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White plaster bust sculpture portrait of

"...we should not, like sheep, follow the flock that has gone before us..."


Refusing to follow the crowd - the stoic opposition

Courage has many faces. Silence in the face of fawning sycophants is one of them. For Thrasea Paetus, this is where silence becomes dissent!

Thrasea Paetus was a senator during the reign of Nero. On numerous occasions in the senate, in public and in private life, he showed his opposition to the rule of Nero - and his dedication to senatorial autonomy - not through denunciations of Nero, but by his silence. An act of defiance that did not go unnoticed.

One of the first and most glaring acts of defiance was walking out of the Senate, rather than voice support for Nero's letter justifying the murder of Agrippina, his mother. In other senate business, Thrasea often encouraged motions that represented senatorial autonomy, but often went against the wishes of Nero.


In the public arena, Thrasea stood alone refusing to applaud Nero's singing at the Juvenalia (a youth festival in Nero's honour). This was - to Thrasea - just one of many acts unbecoming of an Emperor. The attending crowds were "encouraged" (coerced) to applaud by the presence of the Augustiani - Nero's growing gang of thugs. Their presence was more than a cheerleading exercise: it was an implied threat to dissenters.

In private life, Thrasea was unafraid to celebrate the birthdays of revolutionary heroes (for senatorial independence) like Brutus and Cassius. He even wrote "Life of Cato" praising another foe of Caesar and proponent of senatorial autonomy.


One of his final acts of defiance was to withdraw from the senate and public life, widely seen as a form of political protest. Eventually his enemies conspired against him and succeeded in having him charged on false pretenses. In his final act of defiance, he refused to attend his own trial and was sentenced to death - by suicide.


A friend, who could have used a veto to save him, was encouraged beforehand - by Thrasea - not to do so, as this would only endanger the tribune's own life.

Many other stoics suffered under the rule of Nero - accused by their enemies of treason because their moral gravitas was in open opposition to Nero's exuberant antics. (James Romm, Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero).


Watch what people do. It is more revealing than what they say.


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