“Elegant” as a Term of Reproach

‘An elegant man’ used to be a phrase which – all the way until Marcus Cato’s time – used to serve not as praise but a reproach. One may notice this in several writings, including Cato’s poem Carmen de Moribus. In that book we read this: ‘he who is considered extravagant, desirous, elegant, vicious, or idle, he is praised.’ From this quote it is clear that in ancient times someone who was called elegant was not considered so for the elegance of his talent, but from an excessively refined and rarefied mode of dress and life.

I. “Elegans” homo non dicebatur cum laude, set id fere verbum ad aetatem M. Catonis vitii non laudis fuit. II. Est namque hoc animadvertere cum in quibusdam aliis tum in libro Catonis, qui inscriptus est carmen de moribus. Ex quo libro verba haec sunt: “Avaritiam omnia vitia habere putabant: sumptuosus, cupidus, elegans, vitiosus, inritus qui habebatur, is laudabatur”; III. ex quibus verbis apparet “elegantem” dictum antiquitus non ab ingenii elegantia, sed qui nimis lecto amoenoque cultu victuque esset.

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