The Winners Determine Moral

Photo: http://www.vox.com/
Photo: http://www.vox.com/

There is a well-known saying: ”The history is written by winners.” But the reality is more severe: morality, its frameworks and character also determine the winners. To justify this theory, we will refer to one of the most famous realities of the antique period – Julius Caesar’s murder and the character of Brutus. However, before returning to all, we present a systematic result of a small survey that was carried out on the eve of the analysis. i The survey involved 150 people from 23 countries. They answered two basic questions: 1. In your opinion, who was Julius Caesar?

  1. a great leader
  2. an usurper
  3. a tyrant
  4. other

2.What do you think who was Marcus Brutus?

  1. a traitor
  2. a hero
  3. I don’t know
  4. other

Thus, from the results of survey one can assume that Caesar is a great leader for the absolute majority of respondents, and Brutus is a traitor. Such outcomes make scholars smile, however, the latter are devoid of historical truth and can be substantiated by many other factors.

Historical review with not so well-known details

Marcus Brutus witnessed all this, a  young nobleman originated from one of the oldest and most honorable families of Rome, from the house of the Junius, the heir of Lucius Brutus, an ancient Roman hero who had dethroned the Roman last king and became one of the founders of Roman Republicii and his family, not only turned into  sworn defenders of the republic, but also one of its symbols.iii And hence a versatile and literate young man who had the courages and family responsibilities of his ancestors, became noticed from the Senate elite. The majority of the senators connected the salvation of the republic with the House of Junius․ Marcus on the other hand had initially demonstrated his preference, when during the civil war between Caesar and Pompey he passed to latter’s side but later was pardoned by Caesar and returned to Rome. Brutus became one of the organizers and direct participants of the murder of the dictator which took place in March 44 BC. The aim of the conspirators was to restore the republic and shatter Caesarean tyranny. From a legal point of view, this can even be described as a death penalty, since Caesar, carrying out a state treason, had already been condemned to death. After the murder of Caesar, Brutus departed to Macedonia where he assembled an army for the battle against Caesar’s political epigones, Marcus Antonius and Octavian Caesar. In November 42 BC he fought in Philippe, was defeated (by accident occurrences) and ended his life with suicide. These events had an enormous impact on the Roman further history and Western thought at all. Thus, this story does not correspond to our ideas which are the result of Hollywood movies and artistic works.

Judas VS Sic semper tyrannis (“Thus always to tyrants”.)

After the victory of Caesarians’ fraction in civil war, Brutus’s image became a symbol of betrayal and was demonized. Later, this heritage passed into European civilization and especially into Christian thought.

The subject has been touched by a huge number of authors who, in most cases, have shaped public’s wide range of attitude towards our heroes. But the thing is that there is no consensus among those authors, and they are sometimes even contradictory.

Dante Shakespeare Christian

scholasts

Walter Late Renaissance

figures. Michelangeloiv

Jean Jacques Rousseau Raffiv US Founding Fathers:

ivv

The negative attitude towards Brutus is clearly seen in Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” where he is depicted as one of the worst characters in history and is identified with evil, in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” work, where even a single expression “And you, Brutus?” leaves an indelible impression of a traitor on masses. And, in general, the authors deeply influenced by Christianity, always make negative and immoral the image of Brutusvi equating him with Judah. By the double traitors’ format of mundane and spiritual power.

On the other hand, since late Renaissance and Enlightenment era in more intellectual circles, begins a revolution connected with this question. From a very moderate positive image, Walter who beside unique and positive Caesar gives some positive traits to Brutus. Until the person’s glorification, Rousseau (in his letter, Rousseau writes: “In the ancient world, the latter is really a character of phenomenal greatness,” he also regrets that he could not write something great on this subject) and making absoluteness US Founding Fathers, who not only considered him a hero, but also an exceptional example of a worthy citizen and exclusive individual. Within their circles, the figment that is attributed to Brutus is “Sic semper tyrannis – this is the end of the tyrants.” Thus, one can say that on the one hand, Dante and Shakespeare and on the other hand Rousseau and US Founding Fathers treat Brutus with geometrically opposite approaches.

History is written by winners, and morality is also developed by them:

After the murder of Caesar, the Caesarians’ won the civil war who, of course, in the early days didn’t go by Caesar’s chosen path, however they idolized his image and later made an example of an exemplary Roman and sacralised exemplary of ancestor. As a result, naturally, began the process of negativity and immorality of Brutus. In the imperial system, the personal loyalty and non-state high ideas and dedication to the homeland were appreciated. From here it comes that the division of two camps existing in the authors: on the one hand, royalists who, in the actions of Brutus, see a betrayal of the ruler and his father, on the other hand, Liberals and Republicans, who in the act of Brutus see the struggle of freedom against tyranny, who will not stop in front of anything. And the more republican tradition becomes deeper, the more glorifying the image of Brutus becomes in literature.

Here a question arises –  why do we have seen such a negative attitude towards Brutus?vii. The answer is in the history of Christianity. It should be kept in mind that Christianity eventually was adopted by the Roman Empire as a state religion and, naturally, was edited in favor of the imperial power and to certain extent corresponded with its moral and legal norms.viii One of these norms was the continuation of the line of personal loyalty to the Emperor and demonization of Brutus as a figure struggling for freedom.

When making a picture of this or that figure, most people are primarily guided by moral principles. Meanwhile, a) morality is changeable and is even controversial in different times: what can be unacceptable to our morality was quite normal in certain periods of history, and b) different moral codes can exist even at the same time depending on which society which power is victorious: for example, the Royalists or the Republicans. Because after all, like history morality is also formed by the winners and rulers with the use of different tools such as religion, culture, laws. Morality is relative in both time and place. In one moral format Brutus is betrayer but with the same success in another one he is a hero. The question here is who is in power. And in fact, people in a liberal society are also morally different from non-free: for them values and idea are different.

Two words

Marcus Brutus is considered a traitor, a hero. This is a unique indicator of the moral perceptions of the public or the thinker. Here it is not about studying historical details, but rather of an assessment of the phenomenon, which is given on the base of collective perception of a formalized value system and morality. These collective notions are not only conditioning man, but also the society, its theoretical approaches and needs.

Projection

In the end, we find it expedient to project all this on our present reality. If the given thesis (which says that authority gives the format of morality) accept as a base, then many problems will become more clear in our reality. The universal decadence and spiritual devaluation that is observed in our reality, the total materialism (with unbearable question “is there a profit”?) is also a result of winners, rulers who provided the moral format. This is not done against anybody or for anything, just the morality and world perception of people in that group is like that and they, being the winners in this society, dictate the fashion of morality. However, as we have already seen on our historical excursion, this pattern can be broken, even without power. This is the role of enlightened intellectuals (Renaissance figures, encyclopedists, etc.). A new generation that shapes an appropriate will and potential within the society, among many other achievements, also changes the outdated or inappropriate format of morality and those who dictate it. In other words, the circle is not closed, and the society can be prepared to get rid of demoralizing winners, even with violence (as a rule, there is no other way, since without cutting the connection with past, the new one is not built). This happens when it is no longer possible to continue living on similarly (due to resources or other reasons) and the realization of this was reached.

And when that day will come in Armenia, we will also exclaim “Sic semper tyrannis.’’


  1. Данте Алигьери, Божественная комедия, перевод М.Лозинского, Москва,  «Правда», 1982
  2. Вильям Шекспир, «Комедии, Хроники, Трагедии», Том 1-ый, «Юлий Цезарь». Перевод с английского, Москва, ХЛ, 1988
  1. Жан-Жак Руссо, Избранные сочинения в трех томах, Москва, ГИХЛ, 1961
  2. Ф. Фукуяма, Конец истории и последний человек, Москва, АСТ, 2015
  1. Аппиан. Гражданские войны, Пер. Под ред. С.А. Жебелева и О.О. Крюгера.
  2. Дион Кассий «Римская история», Практикум по истории древнего мира в двух частях, ч. 2, Под.ред. И.С. Свенцицкой, Москва, 1988.
  3. Тацит, Анналы, перевод А.С. Бобович, Москва, 1993.
  4. Voltaire «Death of Caesar», Translated and Adapted by Frank J. Morlock, C., 2003
  5. The Constitution of the United States of America and Selected wirtings of the founding fathers, New York, Barnes and Noble, 2012
  6. Jacob Boehme, http://www.passtheword.org/Jacob-Boehme/
  7. Encyclopedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/
  8. Энциклопедия искусства, http://www.artprojekt.ru/
  9. Новая философская энциклопедия, http://iph.ras.ru/enc.htm

 


i In this case, three different perceptions can be distinguished: daily, the results of which are presented in this survey. Scientific, to which we will not refer. Ideological-political, about which will be the original analysis.

ii It is noteworthy that Lucius Brutus also sacrificed his relatives for the sake of the country. He ordered to kill his two sons who betrayed the newly-proclaimed republic and passed on the side of the last king. After this step, he could not find his spiritual health and vigor.

iii There is a legend, according to which from the crown of the last king of Rome a ring was prepared for Lucius Brutus which 400 years from generation to generation had passed to the keepers of Republic – to the family of Junissons and passed to Markus, then disappeared after the suicide of the latter and the collapse of the republic.

iv Michelangelo had begun to prepare a bust of Brutal, which, however, was left unfinished fearing the persecution of the authorities of time as the republican ideas in that period of Italy were not encouraged.

v The historical novel “Samvel” written by Raffi has a profound similarity with our history and, more importantly, Samvel, who killed his father for the homeland is a positive character for Raffi.

vi Moreover, here the main circumstance was not the actual murder, but its form, conspiracy and attack on an unarmed man.

vii It’s noteworthy that those who voted from the US were mainly labeled Brutus as a hero, and those from the old world, as a traitor.

viii The best examples of this were the unique alliances with the church of Constantine the Great and Justinian Emperors. By them the Christian format of organizing social life was going on.


 Author: Areg Kochinyan © All rights are reserved.

Translator: Anna Zakaryan.


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