April 3, 2010

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus

For the Dr. Know column in Cincinnati Magazine.
Q: "Cincinnati was named after the Roman emperor Cincinnatus, correct? What was so remarkable about him that he got a city named in his honor?"

A: "Now, the Society of the Cincinnati was indeed named after Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, so you get some points there. But L.Q. Cincinnatus was not an emperor, he was a dictator, which in pre-Mussolini Italy was an OK thing to be. He was dictator because the Roman Senate was not up to the job of repelling the barbarian menace of the day and needed someone who could actually make decisions to do the heavy lifting, not unlike the way Cincinnati City Council habitually calls in corporate tough guys to handle tasks that are beyond their very, very modest capabilities. Cincinnatus got the dictator call twice, and both times, after cleaning up the senatorial mess, went famously back to plow his little suburban farm rather than hang onto the dictatorship. This is most unusual in any epoch, so it is not surprising that he was held up as a paragon of civic virtue by generations of Romans and Roman admirers. The American revolutionary officers liked to think that they were spiritual descendants of L.Q., although where the financially embarrassed Cincinnatus actually did his own plowing the American officers had enslaved Africans and indentured Irishmen to bust the sod. But you get the point.
There is a charmingly dorky statue of the dictator down by the river near the Serpentine Wall. It has not done a lot for local civic virtue, but one can always hope."



1 comment:

  1. . . . Looks to me like this guy is lost, heading back to his empire. . . I know how he feels. It is time to go back to Rome!!

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