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What Did Roman Virtue and Justice Look Like? HIST 101: Discussion-Section Questions Week Six: February 24-February 28, 2020

1. “The Twelve Tables” shows us the law of the early Roman Republic. How would you describe this law code: harsh? gentle? fair? something else entirely?

2. You have already read the historian Plutarch on Alexander the Great, but his Lives also include a description of the Roman soldier and politician Marcus Cato the Elder. From Plutarch’s description of Cato, what can we determine about the values and character that the Roman Republic prized in its prominent men?

3. If we read Cato’s life carefully, though, we see some cracks and some tensions in the Roman state, and some weakening of the values that the Romans believed had made them great. What seems to be going wrong?

4. In the late-Republican politician and philosopher Cicero’s “On the Laws,” does Cicero seem to think that humans are naturally good or naturally bad?

5. I’ve given you three poems by Catullus, who knew everybody important in the late Roman Republic. The first poem is addressed to his friends Veranius and Fabullus, and it compares their boss (named Piso) in Macedonia to Catullus’ own boss (named Memmius) in Bithynia. The second poem is addressed to Pompey the Great, and it takes both Pompey and Julius Caesar to angry task for protecting their corrupt friend Mamurra. The third poem is addressed to Julius Caesar, and is another attack on him and Mamurra. What do these three poems tell us about the late Roman Republic?

6. How do you think Catullus would describe “Roman virtue”? That is, what can we tell from the poems — amid all their really obscene criticism of Rome’s public figures — about how he thought things should be and people should act?

7. These poems are undeniably obscene, and Catullus meant them to be that way. They were obscene and offensive in their own time, just as they are obscene in ours. How do you think Catullus might defend his use of obscenity in these poems? Do you think that in our world today vulgarity or obscenity is useful — or, instead, counterproductive — when criticizing corruption in people, politics, or society? (For someone my age, the comparison is South Park and Dave Chappelle;

think about who or what it is for your generation.)

  • What Did Roman Virtue and Justice Look Like?