My oldest son Josiah turned 14-years-old yesterday, and we celebrated in part by watching the movie Gladiator.
The film opens with an epic battle between Rome and the barbarian hordes. Then secret meetings are called by the emperor.
Commodus soon casts Maximus as the rebel. Yet it is Commodus who murders his father, Marcus Aurelius, and usurped the throne.
So long as everyone around affirms the madman as the rightful ruler, Rome is doomed. It is not a question of whether, but when. Excepting the proper and needful defiance of Maximus, the whole empire descends into chaos, poverty, and starvation.
“Fear is the mind-killer,” as Frank Herbert famously put it.
So long as Commodus is able to terrorize everyone into affirming him and treating Maximus as the traitor, the truth will not win out. Neither will justice. But insofar as Maximus is given a free hand to stand on principle, he is maintaining the best of what the tradition of Western Civilization affords.
The Telling of Secrets
Who knows what Marcus Aurelius told Maximus in private about restoring the Republic prior to the suffocation of the hoary-headed philosopher king at the hands of his immoral son? None save Maximus until the end.
So Maximus is to be taken outside the camp and executed for refusing to kiss the hand of Commodus. And not only he, but also his wife and son are to be killed by the dutiful soldiers of Rome. This is not to punish Maximus still further, but to serve as a warning.
Whoever would dare to oppose Commodus can expect the same. Whatever faithful service they rendered to the wise, good king who preceded this pretender is now forgotten or even resented.
Meanwhile, Senators Gracchus and Gaius work behind the scenes, meeting with Lucilla in secret to discuss the situation. Rome will starve in two years because all the stores of grain are being sold to finance the bread and circuses designed to win a fleeting, temporary love for Commodus.
They settle on waiting until Commodus has more enemies than friends. That is when they will strike. Only that day will never come so long as all are too afraid of personal loss to risk meaningful, manful opposition.
Does all of this sound familiar? It should.
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