Why Are Similar Minds Clustered Together in History?

Velleius Paterculus, History of Rome I.17

“Who can be surprised enough at the fact that the most prominent minds of each discipline tend to gather together in the same form and the same short period of time, no less than the way animals of different types tend to group together, separated from foreign species, in one group when enclosed in the same pen? Don’t minds capable of distinguished accomplishment separate themselves from different natures in the similarity both of their eras and their pursuits? A single span of time, not lasting many years, made tragedy illustrious through men of divine spirit: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. Similarly, one era perfected that ancient form of comedy under the auspices of Cratinus, Aristophanes and Eupolis; And Menander and his peers—in age more than in accomplishment—Philemos and Phiphilus—created the form of New Comedy and made it impossible to imitate. So, too, the brilliant minds of philosophers inspired by Socrates’ speech—whom we mentioned earlier—how long did they thrive after the deaths of Plato and Aristotle? What repute existed among orators before Isocrates or after his students and their followers? They were together in so narrow a span of time that none of them worthy of mention could have avoided being seen by another one!”

2 Quis enim abunde mirari potest, quod eminentissima cuiusque professionis ingenia in eandem formam et in idem artati temporis congruere spatium, et quemadmodum clausa capso aliove saepto diversi generis animalia nihilo minus separata alienis in unum quodque corpus congregantur, ita cuiusque clari operis capacia ingenia in similitudine et temporum et profectuum semet ipsa ab aliis separaverunt? 3 Una neque multorum annorum spatio divisa aetas per divini spiritus viros, Aeschylum, Sophoclen Euripiden, inlustravit tragoediam; una priscam illam et veterem sub Cratino Aristophaneque et Eupolide comoediam; ac novam comicam Menander aequalesque eius aetatis magis quam operis, Philemo ac Diphilus, et invenere intra paucissimos annos neque imitandam reliquere. 4 Philosophorum quoque ingenia Socratico ore defluentia omnium, quos pauco ante enumeravimus, quanto post Platonis Aristotelisque mortem floruere spatio? 5 Quid ante Isocratem, quid post eius auditores eorumque discipulos clarum in oratoribus fuit? Adeo quidem artatum angustiis temporum, ut nemo memoria dignus alter ab altero videri nequiverint.


Velleius Paterculus may have been ahead of his time in considering such intellectual and cultural clusters—in fact, this is exactly the type of thing Malcolm Gladwell might write about. Velleius has some answers of his own.  [Coming later!]

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