Men always, but not always with good reason, praise bygone days and criticize the present, and so partial are they to the past that they not only admire past ages the knowledge of which has come down to them in written records, but also, when they grow old, what they remember having seen in their youth. And, when this view is wrong, as it usually is, there are, I am convinced, various causes to which the mistake may be due.
The first of them is, I think, this. The whole truth about olden times is not grasped, since what redounds to their discredit is often passed over in silence, whereas what is likely to make them appear glorious is pompously recounted in all its details. For so obsequious are most writers to the fortune of conquerors that, in order to make their victories seem glorious, they not only exaggerate their own valorous deeds, but also magnify the exploits of the enemy, so that anyone born afterwards either in the conquering or in the conquered province may find cause to marvel at such men and such times, and is bound, in short, to admire them and to feel affection for them.
...if it were a question of the ruler to whom Rome was more indebted, Romulus or Numa, Numa, I think, should easily obtain the first place. For, where there is religion it is easy to teach men to use arms, but where there are arms but no religion, it is with difficulty that it can be introduced. [i.e., it’s easier to turn churchgoers into soldiers than it is to turn armed agnostics into churchgoers]
For men, as king Ferdinand used to say, resemble certain little birds of prey in whom so strong is the desire to catch the prey which nature incites them to pursue, that they do not notice another and a greater bird of prey which hovers over them ready to pounce and kill.