If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Saturday 9 June 2012
Argentum et aurum propitiine an irati di negaverint dubito.
“I’m not sure if the gods have denied to
them the use of gold and silver
out of kindness or rage.”
Tacitus (56-117) – Germania 5
Thus the compendious view of ancient Rome’s greatest (in my view) historian on the nature of civilization: he is talking about Rome’s numerous, vigorous and ever worrisome neighbors, those restless and belligerent tribes inhabiting the vast forested domains of central Europe to the north. In his prescience, he anticipated the havoc they would wreak on Roman civilization some four centuries later and, some two millennia even further on, the chaos that their descendants would bring to European and world civilization.
He seems to have adopted a kind of proto-Rousseau-like view of these peoples as (unlike his Roman contemporaries) untainted and unspoiled by the many corruptions so ubiquitous during his own lifetime, the early Roman empire under the Julio-Claudians and their successors. Of course, I don’t know how accurate a picture he painted of the Germani (although, as noted above, in the end they proved to be rather worrisome indeed) and how much he was influenced by a passionate predisposition to contrast Edenic primitives with evil emperors and political sleaze!
Not to confuse ancient with modern or modern with ancient, but the particular linguistic formulation to which Tacitus here has recourse to bemoan his age could not but evoke in my mind our current 2012 season of presidential political PACS in which “the use of gold and silver” appears pretty much to have overwhelmed the democratic electoral process.
Kind or angry gods?
Boon or bane?