General Question

LauraK's avatar

What is the origin of "bread and circus"?

Asked by LauraK (72points) September 25th, 2008

a phrase used by many authors

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

11 Answers

JackAdams's avatar

It’s explained here

LauraK's avatar

Yes, of course, Wikipedia, but I have heard it in so many other contexts as in “pot should be free like bread and circuses” or altered to become “bread and puppet circus.” Wondering if anyone knows the culture behind the various uses – just heard it in Dostoevsky this a.m. while listening to Brothers Karamatzov – and it seemed cross-cultural to hear it from a Russian author. But the context was similar to this early Roman definition. Why “bread” and “circus” ? Just curious.

flameboi's avatar

Bread for the organic foods
Circus because they used to sell wooden toys also…
Source: My Marketing book

janbb's avatar

I always understood it to be derived from Roman culture. They kept the plebs – ordinary people – happy by feeding them bread and giving them circuses, i.e., gladiator contests, chariot races, etc.

cwilbur's avatar

(Hint: when I can go to Google and the first link I hit gives an answer to the question, you didn’t do your homework!)

LauraK's avatar

Hint: Wikipedia is not new and hardly tells the whole story. Many PEOPLE actually have information to share that is interesting. Otherwise I would just google and not risk hearing simplistic hints that don’t add value to my question

cwilbur's avatar

The answer to your question is found in great detail on the Wikipedia page. That’s why I pointed you there.

There is very little value for discussion in your question in the first place: it’s an objective question, with a fairly cut and dried answer that’s trivial to find. When you ask that sort of question here, you waste people’s time. That’s why you are expected to check Google and Wikipedia first, and actually only ask the sort of questions here that benefit from discussion.

Further, yes, the hint that you should check Google and Wikipedia first is simple. What excuse do you have for not doing it? It would have answered your question.

Ibrooker's avatar

The etymology of the phrase is undeniably linked to the Roman Empire. As the wikipedia article explains, it comes from the practice of giving bread and entertainment to the Plebeian class of Roman society (as opposed to the Patricians) in order to keep them satisfied. This was practice in city of Rome, but unlikely that it occurred much farther from the epicenter of Roman civilization. Apparently it was also a debated practice at the time and thus the phrase was developed in their own time period to negatively connote the government’s transparent efforts to please the populus in order to gain popularity. The phrase has shed many of these connotations today and simply refers to “food and entertainment” in most circumstances.

jasonjackson's avatar

@LauraK: Hmm, I’ve never heard the phrase used like “pot should be free like bread and circuses”. I only know the traditional meaning of the phrase – which somewhat derisively refers to people’s political/social priorities.

That phrasing about pot makes it sound like a good thing, maybe.. so I’d tend to think it was misused by whoever said that, or else was part of a witty joke?

marinelife's avatar

Welcome to the collective, LauraK. If you have not had a chance yet, check out the Fluther Guidelines, which gives some tips on asking questions.

This is an ancient phrase, first used by a Roman satirist. One reason it is ubiquitous is our cultures today is that Roman playwrights were part of standard Classical education in Europe (explaining the Dostoevsky reference and so many others).

I like the Merriam-Webster explanation, which is succinct and very clear:

” From Merriam-Webster Online:

: Main Entry: bread and circuses
: Function: noun plural
: Etymology: translation of Latin panis et circenses
: Date: 1914
: : a palliative offered especially to avert potential discontent

Bread and circuses – It means distracting people with food and entertainment (bread and circuses/popcorn and movies) so they won’t notice the things that are really wrong. It’s kind of like distracting a baby with a bottle and a rattle. The expression comes from an ancient Roman saying. “A pallative offered especially to avert potential discontent. Public spectacles or entertainments distract the public from important issues and may alleviate discontent in the short run, but neither provides fundamental solutions. The term comes from the work of the Roman satirist Juvenal (ca. A.D. 60–140), who wrote: Duas tantum res anxius optat/Panem et circenses.(The people) long eagerly for two things/Bread and circuses.” From “Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Allusions” by Elizabeth Webber and Mike Feinsilber (Merriam-Webster, Springfield, Mass., 1999).”

galileogirl's avatar

Yep the Roman explanation (history teacher not Wiki as the source) The Roman emperors subsidized wheat and provided regular entertainment to keep the masses occupied. Today’s sports fans have nothing on the fans of Roman chariot race teams including rioting when their team lost or won.

What better way to keep people’s attention off what the government does than wall-to-wall televised games on the weekend and cheap pizza and beer? It still works!

Answer this question




to answer.

This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

Your answer will be saved while you login or join.

Have a question? Ask Fluther!

What do you know more about?
Knowledge Networking @ Fluther