Falling Down in the World: From Senator to Professor

Pliny, Letters 4.11

To My Friend Cornelius Minicianus,

Have you heard that Valerius Licinianus is teaching in Sicily. I don’t think you have since the news just reached me. This Praetorian Senator was only just recently considered among the most eloquent advocated in Rome. But he has fallen to this: an exile from the Senate and a professor of rhetoric.

Thus, in his first lecture, he spoke these words soulfully: “What games do you play with us, Fortune? You make professors from senators, and senators from professors!” So much bile, so much bitterness—perhaps he got himself made a teacher just to say it! When he entered wearing a Greek cloak—since those who have been exiled are forbidden the toga—he composed himself, looked himself over, and announced, “I will lecture in Latin!”

C. Plinius Cornelio Miniciano Suo S.
Audistine Valerium Licinianum in Sicilia profiteri? nondum te puto audisse: est enim recens nuntius. Praetorius hic modo inter eloquentissimos causarum actores habebatur; nunc eo decidit, ut exsul de senatore, rhetor de oratore fieret. Itaque ipse in praefatione dixit dolenter et graviter: “Quos tibi, Fortuna, ludos facis? facis enim ex senatoribus professores, ex professoribus senatores.” Cui sententiae tantum bilis, tantum amaritudinis inest, ut mihi videatur ideo professus ut hoc diceret. Idem cum Graeco pallio amictus intrasset (carent enim togae iure, quibus aqua et igni interdictum est), postquam se composuit circumspexitque habitum suum, “Latine” inquit “declamaturus sum.”

Roman portraiture fresco of a young man with a papyrus scroll, from Herculaneum, 1st century AD

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