Velleius Paterculus, History of Rome 1.13.3
“The generals had different habits and different interests. Scipio was certainly such a refined admirer and supporter of the liberal arts and any kind of learning that he kept two exceptional minds with him at home and in the field, Polybius and Panaetius. No one ever took leave from work with a more cultivated use of his leisure than Scipio—and neither has anyone pursued the arts always in war and peace alike. Dedicated always to arms and arts, he either exercised his body with dangers or his mind with studying. Now Mummius was so coarse that, when Corinth was taken and he was arranging for the paintings and sculptures finished by the hands of the greatest artists to be returned to Italy, he ordered the movers to be warned that if they broke them, they would have to make new ones!
But I do not suppose, Vinicius, that you would be reluctant to allow that it might have been better for the affairs of the state if we had remained ignorant of Corinthian statues to this day—instead of the statues being understood—and that the inexperience of that time was more conducive to public good than our present wisdom.”
Diversi imperatoribus mores, diversa fuere studia: quippe Scipio tam elegans liberalium studiorum omnisque doctrinae et auctor et admirator fuit, ut Polybium Panaetiumque, praecellentes ingenio viros, domi militiaeque secum habuerit. Neque enim quisquam hoc Scipione elegantius intervalla negotiorum otio dispunxit semperque aut belli aut pacis serviit artibus: semper inter arma ac studia versatus aut corpus periculis aut animum disciplinis exercuit. 4 Mummius tam rudis fuit, ut capta Corintho cum maximorum artificum perfectas manibus tabulas ac statuas in Italiam portandas locaret, iuberet praedici conducentibus, si eas perdidissent, novas eos reddituros. 5 Non tamen puto dubites, Vinici, quin magis pro re publica fuerit manere adhuc rudem Corinthiorum intellectum quam in tantum ea intellegi, et quin hac prudentia illa imprudentia decori publico fuerit convenientior.
In lieu of my clunky translation for the second paragraph above, Christopher Mackay (an actual Latinist!) has suggested the following translation: ““Nonetheless, you have no doubt, I imagine, Vinicius, that it was more in the public interest for our understanding to have still remained ignorant of Corinthian wares than for those things to have been understood to such a degree, and that the lack of expertise at that time was more beneficial to the national repute than today’s expertise is.”
[I find Velleius a bit dense and challenging to translate. But, alas, I am a Homerist, and parataxis has ruined me for Latin prose!]
5 thoughts on “The Refined and the Rude: Velleius on Cultivated Generals”
I’d suggest the following translation for the last section: “Nonetheless, you have no doubt, I imagine, Vinicius, that it was more in the public interest for our understanding to have still remained ignorant of Corinthian wares than for those things to have been understood to such a degree, and that the lack of expertise at that time was more beneficial to the national repute than today’s expertise is.”
Thanks. Will add it.
This is what I get for translating Velleius!
Also, I think *novas reddituros* means “replace with new ones”. That is, Memmius is portrayed as imagining that if the antique statues got broken, they’d have to be replaced with new ones, as if you were talking about used pots or something and the penalty was to replace broken ones with presumably more expensive and superior new ones. The point is that Memmius had no sense that ancient works of art were any better than new ones and that he was simply dealing any sort of trade item rather than something unique and irreplaceable because of its origin.
Yes, I agree,but I wanted to make it a bit sillier to emphasize Memmius’ ignorance…