Titus and Lucius

If you’ve watched Rome, then this will make sense to you, and if you haven’t, you should probably at least consider watching the first season. It’s decent television. Don’t get your hopes up too high though: the idiots axed it at the end of Season 2, which had some unfortunate consequences for the storyline in that last season.

The two main protagonists are Roman centurions in service to Julius Caesar during the tumultuous time of his rise and fall. Titus Pullo is a Caesar loyalist, but his loyalty is fairly unsophisticated. He represents to some extent the mob that we might know best from Shakespeare’s play, that finds Caesar to embody a set of Roman ideals they find admirable. Lucius Vorenus, on the other hand, is old school. More levelheaded that Titus, also more of a traditionalist, he comes to understand how the part he plays in Caesar’s army contributes to the unraveling of the old Republican order, the idea of which his is substantially invested in.

I’ve come to think of Titus and Lucius as representing two different political strategies whose relative merits wax and wane against each other depending on where one finds oneself along the arc of history. It’s very easy to be critical of Titus for most of the series. He is a jackass, focused on booze and sex, and gets himself into all sorts of high stakes mischief that he isn’t really qualified to deal with. He doesn’t really know what’s going on, he’s just trying to keep his shit together long enough for another game of dice.

Especially in the beginning of the series, it’s easy to think that Lucius is the one who has the best handle on the world he’s in. But as the story progresses, in this particular instance, one starts to see how Titus, though a bit of a chump, is in possession of a chump kind of wisdom, refusing to stake a claim to political realities he has no control over, and it is Lucius, the one who has committed himself to a set of ideals about the state that have simply become untenable as the world has changed beneath his feet, that starts to seem like the fool.

This might lead one to ask the question, “When is it better to be Titus, and when is it better to be Lucius?” Obviously that’s kind of a BS question. What differentiates the two are characteristics of the personality that are probably fixed for most people. So if you’re Lucius (I’m a Lucius, obviously. Wouldn’t be writing this if I were a Titus), you’re not going to be able to just turn it off because someone convinces you that now is a shitty time for that sort of thing. Nevertheless, the question is not without its sense.

We can imagine, for instance, a version of this couple, only set back further in Roman history, to some point in time during its development into the old representative aristocracy that is eventually supplanted by Augustus. Lucius would be able to subscribe to his set of ideas about Roman virtue in a political background where they appear to be truly functional. In that context, Lucius’ virtue looks a lot like actual virtue, within the context of the local political relations. Titus Pullo then becomes entirely a figure of foolishness, someone who might have benefited from listening more carefully to his elders.

I assume without doing any actual math that, statistically, Lucius has the upperhand most of the time. Societies tend to be stable over fairly long periods, so the ideological buy in he represents is a good bet for most people most of the time. It’s only when instability arises, which is fairly uncommon (although of course, it does happen) that produces challenges of various kinds to the preexisting moral order of a society, that Titus’s lack of investment seems like a good deal.

With that said, the more immediate question, “How do you know what time it is right now?” may not be as easy to answer as all that. My suspicion is that we may be approaching Titus hour. That is not a prognostication of doom, per se, or even massive material instability, merely a prediction about the increasing irrelevance of our society’s moral and political claims as the world that founded them continues to recede from sight in the rear view mirror. The Constitution, for instance, seems increasingly fragile these days, and the robed guardians who stand in its defense seem awfully strained in their efforts to make sense of its function as the nation gets older.

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