A Pillar of Iron: A Picture of Our Times?

It’s a book I read when I was about 16. I decided to reread it when I was in my 30s. And at the end of 2020, I determined to make my way through the 700 pages a third time.

Taylor Caldwell’s A Pillar of Iron depicts the life of Cicero–who saved Rome once but was unable to protect the republic from its eventual fall. Cicero wavered between hopelessness for his nation and wonder about the Jewish prophesy of the coming Messiah.

Caldwell presents a pessimistic prediction of the inevitable descent of all republics into democracy, more accurately, mobocracy, the oppressive manipulation of the crowd to garner power for the greedy.

Her views are consistently conservative, a bit less compassionate than those of G.W. Bush in 2000, with Cicero’s acknowledgment that some within the mobs had reason to protest. And, as with many predictors of history, (see also Francis Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto) Caldwell’s accounting of Cicero’s Rome comes more closely to resemble our nation as time goes by.

A blurb on the cover of the 1965 edition (first edition) states, “Were Cicero alive in the America of today, he would be aghast and appalled.”

That’s what she thought in 1965. At the time, we had yet to go through the sexual revolution. JFK had already been assassinated, but we had not yet suffered the riots and other violence, including more assassinations, of the late ’60s. And remember the hyper-inflation and terrorism of the ’70s?

Caldwell’s Cicero is a complex character torn between his love for his childhood friend Julius Caesar and his disdain for Caesar’s quest to be the absolute power broker of Rome. Current readers will find parallels in her mentions of Caesar expanding the courts to ensure rulings would go his way as well as the cancel culture Cicero endured before, during, and after his exile.

An important feature of the book is that Caldwell flew from America to Rome and translated Cicero’s letters (to and from others) and his speeches herself. What she includes from Cicero’s own words is the result of her own work.

Despite her pessimism about our nation’s future, she finishes the work on an optimistic note.

Rome fell into tyranny. But before she shattered, the Messiah would come.

And He remains our hope today.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia (Public Domain)

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Too Many Evenings

“The trouble with socialism,” said Oscar Wilde, “is that it would take up too many evenings.”

Some might argue whether what we are dealing with, what is ahead for us, is socialism. But we can’t dispute that our thinking and conversations (and social media interactions) about the state of America are consuming our evenings (and much of the rest of the day, as well).

In Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind, Alan Jacobs tells us about Horace–a political dissident in exile. A friend bestows the gift of a farm on Horace, who, separated from the engagement he enjoyed in Rome, begins to write letters, poetry actually, to advise others–and us.

Jacobs writes, “It is useful to see that these anxieties have plagued people who lived so long ago, even if we feel [these same anxieties] with particular intensity today. . . .

“Horace exhorts [his reader], exhorts himself, exhorts us, to shift our attention from those compulsions [our fears] toward questions that really and always matter–‘Where is it virtue comes from?’–because even by just exploring those questions, . . . we’re pushing back against the tyranny of everyday anxieties.”

I’m not suggesting–and I don’t believe Jacobs is either–that we stick our heads in the sands of old books and disregard what’s going on around us.

Instead, we can use older texts. He’s thinking ancient. I’m currently reading a 1960s text about a great ancient–Cicero.

To each his own form of processing.

But many, Jacobs asserts, won’t look to the past because of a way of thinking that’s emerged in recent times.

“There is an increasing sense not just that the past is sadly in error, is superannuated and irrelevant and full of foul ideas that we’re well rid of, but that it actually defiles us–its presence makes us unclean.

Jacobs asserts that this sense of defilement results from information overload and the sense that the “world is not only changing but changing faster and faster.”

As we yearn to slow down, the world moves at a faster pace. That pace and the direction of the change that’s unfolding seem daunting.

Part of that slowing down, Jacobs asserts, is to feed our minds the bread of the past, of the dead, and to feed it to children as well.

“The dead, being dead, speak only at our invitation: they will not come uninvited to our table. They are at our mercy, like the flock of shades who gather around Odysseus when he comes as a living man to the land of Hades.”

And let’s remember what Odysseus received during his visit to Hades: wisdom telling him how to go forward into an uncertain future filled with all kinds of perils.

We can look back for that same kind of wisdom.

It awaits our attention. And it withholds its benefits until we sit with it and partake.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Uncommon Valor

“Poor is the nation that has no heroes. Poorer still is the nation that, having heroes, fails to remember and honor them.” Marcus Tullius Cicero

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. It’s a day we mark with picnics and parades. The unofficial beginning of summer, yet so much more than the chance to eat hot dogs and buy a new swimsuit.

Decoration Day, as the holiday was originally known, began after the Civil War–our bloodiest conflict. It was a time when a divided country was trying to heal–perhaps as we are today.

We mark the day on the last Monday of May–but May 30 had been the selected date before three-day weekends became a priority. May 30 reminds us of no notable battles from the Civil War. The day only reminds us of those who’ve given themselves for the cause of country–our country.

We enrich ourselves in this remembering.

Remembering those who’ve done noble things tells us we can be noble too.

Of his sailors and marines at Iwo Jima in World War II, Admiral Chester Nimitz said, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.” Iwo Jima is famous for the flag-raising image that is now a statue.

Three of the six flag raisers died in battle.

My father was in the South Pacific as a Navy medic. He was someone who went to war to make sure others came home safely. Someone who hoped not to see battle–but was prepared in case he did,

“Courage, G.K. Chesterton said, “is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.”

Today we remember those who wanted to live but gave themselves instead.

For us.

Photo Credit: Unsplash and National Geographic

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”