Welcome to the Reading Room

Here are some news stories and articles which might be of interest to you. I've posted the opening section, and if you want to read more, you can click on "Read the whole article" to go to the original item. You'll find a variety of things here -- current news, political analysis, opinion pieces, articles about religion -- things I've happened to read and want to share with you. It's your Reading Room, so take your time. Browse. You're certain to find something you'll want to read.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How to take down a great power

by J. R. Dunn

Unlike Augustus or Caligula, Lucius Aurelius Commodus was not an emperor who made a strong impression on modern consciousness. Until the release of the film Gladiator, a heavily fictionalized version of his reign, most Americans had never heard of him. In the film he comes across as quite a compelling figure thanks to a first-rate portrayal by Joaquin Phoenix.

But, as is true of much of the film, the character of Commodus was altered for dramatic purposes. Unlike Caligula and Nero, Commodus was not a psychopath. Though he killed plenty (12,000 by his own reckoning), he was no thrill-killer as such, but very likely what we today would call a malignant narcissist, somebody who believes himself to be the center of the universe and everyone else merely a walk-on. Combine this personality disorder with the power imbued in a national leader and you've set the fuse blazing for sure.

Commodus was not actually in conflict with his father, Marcus Aurelius, last of the four great emperors. Far from it -- Marcus Aurelius idolized his son, steadily raising him through the imperial ranks to the level of co-emperor. Blinded by paternal affection, Aurelius unleashed a monster on Rome, proving that not even a man trained to the highest levels of philosophy (Aurelius was also a leading Stoic philosopher) is immune to human error.

Commodus' failings became evident soon after he ascended to the imperial purple. Having no background in foreign policy, he effectively set it aside, allowing his father's achievements to unravel. Marcus Aurelius had spent much of his reign on the Danubean frontier, subduing menacing barbarian tribes threatening the peace of the ancient world. Commodus simply abandoned the province. If the Romans had possessed Special Forces and remote-controlled drones, things might have turned out differently...   Read the whole article.


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Fr. Phillips is the founding pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, the first Anglican Use parish, established on August 15, 1983. Not that there is any confusion, but he is on the left, shown in his younger, less gray-headed days.