Saturday, May 20, 2023


Diagnosis of Decline

Ronald Syme, "Antonine Government and Governing Class," in his Roman Papers, V (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), pp. 668-688 (at 688):
When a government collapses or a civilization falls by slow decay, anybody and everybody rushes in with a diagnosis. Easy explanations are to hand in every age, and notably in the recent time. Moral degeneration or religious disbelief tends to be incriminated. That is natural. The notions are vague and emotional, they appeal to sentiments both of censure and of guilt. Are they valid for the age of the Antonine Caesars? Perhaps the failure is rather to be defined as a failure of the intellect.

The men of that time had not deserted the ancient ways. On the contrary, they reverted to tradition with zeal and affection. They were sober and pious; they were dedicated to the things of the mind, and they elevated the study of the classics to a religion and a cult. Not all old authors equally, be it added. Senators might have benefited from a course of study with sombre and searching writers like Thucydides and Tacitus.

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