I was reading a wonderful book the other night and this phrase was used. It was not one that I had heard before and the situation in which it was utilized caused me to dig further. I discovered that its roots could be tied back to the ancient Roman satirist and poet Juvenal (100 A.D.). He utilized this phrase in Satire X a play from that period of Roman history.
The phrase is Latin in origin and simply translated means “Bread and Games”. But deeper down what does that mean. In Satire X, Juvenal utilized it to display his disdain for the decline of his fellow Roman citizens. The Roman government had developed a plan in 140 B.C. to win the votes and confidence of it citizens. This was completed by the passing out of cheap/free food and entertainment. Through this they felt they could rise to power and it worked well.
In more modern terms, the phrase is taken to describe a population that no longer values it’s civic responsibilities and their role in public life. Today it characterizes a decline that characterized the Roman Empire prior to its fall. What we see is a civilization that has sold out its duty and responsibility for comfort and entertainment. As I continued my research was chilled to the bone as I began to see it’s application to our present American culture.
According to the Voting and Registration Data – US Census 2008, the United States of America voter turnout was 58%. Only slightly more than half of our voting population turned out to decide who would lead our Nation for the next four years. The numbers drop off even more when we see only local elections. I have to wonder how many out there can relate the names of at least four of those serving on the Presidents cabinet. How many can list the names of their Senators and local representatives. I am fairly certain that they can relate the QB of their favorite football team, who is on their favorite reality tv show and all sorts of details about various Hollywood and musical stars.
The Government is more than ready to pass along free comforts and entertainments. We have seen entitlements in this country climb to staggering new levels. For the first time in our Nations history the number of Americans who receive a check from the Federal Government has exceeded 50% and over 45% of Americans will not pay any Income Tax this year. It should not matter which side of the political aisle you stand on – this should chill you to the bone as well. How can we as a people hold our government accountable, as our founding fathers intended when we are dependent on them for our existence. Our country was and has always been a land where you can do anything your heart desires. Where you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and change your future. However, we are rapidly becoming a land where we value entertainment and entitlements more than our own freedoms and responsibilities.
Remember the words of the British Statesman and Philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-1797) “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” At the height of its power Rome ruled the known world. It’s citizens held sway and had a voice in the governance of their country. However, they gave it up for Panem et circences. Beware that we do not follow the same path.
I know for many of my followers this is a deviation from my usual blogs. However, it is something that has been heavy on my heart and I had to share. Thank you for your indulgence and support as I speak what is placed on my heart.
- Panem et Circenses (ashleecowles.com)
- Sermon: Sunday, March 18, 2012: Fourth Sunday of Lent (byproclamation.wordpress.com)