So the last post consisted of a rather strange train of thought in which I conjectured that Claudius Pulcher the Beautiful would never have experienced such serious consequences for sacrilege if his battle had been won. I've been thinking about him since then. I've also been thinking about how the ancient Romans were a bunch of putzes for letting his bad luck influence their judgment concerning whom the gods do and do not approve. I mean, they could dislike the job he's doing without going straight to "God doesn't like you."
Then I started thinking about our own more modern tendency to judge people based on their life circumstances, some of which are not the products of individual choice or merit, but simply the result of the the Fates randomly throwing monkey wrenches at us. I've even heard that crap about God liking or disliking people based on their circumstances.
In fact, someone just the other day shared a quote from somewhere ( I don't know where, but probably a motivational speaker that charges and arm and a leg...and your self-esteem and dignity.) The quote says, "Everything you do is based on the life choices you make. It's not your parents, your past relationships, your job, the economy, the weather, an argument or your age that is to blame. You and only you are responsible for every decision and choice you make. Period."
Ummm...so if you choose to get treated or not to get treated for cancer? Totally on you? What if you're afraid of going out on your own because you were sexually assaulted? What if you have a hard time trusting yourself to find a mate because you were abused as a child and you can't quite trust yourself in a relationship? What about people who are refugees due to wars or famine? It seems to me that there are lots of circumstances that force us into unpleasant decisions all the time. During the Great Depression do you really think that everything a person did was down to the choices they'd previously made? The economy didn't affect even one of their choices going forward?
Just like those ancient roman putzes we blame people for their own circumstances...especially if those circumstances are unpleasant. Homelessness? Obviously drugs or extravagance. Rape? What did you wear? Poverty? Why didn't you study harder in school. But no more questioning how we got here....let's think about it.
Before we come round to figuring out what's wrong with us, let's think about what happened to Claudius in a bit more depth because I think it illustrate very well how superstitious people are about bad luck and poor circumstances. The Roman Senate punished Claudius for what I take to essentially be sacrilege...on the surface. He sinned against the gods.
However, let's ask ourselves again. What if Claudius had won that battle, if no one was trying to throw the blame for the failure onto anyone else? If Rome had defeated Carthage in battle that day would anyone even have noticed that some innocent chickens drowned? I don't know...and this is all speculation...but I don't think so. Cast yourself back to that time period. If Rome had defeated Carthage I can only imagine that the Romans would be filled with a great sense of joy and relief, a feeling that the gods were smiling upon them. In that atmosphere is is hard to imagine the priests bringing charges against Claudius or the Senate hearing them. To take the general who had defeated Rome's greatest enemy to task for losing some poultry would have been unthinkable (I think).
It was the outcome of the battle that doomed Claudius not the sacrilege. Interestingly, it does not appear that Claudius went to trial for using poor battle tactics, or for being a coward, or not following orders from the senate (except insofar as they might prefer he listen to the priests.) He barely escaped execution for ticking off the gods. How did the senate know he had ticked off the gods? Because he lost the battle. Had he won I have little doubt that this would have proved to the people of that the gods were not bothered about the chickens and that they weren't ticked off at all. Claudius' fate did not depend on following protocol...it did not depend on a list of rules that he break or keep. It did not depend at all on the fact that he broke the law...it depended on the outcome of breaking the law. Is that justice?
No. It's superstition. The Senate wasn't worried about what Claudius had done. They were worried about what the gods were going to do to them. They wanted to sacrifice his career (and nearly his life) to appease the gods. They didn't want to end up being losers. The fear was that they could be like him. Any one of them might have an unlucky day and get to walk a mile in his shoes...right into exile in the deep, dark forest. I would like to think that things are very different today. But are they?
I think that one of the reasons we are so unkind to those less fortunate in circumstances is that we also fear being like them...so we follow out the chain of reasoning. I will never be homeless because I work hard. I will never get raped because I dress modestly. I will never be in an accident because I drive carefully. It's not our sense of justice that drives these judgments. It's our fear. We don't want to be like those people and we can't acknowledge that any one of us is a financial or medical emergency away from disaster.
So, to everyone who thinks those old Romans were putzes, or that their vengeful gods went out of business, maybe think again.
Alright. There's my further thoughts about the sacred chickens. We'll see what happens next post.