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Basic Information

Named after a Roman general, the Cincinnatus is a character who is given vast power in a crisis by a superior in the firm knowledge that he won't abuse this power (because of his firm belief in honor and duty, or just because he is uninterested in so much power in the first place), and in fact does step down from his office once the crisis is over.

There is also the similar, but less reputable, example of Lucius Cornelius Sulla who, having seized ultimate power in Rome, exercised it for a while and then retired to live out the remainder his life in debauchery, having established himself as far too dangerous to meddle with.

See Also



Game and Story Use

  • Given the usual paranoia of player characters, they are likely to suspect a Cincinnatus of trying to seize absolute power for himself. Play on that paranoia and keep them guessing about the true nature of the Cincinnatus.
  • This trope doesn't have to apply to an entire nation. Any village or organization where the previous ruling body disintegrated for some reason or other might have a Cincinnatus stepping up and taking control for the duration of the emergency and until a proper successor can be installed.
    • As before, his ascension to the office might represent a red herring, as the Cincinnatus seems to be the one person who has benefited the most from the removal of the old guard - and thus the prime suspect in their removal.
  • Another use for the character is a leader who already has voluntarily stepped down and is widely respected in the community for it. (And perhaps frequently urged to resume his power).
    • George Washington was a real-life example of this; (in fact, some of his contemporaries called him "a modern Cincinnatus")
      • One 19th Century sculptor went as far as to depict him wearing a toga. Which wound up looking pretty silly.
    • To a lesser extent General Douglas MacArthur could be considered one too. Although, he did not voluntarily step down from power, he could have fought his dismissal but refrained from doing so for the good of the country.
    • An old Bob Hope joke from the 1976 presidential election: "Things aren't so different than they were two hundred years ago. Back then, George Washington didn't want to be president, he wanted to go home and become a gentleman farmer. And Thomas Jefferson didn't want to be president, he wanted to go home and become a gentleman farmer. And today, Jerry Ford and Ronnie Reagan wish that Jimmy Carter would just go home and become a gentleman farmer!"
      • Okay, so that joke wasn't really necessary.
    • The (semi-)legendary king Tewdric of Gwent (often associated with King Arthur) is said to have abdicated the throne to become a monk before being temporarily recalled to power to organise the defence against a Saxon invasion.
  • Of course any given Cincinnatus has to be damned careful that he doesn't end up being Titus Andronicus instead … history is littered with the graves of people who laid their power aside, only to find that the people who took it up were very far from greatful for their forbearance.
  • Can also overlap with retired outlaw and similar things - as per Sulla - the monster who has, for some reason, consented to live peacefully.
  • PCs might be deputised to find someone like this and bring them out of retirement in an emergency.
  • For those who like subversion, it's worth noting that the original Cincinnatus was mainly concerned with preventing non-aristocratic Romans from acquiring political power … the reason he was personally working a farm in his old age was that he had been fined into poverty for complicity in his son's murder of a political rival.
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