O Tempora! O Mores!

How! Thou art strange!
One day, sound fabric;
Another day, change.

Some say by havoc
Brought out in fringe –
O Tempora! O Mores!

Thou art, impinged!
What would thee, common,
Follow, instead?

The dictates of Mammon?
Whose body, thy bread?
What now dost thou wear?

What skin to be current?
Again! Thou has changed –
Estranged by thy garment.

O Tempora! O Mores!
What be more real?
To follow the zeitgeist?

To fervid appeal?
Or let rest what thou hast
In common, anneal?

O Tempora! O Mores!
Dormant the moment,
Which foments the zeal.

Nothing! which stays long,
Betrays what be real.

©2015, Marvin Welborn
30 June 2015

Author’s note:

“O tempora o mores” is a sentence by Cicero in the fourth book of his second oration against Verres and First Oration against Catiline. It translates as Oh the times! Oh the customs! (Oh what times! Oh what customs! or alternatively, Alas the times, and the manners) It is often printed as O tempora! O mores!

In his opening speech against Catiline, Cicero deplores the viciousness and corruption of his age. Cicero is frustrated that, despite all of the evidence that has been compiled against Catiline, who has been conspiring to overthrow the Roman government and assassinate Cicero himself, and in spite of the fact that the senate has given “Final decree of the Senate” or Final Act, Catiline has not yet been executed. Cicero goes on to describe various times throughout Roman history where consuls have killed conspirators with even less evidence, sometimes – in the case of former consul Lucius Opimius’ slaughter of Gaius Gracchus (one of the Gracchi brothers) – based only on “certain suspicions of insurrection.”

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