Thursday, May 31, 2007

In Toga Candida

"I learned one valuable lesson that day, which is that if you seek popularity, there is no surer way of achieving it than raiding a syndicate of tax collectors."

Tiro, secretary of Marcus Tullius Cicero
and narrator of Robert Harris' Imperium (2006)

I LOL'ed at this.


Politics is boring - and the entirety of my understanding and knowledge on the subject can be summarised in two simple lines;
  • 'Poly' means 'many'.
  • 'Ticks' means 'parasitic, blood-sucking arthropods'.
Malaysian politics means slightly more to me than that. Only slightly.

If I have to comment on it from a dispassionate foreigner's point of view, I would call it a regular source of entertainment - a case in point being the hilarious MP (whose name I don't know and don't care) who opined that bloggers should be registered. For a short stint, I noticed that many bloggers ranted and raged from their own personal soapboxes, putting down that said MP and calling him lots of (funny) ugly names. I simply couldn't decide which was more absurd; the MP or the bloggers for being outraged at him. The idea was clearly neither feasible nor enforceable. I suspect that many of the protesters have an over-glorified and hyper-romantic image of bloggers as "guardians of free speech" - or some shit like that.

But even if I am to comment on it from the point of view of a Malaysian citizen (of which I am guilty of, unfortunately), I cannot truthfully say I felt angry at all about that MP's idea. No, the emotion most native to me when it comes to our politicians' many antics is embarrassment. Every time I hear a politician say something incredibly stupid (like the citation of playing gasing and making teh tarik in space as 'scientific experiments which will produce important data for our country's research efforts' by that other MP whose name I-don't-know-and-don't-care as well), I could feel my blood receding from my face in absolute horror. C'mon, what would hawt Ukrainian babes foreigners think of us? I mean, if our leaders, the ones we chose to represent us, are that dumb...

In short, some of our politicians make me feel like I'm a father of a whole troop of fat, spoilt, mustached kids that runs around the shopping mall screaming like retards and pinching women's buttocks.

Everyone who knows me would know that I'll be migrating to New Zealand as soon as I'm able - so I can sit and laugh at our MP's with the rest of the world instead of feeling ashamed on their behalf.


But my greatest motivation to get out is because I'll never be truly Malaysian. Don't get me wrong - I like the country just fine (spiffing eats, huzzah!). It's just that, well - to put it as bluntly as I can - I don't want to be explaining to my kid next time why Mohd. Entah bin Siapa from their class manages to get a medical scholarship to UK even though he has only half the amount of 1A's my kid scored in the SPM. And do note that I'm bashing no one's race or god here; it's just that Malaysia isn't some place that respects my ancestry and choice of faith as much as it respects certain others.


That's why politics in Malaysia does not interest me - I'm jumping ship eventually anyway. I just can't be bothered to wait for the country to grow up.

Fictional politics on the other hand...



Imperium
by Robert Harris

imperium
The embossed cover of my copy of Imperium.

First off, here's the blurb on the back cover;

Ancient Rome - 'a city of glory built on a river of filth' - teems with ambitious and ruthless men. None is more brilliant than Marcus Cicero. A rising lawyer, backed by a shrewd wife, he decides to gamble everything on one of the most dramatic courtroom battles of all time. Win it, and he could win control of Rome itself. Lose it, and he is finished forever

This is semi-fictional biography of Marcus Tullius Cicero, a famed Roman statesman, lawyer, political theorist and philosopher, who was widely considered as one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists - written from the point of view of his secretary/scribe/slave, Tiro1.

Simply put, this is a story of how an 'outsider2' of the senate, though not being even wealthy enough initially to qualify for a seat, managed to technically "talk his way" to becoming the most powerful man in ancient Rome. If you like stories of smaller, weaker men outwitting richer, and more powerful folks - if you enjoy tales of smart protagonists thinking their way out of impossibly difficult situations - Imperium is definitely the book for you.

In reference to this blog post's title; In Toga Candida - the Latin phrase can be literally translated as "In White Gown" which is the proper garb for a senatorial candidate. In fact, the English word 'candidate' was derived from this practice. When historians refers to In Toga Candida, they are talking about one of the most famous speeches in history, delivered by Cicero (in real life) in the senate, indirectly winning him the Consulship of Rome. Are you getting what I'm saying? Cicero became Rome's head honcho by giving a speech!

We, on the other hand, consider ourselves lucky if our MP's don't say something that make us Malaysians sound like a bunch of backwater island yahoos.

In Imperium, you'll be given a glimpse of the circumstances, intrigue, and plotting that made the In Toga Candida speech so powerful. Aren't you the least bit curious of what he said?

Anyway, in further support of this excellent work of literature, I must tell you that I am someone who habitually avoids reading any novel based on a true story (I gave up on John Grisham's The Innocent Man at page 26) - but I made an exception in this case. In fact, I liked Imperium so much that I finished all 500 pages of it in two days.

And if any of you have read Robert Harris' earlier novel, Pompeii, and liked it - you should check Imperium out because it's a heck lot better written than that. Also, to fans of ancient Roman culture and governmental structure; YOU WANT THIS BOOK (you just didn't know it yet... but you do now!)



P.S. I know most of my readers don't read - and those that do, don't read stuff like this. But I'm going to keep writing book reviews anyway with vague blog post titles. If nothing else, I can at least make you guys come in, read a bit before finding out that it's 'another book post', curse me, and leave.

P.P.S. In toga candida is officially my favourite meaningless Latin phrase at the moment. I'm going to keep saying it till everyone starts repeating it in their dreams.


In toga candida, in toga candida, in toga candida,
k0k s3n w4i

1
Tiro, also a real person (Wiki him if you like), is credited with the invention of the shorthand system of Tironian notes and author of a REAL biography of Cicero (which is now lost in antiquity). Apparently, he invented the ampersand as well. The ampersand is this symbol; (&), which we still use today, even on our computer keyboards.
2
A man who is not part of the aristocracy and has no ancestor in the senate before.

13 comments:

Jen said...

slow down, wont you? as if reading your blog isnt enough of a distraction, you have to go and recommend (what seems to be) one awesome read after another!! too much! too much!

i've always been a fan of ancient civilisation. greek, roman, egyptian, norse, english (i especially adore the dark ages), etc. i just like reading about them. my imagination goes into overdrive. but i havent gone in too deep yet. mythology is more my thing.

in toga candida. damn. it stuck.

pinksterz said...

If nothing else, I can at least make you guys come in, read a bit before finding out that it's 'another book post', curse me, and leave.

i did that. heheh.

ps: no one said u r crazy. it was ur status on msn about u n the lamp post lah. LOL.

Kye said...

Ever watched V for Vendetta? He said people should be afraid of the government, the government should be afraid of the people. :D

michellesy party-to-non said...

A timely post about the state of politics di tanahairku.

I say timely because you might as well link scathing criticism of the gah-men to a book review (also about politics, but of a different sort).

It wouldn't what was said and when it was said. It wouldn't matter anyway; things are never going to change.

Bah.

So if you do end up de-camping to NZ, give me a holler across the Tasman Straits won't you?

Cos I'll be sitting right here Down Under.

ps: Another great read, O Recommender of Marvelous Tomes!
I have just surpassed the 200 page mark in JS&MN, met Jonathan Strange and been increasingly entranced by those engaging little footnotes =)

k0k s3n w4i said...

@jen
I actually started this blog as a book review outfit - but that got sidelined along the way. Stick around, I'm reviewing the His Dark Material trilogy next; what with all the buzz surrounding its very cool trailers and its premiere in December.
And I'm a mythos buff too!!! (I liked all you liked except Roman - and I also have quite a bit of interest in the Chinese Ancestral Gods.
P.S. We so got to meet someday.

@pinksterz
Lebih! I shall do that to ur posts next time ;p
And my msn status - I was just making fun of Rabbit.

@- kye -
As a matter of fact, I did - and I fancy you typo'ed there (either that or you think that the fear should be mutual)
But my favourite quote from V for Vendetta is; "Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. There is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof."

@michellesy
You are referring the May 13 whatchamacallum? I suspect that I'll visit Ozzy pretty frequently if I do end up in NZ someday.
P.S. I found the knight of clubs foretelling of Strange by Childermass to be very cute. You didn't miss that, did you?

Kye said...

HAHAHA, i typo'ed lol..correct the first should to shouldn't

michellesy-I'm-damned-if-I'm-going-back-to-stay said...

I was more referring to the state of imbalance in Malaysia Truly Asia actually.

Sigh.

What is it about NZ that has captured your imagination?

ps: No, I didn't miss it. I was too damn distracted by the complexity of the world that Clarke had created though =)

k0k s3n w4i said...

@- kye -
:)

@michellesy
I must have misread - I thought you are referring to the government's stand on that recently published May 13 book.

NZ was the place Sue and I planned to live in one day. Too bad I got to go there alone now, eh?

michellesy said...

Yes, yes the fog clears.

Has the gah-men ever made a decision on any matter large or small, that does not elicit a snigger of derision?

Ah, Perfection and the perfect place.

I have heard of NZ (ad nauseam - my ex's family was from Kiwi Land), but never been there myself.

Hmmm, don't know if I want to actually *muses for a while*

Will The Perfect Place still be perfect without perfection?

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Anonymous said...

interesting. came upon your blog while searching for the original text of in toga candida. just a small point. despite suffering from an equally abysmal level of politicians (yes, they ARE like a sickness, aren't they?) i still feel countries get the politicians they deserve. think about it.