Thursday, March 23, 2023

How long?


This afternoon, I’ve been reading Mary Beard’s SPQR: a History of Ancient Rome. Beard jumps in with Cicero’s denouncement of Catiline before the senate in 63BCE. In passing, she notes that “the modern word ‘candidate’ derives from the Latin candidatus, which means ‘whitened’ and refers to the specially whitened togas that Romans wore during election campaigns, to impress the voters.” (p. 32)

Beard writes,

“It did not take long for the opening words of Cicero’s speech given on 8 November (the First Catilinarian) to become one of the best known and instantly recognisable quotes of the Roman world: ‘Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra?’ (‘How long, Catiline, will you go on abusing our patience?’) (p. 41)

In the short-term, Cicero has his finest hour, but it is not without backlash.

I am struck by the account of Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9) where Jesus’ clothes become dazzling white (Mark goes so far as to claim whiter than any human process could make them) and which is immediately followed by Jesus declaring, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you?”—the Latin translation of Matthew’s and Luke’s version uses the form ‘quousque’—before exorcising a demon, a hostile and foreign element.

These Gospels were written circulating within the Roman empire (even if Matthew is traditionally considered to be primarily addressed to an audience of Jewish background). I think it likely that Jesus is here intentionally playing on Cicero’s famous phrase (among other references). I am also intrigued by how the early Christian community in Rome, and those who may have been interested in finding out more about this sect, may have been struck by these passages. In contrast to Cicero, who has the alleged conspirators put to death without trial, is Jesus a Catiline figure—the Roman writer Sallust had already put a version of Cicero’s words into Catiline’s mouth, ‘Quae quo usque tandem patiemini, o fortissimi viri?’ ‘How long will you go on putting up with this, my braves?’—and hence revolutionary?


Friday, March 17, 2023