Poisoned Husbands and Wives on Death Row

 Valerius Maximus, Memorable Words and Deeds 2.5.3

“The poisoning-court, once unknown to Roman customs and laws, was instituted after many Roman matrons had been implicated in the crime. After these women in question had poisoned their husbands in a secret plot, they were indicted based on the testimony of a single serving-girl. A number of one hundred and seventy were condemned to death by the court.”

Veneficii quaestio, et moribus et legibus Romanis ignota, complurium matronarum patefacto scelere orta est. quae, cum viros suos clandestinis insidiis veneno perimerent, unius ancillae indicio protractae, pars capitali iudicio damnatae centum et septuaginta numerum expleverunt.



Tawdry Tuesday, Imperial Edition: Fun with Domitian

Suetonius, Life of Domitian 22

He was a man of extreme lust: he used to refer to his endless intercourse as “bed-wrestling”, as if it were a type of exercise. There was a rumor that he used to depilate his concubines himself and that he used to go swimming with street prostitutes. Even though he repeatedly refused a wedding to his brother’s daughter who was offered to him for marriage when she was still a virgin because he was overcome with the Domitia affair, he seduced her not long after she was married to someone else and while Titus was still alive. But, soon, he loved her openly and with the utmost passion once she was deprived of father and husband, to the point that he was the reason for her death when she was forced to abort a child conceived with him.”

XXII. Libidinis nimiae, assiduitatem concubitus velut exercitationis genus clinopalen vocabat; eratque fama, quasi concubinas ipse develleret nataretque inter vulgatissimas meretrices. Fratris filiam adhuc virginem oblatam in matrimonium sibi cum devinctus Domitiae nuptiis pertinacissime recusasset, non multo post alii conlocatam corrupit ultro et quidem vivo etiam tum Tito; mox patre ac viro orbatam ardentissime palamque dilexit, ut etiam causa mortis exstiterit coactae conceptum a se abigere.

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Marcus Cato Was a Cheap, Cruel Man

Plutarch, Marcus Cato 339

“Some people blame these traits on Marcus Cato’s cheapness; but others believe he is a model for his rectitude and wisdom, since he counterbalanced the excess of everyone else. But I believe that how he used slaves up as if they were pack animals and then driving them away and selling them when they were old is the mark of a deeply cruel character—one that believes that human beings have nothing in common except for need.

But we know that kindness occupies more territory than justice. For we use law and justice only in reference to human beings, but it is kindness and charity that at times pour out from a gentle character even for the unthinking animals just as water from a full spring. Kind people take care of horses even when they are old and dogs too—not just when they are puppies, but when their old age requires care.”

Ταῦτα δ᾿ οἱ μὲν εἰς μικρολογίαν ἐτίθεντο τοῦ ἀνδρός, οἱ δ᾿ ὡς ἐπὶ διορθώσει καὶ σωφρονισμῷ τῶν ἄλλων ἐνδοτέρω συστέλλοντος ἑαυτὸν ἀπεδέχοντο. πλὴν τὸ τοῖς οἰκέταις ὡς ὑποζυγίοις ἀποχρησάμενον ἐπὶ γήρως ἐλαύνειν καὶ πιπράσκειν ἀτενοῦς ἄγαν ἤθους ἔγωγε τίθεμαι, καὶ μηδὲν ἀνθρώπῳ πρὸς ἄνθρωπον οἰομένου κοινώνημα τῆς χρείας πλέον ὑπάρχειν. καίτοι τὴν χρηστότητα τῆς δικαιοσύνης πλατύτερον τόπον ὁρῶμεν ἐπιλαμβάνουσαν· νόμῳ μὲν γὰρ καὶ τῷ δικαίῳ πρὸς ἀνθρώπους μόνον χρῆσθαι πεφύκαμεν, πρὸς εὐεργεσίας δὲ καὶ χάριτας ἔστιν ὅτε καὶ μέχρι τῶν ἀλόγων ζῴων ὥσπερ ἐκ πηγῆς πλουσίας ἀπορρεῖ τῆς ἡμερότητος. καὶ γὰρ ἵππων ἀπειρηκότων ὑπὸ χρόνου τροφαὶ καὶ κυνῶν οὐ σκυλακεῖαι μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ γηροκομίαι τῷ χρηστῷ προσήκουσιν.

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I originally posted the picture above of Cato the Younger (Thanks to  for pointing it out). Here’s Cato the Elder

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Epirota, Nurse of Baby Bards

Suetonius, Lives of Illustrious Men, On Grammarians 16

“Quintus Caecilius Epirota, a native of Tusculum and a freedman of Atticus the Roman Knight (the one who corresponded with Cicero), was suspected of taking advantage of his patron Marcus Agrippa’s daughter when he was teaching her and was removed for this. Then he went to Cornelius Gallus and lived with him in a very familiar way, the very matter which was presented against him by Augustus among the most serious crimes.

After Gallus’ conviction and death, Epirota opened a school but received only a few students and adolescents, barring others younger unless he was not able to deny the parent. He is the first reported to have spontaneous debates in Latin and to begin to read Vergil and the recent poets, which is implied in the little verse of Domitius Marsus: “Epirota, little nurse of baby bards”

XVI. Q. Caecilius Epirota, Tusculi natus, libertus Attici equitis Romani, ad quem sunt Ciceronis epistulae, cum filiam patroni nuptam M. Agrippae doceret, suspectus in ea et ob hoc remotus, ad Cornelium Gallum se contulit vixitque una familiarissime, quod ipsi Gallo inter gravissima crimina ab Augusto obicitur. Post deinde damnationem mortemque Galli scholam aperuit, sed ita ut paucis et tantum adulescentibus praeciperet, praetextato nemini, nisi si cuius parenti hoc officium negare non posset. Primus dicitur Latine ex tempore disputasse, primusque Vergilium et alios poetas novos praelegere coepisse, quod etiam Domitii Marsi versiculus indicat: Epirota, tenellorum nutricula vatum.


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Wednesday’s Wondrous Water, 2

The second part of translations from the Paradoxographus Florentinus: Mirabilia de aquis

12 “Among the Kleitorians [Isigonos] says there is a spring and whenever anyone drinks its water, he cannot bear the smell of wine.”

Παρὰ Κλειτορίοις ὁ αὐτός φησιν εἶναι κρήνην, ἧς ὅταν τις τοῦ ὕδατος πίῃ, τοῦ οἴνου τὴν ὀσμὴν οὐ φέρει.

13 “The same author says that in Italy, in the Rheatinon plain, there is a stream called the Mentes which is similar to the one just mentioned.”

῾Ο αὐτός φησιν ἐν ᾿Ιταλίᾳ, ἐν τῷ ῾Ρεατίνῳ ἀγρῷ, κρήνην εἶναι Μέντην ὀνομαζομένην ὁμοίαν τῇ προειρημένῃ.

14 “Similarly, near Kosê there is a spring which, if you place a container filled with wine in it until it covers the mouth then it is more bitter than vinegar right away according to the same author.”

῾Ομοίως ἐγγὺς Κόσης ἔστι κρήνη, εἰς ἣν ἐὰν θῇς κεράμιον οἴνου γέμον, ὥστε ὑπερχεῖν τὸ στόμα, παντὸς ὄξους εἶναι δριμύτερον παραχρῆμα, ὡς ἱστορεῖ ὁ αὐτός.

15 “Theopompos records that there is a spring in Kingkhrôps in Thrace from which those who bathe in it are immediately transformed.”

Θεόπομπος ἱστορεῖ κρήνην ἐν Κίγχρωψι τῆς Θρᾴκης, ἐξ ἧς τοὺς λουσαμένους παραχρῆμα μεταλλάσσειν.

16 “Hellanikos says that near Magnesia there is a spring in Sipylos and when people drink from it their bowels turn to stone.”

῾Ελλάνικός φησι περὶ Μαγνησίαν τὴν ἐπὶ Σιπύλου πηγὴν εἶναι, ἀφ’ ἧς τοὺς πίνοντας <τὰς> κοιλίας ἀπολιθοῦσθαι.

17 “Ktêsias records that in Aithiopia there is a stream which is similar in color to cinnamon. When people drink from it they change their minds so much that they admit to things which were done secretly.”

Κτησίας δὲ ἐν Αἰθιοπίᾳ κρήνην ἱστορεῖ τῷ χρώματι κιννάβαρι παραπλησίαν· τοὺς δὲ πίνοντας ἀπ’ αὐτῆς παραλλάττειν τὴν διάνοιαν, ὥστε καὶ τὰ κρυφίως πεπραγμένα ὁμολογεῖν.

18 “In Arabia there is the spring of Isis, which, once a cup of wine has been moistened with it, also makes the drink more tempered, as Amômêtos says.”

᾿Εν ᾿Αραβίᾳ ἔστιν ῎Ισιδος κρήνη, ἥτις κοτύλης οἴνου ἐμβληθείσης κίρναται καὶ πρὸς τὴν πόσιν εὔκρατος γίνεται, ὥς φησιν ᾿Αμώμητος.

19 “Aristotle says that the spring of Ammon, whose water at midday and midnight is hot, is by nature the coldest.”

᾿Αριστοτέλης ῎Αμμωνος κρήνην εἶναί φησιν, ἧς τὸ ὕδωρ μεσημβρίας καὶ μεσονύκτου γίνεσθαι θερμόν, ὂν φύσει ψυχρότατον.

20 “Theopompos says that in Lugkêstai there is a spring which tastes like vinegar but when people drink it they get drunk as is from wine.”

Θεόπομπος ἐν Λυγκήσταις φησὶ πηγὴν εἶναι τῇ μὲν γεύσει ὀξίζουσαν, τοὺς δὲ πίνοντας μεθύσκεσθαι ὡς ἀπὸ οἴνου.

21 “Among the Sukaminai the city has a pond and when people either bathe in it or drink from it their hair falls off and hooves of senseless animals fall off, as Isigonos records.”

᾿Εν Συκαμίναις πόλει λίμνη ἐστίν, ἧς τῷ ὕδατι οἱ λουσάμενοι ἢ πιόντες ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ μαδῶσι τὰς τρίχας, τῶν δὲ ἀλόγων ζῴων αἱ ὁπλαὶ ἀποπίπτουσιν, ὡς ἱστορεῖ ᾿Ισίγονος.

22 “Herakleides of Pontus says that there is a pond among the Sauromati and any birds who have flown over it fall into it”

῾Ηρακλείδης ὁ Ποντικὸς λίμνην ἐν Σαυρομάταις φησὶν εἶναι, περὶ ἣν τὰ πετασθέντα τῶν ὀρνέων εἰς αὐτὴν πίπτειν.

22 “Herodotus records that there is a spring among the Macrobian Aithiopians from which people anoint themselves after they bathe.”

῾Ηρόδοτος ἐν Μακροβίοις Αἰθίοψι κρήνην ἱστορεῖ, ἀφ’ ἧς τοὺς λουσαμένους λιπαίνεσθαι.

[Note: the Greek in the epigram below is a little strange. I am not sure I have it right.]

24 “Among the Kleitorians of Arkadia they say there is a spring and when people drink from it they hate wine. Next to this this kind of epigram is placed

Hick, with flocks, at midday thirst weighs down on you
As you come through the farthest part of Kleitoros;
Take a drink from this spring. And rest your whole flock
Among the water nymphs here.
But don’t put your skin to bathe, so that the smell
might not cause you pain when you are in drunken pleasure.

Avoid my vine-hating spring where Melampous*,
Once he washed of the madness of harsh Proitos**
Cut off every disgrace in secret, when they came from Argos
to the mountains of steep Arkadia.”

᾿Εν Κλειτορίοις δὲ τῆς ᾿Αρκαδίας κρήνην φασὶν εἶναι, ἀφ’ ἧς τοὺς πίνοντας μισεῖν τὸν οἶνον· ἐπικεχάρακται δὲ ἐπ’ αὐτῆς ἐπίγραμμα τοιόνδε·

ἀγρότα, σὺν ποίμναις, τὸ μεσημβρινὸν ἤν σε βαρύνῃ
δίψος ἀν’ ἐσχατιὰς Κλείτορος ἐρχόμενον,
τῆς μὲν ἀπὸ κρήνης ἄρυσαι πόμα· καὶ παρὰ νύμφαις
ὑδριάσι στῆσον πᾶν τὸ σὸν αἰπόλιον.
ἀλλὰ σὺ μήτ’ ἐπὶ λουτρὰ βάλῃς χροΐ, μή σε καὶ αὔρη
πημήνῃ τερπνῆς ἐντὸς ἐόντα μέθης.
φεῦγε δ’ ἐμὴν πηγὴν μισάμπελον, ἔνθα Μελάμπους
λουσάμενος λύσσης Προιτίδος ἀργαλέης
πάντα καθαρμὸν ἔκοψεν ἀπόκρυφον· †αγαρ† ἀπ’ ῎Αργους
οὔρεα τρηχείης ἤλυθον ᾿Αρκαδίης.

Textual variations:   ἀρτεμέας for ἀργαλέης; for ἔβαψεν for ἔκοψεν

*Melampous was a seer who dealt with the king Proitos in either Argos or Pylos. The references to “vine-hating” and “washing” recall the story of Melampous cleansing the women of the city of madness inspired by Dionysus. Hence, the water makes people hate wine. This epigram appears in a supplement to the Greek Anthology and Vitruvius

25 “Aristôn the peripatetic philosopher says that there is a spring of water in Kios and when people drink from it they lose their senses in their mind. And he adds that there is this kind of an epigram for it.

“Sweet is the offering of the cool drink which this spring
Offers up. But whoever drinks of it is a stone in his mind.”

᾿Αρίστων δὲ ὁ περιπατητικὸς φιλόσοφος ἐν τῇ Κίῳ πηγήν φησιν ὕδατος εἶναι, ἀφ’ ἧς τοὺς πίνοντας ἀναισθήτους γίνεσθαι ταῖς ψυχαῖς· εἶναι δὲ καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτης ἐπίγραμμα τοιόνδε·

ἡδεῖα ψυχροῖο ποτοῦ λιβάς, ἣν ἀναβάλλει
πηγή· ἀλλὰ νόῳ πέτρος ὁ τῆσδε πιών.

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France ca. 1310 BnF, Français 12400, fol. 6r 

A Kingly Negotiator Buying Books

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 1.19

19. The account of the Sibylline Books and King Tarquin the Proud

This story is preserved in the ancient accounts concerning the Sibylline books. An old woman, unknown, approached king Tarquin the Proud with new books which she was claiming were divine oracles (and she wished to see them). Tarquin asked the price.  The woman asked for an enormous, excessive amount. The King, as if he believed she was senile, laughed. Then she placed a brazier already lit before him, burned three of the nine books and asked whether the King wished to buy the remaining six for the same amount. But Tarquin laughed even more and said that he’d lost all doubt that the woman was insane. The woman then burned up three more books immediately and calmly asked him the same thing again, to buy the three remaining books for that price. Tarquin then became more serious and attentive, believing that this insistence and confidence ought not to be ignored: he bought the remaining books for no less than the price which had been sought for all of them!

But it is agreed that after the woman departed from Tarquin, she was never seen again.  The Three books, which were placed in a shrine, are called “The Sibylline Books”. The Fifteen [priests] turn to them for oracles whenever the gods must be consulted for the public good.”

XIX. Historia super libris Sibyllinis ac de Tarquinio Superbo rege.

1 In antiquis annalibus memoria super libris Sibyllinis haec prodita est: 2 Anus hospita atque incognita ad Tarquinium Superbum regem adiit novem libros ferens, quos esse dicebat divina oracula; eos velle venundare. 3 Tarquinius pretium percontatus est. Mulier nimium atque inmensum poposcit; 4 rex, quasi anus aetate desiperet, derisit. 5 Tum illa foculum coram cum igni apponit, tris libros ex novem deurit et, ecquid reliquos sex eodem pretio emere vellet, regem interrogavit. 6 Sed enim Tarquinius id multo risit magis dixitque anum iam procul dubio delirare. 7 Mulier ibidem statim tris alios libros exussit atque id ipsum denuo placide rogat, ut tris reliquos eodem illo pretio emat. 8 Tarquinius ore iam serio atque attentiore animo fit, eam constantiam confidentiamque non insuper habendam intellegit, libros tris reliquos mercatur nihilo minore pretio, quam quod erat petitum pro omnibus. 9 Sed eam mulierem tunc a Tarquinio digressam postea nusquam loci visam constitit. 10 Libri tres in sacrarium conditi “Sibyllini” appellati; 11 ad eos quasi ad oraculum quindecimviri adeunt, cum di immortales publice consulendi sunt.

The Sibylline books had 15 priestly interpreters by the time of Cicero.  Why? Maybe because they were in Greek!

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The Difference Between A Philosopher and a Sophist: Swagger

Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists 1.480-481: 

“It is necessary to consider the ancient sophistic art as a kind of rhetoric. For it presents discourses on the same things philosophers cover, but where the philosophers, in setting forth questions and in making small advances on their objects of investigations, assert that they still do not know anything, the ancient sophist claims that he does know the things he describes. At least, he recites as a beginning of his discourse phrases like “I know”, “I recognize”, and “I have noticed for some time,” or “Nothing is certain for man”. This species of introduction furnishes a sense of nobility and certainty to a speech along with implying a clear sense of what is real.”

Τὴν ἀρχαίαν σοφιστικὴν ῥητορικὴν ἡγεῖσθαι χρὴ φιλοσοφοῦσαν• διαλέγεται μὲν γὰρ ὑπὲρ ὧν οἱ φιλοσοφοῦντες, ἃ δὲ ἐκεῖνοι τὰς ἐρωτήσεις ὑποκαθήμενοι καὶ τὰ σμικρὰ τῶν ζητουμένων προβιβάζοντες οὔπω φασὶ γιγνώσκειν, ταῦτα ὁ παλαιὸς σοφιστὴς ὡς εἰδὼς λέγει. προοίμια γοῦν ποιεῖται τῶν λόγων τὸ „οἶδα” καὶ τὸ „γιγνώσκω” καὶ „πάλαι διέσκεμμαι” καὶ „βέβαιον ἀνθρώπῳ οὐδέν”. ἡ δὲ τοιαύτη ἰδέα τῶν προοιμίων εὐγένειάν τε προηχεῖ τῶν λόγων καὶ φρόνημα καὶ κατάληψιν
σαφῆ τοῦ ὄντος.