So Spake Mo…
I wasn’t sure what I would see on the shuttle ride from the airport to the conference hotel for the Lori Foster Reader & Author Get Together. Cincinnati, Ohio.
A verdant landscape blurred past, punctuated with the occasional building: lovely
historic brick, industrial painted cinderblock. Familiar. Too familiar to be
awe-inspiring on its own. So I leaned forward and asked the driver, “So what’s
interesting about your state?”
He rattled off information about sports teams and other bits of tourist pamphlet data. Then he slipped me a clipboard to read. And that’s when it caught my eye, where the name “Cincinnati” arose from. That’s when the streaks of Mother Nature and Man flying by my window began to take on more definition, more reality, as they coalesced into the memories of big men and their bigger dreams.
Cincinnati was founded in 1788 as Losantiville. This original name, given by the author of THE ADVENTURES OF COLONEL DANIEL BOON, John Filson, meant “The Town Opposite the Mouth of the Licking River.” The etymology of this mouthful is a writer’s inside joke:
L – English for “Licking River”
os – Latin for “mouth”
anti – Greek for “opposite”
ville – French for “city”
Needless to say, this clever word puzzle was not to last as the title of the city that would become known as the “Paris of America.” Two years later, Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, changed the name to Cincinnati. Oh, ever so much simpler to spell and pronounce, you are thinking. And yet it stuck. Why?
1783 saw the end of the Revolutionary War. But not the end of the brotherhood of American and French officers who had served together in the fight. 1783 saw the beginning of the Society of the Cincinnati, a group lead by George Washington with the mandate: "To preserve the rights so dearly won; to promote the continuing union of the states; and to assist members in need, their widows, and their
orphans." Governor Arthur St. Clair was a vital member of this society.
Now while the concept of a veterans’ society is not so difficult to grasp—although it was to become much more than that in political power and influence—that name Cincinnati still resonates in the mind. But be grateful. It is short for Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus.
And that is where this path began. Cincinnatus was a Roman statesman around 460 BC and a strong opponent of the movement to establish improved legal
rights for the plebeians. Unfortunately, his son, Caeso, did not resort to discourse in supporting his father’s political stance, but instead took to chasing off the tribunes of plebeians—thereby interrupting the governing process. Capital charges were filed against the son. Though he escaped, he was sentenced to death in absentia.
Cincinnatus lost most of his holdings in paying the fine for his overzealous son’s wrong doings. He was left with only a small farm to work in order to support his family. Despite this humbling change in circumstance, he continued to serve as a statesman.
Despite this…perhaps I should say, Because of this, he went on to become a Roman hero. Like in the Americas of the revolutionary period, this was a time of great conflict for the Romans. Twice—once in 458 BC and once in 439 BC—Rome’s senators called up Cincinnatus to serve as dictator and to lead them against their enemies. Both times, the moment after the conflict was settled, Cincinnatus resigned his dictatorship and returned to working his farm.
In that humility and virtuousness, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus’s name would carry forward to the officers of the Revolutionary War as they watched George Washington step away from near dictator-like power once their own conflict was settled. It was for this act that the Society of the Cincinnati was named and, in turn, the city of Cincinnati.
I wasn’t sure what I would see on the shuttle ride from the airport to the conference hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio. I didn’t know that in the verdant landscape that blurred past my window, I would see the ghost of a nobleman calling to his wife from the fields for his senatorial robes, preparing to serve his country.
Omnia reliquit servare rempublicam.
"He relinquished everything to save the Republic."
I wasn’t sure what I would see. So I leaned forward and asked the driver, “So what’s interesting about your state?”
So Spake Me…
I loved that story for so many reasons, most of which didn’t fit in the retelling. It contains such an exquisite duality:
A noble statesman whose children were anything but. And not just Caeso, who left his parents and siblings impoverished, but there is even a legend of a second son on trial for military incompetence. It is said his was acquitted when none of jury could bring themselves to break aged Cincinnatus’s heart.
A Roman who is remembered as a model of civic virtue; who worked fervently to keep the lower classes oppressed. Nonetheless, during his lifetime, the Law of the Twelve Tables formalized and defined the rights of all patricians and plebeians. It was even posted in public on ivory tablets in a sing-song version of Latin to make it easy for illiterate plebeians to memorize.
A society created to uphold the virtues for which the Revolutionary War was fought, but sliding suspiciously toward creating an American nobility. Open only to officers—many of whom remained highly influential in the new government—with membership based on heredity and signified with heraldry, both Benjamin Franklin and George Washington voiced their discomfort. But ultimately became members.
An exquisite duality.
Not unlike the romance conference itself, celebrating the power of love and the beauty of embracing one’s sexuality. While trending suspiciously toward idealizing romantic love and objectifying the human body to the point of creating an unhealthy standard that no real man or woman could ever hope to rise to.
Depending on what you choose to focus on, depending on how you weight the facts, depending what story you are trying to tell, the duality of real life, the duality of real people will always offer some small moment to support your opinion. It is all there.
There is rarely black or white. More often only shades of grey. Pun intended.
PS – The Lori Foster conference was so much fun! Pictures can be found here.
Wikipedia: Society of the Cincinnati
The History Guide: The Laws of the Twelve Tables, c. 450 BC
The Story of Place