Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bread and Circuses

This quote from the Roman satirist Juvenal has been on my mind lately. He meant it as a slam against the Roman "rabble." It may just be, however, that it is the secret to a content society.

"... Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions - everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses."

Juvenal, Satire X


Bill said...

Content, absolutely. But healthy? Nuh-unh. Sustainable? Not entirely. It's a long slow burn. If I was a gambling man, I'd look for immigrants to start taking over soon. Oh, wait... ;)

Richard Fellows said...


Dio Chrysostom said something very similar:

""But of the people of Alexandria what can one say, a folk to whom you need only throw
plenty of bread and a ticket to the hippodrome, since they have no interest in anything

These passages concern ancient urban poverty, not contemporary USA. Both quotations reflect an upper class bias. The wealthy like to think of themselves as superior to the poor. These writers don't seem to acknowledge the seriousness of food shortages, or that the hungary have legitimate grievances.

Many passages in ancient texts show that food shortages created social tensions civil unrest and mob violence. I have collected together many such passages here:

There was probably a food shortage in 49-51 AD and I believe that it contributed to the tensions between Paul's infant churches and outsiders. This economic conflict resulted in the mobbing of Sosthenes, a Christian benefactor, the attack on Jason in Thessalonica, and probably the exile of Priscilla and Aquila (twice).

Paul's response to the tensions seems to have been to encourage the believers to fulfill their benefaction commitments to outsiders (1 Thess 4:12), and feed their enemies (Rom 12:20).