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Tacitus – On the current government

March 12, 2015

“Eulogies, indeed, were written by Arulenus Rusticus and Herennius Senecio – the one, of Thrasea Paetus, the other, of Helvidius Priscus. But both were treated as capital offences, and the savage punishment was extended beyond the authors to their books. The police, under official instructions, made a bonfire in Comitium and Forum of those masterpieces of literary art. So much is on the record. In those fires doubtless the Government imagined that it could silence the voice of Rome and annihilate the freedom of the Senate and the moral consciousness of mankind; it even went on to banish the professors of philosophy and exile all honourable studies, so that nothing decent might be left to vex its eyes. We have indeed set up a record of subservience. Rome of old explored the limits of freedom; we have plumbed the depths of slavery, robbed even of the interchange of ideas by the secret police. We should have lost our memories as well as our tongues had it been as easy to forget as to be silent.”

(from The Agricola [c. 98 CE], translated by Harold Mattingly)

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