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Plutarch: They fought indeed and were slain, but it was to maintain the luxury and the wealth of other men

December 31, 2015 1 comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Plutarch: Selections on war and peace

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Plutarch
Translated by John Dryden

From Tiberius Gracchus

Tiberius, maintaining an honourable and just cause, and possessed of eloquence sufficient to have made a less creditable action appear plausible, was no safe or easy antagonist, when, with the people crowding around the hustings, he took his place, and spoke in behalf of the poor. “The savage beasts,” said he, “in Italy, have their particular dens, they have their places of repose and refuge; but the men who bear arms, and expose their lives for the safety of their country, enjoy in the meantime nothing more in it but the air and light and, having no houses or settlements of their own, are constrained to wander from place to place with their wives and children.” He told them that the commanders were guilty of a ridiculous error, when, at the head of their armies, they exhorted the common soldiers to fight for their sepulchres and altars; when not any amongst so many Romans is possessed of either altar or monument, neither have they any houses of their own, or hearths of their ancestors to defend. They fought indeed and were slain, but it was to maintain the luxury and the wealth of other men. They were styled the masters of the world, but in the meantime had not one foot of ground which they could call their own.

From Demetrius

“Mars,” as says Timotheus, “is the tyrant,” but Law, in Pindar’s words, the king of all. Homer does not say that kings received at the hands of Jove besieging engines or ships of war, but sentences of justice, to keep and observe; nor is it the most warlike, unjust, and murderous, but the most righteous of kings, that has from him the name of Jupiter’s “familiar friend” and scholar. Demetrius’s delight was the title most unlike the choice of the king of gods. The divine names were those of the Defender and Keeper, his was that of the Besieger of Cities. The place of virtue was given by him to that which, had he not been as ignorant as he was powerful, he would have known to be vice, and honour by his act was associated with crime…

[He] had foolishly let himself be seduced away from…that highest good which he had thought to obtain by arms and fleets and soldiers he had now discovered unexpectedly in idleness, leisure, and repose. As, indeed, what other end or period is there of all the wars and dangers which hapless princes run into, whose misery and folly it is, not merely that they make luxury and pleasure. instead of virtue and excellence, the object of their lives, but that they do not so much as know where this luxury and pleasure are to be found?

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Fire, Famine, And Slaughter: A War Eclogue

December 30, 2015 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Selections on peace and war

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Fire, Famine, And Slaughter: A War Eclogue (1813)

 

SCENE — A DESOLATED TRACK IN LA VENDEE. — FAMINE IS DISCOVERED STRETCHED ON THE GROUND: TO HER ENTER FIRE AND SLAUGHTER.

FAMINE.
Sisters! Sisters! who sent you here?

SLAUGHTER.
I will name him in your ear.

FIRE.
No! no! no!
Spirits hear what spirits tell:
‘Twill make a holiday in hell.
No! no! no!
Myself I nam’d him once below,
And all the souls, that damned be,
Leap’d up at once in anarchy;
Clapp’d their hands and danc’d for glee;
They no longer heeded me;
But laugh’d to hear Hell’s burning rafters
Unwillingly re-echo laughters.
No! no! no!
Spirits hear what spirits tell,
‘Twill make a holiday in hell.

FAMINE.
Then sound it not, yet let me know;
Darkly hint it — soft and low!

SLAUGHTER.
Four letters form his name. [Pitt]
And who sent you?

FAMINE.
The same! the same!

SLAUGHTER.
He came by stealth and unlock’d my den,
And I have drank the blood since then
Of thrice ten hundred thousand men.

FIRE AND FAMINE.
Who bade you do’t?

SLAUGHTER.
The same! the same!
Four letters form his name.
He let me loose, and cry’d Halloo!
To him alone the praise is due.

FAMINE.
Thanks, Sisters, thanks! the men have bled,
Their wives and their children faint for bread;
I stood in a swampy field of battle,
With bones and sculls I made a rattle,
To frighten the wolf and the carrion crow,
And the homeless dog – but they would not go.
So off I flew; for how could I bear
To see them gorge their dainty fare.
I heard a groan, and a peevish squall,
And thro’ the chink of a cottage wall,
Can you guess what I saw there?

SLAUGHTER AND FIRE.
Whisper it, Sister! in our ear!

FAMINE.
A baby beat its dying mother –
I had starv’d the one, and was starving the other!

SLAUGHTER AND FIRE.
Who bad you do’t?

FAMINE.
The same! the same!
Four letters form his name.
He let me loose, and cry’d Halloo!
To him alone the praise is due.

FIRE.
Sisters! I from Ireland came –
Hedge and corn-fields all on flame,
I triumph’d o’er the setting Sun;
And all the while the work was done.
And on as I strode with monst’rous strides,
I flung back my head, and held my sides;
It was so rare a piece of fun,
To see the swelter’d cattle run,
With uncouth gallop, all the night,
Scar’d by the red and noisy light!
By the light of his own blazing Cot
Was many a naked Rebel shot:
The house-stream met the flames, and hiss’d
While crash! fell in the roof, I wist
On some of those old bed-rid nurses,
That deal in discontent and curses!

SLAUGHTER AND FAMINE.
Who bade you do’t?

FIRE.
The same! the same!
Four letters form his name.
He let me loose, and cry’d Halloo!
How shall I give him honour due?

ALL.
He let us loose, and cry’d halloo!
How shall we give him honour due?

FAMINE.
Wisdom comes with lack of food,
I’ll gnaw, I’ll gnaw the multitude,
Till the cup of rage o’er brim,
They shall seize him and his brood.

SLAUGHTER.
They shall tear him limb from limb!

FIRE.
O thankless Beldames, and untrue,
And is this all that you can do
For him who did so much for you?

TO SLAUGHTER.
For you he turn’d the dust to mud,
With his fellow creatures’ blood!

TO FAMINE.
And hunger scorch’d as many more,
To make your cup of joy run o’er.

TO BOTH.
Full ninety moons, he by my troth,
Hath richly cater’d for you both;
And in an hour would you repay,
An eight years debt, away! away!
I alone am faithful, I
Cling to him everlastingly!

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Statius: Devilish monster’s tongue at last tells of war. “Whither, unhappy ones, whither are ye rushing to war, though fate and heaven would bar the way?”

December 29, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Statius
From Thebaid
Translated by J.H. Mozley

Rumour flies through the kindred cities, and is carried from lip to lip in the neighbouring lands…nor less does the same tumultuous goddess descend upon Ogygian Thebes. With wings full-stretched she broods over those walls, bringing terror that accords with the past night to the Labdacian chief: the welcome and the marriage does she relate, and the royal covenant and the union of houses – what mad licence in the devilish monster’s tongue! – and at last she tells of war…

The folk are swift to believe him; the Lord of Arms inclines them to credit all, and, once welcomed, Rumour redoubles fear…

And now amid the night-wandering shades the god of battle from on high made to resound with the thunder of arms the Nemean fields and Arcady from end to end, and the height of Taenarum and Therapnae favoured of Apollo, and filled excited hearts with passion for himself. Fury and Wrath make trim his crest, and Panic, his own squire, handles his horses’ reins. But Rumour, awake to every sound and girt with empty tidings of tumult, flies before the chariot, sped onward by the winged steeds’ panting breath, and with loud whirring shakes out her fluttering plumes; for the charioteer with blood-stained goad urges her to speak, be it truth or falsehood

***

[A]lready we suffer the extremities of war. Alas! what sweat of toil in the thick dust of battle is in store for men and steeds! alas! how high will ye flow, ye rivers, blushing your cruel red! All this will our youth behold, yet green to war…

And now tumultuous grow the Thunderer’s high behests, and lay waste of men both fields and ancient towns; on every side the war-god sweeps countless troops before him; gladly do they leave their homes and beloved wives and babes that wail upon the threshold; with such power hath the god assailed their frenzied hearts. Eager are they to tear away the weapons from their fathers’ doorposts and the chariots made fast in the inmost shrines of the gods; then they refashion for cruel wounds the spears that rotting rust has worn, and the swords that stick in their scabbards from neglect, and on the grindstone force them to be young once more. Some try shapely helms and the brazen mail of mighty corselets, and fit to their breasts tunics that creak with the mouldering iron, others bend Gortynian bows; in greedy furnaces scythes, ploughs and harrows and curved mattocks glow fiercely red. Nor are they ashamed to cut strong spear-shafts from sacred trees, or to make a covering for their shields from the worn-out ox. They rush to Argos, and at the doors of the despondent king clamour with heart and voice for war, for war!

***

“Whither, unhappy ones, whither are ye rushing to war, though fate and heaven would bar the way? What Furies’ lash drives you blindly on? Are ye so weary of life? Is Argos grown so hateful? Hath home no sweetness? Heed ye not the omens?…I saw a mighty ruin foreshown, I saw gods and men dismayed and Megaera exultant and Lachesis with crumbling thread laying the ages waste. Cast away your arms! behold! heaven, yea, heaven withstands your frenzy! Miserable men, what glory is there in drenching Aonia and the fallows of dire Cadmus with the blood of vanquished foes? But why do I warn in vain? why do I repel a fate foredoomed? I go to meet it –“ Here ceased the prophet and groaned.”

***

“One would think it was Scythia swarming with tumultuous bucklers, when the Father gives rein to armed conflict and flings wide the gates of savage War. Their uproar held no varying voices, nor did dissension cleave into opposing factions, as is the wont of a crowd; one frenzy, one purpose inspires all alike, to lay desolate our homes, to break life’s thread for young and old, to crush babes against the teeming breasts, and with the sword make havoc through every age…”

And now the horn-footed steeds snort at the corpses in alarm and probe the ground, and every wheel-track runs o’er bodies and reddens deep with severed limbs. Some the remorseless axle grinds unconscious, but others half-dead from wounds – and powerless to escape – see it as it draws nigh to crush them. Already the reins are wet with gore, the slippery care gives no foothold, blood clogs the wheels and trampled entrails hinder the horses’ hooves: then the hero himself madly tears out darts abandoned in the slain and spears projecting from the midst of corpses: ghosts shriek and pursue the chariot.

 

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Lactantius: Selections on war

December 28, 2015 Leave a comment
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Quintus Smyrnaeus: While here all war’s marvels were portrayed, there were the works of lovely peace

December 27, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Quintus Smyrnaeus: In his talons bore a gasping dove. Where never ceased Ares from hideous slaughter.

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Quintus Smyrnaeus
From The Fall of Troy
Translated by Arthur S. Way

Thetis the Goddess laid down in the midst
Great-souled Achilles’ arms divinely wrought;
And all around flashed out the cunning work
Wherewith the Fire-god overchased the shield…

Around them hovered the relentless Fates;
Beside them Battle incarnate onward pressed
Yelling, and from their limbs streamed blood and sweat.
There were the ruthless Gorgons: through their hair
Horribly serpents coiled with flickering tongues.
A measureless marvel was that cunning work
Of things that made men shudder to behold
Seeming as though they verily lived and moved.
And while here all war’s marvels were portrayed,
Yonder were the works of lovely peace.
The myriad tribes of much-enduring men
Dwelt in fair cities. Justice watched o’er all.
To diverse toils they set their hands; the fields
Were harvest-laden; earth her increase bore.
Most steeply rose on that god-laboured work
The rugged flanks of holy Honour’s mount,
And there upon a palm-tree throned she sat
Exalted, and her hands reached up to heaven.

***

Many were doomed to Hades to descend,
Whence there is no return, thrust down by hands
Of Aeacus’ son, who also was foredoomed
To perish that same day by Priam’s wall.
Swiftly met the fronts of conflict: all the tribes
Of Troy’s host, and the battle-biding Greeks,
Afire with that new-kindled fury of war.
Then through the foe the son of Peleus made
Wide havoc: all around the earth was drenched
With gore, and choked with corpses were the streams
Of Simois and Xanthus.

***

…he trod on dead men, arms, and blood;
For countless corpses lay o’er that wide stretch
Even from broad-wayed Troy to Hellespont,
Bodies of strong men slain, the spoils of Doom.
As when the dense stalks of sun-ripened corn
Fall ‘neath the reapers’ hands, and the long swaths,
Heavy with full ears, overspread the field,
And joys the heart of him who oversees
The toil, lord of the harvest; even so,
By baleful havoc overmastered, lay
All around face-downward men remembering not
The death-denouncing war shout.

***

Then by the those dark ships they thought
Of white-haired fathers left in halls afar,
Of wives new-wedded, who by couches cold
Mourned, waiting, waiting, with their tender babes
For husbands unreturning; and they groaned
In bitterness of soul.

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William Hazlitt: High-priests of Moloch foam at the mouth at the name of peace

December 26, 2015 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

William Hazlitt: Selections on war

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William Hazlitt
From Vetus (1813)

This patriot and logician in a letter in The Times of Friday, labours to stifle the most distant hope of peace in its birth. He lays down certain general principles which must for ever render all attempts to restore it vain and abortive. With the watch-word of Eternal war with Bonaparte blazoned on his forehead, in the piety of his pacific zeal, he challenges Bonaparte as the wanton, unprovoked, implacable enemy of the peace of mankind. We will also venture to lay down a maxim, which is – That from the moment that one party declares and acts upon the avowed principle that peace can never be made with an enemy, it renders war on the part of that enemy a matter of necessary self-defence, and holds out a plea for every excess of ambition or revenge. If we are to limit our hostility to others only with their destruction, we impose the adoption of the same principle on them as their only means of safety. There is no alternative. But this is probably the issue to which Vetus wishes to bring the question. This writer not only outlaws Bonparte, but in a summary way, disfranchises the French nation at large of the right of making peace or war. ”Who?” he exclaims in wanton defiance of common sense, “are the French nation? To us a rank non-entity. We have only to do with Napoleon Bonaparte – with his rights, his interests, his honour. Who are to be the sole judges of his rights ? We and our Allies.” Admirable politician!

The events which have lately taken place on the Continent, and the moderate and manly tone in which those events have been received by Ministers, have excited the utmost degree of uneasiness and alarm in the minds of certain persons, who redouble the eagerness of their cries for war. The cold blooded fury and mercenary malice of these panders to mischief, can only be appeased by the prospect of lasting desolation. They rave, foam at the mouth, and make frantic gestures at the name of peace. These high-priests of Moloch daily offer up to their grim idol the same nauseous banquet of abuse and lies. Round them “a cry of hell-hounds never ceasing bark,” that with greedy appetite devour the offal. Every day they act over the same foul imposture, and repeat their monstrous masque. These mighty soothsayers took forward to another restoration of Europe after another twenty years of havoc and destruction. After urging her to the very edge of the precipice from which she has only just recovered, breathless and affrighted, they wish to goad her on once more to the same mad career. The storm is for the moment over-past, but they will not suffer the vessel of the state to enter the harbour, in the hope that they may still plunder the wreck and prey upon the carcases. The serpent’s hiss, the assassin’s yell, the mowing and chattering of apes, drown the voice of peace; and Vetus, like the solemn owl, joins in the distance, and prolongs the dreary note of death!

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William Cullen Bryant: Christmas 1875

December 24, 2015 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

William Cullen Bryant: Emblem of the peace that yet shall be, noise of war shall cease from sea to sea

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William Cullen Bryant
Christmas 1875

(Supposed to be written by a Spaniard)

No trumpet-blast profaned
The hour in which the Prince of Peace was born;
No bloody streamlet stained
Earth’s silver rivers on that sacred morn;
But, o’er the peaceful plain,
The war-horse drew the peasant’s loaded wain.

The soldier had laid by
The sword and stripped the corselet from his breast,
And hung his helm on high –
The sparrow’s winter home and summer nest;
And, with the same strong hand
That flung the barbed spear, he tilled the land.

Oh, time for which we yearn;
Oh, sabbath of the nations long foretold!
Season of peace, return,
Like a late summer when the year grows old,
When the sweet sunny days
Steeped mead and mountain-side in golden haze.

For now two rival kings
Flaunt, o’er our bleeding land, their hostile flags,
And every sunrise brings
The hovering vulture from his mountain-crags
To where the battle-plain
Is strewn with dead, the youth and flower of Spain.

Christ is not come, while yet
O’er half the earth the threat of battle lowers,
And our own fields are wet,
Beneath the battle-cloud, with crimson showers –
The life-blood of the slain,
Poured out where thousands die that one may reign.

Soon, over half the earth,
In every temple crowds shall kneel again
To celebrate His birth
Who brought the message of good-will to men,
And bursts of joyous song
Shall shake the roof above the prostrate throng.

Christ is not come, while there
The men of blood whose crimes affront the skies
Kneel down in act of prayer,
Amid the joyous strains, and when they rise
Go forth, with sword and flame,
To waste the land in His most holy name.

Oh, when the day shall break
O’er realms unlearned in warfare’s cruel arts,
And all their millions wake
To peaceful tasks performed with loving hearts,
On such a blessed morn,
Well may the nations say that Christ is born.

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Virgil
Eclogue IV
Translated by A. S. Kline

Pollio

Muses of Sicily, let me sing a little more grandly.
Orchards and humble tamarisks don’t please everyone:
if I sing of the woods, let the woods be fit for a Consul.

Now the last age of the Cumaean prophecy begins:
the great roll-call of the centuries is born anew:
now Virgin Justice returns, and Saturn’s reign:
now a new race descends from the heavens above.
Only favour the child who’s born, pure Lucina, under whom
the first race of iron shall end, and a golden race
rise up throughout the world: now your Apollo reigns.
For, Pollio, in your consulship, this noble age begins,
and the noble months begin their advance:
any traces of our evils that remain will be cancelled,
while you lead, and leave the earth free from perpetual fear.
He will take on divine life, and he will see gods
mingled with heroes, and be seen by them,
and rule a peaceful world with his father’s powers.
And for you, boy, the uncultivated earth will pour out
her first little gifts, straggling ivy and cyclamen everywhere
and the bean flower with the smiling acanthus.
The goats will come home themselves, their udders swollen
with milk, and the cattle will have no fear of fierce lions:
Your cradle itself will pour out delightful flowers:
And the snakes will die, and deceitful poisonous herbs
will wither: Assyrian spice plants will spring up everywhere.
And you will read both of heroic glories, and your father’s deeds,
and will soon know what virtue can be.
The plain will slowly turn golden with tender wheat,
and the ripe clusters hang on the wild briar,
and the tough oak drip with dew-wet honey.
Some small traces of ancient error will lurk,
that will command men to take to the sea in ships,
encircle towns with walls, plough the earth with furrows.
Another Argo will arise to carry chosen heroes, a second
Tiphys as helmsman: there will be another War,
and great Achilles will be sent once more to Troy.
Then when the strength of age has made you a man,
the merchant himself will quit the sea, nor will the pine ship
trade its goods: every land will produce everything.
The soil will not feel the hoe: nor the vine the pruning hook:
the strong ploughman too will free his oxen from the yoke:
wool will no longer be taught to counterfeit varied colours,
the ram in the meadow will change his fleece of himself,
now to a sweet blushing purple, now to a saffron yellow:
scarlet will clothe the browsing lambs of its own accord.
‘Let such ages roll on’ the Fates said, in harmony,
to the spindle, with the power of inexorable destiny.
O dear child of the gods, take up your high honours
(the time is near), great son of Jupiter!
See the world, with its weighty dome, bowing,
earth and wide sea and deep heavens:
see how everything delights in the future age!
O let the last days of a long life remain to me,
and the inspiration to tell how great your deeds will be:
Thracian Orpheus and Linus will not overcome me in song,
though his mother helps the one, his father the other,
Calliope Orpheus, and lovely Apollo Linus.
Even Pan if he competed with me, with Arcady as judge,
even Pan, with Arcady as judge, would account himself beaten.
Little child, begin to recognise your mother with a smile:
ten months have brought a mother’s long labour.
Little child, begin: he on whom his parents do not smile
no god honours at his banquets, no goddess in her bed.

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Juvenal: Weigh the greatest military commanders in the balance

December 23, 2015 Leave a comment

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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: The spoils of war and the price thereof

Juvenal: War and violence, baser than the beasts

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Juvenal
From Satires
Translated by G. G. Ramsay

Put Hannibal into the scales; how many pounds’ weight will you find in that greatest of commanders? This is the man for whom Africa was all too small – a land beaten by the Moorish sea and stretching to the steaming Nile, and then, again, to the tribes of Aethiopia and a new race of elephants! Spain is added to his dominions: he overleaps the Pyrenees; Nature throws in his way Alps and snow: he splits the rocks asunder, and breaks up the mountain-side with vinegar! And now Italy is in his grasp, but still on he presses: “Nought is accomplished,” he cries, “until my Punic host breaks down the city gates, and I plant my standard in the midst of the Subura! “O what a sight was that! What a picture it would make, the one-eyed General riding on the Gaetulian monster! What then was his end? Alas for glory! A conquered man, he flees headlong into exile, and there he sits, a mighty and marvellous suppliant, in the King’s antechamber, until it please his Bithynian Majesty to awake! No sword, no stone, no javelin shall end the life which once wrought havoc throughout the world: that little ring shall avenge Cannae and all those seas of blood. On! on! thou madman, and race over the wintry Alps, that thou mayest be the delight of schoolboys and supply declaimers with a theme!

One globe is all too little for the youth of Pella; he chafes uneasily within the narrow limits of the world, as though he were cooped up within the rocks of Gyara or the diminutive Seriphos; but yet when once he shall have entered the city fortified by the potter’s art, a sarcophagus will suffice him! Death alone proclaims how small are our poor human bodies! We have heard how ships once sailed through Mount Athos, and all the lying tales of Grecian history; how the sea was paved by those self-same ships, and gave solid support to chariot-wheels; how deep rivers failed, and whole streams were drunk dry when the Persian breakfasted, with all the fables of which Sostratus sings with reeking pinions. But in what plight did that king flee from Salamis? he that had been wont to inflict barbaric stripes upon the winds Corus and Eurus – never treated thus in their Aeolian prison-house – he who had bound the Earth-shaker himself with chains, deeming it clemency, forsooth, not to think him worthy of a branding also: what god, indeed, would be willing to serve such a master? – in what plight did he return? Why, in a single ship; on blood-stained waves, the prow slowly forcing her way through waters thick with corpses! Such was the penalty exacted for that long-desired glory!

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Friedrich Schiller: Beauty, peace and reconciliation

December 22, 2015 Leave a comment

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

German writers on peace and war

Friedrich Schiller: The citizen is naught, the soldier all; rude hordes, lawless grown in lengthy war

Friedrich Schiller: Oh, blessed peace, may the day of grim War’s ruthless crew never dawn

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Friedrich Schiller
From Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man
Translated unknown

The germ of the beautiful will find an equal difficulty in developing itself in countries where a severe nature forbids man to enjoy himself, and in those where a prodigal nature dispenses him from all effort; where the blunted senses experience no want, and where violent desire can never be satisfied. The delightful flower of the beautiful will never unfold itself in the case of the Troglodyte hid in his cavern always alone, and never finding humanity outside himself; nor among nomads, who, travelling in great troops, only consist of a multitude, and have no individual humanity. It will only flourish in places where man converses peacefully with himself in his cottage, and with the whole race when he issues from it.

***

The arms themselves ought to be no longer only objects of terror, but also of pleasure; and the skilfully worked scabbard will not attract less attention than the homicidal edge of the sword. The instinct of play, not satisfied with bringing into the sphere of the necessary an æsthetic superabundance for the future more free, is at last completely emancipated from the bonds of duty, and the beautiful becomes of itself an object of man’s exertions.

***

The beautiful reconciles the contrast of different natures in its simplest and purest expression. It also reconciles the eternal contrast of the two sexes, in the whole complex framework of society, or at all events it seeks to do so; and, taking as its model the free alliance it has knit between manly strength and womanly gentleness, it strives to place in harmony, in the moral world, all the elements of gentleness and of violence. Now, at length, weakness becomes sacred, and an unbridled strength disgraces; the injustice of nature is corrected by the generosity of chivalrous manners. The being whom no power can make tremble, is disarmed by the amiable blush of modesty, and tears extinguish a vengeance that blood could not have quenched. Hatred itself hears the delicate voice of honour, the conqueror’s sword spares the disarmed enemy, and a hospitable hearth smokes for the stranger on the dreaded hill-side where murder alone awaited him before.

***

Strength must let the Graces bind it, and the arbitrary lion must yield to the reins of love. For this purpose taste throws a veil over physical necessity, offending a free mind by its coarse nudity, and dissimulating our degrading parentage with matter by a delightful illusion of freedom. Mercenary art itself rises from the dust; and the bondage of the bodily, in its magic touch, falls off from the inanimate and animate. In the æsthetic state the most slavish tool is a free citizen, having the same rights as the noblest; and the intellect which shapes the mass to its intent must consult it concerning its destination. Consequently in the realm of æsthetic appearance, the idea of equality is realised, which the political zealot would gladly see carried out socially. It has often been said that perfect politeness is only found near a throne. If thus restricted in the material, man has, as elsewhere appears, to find compensation in the ideal world.

***

What is man before beauty liberates him from free pleasure, and the serenity of form tames down the savageness of life? Eternally uniform in his aims, eternally changing in his judgments, self-seeking without being himself, unfettered without being free, a slave without serving any rule. At this period, the world is to him only destiny, not yet an object; all has existence for him only in as far as it procures existence to him; a thing that neither seeks from nor gives to him is non-existent. Every phenomenon stands out before him, separate and cut off, as he finds himself in the series of beings. All that is, is to him through the bias of the moment; every change is to him an entirely fresh creation, because with the necessary in him, the necessary out of him is wanting, which binds together all the changing forms in the universe, and which holds fast the law on the theatre of his action, while the individual departs. It is in vain that nature lets the rich variety of her forms pass before him; he sees in her glorious fullness nothing but his prey, in her power and greatness nothing but his enemy. Either he encounters objects, and wishes to draw them to himself in desire, or the objects press in a destructive manner upon him, and he thrusts them away in dismay and terror. In both cases his relation to the world of sense is immediate contact; and perpetually anxious through its pressure, restless and plagued by imperious wants, he nowhere finds rest except in enervation, and nowhere limits save in exhausted desire.

Ignorant of his own human dignity, he is far removed from honouring it in others, and conscious of his own savage greed, he fears it in every creature that he sees like himself. He never sees others in himself, only himself in others, and human society, instead of enlarging him to the race, only shuts him up continually closer in his individuality. Thus limited, he wanders through his sunless life, till favouring nature rolls away the load of matter from his darkened senses, reflection separates him from things, and objects show themselves at length in the after-glow of the consciousness.

***

As soon as light dawns in man, there is no longer night outside of him; as soon as there is peace within him the storm lulls throughout the universe, and the contending forces of nature find rest within prescribed limits.

***

I hope that I shall succeed in convincing you that this matter of art is less foreign to the needs than to the tastes of our age; nay, that, to arrive at a solution even in the political problem, the road of æsthetics must be pursued, because it is through beauty that we arrive at freedom.

***

The governing authorities find themselves compelled to classify, and thereby simplify, the multiplicity of citizens, and only to know humanity in a representative form and at second hand. Accordingly they end by entirely losing sight of humanity, and by confounding it with a simple artificial creation of the understanding, whilst on their part the subject classes cannot help receiving coldly laws that address themselves so little to their personality. At length society, weary of having a burden that the state takes so little trouble to lighten, falls to pieces and is broken up – a destiny that has long since attended most European states. They are dissolved in what may be called a state of moral nature, in which public authority is only one function more, hated and deceived by those who think it necessary, respected only by those who can do without it.

***

The Roman had already bent his knee for long years to the divinity of the emperors, and yet the statues of the gods stood erect; the temples retained their sanctity for the eye long after the gods had become a theme for mockery, and the noble architecture of the palaces that shielded the infamies of Nero and of Commodus were a protest against them. Humanity has lost its dignity, but art has saved it, and preserves it in marbles full of meaning; truth continues to live in illusion, and the copy will serve to reestablish the model.

***

Live with your age, but be not its creation; labour for your contemporaries, but do for them what they need, and not what they praise. Without having shared their faults, share their punishment with a noble resignation, and bend under the yoke which they find is as painful to dispense with as to bear. By the constancy with which you will despise their good fortune, you will prove to them that it is not through cowardice that you submit to their sufferings. See them in thought such as they ought to be when you must act upon them; but see them as they are when you are tempted to act for them. Seek to owe their suffrage to their dignity; but to make them happy keep an account of their unworthiness; thus, on the one hand, the nobleness of your heart will kindle theirs, and, on the other, your end will not be reduced to nothingness by their unworthiness. The gravity of your principles will keep them off from you, but in play they will still endure them. Their taste is purer than their heart, and it is by their taste you must lay hold of this suspicious fugitive. In vain will you combat their maxims, in vain will you condemn their actions; but you can try your moulding hand on their leisure. Drive away caprice, frivolity, and coarseness, from their pleasures, and you will banish them imperceptibly from their acts, and length from their feelings. Everywhere that you meet them, surround them with great, noble, and ingenious forms; multiply around them the symbols of perfection, till appearance triumphs over reality, and art over nature.

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Valerius Flacchus: War, the scourge of all the earth. Slaughtering with swords the scions of heaven.

December 21, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Valerius Flacchus
From Argonautica
Translated by J.H. Mozley

“I will tell thee,” said Mopsus, “and wholly explain the causes of this plague;” then, looking at the stars, “If we, who once were fire and high Olympus’ kin, suffer mortal frames and brief apportionments and a short span of destiny, it is not therefore right to engage in reckless slaughter and to drive hence with the sword souls that yet would tarry, and seeds that will one day return to heaven; for we are not dissolved into the breezes or into mere bones at the last: anger abides and grief endures. Thereafter when they are come to the throne of awful Jove and have set forth all the sorrowful story of their dreadful end, the gate of death is opened for them and they may return a second time; one of the Sisters is given them as a companion, and they range together over lands and seas. Each involves in penalties the guilty souls of his own foes; they rack them with various terrors after their deserving. But those whose hands have dripped with blood unwillingly – or were it cruel mischance, though nigh to guilt, that swept away the wretches – these men their own minds harry in divers ways, and their own deeds vex the doers; languid now and ventureless they decline into tears and spiritless alarms and sickly sloth: such thou doest here behold…”

Moreover, he duly places oak trees stripped of their foliage and shaped to the likeness of the warriors, and fastens thereto pretended armour. To these with prayer he bids pass over the Stygian threats and the shed blood’s unrelenting anger, upon these he prays that he wakeful remorse may weigh, and thus with atoning chant he calls to them: “Go, slain ones, make an end of unforgetting wrath; leave us in peace, and be content at last with your Stygian resting-place; far from our course, far from the sea abide, and have naught to do with wars. I would not have you go to Grecian cities or shriek at cross-roads; let no plague come hereby on herds or crops, nor baneful season bear hard upon them; let not our people or our offspring atone these deeds.”

At the dead of night they hear from closed caverns of the earth the unresting labour of the Chalybes; thy husbandmen, Gradivus, they ply their weary tools; loud rings the travail of those hands that first created war, the scourge of all the earth. For ere they dragged unknown iron from its stony bed and provided swords, Hatred roamed feeble because unarmed, Anger was resourceless and Revenge but slow…

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Clement of Alexandria: Let us gird ourselves with the armour of peace

December 20, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Clement of Alexandria: Gods of war

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Clement of Alexandria
From Exhortations to the Greeks
Translated by G.W. Buttterworth

And the Word, having spread abroad the truth, showed to men the grandeur of salvation, in order that they may either be saved if they repent, or be judged if they neglect to obey. This is the preaching of righteousness; to those who obey, good news; to those who disobey, a means of judgment. But when the shrilling trumpet blows, it assembles the soldiers and proclaims war; shall not Christ, think you, having breathed to the ends of the earth a song of peace, assemble the soldiers of peace that are His? Yes, and He did assemble, O man, by blood and by word His bloodless army, and to them He entrusted the kingdom of heaven. The trumpet of Christ is His gospel. He sounded it, and we heard. Let us gird ourselves with the armour of peace, “putting on the breastplate of righteousness,” and taking up the shield of faith, and placing on our head the helmet of salvation; and let us sharpen ” the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.” Thus does the apostle marshal us in the ranks of peace.

Clement of Alexandria
From The Rich Man’s Salvation
Translated by G.W. Butterworth

Do not you be deceived, however, who have tasted of truth, and have been deemed worthy of the great redemption; but, contrary to the rest of men, enlist on your behalf an army without weapons, without war, without bloodshed, without anger, without stain, an army of God-fearing old men, of God-beloved orphans, of widows armed with gentleness, of men adorned with love.

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Procopius: A parable

December 19, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Procopius: Refuge from war

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Procopius
From History of the Wars
Translated by H. B. Dewing

At this same time an insurrection broke out unexpectedly in Byzantium among the populace, and, contrary to expectation, it proved to be a very serious affair, and ended in great harm to the people and to the senate, as the following account will shew. In every city the population has been divided for a long time past into the Blue and the Green factions; but within comparatively recent times it has come about that, for the sake of these names and the seats which the rival factions occupy in watching the games, they spend their money and abandon their bodies to the most cruel tortures, and even do not think it unworthy to die a most shameful death. And they fight against their opponents knowing not for what end they imperil themselves, but knowing well that, even if they overcome their enemy in the fight, the conclusion of the matter for them will be to be carried off straightway to the prison, and finally, after suffering extreme torture, to be destroyed. So there grows up in them against their fellow men a hostility which has no cause, and at no time does it cease or disappear, for it gives place neither to the ties of marriage nor of relationship nor of friendship, and the case is the same even though those who differ with respect to these colours be brothers or any other kin. They care neither for things divine nor human in comparison with conquering in these struggles; and it matters not whether a sacrilege is committed by anyone at all against God, or whether the laws and the constitution are violated by friend or by foe; nay even when they are perhaps ill supplied with the necessities of life, and when their fatherland is in the most pressing need and suffering unjustly, they pay no heed if only it is likely to go well with their “faction”; for so they name the bands of partisans. And even women join with them in this unholy strife, and they not only follow the men, but even resist them if opportunity offers, although they neither go to the public exhibitions at all, nor are they impelled by any other cause; so that I, for my part, am unable to call this anything except a disease of the soul. This, then, is pretty well how matters stand among the people of each and every city.

***

“The peace, therefore, as far as concerns him, has already been broken for thee, and he himself has set an end to the endless peace. For they break the peace, not who may be first in arms, but they who may be caught plotting against their neighbours in time of peace. For the crime has been committed by him who attempts it, even though success be lacking. Now as for the course which the war will follow, this is surely clear to everyone. For it is not those who furnish causes for war, but those who defend themselves against those who furnish them, who are accustomed always to conquer their enemies…”

***

“It is the part of men of discretion and those by whom divine things are treated with due respect, when causes of war arise, and in particular against men who are in the truest sense friends, to exert all their power to put an end to them; but it belongs to foolish men and those who most lightly bring on themselves the enmity of Heaven to devise occasions for war and insurrection which have no real existence. Now to destroy peace and enter upon war is not a difficult matter, since the nature of things is such as to make the basest activities easy for the most dishonourable men. But when they have brought about war according to their intention, to return again to peace is for men, I think, not easy…”

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Ovid: Instead of a wolf the timorous ewes dread war

December 18, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Ovid: Golden Age, before weapons were warm and bloodstained from killing

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Ovid
From Tristia
Translated by Arthur Leslie Wheeler

Poetry comes fine spun from a soul at peace; my mind is clouded with unexpected woes. Poetry requires the writer to be in privacy and ease; I am harrassed by the sea, by gales, by wintry storms. Poetry is injured by any fear; I in my ruin am ever and ever expecting a sword to pierce my throat…

Wild is the shore on my left, accustomed to the greed of robbers, ever filled with bloodshed and murder and war…

[If] I look upon the men, they are scarce men worthy the name; they have more of cruel savagery than wloves. They fear not laws; right gives way to force, and justice lies conquered beneath the aggressive sword…

Countless tribes round about threaten cruel war, thinking it base to to live if not by plunder. Without, nothing is secure: the hill itself is defended by meagre walls and its skilful site. When least expected, like birds, the foe swarms upon us and when scarce well seen is already driving off the booty. Oft, though the gates be closed, we pick up amidst the streets deadly missiles that come within the walls. Few then venture to till the fields, for the wretch must plough with one hand, and hold arms in the other. The shepherd wears a helmet while he plays upon his pitch-cemented reeds, and instead of a wolf the timorous ewes dread war.

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Mario Vargas Llosa: More than enough atomic and conventional weapons to wipe out several planets

December 17, 2015 Leave a comment

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

 

Mario Vargas Llosa
From address given upon receiving the Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels in 1996

 

ph_0111201662-VargasLlosa

I can state for two reasons that if literature does not continue to play this role as it did in the past – refusing to be merely light entertainment, becoming once again ‘committed,’ trying to open people’s eyes, through words and fantasy, to the reality that surrounds them – it will be more difficult to contain the outbreaks of wars, killings, genocides, ethnic conflict, religious struggles, refugee displacements and terrorism which threaten to proliferate, destroying the hopes for a peaceful world…

The first reason for literature’s continuing moral importance is the urgent need to mobilize public opinion to demand that democratic governments take resolute action to support peace…

Writers can contribute to this task, as they did so often in the past, when they still believed that literature was not mere entertainment but also a way of raising concerns, sounding the alarm and guiding people to act for a good cause. The survival of the species and culture are a good cause…

Previously we wondered whether the great confrontation of the Cold War would turn hot and consume the world in the great holocaust of a single apocalyptic conflict between East and West. Now it is about knowing whether the death of civilization will be slower and more decentered, the result of a succession of many regional and national wars provoked by ideological, religious and ethnic factors, and by crude ambitions for power. The lethal arms are there and are still being manufactured. There are more than enough atomic and conventional weapons to wipe out several planets, along with our own small planet…

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Philo: “Nourished” for war and all its attendant evils

December 16, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Philo: “Ah, my friends, how should you not hate war and love peace?”

Philo: Casting off the warlike spirit in its completeness

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Philo
From Who is the Heir of Divine Things
Translated by F.H. Colson and Rev. G.H. Whitaker

Inequality is the mother of the twins, foreign war and civil war, just as its opposite, equality is the mother of peace.

***

“…I am the harbinger of peace to creation from that God whose will is to bring wars to an end, who is ever the guardian of peace.”

***

“[T]hou shall depart to thy fathers nourished with peace, in a goodly old age.” So then we who are imperfect are victims both of war and slavery, and hard-won is our release from the terrors which menace us. But the perfect are a race subject neither to war nor slavery, but nourished in peace and freedom sure and secure.

***

The words “nourished with peace” are not a pointless addition, but mean that the greater part of the human race are with little exception “nourished” for war and all its attendant evils. Now war sometimes arises from things outside us, waged against us by ill-repute and poverty and mean birth and the like. Sometimes it arises from intestine enemies…

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Seneca the Elder: It is this that drives the world into war

December 15, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Seneca the Elder: What is this hideous disease, this appalling evil that drove you to shed each other’s blood?

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Seneca the Elder
From Controversiae
Translated by M. Winterbottom

Be reconciled: on a fatal battlefield armed hands stretch out to seal a treaty. The whole world would have been destroyed if pity did not put an end to anger…

I owe a debt of pity to many: I have given it to many. Whoever makes me his image by suffering any disaster, I regard as my relation.

“How much longer will you lie on that comfortless camp bed? How much longer will the trumpet break into your sleep? How much longer will you live stained with blood?”

“What longing is this , my child, to eat and drink blood? I fear you may be a prey to battle, disease, suffering. I fear for the whole world…”

Do not covet money. What am I to say to you? It is this that feeds the discord of a city and drives the world into war, spurring on the human race, that is by nature akin, to fraud, crime and and mutual hatred…

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Lactantius: Duties relating to warfare are accommodated neither to justice nor to true virtue

December 14, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Lactantius: Selections on war

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Lactantius
From Divine Institutes
Translated by William Fletcher

“Moreover, to reckon the interests of our country as in the first place.”

When the agreement of men is taken away, virtue has no existence at all; for what are the interests of our country, but the inconveniences of another state or nation? – that is, to extend the boundaries which are violently taken from others, to increase the power of the state, to improve the revenues, – all which things are not virtues, but the overthrowing of virtues: for, in the first place, the union of human society is taken away, innocence is taken away, the abstaining from the property of another is taken away; lastly, justice itself is taken away, which is unable to bear the tearing asunder of the human race, and wherever arms have glittered, must be banished and exterminated from thence. This saying of Cicero is true: “But they who say that regard is to be had to citizens, but that it is not to be had to foreigners, these destroy the common society of the human race; and when this is removed, beneficence, liberality, kindness, and justice are entirely taken away.” For how can a man be just who injures, who hates, who despoils, who puts to death? And they who strive to be serviceable to their country do all these things: for they are ignorant of what this being serviceable is, who think nothing useful, nothing advantageous, but that which can be held by the hand; and this alone cannot be held, because it may be snatched away.

***

Whoever, then, has gained for his country these goods – as they themselves call them – that is, who by the overthrow of cities and the destruction of nations has filled the treasury with money, has taken lands and enriched his country-men – he is extolled with praises to the heaven: in him there is said to be the greatest and perfect virtue. And this is the error not only of the people and the ignorant, but also of philosophers, who even give precepts for injustice, lest folly and wickedness should be wanting in discipline and authority. Therefore, when they are speaking of the duties relating to warfare, all that discourse is accommodated neither to justice nor to true virtue, but to this life and to civil institutions; and that this is not justice the matter itself declares, and Cicero has testified. “But we,” he says, “are not in possession of the real and life-like figure of true law and genuine justice, we have nothing but delineations and sketches; and I wish that we followed even these, for they are taken from the excellent copies made by nature and truth.”

***

[H]ow greatly utility differs from justice the Roman people themselves teach, who, by proclaiming war through the Fecials, and by inflicting injuries according to legal forms, by always desiring and carrying off the property of other, have gained for themselves the possession of the whole world.

***

[T]hose who are inexperienced in affairs and ignorant of reason, have expelled those affections which have been given to man for good uses, and they wander more widely than reason demands. From this cause they live unjustly and impiously. They employ anger against their equals in age: hence disagreements, hence banishments, hence wars have arisen contrary to justice. They use desire for the amassing of riches: hence frauds, hence robberies, hence all kinds of crimes have originated. They use lust only for the enjoyment of pleasures: hence debaucheries, hence adulteries, hence all corruptions have proceeded…

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George Santayana: We want peace and make war

December 13, 2015 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

George Santayana: Selections on war

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George Santayana
From Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies (1922)

 

 

Good honest unguided creatures! They are hardly out of the fog of war when they are lost in the fog of peace. If experience could teach mankind anything, how different our morals and our politics would be, how clear, how tolerant, how steady! If we knew ourselves, our conduct at all times would be absolutely decided and consistent; and a pervasive sense of vanity and humour would disinfect all our passions, if we knew the world. As it is, we live experimentally, moodily, in the dark; each generation breaks its egg-shell with the same haste and assurance as the last, pecks at the same indigestible pebbles, dreams the same dreams, or others just as absurd, and if it hears anything of what former men have learned by experience, it corrects their maxims by its first impressions, and rushes down any untrodden path which it finds alluring, to die in its own way, or become wise too late and to no purpose. These young men are no rustics, they are no fools; and yet they have passed through the most terrible ordeal, they have seen the mad heart of this world riven and unmasked, they have had long vigils before battle, long nights tossing with pain, in which to meditate on the spectacle; and yet they have learned nothing. The young barbarians want to be again at play.

***

Classic liberty was a sort of forced and artificial liberty, a poor perfection reserved for an ascetic aristocracy in whom heroism and refinement were touched with perversity and slowly starved themselves to death.

Since those days we have discovered how much larger the universe is, and we have lost our way in it. Any day it may come over us again that our modern liberty to drift in the dark is the most terrible negation of freedom. Nothing happens to us as we would. We want peace and make war. We need science and obey the will to believe, we love art and flounder among whimsicalities, we believe in general comfort and equality and we strain every nerve to become millionaires. After all, antiquity must have been right in thinking that reasonable self-direction must rest on having a determinate character and knowing what it is, and that only the truth about God and happiness, if we somehow found it, could make us free.

***

Certainly many a sad figure and many a broken soul must slink henceforth on crutches, a mere survival; but they, too, will die off gradually. The grass soon grows over a grave.

***

Only the physical failure of solitude drove the spirit at first into society, as the moral failure of society may drive it later into solitude again.

***

Whilst dreams entertain us, the balance of our character is shifting beneath: we are growing while we sleep.

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Plutarch: Selections on war and peace

December 12, 2015 Leave a comment
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Plato: They both hate and are hated. Silver and gold and war.

December 11, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Plato: Selections on war

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Plato
From Laws
Translated by R.G. Bury

plato

Athenian
And during all this period, or even longer, all the arts that require iron and bronze and all such metals must have remained in abeyance?

Clinias
Of course.

Athenian
Moreover, civil strife and war also disappeared during that time, and that for many reasons.

Clinias
How so?

Athenian
In first place, owing to their desolate state, they were kindly disposed and friendly toward one another…[T]hey were not excessively poor, nor were they constrained by stress of poverty to quarrel with one another; and, on the other hand, since they were without gold and silver, they could never become rich. Now a community which has no communion with either poverty or wealth is generally the one in which the noblest characters will be formed: for in it there is no place for the growth of insolence and injustice, of rivalries and jealousies…

Athenian
And shall we not say that people living in this fashion for many generations were bound to be unskilled, as compared to either the antediluvians or the men of today…of the arts of war as now practised by land and sea, including those warlike acts which, disguised under the names of law-suits and factions, are peculiar to cities, contrived as they are with every device of word and deed to inflict mutual hurt and injury…

***

Athenian
…The injunction you gave was that the good lawgiver must frame all his laws with a view to war: I, on the other hand, maintained that, whereas by your injunction the laws would be framed with reference to one only of the four virtues, it was really essential to look to the whole of virtue, and first and above all to pay regard to the principle virtue of the four, which is wisdom and reason and opinion, together with the love and desire that accompany them. Now the argument has come again back to the same point, and I now repeat my former statement, – in jest, if you will, or in earnest; I assert that prayer is a perilous practice for him who is devoid of reason, and that what he obtains is the opposite of his desires. For I certainly expect that, as you follow the argument recently propounded, you will now discover that the cause of the ruin of those kingdoms, and of their whole design, was not cowardice or ignorance of warfare on the part of either or the rulers or of those who should have been their subjects; but that what ruined them was badness of all other kinds, and especially ignorance concerning the greatest of human interests…

Athenian
It was our investigation of the polity of the Persians that caused us to discuss these matters at greater length. We find that they grew still worse, the reason being, as we say, that by robbing the commons unduly of their liberty and introducing despotism in excess, they destroyed in the State, the bonds of friendliness and fellowship. And when these are destroyed, the policy of the rulers no longer consults for the good of the subjects and the commons, but solely for the maintenance of their own power; if they think that it will profit them in the least degree, they are ready at any time to overturn States and to overturn and burn up friendly nations; and thus they both hate and are hated. And when they come to need the commons, to fight in their support, they find in them no patriotism or readiness to endanger their lives in battle; so that, although they possess countless myriads of men, they are all useless for war, and they hire soldiers from abroad as though they were short of men, and imagine that their safety will be secured by hirelings and aliens. An besides all this, they inevitably display their ignorance, inasmuch as by their acts they declare that the things reputed to be honourable and noble in a State are never anything but dross compared to silver and gold.

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Pliny the Elder: Crime and slaughter and warfare. Humanity’s war against its mother

December 9, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Pliny the Elder: Curious disease of the sublunary, sanguinary human mind

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Pliny the Elder
From Natural History
Translated by H. Rackham

Next comes the earth, the one division of the natural world on which for its merits we have bestowed the venerable title of mother. She belongs to men as the sky belongs to God: she receives us at birth, and gives us nurture after birth, and when once brought forth she upholds us always, and at the last when we have now been disinherited by the rest of nature she embraces us in her bosom and at that very time gives us her maternal shelter; sanctified by no service more than that whereby she makes us also sacred, even bearing our monuments and epitaphs and prolonging our name and extending our memory against the shortness of time…[W]hat earth has produced as a cure for our ills, we have made into a deadly poison; why, do we not also put her indispensable gift of iron to a similar use? Nor yet should we have any right to complain even if she had engendered poison to serve the purpose of crime. In fact in regard to one of nature’s elements we have no gratitude. For what luxuries and for what outrageous uses does she not subserve mankind? She is flung into the sea, or dug away to allow us to let in the channels. Water, iron, wood, fire, stone, growing crops, are employed to torture her at all hours, and much more to make her minister to our luxuries than our sustenance. Yet in order to make the sufferings inflicted on her surface and mere outer skin seem endurable, we probe her entrails, digging into her veins of gold and silver and mines of copper and lead; we actually drive shafts down into the depth to search for gems and certain tiny stones; we drag out her entrails, we seek a jewel merely to be worn upon a finger! How many hands are worn away with toil that a single knuckle may shine resplendent! If any beings of the nether world existed, assuredly even they would have been dug up ere now by the burrowings of avarice and luxury! And can we wonder if earth has also generated some creatures for our harm? since the wild animals, I well believe, are her guardians, and protect her from sacrilegious hands; do not serpents infest our mines, do we not handle veins of gold mingled with the roots of poison? Yet that shows the goddess all the kinder towards us, because all these avenues from which wealth issues lead but to crime and slaughter and warfare, and her whom we besprinkle with our blood we cover with unburied bones, over which nevertheless, when at length our madness has been finally discharged, she draws herself as a veil, and hides even the crimes of mortals.

***

The extent of the trespass of ocean is unascertained; but even the one portion left to us suffers perhaps an even greater loss, inasmuch as the same ocean, spreading out, as we shall describe, into a number of bays, advances with its threatening roar so close to the inner seas that there is only a distance of 115 miles between the Arabian Gulf and the Egyptian Sea and of between the Caspian and the Black Sea; and also with its inner channels through so many seas whereby it sunders Africa, Europe and Asia, it occupies – what area of the land? Calculate moreover the dimensions of all those rivers and vast swamps, add also the lakes and pools, and next the ridges too that rise into the heaven and are precipitous even to the eye, next the forests and steep glens, and the deserts and areas for a thousand reasons left deserted; subtract all these portions from the earth or rather from this pin-prick, as the majority of thinkers have taught, in the world – for in the whole universe the earth is nothing else: and this is the substance of our glory, this is its habitation, here it is that we fill positions of power and covet wealth, and throw mankind into an uproar, and launch even civil wars and slaughter one another to make the land more spacious! And to pass over the collective insanities of the nations, this is the land in which we expel the tenants next to us and add a spade-full of turf to our own estate by stealing from our neighbour’s – to the end that he who has marked out his acres most widely and banished his neighbours beyond all record may rejoice in owning – how small a fraction of the earth’s surface? or, when he has stretched his boundaries to the full measure of his avarice, may still retain – what portion, pray, of his estate when he is dead?

***

For let earthquakes not be mentioned, and every case where at least the tombs of cities survive, and at the same time let us tell of the marvels of the earth rather than the crimes of nature. And, I will swear, not even the heavenly phenomena could have been more difficult to recount: the wealth of mines so varied, so opulent, so prolific, brought to the surface in so many ages, although every day all over the world so much devastation is wrought by fires, collapse of buildings, shipwrecks, wars, frauds, and so great is the consumption of luxury…

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Lactantius: No one can befittingly describe the cruelty of this beast, which rages with iron teeth throughout the world

December 8, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Lactantius: Selections on war

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Lactantius
From Divine Institutes
Translated by William Fletcher

What then, or where, or of what character is piety? Truly it is among those who are ignorant of wars, who maintain concord with all, who are friendly even to their enemies, who love all men as brethren, who know how to restrain their anger, and to soothe every passion of the mind with calm government.

***

Nor is it difficult to show why the worshippers of the gods cannot be good and just. For how shall they abstain from the shedding of blood who worship bloodthirsty deities, Mars and Bellona?

***

For what Caucasus, what India, what Hyrcania ever nourished beasts so savage and so bloodthirsty? For the fury of all wild beasts rages until their appetite is satisfied; and when their hunger is appeased, immediately is pacified. That is truly a beast by whose command alone

“With rivulets of slaughter reeks
The stern embattled field.”

“Dire agonies, wild terrors swarm,
And Death glares grim in many a form.”

No one can befittingly describe the cruelty of this beast, which reclines in one place, and yet rages with iron teeth throughout the world, and not only tears in pieces the limbs of men, but also breaks their very bones, and rages over their ashes, that there may be no place for their burial.

***

[T]he just man is neither at enmity with any human being, nor desires anything at all which is the property of another. For why should he take a voyage, or what should he seek from another land, when his own is sufficient for him? Or why should he carry on war, and mix himself with the passions of others, when his mind is engaged in perpetual peace with men? Doubtless he will be delighted with foreign merchandise or with human blood, who does not know how to seek gain, who is satisfied with his mode of living, and considers it unlawful not only himself to commit slaughter, but to be present with those who do it, and to behold it!

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Quintus Smyrnaeus: In his talons bore a gasping dove. Where never ceased Ares from hideous slaughter.

December 7, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Quintus Smyrnaeus: Mass murder’s tropes: Dread Ares drank his fill of blood

Quintus Smyrnaeus: While here all war’s marvels were portrayed, there were the works of lovely peace

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Quintus Smyrnaeus
From The Fall of Troy
Translated by Arthur S. Way

All through the tangle of that desperate fray
Stalked slaughter and doom. The incarnate Onset-shout
Raved through the rolling battle; at her side
Paced Death the ruthless, and the Fearful Faces,
The Fates beside them strode, and in red hands
Bare murder and the groans of dying men.

***

“…Let us know
From ghastly slaughter and strife one breathing-space!”
In passionate prayer he spake: – lo, with shrill scream
Swiftly to left an eagle darted by
And in his talons bare a gasping dove.

***

…Hector, panting all
The hot-breath of the War-god from their breasts,
All slaying Danaans with the ashen spear,
Who fell as frost-touched leaves in autumn fall
One after another, or as drops of rain.
And aye went up a moaning from earth’s breast
All blood-drenched, and heaped with corpse on corpse.
Horses pierced through with arrows, or impaled
On spears, were snorting forth their last of strength
With screaming neighings. Men, with gnashing teeth
Biting the dust, lay gasping, while the steeds
Of Trojan charioteers stormed in pursuit,
Trampling the dying mingled with the dead
As oxen trample corn in threshing floors.

***

…and the gods saw
The deadly Fates hurling the charging lines
Together, in the unending wrestle locked
Of that grim conflict, saw where never ceased
Ares from hideous slaughter, saw the earth
Crimsoned all around with rushing streams of blood,
Saw where dark Havoc gloated o’er the scene,
Saw the wide plain with corpses heaped…

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Plotinus: Let earth be at peace and sea, air and the very heavens

December 6, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Plotinus
From Ennead V
Translated by Stephen Mackenna and B. S. Page

Let every soul recall, then, at the outset the truth that soul is the author of all living things, that it has breathed the life into them all, whatever is nourished by earth and sea, all the creatures of the air, the divine stars in the sky; it is the maker of the sun; itself formed and ordered this vast heaven and conducts all that rhythmic motion; and it is a principle distinct from all these to which it gives law and movement and life, and it must of necessity be more honourable than they, for they gather or dissolve as soul brings them life or abandons them, but soul, since it never can abandon itself, is of eternal being.

How life was purveyed to the universe of things and to the separate beings in it may be thus conceived:

That great soul must stand pictured before another soul, one not mean, a soul that has become worthy to look, emancipate from the lure, from all that binds its fellows in bewitchment, holding itself in quietude. Let not merely the enveloping body be at peace, body’s turmoil stilled, but all that lies around, earth at peace, and sea at peace, and air and the very heavens. Into that heaven, all at rest, let the great soul be conceived to roll inward at every point, penetrating, permeating, from all sides pouring in its light. As the rays of the sun throwing their brilliance upon a lowering cloud make it gleam all gold, so the soul entering the material expanse of the heavens has given life, has given immortality: what was abject it has lifted up; and the heavenly system, moved now in endless motion by the soul that leads it in wisdom, has become a living and a blessed thing; the soul domiciled within, it takes worth where, before the soul, it was stark body – clay and water – or, rather, the blankness of Matter, the absence of Being, and, as an author says, “the execration of the Gods.”

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Jean Dutourd: The horrors of war

December 5, 2015 1 comment

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

French writers on war and peace

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Jean Dutourd
From The Horrors of Love (1963)
Translated by Robin Chancellor

jean-dutourd

When the Germans attacked in May 1940, I was in Alsace and thought my last hour had come. They had posted me at the corner of a wood with a machine gun and strict orders to hold out until someone came to relieve me. I had several belts of cartridges and some grenades. They were shelling me with a mortar. I don’t know how I managed to stick it. With my machine gun I killed sixteen of the enemy. I watched them go down like ninepins and was full of disgust and horror for what I was doing. In spite of Yvonne, at moments I wished I could be killed myself so as not to have to carry on the butchery…

They told me I was a fine soldier, but I couldn’t get over it. The war filled me with such horror that if any chap had dared to tell me I was a hero I’d have cracked his jaw.

***

It’s not uncommon to arrive at the truth by a wrong path. Prophets and simple souls who accurately deduce the future from facts they interpret in the wrong way.

***

Love and politics are the most dangerous things for the mind because they constantly place a man in a situation where he is obliged to talk nonsense.

***

The slope down to hell is so gentle, so imperceptible that one fails to appreciate one is going downhill. Hell nearly always begins in a familiar guise and the Devil first appears to us as the image of our own face oin the mirror.

***

[Y]ou can put up a better defense than most people, because by constantly reading and rereading good authors who write well and have a healthy outlook, you absorb large quantities of antidote to the poison of modern stupidity.

***

We are never so happy as when men give us reasons for liking them. At least, that is how it is with me. The spectacle of noble deeds gladdens my heart like beautiful music. It is as if my soul had left my body and was deliriously riding astride the melody being played.

***

This, in my humble opinion, is one of the missions of the poet: to grasp the truth of beings who lie to themselves, to be always a few years older than they or, if you prefer, to live in the future, observe them with the eyes they will themselves have when they have have a little longer.

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Jerome: We must seek peace if we are to avoid wars

December 4, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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St. Jerome
From Letters
Translated by F.A. Wright

I have passed beyond the limits of consolation, and in forbidding you to weep for one man’s death I have mourned for the dead of the whole world. That mighty king Xerxes, who overthrew mountains and turned the sea into solid ground, when from his high place he looked upon his infinite multitudes and his countless host of men, is said to have wept at the thought that not one of those whom he saw would in a hundred years be alive. – Oh, if we could ascend into such a watch-tower as would give us a view of the whole world spread beneath our feet! Then I would show you a universe in ruins, peoples warring against peoples, and kingdoms shattered on kingdoms. You would see some men being tortured, some killed, others drowned at sea, others dragged off to slavery; here a wedding, there lamentation; some being born, others dying; some living in affluence, others begging their bread; not merely Xerxes’ army, but the inhabitants of the whole world now alive destined soon to pass away. Words fail; for language is inadequate to the greatness of this theme.

***

‘Depart from evil,’ says the Scripture, ‘and do good; seek peace and pursue it.’ If we do not hate evil we cannot love good. Nay more, we must do good if we are to depart from evil: we must seek peace, if we are to avoid wars. Nor is it enough merely to seek peace; when we have found it and it flies from us, we must pursue with all our might.’Peace passeth all understanding,’ and in it is God’s dwelling. As the prophet says: ‘In peace also is His habitation.’

***

May the voice of the Church’s supplication be heard: ‘Lord, ordain peace for us, for thou also hast wrought all our works for us.’ May our renunciation of the world be a matter of free will and not of necessity! May we seek poverty as a glorious thing, not have it forced upon us as a punishment! However, in our present miseries, with swords raging fiercely all around us, he is rich enough who is not in actual want of bread, he is more powerful than he needs be who is not reduced to slavery.

***

Shame on us, the world is falling in ruins, but our sins still flourish. The glorious city that was the head of the Roman Empire has been engulfed in one terrific blaze. There is no part of the earth where exiles from Rome are not to be found. Churches once held sacred have fallen into dust and ashes, and still we set our hearts greedily on money. We live as though we were doomed to death on the morrow, but we build houses as though we were going to live for ever in this world. Our walls glitter with gold, gold gleams upon our ceilings and upon the capitals of our pillars: yet Christ is dying at our doors in the persons of His poor, naked and hungry.

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Thomas Carlyle: The works of peace versus battles and war-tumults

December 3, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Thomas Carlyle: What blood-filled trenches, and contentious centuries, may still divide us!

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Thomas Carlyle
From On History (1830)

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Which was the greater innovator, which was the more important personage in man’s history – he who first led armies over the Alps, and gained the victories of Cannae and Thrasymene; or the nameless boor who first hammered out for himself an iron spade? When the oak-tree is felled, the whole forest echoes with it; but a hundred acorns are planted silently by some unnoticed breeze. Battles and war-tumults, which for the time din every ear, and with joy or terror intoxicate every heart, pass away like tavern-brawls; and, except some few Marathons and Morgartens, are remembered by accident, not by desert…

The time seems coming when much of this must be amended; and he who sees no world but that of courts and camps; and writes only how soldiers were drilled and shot, and how this ministerial conjuror out-conjured that other, and then guided, or at least held, something which he called the rudder of Government, but which was rather the spigot of Taxation, wherewith, in place of steering, he could tap, and the more cunningly the nearer the lees – will pass for a more or less instructive Gazetteer, but will no longer be called an Historian.

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Diodorus Siculus: History is more than the recording of wars

December 2, 2015 1 comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Diodorus Siculus: Alexander’s first encounter with military glory

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Diodorus Siculus
From The Library of History
Translated by C. H. Oldfather

It is fitting that all men should ever accord great gratitude to those writers who have composed universal histories, since they have aspired to help by their individual labours human society as a whole; for by offering a schooling, which entails no danger, in what is advantageous they provide their readers, through such a presentation of events, with a most excellent kind of experience. For although the learning which is acquired by experience in each separate case, with all the attendant toils and dangers, does indeed enable a man to discern in each instance where utility lies…yet the understanding of the failures and successes of other men, which is acquired by the study of history, affords a schooling that is free from actual experience of ills. Furthermore, it has been the aspiration of these writers to marshal all men, who, although united one to another by their kinship, are yet separated by space and time, into one and the same orderly body. And such historians have therein shown themselves to be, as it were, ministers of Divine Providence. For just as Providence, having brought the orderly arrangement of the visible stars and the natures of men together into one common relationship, continually directs their courses through all eternity, apportioning to each that which falls to it by the direction of fate, so likewise the historians, in recording the common affairs of the inhabited world as though they were those of a single state, have made of their treatises a single reckoning of past events and a common clearing-house of knowledge concerning them…

[T]he foremost meed of praise must be awarded to that which more than any other thing is the cause of them, that is, to history. For we must look upon it as constituting the guardian of the high achievements of illustrious men, the witness which testifies to the evil deeds of the wicked, and the benefactor of the entire human race. For if it be true that the myths which are related about Hades, in spite of the fact that their subject-matter is fictitious, contribute greatly to fostering piety and justice among men, how much more must we assume that history, the prophetess of truth, she who is, as it were, the mother-city of philosophy as a whole, is still more potent to equip men’s characters for noble living! For all men, by reason of the frailty of our nature, live but an infinitesimal portion of eternity and are dead throughout all subsequent time; and while in the case of those who in their lifetime have done nothing worthy of note, everything which has pertained to them in life also perishes when their bodies die, yet in the case of those who by their virtue have achieved fame, their deeds are remembered for evermore, since they are heralded abroad by history’s voice most divine.

History…contributes to the power of speech, and a nobler thing than that may not easily be found…it is by means of speech alone that one man is able to gain ascendancy over the many; and, in general, the impression made by every measure that is proposed corresponds to the power of the speaker who presents it, and we describe great and human men as “worthy of speech,” as though therein they had won the highest prize of excellence. And when speech is resolved into its several kinds, we find that, whereas poetry is more pleasing than profitable, and codes of law punish but do not instruct, and similarly, all the other kinds either contribute nothing to happiness or else contain a harmful element mingled with the beneficial, while some of them actually pervert the truth, history alone, since in it word and fact are in perfect agreement, embraces in its narration all the other qualities as well as that are useful; for it is ever to be seen urging men to justice, denouncing those who are evil, lauding the good, laying up, in a word, for its readers a mighty store of experience.

Consequently we, observing that writers of history are accorded a merited approbation, were led to feel a like enthusiasm for the subject. But when we turned our attention to the historians before our time, although we approved their purpose without reservation, yet we were far from feeling that their treatises had been composed so as to contribute to human welfare as much as might have been the case. For although the profit which history affords its readers lies in its embracing a vast number and variety of circumstances, yet most writers have recorded no more than isolated wars waged by a single nation or a single state, and but few have undertaken, beginning with the earliest times and coming down to their own day, to record the events connected with all peoples…

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Minucius Felix: War and the birth of empire

December 1, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Minucius Felix
From Octavius
Translated by Robert Ernest Wallis

Doubtless the illustrious and noble justice of the Romans had its beginning from the very cradle of the growing empire. Did they not in their origin, when gathered together and fortified by crime, grow by the terror of their own fierceness? For the first people were assembled together as to an asylum. Abandoned people, profligate, incestuous, assassins, traitors, had flocked together; and in order that Romulus himself, their commander and governor, might excel his people in guilt, he committed fratricide. These are the first auspices of the religious state! By and by they carried off, violated, and ruined foreign virgins, already betrothed, already destined for husbands, and even some young women from their marriage vows – a thing unexampled – and then engaged in war with their parents, that is, with their fathers-in-law, and shed the blood of their kindred. What more irreligious, what more audacious, what could be safer than the very confidence of crime? Now, to drive their neighbours from the land, to overthrow the nearest cities, with their temples and altars, to drive them into captivity, to grow up by the losses of others and by their own crimes, is the course of training common to the rest of the kings and the latest leaders with Romulus. Thus, whatever the Romans hold, cultivate, possess, is the spoil of their audacity. All their temples are built from the spoils of violence, that is, from the ruins of cities, from the spoils of the gods, from the murders of priests. This is to insult and scorn, to yield to conquered religions, to adore them when captive, after having vanquished them. For to adore what you have taken by force, is to consecrate sacrilege, not divinities. As often, therefore, as the Romans triumphed, so often they were polluted; and as many trophies as they gained from the nations, so many spoils did they take from the gods. Therefore the Romans were not so great because they were religious, but because they were sacrilegious with impunity. For neither were they able in the wars themselves to have the help of the gods against whom they took up arms; and they began to worship those when they were triumphed over, whom they had previously challenged. But what avail such gods as those on behalf of the Romans, who had had no power on behalf of their own worshippers against the Roman arms?

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