Great Deeds Require Great Assistance (PS: Sejanus, I Love You) Velleius Paterculus 2.127

“It is rare for eminent men to guide their fortunes without making use of great assistants—as the two Scipios needed the two Laelii whom they treated as equal to themselves in everything or as the divine Augustus used Marcus Agrippa and then Statilius Taurus after him. For these men the newness of their families was certainly not any serious obstacle to selections to their multiple consulships, triumphs or priesthoods. For great deeds need great helpers and it is crucial to that state that those who are needed by it receive adequate rank and that their usefulness is fortified by authority.

With these men as examples, Tiberius Caesar elevated Seianus Aelius as his sole assistant in the burdens of the principate, a son of a father from a lofty equestrian family and on his mother’s side related to famous ancient men distinguished as well by their public service, a man who also had brothers, cousins and an uncle as consuls and who was himself a man most dedicated to loyalty and service, endowed with sufficient physical strength to match his mental ability, a man happily stern and strictly cheerful, busy though seeming at leisure, a man who neither acquires nor pursues anything for himself, and whose belief in himself always falls below the estimation of others, calm in his appearance and life though vigilant in his mind.”

Raro eminentes viri non magnis adiutoribus ad gubernandam fortunam suam usi sunt, ut duo Scipiones duobus Laeliis, quos per omnia aequaverunt sibi, ut divus Augustus M. Agrippa et proxime ab eo Statilio Tauro, quibus novitas familiae haut obstitit quominus ad multiplicis consulatus triumphosque et complura eveherentur sacerdotia. 2 Etenim magna negotia magnis adiutoribus egent interestque rei publicae quod usu necessariurn est, dignitate eminere utilitatemque auctoritate muniri. 3 Sub his exemplis Ti. Caesar Seianum Aelium, principe equestris ordinis patre natum, materno vero genere clarissimas veteresque et insignes honoribus complexum familias, habentem consularis fratres, consobrinos, avunculum, ipsum vero laboris ac fidei capacissimum, sufficiente etiam vigori animi compage corporis, singularem principalium onerum adiutorem in omnia habuit atque habet, 4virum severitatis laetissimae, hilaritatis priscae, actu otiosis simillimum, nihil sibi vindicantem eoque adsequentem omnia, semperque infra aliorum aestimationes se metientem, vultu vitaque tranquillum, animo exsomnem.

The last sentence seems to go on a bit suspiciously long for Sejanus, the leader of the Praetorian guard who ran the Roman Empire after Tiberius withdrew to Capri. Things did not go well forever for Sejanus–he was executed in 31 CE.

Fantastic Friday: Polybius on the Importance of History (1.1)

“If those who wrote down the events of the past before me had failed also to record praise for history, it might be necessary to insist upon making this choice and turning to embrace chronicles like my own because men have no readier corrective than the knowledge of past events. But since anyone who writes to any extent (we might say everyone) uses the same point to start and begin their task—namely, asserting that the study of history is the truest education and exercise for political action, that the most certain, even only, way of acquiring the ability to endure unexpected turns of fate well is the contemplation of others’ misfortunes—then it is clear that it would seem right to no one, and to me the least, to repeat things that have been said well and by so many.

It is the unexpectedness of events that I have chosen as my subject: this will be enough to provoke and enjoin everyone, whether young or old, with the desire to complete my history. What man is so foolish or lazy that he would not want to know how and by what kind of government it happened that almost all the peopled earth was first overcome and then fell under the sole rule of the Romans in barely fifty-three years, a thing which had never happened before—or who then is so dedicated to some other kind of examination or rumination that he might consider anything more relevant than this information?”

Εἰ μὲν τοῖς πρὸ ἡμῶν ἀναγράφουσι τὰς πράξεις παραλελεῖφθαι συνέβαινε τὸν ὑπὲρ αὐτῆς τῆς ἱστορίας ἔπαινον, ἴσως ἀναγκαῖον ἦν τὸ προτρέπεσθαι πάντας πρὸς τὴν αἵρεσιν καὶ παραδοχὴν τῶν τοιούτων ὑπομνημάτων διὰ τὸ μηδεμίαν ἑτοιμοτέραν εἶναι τοῖς ἀνθρώποις διόρθωσιν τῆς τῶν προγεγενημένων πράξεων ἐπιστήμης. ἐπεὶ δ’ οὐ τινὲς οὐδ’ ἐπὶ ποσόν, ἀλλὰ πάντες ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν ἀρχῇ καὶ τέλει κέχρηνται τούτῳ, φάσκοντες ἀληθινωτάτην μὲν εἶναι παιδείαν καὶ γυμνασίαν πρὸς τὰς πολιτικὰς πράξεις τὴν ἐκ τῆς ἱστορίας μάθησιν, ἐναργεστάτην δὲ καὶ μόνην διδάσκαλον τοῦ δύνασθαι τὰς τῆς τύχης μεταβολὰς γενναίως ὑποφέρειν τὴν τῶν ἀλλοτρίων περιπετειῶν ὑπόμνησιν, δῆλον ὡς οὐδενὶ μὲν ἂν δόξαι καθήκειν περὶ τῶν καλῶς καὶ πολλοῖς εἰρημένων ταυτολογεῖν, ἥκιστα δ’ ἡμῖν. πρὸς τὴν ἔντευξιν τῆς πραγματείας. τίς γὰρ οὕτως ὑπάρχει φαῦλος ἢ ῥᾴθυμος ἀνθρώπων ὃς οὐκ ἂν βούλοιτο γνῶναι πῶς καὶ τίνι γένει πολιτείας ἐπικρατηθέντα σχεδὸν ἅπαντα τὰ κατὰ τὴν οἰκουμένην οὐχ ὅλοις πεντήκοντα καὶ τρισὶν ἔτεσιν ὑπὸ μίαν ἀρχὴν ἔπεσε τὴν ῾Ρωμαίων, ὃ πρότερον οὐχ εὑρίσκεται γεγονός, τίς δὲ πάλιν οὕτως ἐκπαθὴς πρός τι τῶν ἄλλων θεαμάτων ἢ μαθημάτων ὃς προυργιαίτερον ἄν τι ποιήσαιτο τῆσδε τῆς ἐμπειρίας;

I have to be completely honest: I love the beginnings found in ancient historiographer’s works.  I wish Herodotus had written more; Thucydides opening is profound and denser than death; Livy, Sallust, Tacitus (although he begins and ends all over)–they all just know how to raise the rhetoric to a new level. (But let’s not talk about Xenophon and his meta tauta!)

Not enough people read Polybius.  A Greek historian writing about Rome in Greek. Choosing to work on Polybius is like choosing to be an agnostic: no one respects you. But his prose is interesting, his topic is fantastic and his perspective is unparalleled.