In ancient Rome if the Senate truly didn’t like a guy – and we’re talking about absolutely desiring to disown a person – a decree would go out that was called “damnatio memoriae,” or “condemnation of memory.”
In short, the person was erased from life’s recording; the name never to be mentioned and his history scrubbed from the library’s scrolls.
Even further back the Egyptians did it too whenever some pharaoh was later judged less than favorably. It often took some doing to chisel the offending former potentate’s likenesses from a network of stone obelisks but the job got done just the same.
Today and as general rule damnatio memoriae isn’t quite so harsh. In spite of the fact that oft-times the governing powers would prefer that the public forgets what these officials believe is a less worthy administrator. Like Ray Petering; the former chief of the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Petering, as most outdoorsy folks know by now, was handed his head on a platter July 5th by James Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Along with two underling accomplices, Zehringer notified Petering in person and also via a short, terse dismissal letter that his services as the Wildlife Division chief were no longer required. Petering was then escorted out of the Fountain Square complex in Columbus, his name (if you will) figuratively scrubbed from the cairn of the chosen few who hold the lofty title of “chief” of some Natural Resources Department administrative clan or another.
All, of course, coming only a span of several months after the very same Zehringer announced with gushing fanfare Petering’s recall from retirement. About the only thing missing back then was the placing of a laurel wreath upon Petering’s somewhat polished dome.
Such distasteful things happen in government all the time, certainly. One administration crosses the cold and deep waters of politics and forges ahead to undo what the previous scalawags did while in office. New people come and the old are quickly forgotten.
In effect, an attempt is made to wipe the dearly departed’s memory (if not their impact) from the thoughts of the civil servants who now much slave away building new monuments that they’ve been ordered to construct.
So Petering is gone and Mike Miller is in; the latter implored to construct (yet again) a refreshingly new sculpture. All performed to help the body public and constituency base see that the just crowned centurion has the emperor's blessing.
Still, Petering’s name has not gone so gently into that good night; not when the wheels of bureaucracy can feel the grit of reality.
Today I entered the catches of two “honorary grandsons” of mine into the ledger of the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Fish Ohio program. Tanner and Tucker each caught eligible qualifiers for both the sunfish and crappie categories.
Besides recording the program’s required data so the boys could claim their Fish Ohio pins several weeks from now, I also ran off respective “Fish Ohio Outstanding Catch” certificates for the lads.
Handsome almost to fault when printed on parchment-type paper stock, the certificates indicate the species taken, length of fish, date and place of catch. The certificate even includes a color representation of the species.
Oh, and one other thing. Located in the lower right-hand corner of the certificate is the wording “Congratulations on your fine catch!” Plus, the printed and signed name “Raymond W. Petering” along with “Chief, Division of Wildlife.”
Intrigued, I looked through the Fish Ohio program’s electronic files to see how many potential certificates might theoretically exist that bears Petering’s name. The count was quantified to focus on the time between July 5th when Petering’s name became a fearful one to say for those left behind and July 15th when my lads caught their prized fishes. The answer was 350, give or take.
Yes, yes, of course, this is no big deal, one might easily say. The truth is likely that the Natural Resources Department’s massive bureaucracy is engaged in more pressing matters. Tinkering with the computer protocols to remove Raymond W. Petering’s name from the Fish Ohio certificate and add that of Mike Miller is trivial, one might effectively argue.
Even so, one might counter by hypothesizing that there exists at least some satisfaction on the part of Petering’s most devoted supporters that his name echos on more than 10 days after the former Wildlife Division chief’s unceremoniously abrupt departure.
Thing is, the Natural Resources Department’ top-to-bottom appointed leadership must understand an ages-old truth. In another 18 months or thereabouts these people – the same ones who have put the fear and wrath of the political gods into the souls of the department’s employees - will assuredly encounter their own damnatio memoriae.
No administration’s monuments stand forever; not even the columns erected by this one.