Friday, November 25, 2011

The Twelve Caesars - page 230, Nero

Nero's confidence in the resources of the Empire was not the only cause of his furious spending; he had also been suddenly excited by tales of a great hidden treasure ....

When this hope failed to materialize, Nero found himself destitute -- and his financial difficulties were such that he could not lay hands on enough money even for the soldiers' pay or the veterans' benefits; and therefore resorted to robbery and blackmail.

First he made a law that if a freedman died who had taken the name of a family connected with his own, and could not show adequate reason, five-sixths of the estate, not merely one half, s
hould be forfeited to the Privy Purse. Next, he seized the estates of those who had shown ingratitude to their Emperor (i.e., by not leaving him enough); and fined the lawyers responsible for writing and dictating such wills. ... His invariable formula, when he appointed a magistrate, was: 'You know my needs! Let us see to it that nobody is left with anything.'

Sound familiar? Like politics is all too universal? Human behavior constant throughout the eras?

I find it particularly interesting that Nero fined not just the writers of wills that fell short of his expectations but also those who dictated such wills, those poor people whose job was simply to write down what someone else had said. Even they felt the anger of Nero. I would have referred to those transcribing drudges as "dictators", but that would have reduced the proper infamy that that word carries in our language today. In this scene, only Nero would deserve that title, though the official position had already been abolished a few Caesars earlier.

Yes, I am dictating, but please don't say that word around me. You know, Dictaphone.

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