Today I was going over a little Latin and came across this sentence by Ovid, written in his Metamorphoses.
Omnia mutantur, nihil interit.
All things are changed, nothing is lost.
Todo cambia, nada se pierde.
I was quite surprised to read about the Law of Conservation of Energy in a 2000 year old text. Of course, Ovid was not thinking of energy, but of the soul. The very title of his book (translated as ‘Beyond-form’) tells us that life is much more than who were are now. I thought it interesting, considering my last post on Seneca’s father. That great writers of this period are writing about transmutation as well. The Romans understood the concept long before scientists began to formulate these ideas and applying them to physics. Further, if we have spirits and they are energy, the immortality of said energy is proven by both the Law of Conservation of Energy and Transmutation. Ovid, of course, was addressing roman fears of death, saying that all things fluunt (flow) and nihil interit (nothing is lost) was a way to reassure those who had lost faith in this life through the catastrophes of the end of the Republic and the beginning of Empire. Of course. One has to look at the political implications of his text as well. If an Emperor (in this case Augustus) sought to help Romans understand a transition must take place, what better way to do so than writing works on change and the fluidity of life?
It all boils down to what was happening on the ground. A question many historians have asked themselves and come up empty handed. What were the Romans thinking about Augustus and his principate? Further, what did they think about the fact that Tiberius succeeded Augustus in all but name? The Julii and the Claudii had, in fact, taken over Rome; now they were busy killing each other for control of the Emperorship. Germanicus, son of the Julii, commanded the foreign legions and the people; Tiberius, son of the Claudii commanded the home legions and the senate. Augustus died without a clear heir because he had adopted both Tiberius and Germanicus. In essence, the works by the Stoics and the poets began to change in this period to help the individual adapt to the levels of death inflicted in the population; at this time dealt more by their fellow Romans than by barbarians (although we cannot forget the three legions lost by Varus in Teotoburg forest in 9 CE – some 30,000 dead Romans).
However, Germanicus would spend a decade in Germania avenging the legions, recovering the eagles of two of the three units lost. Romans had no qualms about joining up to serve, even in this period of darkness and death. One must be able to thank, if not solely credit, the works of men such as Seneca, Ovid, Virgil, and many others, for saving the animus (soul) of the Roman people when they were being obliterated. Augustus’ reforms had an immediate effect in recovering the lives of men and women who had lost faith in the Republic after one hundred years of civil wars and death within Rome itself. Wars that had begun with Sulla and Marius after the murders of the Gracchi brothers. Thus, Ovid reminds us that nothing is truly gone; everything, in reality, mutantur (is changed).
So stay strong. Change is a fact, strength is a choice, success is a combination of the two.