How to defy a dictator.
We rarely get to be brave. We rarely get to spit in the eye of a dictator. However, I can tell you how.
Just simply, remember a name of someone that a dictator wants you to forget. Wear his or her name around your wrist. Put their name on a Tee-shirt.
Tell their story to anyone that will listen.
Paint it on a wall.
Yell it from a rooftop.
You see, a long time a ago, a man — a historian — was charged with a crime.
He was charged with “writing a history.”
We can imagine the setting. Like a play on the floor of the senate. Sour-faced Tiberius on the single chair reserved for Augustus and now him. Cordus stands before him, in the middle of the Senate Chamber, his hair a mess, roused from bed, a toga wrapped in a hurry, and one ink stain on the index finger where he holds the pen.
He thinks he can talk his way out. Surprized that he is here. His mind races to find the cause. It is when the prosecutor reads the charges Cordus looks at the senators around him as if to say: “Are you serious? These are just words.”
Cordus looks to Tiberius, but he receives no hint or acquittal from his face. He is doomed. Behind him his monkey the piddling little Sejanus stands in t he shadows…now he knows that he has no chance.
“Words were not utterest against the emperor or his father…” Cordus tells the audience.
In other words, I didn’t say anything against the current emperor nor his father. This does not matter.
“I have praised Cassius and Brutis, deeds recorded by many, whom none have named wthout respect.”
Another argument to say he has done what others have done already.
This does not help as well.
Cordus talks of others who have talked ill of Augustus. He reminds them of the letters of Antony against Augustus that are still read aloud. He reminds the senate he is doing nothing that others have not done.
“To resent it is to accord it recognition,” he says. Pointing out to pay heed to criticism gives it credence. It is an apt argument, but it does not help.
“Am I, forsooth, in arms with Cassius and Brutis, upon the flames of Phillipi, or inflaming the people to civil war by my harrangues?
Another argument – it does not help. He is saying I was not at Phillippi, so why am I being tried? The people have not taken up arms because of my words, so why am I here?
“…if I am now condemed, men will not remember Cassius and Brutis only, but I also…”
In other words…you have given me immortality.
So what was his crime?
Aulus Cremutius Cordus had the audicity, the effrontory, the unmitaged gall to call Brutis and Cassius…”the last of the Romans.”
For that…for writing his opinion…for writing that two men had the will to stand up to dictatorship, and the founding of emperors, he was sentenced to death and Cordus went home to die. He starved himself to death. No doubt helped along by an emperor who was simply scared of words.
You see dictators are always scared of words. They live in fear of…words. The dictator wanted his memory go out of the memory of man.
Luckily, others remembered Cordus…like Tacitus. Cordus’s daughter saved his writings. Others brought his name forward as well, like Seutonious, Dio Cassius and Quintillian.
Ben Jonson, the English playwright immortalized Cordus in his play THE FALL OF SEJANUS. What would a playwright have such interest in a Roman Historian? You see Jonson was imprisioned for a play. In 1597 he was imprisoned for co-authoring a play called…The Isle of Dogs. No copy exists…some guess that it satirized the queen and her councilors. Jonson stood on the same cold floor as Cordus once stood. He felt the same bite of lunacy when governments ‘think’ they can surpress. He was sentenced to jail for the ultimate crime…’satire.’
Governments trying to destroy ideas is expressed magnificently in the book 1984.
‘…You must stop imagining that posterity will vindicate you, Winston. Posterity will never hear of you. You will be lifted clean out from the stream of history. We shall turn you into gas and pour you into the stratosphere. Nothing will remain of you, not a name in a register, not a memory in a living brain. You will be annihilated in the past as well as in the future. You will never have existed.’
1984, Part 3 Chapter 2
Sour-faced Tiberius thought he could wipe away Cordus from human memory. This is the nature of dictators – destroy the truth – wipe it out.
How often can you defy a dictator? Give it a try. Put the name of Cordus on your Facebook page. Twitter his name to your friends. Tell the story of Cordus to your friends.
Wait…wait…can you say: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi? She is a pro-demoncracy leader that faced a brutal regime in Burma.
Shout her name.
Yell it from the rooftops.
Paint her name on the wall.
Twitter the name to your fiends, place her name on FACEBOOK.
Spit in the eye of a dictator by remembering those that use the deadliest weapons of all – words.
Wait…wait…can you say: Liao Yiwu?