Wednesday, July 21, 2004


Hatred and Fear

Some people have pointed out that one answer to the fatuous post-9/11 question "Why do they hate us?" is "Oderint, dum metuant" (Let them hate, so long as they fear). This comes from Accius' lost play Atreus, and is quoted by Cicero in his first Philippic (34). It was a favorite expression of the tyrannical Roman emperor Caligula, according to Suetonius (Life of Caligula 30). Neither Cicero nor Suetonius approves of the sentiment.

Nor does Seneca. In De Ira (On Anger) 1.20.4, he says:
The phrase "Let them hate, so long as they fear" is cruel and to be rejected. You could tell it was written in the time of Sulla. (illa dira et abominanda [vox] "oderint, dum metuant." Sullano scias saeculo scriptam.)
Likewise in De Clementia (On Mercy) 1.12.3-4 he writes:
Mercy brings it about that there is a big difference between the king and the tyrant, although both are equally protected by weapons. But the former has weapons which he uses in defence of peace, the latter to quell great hatred by means of great fear. Nor is the tyrant secure when he looks at those very troops to which he has entrusted himself. There is a movement to opposites by means of opposites -- for since he is hated because he is feared, he wishes to be feared because he is hated, and he employs that accursed verse which has destroyed many: "Let them hate, so long as they fear," not knowing what madness arises when hatred has grown beyond bound.
clementia efficit, ut magnum inter regem tyrannumque discrimen sit, uterque licet non minus armis valletur; sed alter arma habet, quibus in munimentum pacis utitur, alter, ut magno timore magna odia compescat, nec illas ipsas manus, quibus se commisit, securus adspicit. Contrariis in contraria agitur; nam cum invisus sit, quia timetur, timeri vult, quia invisus est, et illo exsecrabili versu, qui multos praecipites dedit, utitur: 'Oderint, dum metuant' --ignarus, quanta rabies oriatur, ubi supra modum odia creverunt.
In Seneca's tragedy Phoenissae (The Phoenician Women), the brothers Polynices and Eteocles argue about this very point (653-660):
Reign, so long as you are hated by your subjects.
He does not wish to reign who fears to be hated:
God who created the world made these two together,
Hatred and power: I consider it the mark of a great king
To crush these hatreds. His subjects' affection constrains
The wide-ruling king; more is allowed against the angry.
He rules with a weak hand who wishes to be loved.
Hated kingdoms never last a long time.
Regna, dummodo invisus tuis.
regnare non vult, esse qui invisus timet:
simul ista mundi conditor posuit deus,
odium atque regnum: regis hoc magni reor
odia ipsa premere. multa dominantem vetat
amor suorum; plus in iratos licet.
qui vult amari, languida regnat manu.
Invisa numquam imperia retinentur diu.
Lines 654 and 660 appear in Thomas Legge's Ricardus Tertius (1579), as lines 2858-2859.

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