How to Win an Election

Election season is upon us! Join us at the Dallas Museum of Art on Thursday, October 25, at 7:30 p.m. for a lecture on the ancient Roman election of 64 B.C, when Marcus Cicero won the office of consul, the highest office in the land, with the help of his brother Quintus. Dr. Philip Freeman translated Quintus’ Latin text, How to Win an Election, written to guide Marcus to victory, and discovered the text to be as timely today as it was in ancient Rome. Uncrated caught up with him for a short Q&A and preview:

What piqued your interest in How to Win an Election?

I read the original in Latin back when I was a graduate student in Classics at Harvard. I was struck then by how timeless the advice in the letter was, so I’ve used it since then in my own undergraduate classes with positive responses from the students. A couple of years ago, I decided that it would be great if the general public could read this virtually unknown piece of ancient literature. I was thrilled when Princeton University Press agreed to publish and publicize it!

Does the advice really hold up for the modern-day election? Do you think your book should be required reading for those running for office?

It certainly holds up for today’s elections. Every time I read of a new scandal or technique from the presidential candidates, I think of Marcus Cicero and the election of 64 B.C. I do sometimes worry that modern candidates will apply the principles laid out in the letter, but I think most people running for office today know all the dirty tricks already!

Your work is rooted in the “dead” languages of the ancient world. What is the most difficult thing you have ever translated? And do you think anything is lost in translation?

Every translation is a compromise that loses something of the original. You can try to be painfully literal, but that misses the spirit of the original. You can try to just capture the broad meaning, but that won’t be accurate. I usually compromise and try to take a middle path. How to Win an Election is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever translated because I was struggling so hard to capture the flavor of the letter while staying true to the text.

We’re right around the corner from the next major presidential election. What are your thoughts on our current election process?

I’ve learned that nothing has really changed in 2,000 years. Politicians are still using the same techniques and making the same mistakes.

Any last minute advice you would give the candidates before November 6?

I think Cicero would say never take anything or anyone for granted. Even at the last minute, elections can change completely!

Dr. Philip Freeman is a Professor of Classics at Luther University in Decorah, Iowa. He has been interviewed by NPR’s All Things Considered and has talked on Roman politics across the country. He will lecture on Thursday, October 25, at 7:30 p.m. at the Dallas Museum of Art as part of the Boshell Family Lecture Series on Archaeology.

Liz Menz is Manager of Adult Programs at the Dallas Museum of Art.


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