Friday, April 24, 2009

But Who's the Tyrant?

Epitaph on a Tyrant

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
(W.H. Auden)

My mind automatically wanders to ancient Rome: to Augustus whose pax was really a pacification; to Caligula (but not much a poet); to Nero, who played the part of the poet. Or is it a combination of all of them? A meta-tyrant? It is quite interesting how many dictators are writers: Julius Caesar has his Gallic Wars; Augustus has the Res Gestae; Mand arcus Aurelius wrote his Meditations--that actually would be a good fit for the description. Of course, looking to Auden's own context, Hitler had Mein Kampf; and, for those who didn't know, evidently Saddam Hussein wrote pseudonymous novels, such as Zabibah and the King. Literature written by dictators is now called "dic lit." This little poem captures all of these figures.

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