About tearing down statues of those of whom you disapprove

Variations of damnatio memoriae are cropping up everywhere, it seems.

From the past:

5. Further, no one arose to avenge Dion’s death; but in the case of Brutus, Antony, an enemy, gave him illustrious burial, and Octavius, an enemy, actually took care to preserve his honours. [Octavius = Emperor Augustus Caesar] For a bronze statue of him stood in Mediolanum in Cisalpine Gaul. This statue, at a later time, Octavius noticed as he passed by, for it was a good likeness and an artistic piece of work; then stopping, after a little, in the hearing of many he summoned the magistrates and declared that he had caught their city violating its treaty and harbouring an enemy of his. [2] At first, then, as was natural, they denied it, and looked at one another in perplexity, not knowing what he meant. Then Octavius, turning to the statue and knitting his brows, said: ‘Well, is not this an enemy of mine who stands here?’ At this, the magistrates were still more dumbfounded and held their peace. But Octavius, with a smile, praised the Gauls because they were true to their friends even in adversity, and gave orders that the statue should remain where it was.

Plutarch. Plutarch’s Lives. with an English Translation by. Bernadotte Perrin. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1918. 6.

Not quite the same as what is sweeping across these USA right now.  But interesting.

Biretta tip to someone on twitter… I lost the tweet before I posted.

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  1. Legisperitus says:

    Since Christopher Columbus is one of those currently being subjected to “damnatio memoriae,” it’s providential timing that his 1870 biography by Dr. Barry has just been republished. The book is based on the research done by Roselly de Lorgues for Columbus’ cause for beatification.

  2. lmgilbert says:

    It’s been over a year now, I think, that the meme has been kicking round my brain that someone is trying to start a race war. First it was the “knock out game,” where suddenly it was great sport to punch a white man in the face completely without warning. And from this several people have been instantly killed. Then it was the “white privilege” theme that gets harped on more and more. Maybe it was just paranoia, but after a conference on this theme at a local community college I had the definite impression that a young, black woman professionally dressed and probably faculty, was giving me a very baleful look when I went to pick up my wife from that campus. Old white men are out of favor, it seems. Parenthetically, I’ll admit to being concerned that even saying this much will have me being labelled a racist for the rest of my life.

    That said, I get the resentment (some of) the black community have over their forbears having been slaves, and how that resentment can be cultivated among the young of every race in our public schools, and how that resentment can be channeled into political mob action in the streets, and the rhetorical tour de force of that resentment being directed against specific symbols, such as the statue of Robert E. Lee.

    What I don’t get, however, is the failure of leaders in the black community, and among our educators and textbook writers, to trumpet the fact that -primarily to free the slaves- over 300, 000 white men on the Union side died in the Civil War and another 300,00 were wounded. Concerning this there is a real statue deficit. Is there a memorial to the Union soldiers that is anything comparable to the Vietnam War Memorial? For that matter, there is an annual parade deficit. It is a fact totally missing from the public debate, and for that matter from the mind of everyone holding forth in high dudgeon on “racism.”

    I get the resentment against the slave- holding Confederacy. Cultivating that resentment, however, is a real threat to the mental health of the black community, our young and of the body politic, for that matter.

    What I don’t get is the total lack of sustained, expressed gratitude on the part of the descendants of former slaves to the men who freed them . . . with parades, good will to their descendants, and yes, statues. I can’t think of anything more helpful to the black community as a a whole than for some champion to arise and complete the task of liberation by freeing them from resentment and from those who play upon it

    In the meantime, as the descendant of a Civil War soldier, I would like to know , where can I file for reparations for this ingratitude? He was only a drummer boy, but one has to leverage his credentials as best he can.

  3. mburn16 says:

    Indeed the idea of treating enemy soldiers as noble and worthy opponents has even more recent parallels. Members of the Australian forces provided an honor guard for the Red Baron during the First World War, and when the US recovered the bodies of Soviet Sailors during an expedition to obtain a sunken submarine, they accorded a funeral service and burial at sea with full military honors, including the USSR’s national anthem and (probably more than would be expected had it been possible to return the bodies) prayers in English and Russian.

  4. Legisperitus says:

    mburn16: I’m afraid we’re now dealing with people so under the influence of totalitarian ideas that they have no appreciation for common humanity, let alone military honor.

  5. SKAY says:

    This is planned, bought and paid for chaos to advance a particular political ideology. The statues are the bright shiny object of the moment they are using to divide the country. Then they will move on to the next thing that comes along or that they create.

  6. Andrew says:

    Tacitus: Agricola:

    2. (Praising of some authors) was construed into a capital crime and the rage of tyranny was let loose not only against the authors but against their writings, so that those monuments of exalted genius were burnt at the place of election in the forum by triumvirs appointed for the purpose.

    In that fire they thought to consume the voice of the Roman people, the freedom of the senate, and the conscious emotions of all mankind; crowning the deed by the expulsion of the professors of wisdom, and the banishment of every liberal art, that nothing generous or honorable might remain. [] With language we should have lost memory itself, had it been as much in our power to forget, as to be silent.

  7. SKAY says:


    The Muslim terrorists in Spain had a Catholic church in mind to destroy. Thankfully the bomb exploded before they could carry that out.

  8. Imrahil says:

    I think that for all the regrettable tendency of the people Americans call “liberals” not to understand the idea of honoring a defeated enemy…

    I still think there wouldn’t be all the fuss about a statue of General Lee or General Jackson if the entire state of (say) Georgia or wherever the statue stands were agreed as a matter of course that (say) General Lee really was a defeated enemy to be honored (because he fought for the rebels that condoned the ghastly institution of slavery until we, that is the right side, had the victory) – and nothing else.

    Just saying.

  9. Filipino Catholic says:

    It is I think the same logic behind the Bolsheviks toppling the statues of the tsars, the same logic behind every revolution that topples what are deemed symbols of oppression. For those swept up in the revolutionary tide (and those stirring it up), nothing of the old order can be suffered to remain intact. (For what it’s worth, the worst instance of that happening here in the Philippines was having a giant concrete bust of former dictator Marcos’ face dynamited by unknown agents.)

  10. Andrew says:


    Perhaps you should know that our 17th President, Andrew Johnson by “Proclamation 179” granted full pardon and amnesty to all the participants in the Civil War. Part of the proclamation reads as follows:

    Now, therefore, be it known that I, Andrew Johnson President of the United States, by virtue of the power and authority in me vested by the Constitution and in the name of the sovereign people of the United States, do hereby proclaim and declare unconditionally and without reservation, to all and to every person who, directly or indirectly, participated in the late insurrection or rebellion a full pardon and amnesty for the offense of treason against the United States or of adhering to their enemies during the late civil war, with restoration of all rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and the laws which have been made in pursuance thereof.

    In testimony whereof I have signed these presents with my hand and have caused the seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed.

    Done at the city of Washington, the 25th day of December, A. D. 1868, and of the Independence of the United States of America the ninety-third.

  11. Imrahil says:

    Dear Andrew,

    I would not at the time have advocated for the abhorrent thing to hang as traitors an entire population which had fought bravely and for the most part least somewhat in good faith – which to prevent seems to be what President Jackson’s decree was chiefly about. That was honoring the defeated enemy, and it was a good thing.

    My point was that President Jackson’s pardon and amnesty was just that, a pardon and an amnesty.


  13. Legisperitus says:

    Filipino Catholic: Your mention of Bolshevists reminds me of the famous photo of Spanish Republicans shooting the Sacred Heart statue at Cerro de los Angeles.

  14. robtbrown says:

    The latest is that the largest university in Ghana has decided to take down a statue of Gandhi. It seems the Mahatma had a low opinion of Black Africans.

  15. cowboyengineer says:

    People who want to ban art they don’t like are no better than people who want to burn books they don’t like.

  16. Semper Gumby says:

    robtbrown, Legisperitus, SKAY, et al: Thanks. All this brings to mind something Victor Davis Hanson wrote about his California home town and a Women’s Temperance Union fountain that was torn down and replaced by a curious statue.

    First, VDH is a retired classics professor and prolific author who lives on a farm in central California. In 2010 he wrote a widely read article in National Review titled “Two Californias” about the local changes he was observing- making occasional comparisons to ancient Greece and Rome.

    Anyway, here is a quote from an April 24, 2016, article by VDH at pjmedia. The comments in brackets are VDH’s.

    “The once beautiful Temperance Union fountain at the edge of our city park was long ago torn down; in its place now rests a totem statue of the Aztec moon/fertility/agricultural goddess, Coatlicue [mother of Huitzilopochtli], with the inscription “Viva La Raza” [“Long live the Race”]. No comment on the comparative symbolism.”

    La Raza is a Hispanic supremacist group. Huitzilopochtli is an Aztec god of war and human sacrifice. Groups such as La Raza and “MEChA” seek to reclaim “Aztlan.” Aztlan is the mythical origin land of the Aztecs, and La Raza and MEChA now claim a territory from Texas through Utah to southern Oregon.

    One more note about statues. The Santa Muerte (“Holy Death” or even “Our Lady of Holy Death”) statue- a diabolical statue of a female skeleton dressed in a robe and holding a scythe- is spreading from narco gangs to regular folks/occultists in Mexico and the U.S. The Mexican bishops are not amused, and I think Pope Francis once criticized the Santa Muerte statue cult.

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