Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa entered the chariot. The crowds in Rome had already swelled to thousands; the general could hear the cadence of his name being chanted outside the stable doors. With pride, he held the railing of the chariot and looked down at his lieutenant and nodded. The soldier pushed forward the stable doors letting the light from the Roman sun enter. The horses began pawing at the ground as the sound of the crowds grew to a fevered pitch as they realized the general was about to emerge on his triumphant ride to the Temple of Jupiter. Agrippa felt the floor of the chariot tilt as the appointed slave entered the chariot behind him. The slave, standing behind Agrippa, lifted a laurel wreath above his head as the chariot lurched forward towards the open door. The sunlight beamed down upon them as they emerged onto the street and the embrace of thousands of citizens. Suddenly, the general felt the breath of the slave against his ear. He looked forward stoically knowing the phrase that was about to be uttered, and would be continuously uttered, by the slave along this short journey to the temple.
Remember, you are simply a man.
Last week, days before the election, Undersheriff Don Barnes came into Artemis. We talked about last night’s election and the implications, not just for our local races, but nationally as well. Clearly, his mind was focused on the home stretch. He felt confident, but also was keenly aware that there was still work to do. As he was leaving and standing in the lobby, our discussion turned to leadership, but from a more philosophical standpoint.
He related the story of the slave and the general above, and said that that principle has been the guiding principle of his career in public service. Regardless of power achieved, regardless of authority at his disposal, at the end of the day, he is simply a person.
I had never heard of this Roman tradition and quickly did a little research. The value of this choreographed act was not lost on me, especially from a people that had such reverence and, frankly, a healthy distrust of their standing army. The army of Rome was not allowed to cross the Rubicon River en masse for fear that it had the ability to overthrow its civilian leaders in the Roman Senate. Still, the people of Rome loved their army… and especially the exalted generals who led the army into their numerous victories over the enemies of Rome. This adulation of soldiers could have very easily led to the arrogance of the individual, the rise of the cult of personality, and the ultimate fall of the Republic.
How appropriate, then, was it to remind the general at the height of his triumph: Momento Homo, a statement uttered not by a cautious Roman senator, not even by a paranoid emperor, but a reminder given by a simple slave.
It is widely noted that President Ronald Reagan (Ronaldus Magnus), was fond of saying, “Anything is possible, anything can be achieved… as long as you don’t care who gets credit for it.”
Many of us are put into positions where our actions and decisions have the capacity to greatly affect our fellow citizens. Some of us chose those paths… for others, the paths were chosen for us. Regardless, humility is as critical as decisiveness and, at times, ruthlessness for those who help secure the blessings of liberty and freedom.
I love to quote the political historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. “Unilateralism [read the arrogance of the leader that has forgotten that he is “just a man”] breeds the arrogance of ignorance, and ignorance breeds bad policy.”