Ancient and modern

Livy on Ed Miliband

12 October 2013

9:00 AM

12 October 2013

9:00 AM

What should we make of Ed’s support for his father Ralph against the Daily Mail? Livy’s life of Torquatus suggests two possible responses.

Torquatus was the obtuse, inarticulate son of the vicious and overbearing consul Manlius who, wanting to disown him, sent him off to work in the fields. But in 362 bc Manlius was threatened with a court case by the tribune of the plebs, Pomponianus. When Torquatus heard of this, he begged for a private audience with the tribune. The tribune agreed, expecting the abused Torquatus to support his case. Instead Torquatus threatened to kill him on the spot, unless he signed an oath not to proceed. The terrified tribune agreed. The plebs were disappointed, but at the same time not displeased that the son ‘had dared such a deed on behalf of his father, especially after the harsh treatment he had received’. So Romans could have applauded Ed for supporting an abusive father, who had for years fed him a wilderness diet of nothing but left-wing tripe.


In time Torquatus too became consul. In 340 bc the Roman army was up against a very tough opponent and Torquatus argued that discipline was paramount: no one must leave his position to fight the enemy. But Torquatus’ son Titus disobeyed. He responded to a challenge to single combat, won and offered the spoils to his father. Torquatus summoned a military assembly. ‘Titus,’ he said, ‘you have shown respect for neither a consul’s authority nor a father’s standing, but defied my orders. You could not have done more to subvert military discipline, the very heart of Rome’s success. If you have any blood in you, you would agree that the discipline you undermined must be restored by your punishment’, and ordered his immediate decapitation.

Since Ralph taught Ed to despise capitalism, but Ed blatantly disobeyed, making (as he said) ‘capitalism for the workers’ his rallying cry, Romans could have agreed with that story too.

The verdict: loyal or disloyal? Death or glory? Register your vote by pressing the (R)ed button.

Peter Jones’s Veni Vidi Vici, a history of Rome, is just published (Atlantic Books).

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