Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Oderint dum metuant

Hold the front page! The Sun has exclusive details of David Beckham's latest tattoo this morning, and breathlessly confides:
The former England skipper now has the words of a Roman poem etched into his flesh above a picture of a guardian angel with wings, shrouded in flames.
And I can exclusively reveal the message means: “Let them hate as long as they fear.”

That would be Lucius Accius' invaluable "oderint dum metuant", a favourite saying of Caligula according to Suetonius who reported:

He generally prolonged the sufferings of his victims by causing them to be inflicted by slight and frequently repeated strokes; this being his well-known and constant order: "Strike so that he may feel himself die." Having punished one person for another, by mistaking his name, he said, "he deserved it quite as much." He had frequently in his mouth these words of the tragedian,

Oderint dum metuant.
I scorn their hatred, if they do but fear me.

He would often inveigh against all the senators without exception, as clients of Sejanus, and informers against his mother and brothers, producing the memorials which he had pretended to burn, and excusing the cruelty of Tiberius as necessary, since it was impossible to question the veracity of such a number of accusers. He continually reproached the whole equestrian order, as devoting themselves to nothing but acting on the stage, and fighting as gladiators. Being incensed at the people's applauding a party at the Circensian games in opposition to him, he exclaimed, "I wish the Roman people had but one neck."

Given the context, an odd commendation to have permanently inked on one's body I would have said.

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