How to End a History with a Cliffhanger: Sallust, Bellum Jugurthinum 114

The Romans fought a war in Africa against the Numidians led by their King, Jugurtha (112-104 BCE). The Romans won. Sallust tells the tale of the war, but he ends it with the ominous anticipation of future dangers:

“At that time, a battle was fought and lost against the Gauls by the generals Quintus Caepio and Gnaeus Mallius. Because of this, all of Italy quaked in fear. The Romans from that time down to our own have believed that while all other matters give way to our virtue, with the Gauls it is an issue of safety, not glory. After it was made known that the war in Numidia was concluded and that Jugurtha was being returned as a prisoner, Marius was made consul even though absent, and Gaul was set as his province. On the first day of January, he celebrated his triumph as consul in great glory. And at that moment, the hope and health of the state resided with him.”

Per idem tempus adversum Gallos ab ducibus nostris Q. Caepione et Cn. Manlio male pugnatum. Quo metu Italia omnis contremuerat. Illincque [et inde] usque ad nostram memoriam Romani sic habuere, alia omnia virtuti suae prona esse, cum Gallis pro salute, non pro gloria certare. Sed postquam bellum in Numidia confectum et Iugurtham Romam vinctum adduci nuntiatum est, Marius consul absens factus est, et ei decreta provincia Gallia, isque Kalendis Ianuariis magna gloria consul triumphavit. Et ea tempestate spes atque opes civitatis in illo sitae.

The Mind Rules All: Sallust, Bellum Jurguthinum, 1

“The race of man complains wrongly about its nature, namely the fact that it is feeble in strength, limited in years and ruled more by chance than virtue. To the contrary, you can realize through contemplation that nothing else is greater or more extraordinary—that human nature lacks only perseverance instead of strength or time. The leader and ruler of mortal life is the mind. When it proceeds to glory along virtue’s path, it is fully powerful, potent and famous; it does not need fortune since fortune cannot grant or revoke honesty, perseverance, or any other good quality from any man. But a mind seized by desires is dedicated to laziness and worn by obedience to physical pleasure; accustomed to ruinous temptation for too long, when, thanks to sloth, strength, age and wit have diminished, only then is the weakness of nature at fault. Every man shifts his own responsibility to his circumstances.”

[1] Falso queritur de natura sua genus humanum, quod inbecilla atque aevi brevis forte potius quam virtute regatur. Nam contra reputando neque maius aliud neque praestabilius invenias magisque naturae industriam hominum quam vim aut tempus deesse. Sed dux atque imperator vitae mortalium animus est. Qui ubi ad gloriam virtutis via grassatur, abunde pollens potensque et clarus est neque fortuna eget, quippe quae probitatem, industriam aliasque artis bonas neque dare neque eripere cuiquam potest. Sin captus pravis cupidinibus ad inertiam et voluptates corporis pessum datus est, perniciosa libidine paulisper usus, ubi per socordiam vires tempus ingenium diffluxere, naturae infirmitas accusatur: suam quisque culpam auctores ad negotia transferunt.

I can’t help but thinking that maybe Sallust had read (or heard) the beginning of the Odyssey where Zeus complains that Aigisthus ignored divine warnings (1.32-34)

ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται.
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ’ ἔμμεναι• οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε’ ἔχουσιν

“Mortals! They are always blaming the gods and saying that evil comes from us when they themselves suffer pain beyond their lot because of their own recklessness.”

But, of course, there is a typically eclectic blend of Roman philosophy in Sallust’s statements: some Stoicism, an echo, perhaps, of Empedocles and much more….