Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Spurious comparisons

For Caesar and Circero, read Ed Balls and Peter Mandelson.

It is no coincidence that Robert Harris’s latest novel Lustrum is dedicated “to Peter”. The historic battle between Cicero and Caesar, portrayed in the book, is remarkably similar to the present struggle between Lord Mandelson and Ed Balls.

On one side is a brilliant political strategist whose greatest weapon is words, a new Labour patrician who loves the company of wealthy men. On the other is a ruthless political fighter, a populist class warrior who wants to redistribute resources from rich to poor. High politics, low guile, personal ambition, ideological clashes — in modern Westminster, as in Ancient Rome, they are all there.

Rachel Sylvester, The Times

Erm no. They might just about be like the characters in a novel, but I'm not sure that the conquest of Gaul, the defeat of Pompey, shagging Cleopatra and the attainment of supreme power in the Republic quite compare with setting up New Labour, trying to sort out the squabbling tribes in Ulster for a bit (okay, that is sort of Roman), doing something or other in Brussels and then propping up Brown as a sort of grand vizier. (In any case, the comparison with Caesar doesn't really work if Mandelson is only the power behind the throne. I'd be tempted to say he's much more like Crassus.)

The showbiz for ugly people
jibe worked 2000 years ago too

As for Balls as Cicero; well Brown's henchman might have an even more over-inflated sense of his own abilities than old chickpea. Having to translate his bleeding letters put me off Latin for good; that's Cicero's letters, obviously, but Balls may possibly have a similar effect on me with regard to the Labour party. But although he was from humbler origins than the Nottingham High School boy, Cicero, and almost all the Roman elite would have thought the idea of redistributing wealth from rich to poor was preposterous, and rousing the lower orders unthinkable. The idea of Roman politics was to become rich, powerful and part of the elite who kept the plebs in their place.

After working through all those letters to Atticus, one bit of Latin translation I did enjoy doing was the account of the death of Cicero. You may recall they cut his tongue out, and stuck it up on display with his head and the hand he'd used to write the Philippics against Antony. I doubt Ed Balls will suffer a similar fate - although I suspect that should his influence on the Labour party endure, it will end in a similarly brutal retribution at the polls.

In any case, if you want to use classical comparisons to discuss the politics of the day, you will struggle to top Georges Clemenceau's magnificent quip after President Faure died, so rumour had it, whilst receiving a blowjob from his mistress:

Il voulait être César, il ne fut que Pompée.

[He wanted to be Caesar, he ended up being Pompey/pumped - oh you work it out]

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