Saturday, 30 November 2019

How To Virtue-Signal Like a Roman

This week in the peerless Aeon magazine there is a fine philosophical essay by Neil Levy on Virtue Signalling. This form of behaviour, in its true form, consists of one individual rebuking another for not being virtuous enough in choice of language, often online. The objective is to display the rebuker’s superior virtue.

Helmeted VIRTUS of Aquillius
Virtue Signals are usually distinguishable from genuine moral interventions springing from altruistic motives. But it would be helpful to have a meme, or a costume to wear, when we’re Virtue Signalling ourselves. I’ve gone to the original and literal Virtue Signals in ancient Rome to find examples.

Mn. Aquillius in 65 BCE issued a coin celebrating his ancestor’s imperial savagery in Sicily which claimed it was due to his VIRTUS. She is helpfully name-labelled but identifiable from her ringlets and elaborate helmet with an olive sprig. Olive was PR-speak for a statesman’s Achievement-of-Peace-through-Brutal-Suppression-of-Opposition, which in the game of Roman spin could also be abbreviated to VIRTUS.
Septimius Severus' VIRTUS

Sometimes Virtue waves an olive twig. She sometimes holds a statuette of another personification, Victory. She often brandishes a spear and leans on a shield. But her most distinctive accoutrement is a parazonium or long, phallic triangular dagger, held at waist level.

Trajan's VIRTUS plus parazonium
Sometimes she puts her foot on her helmet or sits on a cuirass. Philip I went furthest and simply has her as world-conqueror, one foot on a globe, her spear pointing downwards because His Virtue Has Triumphed Everywhere.

Caracalla Poses as the Goddess VIRTUS 
Fortunately, given the touchiness of the topic of gender identity today, Virtus (although grammatically feminine) looks like a male Roman soldier, while sometimes revealing one breast in Amazonian manner. But Virtus can be as masculine as Mars or an Emperor himself. The humourless and amoral Caracalla began by putting a girlish Virtus in ankle boots on the obverse of his portrait coins but later cut to the chase and simply posed as Virtue himself.

So it’s up to you—your VIRTUS could be conveyed to your Twitter followers in an instant with a snapshot of one of these images. If they don’t get the hint, then simply build a temple to Virtus, as M. Claudius Marcellus did in 222 BCE when a battle wasn’t going well. Or, like Augustus, get the Senate to award you a shield screaming to your public that you are endowed with VIRTUE as well as CLEMENCY, JUSTICE and PIETY. They added his right to put an oak wreath over his front door. That should quickly close all opposition down.


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