Juvenal (on “bread and circuses”)

“… 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 10.77–81. “Juvenal” is the English name of a Roman poet, who lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries of the Christian Era. This famous critique of the degraded mentality of the Roman masses has been widely and often used to disparage the ways in which governments try to keep their citizens tranquillized, and which the public often and willingly accepts. In Spain, they’ve called it “bread and bullfights”, for example.)

And, to increase the linguistic richness of, and thanks to dear young
Wikipedia, here is the original Latin of Juvenal’s statement:

[…] iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli / uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim / imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se / continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, / panem et circenses. […]

Comments (3)

  1. Michael Freeman

    Reminds me of, and I was looking for it to say, “Bread and Cheese”!
    How could you, we, forget the Victoria Day celebration at Six Nations known as Bread and Cheese. It is a further example of Juvenal’s exasperations regarding the skillful placation of civilian sensibilities into pathetic apathy futility of attempting to change the will of the politician (overseer, paternalistic father, etc).

    Bread and Cheese. The cost to satisfy the masses as the Canadian government consumed Aboriginal society, in this case the Iroquoian peoples, and effectively took an ally and created a subservient, albeit increasingly defiant and struggling to reclaim identity, and almost third world society.

    It is interesting to note that no matter how much we seem to advance as a society, as a world community, that some aspects don’t seem to change.

    There is a lot of wisdom in old words. Much of which is lost to me in Latin, Greek, the oral languages of the Iroquois, and other such thick languages as old English.

    Thanks for bringing an ounce of this to me.

    • Yes, an apt example! I assume, though I’ve never been at a Bread and Cheese day ceremony, that there is also some sort of “circus”: entertainment, fun in the sun, something that is amusing/pleasant/distracting for the children (young and old). I don’t think circuses are always bad — there is a human need for celebration and festivity. It’s just when citizens accept the meal and the entertainment and tacitly say, “That’s good enough for me”, and when leaders cynically use the people’s desires against them, that Juvenal’s statement becomes a serious warning.

      • Michael Freeman

        In truth, the day has become a celebration with all of the trappings of a ‘circus’, or a ‘fair’. Many come from miles around to share in the festival atmosphere and to collect their generous portion of thickly sliced bread and a block of cheddar cheese.
        But sadly, many who attend have lost the history of the day’s original purpose. And many have apathetically moved beyond the “that’s good enough for me” stage and have transitioned into the “I don’t know why this celebration is here, nor why it comes with bread and cheese” stage, oblivious of whether the experience is enough to compensate for any past transgressions, real or imagined. They come for the carnival atmosphere without a thought to the social implications of the custom.
        I am a conspiracy theorist, albeit a simplistically minded rookie, and have become transfixed by the futility of the struggle against systemic political oppression, often at the expense of my own ability to just enjoy what has evolved into a simple community celebration [Michael refers here to the “Bread & Cheese” day on the Six Nations reserve in Ontario, Canada].
        The conspiracy theorist in me suggests that the conspirators plans are coming to fruition, these many years later, and are almost complete.

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