Homer’s Sententious Stuffing

Macrobius, Saturnalia 5.16:

“In every work of Vergil Homeric imitation shines forth. Indeed, Homer stuffed every bit of his poetry so full with sententiae that his individual apophthegms could be employed on everyone’s tongue in the manner of proverbs, as

‘But the gods have not given everything to mortals at once.’

‘One should love a guest when present, and send them off when they’re willing.’

‘Moderation is best in all things.’

‘The mob is bad.’ [lit = the more are worse]

‘The promises of vile men are themselves worthless.’

‘He is mindless who wishes to contend against his superiors.’

and many others. You would not search for these things in vain in Vergil:

‘We cannot all do all things.’

‘Love conquers all.’

‘Wicked work overcomes everything.’

‘Is it that awful to die?’

‘Everyone has their day.’

‘Fraud or virtue – who asks in the case of an enemy?’

‘And what each region will bear, and what each region will refuse.’

‘The hallowed hunger for gold.’

And, not to dull your senses by repeating what everyone knows, a thousand of such quotations are to be found on the tongues of individuals, or will at any rate occur to the notice of a reader. In some cases, I hardly know whether Vergil strayed from the Homeric path by chance or by choice. Homer chose to ignore Fortune, and he committed everything to be managed by that one decree, which he calls moira, so that this word Fortune [tuche] is named in no part of the Homeric corpus. On the other hand, Vergil not only knows and notices Fortune, but attributes omnipotence to her, though the philosophers who name her held that she was able to do nothing of her own power, but rather, wished her to be the minister of providence.”

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In omnibus vero Georgicorum libris hoc idem summa cum elegantia fecit. Nam post praecepta, quae natura res dura est, ut legentis animum vel auditum novaret, singulos libros acciti extrinsecus argumenti interpositione conclusit, primum de signis tempestatum, de laudatione rusticae vitae secundum, et tertius desinit in pestilentiam pecorum, quarti finis est de Orpheo et Aristaeo non otiosa narratio. Ita in omni opere Maronis Homerica lucet imitatio. Homerus omnem poesim suam ita sententiis farsit ut singula eius ἀποφθέγματα vice proverbiorum in omnium ore fungantur, ut:


ἀλλ’ οὔπως ἅμα πάντα θεοὶ δόσαν ἀνθρώποισι, —

Χρὴ ξεῖνον παρέοντα φιλεῖν, ἐθέλοντα δὲ πέμπειν, —

Μέτρον δ’ ἐπὶ πᾶσιν ἄριστον, —

Οἱ πλέονες κακίους, —

Δειλαί τοι δειλῶν γε καὶ ἐγγύαι ἐγγυάασθαι, —

ἀφρὼν δ’ ὅς κ’ ἐθέλοι πρὸς κρείσσονας ἀντιφερίζειν,

et alia plurima. Nec haec apud Virgilium frustra desideraveris:


— Non omnia possumus omnes, —

Omnia vincit Amor, —

— Labor omnia vincit

Inprobus, —

Usque adeone mori miserum est? —

Stat sua cuique dies, —

— Dolus an virtus, quis in hoste requirit? —

Et quid quaeque ferat regio et quid quaeque recuset, —

Auri sacra fames,

et, ne obtundam nota referendo, mille sententiarum talium aut in ore sunt singulorum aut obviae intentioni legentis occurrunt. In nonnullis ab Homerica secta haud scio casune an sponte desciscit. Fortunam Homerus nescire maluit, et soli decreto, quam μοῖραν vocat, omnia regenda committit, adeo ut hoc vocabulum τύχη in nulla parte Homerici voluminis nominetur. Contra Virgilius non solum novit et meminit, sed omnipotentiam quoque eidem tribuit, quam et philosophi qui eam nominant nihil sua vi posse sed decreti sive providentiae ministram esse voluerunt.

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