Question: What do Joe Paterno and the Roman Emperor Nero have in common?
Answer: damnatio memoriae
Damnatio Memoriae (Latin for “the condemnation of memory”) is the act of trying to erase a person from history. In the Roman world, this meant erasing the condemned man’s name from inscriptions, removing coins with his image from circulation, or defacing images and statues of him.
As you might imagine such an endeavor is extremely difficult to accomplish. Even in an age less bombarded by media than ours, it could be difficult to track down and remove every single mention of a person. People who generate great anger are normally people who have also left a lasting and far-reaching mark.
But more than being difficult, is it right? Many (but not all) people hated for their evil acts manage also to be remembered for other more positive contributions. The Roman poet Martial articulated this best when he wrote “What worse than Nero? / What better that Nero’s baths.” But Martial’s approach does not come easy for us. We fear that anything short of complete condemnation is somehow to condone evil. The result is two-fold: the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.
So I guess it shall be with JoePa… his statue removed, his program destroyed, his victories forfeited.
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