The Plebs, Roman Snobbery, and Mary Beard | Dickinson College Commentaries
I love it that Mary Beard is using her Don’s Life pulpit to attack the use of the word plebs as if it were plural, and to combat the incorrect use of “pleb,” which is not . . a . . . word. I thought I would add some observations on the word plebs as a complement to her excellent post. My only quibble with her is that the word is in fact seldom used as a term of abuse in surviving Latin (as are turba, multitudo, etc.). Its dignity is what is so interesting about it, given the extensive Latin lexicon of snobbery.
|Commentarii de Bello Gallico, an account written by Julius Caesar about his nine years of war in Gaul. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
There were four secessions of the plebs from the fathers (i.e. the senate): the first secession because of the abuses of the moneylenders, when the plebs withdrew under arms to the Sacred Hill; the second because of the abuses of the Board of Ten when, after the murder of his daughter, Virginius surrounded Appius and his whole faction on the Aventine Hill and brought it about that Appius abdicated his magistracy and that those accused and condemned were punished by various penalties; the third was because of marriage, that plebeians be allowed to marry patricians, which Canuleius incited on the Janiculum Hill; the fourth secession, which Sulpicius Stolo incited, was in the forum because of magistracies, so that plebeians could become consuls.
(In Gaul) the plebs is held in a condition of near-slavery; they dare nothing on their own initiative, and are included in no decision-making. Most of them, oppressed as they are either by debt or heavy taxation or by the injustices inflicted by the powerful, consign themselves to servitude, and the nobles exercise over them all the rights of masters over slaves.
I don’t go hunting for votes cast by the fickle (ventosa) plebs by paying for their dinners and giving them used clothes.