Titus Livius, or Livy as he is more commonly known, was a great historian who lived from around 60 BC till about 17 AD. His works included over 140 volumes of Roman History, 35 of which are still in existence today. In his first book, starting with the foundation of Rome, Livy very wisely says, "The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see, and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings, fine things to take as models, base things, rotten through and through, to avoid" (pg 30). Livy's goal in writing these accounts is not only for the purpose of knowing the history of Rome, but also that we may identify and separate the good from the bad and learn from the victories and mistakes of our ancestors.
In the early days of Rome, a man named Tarquinius Superbus elected himself to the throne as king and literally threw Servius, the previous king, out of the Senate and down the steps. Some of Tarquinius’ supporters then assassinated Servius. Neither the people nor the Senate had approved of his accession to the throne and thus Tarquin’s strategy to obtain compliance was to rule by instilling fear in the people. He began as Livy says, “To punish with death, exile, or confiscation of property not only such men as he happened to suspect or dislike, but also innocent people from whose conviction he had nothing to gain but their money.” Superbus took it upon himself to decide what treaties and alliances should be made without consulting either the commons or the Senate and by doing so broke long-held tradition. Rome’s self-elected king daily lived up to his well suited nickname of Tarquin the Proud. Though quite competent in the realm of war, Tarquin’s lack of character and love of cruelty, hurt the whole empire of Rome.
Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, a stark contrast to Tarquinius Superbus, was a just man of honor and highly respected by the people. One of his sons, Caeso, acted rashly and committed homicide. The night before his trial date, Caeso fled from Rome. Though the people rejoiced they no longer had this rash man in their town, his departure consequently forced Cincinnatus to sell all that he owned to pay his son’s sureties. After relinquishing his savings on his son’s behalf, he moved outside of town to a small plot of farmland where he contentedly worked to support his wife. Cincinnatus had made a name for himself in regards to his character and was known throughout the land as an honest man of virtue. His prestigious character had left a mark on the people and when the invasion in 458 BC came, military leaders flocked to him seeking his prowess as Dictator. His foresight, judgment, and military skill all made him suitable for the mission. He arranged his troops and led them with such excellence that within days of assuming his position, they had defeated their enemy and were rejoicing in their victory. Cincinnatus is famous for his next move; instead of continuing in his position as ruler and dictator, which he could have held for six months, he resigned after 15 days and humbly went back to his farm. This action made Cincinnatus even more heroic in the eyes of the people; they had become accustom to ruthless, power-hungry dictators.
Though Tarquin had little character to recommend him, he revealed many shortcomings from which we can learn and, as Livy suggests, avoid. Tarquin’s unmerited hatred for the innocent, passion for violence, and unrestrained love of tyrannical power are prime examples of character flaws to evade in our lives, avoid in friends, and steer clear of when voting for political leaders. Cincinnatus on the other hand portrays many estimable qualities. He is a loving and patient father, a hard and honest worker, a strong and humble leader -- all qualities worthy of respect and admiration. These two men set before us, through their contrasting traits, great examples of what to strive for or what to avoid. Not only should we strive to be men and women of character, but we want to do as Livy suggests and learn from the mistakes in history, training up a generation of Cincinnatus’ and not Tarquins.
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This is a paper I wrote for my Great Books history/lit class. I'd love feed back and comments. You know you have something to say about it.... =D