For the past 3 days in a row, I’ve been listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Podcast on my iOS devices.
I first stumbled upon Dan Carlin by accident while on Facebook. A high school friend of mine had posted one of his pieces titled “The American Peril”, which goes into detail of America’s ambitions, idealism, and how it took advantage of a crisis in Cuba. It was about 1 am when I began listening, and it was so interesting I didn’t want to go to sleep, and this was after already being awake for over 24 hours.
Death Throes of the Republic
Last Saturday, I began a six part series called Death Throes of the Republic, and have been hooked ever since.The series discusses Roman history and politics, and what led to the fall of the Roman Republic. It sounds boring, I know. It instantly became more exciting than watching a movie, because I was hearing engaging stories about people that actually existed. The stories seemed too incredible to be real.
Dan Carlin is one of the most engaging speakers I’ve ever listened to. To give you an idea, parts I through V are each about 1 hour and thirty minutes long. Part VI is 5 hours and 30 minutes long. I finished parts I through V without breaking a sweat, and I’m already halfway though part VI. I plan on listening to this again and again. There are too many life lessons and gems in the stories of the great men of Rome. I wish I was taught these lessons as a child, in addition to memorizing Bible verses. There’s something about researching Roman politicians that kills naivety, and opens your eyes to how the world actually works.
I’ve never been a history buff, but I’ve always known that when it came time for me to learn how the world works, socially and politically, I need to look at history. Not just any part of human history, but the history and biographies of men who achieved in life what I wish to achieve. So far, my favorite historical figure is Theodore Roosevelt, mostly due to his character, his world view, and his priorities.
Learning about the Roman Politicians and Generals is a double edged sword. These are people that consistently committed adultery, murder, orgies, and the like with disregard for little other than themselves. Utter megalomaniacs! But seeing as our world is filled with people who have the exact same motivations and ambitions, it seems prudent to learn as much as you can about dealing with such people with subtlety and cunning. Or as Jay- Z puts it, “Show you how to move in a room full of vultures.” This is very beneficial to the listener, who can apply these lessons to every day situations.
Gaius Marius, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Cato the Younger, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, Marcus Licinius Crassus, and even Mithridates VI of Pontus, have now become my tutors. Being soaked in the life stories of all these men, and their influence on the destiny of the Republic, is very inspiring, but also awakens vanities in myself. That’s the the “other” edge of the sword.
There’s something intoxicating about the idea of just taking what you want. There are many times where I could have taken what I wanted but I didn’t due to my conscience, most notably in the area of relationships. I’m no saint when it comes to women, but there have been numerous times in my life that I had opportunities in front of me to succumb to my sexual urges and seduce a girl who was quite ready and willing to be seduced, but I declined, because of my principles. I always felt kind of like a loser afterwards, because here is this girl ready to be taken, but it’s just her luck that she’s attracted to a Christian guy with morals. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, I’m a Scorpio, after all. Hearing of Julius Caesar’s sexual exploits makes me kind of kick myself, that I never allowed myself to sow any wild oats…but I must remember that pretty much every one of these guys had syphilis, and that’s not who I am, despite the temptation to go renegade. I’ve never been the type of person who was willing to take advantage of a girl’s emotions to get what I want, and then abandon her once I’ve taken it. I’ve never been ruthless in relationships. Looking back, I think some of them deserved ruthlessness, but I know I could never play that role. To be honest, many women do want to be taken advantage of, and it perplexes me. It frustrated me in high school that it was the guys that did that who seemed to be the most popular with the ladies. It is what it is though, and some girls outgrow it while others don’t. I went to a “Christian” high school, by the way.
As an aside, one thing that has always confused and scared me about other humans is jealousy. I don’t know that I’ve ever truly felt jealous of another person, unless you count Alexander the Great. He lead his first cavalry charge at the age of 16, was tutored by Aristotle, and conquered the known world by the age of 23. Even then, I can’t truly call it jealously, because I didn’t think, “Man I hate this guy because of what he has, and what he accomplished.” It was more of a, “Wow, that guy is cool!”
Even if something in my life made me sad, I was quite rapidly able to see how it made me stronger. It’s not that I haven’t had reason to feel jealousy, but rather that I’m very happy being me. Maybe that makes me arrogant. I do have a childhood history of arrogance, and I’d definitely call part of my adolescence “The Humbling of David Ovienmhada”. But no, I’m not a jealous person. Maybe it’s easy for me to say that, for whatever reasons people could concoct, I don’t know, but I’ve always been happy for other people’s successes. I’ve noticed that most people just aren’t that way, and feel threatened by other people’s stuff or talents.
Dan Carlin describes a scene where Pompey the Great has returned from a great conquest for Rome, and has his third triumph (a parade) through the streets of Rome. He has basically single handedly saved the entire Roman Empire. He destroyed the pirate threat and restored safe trade to the mediterranean, which had before been at a complete standstill. Piracy, kidnapping, theft and extortion were so common on the high seas, that even Julius Caesar was kidnapped and ransomed as a young adult. Pompey destroyed the Selucid Empire, and defeated the thorn in Rome’s side, Mithridates, and brought back enough money to Rome to instantly solve their financial crisis. He brought back more money from his conquests than Rome’s entire yearly revenue from taxes across all it’s provinces. He deposed kings and setup new governments throughout Europe and Asia. He became the richest man in Rome, with as much or more money than Crassus. He wore the purple cloak of Alexander the Great that he captured from King Mithridates.
Yet after his triumph, his every request is denied by the Senate, he has almost no powerful friends in Rome, and even though he’s technically the most powerful man in Rome, he as trouble getting anything accomplished because he’s blocked on every side. You’d think the Senate would be grateful, but no, they were jealous. It’s recorded that they all opposed Pompey because he was becoming “too great.” They wanted to cut him down to size. It’s recorded by Cicero that at times, Pompey could be seen staring at length into Alexander’s purple cloak, as he held it in his hand. It paints the picture of a man that has achieved everything it was possible for him to achieve, and is perplexed at his sudden change of fortune. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him, because I could almost see him as a future version of myself. To achieve your goals, but then be crushed by the reality of human nature.
As a Nigerian, I wouldn’t call myself naive, but I am an idealist. I try to live to an ideal myself, while I mostly expect nefariousness from others. I’m suspicious of the motives of everyone, it’s why I often take my time to get to know people, and keep my circle of friends tight. I’m not one to just open the doors wide to new people. I believe it’s impossible to have a genuine relationship with someone without trust, so there are people I trust, it’s just that it’s a very short list. Ironically, once I do catch someone in deceit, I always find myself stunned and surprised. As if, “I suspected this of you, but I thought I was just being a suspicious Nigerian. You actually are this way?!” Peering into history gives you a bird’s eye view of human nature. Technology changes, music changes, and medicine changes, but humans stay exactly the same. It’s the human element that is a constant.
Dan Carlin has given me an entirely new reading list, which is going to be the biographies of all the men who’s stories have peaked my interest throughout the series.
After listening to Dan Carlin for a while, and getting a feel for the personalities of these Roman men, I feel that I’m most like Cato the Younger followed by Pompey the Great. I’ve always had a distaste for the lies and finagling of politics, even social politics, and corruption or nepotism of any sort, but with a healthy thirst for adventure. Romans made fun of Pompey because he was actually in love with his wife. They found that effeminate and thought as a man you ought to be out having affairs. If you want to know what I was like in high school, read about Cato.
I’m not actually doing myself any egotistical favors by my conclusion. I’d rather I was more like Julius Caesar, Gaius Marius, or even Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who once said, “No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid in full.”
I find that men like Cato and Pompey proved to be outmaneuvered in the long run by more devious minds, and I stand to learn from their mistakes. I do admire the cunning of men like Julius Caesar and Cicero, who were charming, had a flair for politics, but were also deceptive and manipulative. I do know that I must learn how to deal with deceptive and manipulative people effectively, if I’m to travel the road laid out for me, so what better way is there than to learn from the best? That’s one of my favorite things about Theodore Roosevelt, he knew how to handle people like that, and still be true to his impeccable moral fiber.
“Public speaking professionals say that you win or lose the battle to hold your audience in the first 30 seconds of a given presentation.”
– John Medina, Brain Rules
Dan Carlin had me at 21 seconds, and hasn’t lost me since.
Update 5/15/15: Death Throes of the Republic can now be found and purchased at DanCarlin.com. It’s no longer available on the podcast for free.