I guess that last entry was less miscellaneous than I had originally thought. Hm.
One last word on "dictatorship":
If you think about it, the Thermidorian accusation that Robespierre wanted to be a dictator is a pretty flimsy one. Anyone with half a brain's first question if you accuse someone of merely *wanting* to be a dictator is, "How do you know? Was he amassing an army? Did he in fact attempt a coup?" - or even - "Did he go around declaring to all and sundry that it was his fondest wish to become a dictator?" This kind of questioning is awkward for the accuser, who is liable to get tangled up in his/her own lies. It's much easier just to lie from the beginning. This is how we go from "Robespierre wanted to be a dictator" to "Robespierre was a dictator." It's makes for much more effective propaganda, because to the uninformed about how history is constructed, "How do you know he was a dictator?" might seem like a stupid question. It's certainly not a question most people ask unless they have reason to believe they're being lied to, which the vast majority of people don't when they're first introduced to Robespierre, because they are usually schoolchildren, who a) know nothing or very little about how history is written, and b) know even less about the French Revolution. (What's unfortunate is that so few people ever question these things even when they are no longer impressionable young children.)
And while we're on the subject, something a lot of people seem strangely unaware of is that when the Revolutionaries speak of dictatorship, they're just making yet another classical allusion. If someone says "dictator" now, our minds tend to go first to Hitler or Stalin. When the Revolutionaries say it, they mean more Sulla than Stalin. (Obviously, they don't know the future either, so the existence of Hitler or Stalin would come as a surprise to them, but even, say, Cromwell, is probably not the first person who came to mind for them when the word dictator was uttered. Which is not, btw, to say they didn't draw parallels between figures like Cromwell and Ancient Roman dictators - if they were incapable of doing that, making classical allusions would be rather pointless - but that the connotations of the word "dictator" were very different then from what they are now.)
And, to round off this Ides of March (about a quarter hour too late), what could be more appropriate than some lovely late 18th century representations of Romans?
( Brutus et Cassius: Act II, Scene III )
BRUTUS, CASSIUS, AGRIPPA.
Worthy republicans, warriors full of nobility,
See the fate of Rome. Long enough, Romans,
Have our imprudent efforts shaken her fortunes.
The last Scipios, Catos, the ill-starred Pompey,
Have seen to this day their valor betrayed.
As you weep for these heroes brought down to the tomb,
Fear the insane hope that lost them all;
Surrender to Caesar and Antony’s counsel:
Too much blood has already stained Macedonia.
I bring you the wishes of these true citizens;
They both fly toward peace;
Lepidus is also their accomplice;
But you don’t speak of him, and you do him justice.
The tyrants, however, what do they hope from us?
A single man was sacrificed for the safety of all.
While they weep for Caesar’s death in appearance,
They have espoused his vengeance through interest.
You will see them perhaps occupied with other cares,
Less united, Agrippa, though at least more sincere,
But no longer limiting themselves to sharing the empire:
It is to dominate alone that each of them aspires;
And the bloody course of proscriptions has,
Believe me, merely halted for a few days.
Eh! Do not return to those detestable murders
Made inevitable by the misfortune of the times:
From now on accept their useful friendship.
If you are Romans, in the name of mercy,
In the name of all the State, let friendship bind you.
Octavian is outraged, but it doesn’t matter; he forgets
That his adoptive father fell beneath your blows;
He wants to sacrifice his wrath to the public good.
It is true that our hands stabbed his father:
What we have done, every Roman should have done;
And to spare a Roman citizen with pretensions to reign
Is at last to be guilty.
With great cries liberty disposes of his days:
True republicans no longer listen to
Friendship, blood ties, whatever rights he opposes,
Once liberty has raised up her voice.
But what has your zeal produced for liberty?
Ah! At least he knew to show us worthy of her;
And should we be blamed if Rome from then on
Does not know how to receive the gifts that are made her?
What then! Have we not consumed his vengeance,
Blamed your weakness and your negligence?
Through us the usurper found his grave;
And, to reward our cares and so fine an exploit,
Rome lowers her docile brow before three tyrants!
What tyrants, just Gods! An imbecilic pontiff,
A child without courage, a dissolute soldier:
They have dared to take absolute power!
O shame! O contempt for the sacred name of Rome!
Caesar was a tyrant, but he was a great man;
Sulla saw the Universe cast down at his feet,
But Sulla was not a tyrant without virtue.
Then you thus want Roman blood to be spilled
By Roman hands twice on these plains?
Ah! When all will have submitted to our emperors,
Slavery and irons are not what is promised us,
But peace succeeding civil war,
But a liberty less proud and more tranquil.
Caesar’s friends, in avenging his death,
Only wanted, you say, to walk in his footsteps?
That there is humanity, such is our weakness.
Determined ceaselessly by interest alone,
Virtuous through pride or ambition,
Are our hearts ever exempt from passions?
You may yourself be suspected of some jealousy
When one observes your efforts in Asia.
Well then, if it were true, Asia is a nice enough share
For the two of you, and should fulfill your wishes.
I know your valor, and my heart honors you;
Rome cherished you and still esteems you.
But the insolent Parthian, tranquil in his deserts,
Dares to dispute us a corner of the Universe,
And, his heart drunk with his frivolous glory,
Insults the Capitol in our bloody wreckage.
Go avenge Crassus, run and execute
What our Caesar wanted to attempt;
And, making your conquest of the shores of the Indus,
May all the Orient soon under your laws…
If Rome were at peace, and if her sovereign order
Had deigned to charge us with avenging her;
Ah! If we were hearing the voice of our country,
Be sure that our efforts, at that cherished voice,
Would snatch the laurels from the Parthian’s hands,
Asking him back our warriors’ blood.
But we, to follow the triumvirs’ politics!
But to conquer for ourselves, not for the republic!
Cease to make such attempts on us;
We have no need of a scepter, nor of Estates.
For virtuous hearts there is no charm in reigning;
If despite ourselves, at last, we have taken to arms,
You feign not to be aware, but this is our goal:
To win the safety of the oppressed Romans,
To fell the tyrants and supreme power;
And you come to offer that we be tyrants ourselves!
Agrippa, you insult us too much.
We want to punish them, and not imitate them.
But everything I see rightly confounds me;
Agrippa, you are the one to whom we needed to reply!
Could you have charged yourself with so shameful an employment?
Is this peaceable slavery thus made for you?
Triumvirs have nothing to claim in our hearts;
We must hate them: we will be able to hear them,
If today they want to return to their duty,
And live from now on with neither master nor power.
Yes, I consent to be named among their equals;
And I am their friend, if they are friends of Rome.
But you who believe yourselves her good, her true friends:
The Parthians, the Gauls are less her enemies.
What claims, tell me, do this heroic language,
This inflexible pride of stoic virtue make?
Yes, if all the Romans know how to imitate you
The form of the State may yet subsist.
But everything is quite changed. Contemplate the insolence
Of all your magistrates, proud of their opulence;
Contemplate a State overcome with languor,
Vice triumphant and laws without vigor,
Your dignities blackened by dark tyrants,
Your nobles haggling over the centuries’ votes,
The people and even the senators being bought with gold;
Gold naming your consuls, your tribunes, your quaestors,
Citizens with no love for the republic,
Generals dazzled by despotic power;
Liberty dying, and the empire uncertain
With the impious blade wandering from hand to hand.
Five splendors have barely succeeded five other splendors:
Our eyes, always struck by illustrious iniquities,
Have seen Sulla, Carbo, Marius and Cinna,
The insolent Cethegus, the hot-blooded Catiline;
They all affected supreme power;
And Crassus and Pompey pretended to it themselves.
You have cut the throat of the only one who could have reigned;
Rome’s wound still bleeds;
Rome blames you, and believes their stolen liberty
Too dearly bought at the price of so fine a life.
Fools! The edifice besieged by time
Wants a solid support for its old foundations;
And the vessel pressed by winds and storms,
Is certain of shipwreck without a clever pilot.
Think on it yet. If Caesar has lived out his life,
You have not subdued his unconquerable genius;
Devoted yourself to Cato’s reverses,
Perhaps this day is your last.
We disavow you, you especially, you, Brutus,
You who knew great Caesar’s virtues,
You whom Caesar loved with such tender friendship,
You who fear to surrender to our wise counsels.
We pity your furors and your blindness;
Your generous hand avenged us without courage.
I am Brutus.
What say you about fearing?
What! You wear irons, and you dare to pity me!
Pity Rome, weep for her guilty sons,
Who, limply subjugated beneath a gilded yoke,
Have sold the privilege of being called Romans,
And taste a sacrilegious happiness in opprobrium.
May they receive the prize they’ve bought so dear;
May disgraceful treasures satisfy their cowardice;
From amidst their honors or their infamy,
May their dare to raise a hostile voice;
And, since we have served Rome and the Gods,
May they accuse our hands of an odious crime.
If I believe their discourse, Rome disavows us.
To your fate, O Cato, their hatred dedicates us;
And I, I dedicate them to their vile grandeur,
I who have not tarnished my first splendor.
I have seen the republic delivered up to faction,
Torn about without cease by her own children,
Our rights laid waste, the State near death.
Witness to all these ills, I wanted to heal them:
I believed (to this day too vain a hope!)
I could raise once more the debris of Roman grandeur.
Fate will decide. I can die vanquished:
At least I will day free, as I have lived.
If indeed I touch upon the end of my career,
It was marked in its entirety by austere virtue.
A descendant of the hero who drove out the Tarquins,
I would have returned you to your ancient destinies,
If you had deserved them, if the people of the Tiber
Were still Roman and knew how to be free.
Agrippa, that’s enough; let us end this interview:
The laws are our masters; return to yours.
Embrace me, both of you, I love your great courage;
But you should have been born in a happier age.
Adieu, noble Romans.