Roman pietas

Louis Markos approaches Virgil and the Roman interest in pietas:

I’m glad to see that your age has not forgotten Rome. But please, children of the future, do not think that Rome was only a city or an empire or a people. She was also an idea, the noblest idea the world has ever known.

And behind that idea was a single word: pietas. Pietas means the duty one owes to the gods, the ancestors, the state, and the family. It is an orientation that places one’s own personal pleasures beneath the good of the whole. Rome held the bodies of men in fear through her military might, but she held their souls in awe through her pietas. …

Please understand, my Aeneas did not want the job that was given to him. Every step along the way, he tried to stop and build his kingdom there. He was a Trojan and not a Roman. Indeed, if Aeneas could have had his way, he would have gladly died in Troy alongside Hector and Priam and his own dear wife.

How does one attain pietas? By learning to take the long view of things. By recognizing that none of us lives or acts or dreams alone, but that our lives and actions and dreams serve a higher goal and purpose. We may not survive long enough to see that goal become a reality, but we will have played our role in bringing it about.

Let the barbarian live only for himself! The civilized man exists in a complex web of relationships to the past, the present, and the future. His life is not his own, but belongs to the gods, the ancestors, the state, the family. It belongs as well to the world.

When Aeneas met with Anchises in the underworld, his father left him with a challenge, a code that he must abide by if Rome were one day to step into her greatness and achieve her divinely-appointed mission. Put simply, Rome was to be the civilizer of the world, the one that would lay down laws and abide by them, that would mingle justice with mercy, that would establish the great and lasting peace of Caesar Augustus. …

Power without mercy brings tyranny, while mercy without power quickly grows weak and ineffectual. But joined together by pietas, the two can bring order and virtue to a chaotic world of greed and pride.

There can be neither order nor virtue without solemn vows, oaths, and pacts, but none of those covenants can survive for long without pietas. When a man is bound by pietas, his word will be his pledge. He will act, not for personal profit alone, but with the full weight of tradition in his bones. In honoring the ancestors, he will be honoring himself, and in serving the greater good, he will be ensuring his own happiness.

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