Wednesday, May 6, 2015

They "allow very trivial pretexts to foment the flame of commotion"

Reading history is very restorative. In fevered times, it is easy to get caught up in alarms and diversions and despair for the future of the family, the church, the country. But we've been there before and come through if we just would pay attention.

Christian scholar Evagrius Scholasticus from the 6th century provides some perspective. He could be writing about Ferguson or Baltimore or numerous other locales. From Hypatia Part I: The Mean Streets of Old Alexandria by Michael Flynn quoting Ecclesiastical History, Book 2 ch. VIII by Evagrius Scholasticus.
The populace [of Egypt] in general are an inflammable material, and allow very trivial pretexts to foment the flame of commotion, and not in the least degree that of Alexandria, which presumes on its numbers, chiefly an obscure and promiscuous rabble, and vaunts forth its impulses with excessive audacity. Accordingly, it is said that everyone who is so disposed may, by employing any casual circumstance as a means of excitement, inspire the city with a frenzy of sedition, and hurry the populace in whatever direction and against whomsoever he chooses.
There are some other good descriptions as well.
The Alexandrian is more delighted with tumult than any other people: and if at any time it should find a pretext, breaks forth into the most intolerable excesses; for it never ceases from its turbulence without bloodshed.
-- Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book VII, ch. 13

Alexandria [is] a city which on its own impulse, and without ground, is frequently roused to rebellion and rioting, as the oracles themselves show.
-- Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman Antiquities, Book XXII ch. 11

It is the wont of the people of Egypt that like madmen and fools they are led by the most trivial matters to become highly dangerous to the commonwealth; for merely because a greeting was omitted, or a place in the baths refused, or meat and vegetables withheld, or on account of the boots of slaves or some other such things, they have broken out into riots, even to the point of becoming highly dangerous to the state, so that troops have been armed to quell them. With their wonted madness, accordingly, on a certain occasion, when the slave of the chief magistrate then governing Alexandria had been killed by a soldier for asserting that his sandals were better than the soldier's, a mob gathered together, and, coming to the house of the general Aemilianus, it assailed him with all the implements and the frenzy usual in riots; he was pelted with stones and attacked with swords, and no kind of weapon used in a riot was lacking.
-- Historia Augusta, Lives of the Thirty Pretenders, 22
Sound like the trigger warning, rape culture hysteria, male patriarchy, white privilege crowd? Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

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