Complete and Divine Success? On Thucydides’ Style

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Thucydides 24

“I can summarize four the tools of Thucydides’ speech as follows: creativity in language, a variety of constructions, a harshness of order, and a swiftness of meaning. The character of his style includes density and thickness, bitterness and austerity, fierceness, and wonder and fear beyond all the emotional ranges.

This is what Thucydides is like from the character of his language in comparison to the rest. Whenever his intention and power coincide, his success is complete and divine. But whenever his force fails some and his power does not persist entirely, because of speed of his revelation, his expression becomes unclear and introduces another group of infelicities. For example, how it is right to express strange and synthetic language, how far to proceed before stopping, even though these are beautiful and necessary observations in all works, one should guard against it in all history.”

 ἵνα δὲ συνελὼν εἴπω, τέτταρα μέν ἐστιν ὥσπερ ὄργανα τῆς Θουκυδίδου λέξεως· τὸ ποιητικὸν τῶν ὀνομάτων, τὸ πολυειδὲς τῶν σχημάτων, τὸ τραχὺ τῆς ἁρμονίας, τὸ τάχος τῶν σημασιῶν· χρώματα δὲ αὐτῆς τό τε στριφνὸν καὶ τὸ πυκνόν, καὶ τὸ πικρὸν καὶ τὸ αὐστηρόν, καὶ τὸ ἐμβριθὲς καὶ τὸ δεινὸν καὶ (τὸ) φοβερόν, ὑπὲρ ἅπαντα δὲ ταῦτα τὸ παθητικόν. τοιοῦτος μὲν δή τίς ἐστιν ὁ Θουκυδίδης κατὰ τὸν τῆς λέξεως χαρακτῆρα, ᾧ παρὰ τοὺς ἄλλους διήνεγκεν. ὅταν μὲν οὖν ἥ τε προαίρεσις αὐτοῦ καὶ ἡ δύναμις συνεκδράμῃ, τέλεια γίνεται κατορθώματα καὶ δαιμόνια· ὅταν δὲ ἐλλείπῃ τὸ τῆς δυνάμεως, οὐ παραμείναντος μέχρι πάντων τοῦ τόνου, διὰ τὸ τάχος τῆς ἀπαγγελίας ἀσαφής τε ἡ λέξις γίνεται καὶ ἄλλας τινὰς ἐπιφέρει κῆρας οὐκ εὐπρεπεῖς. τὸ γὰρ ἐν ᾧ δεῖ τρόπῳ τὰ ξένα καὶ πεποιημένα λέγεσθαι καὶ μέχρι πόσου προελθόντα πεπαῦσθαι, καλὰ καὶ ἀναγκαῖα θεωρήματα ἐν πᾶσιν ὄντα τοῖς ἔργοις, οὐ διὰ πάσης τῆς ἱστορίας φυλάττει

 

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What a Beautiful Box! I Will Put the Iliad In It

Plutarch, Life of Alexander 26.4

“When a small box was brought to him—which seem more valuable than the rest of the possessions and baggage they had taken from Dareios, [Alexander] asked his friends what thing seem especially worthy of being put in it. Although many of them made many suggestions, Alexander said that he would keep the Iliad safe by placing it inside. Not a few of the most credible sources claim this.

If, as the Alexandrians say is true—since they believe Herakleides—Homer was no lazy or unprofitable travel companion…”

Κιβωτίου δέ τινος αὐτῷ προσενεχθέντος, οὗ πολυτελέστερον οὐδὲν ἐφάνη τοῖς τὰ Δαρείου χρήματα καὶ τὰς ἀποσκευὰς παραλαμβάνουσιν, ἠρώτα τοὺς φίλους, ὅ τι δοκοίη μάλιστα τῶν ἀξίων σπουδῆς εἰς αὐτὸ καταθέσθαι. πολλὰ δὲ πολλῶν λεγόντων, αὐτὸς ἔφη τὴν ᾿Ιλιάδα φρουρήσειν ἐνταῦθα καταθέμενος· καὶ ταῦτα μὲνοὐκ ὀλίγοι τῶν ἀξιοπίστων μεμαρτυρήκασιν. εἰ δ’, ὅπερ ᾿Αλεξανδρεῖς λέγουσιν ῾Ηρακλείδῃ (fr. 140 W.) πιστεύοντες, ἀληθές ἐστιν, οὔκουν [οὐκ] ἀργὸς οὐδ’ ἀσύμβολος αὐτῷ συστρατεύειν ἔοικεν ῞Ομηρος.

This passage refers to an earlier moment in the Life. Coincidentally, I also sleep the same way…

8.4

“[Alexander] was also naturally a lover of language, a lover of learning, and a lover of reading. Because he believed that the Iliad was a guidebook for military excellence—and called it that too—he took a copy of it which had been edited by Aristotle which they used to refer to as “Iliad-in-a-Box”. He always kept it with his dagger beneath his pillow—as Onêsikritos tells us.

When there were no other books in -and, he sent to Harpalos for some more. Then Harpalus sent him Philistos’ books along with some tragedies of Euripides, Sophokles and Aeschylus and the dithyrambs of Telestes and Philoxenos.”

ἦν δὲ καὶ φύσει φιλόλογος καὶ φιλομαθὴς καὶ φιλαναγνώστης, καὶ τὴν μὲν  ᾿Ιλιάδα τῆς πολεμικῆς ἀρετῆς ἐφόδιον καὶ νομίζων καὶ ὀνομάζων, ἔλαβε μὲν ᾿Αριστοτέλους διορθώσαντος ἣν ἐκ τοῦ νάρθηκος καλοῦσιν, εἶχε δ’ ἀεὶ μετὰ τοῦ ἐγχειριδίου κειμένην ὑπὸ τὸ προσκεφάλαιον, ὡς ᾿Ονησίκριτος ἱστόρηκε (FGrH 134 F 38)· τῶν δ’ ἄλλων βιβλίων οὐκ εὐπορῶν ἐν τοῖς ἄνω τόποις, ῞Αρπαλον ἐκέλευσε πέμψαι, κἀκεῖνος ἔπεμψεν αὐτῷ τάς τε Φιλίστου βίβλους καὶ τῶν Εὐριπίδου καὶ Σοφοκλέους καὶ Αἰσχύλου τραγῳδιῶν συχνάς, καὶ Τελέστου καὶ Φιλοξένου διθυράμβους.

 

Plutarch tells a slightly different story in the Moralia

Plutarch, On the Fortune—or Virtue—of Alexander 327f-328a

“Yes, indeed, the accoutrements he possessed thanks to Aristotle were greater than what he got from Phillip when he went against the Persians. But, while we believe those who claim that Alexander said that the Iliad and the Odyssey went with him as guides on his expedition—since we do think that Homer is sacred—don’t we dismiss anyone who claims that the epics followed him as his solace and distraction from work with sweet leisure when the true guide was the reason he had from philosophy and his ‘baggage’ was his notes on Bravery, Prudence, and greatness of spirit?”

ναί, πλείονας παρ᾿ Ἀριστοτέλους τοῦ καθηγητοῦ ἢ Fπαρὰ Φιλίππου τοῦ πατρὸς ἀφορμὰς ἔχων διέβαινεν ἐπὶ Πέρσας. ἀλλὰ τοῖς μὲν γράφουσιν, ὡς Ἀλέξανδρος ἔφη ποτὲ τὴν Ἰλιάδα καὶ τὴν Ὀδύσσειαν ἀκολουθεῖν αὐτῷ τῆς στρατείας ἐφόδιον, πιστεύομεν, Ὅμηρον σεμνύνοντες· ἂν δέ τις φῇ τὴν Ἰλιάδα καὶ τὴν Ὀδύσσειαν παραμύθιον πόνου καὶ διατριβὴν ἕπεσθαι σχολῆς γλυκείας, ἐφόδιον δ᾿ ἀληθῶς γεγονέναι τὸν ἐκ φιλοσοφίας λόγον καὶ τοὺς περὶ ἀφοβίας καὶ ἀνδρείας ἔτι δὲ σωφροσύνης καὶ μεγαλοψυχίας ὑπομνηματισμούς, καταφρονοῦμεν;

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I can’t wait until the battle is over so I can get back to reading…

 

 

No Disaster Greater Than This…

Thucydides 7.29-30

“And there in Mycalessus was a great disturbance and every kind of ruin took root. [The Thracians] even attacked a school for children which was the largest in the region, when the children had just entered, and they cut down all of them. No greater suffering affected the whole state than this; it was terrible and unexpected more than any other.”

[5] καὶ τότε ἄλλη τε ταραχὴ οὐκ ὀλίγη καὶ ἰδέα πᾶσα καθειστήκει ὀλέθρου, καὶ ἐπιπεσόντες διδασκαλείῳ παίδων, ὅπερ μέγιστον ἦν αὐτόθι καὶ ἄρτι ἔτυχον οἱ παῖδες ἐσεληλυθότες, κατέκοψαν πάντας: καὶ ξυμφορὰ τῇ πόλει πάσῃ οὐδεμιᾶς ἥσσων μᾶλλον ἑτέρας ἀδόκητός τε ἐπέπεσεν αὕτη καὶ δεινή.

A twitter correspondent sent me this passage number last night after I tweeted:

This passage is affecting and Thucydides’ Greek is really powerful here. But when compared to the situation of school shootings in the United States, it is more troubling. For Thucydides, the Thracians have been sent home by the Athenians and are at best only quasi-civilized: he writes right before this passage that the Thracians “are a race which are most bloody in whatever they dare, similar to the most extreme of the barbarians” (τὸ γὰρ γένος τὸ τῶν Θρᾳκῶν ὁμοῖα τοῖς μάλιστα τοῦ βαρβαρικοῦ, ἐν ᾧ ἂν θαρσήσῃ, φονικώτατόν ἐστιν, 7.29.4).

So this murderous rampage is performed by a people, marked judgmentally as barbarians, in a time of war. (Yes, we try to “other” the murderers by marking them as insane or disturbed in some way.) More importantly, even in a narrative about one of the greatest wars of all times (from Thucydides’ perspective) the murder of children is seen as an (1) unexpected calamity for the (2) whole civic entity. Can we honestly say our acts of violence are unexpected when they happen with such frequency?

Once the cities of central Greece heard of the Thracian activities, the Thebans sent out an army and put down the Thracians with some difficulty. Thucydides, no sucker for hyperbole, concludes (7.30):

“These things which Mycalessus suffered turned out to be the kinds of events worthy of lamenting more than any other during the war because of the city’s size.”

τὰ μὲν κατὰ τὴν Μυκαλησσὸν πάθει χρησαμένην οὐδενὸς ὡς ἐπὶ μεγέθει τῶν κατὰ τὸν πόλεμον ἧσσον ὀλοφύρασθαι ἀξίῳ τοιαῦτα ξυνέβη.

But maybe we should rethink what atrocity and ‘war’ is. Every year 1300 children die from gun shot wounds in the US. That means that since 2001 the number of children who have been killed is nearly six times the adults who perished on 9/11. The terrorist attacks were largely unexpected. Gun violence is not.

Here’s the note from Charles F. Smith presented on Perseus:

καὶ ξυμφορὰ τῇ πόλεικαὶ δεινή : Thuc. sums up the horror of the whole affair in the most impressive manner, the subst. placed first, followed by the phrases οὐδεμιᾶς ἥσσων and μᾶλλονἑτέρας, which have the force of sups., and the dem. pron. The position of the subst. gives it a character of generality with nearly the effect of the part. gen. See on i.1.8. This passage differs, however, from those cited at i.1.8 in this respect, that here two qualities in their highest expression unite in a single case, viz. the extent of the destruction (οὐδεμιᾶς ἥσσων) and the complete unexpectedness of it (μᾶλλον ἑτέρας ἀδόκητος). “And so this blow, than which no greater ever affected a whole city, was in the highest degree both unexpected and terrible.” μᾶλλον . . . ἀδόκητος and δεινή stand in pred. relation to ἐπέπεσεν.

A Tyranny of Luck and a Stranger

Sallust, Letter to Caesar 2.3

“While the courts just as in previous eras have been run by the three orders, those political factions still rule them: they give and take what they may, giving the innocent the runaround and heaping honors on their own. Neither crime nor shame nor public disgrace disqualifies them from office. They rob, despoil whomever they please. And finally, as if the city has been sacked, they rely on their own lust and excess instead of the laws.

And for me this would only be a source of limited grief if, in their typical fashion, they were pursuing a victory born from excellence. But the laziest of people whose total strength and excellence come from their tongue are arrogantly administering a tyranny gained through luck and from another person! For what treason or civil discord has obliterated so many families? Who whose spirit was ever so hasty and extreme in victory?”

Iudicia tametsi, sicut antea, tribus ordinibus tradita sunt, tamen idem illi factiosi regunt, dant, adimunt quae lubet, innocentis circumveniunt, suos ad honorem extollunt. Non facinus, non probrum aut flagitium obstat, quo minus magistratus capiant. Quos commodum est trahunt, rapiunt; postremo tamquam urbe capta libidine ac licentia sua pro legibus utuntur.

Ac me quidem mediocris dolor angeret, si virtute partam victoriam more suo per servitium exercerent. Sed homines inertissimi, quorum omnis vis virtusque in lingua sita est, forte atque alterius socordia dominationem oblatam insolentes agitant. Nam quae seditio aut dissensio civilis tot tam illustris familias ab stirpe evertit? Aut quorum umquam in victoria animus tam praeceps tamque inmoderatus fuit?

 

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Can’t Decide on a Resolution? Do it Drunk.

Herodotus, Histories 1.133.3-4

“The [Persians] are really fond of wine. It is not permissable to puke or to piss in front of another—these things are guarded against. And they are in the custom of taking counsel about the most important matters while they are drunk. Whatever seems fit to them while they are deliberating, the housemaster of the place where they deliberate proposes to them on the next day when they are sober. If the idea is pleasing to them when they are sober too, then they adopt it. If it is not, they waive it. When they have debated an issue while sober, they make a final decision while drunk.”

οἴνῳ δὲ κάρτα προσκέαται, καί σφι οὐκ ἐμέσαι ἔξεστι, οὐκὶ οὐρῆσαι ἀντίον ἄλλου. ταῦτα μέν νυν οὕτω φυλάσσεται, μεθυσκόμενοι δὲ ἐώθασι βουλεύεσθαι τὰ σπουδαιέστατα τῶν πρηγμάτων:

[4] τὸ δ᾽ ἂν ἅδῃ σφι βουλευομένοισι, τοῦτο τῇ ὑστεραίῃ νήφουσι προτιθεῖ ὁ στέγαρχος, ἐν τοῦ ἂν ἐόντες βουλεύωνται, καὶ ἢν μὲν ἅδῃ καὶ νήφουσι, χρέωνται αὐτῷ, ἢν δὲ μὴ ἅδῃ, μετιεῖσι. τὰ δ᾽ ἂν νήφοντες προβουλεύσωνται, μεθυσκόμενοι ἐπιδιαγινώσκουσι.

Tacitus ascribes a similar process to the northern barbarians, concluding (Germ. 22):

“therefore, the mindset of everyone has been exposed and made clear and on the next day the issue is discussed again, and for each opportunity a resolution and accounting is reached. They deliberate when they are incapable of lying; they make a plan when incapable of messing it up.”

ergo detecta et nuda omnium mens. postera die retractatur, et salva utriusque temporis ratio est. Deliberant dum fingere nesciunt, constituunt dum errare non possunt.

 

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[Credit to Perseus for having the How and Wells Commentary online]

On Revolution and Forgetting

These passages are read well together with Aeschines’ comments on amnesties.

Thucydides, 4.74

“Later, when the allies were released to their cities [Brasidas] also returned and went to Corinth where he was preparing an attack on Thrace, the very place where he was heading first. After the Athenians returned home, those in the city from Megara–however many were especially involved with matters pertaining to the Athenians–departed immediately because they knew they had been discovered. The rest conversed with the friends of exiles and returned those from Pegae after they made them swear with great oaths that they would take no action on previous actions [mnêsikakêsein] but would instead consider what was best for the city.

But, when they took up positions in office and made a review of the hoplites, once they separated the units and chose out around one hundred of their enemies and those who seemed to be most implicated in overtures to the Athenians and they forced the people to vote openly about them, they killed them and established an oligarchy in the city. This change, even though it was achieved by the smallest number during the civil strife, lasted the longest amount of time.”

καὶ ὕστερον ὁ μὲν διαλυθέντων τῶν ξυμμάχων κατὰ πόλεις ἐπανελθὼν καὶ αὐτὸς ἐς τὴν Κόρινθοντὴν ἐπὶ Θρᾴκης στρατείαν παρεσκεύαζεν, ἵνα περ καὶ τὸ πρῶτον ὥρμητο: [2] οἱ δὲ ἐν τῇ πόλει Μεγαρῆς, ἀποχωρησάντων καὶ τῶν Ἀθηναίων ἐπ᾽ οἴκου, ὅσοι μὲν τῶν πραγμάτων πρὸς τοὺς Ἀθηναίους μάλιστα μετέσχον, εἰδότες ὅτι ὤφθησαν εὐθὺς ὑπεξῆλθον, οἱ δὲ ἄλλοι κοινολογησάμενοι τοῖς τῶν φευγόντων φίλοις κατάγουσι τοὺς ἐκ Πηγῶν, ὁρκώσαντες πίστεσι μεγάλαις μηδὲν μνησικακήσειν, βουλεύσειν δὲ τῇ πόλει τὰ ἄριστα. [3] οἱ δὲ ἐπειδὴ ἐν ταῖς ἀρχαῖς ἐγένοντο καὶ ἐξέτασιν ὅπλων ἐποιήσαντο, διαστήσαντες τοὺς λόχους ἐξελέξαντο τῶν τε ἐχθρῶν καὶ οἳ ἐδόκουν μάλιστα ξυμπρᾶξαι τὰ πρὸς τοὺς Ἀθηναίους ἄνδρας ὡς ἑκατόν, καὶ τούτων πέρι ἀναγκάσαντες τὸν δῆμον ψῆφον φανερὰν διενεγκεῖν, ὡς κατεγνώσθησαν, ἔκτειναν, καὶ ἐς ὀλιγαρχίαν τὰ μάλιστα κατέστησαν τὴν πόλιν. [4] καὶ πλεῖστον δὴ χρόνον αὕτη ὑπ᾽ ἐλαχίστων γενομένη ἐκ στάσεως μετάστασις ξυνέμεινεν.

Thucydides, 8.73.5

“Some listened to the soldiers individually and appealed for them not to intervene, not the least the Paralii, all Athenians and free men who were sailing in their ship and always prepared to set upon the Oligarchy, even if it did not exist. Both Leôn and Diomedôn left some ships as guards for them whenever they were sailing elsewhere. Thus, when the three hundred were ready to attack, all of these went to help, but especially the Parali, and the majority Samian party prevailed. They killed thirty of the three hundred and then punished the three most responsible with exile. Because they would not hold a grudge [mnêsikakountes] against the rest, they lived together as a democracy for the remaining time.”

 οἱ δὲ ἀκούσαντες τῶν τε στρατιωτῶν ἕνα ἕκαστον μετῇσαν μὴ ἐπιτρέπειν, καὶ οὐχ ἥκιστα τοὺς Παράλους, ἄνδρας Ἀθηναίους τε καὶ ἐλευθέρους πάντας ἐν τῇ νηὶ πλέοντας καὶ αἰεὶ δήποτε ὀλιγαρχίᾳ καὶ μὴ παρούσῃ ἐπικειμένους: ὅ τε Λέων καὶ ὁ Διομέδων αὐτοῖς ναῦς τινάς, ὁπότε ποι πλέοιεν, κατέλειπον φύλακας.[6] ὥστε ἐπειδὴ αὐτοῖς ἐπετίθεντο οἱ τριακόσιοι, βοηθησάντων πάντων τούτων, μάλιστα δὲ τῶν Παράλων, περιεγένοντο οἱ τῶν Σαμίων πλέονες, καὶ τριάκοντα μέν τινας ἀπέκτειναν τῶν τριακοσίων, τρεῖς δὲ τοὺς αἰτιωτάτους φυγῇ ἐζημίωσαν: τοῖς δ᾽ ἄλλοις οὐ μνησικακοῦντες δημοκρατούμενοι τὸ λοιπὸν ξυνεπολίτευον.

Compare to Thucydides, 3.82.7-8:

“To exact vengeance from someone was thought to be more important than not suffering at all.  If oaths were ever taken in turn, they were strong because each person was at a loss and had no power at all. But as soon as one of them had the advantage, he attacked if he saw anyone unguarded: it was sweeter to take vengeance despite a pledge than to do so openly. It was thought generally to be safe and to have won a prize for intelligence, prevailing by deceit. Many [more] wicked people become famous for being clever than good people do for being ingenuous. Men are ashamed by the latter but delight in the former.

To blame for all of these things is the love of power and a love of honor. From both, they fell into a voluntary love of conflict. For those who were in charge of the state each claimed identities for themselves, some the equal rights of the masses, the others the wisdom of the aristocrats; while guarding the common goods in word, they were making them the contest’s prize, competing with one another to be pre-eminent, they dared the most terrible things—and they surpassed them with greater acts of vengeance too. They did not regard either justice or advantage for the city…”

ἀντιτιμωρήσασθαί τέ τινα περὶ πλείονος ἦν ἢ αὐτὸν μὴ προπαθεῖν. καὶ ὅρκοι εἴ που  ἄρα γένοιντο ξυναλλαγῆς, ἐν τῷ αὐτίκα πρὸς τὸ ἄπορον ἑκατέρῳ διδόμενοι ἴσχυον οὐκ ἐχόντων ἄλλοθεν δύναμιν· ἐν δὲ τῷ παρατυχόντι ὁ φθάσας θαρσῆσαι, εἰ ἴδοι ἄφαρκτον, ἥδιον διὰ τὴν πίστιν ἐτιμωρεῖτο ἢ ἀπὸ τοῦ προφανοῦς, καὶ τό τε ἀσφαλὲς ἐλογίζετο καὶ ὅτι ἀπάτῃ περιγενόμενος ξυνέσεως ἀγώνισμα προσελάμβανεν. ῥᾷον δ’ οἱ πολλοὶ κακοῦργοι ὄντες δεξιοὶ κέκληνται ἢ ἀμαθεῖς ἀγαθοί, καὶ τῷ μὲν αἰσχύνονται, ἐπὶ δὲ τῷ ἀγάλλονται. πάντων δ’ αὐτῶν αἴτιον ἀρχὴ ἡ διὰ πλεονεξίαν καὶ φιλοτιμίαν· ἐκ δ’ αὐτῶν καὶ ἐς τὸ φιλονικεῖν καθισταμένων τὸ πρόθυμον. οἱ γὰρ ἐν ταῖς πόλεσι προστάντες μετὰ ὀνόματος ἑκάτεροι εὐπρεποῦς, πλήθους τε ἰσονομίας πολιτικῆς καὶ ἀριστοκρατίας σώφρονος προτιμήσει, τὰ μὲν κοινὰ λόγῳ θεραπεύοντες ἆθλα ἐποιοῦντο, παντὶ δὲ τρόπῳ ἀγωνιζόμενοι ἀλλήλων περιγίγνεσθαι ἐτόλμησάν τε τὰ δεινότατα ἐπεξῇσάν τε τὰς τιμωρίας ἔτι μείζους…

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Some Roman Collusion for a Year of Confusion

Plautus, Rudens 1248

“I have no interest in profit made from collusion”

ego mi collusim nil moror ullum lucrum.

 

Tacitus Annals 11.5

“After that point, Suillius was persistent and brutal in pursuing his affairs and in his boldness for finding a mass of rivals. For the union of laws and wealth of offices gathered in one person furnished abundant opportunities for theft. And there was nothing in public so much for sale as the corruption of the advocates. It was so bad that Samius, a rather distinguished Roman knight, after he paid four hundred thousand sesterces to Suillius and once the collusion was revealed, laid down on his sword in his own house.

Therefore, when Gaius Silius was taking the lead of the elected consul—a man whose power and fall I will discuss in the appropriate time, the senators came together and asked for the Cincian law which carried the ancient warning that no one should receive money or a gift for pleading a case.”

 Continuus inde et saevus accusandis reis Suillius multique audaciae eius aemuli; nam cuncta legum et magistratuum munia in se trahens princeps materiam praedandi patefecerat. Nec quicquam publicae mercis tam venale fuit quam advocatorum perfidia, adeo ut Samius, insignis eques Romanus, quadringentis nummorum milibus Suillio datis et cognita praevaricatione ferro in domo eius incubuerit. Igitur incipiente C. Silio consule designato, cuius de potentia et exitio in tempore memorabo, consurgunt patres legemque Cinciam flagitant, qua cavetur antiquitus, ne quis ob causam orandam pecuniam donumve accipiat.

 

CICERO TO ATTICUS 92 (IV.18 Rome, between 24 October and 2 November 54)

“By what means was he acquitted? The beginning and the end of it was the incredible ineptitude of the prosecutors, specifically that of Lucius Lentulus the younger whom everyone yelled was colluding. Add to this the wondrous work of Pompeii and a crooked jury. Even with this there were 32 guilt votes and 38 for acquittal.  Remaining cases are waiting for him. He is not yet clearly unimpeded.”

quo modo ergo absolutus? omnino πρῷρα πρύμνα accusatorum incredibilis infantia, id est L. Lentuli L. f., quem fremunt omnes praevaricatum, deinde Pompei mira contentio, iudicum sordes. Ac tamen xxxii  condemnarunt, xxxviii absolverunt. iudicia reliqua impendent. nondum est plane expeditus.

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A Lot of Knowledge, But No Power: Herodotus on the Most Evil Pain

Because this conversation happens after a shared meal, it is thematically appropriate for this month.

Herodotus, Histories 9.16

After dinner when they were drinking together, the Persian next to him asked [Thersander] in Greek what country was his and Thersander said Orkhomenos. Then he responded “Since you are my dinner companion and have had a drink with me I want to leave a memorial of my belief so that you may understand and be able to make some advantageous plans.

Do you see these Persians dying and the army we left in camp by the river? In a short time you will see that few of these men remain.” The Persian stopped saying these things and cried a lot.

After he was surprised at this confession, he responded, “Isn’t it right to tell these things to Mardonios and those noble Persians around him?”

Then he responded, “Friend, whatever a god decrees is impossible for humans to change: for they say that no one wants to believe what is true. Many of us Persians know this and follow because we are bound by necessity. This is most hateful pain for men: when someone knows a lot but has no power.”

I heard these things from Thersander of Orkhomnos and he also told me that he said them to people before the battle occurred at Plataea.”

2] ὡς δὲ ἀπὸ δείπνου ἦσαν, διαπινόντων τὸν Πέρσην τὸν ὁμόκλινον Ἑλλάδα γλῶσσαν ἱέντα εἰρέσθαι αὐτὸν ὁποδαπός ἐστι, αὐτὸς δὲ ὑποκρίνασθαι ὡς εἴη Ὀρχομένιος. τὸν δὲ εἰπεῖν ‘ἐπεὶ νῦν ὁμοτράπεζός τέ μοι καὶ ὁμόσπονδος ἐγένεο, μνημόσυνά τοι γνώμης τῆς ἐμῆς καταλιπέσθαι θέλω, ἵνα καὶ προειδὼς αὐτὸς περὶ σεωυτοῦ βουλεύεσθαι ἔχῃς τὰ συμφέροντα. ’

‘ [3] ὁρᾷς τούτους τοὺς δαινυμένους Πέρσας καὶ τὸν στρατὸν τὸν ἐλίπομεν ἐπὶ τῷ ποταμῷ στρατοπεδευόμενον: τούτων πάντων ὄψεαι ὀλίγου τινὸς χρόνου διελθόντος ὀλίγους τινὰς τοὺς περιγενομένους.’ ταῦτα ἅμα τε τὸν Πέρσην λέγειν καὶ μετιέναι πολλὰ τῶν δακρύων.

[4] αὐτὸς δὲ θωμάσας τὸν λόγον εἰπεῖν πρὸς αὐτὸν ‘οὐκῶν Μαρδονίῳ τε ταῦτα χρεόν ἐστι λέγειν καὶ τοῖσι μετ᾽ ἐκεῖνον ἐν αἴνῃ ἐοῦσι Περσέων;’ τὸν δὲ μετὰ ταῦτα εἰπεῖν ‘ξεῖνε, ὅ τι δεῖ γενέσθαι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀμήχανον ἀποτρέψαι ἀνθρώπῳ: οὐδὲ γὰρ πιστὰ λέγουσι ἐθέλει πείθεσθαι οὐδείς. ’

‘ [5] ταῦτα δὲ Περσέων συχνοὶ ἐπιστάμενοι ἑπόμεθα ἀναγκαίῃ ἐνδεδεμένοι, ἐχθίστη δὲ ὀδύνη ἐστὶ τῶν ἐν ἀνθρώποισι αὕτη, πολλὰ φρονέοντα μηδενὸς κρατέειν.’ ταῦτα μὲν Ὀρχομενίου Θερσάνδρου ἤκουον, καὶ τάδε πρὸς τούτοισι, ὡς αὐτὸς αὐτίκα λέγοι ταῦτα πρὸς ἀνθρώπους πρότερον ἢ γενέσθαι ἐν Πλαταιῇσι τὴν μάχην.

 

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“Beware the many, if you do not fear the one”

From the Historia Augusta, on the two Maximini, IX

“In order to hide his low birth, he had everyone who knew about it killed—not a few of them were friends who had often given him much because of his pitiable poverty. And there was never a crueler animal on the earth, placing all in his strength as if he could not be killed. Finally, when he believed that he was nearly immortal because of the magnitude of his body and bravery, there was a certain actor whom they report recited some Greek lines when he was present in the theater which had this Latin translation:

Even he who cannot be killed by one is killed by many
The elephant is large and he is killed.
The lion is brave and he is killed
The tiger is brave and he is killed.
Beware the many if you do not fear the one.

And these words were recited while the emperor was there. But when he asked his friends what the little clown had said, they claimed he was singing some old lines written against mean men. And, since he was Thracian and barbarian, believed this.”

IX. nam ignobilitatis tegendae causa omnes conscios generis sui interemit, nonnullos etiam amicos, qui ei saepe misericordiae paupertatis causa pleraque donaverant. neque enim fuit crudelius animal in terris, omnia sic in viribus suis ponens quasi non posset occidi. denique cum immortalem se prope crederet ob magnitudinem corporis virtutisque, mimus quidam in theatro praesente illo dicitur versus Graecos dixisse, quorum haec erat Latina sententia:

“Et qui ab uno non potest occidi, a multis occiditur.

elephans grandis est et occiditur,
leo fortis est et occiditur,
tigris fortis est et occiditur;
cave multos, si singulos non times.”

et haec imperatore ipso praesente iam dicta sunt. sed cum interrogaret amicos, quid mimicus scurra dixisset, dictum est ei quod antiquos versus cantaret contra homines asperos scriptos; et ille, ut erat Thrax et barbarus, credidit.

 

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I am big. Really big. Everyone is saying that, not me. I mean, look how big I am.

A Failure of Education: Commodus’ Cruelty

From the Historia Augusta on Commodus, 1

“Therefore, when his brother had passed, Marcus tried to educate Commodus with his own writings and those of famous and prominent men. As teachers he had Onesicrates for Greek literature, Antistius Capella for Latin and Ateius Sanctus for rhetoric.

But teachers of so many disciplines were useless in his case—such was the power of his native character or of those who were kept as instructors in the palace. For from his early childhood, Commodus was nasty, dishonest, cruel, desirous, foul-mouthed, and corrupted. For he was already a craftsman in those things which were not proper to the imperial class, such as making chalices, dancing, singing, whistling, playing a fool, and acting the perfect gladiator.

When he was twelve years old, he provided an omen of his cruelty at Centumcellae. For, when his bath was accidentally too cool, he ordered that the bath-slave be thrown into the furnace. Then, the slave who was ordered this, burned a sheep’s skin into the furnace, so that he might convince the punishment was performed through the foulness of the smell.”

mortuo igitur fratre Commodum Marcus et suis praeceptis et magnorum atque optimorum virorum erudire conatus est. habuit litteratorem Graecum Onesicratem, Latinum Capellam Antistium; orator ei Ateius Sanctus fuit.

Sed tot disciplinarum magistri nihil ei profuerunt. tantum valet aut ingenii vis aut eorum qui in aula institutores habentur. nam a prima statim pueritia turpis, improbus, crudelis, libidinosus, ore quoque pollutus et constupratus fuit. iam in his artifex, quae stationis imperatoriae non erant, ut calices fingeret, saltaret, cantaret, sibilaret, scurram denique et gladiatorem perfectum ostenderet. auspicium crudelitatis apud Centumcellas dedit anno aetatis duodecimo. nam cum tepidius forte lautus esset, balneatorem in fornacem conici iussit; quando a paedagogo, cui hoc iussum fuerat, vervecina pellis in fornace consumpta est, ut fidem poenae de foetore nidoris impleret.

 

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