Home > Uncategorized > Juvenal: The spoils of war and the price thereof

Juvenal: The spoils of war and the price thereof

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Juvenal: Mighty warriors and their tombs are circumscribed by Fate

Juvenal: War and violence, baser than the beasts

Juvenal: Weigh the greatest military commanders in the balance

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Juvenal
From Satires
Translated by G. G. Ramsay

[W]ould you like to be courted like Sejanus? To be as rich as he was? To bestow on one man the ivory chairs of office, appoint another to the command of armies, and be counted guardian of a Prince seated on the narrow ledge of Capri with his herd of Chaldaean astrologers? You would like, no doubt, to have Centurions, Cohorts, and Illustrious Knights at your call, and to possess a camp of your own? Why should you not? Even those who don’t want to kill anybody would like to have the power to do it…

What was it that overthrew the Crassi, and the Pompeii, and him who brought the conquered Quirites under his lash? What but lust for the highest place pursued by every kind of means? What but ambitious prayers granted by unkindly Gods? Few indeed are the kings who go down to Ceres’ son-in-law save by sword and slaughter – few the tyrants that perish by a bloodless death!

The spoils of war and trophies fastened upon stumps – a breast-plate, a cheek-strap hanging from a broken helmet, a yoke shorn of its pole, the flagstaff of a captured galley, or a captive sorrowing on a triumphal arch – such things are deemed glories too great for man; these are the prizes for which every General strives, be he Greek, Roman, or barbarian; it is for these that he endures toil and peril: so much greater is the thirst for glory than for virtue! For who would embrace virtue herself if you stripped her of her rewards?

Sooner will you find a false witness against a civilian than one who will tell the truth against the interest and the honour of a soldier.

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