Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The High Cost of Heralds

On the field of battle, one of the most dangerous things you can do is pay other people to whisper accolades into your ear.

It’s extremely dangerous, but it’s done all the time. In Plutarch’s Lives we are told:

The first messenger that gave notice of Lucullus' coming was so far from pleasing Tigranes that he had his head cut off for his pains; and no man daring to bring further information, without any intelligence at all, Tigranes sat while war was already blazing around him, giving ear only to those who flattered him..."

Tigranes had one of the largest and best equipped armies in the history of the world, but he was defeated because he surrounded himself with a system of self-delusion that reinforced his vanity.

His last recorded words, as he peered down from the heights at a much smaller opposing force, were:

"If those Romans have come as ambassadors, there are far too many of them. If they have come as an invading army, there are far too few!"


In the end, Tigranes fled for his life
and died in the mountains as did his son. History (always written by the victor it should be said!) records the final tally of the battle as Lucullus losing five men, and Tigranes over 100,000.

The Romans may have learned a bit from this story.

It is said that during a Roman Triumph in which a great general is paraded through a city after a mighty victory, a slave was always positioned behind him to whispering into his ear: "Memento mori -- Remember that thou art a man.”'

Excellent advice.  Keep your eyes sharp and your swords even sharper.  

And remember that though you may win a thousand battles, you need only lose one to die forever.

No comments: