Bad attitudes: Horace, Epode 8

Verb. Sap. = Verba Sapientibus = “Words to the Wise”

This is definitely an NSFW poem, even by today’s standards, such as they are. I discovered a translation, perhaps a bit free, which renders the sense and feeling of the poem better than any other known to me. The title is the translator’s; Horace’s poems do not have titles by the author. Translation from

Epode VIII – The Ancient Whore

Imagine asking what’s stolen my powers, you
Stinking whore, all this endless time,
When you’ve one black tooth, and when ripe old age
Furrows your brow with wrinkles,
When an ugly hole like a leathery old cow’s
Gapes between withered buttocks!
Yet that flabby chest, and those breasts, like the teats
Of a mare, can still excite me,
And that spongy belly, and those scrawny thighs,
Set on those swollen legs.
Bless you, and may masculine figures in triumph
Bear your funeral along.
Let no married woman wander about, weighed down
By rounder fruits than yours.
What if the little works of the Stoics prefer
To nest among silken pillows?
Illiterate sinews stiffen no less, do they:
Bewitched, it droops no less?
Either way to rouse it from a fastidious groin
It’s your mouth must labour hard.

Rogare longo putidam te saeculo,
      viris quid enervet meas,
cum sit tibi dens ater et rugis vetus
      frontem senectus exaret
hietque turpis inter aridas natis
      podex velut crudae bovis.
sed incitat me pectus et mammae putres
      equina quales ubera
venterque mollis et femur tumentibus
      exile suris additum.
esto beata, funus atque imagines
      ducant triumphales tuom
nec sit marita, quae rotundioribus
      onusta bacis ambulet.
quid? quod libelli Stoici inter Sericos
      iacere pulvillos amant,
inlitterati num minus nervi rigent
      minusve languet fascinum?
quod ut superbo provoces ab inguine,
      ore adlaborandum est tibi.

The woman is no prize, obviously. Neither is Horace; he could be sued for “assault with a dead weapon.”

Poems about ugly anatomy was, you guessed it, an ancient literary genre, aischrologia. But despie the long tradition, Horace really outdoes himself.  Note lines 5-6 which refer to the woman’s bung hole; there was a cult of Aphrodite Kallipugos (Aphrodite of the Lovely Bung Hole), and there are extant poems by various authors which praise those so endowed.

The woman was not your generic Working Girl. Line 12 imagines references the funeral masks which were collected in a special area in the mansions of the socio-economic elite.

But why belabor with an Ossa-Upon-Pelion collection of explications? If you would know more:

Commentary: Lindsay Watson, A Commentary on Horace’s Epodes (Oxford, 2003)

Vocabulary: J. N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary (London 1982)

Both have generous previews on Google Books. Watson is expensive; Adams was reprinted in a 1990 paperback still in print.

And on a musical note:



Is this any way to run a war? Sphacteria & Pylos, 425 BC

Start by reading the very last sentence of the translation. The assembly thought it was a no-lose win-win choice. Either Cleon would win and that would be rad. Or he’d lose and get killed, and that would be rad too. Either way, as the Australians today would put it, “she’s apples.” Rather than translate anew, I’ve used the classic translation by Thomas Hobbes. Yes, that Thomas Hobbes. Then read the whole chapter, and I’ll tie things together infra.

“But Nicias, seeing the Athenians to be in a kind of tumult against Cleon, for that when he thought it so easy a matter he did not presently put it in practice, and seeing also he had upbraided him, willed him to take what strength he would that they could give him and undertake it. [2] Cleon, supposing at first that he gave him this leave but in words, was ready to accept it; but when he knew he would give him the authority in good earnest, then he shrunk back and said that not he but Nicias was general, being now indeed afraid and hoping that he durst not have given over the office to him. [3] But then Nicias again bade him do it and gave over his command [to him] for so much as concerned Pylus and called the Athenians to witness it. They (as is the fashion of the multitude), the more Cleon declined the voyage and went back from his word, pressed Nicias so much the more to resign his power to him and cried out upon Cleon to go. [4] Insomuch as not knowing how to disengage himself of his word, he undertook the voyage, and stood forth saying that he feared not the Lacedaemonians and that he would not carry any man with him out of the city but only the Lemnians and Imbrians that then were present and those targettiers that were come to them from Aenus and four hundred archers out of other places; and with these, he said, added to the soldiers that were at Pylus already, he would within twenty days either fetch away the Lacedaemonians alive or kill them upon the place. [5] This vain speech moved amongst the Athenians some laughter, and was heard with great content of the wiser sort. For of two benefits, the one must needs fall out: either to be rid of Cleon (which was their greatest hope) or, if they were deceived in that, then to get those Lacedaemonians into their hands.”
Thucydides 4.28

ὁ δὲ Νικίας τῶν τε Ἀθηναίων τι ὑποθορυβησάντων ἐς τὸν Κλέωνα, ὅτι οὐ καὶ νῦν πλεῖ, εἰ ῥᾴδιόν γε αὐτῷ φαίνεται, καὶ ἅμα ὁρῶν αὐτὸν ἐπιτιμῶντα, ἐκέλευεν ἥντινα βούλεται δύναμιν λαβόντα τὸ ἐπὶ σφᾶς εἶναι ἐπιχειρεῖν. [2] ὁ δὲ τὸ μὲν πρῶτον οἰόμενος αὐτὸν λόγῳ μόνον ἀφιέναι ἑτοῖμος ἦν, γνοὺς δὲ τῷ ὄντι παραδωσείοντα ἀνεχώρει καὶ οὐκ ἔφη αὐτὸς ἀλλ᾽ ἐκεῖνον στρατηγεῖν, δεδιὼς ἤδη καὶ οὐκ ἂν οἰόμενός οἱ αὐτὸν τολμῆσαι ὑποχωρῆσαι. [3] αὖθις δὲ ὁ Νικίας ἐκέλευε καὶ ἐξίστατο τῆς ἐπὶ Πύλῳ ἀρχῆς καὶ μάρτυρας τοὺς Ἀθηναίους ἐποιεῖτο. οἱ δέ, οἷον ὄχλος φιλεῖ ποιεῖν, ὅσῳ μᾶλλον ὁ Κλέων ὑπέφευγε τὸν πλοῦν καὶ ἐξανεχώρει τὰ εἰρημένα, τόσῳ ἐπεκελεύοντο τῷ Νικίᾳ παραδιδόναι τὴν ἀρχὴν καὶ ἐκείνῳ ἐπεβόων πλεῖν. [4] ὥστε οὐκ ἔχων ὅπως τῶν εἰρημένων ἔτι ἐξαπαλλαγῇ, ὑφίσταται τὸν πλοῦν, καὶ παρελθὼν οὔτε φοβεῖσθαι ἔφη Λακεδαιμονίους πλεύσεσθαί τε λαβὼν ἐκ μὲν τῆς πόλεως οὐδένα, Λημνίους δὲ καὶ Ἰμβρίους τοὺς παρόντας καὶ πελταστὰς οἳ ἦσαν ἔκ τε Αἴνου βεβοηθηκότες καὶ ἄλλοθεν τοξότας τετρακοσίους: ταῦτα δὲ ἔχων ἔφη πρὸς τοῖς ἐν Πύλω στρατιώταις ἐντὸς ἡμερῶν εἴκοσιν ἢ ἄξειν Λακεδαιμονίους ζῶντας ἢ αὐτοῦ ἀποκτενεῖν. [5] τοῖς δὲ Ἀθηναίοις ἐνέπεσε μέν τι καὶ γέλωτος τῇ κουφολογίᾳ αὐτοῦ, ἀσμένοις δ᾽ ὅμως ἐγίγνετο τοῖς σώφροσι τῶν ἀνθρώπων, λογιζομένοις δυοῖν ἀγαθοῖν τοῦ ἑτέρου τεύξεσθαι, ἢ Κλέωνος ἀπαλλαγήσεσθαι, ὃ μᾶλλον ἤλπιζον, ἢ σφαλεῖσι γνώμης Λακεδαιμονίους σφίσι χειρώσεσθαι.

Some Background
The Athenians, thanks to the general Demosthenes’ cunning had built a fort on Pylos, very inconveniently for the Spartans on site, who took refuge on the nearby island of Sphacteria. Athenian success in the resultant naval battle meant the Spartans were cooped up on the island. Spartan wasn’t used to being in such a position. It gave them gas. Frantic Sparta even went so far as to offer the Athenians peace, which under Cleon’s influence the Athenians rejected. The issue became what Athens should do next.

In a typically rowdy meeting of the Assembly, Cleon told the senior general, Nicias, “You’ve dicked up. Big time. Asshole.” That’s how the previous chapter (27) ended.

In medias res
Not suave, Cleon. Nicias is pissed. So is the Assembly. Nicias is no fool. He offers Cleon the gig, and then, aided by the Assembly, he sticks him with it. And that gets us to the end of the quote with that damnfool decision the Assembly made.

Cleon has a history. After Pericles’ death earlier in the decade, he became the most dominant figure in the Assembly. In particular, when Mytilene revolted in 428/7, he carried a motion in the Assembly to kill all the men and enslave the women and children. The next day, however, the Assembly came to its senses for a change and reversed the decision. Cleon totally lost influence as a result. People had had too much of his sweet nature:

“of all the citizens most violent and with the people at that time far the most powerful (= “persuasive”)”

καὶ ἐς τὰ ἄλλα βιαιότατος τῶν πολιτῶν τῷ τε δήμῳ παρὰ πολὺ ἐν τῷ τότε πιθανώτατος

Hah. Cleon won at Sphacteria. Back to power. He won big, and he used his win, big. He put through a brutal reassessment of the Tribute List for the Athenian empire, in an off year for reassessment. Usually the tribute lists have a very brief intro and then list who owes what. Not so this time. It has a long preamble, very possibly written by Cleon himself, which threatens and bullies…and ups the tribute to impossible levels while demanding tribute from places which will never contribute.

Here is a translated excerpt from that decree (IG2 63):

ATL reassment 425 excerpt

The inscription is fragmentary, requiring various kinds of restorations. Hence the strange symbols, and the lack of the Greek text on the principle of “don’t try this at home.” If anyone is wildly keen to see the Greek, enquire.

And he kept using his win. In 424 he visited on the island of Scione the same punishment he’d tried to impose on Mytilene. Nobody second-guessed him.

But still, returning to where we started, really now, is this any way to run a war?Speaking of which….

“Looking for truth in all the wrong places…” redux: the Cosmic Edition

Cosmic edition? As in…immortality. When mortals ask gods about this, the results, predictably, are not good. But since we’re not immortals here, let’s get going. If you’ve not read my earlier post in this series, read it here.

T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” begins at the beginning…with some Latin:

Waste Land intro

which comes from Petronius’ great fragmentary novel, Satyricon 48.8. Trimalchio, the parvenu with way too much time and even more money, is bombasting as usual:

“Ï once saw the Sibyl at Cumae with my very own eyes. She ws in a bird cage, and when some boys asked “Sibyl, what do you want?” she replied “I want to die.”

The Sibyl was, among other things, the prophetess of Apollo; she led Aeneas down to the underworld (Aeneid 6), for all the good that did him. But what’s she doing in a cage? And why such doom and gloom? Read on….

Ovid, as usual, has much to say. In Metmorphoses 14, Aeneas is on a speed date with the Sibyl. He learns rather more than her phone number:

“Phoebus Apollo offered me immortality in exchange for my virginity. It happened this way. Apollo was ever so hot for me and offered me a choice of bribes, saying ‘Maid of Cumae, name your price and I will pay it.’ I pointed to a heap of sand and said Í’ll take as many birthdays as there are grains of sand there.’

Dang me. I forgot to ask for youth to go along with the years. I refused him and, dang me again. I’ve never married, I’m now a old fart, I need a hip replacement and I can’t run the Naples to Cumae 5K anymore. I’ve already done seven centuries, and I’ve got three hundred years to go and… my 401K is shot to hell. Life’s a bitch, and eternal life is even worse. I’m going to waste away to almost nothing at all, thinner and tinier even than all those runway models. No one will ever believe that I had once considered dropping for Apollo and, boy that he is, he’ll either not recognize me or else say he never loved me.”

[Met. 14.132-51, freely adapted]

“nec dea sum” dixit “nec sacri turis honore
humanum dignare caput; neu nescius erres,
lux aeterna mihi carituraque fine dabatur,
si mea virginitas Phoebo patuisset amanti.
Dum tamen hanc sperat dum praecorrumpere donis
me cupit, “elige” ait, “virgo Cumaea, quid optes:
optatis potiere tuis.” Ego pulveris hausti
ostendi cumulum: quot haberet corpora pulvis,
tot mihi natales contingere vana rogavi;
excidit, ut peterem iuvenes quoque protinus annos.
Hos tamen ille mihi dabat aeternamque iuventam,
si venerem paterer: contempto munere Phoebi
innuba permaneo; sed iam felicior aetas
terga dedit, tremuloque gradu venit aegra senectus,
quae patienda diu est (nam iam mihi saecula septem
acta vides): superest, numeros ut pulveris aequem,
ter centum messes, ter centum musta videre.
Tempus erit, cum de tanto me corpore parvam
longa dies faciet consumptaque membra senecta
ad minimum redigentur onus: nec amata videbor
nec placuisse deo; Phoebus quoque forsitan ipse
vel non cognoscet vel dilexisse negabit.”

Silly Sibyl. You’ve screwed enough people over with ambiguous prophecies; you expect us to believe you can’t recognize when someone’s doing it to you? Besides, everyone knows that the only god who’s Done It with more mortals than Apollo is Zeus. I’d say “get a life”…but that’s the last thing you need.

Seriously, though. Gloom and doom. Long life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But there’s a solution. This time we turn not to a poet but a philosopher. Nietzsche’s Die Geburt der Tragödie (Birth of Tragedy) chapter 3:

Es geht die alte Sage, dass König Midas lange Zeit nach dem weisen Silen, dem Begleiter des Dionysus, im Walde gejagt habe, ohne ihn zu fangen. Als er ihm endlich in die Hände gefallen ist, fragt der König, was für den Menschen das Allerbeste und Allervorzüglichste sei. Starr und unbeweglich schweigt der Dämon; bis er, durch den König gezwungen, endlich unter gellem Lachen in diese Worte ausbricht: `Elendes Eintagsgeschlecht, des Zufalls Kinder und der Mühsal, was zwingst du mich dir zu sagen, was nicht zu hören für dich das Erspriesslichste ist? Das Allerbeste ist für dich gänzlich unerreichbar: nicht geboren zu sein, nicht zu sein, nichts zu sein. Das Zweitbeste aber ist für dich – bald zu sterben`.”

“There is an ancient story that king Midas hunted in the forest a long time for the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, without capturing him. When Midas finally succeeded, the king asked what was best of all and most desirable for man. Silenus clammed up but the king could be very persusive. Silenus guffawed; till at last, forced by the king, he broke out with shrill laughter into these words: “Assholes, wretched race of a day, children of chance and misery, why do ye compel me to say to you what it were most expedient for you not to hear? What is best of all is for ever beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. Since you can’t swing that, there’s a great consolation prize: die ASAP.”

If this isn’t doom and gloom, nothing is. I won’t to contradict Silenus, but leave that to Achilles in Odyssey 11.486-92. Odysseus sees Achilles in the underworld and sucks up along the lines ‘Achilles, you were hotter than hell when alive, and down here you’re still aces.” To which Achilles replies “Mule muffins. I’d rather be a dung beetle and alive than Master of the Universe here.”

Nietzsche’s version comes from a fragment of Aristotle preserved by Plutarch. The more famous Midas story is, of course, that of the golden touch. So well known that it’s otiose to discuss here.

[pedantic aside. Why the beginnings with Eliot and Nietzsche? Simple. I learned the mythologies from them first, before I’d ever read Petronius in Latin or knew enough pedantry to find the source of Nietzsche’s account. Nietzsche, by the way, although famous today as a philosopher, was among the major classical philologists of his day.]


Boys behaving badly. Very badly: Seneca Rhetor, Controversiae 1.5

Let’s dive right into some smart-ass, none-too-suave rhetorical comments. Authorship and background come later. Because boys behaving badly is rather sad…even in today’s society, comments identical  to these can still be heard and, alas, thought even more often.

Here’s the situation:

“A raped woman has two choices at law: either marriage without dowry to her assailant, or his death.”

On a single night. one man raped two women. One demands his death, the other marriage.”

Rapta raptoris aut mortem aut indotatas nuptias optet. Vna nocte quidam duas rapuit; altera mortem optat, altera nuptias.

There are practical legal issues….

“Look! The law offered two punishments for the rapist. You will not be unavenged; a wife without a dowry, that will be his punishment. The first woman replies as before Íf he dies, it will be for both of us; if reprieved, it will be for you, not me.'”

nempe lex duas poenas scripsit uitiatori: alteram passurus est; non eris inulta, nam raptor non erit inpunitus: habebit poenam, indotatam uxorem. Respondet: non eodem modo: morietur, sed utrique; seruabitur, sed non mihi. 

“Revenge, fathers and brothers! Revenge, husbands!  Let the harshness of the laws be transcended: now women get raped in pairs.”

Vindicate patres, uindicate fratres, uindicate mariti; fortior publicae disciplinae seueritas surgat: iambinae rapiuntur. 

So far, bad behavior comes from the rapist. But it gets much worse…

“Porcius Latro: He was getting ready to rape a third woman, but he ran out of night.”

Porci Latronis. Iam se parabat in tertiam, nisi nox defecisset

“Argentarius had the same idea, but added ‘He is not satisied with one woman, not even on one night.'”

Argentarius eundem sensum dixit hoc adiecto: non est una contentus, ne una quidem nocte. 

“Of the Latin speakers, Triarius said ‘I congratulate you, virgins, that the dawn came swiftly.’ Argentaius said ‘You ask what ended his rapes? Daylight. Latro: ‘he was just getting ready for a third rape, but the night was too short for him.'”

Triarius: gratulor uobis, uirgines, quod citius inluxit. Argentarius dixit: quaeritis quid isti finem rapiendi fecerit? dies. Latro: iam se parabat in tertiam, nisi nox defecisset.

Is sad. Regrettably, such sentiments still exist today. Is sadder: in two thousand years, some things haven’t changed much. Some boys didn’t get it then, don’t get it now. I’ve heard such sentiments not in the neighborhood gin mill, but from some well-degreed and well-known academics. Hopefully, in two thousand more years….

Now where did all this come from, and why?

Most everyone knows of Seneca the philosopher, aka Seneca the Younger, author of All Those Letters as well as the rather edgy Apocolocyntosis on the death of the emperor Claudius. Fewer know about his father, Seneca Rhetor, aka Seneca the Elder. Fewer still have read any of the Elder’s works. A pity, for in our current era of polarized government, rhetoric is everywhere.

Two of Seneca the Elder’s works have been preserved in part. The Suasoriae, imaginary speeches of persuasion: the 300 Spartans debate wherther to stand or flee, Agamemnon debates whether to sacrifice you-know-who, and several more. The Controversiae, the basis for this post, preserve rhetorical exercises.

In each of the Controversiae, a theme is given based on Roman law. Then there are various ideas on epigrammatic phrases to use, sententiae, aka “wise-ass comments.” Then various plans for speaking, and sometimes examples of the orations. The Controversiae have been damaged in transmission, so not all of this appears in each of the Controversiae.

The Latin is not too hard and could be used at the intermediate level. And excellent two volume edition of these works was edited by Michael Winterbottom for the Loeb Classical Library. The editor is Corpus Chirsti Professor of Latin emeritus at the University of Oxford and specialized in Roman rhetoricians; he was also one of my undergraduate teachers. A most learned man who wore his learning lightly.

Did you know the entire Loeb Library is available digitally and gratis for members of CAMWS? I’m not in that association’s territory, but I belong, and membership includes a subscription to Classical Journal. A great value! Ask the owner of this site for details. This is a plug!

How to learn Roman law

My postings on Roman law have received a gratifying welcome. Several have asked how to learn more. Although this is a tad off-topic of this site, the spirit of Sententiae Antiquae hangs over it; I have asked The Power That Be for, and received, a special category for such posts. Yes, this implies there will be more.

By way of background, since the 1980s I’ve taught Roman law in alternating years as an advanced undergraduate course. It remains one of my three favorite courses.

Finally, I’m not just saying “take that”, thow it on the cyber-floor and move on. Questions are welcome; I can also offer more readings, hypothetical cases, quizzes, more reading suggestions…all accompanied by typically witty salon conversation. Do feel free. You can find me here, or on Twitter @chopin_slut.


Barry Nicholas, An Introduction to Roman Law (OUP)
John A. Crook, Law and Life of Rome, 90 BC -AD 212 (Cornell)
Bruce Frier, A Casebook on the Roman Law of Delict (Scholars Press via OUP)

All paperback, all in print as of this writing

What to do

Nicholas is the primary textbook. There are several others, but this gives the clearest explanations and most coverage.

Do a once-over of Part One, with particular attention to the history (I.2) and sources (II, III). Roman law is profoundly connected with Roman history, so you need an overview. Don’t try to master the sources section, but keep referring to it as needed, especially when we get to delicts.

For the balance of the book, read in order, starting with the Law of Persons. I strongly suggest omitting the Law of Inheritance the first time through. It is not as fundamental to understanding Roman law as the other parts, and really requires knowing those other parts very well indeed.

You should realize that Nicholas was writing in the UK for UK students. You may find some of the examples from UK law a little strange, but neither I nor my students have ever found them opaque.

The only other point on Nicholas is to read his Delict and Quasi-Delict sections, but use Frier to learn delicts. See further infra.

Crook places Roman law in a historical context. It reinforces the readings in Nicholas, introduces real cases and other evidence. The two books complement each other.

Frier has written a wonderful book. Working through the cases and section introductions will give you a wonderful introduction not only to delicts, but to the actualy workings of Roman law. If you try to answer all of his questions on all of the cases, you’ll be at it for a very long time. I suggest a selection of cases. If and when you get to this point, please query me and I’ll provide a list.

There are various supplemental books which can prove very helpful. Depending on how this post works, or doesn’t work, I may, or may not do a followup on them.

And, to send you on your way as well as to make up for the lack of a video in the last Roman law post, I leave you with this quasi-law video.  You will enjoy Roman law; about the video…I cannot say.


How To Become the Roman King (or Queen) of Torts

(With apologies to John Grisham and Melvin Belli)

So we’re clear on the terms. “Torts” is what we call compensation for injury, a civil procedure. Punishment for the crime committed involves a criminal procedure. This can lead to apparent contradictions (although not to an attorney). For example, in the notorious O. J. Simpson trial, Simpson was convicted in the civil tort action, while acquitted in the criminal murder action. Thus punishment and compensation are split. In Roman injury law (delicts), compensation and punishment are implicit in one action.

The basis of the Roman law of delict and hence modern tort law, lies in the Lex Aquilia of the early third century BC, sections one and three (section two covers other matters). Thus:

“The Lex Aquilia replaced all the laws which preceded it when the issue was loss or damage (iniuria). Now it is no longer necessary to use those laws, whether from the Twelve Tables or elsewhere.”
Ulpian in D. 9.2.1pr.

Lex aquilia omnibus legibus, quae ante se de damno iniuria locutae sunt, derogavit, sive duodecim tabulis, sive alia quae fuit: quas leges nunc referre non est necesse.

“The first section of the Lex Aquilia provides “if anyone wrongfully (iniuria) slays (occident) another’s male or female slave or a four-footed herd animal, let him be condemned to pay as much as the maximum the property was worth in the year prior to the slaving.”
Gaius in D. 9.2.2pr.

Lege aquilia capite primo cavetur: ” ut qui servum servamve alienum alienamve quadrupedem vel pecudem iniuria occiderit, quanti id in eo anno plurimi fuit, tantum aes dare domino damnas esto”.

“In its third section the Lex Aquilia says ‘apart from injury by slaying to human or herd animals, if someone causes loss wrongfully by burning, breaking or rending, he shall be condemned to pay the owner as much as the thing will be worth in the next thirty days’.”
Ulpian in D.

Tertio autem capite ait eadem lex aquilia: ” ceterarum rerum praeter hominem et pecudem occisos si quis alteri damnum faxit, quod usserit fregerit ruperit iniuria, quanti ea res erit in diebus triginta proximis, tantum aes domino dare damnas esto”.

There are two crucial words in these two sections. “Wrongfully” (iniuria) and “slay” (occiderit, occisos). For this post, we’ll consider just the first section, which treats slaying. Next post will be on the third section, which covers property damage.

“Wrongfully.” The jurists take this to mean, in so many words, “without legal right.” Thus:

“If a slave of either gender is slain unlawfully, the Lex Aquilia applies. It is properly added that he be slain unlawfullyslaying alone is not at all enough but it must absolutely be done unlawfully.”
Ulpian D. 9.2.3

Si servus servave iniuria occisus occisave fuerit, lex aquilia locum habet. iniuria occisum esse merito adicitur: non enim sufficit occisum, sed oportet iniuria id esse factum.

This last quote implies there can be lawful slaying. And so there is! Read on!

“Thus if I slay your slave who was lying in wait to rob me, I’m good. Natural reason allows a person self-defense against danger.”
Gaius D.9.2.4pr

Itaque si servum tuum latronem insidiantem mihi occidero, securus ero: nam adversus periculum naturalis ratio permittit se defendere.

Now for Some Fun
Okay, it’s been a heavy, if interesting lift. But getting to cases, real and hypothetical, is the payoff. You need an additional concept. An Aquilian action on slaying can be either statutory or analogous. Statutory if it’s done wrongfully (iniuria). The Praetor  will grant it without question. Second is analogous, when the killing is not done wrongfully, but there is a person with responsibility. This kind of action is at the Praetor’s discretion. If he grants it, it goes into his published edict and becomes a part of Roman law. And this is how Roman law grows and grows to the mighty edifice, or erection, that it has become by Justinian’s sixth century AD codification of it.

I. I pour poison down a slave’s throat. Statutory. I substitute a bottle of poison for the slave’s water bottle. Analagous. Physical directness is one way to make the distinction of the actions or, as the jurists put it, corpore corpori (by means of one body against another body).

2. I persuade a slave to climb up a tree which I know is diseased and liable to fall at any moment. The slave does so, the tree collapses, and the slave buys the farm, so to speak. Analogous.

3. A highway robber strips the slave of his clothing on a bitterly cold night. The slave dies. Analogous. Not only is there no physical directness, but it can be viewed as furnishing the cause of death (likewise in the analogous action of case one above).

[The robber is in bigger trouble. There’s an action for theft by the slave’s owner, and if he sees it happening at night he can legally kill the robber. Succinctly, the robber’s ass is grass. Stupid robber. But criminals are stupid; that’s why they’re criminals. Or, as Dick Tracy might say, “what a fitting finish for the evil rat.”]

But there are even more insights and excites in the next post. We’ll look at property damage, and the plot really thickens. Coming soon to a blog near you right now.




Who gets the mead? Who would want it (yuk)?

There’s a reason everyone in Beowulf is so cranky. All that mead. As for my color commentary in this post’s title, I’ve actually had mead. Once was quite enough. When I had just arrived to do my second classics degree at Oxford, I wandered into a chaming pub down New College Lane. Charming because it was nestled up against the medieval wall of Oxford, which is shared with New College (on the other side). One sip and my judgment was sure: this is a perfectably acceptable means of suicide.

But as the Romans would say, de gustibus non disputandum. There was a law for that.

“When someone makes something for himself out of another’s materials, Nerva and Proculus are of opinion that the maker owns that thing because what has just been made previ- ously belonged to no one. Sabinus and Cassius, on the other hand, take the view that natural reason requires that the owner of the materials should be owner of what is made from them, since a thing cannot exist without that of which it is made. Let us say, by way of example, that I make some vase from your gold, silver or copper or a ship, cupboard or benches from your timber, a garment from your wool, mead from your wine and honey, a plaster or eye-salve from your drugs, wine, oil, or flour from your grapes, olives, or ears of corn. There is, however, thz intermediate view of those who correctly hold that if the thing can be returned to its original components, the better view is that propounded by Sabinus and Cassius but that if it cannot be so re- constituted, Nerva and Proculus are sounder. Thus, a finished vase can be again re- duced to a simple mass of gold, silver, or copper; but wine, oil, or flour cannot again become grapes, olives, or ears of corn; no more can mead be reconstituted as wine and honey or the plaster or salve as the original drugs. In my view, however, there are those who rightly say that corn threshed from someone’s ears of corn remains the property of the owner of the ears; for since the corn already has its perfect form while in the ears, the thresher does not make something new, but merely uncovers what already exists.”
Justinian Digest

Cum quis ex aliena materia speciem aliquam suo nomine fecerit, nerva et proculus putant hunc dominum esse qui fecerit, quia quod factum est, antea nullius fuerat. sabinus et cassius magis naturalem rationem efficere putant, ut qui materiae dominus fuerit, idem eius quoque, quod ex eadem materia factum sit, dominus esset, quia sine materia nulla species effici possit: veluti si ex auro vel argento vel aere vas aliquod fecero, vel ex tabulis tuis navem aut armarium aut subsellia fecero, vel ex lana tua vestimentum, vel ex vino et melle tuo mulsum, vel ex medicamentis tuis emplastrum aut collyrium, vel ex uvis aut olivis aut spicis tuis vinum vel oleum vel frumentum. est tamen etiam media sententia recte existimantium, si species ad materiam reverti possit, verius esse, quod et sabinus et cassius senserunt, si non possit reverti, verius esse, quod nervae et proculo placuit. ut ecce vas conflatum ad rudem massam auri vel argenti vel aeris reverti potest, vinum vero vel oleum vel frumentum ad uvas et olivas et spicas reverti non potest: ac ne mulsum quidem ad mel et vinum vel emplastrum aut collyria ad medicamenta reverti possunt. videntur tamen mihi recte quidam dixisse non debere dubitari, quin alienis spicis excussum frumentum eius sit, cuius et spicae fuerunt: cum enim grana, quae spicis continentur, perfectam habeant suam speciem, qui excussit spicas, non novam speciem facit, sed eam quae est detegit.

[I have used unaltered the translation by Alan Watson, unlike the other posts where the translation is mine. Apart from being a great classical friend, Alan has been not just the leading USA-based specialist in Roman law, but internationally as well. So it’s pietas combined with reality = nobody is going to translate this better, or even as well. Period.]

The issues are fascinating. The Roman law of property, in determining ownership, has a special category when two things in some way ae combined to make one property:

  1. Accessio. I build a house on your land.The house accedes to the land, considered the principal thing, and you own the house. [Why would I be so dumb?]
  2. Commixtio. I mix my diamonds with your gravel. Joint ownership if we agree, If we don’t, the parts are separated and returned. [Again: why would I be so dumb?]
  3. 3. Confusio. Like #2, the things aren’t readily separable. This is a subcategory of specificatio, where someone creates a new thing out of another’s materials, such as if I take your wine and honey and make mead. But I’ve only taken your wine and used my honey. [Geez, I really am a clod. Is a warm day; my IQ ought to have risen to double digits.]

The legal scholars went to town with this last one. In our quote, Proculus would say I own the result. Sabinus says you would. But it’s a new thing nova species. So Justinian found a middle way media sententia. Since the mead can’t be separated out, I, the creator get it because I have contributed one of he materials.

Whew! My glosses about dumbness and IQ have a serious point. How often would this sort of thing happen in reality? Not so much, one would think. And yet the Digest is brimming with a whole collection of just such possibilities. Now some scholars think law reflects reality. This would mean the Romans ran around mixing up their materials with others’. Not likely. The other view is that it some laws represent the lawyers going all philosophical, discussing in the abstract. I’m personally of two minds about this, and have my own media sententia.

Newvertheless, it’s not all useless. Modern property law has a category Admixture, which relies heavily on the Roman theorizing. The owners of an oil tanker were chartered to transport a quantity of Russian crude belonging to the Indian Oil Corporation.  They mixed the Russian crude with their own crude on board. Tilt! Confusio!

The court allowed damages, but nobody got the resultant oil.

Read all about it in: High Court, Queen’s Bench Division, 18 March 1987

Had enough? How about relaxing with a good book and a glass of mead? With a little scholaly reading:

Stein, Peter. 1987. “Roman Law in the Commercial Court”. The Cambridge Law Journal 46 (3). Cambridge University Press: 369–7

Son of Dang Me or…Dang Me Rides Again

When we left Valens, Theodorus, and their little trained minions, no one was having a good day [previous Dang Me post.] One just imagines a chorus, not saying That Phrase, but rather “set up!”. Remember, that was fourth century AD, and they should have known better. Oracles had been directing such droll japes against clueless mortals for a very long time. So we’re going to look at a few earlier victims of oracular banter.

[Aside. Introducing a new post format here. Texts first with a very brief introduction, then at their end, some comments. So those who just want to read the texts can do so. Those who want more can easily find the More. Your comments, pro or con, are especially welcome; we aim to please]

Sparta, early seventh century BC

The Spartans chose Tegea for their first expansion into the Peloponnese. They sent to the oracle….

“They were not content to live in peace, but, confident that they were stronger than the Arcadians, asked the oracle at Delphi about gaining all the Arcadian land. [2] She replied in hexameter:
‘You ask me for Arcadia? You ask way too much; in your dreams.
There are many men in Arcadia, eaters of acorns,
Who will hinder you. But I grudge you not.
I will give you Tegea to dance the Spartan Two-Step,
And its fair plain to measure with a rope (great selection at Home Depot).’
[3] When the Lacedaemonians heard the oracle reported they yelled “hot, damn!”, forgot the other Arcadians and marched on Tegea carrying chains, relying on the deceptive oracle. They were confident they would enslave the Tegeans, but they were defeated in battle. [4] Those taken alive were bound in the very chains they had brought with them, and they measured the Tegean plain with a rope by working the fields. The chains in which they were bound were still preserved in my day, hanging up at the temple of Athena Alea.”
Herootus 1.66.1-3

καὶ δή σφι οὐκέτι ἀπέχρα ἡσυχίην ἄγειν, ἀλλὰ καταφρονήσαντες Ἀρκάδων κρέσσονες εἶναι ἐχρηστηριάζοντο ἐν Δελφοῖσι ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ Ἀρκάδων χωρῇ. [2] ἡ δὲ Πυθίη σφι χρᾷ τάδε. ‘Ἀρκαδίην μ᾽ αἰτεῖς: μέγα μ᾽ αἰτεῖς: οὐ τοι δώσω.
πολλοὶ ἐν Ἀρκαδίῃ βαλανηφάγοι ἄνδρες ἔασιν,
οἵ σ᾽ ἀποκωλύσουσιν. ἐγὼ δὲ τοι οὔτι μεγαίρω:
δώσω τοί Τεγέην ποσσίκροτον ὀρχήσασθαι
καὶ καλὸν πεδίον σχοίνῳ διαμετρήσασθαι.’
[3] ταῦτα ὡς ἀπενειχθέντα ἤκουσαν οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι,Ἀρκάδων μὲν τῶν ἄλλων ἀπείχοντο, οἳ δὲ πέδας φερόμενοι ἐπὶ Τεγεήτας ἐστρατεύοντο, χρησμῷ κιβδήλῳ πίσυνοι, ὡς δὴ ἐξανδραποδιούμενοι τοὺς Τεγεήτας. [4] ἑσσωθέντες δὲ τῇ συμβολῇ, ὅσοι αὐτῶν ἐζωγρήθησαν, πέδας τε ἔχοντες τὰς ἐφέροντο αὐτοὶ καὶ σχοίνῳ διαμετρησάμενοι τὸ πεδίον τὸ Τεγεητέων ἐργάζοντο. αἱ δὲ πέδαι αὗται ἐν τῇσι ἐδεδέατο ἔτι καὶ ἐς ἐμὲ ἦσαν σόαι ἐν Τεγέῃ περὶ τὸν νηὸν τῆς Ἀλέης Ἀθηναίης κρεμάμεναι.

Lydia, middle sixth century BC

This is a famous one. Croesus, king of Lydia, was alarmed at the growing power of his neighbor Persia,  recently under new management by Cyrus. Nothing does it like a preemptive strike, and Croesus got the same answer from two oracles….

“[2] When the Lydians came to the places where they were sent, they presented the offerings, and asked: “Croesus, big-ass king of Lydia and other nations, believing that here are the only true places of divination among men, endows you with such gifts as your wisdom deserves. And now he asks you whether he should send an army against the Persians, and whether he is to add an army of allies.” [3] Such was their inquiry; and the judgment given to Croesus by each of the two oracles was the same: namely, that if he should send an army against the Persians he would destroy a great empire.”
Herodotus 1.52-3

[2] ὡς δὲ ἀπικόμενοι ἐς τὰ ἀπεπέμφθησαν, οἱ Λυδοὶ ἀνέθεσαν τὰ ἀναθήματα, ἐχρέωντο τοῖσι χρηστηρίοισι λέγοντες ‘Κροῖσος ὁ Λυδῶν τε καὶ ἄλλων ἐθνέων βασιλεύς, νομίσας τάδε μαντήια εἶναι μοῦνα ἐν ἀνθρώποισι, ὑμῖν τε ἄξια δῶρα ἔδωκε τῶν ἐξευρημάτων, καὶ νῦν ὑμέας ἐπειρωτᾷ εἰ στρατεύηται ἐπὶ Πέρσας καὶ εἴ τινα στρατὸν ἀνδρῶν προσθέοιτο σύμμαχον.’ 3] οἳ μὲν ταῦτα ἐπειρώτων, τῶν δὲ μαντηίων ἀμφοτέρων ἐς τὠυτὸ αἱ γνῶμαι συνέδραμον, προλέγουσαι Κροίσῳ, ἢν στρατεύηται ἐπὶ Πέρσας, μεγάλην ἀρχὴν μιν καταλύσειν: τοὺς δὲ Ἑλλήνων δυνατωτάτους συνεβούλευόν οἱ ἐξευρόντα φίλους προσθέσθαι.

Silly Croesus. You lost, you dumb cluck.  But Cyrus spared your sorry ass and allowed you to bitch and moan to Delphi….

“[4] When Croesus heard this, he sent Lydians to Delphi, telling them to lay his chains on the doorstep of the temple, and to ask the god if he were not ashamed to have persuaded Croesus to attack the Persians, telling him that he would destroy Cyrus’ power; of which power (they were to say, showing the chains) these were the first-fruits. They should ask this; and further, if it were the way of the Greek gods to be ungrateful. And added that as far as Croesus was concerned, the oracle sucked, big time.”
Herodotus 1.90.4

4] ὡς δὲ ταῦτα ἤκουσε ὁ Κροῖσος, πέμπων τῶν Λυδῶν ἐς Δελφοὺς ἐνετέλλετο τιθέντας τὰς πέδας ἐπὶ τοῦ νηοῦ τὸν οὐδὸν εἰρωτᾶν εἰ οὔ τι ἐπαισχύνεται τοῖσι μαντηίοισι ἐπαείρας Κροῖσον στρατεύεσθαι ἐπὶ Πέρσας ὡς καταπαύσοντα τὴν Κύρου δύναμιν, ἀπ᾽ ἧς οἱ ἀκροθίνια τοιαῦτα γενέσθαι, δεικνύντας τὰς πέδας: ταῦτά τε ἐπειρωτᾶν, καὶ εἰ ἀχαρίστοισι νόμος εἶναι τοῖσι Ἑλληνικοῖσι θεοῖσι.

You really don’t get it, do you, Big-C? The sun boy upstairs has all the cards. You’ve got nothing. It’s a good thing you didn’t really piss Apollo off…thing about that wonderful plague he sent to Agamemnon. Obamacare wouldn’t have saved him and the army.

“[4] But as to the oracle that was given to him, Croesus need getting straight; he is wrong to complain concerning it. For Loxias declared to him that if he led an army against the Persians, he would destroy a great empire. Therefore he should, if he had wanted to not be a total jerk, to have sent and asked whether the god spoke of Croesus’ or of Cyrus’ empire. But he did not understood what was spoken, or make further inquiry: for which now let him blame himself. What an asshole.
Herodotus 1.91.4”

[4] κατὰ δὲ τὸ μαντήιον τὸ γενόμενον οὐκ ὀρθῶς Κροῖσος μέμφεται. προηγόρευε γὰρ οἱ Λοξίης, ἢν στρατεύηται ἐπὶ Πέρσας, μεγάλην ἀρχὴν αὐτὸν καταλύσειν. τὸν δὲ πρὸς ταῦτα χρῆν εὖ μέλλοντα βουλεύεσθαι ἐπειρέσθαι πέμψαντα κότερα τὴν ἑωυτοῦ ἢ τὴν Κύρου λέγοι ἀρχήν. οὐ συλλαβὼν δὲ τὸ ῥηθὲν οὐδ᾽ ἐπανειρόμενος ἑωυτὸν αἴτιον ἀποφαινέτω

Second Century AD: “I Got the Drop on the Oracle”

Alexander of Abonuteichos set up an nifty oracle in Asia Minor which involved a prophecy-giving snake. It was wildly popular, and not just with the locals. TwoRoman proconsuls bought into it, and the emperor Marcus Aurelius as well. The snake (Glycon) turns up on coins of the period. Lucian will have none of it. After recounting what he considers to be Alexander’s fraud, he puts it to a nasty test….

“Many were the traps which I and others contrived for him. For example, I contrived but one question and wrote upon the outside of the scroll, following the usual form: “Eight questions from Jack Meoff,” using a fictitious name and sending the eight drachmas and whatever it came to besides. Relying upon the fee that had been sent and upon the inscription on the roll, to the single question: “When will Alexander be caught cheating?” he sent me eight responses which, as the saying goes, had no connection with earth or with heaven, but were inane and senseless, each and every one came right off the stable floor. When he found out about all this afterward, and also that it was I who was attempting to dissuade Rutilianus from the marriage and from his great dependence upon the hopes inspired by the shrine, then Alexander began to hate me, with good reason, and thought of me as his bitter enemy.”
Lucian, Alexander, 54

πολλὰ γὰρ τοιαῦτα καὶ αὐτὸς ἐπεμηχανησάμην αὐτῷ, οἷον καὶ ἐκεῖνο: μίαν ἐρώτησιν ἐρωτήσας ἐπέγραψα τῷ βιβλίῳ κατὰ τὸ ἔθος: ‘ τοῦ δεῖνος χρησμοὶ ὀκτώ,’ ψευσάμενός τι ὄνομα, καὶ τὰς ὀκτὼ δραχμὰς καὶ τὸ γιγνόμενον ἔτι πρὸς ταύταις πέμψας: ὁ δὲ πιστεύσας τῇ ἀποπομπῇ τοῦ μισθοῦ καὶ τῇ ἐπιγραφῇ τοῦ βιβλίου, πρὸς μίαν ἐρώτησιν — ἦν δὲ αὕτη: ‘ πότε ἁλώσεται μαγγανεύων Ἀλέξανδρος ;’ — ὀκτώ μοι χρησμοὺς ἔπεμψεν, οὔτε γῆς φασιν οὔτε οὐρανοῦ ἁπτομένους, ἀνοήτους δὲ καὶ δυσνοήτους ἅπαντας. ἅπερ ὕστερον αἰσθόμενος, καὶ ὅτι Ῥουτιλιανὸν ἐγὼ ἀπέτρεπον τοῦ γάμου καὶ τοῦ πάνυ προσκεῖσθαι ταῖς τοῦ χρηστηρίου ἐλπίσιν, ἐμίσει, ὡς τὸ εἰκός, καὶ ἔχθιστον ἡγεῖτο.


Sparta. They ultimately defeated Tegea, with the help of the oracle, this time interpreting it correctly: 565-60 BC. This marked the start of the mighty Peloponnesian League, and this was what went to war with Athens in the fifth century.

Croesus. There were two previous oracular responses on related matters of he conquest, and Croesus, and Croesus managed to dick them up as well. One is especially interesting. An ancestor of Croesus seized power in Lydia by murder and started a miasma, which emptied its load for very bad karma straight onto Croesus’ head.

Alexander. He’s usually taken in the scholarship to be a fraud. I, and a few others, have argued for a revisionist view. Lucian starts with the fraud a priori. We don’t really hear the other side of it. And after all, noted supra, Marcus Aurelius bought into it, and  Marcus Aurelius was no jerk (= the opposite of Croesus).

By the way. Although these texts imply otherwise, not just the One Percent consulted Delphi. Most of the queries, in fact, were pretty humdrum and personal.

So everyone is saying “Dang Me.” It’s the common lot mortals who seek to know more than they should. We’ve had that song in the previous post in this series. So let’s celebrate Lucian and his winning shootout with Alexander.

Dang me. Looking for truth in all the wrong places.

Let’s begin at the beginning, with Ammianus Marcellinus. The date is AD 371-2. The streets in Antioch are running red with blood. Quite literally; Ammianus’ descriptions of the tortures would even today be NSFW; very rough indeed, for people who can’t take a joke. He saw conspiracies and heresy around every corner. But even paranoid people have enemies; as one specialist has put it, “Valens’ [trials] overturned a seamy rock of conspiracy under which were crawling some truly threatening creatures.” As a result, virtually nobody in Antioch was having a good time.

Along came Hilarius and Patricius, in league with one Theodorus.  Hilarius described it:

“O most honored judges, we constructed from laurel twigs under dire auspices this unlucky little table which you see, in the likeness of the Delphic tripod, and having duly consecrated it by secret incantations, after many long-continued rehearsals we at length made it work. Now the manner of its working, whenever it was consulted about hidden matters, was as follows. 30 It was placed in the middle of a house purified thoroughly with Arabic perfumes; on it was placed a perfectly round plate made of various metallic substances. Around its outer rim the written forms of the twenty-four letters of the alphabet were skillfully engraved, separated from one another by carefully measured spaces. 31 Then a man clad in linen garments, shod also in linen sandals and having a fillet wound about his head, carrying twigs from a tree of good omen, after propitiating in a set formula the divine power from whom predictions come, having full knowledge of the ceremonial, stood over the tripod as priest and set swinging a hanging ring fitted to a very fine linen thread and consecrated with mystic arts. This ring, passing over the designated intervals in a series of jumps, and falling upon this and that letter which detained it, made hexameters corresponding with the questions and completely finished in feet and rhythm, like the Pythian verses which we read, or those given out from the oracles of the Branchidae. 32 When we then and there inquired, ‘what man will succeed the present emperor’?, since it was said that he would be perfect in every particular, and the ring leaped forward and lightly touched the two syllables ΘΕΟ, adding the next letter, then one of those present cried out that by the decision of inevitable fate Theodorus was meant. And there was no further investigation of the matter; for it was agreed among us that he was the man who was sought.”
Ammianus Marcellinus 29.29-32

29.”Construximus”, inquit “magnifici iudices, ad cortinae similitudinem Delphicae diris auspiciis de laureis virgulis infaustam hanc mensulam quam videtis, et inprecationibus carminum secretorum choragiisque multis ac diuturnis ritualiter consecratam movimus tandem: movendi autem, quotiens super rebus arcanis consulebatur, erat institutio talis.

30. conlocabatur in medio domus emaculatae odoribus Arabicis undique, lance rotunda pure superposita, ex diversis metallicis materiis fabrefacta. cuius in ambitu rotunditatis extremo elementorum viginti quattuor scriptiles formae incisae perite, diiungebantur spatiis examinate dimensis.

31. ac linteis quidam indumentis amictus, calceatusque itidem linteis soccis, torvlo capiti circumflexo, verbenas felicis arboris gestans, litato conceptis carminibus numine praescitionum auctore, caerimoniali scientia supersistit cortinulae sacerdos pensilem anulum librans, sartum ex Carphathio filo perquam levi, mysticis disciplinis initiatum: qui per intervalla distincta retinentibus singulis litteris incidens saltuatim, heroos efficit versus interrogationibus consonos, ad numeros et modos plene conclusos, quales leguntur Pythici, vel ex oraculis editi Branchidarum.

32. ibi tum quaerentibus nobis, qui praesenti succedet imperio, quoniam omni parte expolitus fore memorabatur, et adsiliens anulus duas perstrinxerat syllabas THEO cum adiectione litterae postremae, exclamavit praesentium quidam, Theodorum praescribente fatali necessitate portendi. nec ultra super negotio est exploratum: satis enim apud nos constabat hunc esse qui poscebatur”.

For all the good it did them. Valens was definitely not amused:

33 And when Hilarius had laid the knowledge of the whole matter so clearly before the eyes of the judges, he kindly added that Theodorus was completely ignorant of what was done. After this, being asked whether they had, from belief in the oracles which they practised, known beforehand what they were now suffering, they uttered those familiar verses which clearly announced that this work of inquiring into the superhuman would soon be fatal to them, but that nevertheless the Furies, breathing out death and fire, threatened also the emperor himself and his judges. Of these verses it will suffice to quote the last three:

“Avenged will be your blood. Against them too
Tisiphone’s deep wrath arms evil fate,
While Ares ranges on the plain of Mimas.”

When these verses had been read, both were terribly torn by the hooks of the torturers and taken away senseless.
Ammianus Marcellinus 29.1.33

33. Cumque totius rei notitiam ita signate sub oculis iudicum subiecisset, adiecit benivole id Theodorum penitus ignorare. Post haec interrogati an ex fide sortium, quas agitabant, ea praescierint quae sustinerent: versus illos notissimos ediderunt clare pronuntiantes capitalem eis hanc operam scrutandi sublimiora cito futuram: nihilo minus tamen ipsi quoque cum cognitoribus principi caedes incendiaque flagitantes furias inminere; quorum tres ponere sufficiet ultimos:

οὐ μὰν νηποινίγε σὸν ἔσσεται αἷμα καὶ αὐτοῖς Τισιφόνη βαρύμηνις ἐφοπλίσσει κακὸν οἶτον ἐν πεδίοισι Μίμαντος ἀγαιομένοιο Ἄρηος

quibus lectis, unguibus male mulcati separantur exanimes.

The conspiracy obviously failed. What Ammianus never mentions, since all would know, is that if Heckle & Jekyll had not stopped with THeod, assuming Theodorus was meant and gone further they would have had THeodos, Theodosius, who did become the next emperor.

Hilarius and Patricius’ last words are not extant, but one suspects “dang me” would not be inappropriate.

Now it’s Valens’ turn to have a bad day. Remember he was an Arian Christian, and that kind of prophecy was a big no-no, as Hilarius & Co. learned to their sorrow. But Valens…listen, pally, you should have known better. When Valens fell at  the Battle of Adrianople AD 378:

“8 This will be enough to say about Valens, and it is fully confirmed by the testimony of records contemporary with me. But it is proper not to omit the following story. At the time of the oracle of the tripod, for which, as I have said, Patricius and Hilarius were responsible, he had heard of those three prophetic verses, of which the last is:
When in Mimas’ plains the war-god Ares rages.
Being uneducated and rude, he disregarded them at first, but as his very great troubles increased he became abjectly timid, and in recalling that prediction used to shudder at the mention of Asia, where, as he heard from the mouths of learned men, Homer and Cicero have written of a mountain called Mimas, rising above the city of Erythrae. 9 Finally, after his death and the departure of the enemy, it is said that near the place where he was thought to have fallen a monument made of a heap of stones was found, to which was fastened a tablet engraved with Greek characters, showing that a distinguished man of old called Mimas was buried there.”
Ammianus Marcellinus 31.14.8-9

8. Haec super Valente dixisse sufficiet, quae vera esse aequalis nobis memoria plene testatur. Illud autem praeteriri non convenit, quod cum oraculo tripodis, quem movisse Patricium docuimus et Hilarium, tres versus illos fatidicos comperisset, quorum ultimus est:
ἐν πεδίοισι Μίμαντος ἀγαιομένοιο Ἄρηος
ut erat inconsummatus et rudis, inter initia contemnebat, processu vero luctuum maximorum abiecte etiam timidus, eiusdem sortis recordatione Asiae nomen horrebat: ubi Erythraeo oppido superpositum montem Mimanta et Homerum scripsisse et Tullium doctis referentibus audiebat.

No everybody’s saying “dang me”. And this is hardly the first time; antiquity is rife with stories of allegedly intelligent people who neglected to ask one followup question of he prophet/oracle. With rather unfortunate results. More on that soon. But for now, in commemoration of the jerks who didn’t ask the followup question:

The Roman Ninety-nine percent

You may well ask about them. Everyone who was not a member of the socio-economic elite. The overwhelming majority of people in the Roman empire. In the traditional “best” authors if they are lucky enough to appear at all, it is as  the object of olympic-class snark. Here is an example, again from Ammianus Marcellinus:

“And since I think it may be some readers by way careful examination may see and bring it against me as a negative that this, and not that, happened first, or that those things which they themselves saw are omitted… thus I must satisfy them this far, that not everything which has taken place among persons of the lowest class is worth describing; and if this were necessary to be done, even the mass of facts to be had from public records would not do, and this at a time when there was such a general plague of evils, and a new, reckless insanity was mingling the highest with the lowest; for it was clearly evident that it was not a judicial trial which was to be feared, but a suspension of legal proceedings.”
Ammianus Marcellinus 28.1.15

Et quoniam existimo, forsitan aliquos haec lecturos, exquisite scrutando notare, strepentes id actum esse prius, non illud, aut ea, quae viderint praetermissa: hactenus faciendum est satis quod non omnia narratu sunt digna, quae per squalidas transiere personas, nec si fieri fuisset necesse, instructiones vel ex ipsis tabulariis suppeterent publicis, tot calentibus malis et novo furore sine retinaculis imis summa miscente, cum iustitium esse, quod timebatur, non iudicium aperte constaret

I have colored the major sententia antiqua which, incidentally, appeared in the nifty title of review-article I wrote on same. [I do not claim the article to be nifty because niftiness of article, like love, is in the eye of the beholder.]

And here is what he has to say about a whole pack of the Ninety-nine Percent. The scene is a riot gone very far south in the fourth century:

“A few days later the populace again became excited to its usual hot temper….”
Ammianus Marcellinus 15.7.3

Diebusque paucis secutis cum itidem plebs excita calore quo consuevit….

Leontius, prefect of Rome didn’t get no respect. [Prefect of the City of Rome in the traditional senatorial career list was one of the proconsular posts (proconsular = for former consuls); traditionally those posts were reserved for consulars with distinguished consulships based on military achievements or civilian achievements. Military achievements got one a governorship of one of the major Roman provinces (Syria especially, also,among others, Britain and Africa); civilian achievements got on Curator of the Tiber or Prefect of the City of Rome. In the fourth century they had become a pale shadow of their former glory, since Gallienus in the third century had either forbidden, or made it very hard (the source texts are ambiguous) for senators to hold military commands. One result: senators opted out of the system and retired to their villas to sulk, hating learning like poison as we saw here. Still, they did hold the posts on occasion:

“Therefore, sitting in a carriage, with every appearance of confidence, he looked with fierce eyes at the countenance of the close packed mobs of rioters thronging towards him from all quarters, and agitating themselves like serpents.”
Ammianus Marcellinus 15.7.4

“Insidens itaque vehiculo cum speciosa fiducia contuebatur acribus oculis tumultuantium undique cuneorum veluti serpentium vultus.”

The rioters are graphically compared to snakes, and cuneorum, from cuneus means a military wedge formation; Ammianus is being very snide since the rioters are the exact opposite of the military.

One person does emerge from the mob, Peter Valvomeres, who comes to a rather unpleasant end. This passage gets a wonderful discussion in Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis, a true classic of interpreation of literary texts from Homer to the twentieth century. Written during World War Two in Istanbul, when Auerbach had access to only texts and no scholarship, it is widely read and discussed even today. The third chapter discusses this passage and much more besides; seriously worth your consideration.

Is Ammianus being cranky? Of course. One of the many memorable things I learned as and undergrad from a wonderful Yale Latinist, Tom Cole, was that “to be a Roman historian you had to have a chip on your shoulder. But this is not Ammianus being true to that form in the fourth century AD, although it teemed with objects of crank…snark, even. Let’s wind it way back to the late Roman republic with Sallust:

It behooves all men who wish to excel the other animals to strive mightily and not to pass through life unknown, like the beasts, which Nature has fashioned grubbing he ground and enslaved to the belly. 2All our power, on the contrary, lies in  mind and body; we employ the mind to rule, the body rather to serve; the one we have in common with the Gods, the other with the brutes. 3 Therefore I find it becoming, in seeking good repute, that we should employ the resources of the intellect rather than those of brute strength, with the aim that, since the span of life which we enjoy is short, we may make the memory of our lives as permanent as possible. 4 For the renown which riches or beauty confer is fleeting and frail; mental excellence is a splendid and lasting possession.
Sallust, Catiline, 1.1-4

Omnis homines qui sese student praestare ceteris animalibus summa ope niti decet ne vitam silentio transeant veluti pecora, quae natura prona atque ventri oboedientia finxit. 2 Sed nostra omnis vis in animo et corpore sita est; animi imperio, corporis servitio magis utimur; alterum nobis cum dis, alterum cum beluis commune est. 3 Quo mihi rectius videtur ingeni quam virium opibus gloriam quaerere et, quoniam vita ipsa qua fruimur brevis est, memoriam nostri quam maxume longam efficere; 4 nam divitiarum et formae gloria fluxa atque fragilis est, virtus clara aeternaque habetur.

7 Success in agriculture, navigation, and architecture depends invariably upon mental excellence. 8 Yet many men, being slaves to appetite and sleep, have passed through life untaught and untrained, like mere wayfarers in these men we see, contrary to Nature’s intent, the body a source of pleasure, the soul a burden. For my own part, I consider the lives and deaths of such men as about alike, since no record is made of either.
Sallust, Catiline, 2.7-8

7 Quae homines arant, navigant, aedificant, virtuti omnia parent. 8 Sed multi mortales dediti ventri atque somno indocti incultique vitam sicuti peregrinantes transiere;1 quibus profecto contra naturam corpus voluptati, anima oneri fuit. Eorum ego vitam mortemque iuxta aestumo, quoniam de utraque siletur. 

And it’s not just these two cranky historians. Here’s a page from Zvi Yavetz, Plebs and Princeps (1969)

Yavetz Plebs

By now it is rather obvious; the One Percent had little time for the Ninety-nine Percent except to sneer. There were some exceptions, albeit not many. And the usual Latin word for the Ninety-nine Percent, plebs, did not always mean that, but something way different. There was a time when plebs meant someone who was also in the One Percent. But that is for another post, several actually.

Did anyone say “class warfare”?


The review article mentioned at the start of this piece is my:
Quae Per Squalidas Transiere Personas: Ste. Croix’s Historical Revolution, Helios 11 (1984), 47-82