Home > Uncategorized > Giambattista Vico: Mars, the vilest of the gods

Giambattista Vico: Mars, the vilest of the gods

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

Italian writers on war and militarism

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Giambattista Vico
From New Science
Translation by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch

Mars, in a stern reproof reported by Homer, is called by Jove “The vilest of all the gods”…

Wherever a people has grown savage in warfare so that human laws have no longer any place among it, the only powerful means of reducing it is religion.

This axiom establishes the fact that divine providence initiated the process by which the fierce and violent were brought from their outlaw state to humanity and entered upon national life. It did so by awaking in them a confused idea of divinity, which they in their ignorance attributed to that to which it did not belong. Thus through the terror of this imagined divinity, they began to put themselves in some order.

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Since the door to honor in the popular commonwealth is wide open by law to the greedy multitude which is in command, in times of peace nothing remains but to struggle for power, not by law but by arms, and use the power to make laws with a view to increase of wealth…The result is civil wars at home and unjust wars abroad at the same time.

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{The] Roman plebeians were nexi or bondsmen of the nobles and…were bound to serve them as impressed vassals at their own expense in war; a duty the Roman plebs still complained of under what has supposed to have been popular liberty. These must have been the first tribute-payers (assidui), who fought at their own expense (suis assibus militabant); but they were soldiers not of fortune but of harsh necessity.

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What of the heroes of this time [Roman republic]?…[W]hat did any of them do for the poor and unhappy plebs? Assuredly they did but increase their burdens by war, plunge them deeper in a sea of usury, in order to bury them to a greater depth in the private prisons of the nobles, where they were beaten with rods on their backs like abject slaves. And if anyone in this period of Roman virtue attempted to relieve the lot of the plebs with some sort of agrarian law or grain law, he was accused of treason and sent to his death.

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Wars like the ancient ones were all wars of religion, which, for reason we have taken as the first principle of this Science, made them always extremely bitter.

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