May 27, 2016
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
We can still appreciate many of the texts from long ago. And it is often surprising how relevant these texts still are today. So many of these ancient documents discuss some fallout from war. Edward Gibbon lists a number of major battles, dates and places in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Rarely, however, does Gibbon write out an entire text. However, he did transcribe Libanius’ panegyric, written for the fall of the emperor Valens. This oration is much more powerful than a tribute to a single emperor who was neither beloved, nor worthy of adoration. Instead, this panegyric succeeds at reminding the citizens of the important qualities that founded Rome. It reminds them to appreciate the elements that are great, and work towards them. Libanius was not present at the battle, he did not know the particulars, other than what was transcribed by others. But his speech does more than represent a single battle or a single moment of time: it reinforces the idea of a commonly held belief, something strong enough to bring people together. He eloquently writes to those who are frightened and disheartened about the larger picture. His words resonate today. There are many that we could and should honor, and this piece grants us a few moments to honor the many, many men and women who have served in battle for a cause greater than themselves.
While the impressions of grief and terror were still recent in the minds of men, the most celebrated rhetorician of the age composed the funeral oration of a vanquished army and of an unpopular prince, whose throne was already occupied by a stranger. “There are not wanting,” says the candid Libanius, “those who arraign the prudence of the emperor, or who impute the public misfortune to the want of courage and discipline in the troops. For my own part, I reverence the memory of their former exploits; I reverence the glorious death which they bravely received, standing and fighting in their ranks; I reverence the field of battle stained with their blood and the blood of the barbarians. Those honourable marks have been already washed away by the rains; but the lofty monuments of their bones, the bones of generals of centurions, and of valiant warriors, claim a longer period of duration. The king himself fought and fell in the foremost ranks of the battle. His attendants presented him with the fleetest horses of the Imperial stable, that would soon have carried him beyond the pursuit of the enemy. They vainly pressed him to reserve his important life for the future service of the republic. He still declared that he was unworthy to survive so many of the bravest and most faithful of his subjects; and the monarch was nobly buried under a mountain of the slain. Let none, therefore, presume to ascribe the victory of the barbarians to fear, to weakness, or the imprudence of the Roman troops. The chiefs and soldiers were animated by the virtue of their ancestors, whom they equalled in discipline and the arts of war. Their generous emulation was supported by the love of glory, which prompted them to contend at the same time with heat and thirst, with fire and sword, and cheerfully to embrace an honourable death as their refuge against flight and infamy. The indignation of the gods has been the only cause of the success of our enemies.”
Harrison Middleton University thanks all of the servicemen and women who have defended our country.
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