Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

Who watches the watchmen?

It's one of the serious quotes from the ancient world; one that rings with stifled civil liberties and police state. Jeremy Paxman has probably said it when discussing ID cards. Alan Moore's Watchmen is named after it.

A cursory google will bring up dozens of images like the one below:

However... it's from one of Juvenal's Satires. No. 6 lines 346-348. That should start setting off alarm bells, if you know your ancient authors. Or what 'Satire' means. Here's a picture of him.

 He probably didn't look anything like this. But if he did, he would have made a great Scrooge.

Juvenal, for everyone else, was a comic poet who liked to complain about things. There was something of the Frankie Boyle about him, though being able to turn that rage into poetry is probably beyond Boyle. You know what's worse that living in Rome? Nothing. Except not living in Rome. That was Juvenal's kinda thing.

So what was Juvenal actually complaining about? The police state in the 1st Century? The reign of terror perpetuated by the Emperor's secret team of Avengers? If only.

Unfortunately no. He was complaining about his wife, who was younger than him, and probably going to have sex with all this friends, which would be really embarrassing. The 'full' quote reads:

'I hear always the admonishment of my friends:
"Bolt her in, constrain her!" But who will watch
those watchmen? The wife plans ahead and begins with them!'

So next time you hear someone say it with a po face and a serious demeanour, just remember: they might think that they sound profound of well educated by quoting a classical author at the problem, but they're really just bemoaning the problems of marital infidelity.

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