain by Hercules (he was shot through the heart by an arrow). He lied to Deianeira by claiming that centaur blood acted as a love potion, and warned her that Hercules would soon abandon her for someone else. Deianeira took some of his blood. Soon enough, Hercules planned to marry a girl he had taken captive named Iole. Deianeira put the centaur’s blood on his shirt, not knowing that centaur’s blood actually acted like acid: when Hercules put it on, he suffered intense agony before climbing onto his funeral pyre and going up in flames. Upon realizing what she had done, Deianeira killed herself, and Hercules was made the gatekeeper of Olympus by Jupiter, ending the tale of arguably the most legendary hero of Greek mythology. 

The next hero to be discussed is Perseus, yet another son of Jupiter (his mother, Danae, was locked in a tower by her father Acrisius, the ruler of Argos, as it was prophesied that his grandson will kill him). When the child was born (and Jupiter, as usual, was completely absent), Acrisius ordered for him and his mother to be executed by being locked into a box and thrown into the ocean. They survived, however, and reached another place. There Danae was wooed by the king of the island, Phineus, who sent Perseus away to another part of the island to make wooing his mother easier. Despite all of Phineus’s attempts at courtship, Danae refused to concede herself to him (because he wasn’t an immortal god like Zeus). In an attempt to get rid of Perseus for good, Phineus agreed he would stop pestering his mother if he killed the monster Medusa. Medusa was once a beautiful human who was raped by Neptune in Minerva’s temple: regardless, Minerva punished her by turning her into a hideous monster (some argue that this was a benefit, as no one would ever rape her again) that had the power to turn people to stone if they were to look at her directly, seeing that she couldn’t severely punish Neptune (which reflects reality: those with power and influence can get away with egregious indecencies and crimes while their victims are shunned, mocked, assaulted, and blamed for their misfortunes). Medusa’s two sisters accompanied her to an isolated cave to live, only to be disturbed by Perseus, who, with the help of the gods, decapitated her, seeing that he needed to bring her head back as proof that he had slew her. When Medusa’s blood fell onto the earth, snakes were created. Also, the stump of Medusa’s head produced Chrysaor (a powerful warrior) and the winged steed Pegasus (she had become pregnant by Neptune’s rape, and her children were in her body, fully developed, the entire time). On the way back to the island, he found Atlas, who was still holding up his burden. Taking pity on Atlas’s pain, he showed him Medusa’s face, turning him into stone and nullifying the discomfort he has felt for millennia. He also saves a princess named Andromeda from being eaten by a sea monster by using Medusa’s head to turn said monster into stone. He returns to the island to find Phineus trying to force Danae to marry him, and deals with him like how he dealt with many of the previous problems in his life, by taking out Medusa’s head and turning him and his allies (including his soldiers) into stone. After rescuing his mother, they went back to Argos: Acrisius, hearing of their arrival, escaped. He pretended to be a beggar, and was accidentally slain by Perseus when he threw a discus: a gust of wind caused it to collide with Acrisius, killing him. Perseus ruled as the king of Argos for the rest of his life. 

Theseus was a Greek hero who was rumored to have been the son of Neptune (his mother, however, probably wasn’t raped by him, unlike Medusa). Theseus’s potential human father had left him and his mother for another kingdom for some undisclosed reason, and he told his wife that when Theseus becomes mature, he should push over a certain boulder to get to a sword that will protect him when he tries to find his father. Indeed, when Theseus grew older, he got the sword and went on the journey to find his father (who was then the ruler of Athens). On the way, he killed numerous serial killers that have threatened previous travelers, including Sinis (a giant who used his large club to murder people for entertainment – Theseus beat him in combat), Sciron (a robber who guarded a cliff, and forced travelers to wash his feet: he would then kick them off the mountain into the water, where a giant tortoise lived that loved to eat human flesh – Theseus intimidated him with the club he got from Sinis, forcing him to wash his feet, only to treat him the same way he treated his numerous victims: he kicked him off the cliff, where his tortoise mercilessly devoured him), Cercyon (a king who would force travelers to wrestle him: if they lose, he will kill them – Theseus beat him by maneuvring around him and taking him unawares), and Procrustes (a sadist who had two beds: one was extremely long, the other extremely short. He would force guests into the room with the two beds, and would make them choose between one bed or the other. If they choose the long bed, they’ll be stretched until they are as tall as the bed. If they choose the short bed, their body parts will be accordingly severed until they cover only the vertical distance of it. Theseus gave him a piece of his own medicine by making him try them both before ending him for good). When Theseus reached Athens, he discovered, to his dismay, that his father had married the evil sorceress Medea: Medea, seeing Theseus, didn’t want Aegeus to know that Theseus was his biological son. Therefore, she convinced him that he was an enemy, and poisoned his drink. Fortunately for Theseus, his father recognized him as his son: shocked, he knocked the drink to the ground. The liquid, falling on a dog, killed it rapidly. He ordered for Medea to be seized, but she escaped to Media by entering her chariot (flown by dragons and gifted to her by the god Helios, who was her grandfather). While Theseus initially celebrated with his father, he learned of the Minotaur: Minos’s (the king of Crete) son had died while he was in Athens, causing him to become enraged and to demand a tribute to appease him. That is, he wants, occasionally, for some of the young men and women of Athens to be forced to come to Crete, where he constructed an intricate labyrinth that is virtually unnavigable. The labyrinth also houses the Minotaur, a creature that is half-man and half-bull that mercilessly tears its victims apart (probably due to it being neglected because of its hideousness, as well as the fact that it was likely for it to have been abused by its trainers). Theseus volunteered for the assignment, and went to Crete to kill the Minotaur to free the people of Athens from the tribute once and for all. Upon arriving at Crete, Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, fell in love with him. She told him that she would help him if he would marry her. Theseus agreed, and Ariadne gave him a dagger and a ball of thread so that he could find his way out of the labyrinth. Theseus succeeded in slaying the Minotaur, and took Ariadne with him. However, upon reaching an island, he grew tired of her and abandoned her, leaving her completely alone. Ariadne, as stated before, was later rescued by Bacchus. Theseus, upon arriving back at home, accidentally caused his father’s death: Aegeus asked that if he were to survive, he should change the sails to white. Theseus forgot this, so when Aegeus saw the black sails of the ship, he believed that he had perished. Heartbroken, he threw himself off a tower into the Aegean Sea, ending his life. Theseus as the king was dissolute, as his friends influenced him negatively. He eventually had the audacity to try to kidnap Persephone, the wife of Hades, with his friend Pirithous, the king of the Athenian army: both their wives died not long after they married them, and “To avoid similar bereavement in [the future], they both resolved to secure goddesses, who, being immortal, would share their thrones forever. Theseus carried off Helen, the daughter of Jupiter, and, as she was still but a child, instructed her to the care of his mother, Aethra, until she attained a suitable age for matrimony. Then, in return for Pirithous’ kind offices, he accompanied him to Hades, where they intended to carry off Proserpina” (261). 

Helen’s twin brothers Castor and Pollux rescued her, and Hades quickly caught Theseus and Pirithous, and put Theseus “on an enchanted rock, from which he could not descend unassisted, and bound the second to the constantly revolving wheel of his father, Ixion” (261). When Hercules performed his twelfth task, he helped Theseus off the rock. Upon returning home, he wanted to marry once more, and had the audacity to ask Ariadne’s younger sister Phaedra to marry him. Crete consented to the union. However, “she was not at all delighted with her aged husband, and, instead of falling in love with him, bestowed all her affections upon his son, Hippolytus, a virtuous youth, who utterly refused to listen to her proposals to elope. In her anger at finding her advances scorned, Phaedra went to Theseus and accused Hippolytus of attempting to kidnap her. Theseus … implored Neptune to punish the youth … a great wave suddenly arose, dashed over the chariot, and drowned the young charioteer, whose lifeless corpse was finally flung ashore at Phaedra’s feet. When the unfortunate queen saw the result of her false accusations, she confessed her crime, and, in her remorse and despair, hung herself” (263). Theseus eventually incurred the hate of his people, as he became quite cruel. Tired of him, they sent him to Scyros (an island), where the local king, Lycomedes, threw him to his death from the top of a tower. The next hero discussed is Jason, whose parents were dethroned. Wanting to restore the position of his family and himself, he challenged the usurper, his uncle Pelias. Pelias told him that he would give him the throne if he brings back the Golden Fleece, a priceless treasure guarded in Colchis, a faraway kingdom. Jason agreed, and constructed the Argo (a ship) with the help of a man named Argus. The Argo was built out of a certain tree that gave it intelligence: it would frequently talk and give advice to the crewmates (who were known as Argonauts). The Argonauts, after going through much trouble, finally reached Colchis. When Jason requested the Golden Fleece, he was denied by the king. However, he was given the chance to win it if he could harness bulls that could breathe fire (they were gifted to the king by the gods) and sow the dragon teeth into the ground (which would spawn giants: remember Cadmus and Thebes). Jason accepted the challenge (seeing how there was no other option). Fortunately for him (in the short run, at least), the king’s daughter, Medea, was a sorceress who had great knowledge and power: she said that she would help him complete the tasks if he would marry her (sound familiar?). He agrees, and she gives him a potion that will make him invulnerable to the flames of the bulls and tells him to throw a rock into the midst of the giants to survive. Following her advice, Jason completed the tasks and won the Golden Fleece. However, the king didn’t plan to honor the bargain, planning to murder him and his crew before they would leave. Medea, knowing her father’s personality, told Jason and the crew that they had to leave, which they did. While escaping, they were pursued by the ships of the king. Medea, in order to make way for their escape, slew her own brother when he boarded the ship to negotiate their surrender (she’s extremely ruthless and quite cruel) and dismembered his body before throwing the pieces into the ocean (the ships chasing them would have to prioritize on recollecting the body, as funerals in Greece required the whole corpse to be considered successful). After successfully escaping, they came across a mechanical giant named Talos that threatened to crush them (it was created by Vulcan). Medea saves them by opening a valve at its foot, causing the chemicals running it to leak out: it “bled” to death. Pelias refuses to honor his agreement, causing Medea to murder him through trickery (she convinced his daughters to cut him into small pieces and to throw him into a fountain which she claimed would restore his youth), causing her and Jason to escape to avoid the wrath of Pelias’s relatives. Going to another kingdom, Jason decided to marry the daughter of the king. Medea, utterly enraged and bewildered, murdered the king and his daughter by sending her a poisoned dress that caused them both to die excruciatingly. She then murders her two children to cause Jason further suffering, and escapes after warning him that the Argo will cause his death, leaving him a broken man. Jason spends the rest of his life without aim, and dies while he’s sleeping under the Argo for the sake of nostalgia: a wooden beam fell off and struck his head, killing him and fulfilling Medea’s prophecy. The next hero discussed is Oedipus: it was prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother (both of them presided over Thebes), which caused him to be abandoned by them in hopes that he would die and the prophecy would be subverted. However, he was found by the king and queen of Corinth. When Oedipus was informed of the prophecy (he was a young man by then), he was horrified (he also didn’t know that he was adopted, as his adoptive parents never told him). Unwilling to cause his “parents” suffering, he left the area to prevent the prophecy from coming true. While he was leaving, he came across his father (who was traveling incognito), who insulted him, causing him to brutally murder him and his attendants in a fit of rage. 

Moving his way past the crime scene, he decides to help the people of Thebes by getting rid of the Sphinx which has been tormenting them: those who wish to enter the city have to answer its riddle, and if they fail, they are mercilessly devoured. Oedipus hears the riddle and gives the correct answer, causing the Sphinx to commit suicide by throwing herself off a cliff (the book says that Oedipus kills it with his sword). By saving the people of Thebes, he was made the king, and married the queen (his mother, who was widowed by his murdering his father/her husband). They had four kids (two sons and two daughters), and he suspected nothing: conversely, he was quite relieved, as he believed he had escaped his dreadful fate. However, soon a terrible disease ravaged Thebes, and Oedipus learned from the oracle that the ones who had murdered the former king had to be found and punished for the epidemic to leave. After some research, it was concluded that he was the murderer and had in fact married his mother. Horrified, his mother killed herself. Oedipus, shocked and remorseful, blinded himself with her scissors and left the city in order for the plague to stop. Oedipus was scorned by all for mistakes he had unwittingly committed, and eventually died in solitude as a wretched man. His four children ended up killing each other in a power struggle, ending his cursed lineage. Another hero that is discussed is Bellerophon, who accidentally slew his own brother while he was hunting as a youth. Heartbroken, he was sent to live with Proetus, another king (and relative), to repent of his crimes. However, “He had not sojourned there very long, before Anteia, the queen, fell in love with him; and although her husband, Proetus, treated her with the utmost kindness, she made up her mind to desert him, and tried to induce Bellerophon to elope with her. Too honest to betray a man who had treated him as a friend, the young prince refused to listen to the queen’s proposals. His refusal was to cost him dear, however; for, when Anteia saw that the youth would never yield to her wishes, she became very angry indeed, sought her husband, and accused the young stranger of crimes he had never even dreamed of committing” (295). Proetus, incensed, but unwilling to kill his guest (it went against basic decency and Roman tradition), sent Bellerophon to King Iobates, ruler of Lycia, with instructions that asked him to put Proetus to death the moment he arrived. When Iobates saw Bellerophon, they got along well: Bellerophon had forgotten to give the letter to him for a few days, and didn’t know of Anteia’s treachery. When he finally gave him the letter, Iobates was hesitant to slay him: therefore, he sent him to kill the Chimaera, a ferocious beast with the head of a lion, the tale of a snake, and the body of a goat, in hopes that he would be killed by it. Bellerophon got help from Minerva (she helped him tame the Pegasus, which was Medusa’s child, by giving him an enchanted bridle). He slew the Chimaera with the aid of Pegasus, and later defeated the Amazons. Iobates, astounded, believed that Bellerophon was being protected by the gods (and indeed he was), causing him to stop trying to murder him. He also let him marry his daughter Philonoe (the younger sister of Anteia). As for Anteia, she killed herself out of anger that Bellerophon was not only alive, but happy and healthy. While he lived happily with Philonoe for some years, Bellerophon soon became quite overconfident, and wished to use Pegasus to fly to Olympus. While he tried to do so, Jupiter, seeing him, summoned a gadfly that viciously stung Pegasus, blinding him with pain, leading to him accidentally throwing Bellerophon to his death. While there are more myths in this book that are worthy of mention, these are the ones I’ll be doing: if you want to read the rest, feel free to buy the book. Here are the legends I didn’t discuss: Atlanta, minor gods and goddesses, the Trojan War, Ulysses, Aeneas, and the analysis of the myths presented. 

Personal thoughts: 

Classical Mythology by H. A. Guerber is a fantastic book that never ceases to teach the audience of Greek mythology and the influences behind them. Entertaining and powerful, Classical Mythology discusses a wide range of gods, goddesses, heroes, and geographical (though fictional to a large part) locations. One of the biggest aspects of Greek mythology is how openly contemptible, immature, cowardly, and cruel the gods, goddesses, and deities could be: Jupiter was a prolific womanizer who fathered many children and caused many women to be tormented by Juno, Neptune had committed rape (like many other deities), and even some of the more likable gods like Mercury and Apollo have committed brutal and heinous murders, clearly showing that they’re not to be admired at all. When it comes to why the deities are like this, the answer is quite simple: people generally project their own strengths and weaknesses on the religions that they practice, which extends to the “divine” entities. After all, why would people believe in a religion that shows a god (or gods) in a way that is utterly alien to humans? Humans desire sympathy, companionship, and understanding: belief systems that don’t fall under these categories are largely ignored. Therefore, to reiterate, the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology are perverted and dangerous because those who invented them had their own issues, leading to them projecting their minds into the psyches of supposedly higher beings. I highly recommend Classical Mythology to anyone interested in legends, Greece, interesting characters, and easygoing story-telling. 

Get the book: 

Barnes and Noble – Classical Mythology 

“Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire” – Simon Baker

Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of An Empire by Simon Baker, Paperback |  Barnes & Noble®

Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire is a book detailing the history of Rome published in 2006 and written by Simon Baker. Ancient Rome is a great book for those interested in Rome: even though it presents a large amount of information, it does so with very little boredom, seeing that Baker humanizes the characters and utilizes narratives to illustrate their complexity and the overall situation. 

Mary Beard, a Roman historian, begins the book in the foreword by stating that Rome, for all its glory and achievements, was a city founded on murder: in 853 BC twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, noted as “the head of a small band of exiles and malcontents,” tried to decide on the location of their future city (9). They quarreled on where to build Rome, and Romulus began building a wall. Remus, in an attempt to spite Romulus, jumped over it, only for Romulus to impale him with a sword: he died quickly after. Since Romulus lacked influence, he tried to attract people to join his city by offering asylum: anyone can join and live in Rome, including criminals, exiles, refugees, and even slaves who have escaped from their masters. While that largely dealt with the issue of males, there were still the women to think about. In what became known as the Rape of the Sabine Women, Romulus pretended to have a religious festival and invited other people from nearby towns to come. Large numbers of women showed up. While they were initially impressed by Rome, Romulus then gave a secret signal to his followers, who seized the women and forced them to become their wives (note: “rape” meant “kidnapping” back then, although it also could be read as forced sexual intercourse). Beard acknowledges that this event may not be true, as the first documentation of the event took place centuries after it supposedly happened. However, it is somewhat supported by evidence, making historians take this event seriously. Beard states that Rome had quite a few civil wars: the citizens interpreted this as appropriate, seeing how Romulus killed his own brother to mark the founding of the city. Beard then gives the purpose and organization of his book: “This book concentrates on six pivotal moments in the history of Rome, from the second century BC to the fifth century AD – a time of dramatic, somewhat revolutionary, change. During this period, Rome came to be the dominating power around the Mediterranean and much further afield (traces of the presence of Roman traders have been found as far east as India). It turned from a more or less democratic republic into an autocratic empire. And – most dramatic of all perhaps – Rome was finally transformed from a pagan to a Christian city” (10-11). Beard states that Rome has fluctuated greatly many times, and acknowledges that even though much of Rome’s functions is hidden from us (ex. lives of the poorest citizens and sewage disposal), we can still methodically guess at their respective details. Furthermore, she says that there are many primary sources left, one of the most famed being Julius Caesar’s On the Civil War, which detailed how he virtually ended democracy and made himself the sole ruler of Rome (albeit briefly). It should be noted that Caesar referred to himself in the third-person throughout the text, giving it a feel that is both unique and entertaining. 

Beard gives a brief overview of the text, informing the audience that they’ll be looking at the foundation of Rome, the rise of Caesar and Augustus, the deranged life of Nero, the rebellion of Judaea, the life of Hadrian and Constantine, and the fall of Rome. She states that there is a BBC television series for the book, made possible by primary sources from Roman figures themselves. She acknowledges the importance and sheer magnitude of the influence of Rome, as most empires that came after Rome were compared to it when it came to measuring their success and dominance in their respective territories. Rome’s influence has also extended to popular culture, literature, and philosophy (after all, Plato, Aristotle, Democritus, and Pythagoras still dominate the field of philosophy, as it is frequently stated that all of philosophy was a reaction to Greek/Roman philosophers like Plato). When it comes to literature, Beard elaborates that “William Shakespeare’s Julius of Caesar, itself loosely based on a translation of Plutarch’s Life of Caesar, is only one of many reflections on the rights and wrongs of the case. The audience’s interest is divided between the title role of Caesar, killed less than halfway through the play, and the fate of his assassins, which dominates the second part. Do we feel that we are on Caesar’s side – a legitimate ruler illegally put to death? Or is the killer Brutus our hero for being prepared to murder even a friend in defence of popular liberty? How far do patriotism and political principles demand that we sometimes flout the law and ride roughshod over personal ties of friendship and loyalty? … the answers proposed for these particular historical and literary conundrums were especially loaded around the period of the French Revolution. Voltaire, for example, presented a dramatic version of the events, which clearly had one eye on the execution of the French royal family when it unequivocally backed the assassins’ deeds as honourable” (16). Another way Rome is prevalent in popular culture is the saying which states that Nero burned down Rome while playing a fiddle. Aside from that, Nero is remembered today as a despotic, demented tyrant who engaged in luxuries and depravities (including matricide – he murdered his own mother). Nero’s persecution of the Christians somewhat backfired, as the belief system came back stronger than ever. As Beard describes, “Film and fiction have indulged in touching but entirely implausible fantasies of Christian heroism in the face of Neronian tyranny – often enlivening the picture with the subplot of a pretty young Christian girl converting her young pagan boyfriend, and taking him with her to a noble but gory death (usually involving lions). Many of these stories are versions of a best-selling novel, Quo Vadis, by the Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, which was published in the nineteenth century and quickly translated into almost every European language” (19). 

Beard proceeds to acknowledge that our view and understanding of history constantly change: as we learn more of Rome, views which may be accepted as plausible today may be viewed as absurd tomorrow. In her own elegant words, “all reconstructions are inevitably provisional. And the implication of these changing attitudes to Roman culture (and they are bound to go on changing) is that our own modern version of Rome, however historically grounded it is, is likely to appear in a hundred years’ time as quaintly old-fashioned as nineteenth-century reconstructions now look to us” (please note that in the nineteenth-century Victorian era the customs of the Romans were viewed as being quite similar to modern Europeans, which, of course, was erroneous) (22-3). Beard documents that we care so much about the Romans because of the various structures they have built (ex. the Colosseum, Nero’s Golden House, surviving roads of the Appian Way), as well as the works of art which they produced (literature like the Metamorphoses, The Iliad, The Odyssey and aesthetic forms of beauty including mosaics). Beard acknowledges that Rome has lessons for all of humanity today, seeing how “we share with the Romans many fundamental political dilemmas, and can usefully watch them wrestling with solutions. They, after all, were among the very first to wonder how to adapt models of citizenship and political rights and responsibilities to vast communities that transcended the boundaries of a small, ‘face-to-face’ town. By the first century BC the population of the city of Rome alone, excluding Italy and the more remote territories of the empire, was in the order of a million” (23). Another key staple of Rome were the later emperors, as well as the relationship slaves had with society as a whole (a huge portion of Roman society was composed solely of slaves). Mary Beard ends the foreword by discussing that many powerful and recent historical figures were greatly influenced by the Romans, including those belonging to America and Britain: “The founding fathers of the United States saw a model in the republican politics of Rome before the advent of one-man rule. Hence American ‘senators’ and the ‘Capitol’ (after the Roman Capitoline Hill) as seat of government. In Britain the Labour movement saw resonances of its own conflicts with a land-owning and industrial aristocracy in the struggle of the Roman people against aristocratic conservatism … To understand our world we need to understand how it is rooted in Rome. In many ways we are still living with the legacy of Romulus’s murder of Remus” (24). 

Baker begins the book by discussing that many Romans believed in a fictionalized account as to the founding of their city upon encountering the Greeks: they believed their founding father was Aeneas, a hero of the Trojan war who survived the sacking of Troy while carrying his father away from certain doom. Rome, geographically, was “located 24 kilometres (15 miles) inland near a river, the Tiber. Made up of seven compact hills, it seems today like a small, unprepossessing place for the capital of an empire that would rule over the known world”: that is, it wasn’t located right next to the ocean, not to mention that the area was prone to overflowing from the Tiber River and had marshes which made initial settlements difficult to construct (28-9). Baker provides a list of the “Seven Hills of Rome” (which is also the name of the chapter) in the following section: “on the Palatine Hill, the future residence of Roman emperors, a series of stone and wooden shepherds’ huts formed and the first settlement at the very start of the Iron Age in 1000 BC, and from that time on it would be continuously inhabited. By the seventh century BC that community on the Palatine joined together with others on the Quirinal, Aventine and Caelian hills. Soon the Esquiline and Viminal hills also were deforested, levelled and terraced to make homes for other settlers. The Capitoline Hill, which was nearest to the river, became the settlement’s acropolis and the home for the temple of the shepherds’ principal deity, Jupiter. The area at the foot of these hills, once the place where the shepherds grazed their flocks, was drained and filled, and the meeting-place of the Roman Forum soon formed the city’s epicentre” (29). The Seven Hills of Rome offered protection for the city, and although the Tiber could indeed overflow, it also allowed for agriculture. The language the Romans spoke was one that belonged to the Latins. As for their alphabet, they got theirs from the Etruscans (who were accordingly influenced by the Greeks). According to Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus were the sons of Mars (god of war). The father of their mother, believing they would threaten his rule, ordered for them to be killed. When they were left to die in the wilderness, a lupa (female wolf) found them. Fortunately for them, instead of killing them, it raised them as their own. After years of living with the wolf, Romulus and Remus were discovered by shepherds who adopted them, seeing that they were unable to bear children themselves. After the reign of Romulus, some Etruscan kings headed Rome. While their reign eventually ended, they introduced the concept of imperium, which noted their executive authority: “This was their right to give orders to ordinary people and to expect those orders to be obeyed. Imperium allowed them to punish and even to execute people for disobedience. Crucially, it also included the power to conscript citizens into an army and lead them to war on people outside the boundary of Rome who challenged that authority. The holder of imperium carried a symbol of his power, and this too was of Etruscan origin. The fasces was a bundle of elm or birch rods 1.5 metres (5 feet) in length; they were tied together with red leather thongs, and in among the rods was an axe. The authoritarianism symbolized by the rods survives today in our word ‘fascism’.” (31). The imperium, noted by Baker, would lead to massive bloodshed throughout the entire Mediterranean as leaders of Rome tried to exercise their power (including Augustus, the first Roman Emperor). 

Rome as a republic was founded in 509 BC, although the process of it becoming so involved struggle. That is, the tyrant Tarquinius (nicknamed “the Proud” for his arrogance) had virtually total authority, and he allowed his son, Sextus, to go wild (he enjoyed sexually assaulting women and boasting of his notorious deeds in public). Sextus eventually raped a noblewoman named Lucretia: he threatened he would kill her and a slave in her company and proceed to frame them copulating if she wouldn’t give in to his sexual demands. Unwilling to lose her honor, she allowed herself to be assaulted. She then committed suicide, and when the other nobles witnessed her demise, they decided that the Tarquins had to go. One of them, Lucius Junius Brutus (the ancestor of Brutus the Younger), was a powerful leader of the force that threw the Tarquins out of Rome (furthermore, the group was mainly composed of aristocrats). After the Tarquins were expelled from Rome, people decided to appoint consuls (basically the leaders of the republic) to head the government. However, to limit their power, two were appointed at a single time: each of them would prevent the other from acting like a despot, and they would remain rulers for only a year. Despite the Roman belief in a republic, they still allowed for dictators in certain scenarios: if there is a massive emergency, then a person can be appointed as the dictator (giving them virtually unlimited power) until the crisis passes. Other positions in the Roman government include the praetors (these officials hear private legal cases), quaestors (managed financial transactions, acted as a treasurer), aediles (officials who supervise trade), censors (these officials do a census of Roman citizens once every five years), senators (largely made up of rich people: people in the senate were those individuals who served in a government position prior), and soldiers (who largely had to pay for their own equipment). There was also class struggle: the patricians were the rich who were very conservative (seeing that they wanted to keep their wealth) while the plebeians made up the vast majority of the population and ranged from the somewhat wealthy to the destitute. When the plebeians asked for reform, they succeeded in getting some concessions (one of these concessions involved a new assembly). This new assembly included the tribunes, and the tribunes directly represented the plebeians. The tribunes had a huge amount of power: they could use their veto power to temporarily shut down all the functions of the government to protest the actions of patricians. That is, “A consul was at once a military commander, a prime minister, a chancellor and a bishop, while a tribune combined the roles of a Member of Parliament or a US senator with defense lawyer, policeman and trade union representative” (38). 

Another victory which the plebeians won was strengthening their voice in the Assembly of the Centuries (prior to reform they had almost no voice in that group, seeing that most of the population, the poor plebeians, had only one vote while the rich had more than half of the 193 available). The Roman republic eventually got its name: “SPQR” (or “Senatus Populusque Romanus” – “the Senate and the Roman people”). From 500-275 BC, Roman armies devoured most of Italy. After they first took control of Latium, they eventually won the rest of the Italian peninsula. One of the main reasons as to why they were so incredibly successful was that Rome frequently incorporated the defeated subjects of the respective towns and villages into itself, thereby bolstering its force. Rome, before its military campaigns, frequently agitated for war by trying to find any excuse to justify a future one. This ceremony of finding an excuse also involved a Roman priest swearing as to the “justness” of the hostilities before throwing a spear into the territory of the enemy. When the Romans fought the Greek army of King Pyrrhus, “They forced a prisoner seized from Pyrrhus’s army to buy a small plot of land in Rome and the priests threw their symbolic spear into that” (43). As for Pyrrhus, he invaded Italy in 280 BC. during “the campaigning season” (that is, in March – March was named after Mars, the Roman god of war): “In two brutal and bloody battles he successfully defeated the Romans. The Greek king, though, having seen so many of his soldiers slaughtered in achieving this success, was said to have remarked, ‘With another victory like this, we will be finished!’ … By 275 BC, however, the Romans had turned their fortunes around. They defeated Pyrrhus at Beneventum near Naples, expelled his invading army, and were now free to consolidate their grasp over the rest of southern Italy” (43). Baker then writes of the Punic Wars, the series of wars that took place between Rome and Carthage. Carthage was located near the top of Africa, and was an economic powerhouse due to its overseas ports and gold mines. However, Rome wanted control over its resources, and fought three Punic Wars with Carthage. Carthage was beaten every time, and after each loss was punished severely. After losing the first, they were forced to pay 3,200 talents of silver (80 tons) over a decade. This only fueled the animosity of the Carthaginians towards the Romans. In the second Punic War, they had a military mastermind, Hannibal, become the general. Hannibal would later strike fear into every Roman heart. Baker elucidates that “In 221 BC he had assumed command of the Carthaginian forces in Spain. When he was nine, went one famous story, his father had dipped his hand in the blood of a sacrifice and sworn him to an eternal hatred of Rome … The Romans expected the Second Punic War to be fought in Spain … This conflict, which lasted from 218 to 201 BC and was the greatest of the wars between the two rival empires, is legendary for Hannibal’s extraordinary decision: to invade Italy and march on Rome” (53). That is, he crossed the Alps with his thirty-seven elephants and a large number of soldiers (12,000 cavalry, 90,000 infantry). However, crossing the Alps involved a large number of casualties: “After four weeks crossing the whole Alpine range, Hannibal walked into Italy in the company of (at the lowest estimate) 20000 infantry, 6000 cavalry and a minority of the elephants. The infantry might have been double that size. He rested them all for two weeks before proceeding to match the great feat of reaching Italy with another: destroying every Roman force he met there” (54). 

Hannibal eventually dealt to the Romans the most devastating military defeat they would ever experience: the Battle of Cannae. In this battle, the Romans were surrounded by Hannibal, who proceeded to slaughter 45,500 Roman infantry and 2,700 cavalry in a single afternoon (impressively, the combined number of the Roman army was more than double the size of Hannibal’s army, yet Hannibal still managed to crush them brutally). This battle also saw the deaths of at least eighty senators, and it was so devastating to Rome that most believed it was no match for Hannibal’s forces. However, some people continued to fight for Rome’s sake, including Publius Cornelius Scipio, who was only nineteen at the time: he is remembered as a savior of Rome. He was able to get Hannibal out of Rome by utilizing the remaining manpower of Rome’s allies. He also sent a force to invade North Africa (including Carthage), causing Hannibal to go back to Carthage in an attempt to defend it. As expected, Scipio was extremely popular, causing some to fear that he was going to become a dictator. He eventually faced off with Hannibal in the Battle of Zama, and soundly defeated him, seeing that 20,000 Carthaginians lost their lives while only 1,500 Romans perished. Carthage was punished even more: it lost all its overseas possessions, seeing that “It was forced to surrender its elephants, to pay 10,000 talents (250,000 kilograms or 245 tons) of silver in indemnity and, crucially, to agree, in a way similar to a nuclear non-proliferation treaty today, never to re-arm or declare any war without permission from Rome” (57). The Third Punic War saw the Romans struggling greatly due to their own corruption. Regardless, officials like Cato the Elder urged for Rome to put all its energy into destroying Carthage, seeing that they felt like it would remain a threat forever (Cato the Elder was infamous for ending each of his speeches with the declaration that “Delenda est Carthago,” or “Carthage must be destroyed”): “Led by Cato the Elder, this side glossed their case with bright rhetorical brush strokes. The Carthaginians were untrustworthy, degenerate and effeminate child-sacrificers. The suggestion was that they were, in effect, subhuman and should be treated as such” (61). Rome decided to purposefully instigate a war: some officials claimed that Carthage had too many materials that could be used to create ships. Rome also bribed Numidia to show aggression towards Carthage, which caused Carthage to retaliate, giving them an excuse to finally wipe it out once and for all. While three embassies were sent to Rome in an attempt to negotiate a surrender, it became apparent (through the inhuman demands and lies of the Romans) that Rome only wanted to destroy Carthage: an official, Censorinus, hypocritically told the Carthaginian ambassadors that the sea was meant for trade, not war, and that they should stop going into the sea if they want peace. “Dumbstruck, the ambassadors broke down in tears of frenzy and mourning. It was impossible to meet this condition without, in effect, destroying the city for ever. It now dawned on them that the Romans had never sincerely intended to come to terms. They had simply sought to gain an advantage in a war that was now – and had always been – unstoppable” (63). 

The Romans eventually raided Carthage, and butchered all the inhabitants, systematically murdering them: the Carthage Massacre lasted for six days. Baker writes that “Once inside the city, killing squads advanced house by house, narrow street by narrow street. They cut and stabbed their way from the Forum of Carthage along three streets … Throwing planks over the narrow alleyways, they continued to wage the war from rooftop to rooftop, leaving a trail of mutilated corpses in their wake or tossing them to the streets below. Then, amid the cries, shrieks and animal-like groans, Aemilianus raised the intensity of the brutal assault and ordered the streets to be set on fire. The booming noise stepped up the confusion. Houses came crashing down and the elderly, the wounded, women and children were forced out of their hiding places” (68). There were so many corpses on the streets that people needed to clean them up, and the remaining corpses were mangled further by passing horses and the like. Eventually, 50,000 Carthaginians surrendered to the Romans. The Romans then ordered for Carthage to be burnt into oblivion, and utterly destroyed it. Of the million inhabitants, 50,000 survived and were made slaves. It is rumored that the Romans, after destroying Carthage, covered the city with a layer of salt to curse the city into being abandoned for the rest of time. Aemilianus the Roman general was solemn after the defeat: Carthage had been a thriving city for centuries. If it could fall, then Rome would fall one day too. Indeed, Rome was extremely unequal when it came to standards of living, and ridiculously so: while the rich lived in extremely large houses and palaces, the vast majority of the population lived in crammed, filthy areas (apartments) that were very susceptible to fires (which easily burned out of control due to the proximity of various houses, which were accordingly constructed of flammable material) and disease (sewage was dumped into the streets). The situation became even worse when the rich, who could easily afford most of what they wanted, purchased almost all the land from the plebeians. This caused the situation to become disastrous: a few people owned almost all the land, leaving the rest of the people to suffer. This resulted in many farmers in the countryside going into Rome to find employment: Rome, despite being a large city, didn’t have enough jobs for many of the immigrants, leading to unemployment and poverty. This attitude of arrogance, selfishness, and inequity is further seen with the quaestor Mancinus and the Numantines. The Numantines captured Mancinus’s army of 20,000 people by using strategy. Mancinus tried to bargain for their lives, promising the Numantines that the Roman senate would make a fair treaty. The Numantines accepted his bargain. When Mancinus went back to the Senate after saving 20,000 Roman soldiers, he was met with jeers and derision: the senators viewed the Numantines as inferior, and saw the surrender as a complete disgrace. Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (a major Roman reformer who would later be callously murdered by the rich for trying to defend the poor by giving them economic opportunity) defended Mancinus’s noble decision to save 20,000 people. However, “the Senate was not remotely swayed from its belief in Roman invincibility. Since the destruction of Carthage, Rome was now the only superpower, the master of the Mediterranean. It could do what it wanted to whomever it chose. If the price of defeating the rebellious Numantines was the glorious death of 20,000 soldiers … so be it!” (83). 

Although Mancinus and Tiberius continued to plead for the lives of the 20,000 soldiers, the Senate arrogantly tore up the treaty (thus demonstrating the fatal flaw of hubris), making people realize that the Republic no longer honored “fides,” or “good faith” agreements. Tiberius’s career seemed ruined due to his defending the treaty. Fortunately for him, it was saved when he was greeted by the families and friends of the soldiers whose lives he had saved: “As Tiberius left the Senate House in disgrace, he received a very different reception from the Roman people. The wives, mothers, fathers, children and grandparents of the 20,000 Roman citizens whose lives he had saved in Spain now thronged the Forum, cheered his name to the skies and feted him like a hero. Almost inadvertently, he had won the love and respect of the plebs. Perhaps in this moment the seed of an idea was planted. Tiberius’s path to winning prestige, his chance to channel his intelligence, idealism and political skills, and his opportunity to honour the achievements of his father now lay not with the Senate but with ‘the case of the common people’. The ambition of an aristocrat had found another outlet” (86). Tiberius, staying true to how the plebeians perceived him, launched some of the largest reforms in Roman history: he focused on land reform. He was elected to be a tribune, which gave him the power of the veto, making people pay attention to what he had to say. When it came to land reform, he simply wanted to follow the laws of the past which were still supposedly perfectly legal: that is, Roman law stated that the maximum amount of land a person could own is 125 hectares (300 acres). As stated before, the few people who owned large amounts of land went far beyond this limit, and didn’t want Tiberius to threaten their exorbitant and unabashed avariciousness (this kind of greed is one of the most consistent factors that continuously holds humanity back as a species when it comes to maturity and cooperation). Of course, this law was mostly ignored by those who held land, seeing that they had extremely powerful influences on the senate, the consuls, and most aristocrats. In a telling speech, Tiberius criticized the aristocrats for being greedy, seeing that while they lived in extreme decadence, most Romans faithfully served Rome while receiving little recompense. His reforms, though large, were still reasonable: they would “re-enfranchise the plebs, make them eligible once more for military recruitment and inject new energy into Rome’s army. And the small price that the wealthy landowners had to pay for this? The surrender not of their privately owned land, but simply of the state-owned public land above the limit of 125 hectares (300 acres) that they had acquired over the last few centuries. Yet the core of the landowning aristocrats would not hear of it, and protested loudly” (90-1). Acting like the assholes they were at their core, they decided to heinously murder Tiberius for trying to benefit the majority of Romans (sounds familiar?). They hired a thug named Nasica to amass his followers and to butcher Tiberius: unfortunately, they succeeded in this terrible deed. To be more specific, when Tiberius learned that Nasica was coming to take his life, he put his hand on his head as a signal to his followers to protect him. Nasica, seeing this, said that he was calling for a crown, and alleged that he was going to “save the Republic” by murdering him in cold blood (quite ironic, for Rome wasn’t a republic anymore by that point in time – it was an oligarchy ran by cold-blooded aristocrats who knew nothing of the sufferings and tribulations of the common people). Baker tellingly describes, “Tiberius … tripped over some bodies. He fell down and was promptly clubbed to death. No fewer than three hundred people were killed in this way: not honourably with swords, but ignobly and brutally with clubs, sticks and stones. In the aftermath, Tiberius’s younger brother Gaius requested that his dead brother’s body be returned to him. But the aristocratic senators refused Tiberius the dignity of a proper burial and threw his bludgeoned corpse into the Tiber that same night, along with those of his supporters and friends” (98). Gaius, despite being warned by his mother to not become a politician, still got involved in the field and also became a social reformer (although he was notorious for a bad temper, he still wanted to aid the common people by introducing the concept of social security in the form of food for those who couldn’t afford it). Expectedly, he was also brutally murdered by the aristocrats (or more appropriately named, “parasites”) due to their unwillingness to compromise at all. 

Baker describes that “Tiberius and his land bill sought only to restore things to the way they had been centuries earlier before Rome had won the riches of its empire abroad … Six years later, in 123 BC, this proud younger brother Gaius picked up the baton, was also elected tribune and introduced an even more ambitious and comprehensive program of reform. He too was branded an enemy of the republic by the conservatives in the Senate and murdered. As with his brother, they despised what he stood for. To the mass of the Roman people, however, Tiberius and Gaius were heroes” (99). The murders of Tiberius and Gaius created a massive divide between the conservative parasites and the populists. It went so far as war: from 90-89 BC Rome fought against itself as Italians whose territories have been conquered by Rome (who were also inspired by Tiberius and Gracchus) asked for Roman citizenship. Sulla was a brutal general who defeated the foreign king Mithridates in 83 BC. After going back to Rome, he decided to exterminate the populists by having them murdered: their names would be written on a paper known as the “proscription.” If your name was on the list (which was also displayed in public), you could be murdered, and the person murdering you would not only go unpunished, but receive a part of your property. Sulla also tried to prevent populists from gaining power, seen in how he stripped tribunes of much of their power (they can’t run for other offices). After murdering many and being an exceedingly selfish ruler, Sulla retired to private life, where he later died. He went so far as to mock those he had slaughtered by referring to himself as “Felix,” or “the happy one.” Baker later writes of Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar: both were extremely powerful and popular generals. While Pompey succeeded in destroying pirates, Caesar focused on land warfare: he invaded the land of the Gauls. Caesar’s conquests were successful, and because he treated his soldiers well, they were primarily loyal to him, not Rome. Pompey the Great was an ally of Caesar, as both wanted and craved power. However, their alliance was broken after Pompey’s wife (the daughter of Caesar, whom Pompey loved dearly) died in childbirth and when the parasites (who viewed themselves, described by Baker, as elected by the people – whatever that means) gave him the sole consulship to deal with a riot by the populists (after a populist representative was stabbed to death on the street by their death squads). Later on, Caesar beat the Gallic leader Vercingetorix. Overall, it should be known that “Completely outnumbered, Caesar had relied on daring, tactical genius, the efficiency of his unprecedented siege operations, and the bravery of his men to pull off one of the greatest victories in all Roman history [the battle of Alesia, which saw an enormous number of enemy dead and wounded]. Although there were pockets of resistance to mop up, Gaul was now Roman – another province of a vast empire. In due course it would provide Rome with an annual tribute of 40 million sesterces” (130-1). 

While Caesar was out in Gaul, the parasites were afraid he would create reforms. Cato the Elder (known for his “virtue”) played on Pompey’s insecurities to make him an enemy of Caesar. When Caesar began coming back to Rome, he was informed that he should leave his army outside of Rome (across the river Rubicon), seeing that armies are never allowed into Rome. Despite the warning, Caesar decided to try his luck in a civil war, as he knew that if he was to cross the Rubicon without his army, he could be imprisoned and executed by the parasites due to their fear of reform (and because he also committed the equivalent of war crimes during his conquests in Gaul). Baker writes that the Rubicon hasn’t been geographically located yet: the only references we have to its name are in the texts of Roman historians. However, all accounts agree that Caesar uttered “The die is cast,” or “alea iacta est.” When Caesar neared Rome, he made the concept of “clemency” one of his main policies. That is, when soldiers belonging to Pompey’s side were captured, they were allowed their lives and their fates: they could either leave for somewhere else or become a part of Caesar’s army. Most of them decided in favor of the latter option. Interestingly, “In Rome, Caesar’s enemies were thrown into a fit of panic. They had hoped that the respectable classes in towns throughout Italy would rise up as one in defence of the republic against the invader. But as Caesar waged his blitzkrieg without significant opposition, they quickly realized that they had hopelessly misread the majority view” (140). As Caesar neared Rome, the parasites behaved as they usually did: they seized all their possessions and ran away as quickly as possible. Baker describes that Caesar demonstrated that the rich didn’t care about the poor: “The city’s poor were left behind, many in tears, morose and resigned to being taken captive. It left the impression that perhaps Caesar was indeed right: the rich did not care for the Roman people, but just for themselves” (142). Pompey was one of the people who escaped, despite having an army larger than Caesar’s. When Caesar entered Rome, his soldiers behaved remarkably well: “He called a meeting of the Senate in a temple, and a handful of disgruntled senators showed up. But when he asked them to join him in taking over the government they hesitated, still unable to commit to one side. After three days of discussion and excuses, Caesar, despising the weakness of these little men, gave up his patient show of legality and acted according to his own dignity” (145). That is, Caesar took the gold reserves of Rome for his own. Pompey later made battle with Caesar, though he was defeated by Caesar’s sense of strategy: Caesar correctly guessed that the aristocrats, true to Roman tradition, would be in the front lines to demonstrate their valor. Therefore, he ordered his soldiers to stab upwards at their faces at the Battle of Pharsalus, threatening to disfigure them. He also put the ugliest and most battle-hardened soldiers at the front to scare the aristocrats. As expected, his strategy worked: “It was a moment of military genius … Rome’s aristocratic youth, the scions of senators, might well have the eagerness for battle, but they had neither the experience nor the stomach for it. The decisive action threw them into a panic. They turned and fled to the hills” (150). This consequently exposed the flank of Pompey’s army, and Caesar used one of his lines of soldiers to butcher and quickly defeat Pompey’s soldiers. Baker describes that “The next day 24,000 of Pompey’s army surrendered to Caesar, throwing themselves on the ground, weeping and begging for their lives to be spared. Of the estimated 15,000 dead, 6,000 were Roman citizens. To the enemy Romans who survived, Caesar showed clemency once again in a first step to heal the sick republic. He also pardoned the noblemen who had fought against him” (151). As for Pompey, he fled to Egypt, and was murdered by the boy king there (he didn’t want to make Caesar think he was helping his enemy). Caesar, seeing his death, cried (crocodile tears?) and ordered for the person who killed Pompey to be put to death. 

When Caesar went back to Rome, he was immensely popular and powerful, loved by the mass of Roman citizens. In Baker’s own words, “On his return to Rome in 46 BC, Caesar celebrated four lavish triumphs; his veterans were given a lifetime’s salary, and there was a gift of money for every Roman citizen. Between 49 and 44 BC Julius Caesar was voted four consulships and four dictatorships. With the power that these offices granted him, he honoured his pledges to reform the republic and restore the liberty of the people. Legislation, ranging from the suspension of rent for a year to the settlement of veterans and the urban poor in Italy and in colonies abroad, was enacted, but it was by no means the revolutionary, radical overhaul that the conservatives feared” (152). Caesar made Rome more of a meritocracy by making social mobility possible. Caesar eventually made himself a permanent dictator, and the senators (contrary to popular belief, they most likely murdered Caesar not out of love for the Republic, but in an attempt to stop future reforms) ganged up on him and stabbed him to death violently: “They approached him and soon they were hemming him in. Then, one of the men broke cover, flashed the blade of his dagger and plunged it into the dictator. The others piled in, frenetically pulling at their togas to release the weapons hidden in their folds. They stabbed their political enemy twenty-three times. Brutus, who was a close family friend of Caesar but who had fought on the side of Pompey at Pharsalus, delivered one of the blows. Afterwards he left the Senate House in the company of some of the conspirators. Their bloody knives still in their hands, they marched to the Capitoline Hill and called out to the people. ‘Liberty,’ they cried, had been ‘restored.’” (153). If the senators truly wanted to bring the Republic back, they were mistaken: Caesar’s assassination would change little, as the reign of the Roman emperors had come, beginning with Augustus (actual name is “Octavian”). Augustus was Caesar’s right-hand man, and he launched a few days of massive festivals to show the Roman citizen that he was capable of great things. Although Augustus held much power, he became enemies with Antony (the famed lover of Cleopatra). However, he still defeated Antony in the Battle of Actium, a naval battle. Before then, however, they still worked together: “By 42 BC Octavian and Mark Anthony finally defeated the assassins of Caesar at the battle of Philippi. Brutus’s severed head was sent to Rome and thrown at the foot of Caesar’s statue” (159). The Battle of Actium had symbolic significance as well: those on the side of Octavian portrayed it as being a conflict (in a very polarized way, of course) of traditional, upright Roman values and new foreign, foolish ones (Octavian was shown as a military hero while Antony was portrayed as being an emasculated king who only thought of a foreign princess who manipulated him as her plaything). When Octavian defeated Antony, he was the most powerful and richest man in Rome. He gave much of his money to his loyal soldiers, and gave smaller portions to the Roman people. Octavian learned from Caesar’s mistake: he couldn’t explicitly declare himself the emperor. However, the answer was quite simple: he could still be the emperor, so long as he didn’t use the word to portray himself. For consecutive years he was elected as the “consul,” and made Rome into an autocracy once more. Baker writes, “The old, idealized republic, if it had ever existed, was dead and gone for ever. Dead too was the rivalry among the senatorial elite, and the glory in the eyes of the Roman people, which many believed defined it” (168-9). Augustus reformed (nationalized) the Roman army: soldiers were paid an official salary by the government. However, this took a large toll on Rome’s economy, as half of Rome’s annual wealth was being spent on defense. In the end, it was decided that 28 units were the maximum amount that Rome could afford. The Battle of Teutoburg Forest (which occurred in 9 AD) saw the general Quintilius Varus losing much of his army to the Germans as he passed through Teutoburg Forest. When Augustus learned of this failure, he demanded Varus to give him back his legions. 

The direct result of the Battle of Teutoburg is that the conquest of Germany never happened, seeing that the costs were predicted to be extremely high if the goal was ever seriously pursued. Augustus championed his image all around Rome, and renamed the month of “Sextilis” with “August” (after himself, of course). He also passed laws that were harshly criticized, including those invading the sexual lives of Roman citizens: “In 18 BC Augustus passed a series of moral and social legislation that was both harsh and conservative. This focused on putting into law penalties and incentives to promote marriage, childbirth, sexual fidelity and moral improvement in young men. The new public laws on adultery, previously a private matter, were the most notorious. A criminal court was established to deal with sexual offences, and in certain circumstances punishment could be as severe as loss of property and exile. Women rather than men were the worst off … While it was still permitted for men to have adulterous sex so long as it was with a slave or a citizen with a bad reputation, such as a prostitute, respectable citizen women could not have sex with anyone outside marriage. The law even sanctioned the right of a father to kill his daughter and her lover if they were caught in his house having non-marital sex, and also empowered a husband to kill his wife’s lover if that man was a known philanderer” (178). In the “Games of the Ages” (new ceremonies), previous gods were replaced with those which were associated with natalist values (ex. those like Diana, which were associated now with bearing children). When the famed poet Ovid gave tips to young people on how to find love, Augustus banished him to Tomis (Constanta) near the Black Sea, where he later died. Augustus’s ruthlessness when it came to preserving his own pristine public image is seen in how he basically caused the death of his daughter: when his daughter was rumored (only rumored; this bears repeating) of being sexually promiscuous, “He went to the Senate, denounced his own daughter, damned her memory by having all sculptures of her destroyed, then sent her into exile on Pandeteria, an island off the western coast of Italy near Campania. Although she was granted permission to move to a nicer part of Italy, she spent the rest of her life in exile. Eventually, her income withheld, she died of malnutrition” (181). Augustus died in 14 AD, and was made a deity after his demise. Baker then discusses Nero, a descendant of Augustus. After Augustus’s death, some crazy emperors (ex. Caligula) had behaved so terribly that their own guards would murder them (Caligula himself was murdered by his guards due to his dangerous and unpredictable tantrums). Nero became the emperor due to the murderousness of his mother: she killed his adoptive father (then the emperor), Claudius, by poisoning him. When Caesar became the emperor, he was quite depraved (he sentenced his tutor and friend Seneca to death by having him commit suicide in his bathroom). Nero also didn’t like his formal wife, Octavia, at all: he wanted to marry his mistress, Poppaea Sabina. His mother, who was hard to please, refused his requests to remarry. Nero then murdered his mother: he invited her to a ceremony. When Agrippina went on a boat to relax, an object above her was planned to crash onto and kill her. However, she survived (her couch was so tall it cushioned the blow). Nero’s soldiers then asked who was the emperor’s mother. Fortunately for Agrippina, one of her servants declared herself the emperor’s mother. She was stabbed to death by the soldiers, and Agrippina jumped into the ocean and made it back home. Nero then sent soldiers to her house to murder her: Agrippina didn’t resist at all. 

When it came to Poppaea, she was the equivalent of a gold digger, seeing how she loved large expenditures of money. To deal with his former wife Octavia, Nero banished her to Campania under military watch. Still paranoid, he had her murdered in cold blood: first, he had the murderer of his mother, Anicetus, say that he had committed adultery with Octavia (Nero offered him enough money for retirement) to provide himself with an excuse. Baker narrated that as Nero explained why he wanted Octavia to be killed, she, “exiled on an island thousands of kilometres from Rome, was restrained by Roman soldiers and her veins were cut open. She who had witnessed her father and brother murdered before her eyes, now faced her own death. But it was too slow in coming. When the Praetorian Guards ran out of patience, they suffocated her in a steam room. Her head was cut off and taken to Rome just so that Poppaea could see it” (210). The infamous fire which would consume a large portion of Rome “began in a small shop on 19 July AD 64 in the area of the Circus Maximus … As it gathered momentum, it rampaged through the narrow streets, tenement blocks, porticoes and alleyways in the heart of Rome between the Palatine and Capitoline hills. The fire continued for six days and then, just when it was believed to have died out, it reignited and continued for three more days. By the time it had finished, only four of Rome’s fourteen districts would still be intact; three were completely destroyed, and the others largely devastated but for the charred shells of a few buildings. Many people died and thousands of homes were destroyed, from the tenements of low-born plebs to the grand town houses of landed senators” (211-2). When Nero heard of this news, contrary to public perception, he ordered for immediate aid. That is, he allowed citizens to live in the Field of Mars, which included parts of his own palace. He also ordered the Praetorian Guard to construct temporary living spaces for those who were rendered homeless. Nero, to ensure such a conflagration would never happen again, “proposed building regulations that included restricting the height of houses and tenements, and specifying permissible types of timber construction. By law streets were to be a certain width and carefully laid out according to plan. New buildings would have to feature an internal courtyard to ensure that there were breathing spaces between them. They would be in sharp contrast to the rickety tenements that had so recently and tragically collapsed … The emperor ensured that he paid for these personally. In the event of another fire, Romans must all costs be protected from falling debris” (212-3). These measures just proved to be introductory, for Nero decided that not only can he rebuild Rome, but he can attempt to make it better than it ever was before. When he created Rome in his head, it quickly became apparent that he was quite disconnected from reality: he mainly focused on palaces, not houses for those who had been rendered homeless. The most infamous case of Nero’s architecture included the Golden House, which was so large and opulent that people were forced out of what remained of their homes before construction even began. Nero became more unpopular, and in an attempt to deliver himself, accused the much-hated Christians of starting the fire. He viciously persecuted them, as they were often forced to dress in animal skins before being attacked by dogs, were crucified, and were burned alive to serve as torches during Nero’s parties. Furthermore, Nero created a sculpture 36 metres (120 feet) tall which was made of bronze that portrayed him, elegantly illustrating his reckless extravagance. To pay for his creations, Nero ransacked the temples of the gods, horrifying many. 

Nero eventually discovered some aristocrats were plotting against him (one of their slaves ratted them out) and he had them captured, tortured, and executed (including his tutor Seneca). Nero then said that he wanted to act in public, and when he did, he was unsurprisingly given 1st place by the judges. Even those who didn’t like what was happening were virtually forced to clap, for Nero had his secret police, the Augustiani, in many of his performances: “These young and ambitious men were called the Augustiani, and they were a special, 5000-strong division of knights appointed by Nero and formed from aspiring artists. As the emperor’s official fan club, they cuffed, cajoled and harassed the bored and the horrified among the audience. They also acted like secret police, for they spied on the crowd and noted down the names of those who did not attend or those who did not look as though they were enjoying themselves” (226). Not liking Nero’s performances was virtually treason in his eyes, and his ridiculous behavior continued when he murdered Poppaea and her unborn child by kicking her to death in a fury. As if that wasn’t enough, he asked for her body to be laid to rest near that of Augustus. When he went on an extremely expensive and long vacation full of performances, he learned that there was a rebellion against him: a Roman governor, Gaius Julius Vindex, raised an army of 100,000 Gauls who disliked his avariciousness and intense stupidity. Nero, although initially denying the news, eventually realized that he was in deep trouble: even the Senate and Praetorians later abandoned him. On the morning of 9 June, he woke up in his palace to find himself alone. He later committed suicide (while repeating “What an artist dies within me”) by slitting his throat as the rebels approached. He was thirty-one years of age when he died. 

Baker later discusses the war Rome had with the Jews in the province of Judaea from 66-70 AD. The Jews revolted because they didn’t like the taxation and Roman policies towards their religious principles (Roman citizens were supposed to offer sacrifices to the Emperor). They revolted during the reign of Nero, as many Roman officials discriminated against them and gave them no due consideration when it came to their religion. For instance, Gessius Florus was a despicable official: he “was the archetypal greedy Roman governor. He delighted in impoverishing the Jews, boasted about his crimes, and lost no opportunity of turning a profit through extortion and robbery. Indeed, he saw it as a sport … Florus … ordered his soldiers to take seventeen talents (435 kilograms or nearly 1000 pounds) of silver from the Temple treasury. From this one action all the tensions between the Romans and Jews erupted. Stealing from the very place where King David had founded the Holy City, where King Solomon had built the first Temple, and where the Jews returning from captivity in Babylon had built the second Temple was the greatest violation of their race and history … But Florus couldn’t have cared less” (252). Expectedly, Jerusalem entered into a tumult, and those who attempted to mediate were given little attention: many of the high priests favored the Romans over their people. Florus decided to put down the rebellion by force by sending in the cavalry: 3,000 were murdered and others were crucified. In other instances the Jews were butchered, but the Jews continued to resist. In one instance, they managed to surround a Roman legion and destroyed it (that is, 6,000 people): “It was the greatest defeat of regular Roman forces by the people of an established province in all Roman history” (255). The Jews continued the rebellion and won further victories, causing Nero to have his general Vespasian and Titus (Vespasian’s eldest son) brutally crush the resistance by using terror. Baker describes, “Invading Galilee from the west, Vespasian first took Gabara, where John of Gischala had taken charge of the rebellion … it was taken at the first assault. Marching into it, Vespasian executed his plan. He showed no clemency, put to the sword everyone except small children, and then burnt down the town itself and all the surrounding villages” (263). 

They then invaded the town of Jotapata (though it was difficult for them), and some of the rebels committed suicide. Their leader, Josephus, was one of the people who were supposed to kill himself,  but as a mathematician, he was able to survive: he devised a game that relied on mathematics to decide the order of who would commit suicide, and when most of his comrades were dead, he persuaded the survivor to not kill him. When he was taken prisoner, he got a private audience with Vespasian and Titus, and predicted that they would become the next emperors of Rome. Although they thought it was ridiculous (Nero was still in power), it turns out that one of his previous predictions had come true (he apparently said that Judata, another city, would collapse on the 47th day, which it did), which led them to not only spare his life but to provide him with a variety of luxuries. Later on, Titus continued his campaign against the Judaean Rebellion: “At Tarichaeae, in the kingdom of the Roman client-king Agrippa, 6000 Jews were massacred as Titus made a dramatic amphibious assault on the unfortified part of the city from a lake. After it was taken, Vespasian discriminated between civilian and insurgent, in order to avoid outraging the local population … However, he broke his promise on the advice of his staff, who feared further insurgency. ‘Expediency must be preferred to conventional morality,’ was their message. The Jews he had set free were later rounded up in a theatre and 1200 of the old and infirm were slaughtered. The 6000 strongest were sent to Greece to work as slaves on Nero’s planned canal in the Isthmus of Corinth … Similarly, at Gamala the Romans repaid Jewish resistance by putting 4000 Jews to the sword; the remaining 5000 insurgents had already jumped to their deaths in a deep ravine” (270). When Nero committed suicide, Vespasian named himself the emperor (in a show of stunning luck: Nero’s successors were murdered or committed suicide due to their armies rebelling). Vespasian’s rise to power came with the deaths of thousands (most of the deaths were directly caused by the Roman army), which made him desperate to validate himself with an external achievement (ex. victory in Judaea). He continued to focus on taking the city, and his army (also led by Titus, who was present at the scene) eventually succeeded in invading Jerusalem by tearing the wall down with brute force (they dug a tunnel through the weakest wall). When the Roman army entered the city, they looted indiscriminately, taking everything of value. They also killed large numbers of people to express their exasperation at how long it took to take the city: “After the best part of four long, gruelling years of campaign, the Roman soldiers vented their wild hatred on the enemy. Piling through all the entrances, they no longer distinguished between Jewish soldier and civilian. All were indiscriminately slaughtered. The steps of the Temple were awash with blood … The din of butchery, however, was about to get a lot worse” (283-4). That is, thousands more Jewish people were burned to death in the temple (a soldier threw a firebrand) and were murdered. The Roman soldiers stole many of the most valuable artifacts, and they had so much loot (even on an individual level) that not only did they make a huge amount of money, but the value of gold in Syria was halved as result of the influx. Baker writes of the Roman army’s terrible behavior: “The old and sick were killed, and thousands of insurgents were executed, taking the total of those killed in the siege to 1,100,000, according to Josephus. The rest, numbering 97,000, were sold into slavery. The young were sent to hard labour in Egypt, or to become fodder for the gladiators and beasts of Roman arenas throughout the empire” (286-7). 

Vespasian and Titus, upon going back to Rome, were proclaimed the definite rulers of the Roman Empire, seeing that the Julio-Claudian dynasty had ended (with the death of Nero). At the end of the crushing of the Judaean Rebellion, the Jews were largely defenseless against the Romans, which satisfied the authorities: they no longer had to worry about them as a military foe. However, Vespasian still called for military action against them. One of the most notorious cases is at the city of Masada: “a Jewish group known as the Sicarii, led by Eleazar ben Yair, took refuge in the fortress perched upon a spectacular outcrop of rock. They held out for years until the Romans built a massive siege ramp that gave access up the steep slope to the top of the rock. But by the time the soldiers reached the fortress, they discovered that all 966 rebels had committed mass suicide rather than becoming slaves to Rome. Only a woman and her five children survived to report what had happened” (289). Baker discusses the “Pax Romana,” or “the Roman peace.” While there was indeed a large amount of peace, there was still much brutality, as seen in the Dacian wars (which, Baker states, were nothing less than genocide against the people the Romans warred against). Despite the many slain by the Romans, the Roman economy benefited from all the booty, which allowed for the Circus Maximus to be expanded to include 150,000 people. The emperor Trajan later conquered Armenia. When he died (in his early seventies) he had no children, but he did, however, have an heir: Hadrian. Hadrian was an intelligent ruler, seeing his motivation to do well and his willingness to ask questions. However, he still did have problems: when Apollodorus, the leading architect of his day, criticized the format of a temple to Venus (the goddess of love), Hadrian had him mercilessly executed. Nevertheless, Hadrian constructed the Pantheon, a temple dedicated to all the gods of Rome. Hadrian’s sexual behavior in his personal life suggested that he was a bisexual (though at that time grown men having intimate relations with young boys was seen as normal): while he was married to a woman named Sabina, he had a homosexual relationship with Antinous, a young, handsome man. Hadrian, as stated before, was motivated: this is excellently seen in the wall which he constructed, which ran for 118 kilometres (70 miles) across Rome. It took a decade to build the wall (appropriately named “Hadrian’s Wall”). Baker describes that when it came to Hadrian’s wall, “The stone section was 3 metres (10 feet) thick and 4.2 metres (14 feet) high; the turf section matched the stone part for height, but was 6 metres (20 feet) thick. About twenty paces to the north of the wall, and running parallel with it, was a V-shaped ditch 8 metres (26 feet) wide and 3 metres (10 feet) deep. On top of the wall itself was a walkway defended by a crenellated parapet. A Roman soldier walking it would have come across a towered, fortified gateway every Roman mile (approximately 1.5 kilometres), and in between, at every third of that mile (0.5 kilometres) an observation turret. Servicing the wall, as well as forming part of it, were sixteen forts” (299). When it comes to the purpose of the wall, it can be read as a defensive structure (against foreign peoples) as well as one indicative of arrogance (the wall was repeatedly stated as the divide between the Romans and the so-called “barbarians”). Hadrian was a very effective ruler, as he focused greatly on order and bureaucracy to ensure efficiency. He also focused on competency when it came to government positions, and tried to ensure that only deserving people would get jobs by requiring that applicants would have letters of recommendation from their friends and other significant acquaintances (these letters would provide a list of said person’s character). Some have complained that being a government official under Hadrian was highly boring, seeing that everything (especially the writing) was extremely methodical. When it came to his own life, Hadrian spent more than half of his twenty-one-year reign abroad, as he wanted to manage his empire first-hand. 

Much of Hadrian’s rule involved the sacrifice of large numbers of animals (he was a hunter), and economic injustice and bribery became more and more apparent as the compounding effect continued to work its magic: “Under Hadrian a disturbing two-tier justice system now began to develop, which distinguished between two kinds of people. The legal punishments of, for example, flogging, torture, beheading, crucifixion and deportations were reserved only for the propertyless ‘humble’ citizens; more ‘respectable’ army veterans, town councillors, knights and senators were, by contrast, protected from the sharp edge of Roman law. This divide would become only more acute with time” (309). Hadrian’s lover Antinous drowned when they went to Egypt (he perished in a boating accident), and Hadrian founded a city there, Antinoopolis, to commemorate his memory. He also deified Antinous, and lived out the rest of his life in a large villa complex. After his death, Antoninus Pius (one of the “Five Good Emperors” due to his reign including almost no war) became the emperor. Later on, Marcus Aurelius became the emperor. While he did his duties well (he was a practicing Stoic), his son Commodus (who lacked discipline and engaged in depraved behavior) basically ended the Pax Romana: “In 193, the dynasty founded by Rome’s first African emperor, Septimius Severus, ensured that Hadrian’s golden age was revived once again. But it was not enough to halt an inevitable slide into decline. By the middle of the third century AD Rome was catapulted into a new period of total crisis and near collapse” (311). Baker writes of Rome’s discrimination towards Christians: people like Pliny the Younger were amazed at how obstinate and foolish they were, for even when they offered them life in exchange for a compromise (they would give sacrifices to the Emperor), they refused. Some of them were executed, and Rome faced massive trouble from 235-85 CE. In that time period there were at least twenty emperors who were either murdered or died on the battlefield. Diocletian, an emperor, in 299 CE heard from some pagan priests that the Christians were working against the Roman government, and he instigated persecutions. The Romans loathed the Christians because they viewed it as contrary to their culture: “they considered the worship of its one god dangerously exclusive. It was a rejection of everything it meant to be Roman. By refusing to pray to Roman gods, Christians rejected the Roman race and the Roman order of things. But Christianity posed an ever greater threat than this. After decades of crisis, the ‘peace of the gods’, the unwritten contract by which the Roman gods presided benevolently over the empire in return for worship, was more than a highly guarded prize. On it depended the stability of the entire empire. It was essential to rebuilding security. Loyalty to a Christian God only put that security in jeopardy. Times of greatest crisis entrailed the greatest clampdowns” (320-1). Although the persecutions were intense, they failed in their ultimate objective, for Christianity had many followers. Diocletian later abdicated to proceed to his comfortable retirement. The emperor Constantine was the first Roman emperor to sponsor Christianity: he did so to inspire his soldiers by having it serve as motivation, seeing that he claimed to see a flaming cross above the Milvian Bridge. This allowed him victory over his enemy Maxentius and his army: when Maxentius’s army fled across the bridge, it couldn’t support their weight and collapsed. Constantine attributed his victory to Christianity, and passed the Edict of Milan, which stated that Christians would no longer be persecuted: “Crucially, it did not favour Christians above pagans, but stressed only their equal rights of worship, granting both full legal recognition to ‘follow whatever form of worship they please.’” (343). 

Later on, when the pro-Christian leader Licinius took power, he started a purge, murdering those associated with the ruler Daia (a persecutor of the Christians who later committed suicide by ingesting poison) as well as the families of Diocletian, Severus, and Galerius (all persecutors of the Christians). The Christians, hearing this, rejoiced (despite the Bible’s strict maxim that murder was to be avoided): “some Christian writers of the time heartily approved of the murder of persecutors” (344). Later on, Constantine gave Christians rights that the common citizens were barred from: ridiculously and quite foolishly, he said that being a Christian was virtually just as important as having an important job (ex. being a doctor): “A letter from 313 shows his first action: Christians, it said, were exempt from civic public duties such as serving as jurors, overseeing the collection of taxes, or organizing building projects, festivals and games. Previously such exemptions had been given to those whose profession benefited the state in other ways, such as doctors and teachers. Now Constantine declared that Christians were just as deserving. Being able to devote more time to worship of the Christian God, said Constantine, would make ‘an immense contribution to the welfare of the community’. Christianity, the imperial message made plain, was essential to the good of the empire. In addition, he granted payments to the clergy, and also made Christians of privileged and propertied rank exempt from paying taxes” (345). Constantine also spent massive amounts of money building churches (instead of improving people’s lives in the here and now), much to the pleasure of the Christian elite (who behaved contrary to what their scriptures mandated: didn’t Jesus call for his followers to abandon their worldly possessions and to help the poor?). During this time period, Rome was divided into two parts (the East and the West), and people generally viewed Constantine as being the ruler of Rome, not Licinius. Constantine around this time also used repressions to crush rival paganistic religions (so much for “tolerance”) and Licinius, becoming envious and paranoid, tried to show that his side of Rome was still paganistic: “In 323 Licinius compelled everyone in his administration to sacrifice or else lose their job. He put the same test of conformity to his army. On the advice of zealous pagan officials, the requirement was forced on civilians” (356). Licinius and Constantine eventually fought each other fiercely, and on 18 September 324 the most important battle which would decide the true ruler of Rome occurred. Baker writes, “The two emperors drew up their massive armies on a plain midway between Chrysopolis (now a suburb of Istanbul) and the town of Chalcedon. Constantine’s army was distinguished once again by its magnificent Christian standard” (359). Licinius’s army made the first move, though they were terrified of the potential supernatural power of the Christian cross. In the end, the army of Licinius was utterly decimated: “In the face of forceful assault, the fighting spirit had simply left Licinius’s men. The battle of Chrysopolis had turned into a massacre on an enormous scale. Over 100,000 of Licinius’s army were said to have been killed … Licinius slipped away from the battlefield on horseback in the company of some cavalry” (360). Soon after, Constantine’s sister (Licinius’s wife) begged Constantine to spare his life, and he agreed. The end of this conflict made him the decisive ruler of Rome. As for Licinius, Constantine later went back on his word: “Within a year of Licinius’s surrender and abdication, a detachment of imperial soldiers found him with his family in Greece. When Licinius saw the guards approach perhaps he knew instantly that Constantine had gone back on his word, that the emperor could never allow potential rivals and their heirs to live, could never forgive. The soldiers took him and his son aside and garrotted them” (362). 

Constantine, after his victory, encouraged Roman citizens to become Christians, as he said that they overthrew religious persecutors (though the Christians would lay waste to each other by the millions in conflicts like the Thirty Years War: in another instance, more Christians slaughtered each other in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre than all those who had been killed by Rome in total). Constantine then said that the Christian god was morally supreme (though he slaughtered far more people than Satan ever did, and is a sadistic megalomaniac: for instance, if he really loved humanity in the first place, why would he literally throw them out of paradise for disobeying him once out of curiosity? Also, his killing everyone via a flood instead of using his supposedly great powers to fix people at their core shows how uncaring, unstable, and dangerous he is: if he exists, we are all in trouble – why would a supposedly all-loving god torture someone forever in the fires of Hell? It completely defeats the purpose of “mercy.”) and he made Christianity the official religion of Rome. Christianity’s prevalence grew even further, and later Constantinople was built (named after Constantine, of course). When Constantine died on 22 May 337, his reign had been the longest since Augustus. His three sons began warring against each other the moment after his death, destroying much of the progress he had made, as they fractured Rome. Rome fell in 476 AD when the Goths invaded and sacked Rome. Beforehand, when they requested asylum, the Romans denied them a definitive answer. When the Romans attacked them, the Gauls responded in turn, entering Rome after defeating the emperor’s guard at the battle of Hadrianople (the Romans suffered perhaps 13,000 deaths). Baker writes that when the Gauls sacked Rome, the Romans realized that the Roman empire wasn’t invincible after all, with many panicking in the process. Baker describes himself that the Roman envoys begged the leader of the Gauls, Alaric, to let Rome keep its belongings. He responded (somewhat humorously) by saying that he was already being generous by letting them keep their lives. “Within days, a spectacular, unprecedented procession of wagons left the city of Rome. They carried 2250 kilograms (2 tons) of gold, 135,000 kilograms (13 tons) of silver, 4000 silk tunics, 3000 scarlet-dyed fleeces and 1350 kilograms (3000 pounds) of pepper … Even precious statues from the ancient temples were melted down” (396). Alaric destroyed Rome’s military: in a single incidence he destroyed a powerful group of 6,000 Roman soldiers by spotting and descending upon them with unimaginable speed and force. After more barbarian tribes (including Attila the Hun) caused more damage to Rome, it finally collapsed in 476 AD, seeing that it could no longer maintain itself against external pressure. Odovacar, a Roman general who became a Germanic king, became the ruler of Italy: by that point, the superpower that was Rome was all but gone. And thus comes the end of Rome’s story from a strictly historical standpoint: everything must come to an end (even the universe itself from a certain standpoint, though it will take an unimaginable amount of time), and that includes Rome. 

Personal thoughts: 

Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire by Simon Baker is a truly fantastic book which provides an overview (that still has detail) of the Roman empire. It clearly demonstrates that Rome was an organization like any other, and that those who made it up (the emperors, consuls, officials, civilians, soldiers, and slaves) were human beings like all of us. As you know, there are many lessons to be derived from Rome, one of the foremost being the importance of every citizen to the well-being of the government: if discontent is common, then military failure can be explained. After all, why would people fight hard for a government who they feel doesn’t deserve their service? Also, why would they fight for a government which pays them poorly and treats them like dung? I also believe Rome has a moral lesson, predominantly humility, cooperation, and realism: no organization or person is immune from failure and terrible mistakes, not even an empire as powerful as Rome. I highly recommend Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire to anyone interested in Roman history, historical figures, changes and continuities over time, and the role of government. 

Get the book: 

Amazon – Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire 

Barnes and Noble – Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire 

“The Eclogues” – Virgil

The Eclogues

The Eclogues were a series of poems written by Virgil in 37 B.C.E. There are 10 Eclogues/sections that compose the work, and they are described below in their corresponding order. 

“Eclogue I” has only two characters: Meliboeus and Tityrus. It should be noted that The Eclogues center around people in rural areas who are shepherds, farmers, or similar roles, for Virgil wished to discuss a wide variety of themes in his works, seeing how he was a prolific writer for much of his life. In the poem Tityrus is relaxing underneath a “broad beech-canopy” and is relaxing, seeing how he was born in the countryside and was used to it. As expected, he was quite satisfied and happy. On the other hand, Tityrus is a shepherd who routinely worries for his flock due to his livelihood depending on them. He’s also unhappy, revealing that he feels like he’s “Exiled from home,” a stark contrast to how Tityrus “Sit[s] careless in the shade.” Tityrus tries to comfort Meliboeus, telling him that he had his fair share of unpleasantries in the past, for he went to Rome in a spirit of freedom but left disappointed. Meliboeus remarks on the changes going on in his time, proclaiming (probably loudy) of the geography and the immigration and emigration Rome was famed for: “But we far hence, to burning Libya some, / Some to the Scythian steppes, or thy swift flood, / Cretan Oaxes, now must wend our way, / Or Britain, from the whole world sundered far.” He then moves his attention to Rome’s policy of frequently seizing land from farmers to give to soldiers as compensation for their service: “shale I ever in aftertime behold / My native bounds – see many a harvest hence / … These fallows, trimmed so fair, / Some brutal soldier will possess these fields / An alien master … to what a pass / Has civil discord brought our hapless folk!” Meliboeus prepares to drive his sheep forward, leading Tityrus to offer him a chance to rest with him while observing the beautiful scenery. Virgil phenomenally describes, “On green leaves pillowed: apples ripe have I, / Soft chestnuts, and of curdled milk enow. / And, see, the farm-roof chimneys smoke afar, / And from the hills the shadows lengthening fall!” 

“Eclogue II” is a single monologue by Alexis, a young boy who attracted a shepherd named Corydon. It should be noted that in Rome, it was frequent for older men to have romantic relationships with younger males: in some places like Sparta, it was encouraged and seen as perfectly normal. Corydon was infatuated with Alexis (who described himself as “fair”), but was rebuffed, making him quite heartbroken, directly leading him to implore him to live with him: they will live in his cottage and would live a largely self-sustaining lifestyle. He goes on and describes Alexis’s beauty as that which the mythological nymphs desire: “Come hither, beauteous boy; for you the Nymphs / Bring baskets, see, with lilies brimmed; for you, / Plucking pale violets and poppy-heads, / Now the fair Naiad, of narcissus flower / And fragrant fennel, doth one posy twine- / With cassia then, and other scented herbs, / Blends them, and sets the tender hyacinth off / With yellow marigold.” Corydon offers to pick flowers for him, but realizes that he is unlikely to reciprocate his feelings. He then proceeds to curse the gods for toying with his emotions and ironically notes that in nature organisms that aren’t pursued (in a predatory way) frequently engage in self-destructive acts, as if they wish for their own ill-being, which is what Corydon accidentally did by openly desiring Alexis. As he put it, “The grim-eyed lioness pursues the wolf, / The wolf the she-goat, the she-goat herself / In wanton sport the flowering cytisus, / And corydon Alexis, each led on / By their own longing.” Corydon bemoans the randomness yet the furious and uncontrolled extremities of love, asking himself to stay calm but fails, ironically noting that even if he does get over Alexis, he will find another one in due time. 

“Eclogue III”’s characters are Menalcas, Damoetas, and Palaemon. The three of them are field laborers who were looking after a flock by not only guarding them but milking them at the appropriate intervals. The flock is owned by a man named Aegon, and Menalcas rebelliously maintains that he is trying to marry a girl named Neaera because she likes him, not her current suiter. Damoetas gets into an argument with him by trying to dissuade him from insulting Aegon, but Menalcas refuses to back down, and talks poorly of Aegon’s flock. The verbal quarrel turns into a proposal to see who could coin the best insults, and Palaemon, who was working somewhere else, shows up. He witnesses and moderates their contest, instructing that Damoetas should go first and then Menalcas. He also encourages them to sing about different things, seeing how the Muses (Greek deities that are interconnected with the arts) appreciate diversity: “Alternate strains are to the Muses dear.” Damoetas and Menalcas proceed to alternate in their phrases, with Damoetas taking the lead as ordered. Damoetas invokes Jove the Muse, Galatea (a beautiful nymph who was wooed by the fearsome cyclops Polyphemus), wood-pigeons, Sirocco, Amaryllis, the Pierian Maids, Polio, Tityrus, and Apollo. Menalcas conjures up hyacinths, Delia, the mythical golden apples, Amyntas, Polio, Bavius, and Phylis. Once their alternating insults were over, Palaemon tells them both that when it comes to who should get a cow (they were bickering over it along with their honor), he is not the person to choose, for the contest was a close one thanks to the strong language they both used. The poem ends with his command that they should close the sluices/waterways of the fields, for they’ve received enough nourishment. 

“Eclogue IV” is a single monologue by a man named Pollio. He narrates of the passage of time and the changes it brings with it. One of his first focuses is on new races of people getting involved with Rome, and he narrates this massive change by invoking deities such as Saturn (the father of Jove/Zeus), for at the time the knowledge of terrestrial affairs was extremely limited, even by a civilization as powerful and extensive as Rome. In his own words, “Justice returns, returns old Saturn’s reign, / With a new breed of men sent down from heaven.” Pollio describes that he hopes that time will bring with it positive change and reform, for the errors of the past should be justly dealt with and put to rest and should be replaced by triumph: “Under thy guidance, whatso tracks remain / Of our old wickedness, once done away, / Shall free the earth from never-ceasing fear.” He follows up on the previous statement by affirming that a great world to live in will be one where a person will have admirable company (heroes) and where the affairs of the world are peaceful and fair: “He shall receive the life of gods, and see / Heroes with gods commingling, and himself / Be seen of them, and with his father’s worth / Reign o’er a world at peace.” However, his hope for the future takes stock of the current situation and notes that the time for such a great world is far off and that people can help bring this ideal realm into being by handling their mundane affairs well and with honesty: although it’s true that doing daily chores such as managing agriculture may be tedious and boring, such deeds are fundamental to the continuance of civilization. After all, without the production of food, there can hardly be any hope for people to have enough time to dedicate to acquiring more knowledge. Pollio speaks of the magnanimity of the future, accurately stating that history isn’t even close to finishing, and that all manners of things will be witnessed in the future. Being a Roman, his idea of tomorrow is one based on crucial events regarding its history: “Therefore a second Tiphys shall there be, / Her hero-freight a second Argo bear; / New wars too shall arise, and once again / Some great Achilles to some Troy be sent.” He proceeds to portray time was extremely long for humans, though quick for long-lived entities like the Fates: “‘Such still, such ages weave ye, as ye run,’ Sang to their spindles the consenting Fates / By Destiny’s unalterable decree.” As can be noted, the last few words suggest determinism, for he views that whatever will happen has already been decided by things over which humans have no control over. Pollio continues to elaborate on the vastness of time and space for humans, affirming “Ah! Might such length of days to me be given, / And breath suffice me to rehearse thy deeds.” He mentions the musician Orpheus, Linus (the manifestation of mourning), Calliope (the chief of the muses), Apollo (the god of music and fortune-telling), Pan (the god of the forest), and Arcady (perhaps a personification of Arcadia, a supposedly natural world where Pan reigned over). He mentions a ten-month old child and the life he may lead before the poem comes to a close. 

“Eclogue V” sees the return of Menalcas along with a younger friend named Mopsus. Menalcas describes himself as being a good singer while Mopsus is a skilled flute player: “You skilled to breathe upon the slender reeds, / I to sing ditties.” They discuss the act of singing and the story of Daphnis, a man whose murder led to much lamentation among shepherds and nymphs. Mopsus begins a speech regarding the life of Daphnis. Menalcas responds with a song about the lessons that can be derived from his story, predominantly gratitude towards the world for permitting good fortune when it does occur: “Twain to thee, Daphnis, and to Phoebus twain / For sacrifice, we build; and I for thee / Two beakers yearly of fresh milk afoam, / And of rich olive-oil two bowls, will set; And of the wine-god’s bounty above all, / If cold, before the hearth, or in the shade / At harvest-time, to glad the festal hour, / From flasks of Ariusian grape will pour / Sweet nectar.” He narrates that Daphnis’s fame in his community will last as long as the natural landscape. In his own words, “Long as the wild boar / Shall love the mountain-heights, and fish the streams, / While bees on thyme and crickets feed on dew, / Thy name, thy praise, thine honour, shall endure.” Mopsus, upon hearing Menalcas’s song, praises it, and gives Menalcas his crook. Menalcas returns the favor by providing him a hemlock-stalk. 

“Eclogue VI” is written by a person known as Tityrus to a man named Varus. In the poem the author tells him that while festivities were going on in his area, a “Cynthian god” encouraged him to sing a tune while tending to his sheep. Describing his fit of inspiration, he makes a multitude of allusions to Greek theology and religion as well as making no secret of his high mood. For instance, he mentions the naiads, describing how the most beautiful of their company, Aegle, converses with young males while covering one of them with the dye of mulberries. He proceeds to discuss the fauns, beings who have the upper torso of a man with goat horns but the lower half of a goat: “Then might you see the wild things of the wood, / With fauns in sportive frolic beat the time, / And stubborn oaks their branchy summits bow.” Tityrus portrays his awe of the world in riveting language: “How through the mighty void the seeds were driven / Of earth, air, ocean, and of liquid fire, / How all that is from these beginnings grew, / And the young world itself took solid shape, / Then ‘gan its crust to harden … / … and mould the forms of things / Little by little; and how the earth amazed / Beheld the new sun shining, and the showers / Fall, as the clouds soared higher, what time the woods / ‘Gan first to rise, and living things to roam / Scattered among the hills that knew them not.” Of course, from a modern scientific perspective that is based around the principle of astrobiology and evolution, Tityrus’s monologue isn’t accurate, for it took millions of years for Earth to cool down from the sweltering sphere it was to one that could sustain life, and it took more than 1.5 billion years for recognizable living beings to form. Tityrus invokes the nymphs, the Nymphs, Phaethon’s sisters, Gallus and Permessus, Linus, Scylla, Tereus, Eurotas, Silenus, and Vesper. He accordingly goes, “Scylla, child of Nisus, who, ‘tis said, / Her fair white loins with barking monsters girt / Vexed the Dulichian ships, and, in the deep / Swift-eddying whirlpool, with her sea-dogs tore / The trembling mariners … / the changed limbs of Tereus … / … old, Eurotas, happy stream, / Heard, as Apollo mused upon the lyre, / And bade his laurels learn, Silenus sang; / … Vesper, advancing, bade the shepherds tell / Their tale of sheep, and pen them in the fold.” 

“Eclogue VII” involves a return of Meliboeus and Corydon and the appearance of Thyrsis. Within the poem Thyrsis was managing the sheep while Corydon was keeping watch over the female goats. They were both Arcadians and were in a jolly mood and were therefore a little lax when it came to their jobs, though they made no noticeable errors. As can be expected at this point, they both began singing, with Corydon imploring the Libethrian nymphs for musical talent comparable to Apollo. Thyrsis requests for Arcadian shepherds to clothe him in vegetation to protect him from a potentially bad harvest and to boost his reputation. Corydon then asks for a Delian maid to pay respect to him. Thyrsis describes that those who are poor can’t make very large demands: “A bowl of milk, Priapus, and these cakes, / Yearly, it is enough for thee to claim; / Thou art the guardian of a poor man’s plot. / Wrought for a while in marble, if the flock / At lambing time be filled, stand there in gold.” Corydon mentions Galatea and praises her pale skin, and is informed by Thyrsis that they have to manage their cattle and the food they consume. Corydon describes the seemingly idyllic view of the world as follows: “The junipers and prickly chestnuts stand, / And ‘neath each tree lie strewn their several fruits, / Now the whole world is smiling, but if fair / Alexis from these hill-slopes should away, / Even the rivers you would see run dry.” Thyrsis says that the situation isn’t actually as glorious as what Corydon is making it out to be, seeing the dryness of the land. As he put it himself, “The field is parched, the grass-blades thirst to death / In the faint air.” He admits that he wants Jupiter to provide them rain to allow them to survive off the land. Thyrsis proclaims his opinion concerning natural beauty: “Ash in the forest is most beautiful, / Pine in the garden, poplar by the stream, / Fir on the mountain-height; but if more oft / Thou’ldst come to me, fair Lycidas, to thee / Both forest-ash, and garden-pine should bow.” Meliboeus makes a sudden appearance and notes that Thyrsis is dreaming while Corydon is still somewhat level-headed. 

“Eclogue VIII” involves Pollio, Damon, and Alphesiboeus. The latter two are shepherds who, as you may have already guessed, enjoy singing. One day they relaxed when it came to upholding their duties: “The heifer wondering forgot to graze, / The lynx stood awe-struck, and the flowing streams, / Unwonted loiterers, stayed their course to hear- / How Damon and Alphesiboeus sang / Their pastoral ditties, will I tell the tale.” It is reputed that the verses surrounding their singing were exceptional, hence how the story’s still available. Damon was the first to begin the song, calling for the morning light Lucifer to show up. This is quite interesting, for while in Christian theology Lucifer is the terrible leader of demons, from the perspective of polytheistic religions he may be celebrated. Damon begins playing his flute, praising the beings around him: “‘Begin, my flute, with me Maenalian lays. / Nysa to Mopsus given! what may not then / We lovers look for? soon shall we see mate / Griffins with mares, and in the coming age / Shy deer and hounds together come to drink.” Damon utilizes parallel structure by repeating “‘Begin, my flute, with me Maenalian lays’” and proceeding to detail his hopes and actions. Damon’s monologue includes some disturbing verses, such as ones that are quite possibly allusions to the story of Medea and how she got revenge on her husband Jason of the Argonauts for leaving her by slaying their two sons: “Fierce Love it was once steeled a mother’s heart / With her own offspring’s blood her hands to imbue: / Mother, thou too wert cruel; say wert thou / More cruel, mother, or more ruthless he? / Ruthless the boy, thou, mother, cruel too.” In another section he mentions the Pierian Maids and allows Alphesiboeus to speak. Alphesiboeus entreats for water and incense to be brought to form a soothing yet enlivening atmosphere. In his own words, “Rich vervain and male frankincense, that I / May strive with magic spells to turn astray / My lover’s saner senses, whereunto / There lacketh nothing save the power of song.” He recounts the tale of Daphnis and stories of war, taking note of superstitious beliefs such as the rumor that spirits could be summoned to do the bidding of the living and that people can shape-shift through magic. He ends the section by entreating people to honor Daphnis. 

“Eclogue IX” includes Lycidas and Moeris as characters. Lycidas finds a supposedly disoriented Moeris, who is his friend. Moeris informs Lycidas that someone seized his territory and forced him to leave, which he finds to be a cruel trick played on him by divine entities: “An interloper own our little farm, / And say, ‘Be off, you former husbandmen! / These fields are mine.’ Now, cowed and out of heart, / Since Fortune turns the whole world upside down, / We are taking him.” He then tells Lycidas that there was a feud in which Menalcas was slain. Lycidas, hearing this, is shocked, languishing “could any of so foul a crime / Be guilty? … / Reft was the solace that we had in thee, Menalcas! Who then of the Nymphs had sung, / Or who with flowering herbs bestrewn the ground, / And o’er the fountains drawn a leafy veil?” This part of the poem is supposed to demonstrate how quickly things can change and the ephemeral, transient nature of contemporary life: even those who are privileged usually find it difficult to sustain high mood for long stretches of time. Lycidas and Moeris bemoan their situation and start to move towards the tomb of a man named Bianor. Lycidas suggests that the young goat should be left on the ground while they move towards the town whilst singing: “Set down the kids, yet shall we reach the town; / Or, if we fear the night may gather rain / Ere we arrive, then singing let us go, / Our way to lighten; and, that we may thus / Go singing, I will case you of this load.” Moeris recommends Lycidas to continue working their jobs and wait for the person they desire to meet to show up on his own accord. 

“Eclogue X” is a single speech by Gallus. This section is somber in tone, a clear contrast to many of the previous sections. This is perhaps exemplified by Gallus’s recollection on loss and misfortune, for he tells himself that few care for him, none of which are his own sheep despite his looking after them. In a deeply gloomy mood, Gallus says that he feels like life has been drained out of him due to his disappointment, and remarks that he’ll remain in isolation for some time. He vents his sentiments in the following passage: “‘Even now, methinks, I range / O’er rocks, through echoing groves, and joy to launch / Cydonian arrows from a Parthian bow.- / As if my madness could find healing thus, / Or that god soften at a mortal’s grief! / Now neither Hamadryads, no, nor songs / Delight me more: ye woods, away with you! / No pangs of ours can change him; not though we / In the mid-frost should drink of Hebru’s stream / … Love conquers all things; yield we too to love!’” The next section serves as a bit of a response to Gallus’s melancholy, and they are as follows: “These songs, Pierian Maids, shall it suffice / Your poet to have sung, the while he sat, / And of slim mallow wove a basket fine; / To gallus ye will magnify their worth, / Gallus, for whom my love grows hour by hour, / As the green alder shoots in early Spring.” The poem ends with a call by the speaker for sentient beings to move along with the passage of time into the future: “Come, let us rise: the shade is wont to be / Baneful to singers; baneful is the shade / Cast by the juniper, crops sicken too / In shade. Now homeward, having fed your fill- / Eve’s star is rising-go, my she-goats, go.” Thus concludes The Eclogues

Read The Eclogues

The Eclogues by Virgil 

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Greco-Roman Cuisine and Attempting to Make Them At Home!

Written by by Suhitha Reddy

Baking and cooking can be stress-relieving and calming, even more so during this ongoing pandemic. Why not learn a little bit about Greco-Roman culture while cooking a few fun and unique dishes? In this article, I’ll show you how to make ancient foods in your own kitchen and review them myself. The experience was really calming and I had a lot of fun trying to recreate these foods, even if they didn’t taste the best. I really hope you enjoy reading and decide to make some of these in your free time as well!

            Before we get into the recipes, I’d like to explain more about what specific Greco-Roman people ate. As you can imagine, the rich Romans had a lot more variety to their food, but they did have a few rules. During the Roman Republic, there were Sumtuariae Leges (sumptuary laws) that limited the extravagance and decadence of food. By the Imperial period, these laws were no longer in force. Wealthy Romans no longer had to care whether the food they ate gave them anything from diabetes to cholesterol. They didn’t even care if the food they ate made them look like a giant pumpkin and have an ever-expanding waistline! Many Romans followed the motto “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die.” Others were more modest, despite their riches. Breakfast (ientaculum) was eaten very early. They ate bread, milk, wine, dried fruit, eggs and cheese. Yes, the Romans even drank wine for breakfast. For lunch, (prandium), a quick meal was eaten around noon.

This could include bread, or elaborate foods such as fruit, salad, eggs, meat, vegetables, and cheese. Breakfast and lunch were pretty light, for the most part. Dinner, (cena), was the main meal of the day. Obviously, the Romans drank well-watered wine as their beverage. The foods offered would consist of meat, vegetables, eggs, and fruit. They had even more wine after dinner, called comissatio, as a final course. The food was served in order: appetizers, main courses, and dessert. Appetizers, or gustatio, could be foods like eggs, sea urchins, raw oysters, or mussels. The main courses were different types of meats and vegetables. Desserts were simple: figs, dates, nuts, pears, grapes, cakes, cheese, and honey. The rich male Romans stuffed themselves with their grubby hands while reclining on couches along a cloth-covered table (mensa), while their wives and other poor and unimportant people ate on chairs. While eating, they watched and listened to entertainers. You can recreate this at home too! Stretch out on your couch or on a carpet and eat your food in front of the TV. It might not sound as elaborate, but it’s as close as you can get.

            Poor Romans ate simple foods, nowhere near as elaborate as anything described above. They would usually eat cereal grain at all meals. Cereal grain is not like the Cheerios or Cinnamon Toast Crunch that we have today. Cereals were made by grinding wheat and barley into a coarse flour. They used this to create bread and porridge. Grinding mills and sieves helped improve the fineness of the cereal flour over time, for more complex breads. They made their porridge with grain, water and milk. As things got fancier, they added things like honey, eggs, and cheese into the porridge as well. Poor Romans didn’t eat  fancier fruits and vegetables, such as figs, peaches, mushrooms or onions. They mostly ate wild plants when available. The same applied to meats. Fish and game were caught and then the Romans would either eat, dry, smoke, or pickle the meat. As mentioned before, the poor usually ate while sitting on chairs. I bet those rich male Romans would find online school or work humiliating. They wouldn’t be able to last in the modern world, sitting on a chair for practically the whole day.

        The Romans were really advanced and flavored their food. They were able to flavor their foods with ginger, cloves, nutmeg, turmeric, cardamom, cassia, mace, cinnamon, and pepper. They even had more additives such as basil, rosemary, sage, chive, bay, dill, fennel, thyme, and mustard. If you are wondering why my egg does not look like an omelet, it’s because I’m not the best cook. In fact, I only was just allowed the privilege to  touch the stove and turn the flame on a few months ago. Though my egg was pretty ugly and I eyeballed the measurements, I think it turned out really good. It tasted a little bit strange, but it’s not terrible. Try it yourself, and see if you like it!

    The first dish that you can recreate at home is a honey omelet, or ova spongia ex lacte. This was the first omelet recipe ever recorded from an ancient Roman collection of recipes called the Apicius. This omelet was usually eaten at lunch because it was really light. It could be eaten by people of all classes. To make ova spongia ex lacte, you need to beat four eggs in half a pint of milk and an ounce of oil. This should create a fluffy mixture. In a well-oiled pan, add the egg and let it cook on the stove. Flip and fold the egg when it is finished. Plate the egg with honey and black pepper.


The second dish is perfect for those of you who love dessert. Globi are tiny little cakes that are supposed to be topped with honey and poppy seeds. They can be compared to a modern donut hole, just a lot less sweet. They are simple representations of how the Romans made desserts with the limited ingredients they had. They are supposed to be crispy and chewy on the outside, and soft in the middle. Globi was a favorite dish of Cato. Cato was a statesman, orator and the first Latin prose writer of importance. Cato loved them so much, in fact, that he wrote down the recipe in De Agri Cultura. It is made with ricotta cheese, whole wheat flour, two eggs, cooking oil, honey and poppy seeds. I only had access to an air fryer for safety reasons, but the globi turned out really good. I cut them in half so that they could cook properly, which is something I had a problem with, as you will find out soon. The globi actually tasted really good, and I don’t even like honey! The recipe is probably my favorite out of the onesI mentioned in this article.


           The third and final dish you can make is cheesecake. Can you believe that the Greco-Roman’s ate cheesecake? Well, it definitely isn’t the cheesecake we have today, but it still is pretty cool. The cheesecake they ate was called libum. It is a lot like Cato’s globi because it uses ricotta, poppy seeds, and honey. We aren’t sure if ricotta is the exact ingredient that the Greco-Romans used, as they commonly wrote it down as just “cheese”. To make this dish, you would mix ricotta, honey, flour, and an egg together. Then, you would bake this in the oven for ten minutes. My parents weren’t home when I made this recipe, so I just used my air fryer. Do not use your air fryer to make a cake, it’s a bad idea. While the cheesecake I made looks pretty good, it was not cooked at all. I added figs on top of the cheesecake (mostly to hide the fact that it was not cooked), but also to spice things up. Figs have been one of the most relished fruits since ancient times. According to ancient myth, the fig was the favorite fruit of Baccus, the Lord of Carnival and Wine. The fig tree was considered an emblem of the future prosperity of the Roman race. I really enjoyed making the recipe after a long day of online school and think that you should try it out to (hopefully with an oven). Below, I’ve organized a simple libum recipe. You can add your own twist to this recipe by mixing in whatever you have available at home.


You’ve made it to the end of the article and hopefully have learned a lot more about Greco-Roman cuisine. Now whisk yourself into the kitchen and get cooking! It can function as a way to pass the hours and feel productive, or just as a form of entertainment. Most of all, you are experiencing Roman culture in the comfort of your own home, and having fun!

Works Cited

Breakfast, Mr. Team Breakfast, www.mrbreakfast.com/breakfast/recreating-worlds-omelette-recipe/#:~:text=The first omelette recipe ever,translated to “Honey Omelette”.

Cartwright, Mark. “Food in the Roman World.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 14 Nov. 2020, www.ancient.eu/article/684/food-in-the-roman-world/.

Chittal, Nisha. “Quarantine Cooking Is about More than Just Feeding Yourself.” Vox, Vox, 27 Mar. 2020, www.vox.com/the-goods/2020/3/27/21195361/quarantine-recipes-cooking-baking-coronavirus-bread.

“Fig Trees in the Rome, Greece and The Bible.” Fig Trees in the Rome, Greece and The Bible – Biodiversity of India: A Wiki Resource for Indian Biodiversity, www.biodiversityofindia.org/index.php?title=Fig_Trees_in_the_Rome,_Greece_and_The_Bible#:~:text=Figs have been consumed with,and the Lord of Wine.&text=The fig tree, in Rome,future prosperity of the race.

“Figs.” Turismo Roma, 22 July 2019, www.turismoroma.it/en/2092013-i-fichi.

Gill, N.S. “What Did the Ancient Roman People Eat at Meals?” ThoughtCo, www.thoughtco.com/what-the-romans-ate-120636.

“Marcus Porcius Cato.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/biography/Marcus-Porcius-Cato-Roman-senator-95-46-BC.

Monaco, Written by Farrell. “The Roman Sweet Tooth: Cato’s Globi.” Tavola Mediterranea, 9 Apr. 2018, tavolamediterranea.com/2017/10/05/roman-sweet-tooth-cato-globi/.

Passtheflamingo, /. “Ancient Recipe: Savillum (Cheesecake) (Roman, 1st Century BCE).” Pass The Flamingo: Ancient Food History and Recipes, 16 Aug. 2017, passtheflamingo.com/2017/08/16/ancient-recipe-savillum-cheesecake-roman-1st-century-bce/.

What is Latin Club?

A relaxing and fun environment, the J.P. Stevens Latin Club plays games, designs memorabilia, plans fundraisers, participates in community service, and so much more! You do not have to know Latin or be enrolled in a Latin class to join!

You do not have to attend every meeting to be an active member. So if you enjoy history, if you enjoy Italy, Rome, and Greece, if you like to enjoy good food and a good time, come out for the Latin club.