Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient Modern

Article excerpt

Damian McBride, the latest spawn of the Campbell, has notable forebears in the infamous delatores, or informers, of the Roman empire. They too worked with passionate servility to suck up to the emperor of the day by bringing to his attention those who might be considered dangerous to him.

A trumped-up charge of treason would be brought against the victim, followed as often as not by his exile or death, an invitation to commit suicide being the preferred option.

The great historian Tacitus sketches the typical delator for us in the person of Caepio Crispinus. He was assistant to the governor of Bithynia, Marcus Granius Marcellus, and brought an accusation of treason against him. Tacitus comments: 'Caepio embarked on a career subsequently popularised in these wretched times by men's complete lack of shame. Broke, unheard-of, restive, he wormed his way by secret recommendations into the emperor Tiberius's grim confidence. Soon anyone of any standing was at his mercy. His ascendancy over one man was equalled only by the disgust of everyone else. His was the precedent that enabled others to crawl out of beggary into riches, to inspire dread instead of contempt, to destroy others ? …

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