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Humanitas Posted by on Mar 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

The ancient Romans valued the virtue of Humanitas or “humanity.” The ancient Romans believed that the virtue of humanitas could be acquired by bonae litterae or “good letters.” Bonae litterae included the study of poetry, philosophy and literature. A man who was well versed in the bonae litterae was thought to be equipped to handle himself with dignitas or dignity. In other words, someone who was well educated and versed in the classics was labeled as someone who was refined and cultured.

Part of the reason why universities and other educational institutions offer courses in Latin literature and poetry is because of this idea that studying Latin will help one become a learned individual. The ancient Romans felt the same way. Therefore every aristocratic boy took courses in Latin grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry and philosophy.

However humanitas isn’t just about being well read. The main reason why education was important to the ancient Romans was because they believed someone who was learned would be able to carry themselves with dignity and pride.

A good example of such a man who exhibited humanitas was the famous orator Cicero. He was intelligent and had extensive knowledge of Roman history, politics, philosophy and poetry. The way in which he devoted his life to bonae litterae was a stark contrast to men like Mark Antony. For instance, the ancient Romans loved wine, but abhorred those who drank it in excess. In Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, Plutarch mentions in chapter nine that Mark Antony drank too much and vomited before his dinner guests. Having humanitas meant that a person had control over his senses and that he acted with dignity and honor.

Moreover the Hollywood stereotype that the ancient Romans encouraged wild drinking parties wasn’t necessarily true. The ancient Romans were keen on wine, but most upper class men drank in moderate amounts.

Losing one’s dignity over wine was a common way to discredit any political rivals. Cicero himself used this tactic. Unfortunately, Cicero’s son, Marcus Tullius Cicero Minor (also called Cicero the Younger), was an alcoholic. Although Cicero the Younger was a talented orator, his inability to display humanitas like his father was one of the factors that hindered his opportunities to outshine his father.

To sum it up, many of the major historical figures of ancient Rome have some attribute of humanitas. This means that the famous leaders of ancient Rome were admired for their intelligence and conduct. We should copy the ancient Romans in this manner, especially when it comes to the glorification of celebrities…

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