Memorable Teacher, Remarkable Vice

Suetonius, On Grammarians 23

“Quintus Remmius Palaemon from Vicetia, a house-born slave, first learned weaving, people say, and then learned his letters when he followed his master’s son to school. After he was freed, he taught in Rome and held first place among the grammarians even though he was infamous for every kind of vice and even though Tiberius and soon Claudius were declaring that there was no one who should be less trusted for the education of boys. But he was capturing people with his skill of memory and then his ease of speech. He improvised not a few poems on the spot. He wrote, as well, in various meters, some of them rare.

He was so arrogant that he called Marcus Varro a porker; he declared that letters were born and would die with him; and that his own name appeared in the Bucolics not coincidentally but because Vergil was predicting that some day a Palaemon would be a judge of all poets and poems. He even used to boast that pirates once spared him thanks to his name’s celebrity.

He indulged in luxury so much that he bathed often during the day and could not live on his wealth even though he took four hundred thousand sesterces a year from the school and not much less from his household, where he opened shops with pre-made clothing and fostered his fields so seriously that it is believed that the vine he grafted by his own hand produced grapes for 365 days straight.

But he was especially guilty for libidinous acts against women, up to the edge of infamy. They say that a certain man was known for an apt saying who, when he was not able to avoid his questing kiss even as he tried in the midst of a crowd, said, “Teacher, do you want to slurp up anyone you see moving in a hurry?”*

XXIII. Q. Remmius Palaemon, Vicetinus, mulieris verna, primo, ut ferunt, textrinum, deinde herilem filium dum comitatur in scholam, litteras didicit. Postea manumissus docuit Romae ac principem locum inter grammaticos tenuit, quanquam infamis omnibus vitiis, palamque et Tiberio et mox Claudio praedicantibus, nemini minus institutionem puerorum vel iuvenum committendam. Sed capiebat homines cum memoria rerum, tum facilitate sermonis; nec non etiam poemata faciebat ex tempore. Scripsit vero variis, nec vulgaribus metris. Arrogantia fuit tanta, ut M. Varronem porcum appellaret; secum et natas et morituras litteras iactaret; nomen suum in “Bucolicis” non temere positum, sed praesagante Vergilio, fore quandoque omnium poetarum ac poematum Palaemonem iudicem. Gloriabatur etiam, latrones quondam sibi propter nominis celebritatem pepercisse. Luxuriae ita indulsit, ut saepius in die lavaret, nec sufficeret sumptibus, quanquam ex schola quadringena annua caperet, ac non multo minus ex re familiari; cuius diligentissimus erat, cum et officinas promercalium vestium exerceret, et agros adeo coleret, ut vitem manu eius insitam satis constet CCCLXV dies uvas edidisse. Sed maxime flagrabat libidinibus in mulieres, usque ad infamiam oris; dicto quoque non infaceto notatum ferunt cuiusdam, qui cum in turba osculum sibi ingerentem quanquam refugiens devitare non posset, “Vis tu,” inquit, “magister, quotiens festinantem aliquem vides, abligurire?”

*abligurrio: “to lick away, waste, or spend in luxurious indulgence”. I am not quite sure I got the best sense of this in English.

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