Sunday, 5 March 2017

The quality of mercy

The claim is ... that the ability to give mercy was both a good thing in itself and it actually secured power ...

... Mercy is one of those virtues, the more you think about it, the more people like us don't have, because we can't have, you know? You can only show the virtue of mercy if you have the capacity to chop someone's head off. So mercy is always an autocratic virtue.
Mary Beard, on the essay De Clementia (On Mercy), which Seneca the Younger wrote for the moral and philosophical instruction of the emperor Nero (I think it's pretty safe to say that he needn't have bothered, for all the good it did). You can listen to this bit about 27-28 minutes into this discussion, if you have the good fortune to have access to BBC Radio 4's archives (but, seriously, do yourself a favour and listen to the whole thing, if you can). More proof, if you need it, that Mary Beard and In Our Time are national treasures.