Friday, January 29, 2016


A review of David Wootton’s translation Machiavelli: Selected Political Writings of The Prince, Selections from The Discourses, and Letter to Vettori (circa 1513, The Prince) (1994, this translation)  

(Rating 5 of 5)

Around ten years ago I was taking a college course called Lying and Politics and this book was one of the textbooks we used.  I found it fascinating then and even more so now.  Niccolo Machiavelli was a man and public servant who lived in Renaissance Italy.  He was on hand for many historic events and met many important people.  During the restoration of the Medici in Florence he was tortured for the crime of being an official of the previous regime.   After surviving his torture he would go on to write these famous works. 

            The introduction in this book discusses how Machiavelli’s work has been interpreted over the centuries.  There is apparently some controversy around to what is referred to as ‘the two Machiavellis.’ They try to reconcile the apparent contradiction of the author of The Prince, who gives advice to rulers and would be rulers, to the author of The Discourses, who prefers republican government.  I personally do not see a real contradiction because they are about two different things. The Prince is simply a how-to book for a dictator that was written for a potential employer while The Discourses is Machiavelli sharing his own view and preferences.  
“In order to properly understand the behavior of lower classes one needs to be a ruler, and in order to properly understand the behavior of rulers one needs to be a member of the lower classes.” (pg. 6)
           I am not sure this is true although subject and ruler might have a unique perspective on the other its highly unlikely that this automatically grants them so much insight that they understand the other more than they understand themselves.  I currently work in call center, this would be like me declaring that I was an expert on the behavior of CEOs because I am regular wage employee.  There are elements of the CEO’s job that I am certain I do not understand, just as there is much about their low ranking employees’ job that the CEO does not think about in his or her daily function.

“Is it better to be loved than feared, or vice versa?  My reply is one ought to be both loved and feared; but since it is difficult to accomplish both at the same time, I maintain it is much safer to be feared than loved, if you have to do without one of the two.” (pg. 51-2)
          This is of course is probably Machiavelli’s most famous quote.  This is the one line that captures the very heart of The Prince.  I always thought it would be better to be loved.  For if you are loved than your subjects would take your side even when your chips were down, where as if they just feared you they may betray you in a moment of weakness.  Machiavelli would probably point out that just because they loved you does not mean that they would look out for their own necks primarily when they felt that they or their interests were in danger.  
Niccolo Machiavelli 

           We know Machiavelli thought about rulers keeping their word.  He felt it is better to be crafty than honest. 

“Everybody recognizes how praiseworthy it is for a ruler to keep his word and to live a life of integrity, without relying on craftiness.  Nevertheless, we see that in practice, in these days, those rulers who have not thought it important to keep their word have achieved great things, and have known how to employ cunning to confuse and disorientate other men.  In the end, they have been able to overcome those who have placed store in integrity.” (pg. 53)  

            Throughout The Prince Machiavelli is giving advice on how to rule people and the challenges one faces when ruling a people you had previously conquered.  During the course of the book Machiavelli jumps back and forth from ancient times of Alexander, Scipio, and Hannibal to the more “modern” times of Renaissance Italy.  Machiavelli finds quite a bit to praise of ancient leaders and much to criticize in the modern ones.  He completely chastises King Louis XII of France and his misadventures in Italy. 

 “Thus, Louis had made the following five mistakes: He wasted his alliance with the lesser states; he increased the strength of one of the more powerful Italian states; he invited an extremely powerful foreign state to intervene in Italy; he did not go and live in Italy; he did not establish settlements there.” (pg. 13)

The part of Machiavelli’s criticism that I find rather weird is his insistence that a conqueror should move into his conquered territories despite being the ruler of another place.  The example that he gives is the Sultan of Turkey moving into Constantinople, that is true but the Ottoman Empire did not change capitals every time it expanded. Now it should be noted in Machiavelli’s time it wasn’t that long ago that the fall of Constantinople happened.  So I suppose he could be excused for the oversight.  

            Quite bitter with the example of leadership that he had seen in Italy politically, he clearly shows his anger at what Italy had been going through in his own time. 

“The outcome has been that Italy has, in quick succession, been overrun by Charles, plundered by Louis, raped by Ferdinand, and humiliated by the Swiss.” (pg. 42)

When referring the types of principalities there are he makes it pretty clear that the long established powers are the best.

“It is much easier to hold on to hereditary states, that are accustomed to being governed by the family that now rules them, than it is to hold on to new acquisitions.” (pg. 7)
             I do not think Machiavelli is anything here that is not obvious.  It is much easier to inherit power in an established dynasty than to go out and try to take it.  Of course you would have to be born into an established dynasty for that to occur.  Since one who seeks power is likely to have it just handed to him by luck of birth they are required to take it and hopefully set up their own system.  Machiavelli is quick to point out how dangerous that actually is.

“One ought to pause and consider the fact that there is nothing harder to undertake, nothing more likely of failure, nothing more risky to pull off, than to set oneself up as a leader who plans to found a new system of government.  For the fonder makes enemies of all those who are doing well under the old system, and has only lukewarm support from those who hope to do well under the new one.” (pg. 19)

            There was however one ideal guy who showed the way on how to do it.  When advising new rulers on the best path to success, his ideal candidate was Cesare Borgia.  This was odd because he lost in the end.  Yet to Machiavelli, he was perfect and he served as a duel example.  He was the model to follow but he also came with a warning: that one can act perfectly and still fall due to bad luck with no fault of your own. His power was dependent on the patronage of others and when those 'others' went away he was alone and vulnerable.  Borgia was the son of the Pope. (Yeah, I know how strange that sounds.)  His father, Alexander VI, and his ally King Louis XII of France were his primary backers and without them he had no independent power.  

“So, now I have surveyed all the actions of the duke, I still cannot find anything to criticize.  It seem to me I have been right to present him as an example to be imitated by all those who come to power through good luck and someone else’s military might.  For since he was great-hearted and ambitious, he had no choice as to what to do; and he only failed to achieve his goals because Alexander died too soon, and he himself fell ill.” (pg. 26-7)
Cesare Borgia, son of the Pope

            Part of the reason Machiavelli admired Cesare so much was how he would do what he thought needed to be done and not only was he not hesitate, he would be in a hurry to get it accomplished.  In Machiavelli's world any bad you need to do you must do it quickly. 
“Do all the harm you must at one and the same time, that way the full extent of it will not be noticed, and it will give least offense. One should do good, on the other hand, little by little, so people can fully appreciate it.” (pg. 31)
           Machiavelli also gives a hint of his populism in his next bit of advice. It is better to become monarch at the head of a popular movement than it is to have the title awarded to you by a small elite. This advice is a tad bit strange when you consider his comments on Julius Caesar are in The Discourses.  For Caesar is the one who comes to mind when I hear these statements. 
“He who comes to power with the help of the elite has more difficulty in holding on to power than he who comes to power with the help of the populace, for in the former case he is surrounded by many who think of themselves as his equals, and who consequently cannot order about or manipulate as he might wish.  He who comes to power with support of the populace, on the other hand, has it all to himself.” (pg. 31-2)

In The Discourses, Machiavelli discus the history of ancient Rome a great deal.  It is embarrassing to say this especially in light on how brilliant The Prince is, but all of his theories on Rome are wrong.  Machiavelli comes off as complete Catoian in his views on the Roman Republic.  He fails to see the Republic that could manage a city well could not manage an empire.  He seems to think that the Republic’s downfall was due to lack of character of the people living at the time who failed to live up to the ideals of their ancestors. 

Machiavelli was one of the most fascinating minds of Renaissance Italy, a place not lacking at all in marvelous minds.  The father of political realist thought. 

{Video from the Showtime series the Borgias}

Monday, January 25, 2016


A review of The Letters of the Younger Pliny (110-113) translated by Betty Radice (1963)

(Rating 5 of 5)

His name was Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, he is comely referred to as Pliny the Younger to distinguish him from his uncle and adopted father, Pliny the Elder, who was a famous historian.  A few of the letters the younger Pliny discuss his uncle’s work, reputation, and famous death at the destruction of Pompeii.  Pliny the Younger was an official of the Roman Imperial government called the Principate.  The Principate was the system of rule by an emperor or 'first citizen' that was established by Emperor Augustus to de facto replace the Republic. Pliny had the privilege of serving in the best part of what was the golden age amongst golden age of the Roman civilization: the Pax Romana in the time of the Good Emperors in the reign of Trajan.  It was not always that way for Pliny, for was born in the time of Nero, whom his uncle despised.  During his own career he also had to endure the tyranny of the Emperor Domitian.  Pliny’s survival strategy was to keep quiet and not cause problems for anyone.  He would be able to resume his career and advancement with the coming of Nerva.
Statue of Pliny

            Historically Pliny is not important.  He was a semi-important person in his own time for he was in the Emperor’s inner circle and was appointed to govern a province.  However this is true for a number of officials in the Empire.  Although he had a nice life his accomplishments are not of any historical significance, except that Pliny’s correspondence survives.  He remembered to keep copies of his letters and publish them years later in a series of nine books; some of these letters are to people such as Tacitus, a famous Roman historian. After he died a tenth book was a published that contained his communications with Emperor Trajan.  Pliny is the only man of his rank and position in Roman society during this time period whose work survives.  It is Pliny whose eyes we use to examine the Roman Empire of the Pax Romana.
The Destruction of Pompeii

            Pliny enjoyed giving advice and playing the mentor to young up and coming Roman aristocrats.  He gives them advice on being a lawyer and being a career politician.  Pliny takes their success rather personally often telling friends he is more nervous when a young apprentice is up for election than for his own campaigns.  In one letter he answers one young attorney’s question on having been elected tribune of the people.  Pliny’s answer would have horrified Cato the Younger.  Pliny explains that it depends on how one chooses to view the office, either as a serious office or just a ceremonial figurehead job.  Pliny’s letter shows that many, if not most, saw through the Emperor’s disguise as ‘First Citizen.’ The Republic did not exist to govern the country anymore it was there only for show.  Nevertheless Pliny tells the newly elected tribune that when he held the job he took it very seriously.  Not to mention advising others who have held the offices that he once had. 

            Pliny also discusses being a lawyer in Rome, sending copies of his speeches, advising others on theirs, and going over funny court stories.  He mentions a number of times his views on inheritance, which was the majority of his cases.  His view was what the deceased wanted was more important than procedural law.

            Pliny is also quite taken with ghost stories telling a number of them including a time when the ghost of Emperor Tiberius’s younger brother, Drusus Nero, haunted Pliny the Elder.  One letter that I found an insightful to an average day in 2nd century Rome was this one:    
To Minicius Funganus
"It is extraordinary how, if one takes a single day spent in Rome, once can give a more or less accurate account of it, but scarcely any account at all of several days put together.  If you ask anyone what he did that day, the answer would be: ‘I was present at a coming-of-age ceremony, a betrothal, or a wedding.  I was called to witness a will, to support someone in court or to act as assessor.’ All this seems important on the actual day, but quite pointless if you consider that you have done the same sort of thing every day, and still be more pointless if you think about it when you are out of town.  It is then that you realize how many days you have wasted in trivialities.
"I always realize this when I am at Laurentine, reading and writing and finding time to take the exercise which keeps my mind fit for work. There is nothing there for me to say or hear said which I would afterwards regret, no one disturbs me with malicious gossip, and I have no one to blame—but myself—when writing doesn’t come easily.  Hopes and fears do not worry me, and my time is not wasted in ideal talk; I share my thoughts with no one but my books. It is a good life and a genuine one, a seclusion which is happy and honorable, more rewarding than any ‘business’ can be.  The sea and shore are truly my private Helicon, and endless source of inspirations. You should take the first opportunity yourself to leave the din, the futile bustle and useless occupations of the city and devote yourself to literature or leisure.  For it was wise as well as witty of our friend Atulius to say that it is better to have no work to do than to work at nothing.” (Book 1, Letter 9 pg. 42-43)
            Of the collection of letters two are of the most famous are the ones that detail the destruction of Pompeii.  Both were to the historian Tacitus.  Pliny living at the outer edge of Vesuvius’ reach was able, with his mother, to be one of the lucky survivors.  At the edge of the letter he tells Tacitus that he doesn’t think the letter is history.  It is hard to tell but I think Pliny is being sarcastic.  If he is not than the statement is overly ironic.   

To Tacitus
"You say that the letter I wrote for you about my uncle's death made you want to know about my fearful ordeal at Misenum, for I broke off at the beginning of this part of my story. ‘The mind shrinks from remembering ... I will begin.’ 
           "After my uncle's departure I finished up my studies, I spent the rest of the day with my books, as this was my reason for staying behind. Then I took a bath, dined, and then dozed fitfully for a while. For several past days there had been earth tremors which were not particularly alarming because they are frequent in Campania: but that night the shocks were so violent that everything felt as if it were not only shaken but overturned. My mother hurried into my room and found me already getting up to wake her if she were still asleep.  We sat out on in the forecourt of the house, between the buildings and the sea close by.  I don’t know whether I should call this courage or folly on my part (I was only seventeen at the time) but I called for a volume of Livy and went on reading as if I had nothing else to do.  Up came a friend of my uncle's who had just come from Spain to join him. When he saw us sitting there and me actually reading, he scolded us both—me for my foolhardiness and my mother for allowing it. Nevertheless, I remained absorbed in my book.   
           "By now it was dawn, but the light was still dim and faint. The buildings around us are already tottering, and the open space we were in was too small for us not to be in real and imminent danger if the house collapsed.  This finally decided us to leave the town.  We were followed by a panic-stricken mob of people wanting to act on someone else’s decision in preference to their own (a point in which fear looks like prudence), who hurried us on our way by pressing hard behind in a dense crowd. Once beyond the buildings we stopped, and there we had some extraordinary experiences which thoroughly alarmed us. The carriages we had ordered brought out began to run in different directions though the ground was quite level, and would not remain stationary when wedged with stones. We also saw the sea sucked away and apparently forced back by the earthquake: at any rate it receded from the shore so the quantities of sea creatures were left stranded on dry sand.  On the landward side a fearful black cloud was rent by forked and quivering bursts of flame and parted to reveal great tongues of fire, like flashes of lightning magnified in size. 
            "At that point my uncle’s friend from Spain spoke up still more urgently: ‘If your brother, if your uncle is still alive, he will want you both to be saved: if he dead, he would want you to survive him—why put off your escape?’ We replied that we would not think of considering our own safety as long as we were uncertain about his. Without waiting any longer, our friend rushed off and hurried out of danger as fast as he could.    
"Soon afterwards the cloud sank down to earth and covered the sea; it had already blotted out Capri and hidden the promontory of Misenum from sight. Then my mother implored, entreated and commanded me to escape as best I could—a young man might escape, whereas she was old and slow and could die in peace as long as she had not been the cause of my death too. I refused to save myself without her, and grasping her hand forced her to quicken her pace. She gave in reluctantly, blaming herself for delaying me.  Ashes were already falling, not as yet very thickly.  I looked round: a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood. ‘Let us leave the road while we still can see,’ I said, ‘or we shall be knocked down and trampled underfoot in the dark by the crowd behind.’ We had scarcely sat down to rest when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if a lamp had been put out in a closed room. You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling for their parents, others for children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying.  Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness forever more. There were people, too, who added to the real perils by inventing fictitious dangers: some reported that part of Misenum had collapsed or another part was on fire, and although their tales were false they found others to believe them. A gleam of light returned but we took this to be a warning of the approaching flames rather than daylight.  However, the flames remained some distance off; then darkness came on once more and ashes began to fall again, this time in heavy showers. We rose from time to time and shook them off, otherwise we should have been buried and crushed beneath their weight. I could boast that not a groan or cry of fear escaped me in these perils, had I not derived some poor consolation in my mortal lot from the belief that the whole world was dying with me and I with it.
"At last the darkness thinned and dispersed into smoke or cloud; then there was genuine daylight, and the sun actually shown out, but yellowish as it is during and eclipse. We were terrified to see everything changed, buried deep in ashes like snowdrifts. We returned to Misenum where we attended to our physical needs as best we could, and then spent an anxious night alternating between hope and fear. Fear predominated, for the earthquakes went on, and several hysterical individuals made their own and other people’s calamities seem ludicrous in comparison with their frightful predictions. But even then, in spite of the dangers we had been through and were still expecting, my mother and I had still no intention of leaving until we had news of my uncle. 
"Of course the details are not important enough for history, and you will read them without any idea of recording them; if they seem scarcely worth putting in a letter, you have only yourself to blame for asking for them.” (Book 6, Letter 20 pg.171-173)
Pompeii victims: young family
Pompeii victims: fetal position

Pompeii victims: lost pet

Of all the books of letters that were published the most important is the one when he is the Governor of Bithynia-Pontus.  There we get a look of an emperor in communication with one of his lieutenants throughout his empire.  Pliny feels the need to check in all the time with the Emperor, sometimes the Emperor approves and sometimes he just tells Pliny to make a decision. Here is one letter I found very interesting.  

Pliny to the Emperor Trajan
"While I was visiting another part of the province, a widespread fire broke out at Nicomedia which destroyed many private houses and also two public buildings (the Elder Citizen’s Club and the Temple of Isis) although a road runs between them. It was fanned by the strong breeze  in the early stages, but it would not have spread so far but for the apathy of the populace; for it is generally agreed that people stood watching the disaster without bestirring themselves to do anything to stop it. Apart from this, there is not a single fire engine anywhere in the town, not a bucket nor any apparatus for fighting a fire. These will now be provided on my instructions.
"Will you, Sir, consider whether you think a company of firemen might be formed, limited to 150 members? I will see that no one shall be admitted who is not genuinely a fireman, and that the privileges granted shall not be abused: it will not be difficult to keep such a small number under observation.” (Book 10, Letter 33 pg.271)
            For the record I have no idea what a Roman fire engine would look like.  Seems like a reasonable request but the Emperor’s response is something downright weird.

Trajan to Pliny
"You may well have had the idea that it should be possible to form a company of firemen at Nicomedia on the model of those existing elsewhere, but we must remember that it is societies like these which have been responsible for the political disturbances in your province, particularly in its towns. If people assemble for a common purpose whatever name we give them and for whatever reason, they soon turn into a political club. It is a better policy then to provide the equipment necessary for dealing with fires, and to instruct property owners to make use of it, calling on the help of the crowds which collect if they find it necessary.” (Book 10, Letter 34 pg. 271-272)
Talk about a paranoid emperor.  ‘Don’t start a fire department because they might from a society that will try to overthrow the Empire.’  Trajan was one greatest of Rome’s Emperors but just because you are smart in one area of life does not make you smart in all areas. 

Of all the letters in Book 10 the one about the Christians, this probably one of—if not thee—most analyzed letters in history.

 Pliny to the Emperor Trajan
"It is my customer to refer all my difficulties to you, Sir, for no one is better able to resolve my doubts and to inform my ignorance.
"I have never been present at an examination of Christians. Consequently, I do not know nature of the extent of the punishments usually meted out to them, nor the grounds for starting an investigation and how far it should be pressed. Nor am I at all sure whether any distinction should be made between them on the ground of age or I young people and adults should be treated alike; whether a pardon ought to be granted to anyone retracting his beliefs, or if he has once professed Christianity, he shall gain nothing by renouncing it; and if whether it is the mere name of Christian which is punishable, even if innocent of crime, or rather the crimes associated with the name.
" For the moment this is the line I have taken with all persons brought before me on the charge of being Christians. I have asked them in person if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution; for, whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakeable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished.
" There have been others similarly fanatical who are Roman citizens, I have entered them on a list of persons to be sent to Rome for trial.
"Now that I have begun to deal with this problem, as so often happens, the charges are becoming more widespread and increasing in variety. An anonymous pamphlet has been circulated which contains of a number of accused persons.  Amongst these I considered that I should dismiss any who denied that they were or ever had been Christians when they had repeated after me a formula of invocation to the gods and had made offerings of wine and incense to your statue (which I had ordered to be brought into court for this purpose along with the images of the gods), and furthermore had reviled the name of Christ: none of which things, I understand, any genuine Christian can be induced to do.
"Others, whose names were given to be by an informer, first admitted the charge and then denied it; they said that they had ceased to be Christians two or more years previously, and some of them even twenty years ago.  They all did reverence to your statue and the images of the gods in the same way as the others, and reviled in the name of Christ.  They also declared that the sum total of their guild or error amounted to no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery, to commit no breach of trust and not to deny a deposit when called upon to restore it.  After this ceremony it had been their custom to disperse and reassemble later to take food of an ordinary, harmless kind; but they had in fact given up this practice since my edict, issued on your instructions, which banned all political societies.  This made me decide it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave-women, whom they call deaconesses.  I found nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths.
"I have therefore postponed any further examination and hastened to consult you.  The question seems to me to be worthy of your consideration, especially in view of the number of persons endangered; for a great many individuals of every age and class, both men and women, are being brought to trial, and this is likely to continue.  It is not only the towns, but villages and rural districts too which are infected through contact with this wretched cult.  I think though that it is still possible for it to be checked and directed to better ends, for there is no doubt that people have begun to throng the temples which had been almost entirely deserted for a long time; the sacred rites which had been allowed to lapse are being performed again, and flesh of sacrificial victims is on sale everywhere, though up till recently scarcely anyone could be found to buy it. It is easy to infer from this that a great many people could be reformed if they were given an opportunity to repent.” (Book 10, Letter 96 pg. 293-295)
            One of the biggest debates in history was how long did it take Christianity to grow to significant numbers.  Scholars have sharp disagreements over it and often go over this letter to make their point. Pliny sees it as a growing problem in his province, yet he has no idea who they are despite being a well-connected and educated statesman.  Trajan’s response is more telling.   
“Trajan to Pliny
You have followed the right course, my dear Pliny, in your examination of the cases against with being Christians, for it is impossible to lay down a general rule to a fixed formula. These people must not be hunted out; if they are brought before you and the charged against them is proved, they must be punished, but in the case of anyone who denies that he is a Christian, and shall makes it clear that he is not by offering prayers to our gods, he is to be pardoned as a result of his repentance however suspect his past conduct may be. But pamphlets circulated anonymously must play no part in any accusation.  They create the worst sort of precedent and are quite out of keeping with the spirit of our age.” (Book 10, Letter 97 pg. 295)
The Emperor who is so paranoid he does not want to see and organized fire department for fear of what it could turn into did not think the Christians amounted to any sort of threat.  Trajan’s letter is seen as evidence that most of the early emperors prior to the Crisis of the Third Century were not actively persecuting the Christians themselves; rather it was done at a more local level. 
Emperor Trajan, Pliny's boss who is afraid of organized firemen but not Christians.

            If you are looking for some great primary source material from antiquity it does not get much better than the Letters of the Younger Pliny.

 {Video was posted by List 25 on YouTube}

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Grandpa’s War

A review of David Eisenhower’s Eisenhower at War: 1943-1945 (1986)

(Rating:5 of 5)

This book about Dwight D. Eisenhower’s command over the Allied European Forces in World War II is unique to all others on the same topic. For the author is the grandson and namesake of that very commander*. David Eisenhower began working on his book during the Watergate controversy that brought down the presidency of his father-in-law, President Richard M. Nixon. To the younger Eisenhower, the work was a form of escapism from the problems of their facing. However, originally his book was going to be about the second term of grandfather’s presidency because those both were happier memories and a fascinating time in the nation’s history. As he begun to work however, he found himself in the position of an old historian’s cliché. That is ‘never ask a historian for a little bit of background,’ because more often than not you end up with a larger story than you had originally asked for. Every time David Eisenhower went to describe an event in the second term, he found himself having to go back and explain the events the first. Moreover, as explained the events of the first, he found himself going back all the way to the war to provide the details that he wanted. So as a result, instead of writing a book about the second term he decided to write one about the war.

The book focuses on the planning and execution of ‘Operation: Overlord.’ Overlord was the plan of invasion of Normandy and the crusade in Europe. The book, in the first three chapters, deals with the planning, events, and atmosphere leading up to D-Day. The rest of the book deals with the war until V-E day. The book contains descriptions of battles, charts, and photographs form the events. However, that is not what I personally found to be the most fascinating part of the book. To me, what make this book a good read was where the grandson could tell stories of events only a few people would have been privy to.

“In the next several days the Eisenhowers spent the late afternoon and evening with guests at Telegraph Cottage. There were reunions with ‘Uncle Everett’ Hughes and Patton over dinners that John’s father cooked in a tall chef’s hat on the new patio behind the glassed-in porch, followed be serious after-dinner bridge games attended by hosts of orderlies. John had noted that a slight ‘military barrier’ had grown up between father and son. During a twilight stroll through the woods behind the five-acre Telegraph Cottage compound, John, walking to his father’s left, posed a question. ‘If we should meet an officer who ranks above me and below you, how do we handle this? Do I salute first, and when he returns my salute, do you return his?’ John knew he raised an unresolved point of Army protocol which his father sidestepped with a smile. ‘John, there isn’t an officer in this theater who doesn’t rank above you and below me.’” p.299

Those kinds of personnel touches between a father and son that could only be retold by a family member are some of the best parts of this work. My all-time favorite happens to involve the pervious King of England.

“The King, afflicted by ill health since youth, was notoriously quiet and shy was hampered by a speech impediment. According to a story told by staff members, the King and Eisenhower in Tunisia had once ridden together in a jeep for several hours in complete silence. On the twenty-sixth, however, King George was gregarious. Over lunch, served buffet style in an upstairs apartment, the three reminisced. The Queen told Eisenhower for the first time about something that had happened on his tour of Windsor Castle two years before. As it turned out, the guide, Colonel Sterling, had forgotten to that the King and Queen were on the grounds. The couple were sipping tea in the garden when they suddenly heard Sterling, Eisenhower, and Clark approaching. The royal couple had not wanted to intrude, so they knelt on their hands and knees behind the hedge until the Americans had walked by. Now the three shared a laugh.” p.237

The very idea of the King and Queen hiding behind a bush is very amusing. It is personnel information like that, which makes this book very enjoyable. I am sure that anyone who gives this book his or her time will enjoy it as well.

*Dwight D. Eisenhower was born ‘David Dwight’ but his mother reversed first and middle names. Later his grandson was named Dwight David Eisenhower II, but answers to David. Camp David is named after the author.

Saturday, January 16, 2016


A review of Titus Livius’s The Early History of Rome Translated by Aubery De Selincourt with Introduction by Robert Ogilvie (27 B.C. original, this copy 1971)

(Rating 5 of 5)

One of the first things a person learns when studying history is the difference between primary and secondary sources.  George Washington’s war journal is a primary source of history while a biography on Washington written in the 20th century is considered a secondary source.  When the ancient world is researched these lines become a little blurred.  For example anything written by a Roman is considered a primary source on Rome even, like in this book, when the author is writing about events centuries after the events happened.  So this is technically primary source material but it doesn’t feel like it. 

            In his famous work Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville mentioned that America was lucky to have been born already literate so when we research our origins we are sure of our birthright.  He pointed out that Europeans when researching their personal country’s beginnings it is hard to separate fact from fiction.  You see this in Livy’s work as well.  Livy is telling us Rome’s origins.  Yet the stories can be so fantastic, Romulus and Remus being saved by a wolf for example, that you can not help but be skeptical of their claims.  

            On narrative Livy excels, his work is never boring he tells exciting stories.  He even invites the reader to be skeptical at some of the claims that get proposed for often he throws doubt on them himself; such as suggesting that the story of King Romulus ascending to the heavens might have been a cover for a political assassination.  My favorite tale however is how King Tarquin I selected his successor.  Tarquin sees a slave boy, Servius Tullius, head catch on fire and he remained unharmed.  The King took the boy under his wing, and when Servius grew to manhood King Tarquin arranged for the young man to marry one his daughters. When the King was murdered by the son of his predecessor, the Queen begged Servius to follow the King's wishes and take the crown.      

            The story of Rome’s last king is one Livy’s finer stories.  Livy paints a horrid tale of a man who killed his wife and brother so he could marry his sister-in-law.  He grows bitter with Servius and openly challenges him.  He mocked his father's successor lowborn as a slave’s son to his own status as a king’s son.  King Tarquin II after murdering Servius takes the throne and rules as a tyrant.  Yet it was not his tyranny but rather the rape of Lucretia by the King's son that led the people of Rome to rebellion.  In that rebellion, Lucius Junius Brutus chased out the tyrant king. 

             In addition to being interesting there are times where Livy can be downright weird.  I guess you can chalk up to him being a man of his time and that time was thousand years ago.  Here is a case in point observe Livy describe the infamous Rape of the Sabine women. (That has some disturbing parallels with some political events in Nigeria in recent years.) Rome as a new city, having no women, tries to arrange marriages with nearby towns.  They are a refused so Romulus plans a party and invites their neighbors and their daughters.  While the party is going on the trap is sprung and soldiers come out and kidnap many of the young women of marriageable age and kicked their families out of the city.  

“Then the great moment came; the show began, and nobody had eyes or thoughts for anything else.  This was the Romans’ opportunity: at a given signal all the able-bodied men burst through the crowd and seized the young women.  Most of the girls were the prize of whoever got hold of them first, but a few conspicuously handsome ones had been previously marked down for leading senators, and were brought to the house by special gangs.  There was one young woman of much greater beauty than the rest; and the story goes that she was by a party of men belonging to the household of someone called Thalassius, and in reply to the many questions about whose house they were taking her to, they, to prevent anyone else laying hands upon her, kept shouting, ‘Thalassius, Thalassius!’ This was the origin of the use of this word at weddings.” (p. 44)

            Now at first there is nothing odd there, just a description of a rather disturbing historical event.  Where it gets weird is his later statements.

“The women in course of time lost their resentment; but no sooner had they learned to accept their lot than their parents began to stir up trouble in the earnest.” (p. 45)

            Yeah, they just got over it.  And phooey on their parents who never got over their daughters being kidnapped.  Later when the Romans and the Sabines are about to go to war it is these women who play a Disney Pocahontas type role, and throw themselves in between their fathers and husbands.  This causes peace and much rejoicing.  
The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Nicolas Poussin

            One of my favorite pieces in the book is when Livy takes shots directly at Emperor Augustus in the form of a back-handed compliment.  In Livy’s time Marcus Licinius Crassus, grandson of the triumvir who had the same name, led a campaign against a tribe called the Bastarnae.  During the battle he killed King Deldo in single combat.  Killing an enemy's leader in single combat entitled one to a particular honor that Crassus demanded and that Augustus was reluctant to give.  Augustus used the excuse that since Crassus had not been the supreme commander he was therefore denied. (During the Republic the supreme commander was the magistrate in command. In the imperial system the supreme commander was always the Emperor even when he wasn’t there.)  When it was pointed out that said honor had not been so limited in the past and gave the example of Aulus Cornelius Cossus, who was just a tribune.  It was suddenly ‘discovered’ that Cossus had indeed been supreme commander after all. 

“I have followed all previous chroniclers in saying that Aulus Cornelius Cossus was a senior officer—‘army tribune—when he deposited the ‘spoils of honor’ in the temple of Jupiter Feretrius; but there is a difficulty here, for in addition to the fact that the expression ‘spoils of honor’ is probably applicable only when they are taken by the supreme commander from the supreme commander of the enemy, and that we recognize no supreme commander apart from the man under whose auspices the campaign is fought, the actual inscription on the spoils proves that Cossus was consul when he took them.  I have heard that Augustus Caesar, founder and restorer of all our temples, enter the shrine of Jupiter Feretrius, which he had caused to be rebuilt after many years of neglect and dilapidation, and himself read the inscription on the linen corselet, and I have felt, in consequence, that it would be almost sacrilege to deprive Cossus so great a witness to his spoils as Caesar, the restorer of that very shrine.  By what error the ancient annals and the Linen Rolls of magistrates in the temple of Moneta, cited again and again as his authority by Licinius Macer, only record Cossos as having shared the consulship seven years later with Titus Quinctius Pennus, is anybody’s guess.  Again, it is impossible to shift the date of such a famous battle to the subsequent year, because Cossus’s consulship (to assume the later date) fell within a three-year period which, owing to famine and epidemics, there were no wars at all—indeed certain annals of the time, as dismal as death registers, gives us nothing beyond the names of the consuls.” (p. 291-292)  

            Take that Augustus.

            The Early History of Rome is a great read even if its status as a primary source should somewhat be questioned. 

{Video is from YouTube posted by Tom Mackenzie}