The Purity of Caesar’s Latin

I just finished reading large portions of Caesar’s de Bello Gallico with my students, who were positively scandalized at my claim that Caesar’s Commentaries were regarded in antiquity as models of clear and unadorned “easy reading.” To them, Caesar still seems as baffling as Lycophron. [I will admit that, although I find Caesar’s Latin to be clear as day, his narrative is occasionally less than perfectly intelligible, especially at points where he apparently attempts to sidestep embarrassing facts.]

Cicero, Brutus 262:

“Brutus then said, ‘I heartily approve of his speeches, and read many of them. He even wrote some Commentaries on his military adventures.’

‘Indeed,’ I said, ‘they are definitely worthy of praise: they are unadorned, correct, and pleasing, with every rhetorical ornament stripped off like an evening gown. But, though he wanted others to have source materials from which others could extract what they like in composing histories, he perhaps did a favor to literary triflers who would like to brand them with their own rhetorical flourishes. He deterred all right-minded men from writing: for there is nothing sweeter in a work of history than his pure and illustrious brevity. “

“I yield to the clarity of your compositions!”

Tum Brutus: orationes quidem eius mihi vehementer probantur. compluris autem legi; atque etiam commentarios quosdam scripsit rerum suarum.

Valde quidem, inquam, probandos; nudi enim sunt, recti et venusti, omni ornatu orationis tamquam veste detracta. sed dum voluit alios habere parata, unde sumerent qui vellent scribere historiam, ineptis gratum fortasse fecit, qui volent illa calamistris inurere: sanos quidem homines a scribendo deterruit; nihil est enim in historia pura et inlustri brevitate dulcius.

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