Boris Johnson likens himself to Roman who returned as dictator | Boris Johnson

In his departure speech, Boris Johnson likened himself to Cincinnatus, a figure who “returned to his plough”, apparently suggesting he would return quietly to the backbenches.

However, what Johnson, who studied classics at the University of Oxford, did not include in his speech was that while the Roman statesman Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus is said to have left Rome for a bucolic existence on his farm, he was later called upon to return to Rome and lead as a dictator.

This detail was seized upon immediately by commentators and historians, such as Tom Holland and Andrew Neil:

The satirist Armando Iannucci said: “Johnson expects to be called back. Cincinnatus was recalled from his plow to become leader of Rome a second time. Someone tell the people with microphones at Downing Street.”

Johnson expects to be called back. Cincinnatus was recalled from his plow to become leader of Rome a second time. Someone tell the people with microphones at Downing Street.

— Armando Iannucci (@Aiannucci) September 6, 2022

The historian Mary Beard points out that Cincinnatus’s cause was against the common citizens, known as the plebeians. He was in fact an “enemy of the people”.

If you are curious about Boris Johnson’s reference to Cincinnatus in his goodbye speech – he was a 5th century BC Roman politician who saved the state from an invasion, then – job done – returned to his farm (‘to his plough’). He was also an enemy of the people.

— mary beard (@wmarybeard) September 6, 2022

In what may have been a huge humblebrag by Johnson, Cincinnatus is said to often be held up as a paragon of civic virtue and outstanding leadership, in part because of his swift success and immediate resignation of near-absolute power as dictator after he returned to Rome from his farm.

According to Britannica:

The core of the tradition holds that in 458 Cincinnatus was appointed dictator of Rome in order to rescue a consular army that was surrounded by the Aequi on Mount Algidus. At the time of his appointment he was working a small farm. He is said to have defeated the enemy in a single day and celebrated a triumph in Rome. Cincinnatus maintained his authority only long enough to bring Rome through the emergency. He then resigned and returned to his farm.

And perhaps in a comparison that Johnson would not welcome, Cincinnatus was also the codename used by the whistleblower Edward Snowden when he first contacted the then Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald to tell his story.

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