Emperors' first speeches: Nero to Miliband
I'm sure you knew this post was coming. But any classicist reading Ed Miliband's first speech to conference will have instantly gone back to some good Roman precedents.
There was the new leader talking about his solid family life, not completely dishing his predecessors (he is partly dependent on them after all), but trying to put a bit of clear blue water between them and him: a new deal...new generation, who's in, who's out. (Here was the man who wrote the Labour manifesto, remember, now carefully rubbishing it!)
New Roman emperors were often in the same position, so not surprisingly they said much the same thing. That's what "succession" is all about -- a careful negotiation between past and present, to the advantage of the new order.
Anyway the first occasion that came to my mind was the succession speech of the emperor Nero (as reported by Tacitus, and one of my favourite passages in the whole of Latin literature --which I am sure I must have mentioned before).The young Nero, whose mother has wangled him onto the throne, at the expense of his (half) brother Britannicus, comes to the senate to give a rousing acceptance speech. Click here, the speech itself starts at Chapter 4.
What does he say? He had had a happy family life, and wasnt bringing any feelings of vengeance to his rule; family and state would be kept separate; he would clean up the corruption of the past and the financial peculation that had been going on. And indeed there was a honeymoon period -- for a short while. But there were worrying signs about quite how far Nero was likely to deliver in the long term.
For a start Mum used to listen in to senatorial meetings when they took place up in the palace itself, hiding behind a curtain. So much for the separation of family and state. (Should we be watching out for old Mrs Miliband?)
As for the Miliband stress on being the child of immigrants, there's an even better Roman parallel -- in the emperor Claudius, Nero's predecessor.
In 48 AD Claudius is trying to persuade the senate to admit leading men of Gaul into their own number. Rome was an incorporative culture, welcoming immigrants, giving them citizenship ... but that doesnt mean they had no qualms about the process. Some senators were decidedly suspicuous about bringing the unwashed Gauls on board.
So what argument does Claudius use? The obvious one, according to Tacitus: he himself was the descendant of immigrants. Plus ça change...