Friday, April 07, 2006

Sejanus makes himself useful

Having been having a great day, happy as larry as just getting an unexpected promotion when I read this over at Guido's:

"As an actor whose work stretches from science fiction to Shakespeare, I am often asked why I am Labour. No matter how many times the question is put to me, it always takes me by surprise. I could not imagine being anything else."

Ah Patrick, is that you dribbling? I see that Paul Linford has already beaten me to it in the comments and brought up the I, Claudius link, but I hope he doesn't mind if I expand on it a bit further. (I, Claudius by the way is in my opinion one of the finest dramas ever produced.) Devils Kitchen has also laid into Patrick in his own initible way, so I'm going to approach from a different direction.

Patrick Stewart definitely gave one of his best performances in I, Claudius as Sejanus. If you're not familiar with Roman History, or with the story of I, Claudius then you might like to know a little about the character in question played with such flourish by the young Patrick.

Sejanus was, in short, a lying, disreputable ambitious shit who would stop at nothing to achieve absolute power. He happily bullied the Roman populace into cowered submission as he went about building a police state ostensibly for the benefit of his master, Tiberius, but in fact was creating the instruments that would allow him to replace the Emperor. His spies were everywhere, and he justified his subversion of justice with the need for Security, exploiting his powers to torture and kill his opponents based on the trumped up threat of treason to the person of the Emperor. His contempt for the traditional liberties of the Roman people led him to savagely undermine them. He didn't lack enthusiastic followers who thronged to hop on the bandwagon to ensure they had some part in the inevitable spoils. He treated them well, showering them with honours and ennoblements and using his position as gatekeeper to the Emperor to ensure that only his friends had access to the patronage of the state. With absolutely no morals or principles this man was prepared to sacrifice anything or anyone for power.

This may all seem eerily familiar to you, even if you have never heard of any of this before. That might be because History has a nasty little habit of repeating itself, if you let it. The subject had inspired Juvenal, who had seen plenty of mini-Sejanus' by his time. In my favourite piece of his, "On the Vanity of Human Wishes" he had this to say, which should cause some of the Sejanus mob to stop and ponder, or they would if it was in their nature.

"Silly, or downright disasterous are all the things that we pray for,
Weighting the knees of the gods with the words in the wax of our
tablets.
Power and consequent envy hurl some men down to their ruin:
They are sunk by the long andd illustrious list of their honours.
Their statues come dow, they follow the rope, the axe cuts to pieces
The wheels of the car and the legs of the horse (who didn't deserve
it).
Now the fires hiss hot - in the roar of the bellows and furnace
Burns the head adored by the people. The mighty Sejanus
Makes a crackling sound, and out of that countenance, second,
Not so long ago, in the whole wide world, there are fashioned
Wine jars, frying pans, basins, and platters, and piss pots.
Laurel your doors and lead the great chalked bull to Jove's altar!
Sejanus gets the hook, he is dragged along. What a picture!
Everyone is glad. "Believe me, I never could stand him.
What a puss he had! But what were the charges against him?
Who were the witnesses, the informant? How did they prove it?"
"Nothing like that at all: the only thing was a letter,
Rather wordy and long; it came from Capri." "Thats all right, then.
That's all I wanted to know."

And what are the people of Remus
Doing now? What they always do; they are following fortune,
Hating her victims, as always. Had Nortia favoured Sejanus,
Had the leader's old age been unexpectedly stricken,
This same mob would have hailed as Augustus the man no
doomed.
Ever since the time their votes were a drug on the market,
The people don't give a damn anymore. Once they bestowed
Legions, the symbols of power, all things, but now they are cautious,
Playing it safe, and now there are only two things that they ask for,
Bread and the games.

"I hear that many are going to get it."
"Not a doubt in the world. They got a big furnace already."
"Bruttidius looked a bit pale when I met him beside Mars' altar.
The beaten Ajax, I fear, suspects he's poorly defended.
Now he'll get even for that." "All right, let's go, in a hurry -
While he lies on the bank, let's give Caesar's foeman a few kicks."
"Yes, and be sure the slaves can see, so that all must admit it.
We don't want to be dragged to the court at the end of a halter."
That was how they talked, at the time, about their Sejanus.
That was the way the crowd muttered and grumbled about him.
So - would you like to have been Sejanus, popular, courted,
Having as much as he had, appointing men to high office,
Giving others command of the legions, renowned as protector
Of that Prince who's perched on the narrow ledges of Capri
With his Eastern seers and fortunetellers around him?
You would certainly like the spears, the horsemen, the cohorts,
The camp all your own. Why not? Even those with no craving for
murder
Wish that they had the power. But what good would it be if it
brought you
Risk in equal amount? Would you rather be robed like Sejanus,
Dragged along the streets like him, or would it be better
Taking charge of affairs in some little town like Fidenae,
Mayor of Gabii, or Inspector of Weights at Ulubrae?
So you acknowledge Sejanus did not know what to pray for,
Seeking excessive renown, excessive wealth, and preparing,
All the time, a tower whose stories soared to the heaven,
Whence he had further to fall, a longer plunge to his ruin.
What was it overthrew the Crassuses, Pompeys, and that man
Under whose lash the people were made to bow in obeisance?
What brought them down? High rank, sought after with never a
scruple,
And ambitious prayers, granted by gods who were evil.
Few are the kings who descend without wounds or murder to Pluto.
Few tyrants die a dry death."

Patrick, you might be loaded and living it up in Los Angeles, loving the OBE you bought for £120000, but from now on I can no longer imagine you as anything else than a complete and utter tit.

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