In 279 BC, the vast army of King Pyrrhus of Epirus was met by Roman forces at the Battle of Asculum in southern Italy, in what would be one of the costliest military engagements of ancient history.
Pyrrhus fancied himself the second coming of Alexander the Great and believed that he was a descendant of Achilles.
Many of his peers and contemporaries believed Pyrrhus to be the greatest military commander of all time.
His exploits were legendary. And when he set sail for Italy in 280 BC, the Romans did not underestimate him.
The Battle of Asculum was decisive. Pyrrhus actually won the battle; but in defeating the Romans, he lost so many of his men that his army was practically broken.
Pyrrhus purportedly said of his victory, “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined. . .”
This gave rise to the term “Pyrrhic victory,” which refers to a win that’s incredibly costly.
Pyrrhus also tried his hand at diplomacy with Rome, sending one of his ablest statesmen to the capital to negotiate peace with the Roman Senate.
The emissary was not successful. But he reported back to Pyrrhus that Rome’s Senate was incredibly impressive– “an assembly of kings” comprised of its noblest citizens.
And he was right. In the early days when Rome was still a republic, its Senate was a highly revered institution that stood for wisdom, dignity, and virtue.
They were far from perfect. But the men who served in the Senate during the early republic were heavily responsible for building the most advanced civilization the world had ever seen up to that point.
Needless to say, times changed. Within a few hundred years, the Senate had become a corrupt joke, filled with venal criminals, weak sycophants, and mediocre minds.
I couldn’t help but think of this analogy yesterday watching the Inquisition of Brett Kavanaugh.
If you’re living under a rock (or reading this letter many years from now), Brett Kavanaugh has been nominated to serve as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court.