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Impeachment and the Late Republic

I’ve been reading an awful lot of articles drawing parallels between the end of the Roman Republic and what’s going on now with the House of Representatives impeaching President Trump. Of course, there are parallels. Julius Caesar made the same sort of power grabs, acting like he was above the law, and the Senators assassinated him because of it. But this doesn’t really seem like a good comparison, because the Roman Senate didn’t actually get control of the government afterwards. Instead, power went to Julius Caesar’s adopted son, Octavian, whom we now call Augustus Caesar. It’s as if Pelosi and Schumer assassinated Trump only to end up with Ivanka running the country.

The Late Republic
Anthony and Cleopatra
The Julio-Claudians

Impeachment and the Epic of Gilgamesh

So I was thinking, is there a better parallel? Something more positive? And that led me to the Epic of Gilgamesh. Granted, this is more or less fiction. Still, in the beginning of the Epic of Gilgamesh, he’s running around doing as he pleases, raping the women (sound familiar?) and not obeying the laws.

What’s the Epic of Gilgamesh?

“But the men of Uruk muttered in their houses, ‘Gilgamesh sounds the tocsin for his amusement, his arrogance has no bounds by day or night. No son is left with his father, for Gilgamesh takes them all, even the children; yet the king should be a shepherd to his people. His lust leaves no virgin to her lover, neither the warrior’s daughter nor the wife of the noble; yet this is the shepherd of the city, wise, comely, and resolute.'”

And the town council – the local Senate – pulls him up short. They complain to the gods, and the gods send Enkidu. When Enkidu hears how Gilgamesh has been behaving, he says he’ll put a stop to it.

“At these words Enkidu turned white in the face. ‘I will go to the place where Gilgamesh lords it over the people, I will challenge him boldly, and I will cry aloud in Uruk, “I have come to change the old order, for I am the strongest here.””

Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu fight the monster Humbaba, on an Assyrian cylinder seal from the 600s BC

Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu fight the monster Humbaba, on an Assyrian cylinder seal from the 600s BC

Enkidu fights Gilgamesh

The two heroes get in a big fight in the street, with everyone watching.

“Now Enkidu strode in front and the woman followed behind. He entered Uruk, that great market, and all the folk thronged round him where he stood in the street in strong-walled Uruk. The people jostled; speaking of him they said, ‘He is the spit of Gilgamesh. ‘He is shorter.’ ‘He is bigger of bone.’ This is the one who was reared on the milk of wild beasts. His is the greatest strength.’ The men rejoiced: ‘Now Gilgamesh has met his match. This great-one, this hero whose beauty is like a god, he is a match even for Gilgamesh.’ .

.. Enkidu stepped out, he stood in the street and blocked the way. Mighty Gilgamesh came on and Enkidu met him at the gate. He put out his foot and prevented Gilgamesh from entering the house, so they grappled, holding each other like bulls. They broke the doorposts and the walls shook, they snorted like bulls locked together. They shattered the doorposts and the walls shook. Gilgamesh bent his knee with his foot planted on the ground and with a turn Enkidu was thrown. Then immediately his fury died. “

Enkidu tells Gilgamesh to behave himself: “do not abuse this power, deal justly with your servants in the palace, deal justly before Shamash.” And Gilgamesh pretty much does behave himself after that.

I just wonder whether this isn’t a better example of confronting power and limiting it, than Julius Caesar is?


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