“We are all hearing the reports that everywhere is filled with corpses—the fields, the roads, the hills, crests, caves, peaks, groves, and trenches—and that some of the corpses are feasts for birds and beasts while the rivers carry others to the sea.
I am sometimes surprised by this news but at other times I blame those who suffer it and I say that they have suffered what is right, that they have earned this for going into exile. You might even say that they invited upon themselves the swords of their murderers.
They would not have suffered these things if they stayed at home. They have met these events because they are wandering and are offering themselves as a feast to these men who have been criminals for a long time. Think of it like this: they have made others into bandits by making the inducement greater! Who could pity people who ruin themselves willingly?”
“First, people claim that Homer was a beggar in Greece because of his poverty and lack of means. But they believe that this sort of a man is incapable of lying for the sake of those who gave him things, that he would not say the sorts of things he would intend only to please them! Yet people say that beggars today say nothing credible, and no one ever provides one as a witness on anything, nor do they ever accept praise from them as something true. For they know that beggars say everything to manipulate, by necessity.
And then they say that some people gave money to a beggar while others gave money to a madman and that they think the people then decided he was crazy when he was speaking truth rather than lying. Really, I am not so much rebuking Homer in these things. For nothing prevents a wise man from begging or seeming insane. But I am saying that, according to the belief people hold about Homer and these sort of people, nothing they say is believable.
Furthermore, they do not believe that lying is in Homer’s nature or that he employs this sort of thing at all. Yet he makes Odysseus lie the most, a man he praises, and he says that Autolykos even breaks an oath and that this was granted to him by Hermes! Nearly everyone agrees that Homer says nothing true about the gods, even those who praise him, and they try to offer various defenses, that he does not say these things because he means them but because he is riddling and using metaphor. What keeps him from speaking this way about men too?
For, whoever speaks nothing manifestly true about the gods, but so much to the contrary that people who encounter them take them as lies—and which bring no help to the singer—how would he hesitate to utter any kind of falsehood about men too? Many have previously noted that he has created gods grieving and groaning, wounded and nearly dying, and has added divine adulteries, bonding, and vows. I don’t wish to prosecute Homer, only to show what the truth was. I will also defend the matters as they seem to me. I say that he showed no hesitation in lying and did not think it a shame. I will move now to consider whether he was right or not.”
“The fact is this: if they would tolerate the work advancing by stages, so that the studious youth were were steeped in strict reading, they shaped their minds with the sayings the wise, they were digging out words with a tireless pen, they were listening at length to words they want to imitate, and they believed that what was pleasing to children was never truly exceptional, then that old style of oratory would have the weight of its majesty.
As it is now, children play at school and our youths are mocked in public. And what is more disgusting than this, no one is willing to admit in old age whatever nonsense they learned before. But, please don’t think that I am attacking a tenet of Lucilian humility. I will put what I believe in a poem.”
Quod si paterentur laborum gradus fieri, ut studiosi iuvenes lectione severa irrigarentur, ut sapientiae praeceptis animos componerent, ut verba atroci stilo effoderent, ut quod vellent imitari diu audirent, <ut persuaderent>2 sibi nihil esse magnificum, quod pueris placeret: iam illa grandis oratio haberet maiestatis suae pondus. Nunc pueri in scholis ludunt, iuvenes ridentur in foro, et quod utroque turpius est, quod quisque perperam didicit, in senectute confiteri non vult. Sed ne me putes improbasse schedium Lucilianae humilitatis, quod sentio, et ipse carmine effingam:
Cicero, Oratore II 14 (Cicero is not the speaker here…)
“What, then? There is something else still, I will admit, that, as when I walk in the sun—even if I am doing so for some other reason—I still grow darker by nature. Something similar happens when I eagerly read those books at Misenum—for Rome scarcely allows it. I sense that my own speaking takes own a new appearance from this contact. But, so that this does not seem too general to you, I understand only those things contained within Greek works which their very authors conceded the common people to understand.
When by chance I come upon your philosophers, led astray by the titles of their books which are titled with common and famous names—on virtue, justice, goodness, pleasure—I do not understand any word: they are so bound up in precise and abbreviated argumentation. I don’t even try to manage the Greek poets at all since they speak an entirely different language. No, I lose myself, as I have said, with those who write histories or present speeches which they wrote, or who speak in a what that they don’t seem to wish that we be the most well educated men, but merely conversant.”
Quid ergo? Est, fatebor, aliquid tamen: ut, cum in sole ambulem, etiamsi aliam ob causam ambulem, fieri natura tamen, ut colorer: sic, cum istos libros ad Misenum (nam Romae vix licet) studiosius legerim, sentio illorum tactu orationem meam quasi colorari. Sed ne latius hoc vobis patere videatur, haec duntaxat in Graecis intellego, quae ipsi, qui scripserunt, voluerunt vulgo intellegi. In philosophos vestros si quando incidi, deceptus indicibus librorum, quod sunt fere inscripti de rebus notis et illustribus, de virtute, de iustitia, de honestate, de voluptate, verbum prorsus nullum intellego: ita sunt angustis et concisis disputationibus illigati. Poetas omnino, quasi alia quadam lingua locutos, non conor attingere: cum his me (ut dixi) oblecto, qui res gestas, aut qui orationes scripserunt suas, aut qui ita loquuntur, ut videantur voluisse nobis, qui non sumus eruditissimi, esse familiars…
This is a kind of argument deduced from connected notions: “If the highest praise must be given to piety, then you should be moved when you see Quintus Metellus grieving so dutifully”. And, as for a deduction from generalities, “if magistrates owe their power to the Roman people, then why impeach Norbanus when he depends on the will of the citizenry?”
Ex coniunctis sic argumenta ducuntur: ‘si pietati summa tribuenda laus est, debetis moveri, cum Q. Metellum tam pie lugere videatis.’ Ex genere autem: ‘si magistratus in populi Romani potestate esse debent, quid Norbanum accusas, cuius tribunatus voluntati paruit civitatis?’
Suetonius, Julius Caesar 1.30
“Others claim that he feared being compelled to provide a defense for the things he had done in his first consulate against auspices, laws, and legislative actions. For Marcus Cato often announced with an oath that he would impeach Caesar by name, as soon as he dismissed his army.”
Alii timuisse dicunt, ne eorum, quae primo consulatu adversus auspicia legesque et intercessiones gessisset, rationem reddere cogeretur; cum M. Cato identidem nec sine iure iurando denuntiaret delaturum se nomen eius, simul ac primum exercitum dimisisset
Accius, Fr. 598 (From Oedipus)
“They impeach him voluntarily and they separate him
From his good fortune and all his wealth,
A man isolated, bereft, depressed and tortured”
Incusant ultro, a fortuna opibusque omnibus
desertum abiectum adflictum exanimum expectorant.
“Atacinus Varro acquired his name as a translator of other’s work—he certainly shouldn’t be dismissed, but in truth he has little to commend for improving an ability in speaking. Ennius, we should adore as we would groves sacred with age whose ancient trees have less beauty than they have religious awe. Others are closer to this time and are more useful for our subject. Ovid is certainly indulgent in his epic verse and too in love with his own genius, but still should be praised for some things. Cornelius Severus, moreover, even if he was a better metrician than a poet, still would have claimed second place for himself if he had finished his Sicilian War to the standard of his first book.
An early death kept Serranus from reaching his potential, yet his youthful works demonstrate special ability and a desire for correct form that is especially admirable in one so young. We recently lost a lot in Valerius Flaccus. Saleius Bassus had a forceful poetic ability—it did not improve with age. Rabirius and Pedo are worth a read, if you have extra time. Lucan is forceful, intense, and famous for his quotability, but, if I may say what I really think, a model more for orators than poets.
I am listing these authors because care for the lands of the earth has distracted Germanicus Augustus [Domitian] from the pursuits he began—it seemed insufficient to the gods that he be the greatest of poets. But, still, what could appear more sublime, more learned, and more outstanding by every account than the works of this young man who put the empire aside? Who could sing of wars better than the one who wages them in this way? Whom would the deities of these arts heed more closely? To whom would Minerva more easily unveil her own arts? Future generations will explain these things more fully, for now this praise is constrained by the glare of his other virtues.”
Atacinus Varro in iis per quae nomen est adsecutus interpres operis alieni, non spernendus quidem, verum ad augendam facultatem dicendi parum locuples. Ennium sicut sacros vetustate lucos adoremus, in quibus grandia et antiqua robora iam non tantam habent speciem quantam religionem. Propiores alii atque ad hoc de quo loquimur magis utiles. Lascivus quidem in herois quoque Ovidius et nimium amator ingenii sui, laudandus tamen partibus. Cornelius autem Severus, etiam si sit versificator quam poeta melior, si tamen (ut est dictum) ad exemplar primi libri bellum Siculum perscripsisset, vindicaret sibi iure secundum locum. Serranum consummari mors inmatura non passa est, puerilia tamen eius opera et maximam indolem ostendunt et admirabilem praecipue in aetate illa recti generis voluntatem. Multum in Valerio Flacco nuper amisimus. Vehemens et poeticum ingenium Salei Bassi fuit, nec ipsum senectute maturuit. Rabirius ac Pedo non indigni cognitione, si vacet. Lucanus ardens et concitatus et sententiis clarissimus et, ut dicam quod sentio, magis oratoribus quam poetis imitandus. Hos nominamus quia Germanicum Augustum ab institutis studiis deflexit cura terrarum, parumque dis visum est esse eum maximum poetarum. Quid tamen his ipsis eius operibus in quae donato imperio iuvenis secesserat sublimius, doctius, omnibus denique numeris praestantius? Quis enim caneret bella melius quam qui sic gerit? Quem praesidentes studiis deae propius audirent? Cui magis suas artis aperiret familiare numen Minerva? Dicent haec plenius futura saecula, nunc enim ceterarum fulgore virtutum laus ista praestringitur. Nos tamen sacra litterarum colentis feres, Caesar, si non tacitum hoc praeterimus et Vergiliano certe versu testamur
“Most people practice however many things they do or desire even though they don’t understand about any of them what kind of thing they are or what type of benefit they provide—they are compelled by opinion or pleasure or habit to these things. It is the same too in however many things they avoid and are careful not to do: they do not abstain because they know it is harmful or what kind of harm certain matters threaten, but because they see others taking care concerning these things or just because they have been in the habit of caution regarding affairs or because they imagine that these matters must be unpleasant for them and present what seems to be toilsome, they are really suspicious of them.
And, in addition, the matter of pleasure and toil is common to all people even though some people are slaves to them more than others. But opinion is ungoverned and is not the same for all. This is why some people praise these things and carp at those and others often do the complete opposite.”