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Carthago delenda est (wikipedia.org)
64 points by kwikiel on July 21, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 62 comments



Cato's famous phrase, "Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam", is feared for its grammar, but it is quite expressive and not really that hard. It is a combination of two constructions: ACI, Accusativus cum infinitivo, which also exists in English, sort of: I see he swims or I see him swimming (in Latin it would be "I see him to swim") = I see that he swims. The other thing is the gerundive, which expresses an obligation. Sounds complicated, but it really isn't - same thing as English "This is to be done" meaning "This ought to be done".

Now, in Latin, the ACI construction can be done with many verbs, not only "to see" ("I see him swimming") but also with "censeo", or "I opine, think" ("I opine him swimming" - I think he swims.) Next, throw in a cool "Ceterum" = by the way, and combine this with the obligation of the gerundive, and we get:

Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam =

"By the way, I think that Carthago is to be eliminated."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accusative_and_infinitive

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerundive


Your example using the verb "see" is not quite right, but a genuine ACI does exist in English: I want him to swim / I expect him to swim.

For another example, in Dutch it happens to work with "see" (zien): "ik zie hem zwemmen" (I see him [to] swim), it doesn't work with want, and with expect, "verwachten", you would have to add "to": "Ik verwacht hem te zwemmen" (I expect him to swim).


Yes, thanks for pointing that out, I was indeed taking the example from German (where "sehen" works with a genuine ACI like Dutch) and put it in English without much thought, particularly without realising that other examples do work in English.


"I see him swimming" is just a present participle, isn't it? Latin has those too and they're different. On the other hand, English has "I believe him to be swimming", and "I told him to swim", although the latter wouldn't be an accusative+infinitive in Latin.


> Cato's famous phrase, "Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam", is feared for its grammar

Surely not


Not with your username, no :-)


TLDR: It's basically the faux-classicist version of banging on the table.


Also notable for Mark Zuckerberg's use of the phrase repeatedly in emails to exhort his employees to ensure Google Plus didn't happen. See https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/06/how-mark-zuckerberg-...


Zuckerberg's efforts were second only to Google's.


It's probably worth noting - and I'm surprised it isn't mentioned in the article - that almost 100 years after the razing of Carthage, the enmity between Rome and Carthage is mythologised in Virgil's Aeneid. In that epic poem, its said that the people of Carthage swore to either destroy or be destroyed by the "heirs of Aeneas" aka the proto-Romans. This epic revisionism is not a singular act in history but instead one I feel we must be wary of even in the present. I see similar narratives forming about bastions of the "west" constantly assailed by the barbarians just outside the gates.


> I see similar narratives forming about bastions of the "west" constantly assailed by the barbarians just outside the gates.

Drawing historical parallels is always risky. There have been plenty of times where Western civilization was assailed by barbarians, not just outside the gates but breaking them down and coming in. That happened to Rome itself in the 5th century AD. There are plenty of other examples.


Drawing historical parallels between Rome and what we currently consider "Western Civilization" is also risky. Commonly held central tenets of Western Civilization seem to be: the scientific method, judeo-christian values, and classical logic. All of these things weren't state-sponsored beliefs for most of what most people would consider ancient Rome, which began its long decline around 100 AD, 400 years before the period you mention.


> Commonly held central tenets of Western Civilization seem to be: the scientific method, judeo-christian values, and classical logic. All of these things weren't state-sponsored beliefs for most of what most people would consider ancient Rome

So what if they weren't state-sponsored beliefs? State-sponsored beliefs aren't supposed to be part of Western Civilization (although it's hard to tell these days in many so-called Western countries).

As for "commonly held central tenets", those are tenets of Western Civilization now, but they weren't for most of the time that Western Civilization existed, at least not in the form we have them now. But if you look at where all those tenets came from, Western Civilization plays a central role. (I would also add individual liberty and the rule of law to the list.)


You're making the claim that cultural beliefs are what's important to Western "civilization" and their interplay with states are irrelevant - and that means that the process of drawing historical parallels between certain states, like you've done with your 500 AD example, becomes even more perilous and poorly defined. And, at that point, it becomes almost like you could read anything you wanted into history, to the point of it becoming mythology - much like the Romans did with the Aeneid.

You're also claiming that tenets of Western Civilization now exist and didn't at some time before, but that there are places that were "Western" even though they didn't hold those tenets, which makes things even more unclear. It seems like there's some lineage of culture that you're seeking to identify, but which doesn't exist as objectively as you'd like.

Its also kind of interesting you'd identify individual liberty as one of the tenets of such a mythologised civilisation, when slavery existed in that civilisation for the vast majority of its theorised existence.


> You're making the claim that cultural beliefs are what's important to Western "civilization" and their interplay with states are irrelevant

No, I'm making the claim that one of those cultural beliefs is that the state doesn't tell us what to believe. Of course states exist and we have to deal with them, but that doesn't mean we have to let them tell us what to think.

> You're also claiming that tenets of Western Civilization now exist and didn't at some time before

I'm claiming that those tenets have evolved over time, so we shouldn't expect to see them in the past in exactly the same form we have them now. But that doesn't mean there's no relationship between the tenets we have now and the ones in the past.

> Its also kind of interesting you'd identify individual liberty as one of the tenets of such a mythologised civilisation, when slavery existed in that civilisation for the vast majority of its theorised existence.

Yes, the tenet of individual liberty has evolved just like all the others.


Since you're claiming that the traits of Western Civilization are subject to evolution, choosing a boundary around certain places as within it and outside it is very arbitrary, and is creating a subjective mythos.

> No, I'm making the claim that one of those cultural beliefs is that the state doesn't tell us what to believe. Of course states exist and we have to deal with them, but that doesn't mean we have to let them tell us what to think.

So you're saying that state-sponsored non-interference in people's beliefs is an important element of western states :)


> choosing a boundary around certain places as within it and outside it is very arbitrary

Drawing an exact boundary is not possible, but is also not necessary. If you are trying to argue that every single country in the world today embodies a roughly equivalent version of the traits of "Western Civilization", then we evidently don't live on the same planet and there's no point in further discussion. And if you acknowledge that there are significant differences in cultural traits, that it is meaningful to describe certain countries as part of "Western Civilization" due to certain traits, and others not, then what's the point of quibbling about the boundary not being exact down to the last atom?

> So you're saying that state-sponsored non-interference in people's beliefs is an important element of western states

No, I'm saying that the state simply not interfering in people's beliefs is (supposed to be--again, it's hard to tell these days in many western countries) an important element of western states. The state doesn't have to "sponsor" non-interference; it just has to not interfere. (And this whole idea that the state has to "sponsor" anything significant in a society is also not supposed to be part of Western Civilization.)


> If you are trying to argue that every single country in the world today embodies a roughly equivalent version of the traits of "Western Civilization", then we evidently don't live on the same planet and there's no point in further discussion.

Depends on what trait you're talking about. But I also don't believe that there's an objective definition of Western Civilisation, so trying to argue that some country does or does not embody its tenets sufficiently is fruitless - its always arguable.

> No, I'm saying that the state simply not interfering in people's beliefs is (supposed to be--again, it's hard to tell these days in many western countries) an important element of western states. The state doesn't have to "sponsor" non-interference; it just has to not interfere. (And this whole idea that the state has to "sponsor" anything significant in a society is also not supposed to be part of Western Civilization.)

Awesome, so you're saying that the character of the Roman empire in the 5th Century AD was not Western, given their state-level rejection and criminalisation of paganism.


> so you're saying that the character of the Roman empire in the 5th Century AD was not Western, given their state-level rejection and criminalisation of paganism

In that respect, no, they weren't. "Western" isn't a binary category. But I do think it's a meaningful one. You appear to think it isn't, so I guess we'll just have to disagree about that.


No, it's not that I think it's not a "meaningful" category, anymore than I think any mythologized and imperfect categorization is.

It's that somehow people see Western Civilization as encapsulating certain beliefs, held in certain states, despite the state supposedly having nothing to do with and no power over those beliefs, and even though those people didn't even necessarily have those beliefs that are "western" at the time, and even though many of those beliefs (for instance the rule of law, which arose in the middle east) arose in places that weren't "western". It's that much like the Romans did with the Aeneid, modern true believers in the sanctity of the "west" and the detractors of the "barbarians" mythologize the origins of that conflict.


Why do you keep talking about states? I might better understand your viewpoint if I understood why you keep focusing on that particular thing.


I initially bought up states and their interplay with belief, but I'm hearing that their beliefs simultaneously aren't important, while their belief in non-interference with people's beliefs, is. And I think those contradictory claims are even independently both very interesting given most of the history of "western civilization".


> I'm hearing that their beliefs simultaneously aren't important, while their belief in non-interference with people's beliefs, is

States don't have beliefs. Individual people have beliefs. Sometimes lots of individual people have the same beliefs. But that doesn't mean the state of which they happen to be citizens has beliefs.

Also, states are not agents in themselves. States are run by humans, and those humans do things using the power of the state. So "states" don't interfere with people's beliefs by some magical power independent of the actions of humans. When states interfere with people's beliefs, what's actually happening is that certain humans are interfering with the beliefs of other humans because they claim the power of the state allows them to. Which in practice always turns out to mean certain people exercising arbitrary power over others for their own benefit, simply because they can. When I say one of the important tenets of Western civilization is states not interfering with people's beliefs, what I mean is that Western civilization is supposed to be about not letting certain people exercise arbitrary power over others for their own benefit simply because they can. States are supposed to be tools that we can use to keep such things from happening, not tools for certain people to use to do such things.


> States don't have beliefs. Individual people have beliefs.

> Also, states are not agents in themselves. States are run by humans, and those humans do things using the power of the state.

Yeah, so states aren't detached from human beliefs at all. A state doesn't exist independent of people, and so we must view states through the lens of the beliefs of the people running them. There's no state seperate from human belief, so to say states don't "have" beliefs is nonsense.

> ... Western civilization is supposed to be ...

Says who? From what epic poem are these tenets and conflicts derived? It certainly isn't from Rome circa 500 AD, when it was against the law to even write the beliefs of another faith down. So where is it from? That's the point. It's mythological - these tenets and conflicts are derived from nowhere, nothing, and no-one. There's nowhere to point and say "this is definitely 100% characteristic of the West", because "the west" is a made up concept, which has an indistinct meaning.

And, if you think you can point to a particular state and say it's emblematic of the west, that clashes with your claim that only individuals can have beliefs :)


> to say states don't "have" beliefs is nonsense.

To me it's an obvious truth since states aren't agents. Not only can't states exist separate from human beliefs, they can't exist separate from human actions. When we say a state "does" something, what we mean is that humans do things and claim that the power of the state allows them to. And when we say a state "believes" something, we mean that some humans, usually those who have some particular position of power in the state, believe it.

If that's what you mean by a state "having" beliefs, then we just have a difference in the language we choose to use. Otherwise you're going to have to explain to me what you mean by a state "having" beliefs since I don't know of any other interpretation of that phrase besides the one I described above that makes sense.

> From what epic poem are these tenets and conflicts derived?

You're the one who brought up an epic poem, not me. I'm simply giving my understanding of what "Western civilization" means.

> these tenets and conflicts are derived from nowhere, nothing, and no-one

Huh? You admit there are humans who have beliefs, and those beliefs include the tenets I've described. And humans who have those beliefs have expressed them in many ways, not just in epic poems. The US Declaration of Independence and Constitution, for example. Even mythology is not "nowhere, nothing, and no-one"; myths exist and are human creations just like other beliefs--or states, for that matter.

> if you think you can point to a particular state and say it's emblematic of the west

I haven't. It's you who keeps dragging in states as if only states could be emblematic of the west, or anything else for that matter. The term is Western civilization. Civilization is not the same as states. As I said, states are tools that civilized humans use to help manage civilization.


So, you've stated that non-interference in the beliefs of people is a crucial element of the West. Either that applies to all states (vacuous) or you believe that states have some power to impose or not impose beliefs. Call it what you will, but those beliefs are enshrined in those states, whether they're universal, or not. They have them.

> The US Declaration of Independence and Constitution, for example.

Why do you believe that these documents which describe the US state are emblematic of the "west"?

> I haven't.

Awesome, so why does Rome circa 500 AD or the constitution have anything to do with the definition or character of the "west"?


> Either that applies to all states (vacuous)

Why is it vacuous? It's a perfectly well-defined claim. You might not agree with it, but that doesn't make it vacuous.

> Why do you believe that these documents which describe the US state are emblematic of the "west"?

You used the word "emblematic", not me. Stop putting words in my mouth.

At this point I've said what I want to say. I'm done.


If non-interference in beliefs is something all states do (since they apparently have no beliefs) then it's vacuous to say that Western states do that.

I did use that word, I typed it out. I'm not sure why it particularly upsets you. I'm not implying that you said the word. I am implying you believe that in mentioning the US constitution, you were mentioning something linked or representative of the "west". Please help me understand why the US constitution is "western" in character, and what objective standard you're comparing it to to make that character judgement.


It seems to be a property of every human society to mythologize the history of ones peoples. I'm not sure we are capable of building a society by internalizing a 'raw' version of our history.

>I see similar narratives forming about bastions of the "west" constantly assailed by the barbarians just outside the gates.

The irony is that this is a true statement of any major culture/society/empire/etc. Unraveling a complex structures is easy (entropy) when compared to the effort it takes to build and maintain one. All complex structures are always susceptible to atrophy and sudden collapse. All complex structures inevitably collapse due to entropy. In very real ways there are 'barbarians' at the gates of every major culture.


>I'm not sure we are capable of building a society by internalizing a 'raw' version of our history.

Probably because a ‘raw’ version doesn’t make much sense.. its like looking at a log file. It’s dense. Far too dense to be worth communicating in that format.

So instead you pick out key facts and build out a narrative of events, usually with something in mind (a moral, a bug, etc).

The bias and myth that people complain about is an inevitable result of this process.. it’s simply a complaint that one set of facts, and resulting narrative, was chosen, but this second set of facts, and narrative should have been chosen instead. Of course, sets C, D and E also exist, but they’re not being argued for.


Where does revisionism enter? The Romans were probably correct that they had to destroy, or be destroyed by the Carthagens. Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator defeated Hannibal, and who knows what would have happened otherwise.

Of course, history is written by the victors. But what is the connection to today's narratives? In particular, a narrative today bearing resemblance to the past does not mean that it's wrong.


By the time Rome destroyed Carthage, it surely did not have to. Carthage had already been defeated more than 50 years previously, and had been reduced to little more than a Roman vassal state. The destruction of Carthage has to be one of the greatest acts of unnecessary spite in history.


Some are well formed already. The "Lost Cause" of the US South is a century-plus-long propaganda campaign cleaning up Southern motives, as if their desire for legal independence somehow justifies firing the first shots at Fort Sumter, the evil of slavery, or the holocaust at Andersonville.

For the Southern heroes like General Lee, the mythologized opinion is the common one: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-myth-of-the-kindly-ge...


If one is trying to pick a Southern hero to de-mythologize, Lee is a poor choice. Charles Francis Adams explained why in his famous oration, "Shall Cromwell Have A Statue?" [1] In it, he describes how Lee, by ordering his troops to surrender to Grant at Appomatox and telling them that they had lost fair and square and they should now go home, put away their guns, and be good citizens, prevented what otherwise would very likely have been years of guerilla war in the South that would have been much worse for the country than what actually happened.

[1] https://archive.org/details/shallcromwellhav00adam/page/n5


I will have to disagree and state that I think that years of guerilla war in the South would have been preferable to the actual outcome. It would have kept federal troops in the South for a generation at least and enforced structural changes upon southern society and its economy that would have probably lessened the unpleasant costs and consequences of southern racism for the next century.

A simmering rebellion in the South would have also tied Johnson's hands and enabled the legislature to fully enact its desires (or at the very least ensured Johnson's conviction by the Senate.)


> I will have to disagree and state that I think that years of guerilla war in the South would have been preferable to the actual outcome.

This is an interesting hypothetical. I don't agree that it would have been preferable to what actually happened, because I'm not as much of a fan of the radical Republicans and the impeachment of Johnson as you seem to be. But these are judgment calls about which I think reasonable people can disagree.


Lee could have done that at any point in the four years prior (or held to his oath and not killed fellow citizens at all). Surrendering gracefully in a war in which you had been thoroughly beaten the year before, so you can live out your life in comfort is an awfully low bar.

The violence didn't quite go away, either. It just moved out West.


> Lee could have done that at any point in the four years prior (or held to his oath and not killed fellow citizens at all).

You could say the same about Grant or any of the Union generals. Since the Union refused to accept that the Confederate states had seceded, all of the Confederate soldiers killed were fellow citizens.

And if we're going to talk about what could have been done, we should also talk about why the US didn't just pay off the slaveholders, the way Great Britain did, and end slavery peacefully. Why did it have to cost a million lives? Or we could ask why the North didn't secede from the Union, as many abolitionists were advocating, in order to free itself from any obligation to uphold the fugitive slave clause in the Constitution?

If we're going to de-mythologize, we should do it impartially, not just to one side.


Slaveholders were a tiny portion of the UK economy by the time of the 1833 abolition act and were effectively non-existent in the UK itself so there was no voting constituency to oppose it, the slave trade act almost 25 years earlier had seen to that. The southern US, on the other hand, depended completely on slavery and its influence was pervasive throughout the economy and society. The federal government simply did not have the funds to buy off slaveholders.

As to why the North did not secede I would probably say that when you have the majority of the votes you don't need to be the one to leave. The slave states were already losing ground in the legislature and after the 1860 census they would fall even further behind. The North could just wait them out and then impose its will, and the South knew this...


> As to why the North did not secede I would probably say that when you have the majority of the votes you don't need to be the one to leave.

This was certainly true in 1860 and arguably for the better part of the decade before that. But abolitionists had been advocating for secession much earlier. They were a major factor in the Hartford Convention in 1815.

Also, abolitionism as a movement had the unfortunate but entirely predictable effect of making the South harden its own position. In 1831, the Virginia legislature was considering a bill to abolish slavery in the state, and it had a good chance of passing. Then word came that William Lloyd Garrison had started publishing an abolitionist pamphlet in Boston, and the bill failed.


> Slaveholders were a tiny portion of the UK economy by the time of the 1833 abolition act

The payments to slaveholders were 40% of the British Treasury's annual income and about 5% of British GDP at that time. Hardly negligible.


> This epic revisionism is not a singular act in history but instead one I feel we must be wary of even in the present.

Eh, no. Carthage and Rome are both gone. There are lots of attempt trying to draw people around the civilization again. But the population, the new religions and the new reality makes it anything but possible.


If you haven't checked out the hardcore history podcasts I recommend doing so. The punic war episodes are particularly good.


And while we are in the topic of podcasts, "The History of Rome" by Mike Duncan is amazing.


Agreed. His second podcast series, "Revolutions", is excellent as well.

I have to admit I struggled a little through the English revolution. The American revolution was much more interesting. Then the French revolution was absolutely fascinating.


I listened to the French revolution twice, it was that good.


They are all very good. Even with a decent background in history, as an American, I tended to think of the 1840s in terms of the lead up to the US Civil War and ignored/forgot most of what was happening in Europe at the time. The season he did around this period was a great reminder of all of the seeds of change and destruction for future generations that were sown in this decade.


"The History of Rome" podcast is quite good as well.


Let me also chime in a recommendation for Historia Civilis' podcast, very very good about the Roman era.


It was uttered because the practice Carthage of sacrificing children to Baal was horrific to Cato... (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/jan/21/carthaginian...)


A common thread of ancient civilizations was the denunciation of child sacrifice in other cultures, when in fact all such cultures had elements of child sacrifice. The greeks most probably also practiced child sacrifice:

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/aug/10/skeletal-rem...

The same can be said of ancient Israelites (read the tale of the daughter of Jephthah, as well as David's sacrifice of the sons of Saul "to the Lord"). The same can be said of Romans and Egyptians.


The destruction of Carthage probably included the slaughter of many children ...


And the resection of a solid tumour inevitably involves the killing of perfectly healthy cells.

- If you do nothing, sacrifice continues indefinitely.

- If you intervene, you'll likely cause a short-term uptick in deaths of would-be sacrifices, with the goal of completely ending sacrificial deaths thereafter.


If everyone is dead, they can't keep going around killing each other!


Especially if Dido back-stabs you, and she always does.

Jokes aside, the youtube channel Invicta has some good material on the punic wars, he uses the game total war to illustrate everything. There are a few minor mistakes there, and he only covers the first punic war, but still it's some good material.


Plutarch's version, δοκεῖ δέ μοι καὶ Καρχηδόνα μὴ εἶναι is closest to Ceterum censeo Carthaginem delendam esse.

The biggest difference is that "μὴ εἶναι" isn't quite equivalent to "delendam esse".

The John Bolton of ancient Rome.


Not exactly news. Mods, can we get a “150 BCE” on the title?


I'm not sure I get it - am I missing some modern relevance?



I like Cocoapods, but I don't think we should destroy it :p



Ok, slightly off-topic, but here goes - a great piece of music:

So, the Romans finally destroyed Carthago (took them a while, Punic war 1, 2, and 3), with Cato egging them on ("Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam").

(I find it interesting for two reasons: 1. Alternative history - what if Carthago (Hannibal) had won?? 2. The Roman general who defeated Hannibal, Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator a) is my namesake :-) and b) won by... doing not much, just staying away and picking up the pieces (cunctator = "the delayer, doubter"). "Cunctator" is not as sexy as "Terminator", but he turned out effective nonetheless.)

But next, so Virgil's Aneid has Aneas visit Carthage, in particular the queen Dido, and they fall in love, but then he, duty bound, leaves (clandestinely at night), to found Rome. She, crestfallen, commits suicide (after predicting eternal strife between Aeneas's people (Rome) and hers (Carthage)).

This was set to music by English composer Purcell in Dido and Aneas, with the famous piece "Dido's Lament" - she sings before committing suicide:

When I am laid // am laid in earth, may my wrongs create // No trouble, no trouble in // in thy breast Remember me, remember me, // but ah! forget my fate. Remember me, but ah! // forget my fate."

The piece is brilliant - a simple underlying musical structure (Passacaglia - a constant repeated bass line) with her heart-felt lament. Check out the versions linked below (YouTube links), by Jeff Buckley or Janet Baker or Jessye Norman or any other. I mean, this did not happen, and 2500+ years ago, but still can make you tear up today.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punic_Wars

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeneid

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hannibal

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quintus_Fabius_Maximus_Verruco...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sA5UAbl1OWY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOIAi2XwuWo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_50zj7J50U

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dido%27s_Lament

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passacaglia




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