Skip to comments.I, Obama
Posted on 09/12/2008 2:10:24 PM PDT by Congressman Billybob
Remember the PBS series special on the Roman Emperor, Claudius? The title, which captured the style of his governance, I, Claudius. It was a 13-part series on Masterpiece Theater. How many of you saw it? Lets not always see the same hands.
Well, almost all of you remember some of the history of the Roman Emperors. They ranged from mad and murderous, like Nero, to rational and effective, like Augustine. Hold that thought, and well get to todays subject.
A good friend, Duncan Parham, is a man of eclectic interests. One of those is rare coins. Last weekend he showed me a catalogue of a major New York dealer, which had coins going back to the Ptolemic regimes in Egypt and the Eutruscans in Italy. What particularly interested me were the Roman Emperor coins. They had coins depicting each the Emperors, many at reasonable prices.
Those coins had a common appearance, which you probably recall from memory. On the obverse of each coin was a silhouette of the leader in question, with an olive branch wreath. Both aspects had meaning.
The Emperor was not in the business of looking at his subjects, nor were the subjects encouraged to look into his eyes. Hence, the profile image in which the Emperor could be admired from a distance.
The olive wreath has several meanings. One denotes peace. Another comes from the ancient Olympics, in which the winners were crowned with such wreaths to show the respect they had just earned from the people. Peace and respect of the people were symbols that Roman Emperors might want, though the truth is that all of them gained power either by murdering their competitors, winning a war, or being descendants of ones who murdered or fought their way into power.
Now, think about a personal quirk of a presidential candidate, a quirk you have all seen dozens of times. When Barack Obama gives a speech he seldom looks squarely at the audience, either the live one or the TV one. With each of his ringing phrases, he looks first to the left, later to the right, showing just his profile to the audience.
Imagine an olive wreath on his brow, the way he would appear on a coin, sometime after he became President, if that ever occurs. Nothing like thinking ahead, now is there?
But, there is more to it than just that. Obama does not present a complete profile, he offers a three-quarters profile with his chin up, gazing into the middle distance. You have seen that pose before, also.
You saw it in socialist realism as favored by the dictators in the former USSR, and the dictator in Nazi Germany. It was not solely there. It is also in the religious art of the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance. What is the common denominator of all those representations of great people?
The point of all those portrayals are that the subject, the person shown, is greater than your average man. He (its usually a man) also has a greater vision than your average man. And always, always, the viewer is expected to look up to, respect, or even revere the person in the portrait.
When these are religious paintings, only a person anointed by God would be favored with that pose by the artist. When the image is secular, as the famous poster of Vladimir Lenin, the inference is that the subject is anointed by truth in the form of history.
Of course, when the person in question is in the process of making history, he is self-anointed. And, if he strikes the pose on his own, without the intervention of an artist, well thats the same as a Roman Emperor placing the wreath on his own head. A few Emperors, and an occasional King, was in such a hurry as to crown himself. In a democratic republic, which the United States supposedly is, no one is supposed to crown himself. But when you think about the public posing done by Obama as he speaks, is that anything other than a self-coronation?
History was not very kind to I. Claudius. It doesnt look like history will be kind to I, Obama, either.
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About the Author: John Armor practiced law in the US Supreme Court for 33 years. He now lives in Highlands, NC, and is working on a book on Thomas Paine. John_Armor@aya.yale.edu
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John / Billybob
Mr. “I’m going to make government *cool* again.”
Because without government we wouldn’t have civil rights and our wonderful welfare system.
Oh yes. I saw it a couple of times, and read the book(s).
If it's still available, I would certainly recommend it.
The production values were kind of "soap opera-ish", but the acting was outstanding. You even get to see Patrick Stewart with hair as Lucius Sejanus.
I don't know whether History was kind to Claudius, but Robert Graves certainly was.
Bracing for that intense laurel-vs.-olive controversy! ;)
OMG! That photo looks just like Hussein! It’s the chin in the air thing that he does. And the ears!!
ZERO POSSUMUS ARUGULA
“Oh yes. I saw it a couple of times, and read the book(s).”
Our favorite was John Hurt as Caligula. “Typical!”
Great, great acting there all across the board. Not a weak performance in the bunch.
Greatly amusing column on the self-anointed popstar king!
Obama is like a dreamy psychopompos out of some asiatic cult, perhaps the worst choice for a potential moral and military leader ever chosen in America.
And his speach “I am the ONE” backs up everthing you wrote.
And his speech I am the ONE backs up everything you wrote.
History was not very kind to I. Claudius
A good read, thanks!
Yes I do remember (I Claudius) on PBS. At the time there was a ground swell of viewers who were displeased with the raw content in the production.
If I remember correctly?/ the production was based on Roman writings of actual content found in some archaeological dig.
Will it end the same way?....John F'n Kerry, the horse God.
agree......Who could forget, (newly proclaimed, by the Palace Guards :) Claudius speech before the senate.....great stuff.
Actually its a movie from a fiction trilogy written by British classicist, Robert Graves. I think I remember this right, Graves based the novels on Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus’s history, “The Lives of the Caesars” and maybe other sources I can’t recall. Claudius did purportedly write an autobiography, I think it was artistic license by Graves saying that Claudius hid the biography.
Augustus meltdown: “Is there anyone here who has not slept with my daughter???”
(There wasn’t. Ok, one stayed awake...)
Great series. Look for it on ebay or amazon.
As someone quipped on FR, a Roman take on Obama would be ‘I Fraudius’
Wonderfully evil Sian Phillips as Livia was mine....a Hillary role.
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