A Tyranny Gained Through Luck

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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Correcting Sallust

Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae: 4.15

A Sentence from Sallust’s History, Which His Unfair Detractors Have Censured with Malignant Zeal

“The elegance of Sallust’s speeches and arrangement of words, as well as his pursuit of innovation was straightaway met with much ill-will, and many men of not inconsiderable talent tried to censure and detract from much of what he wrote. In that pursuit, they insulted him ignorantly and with malice. Nevertheless, there are some parts of Sallust which admit of some criticism, such as that which we find in his Bellum Catilina, which has the look of being written with too little attention.

The words of Sallust run: ‘And to me it seems that even though the same glory does not attend upon the writer and the doer of deeds, it nevertheless seems in the first place arduous to write history. The first difficulty is that the words must be matched to the deeds; the second is that many will think that the censure which you pass upon vices can be attributed to your own spiteful malice. When you make mention of someone’s great virtue and glory, which each reader considers easily within his own power of achieving, it will be accepted with equanimity; but if you exceed that, the reader will consider these things as contrived in the telling, and think them false.’

They say that Sallust proposed to write the reasons for which it is difficult to write history, but that – once he had listed the first cause – he simply degenerated into an enumeration of complaints. For it is not to be reckoned as a difficulty in writing history that those who read it either interpret it unfairly or think it false. They say that the composition of history should be considered “subject to false opinion” rather than “arduous.” That is because what is “arduous” is difficult in its own completion, rather than difficult because of the erroneous opinions of others.

This is what his malevolent detractors say. But Sallust does not mean by “arduous” only “difficult;” he means by “arduous” what the Greeks meant by “chalepon,” which is not just “difficult,” but also bothersome, inconvenient, and intractable. The signification of these words is not far off from the sentiment of Sallust recorded above.”

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Defensa a culpa sententia ex historia Sallustii, quam iniqui eius cum insectatione maligni reprehenderint. 

1 Elegantia orationis Sallustii verborumque fingendi et novandi studium cum multa prorsus invidia fuit, multique non mediocri ingenio viri conati sunt reprehendere pleraque et obtrectare. In quibus plura inscite aut maligne vellicant. Nonnulla tamen videri possunt non indigna reprehensione; quale illud in Catilinae historia repertum est, quod habeat eam speciem quasi parum adtente dictum. Verba Sallustii haec sunt:

2 “Ac mihi quidem, tametsi haudquaquam par gloria sequitur scriptorem et auctorem rerum, tamen inprimis arduum videtur res gestas scribere: primum, quod facta dictis exaequanda sunt; dein, quia plerique, quae delicta reprehenderis, malivolentia et invidia dicta putant. Vbi de magna virtute atque gloria bonorum memores, quae sibi quisque facilia factu putat, aequo animo accipit; supra, veluti ficta, pro falsis ducit.”

3 “Proposuit” inquiunt “dicturum causas, quamobrem videatur esse arduum res gestas scribere; atque ibi cum primam causam dixerit, dein non alteram causam, sed querellas dicit. 4 Non enim causa videri debet, cur historiae opus arduum sit, quod hi, qui legunt, aut inique interpretantur quae scripta sunt, aut vera esse non credunt.” 5 Obnoxiam quippe et obiectam falsis existimationibus eam rem dicendam aiunt quam “arduam”; quia, quod est arduum, sui operis difficultate est arduum, non opinionis alienae erroribus.

6 Haec illi malivoli reprehensores dicunt. Sed “arduum” Sallustius non pro difficili tantum, sed pro eo quoque ponit, quod Graeci chalepon appellant, quod est cum difficile, tum molestum quoque et incommodum et intractabile. Quorum verborum significatio a sententia Sallustii supra scripta non abhorret.

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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Plouthugeia: “Wealth and Health”

Some Words:

πλουθυγίεια: “wealth and health”

πλούταξ: “a rich churl”

πλούταρχος: “master of riches”

πλουτογαθής: “delighting in riches”

πλουτοκρατέομαι: “to live in a state governed by the rich”

πλουτοκρατία: “an oligarchy of wealth

πλουτοποιός: “enriching”

πλουτοτραφής: “raised on wealth”

πλουτόχθων: “rich in things of the earth”

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Some Ideas

Xenophon, Memorabilia 4.16.12

“[Socrates] believed that kingship and tyranny were both governments but that they differed from one another. For he believed that kingship was government of a willing people and according to the laws of the city, while tyranny was when people were unwilling and against the laws, but instead according to the wishes of the ruler. Whenever leaders were selected from those who meet the standards of the law, the governement is in aristocracy. When they are chosen from those who have enough property, it is a plutocracy. When they are elected from everyone, it is a democracy.”

Βασιλείαν δὲ καὶ τυραννίδα ἀρχὰς μὲν ἀμφοτέρας ἡγεῖτο εἶναι, διαφέρειν δὲ ἀλλήλων ἐνόμιζε. τὴν μὲν γὰρ ἑκόντων τε τῶν ἀνθρώπων καὶ κατὰ νόμους τῶν πόλεων ἀρχὴν βασιλείαν ἡγεῖτο, τὴν δὲ ἀκόντων τε καὶ μὴ κατὰ νόμους, ἀλλ᾿ ὅπως ὁ ἄρχων βούλοιτο, τυραννίδα. καὶ ὅπου μὲν ἐκ τῶν τὰ νόμιμα ἐπιτελούντων αἱ ἀρχαὶ καθίστανται, ταύτην μὲν τὴν πολιτείαν ἀριστοκρατίαν ἐνόμιζεν εἶναι, ὅπου δ᾿ ἐκ τιμημάτων, πλουτοκρατίαν, ὅπου δ᾿ ἐκ πάντων, δημοκρατίαν.

Sallust, Second Letter to Caesar 4

“Greed, however, is a feral beast, huge and not to be tolerated—wherever it wanders, it lays waste to cities, fields, places of worship and homes. It mixes up the human and the divine. No armies or walls can stand up to it when it pierces with its force. It despoils all portals of repute, shame, children, country and parents.”

Ceterum avaritia belua fera, immanis, intoleranda est; quo intendit, oppida, agros, fana atque domos vastat, divina cum humanis permiscet, neque exercitus neque moenia obstant, quo minus vi sua penetret; fama, pudicitia, liberis, patria atque parentibus cunctos mortalis spoliat

Dicta Catonis, 32

“Greed always loves lies, theft, and rape.”

Semper avarus amat mendacia furta rapinas

(Pseudo-)Aristotle, On Virtues and Vices

“There are three types of injustice: impiety, greed and arrogance. Impiety is offense against the gods and powers or even to those who have died, parents and country, Greed is taken what is against contracts, what is under dispute despite what one deserves. Arrogance is what makes people pursue pleasures for themselves while heaping reproach upon others.”

Ἀδικίας δέ ἐστιν εἴδη τρία, ἀσέβεια πλεονεξία ὕβρις. ἀσέβεια μὲν ἡ περὶ θεοὺς πλημμέλεια καὶ περὶ δαίμονας, ἢ περὶ τοὺς κατοιχομένους καὶ περὶ γονεῖς καὶ πατρίδα· πλεονεξία δὲ ἡ περὶ τὰ συμβόλαια, παρὰ τὴν ἀξίαν αἱρουμένη τὸ διάφορον· ὕβρις δὲ καθ᾿ ἣν τὰς ἡδονὰς αὑτοῖς παρασκευάζουσιν εἰς ὄνειδος ἄγοντες ἑτέρους,

How A Good Government Goes Bad: Solon and Sallust

Today is the second day of the virtual conference  “Teaching Leaders and Leadership Through Classics” . (You can participate by registering). In teaching courses, or in merely having conversations, it is important that we explain our basic assumptions about what a government is for.  But history–and the classics especially–is useful because it helps us see where governments go wrong.

Solon, fr. 4.32-39

“Good government makes everything well ordered and fit,
And at the same time it throws shackles on the unjust.
It levels out the rough, stops insolence, and weakens arrogance.
It causes the growing blossoms of blindness to wither.
It straightens crooked judgments and it levels out over-reaching deeds.
It stops the acts of civil conflict and
It stops the anger of grievous strife and because of it
Everything among men is wisely and appropriately done.”

Εὐνομίη δ’ εὔκοσμα καὶ ἄρτια πάντ’ ἀποφαίνει,
καὶ θαμὰ τοῖς ἀδίκοις ἀμφιτίθησι πέδας·
τραχέα λειαίνει, παύει κόρον, ὕβριν ἀμαυροῖ,
αὑαίνει δ’ ἄτης ἄνθεα φυόμενα,
εὐθύνει δὲ δίκας σκολιάς, ὑπερήφανά τ’ ἔργα
πραΰνει· παύει δ’ ἔργα διχοστασίης,
παύει δ’ ἀργαλέης ἔριδος χόλον, ἔστι δ’ ὑπ’ αὐτῆς
πάντα κατ’ ἀνθρώπους ἄρτια καὶ πινυτά.

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Sallust, Bellum Catilinae X:

“At first the desire of power, then the desire of money increased; these were effectively the material of all evils, because avarice overturned faith, probity, and all other noble arts; in their place, it taught men to be arrogant and cruel, to neglect the gods, and to consider all things for sale. Ambition compelled many men to become liars; to hold one thing hidden in the heart, and the opposite thing at the tip of one’s tongue; to judge friends and enemies not in objective terms, but by reference to personal gain; and finally, to make a good appearance rather than to have a good mind. As these vices first began to increase, they were occasionally punished; but afterward, once the contagion had spread like a plague, the state as a whole was altered, and the government, once the noblest and most just, was made cruel and intolerable.”

Igitur primo imperi, deinde pecuniae cupido crevit: ea quasi materies omnium malorum fuere. Namque avaritia fidem, probitatem ceterasque artis bonas subvortit; pro his superbiam, crudelitatem, deos neglegere, omnia venalia habere edocuit. 5 Ambitio multos mortalis falsos fieri subegit, aliud clausum in pectore, aliud in lingua promptum habere, amicitias inimicitiasque non ex re, sed ex commodo aestumare magisque voltum quam ingenium bonum habere. Haec primo paulatim crescere, interdum vindicari; post, ubi contagio quasi pestilentia invasit, civitas inmutata, imperium ex iustissumo atque optumo crudele intolerandumque factum.

A bonus passage from Livy

Livy, Ab Urbe Condita 1.17

“Yet, despite all of their varying desires, they wanted universally to be ruled by a king, because they had not yet tasted the sweet fruit of liberty. Fear then seized the senators that the state would lack government, the army would lack a general, and that some external force would threaten them, since so many of the neighboring peoples had been provoked to anger.”

In variis voluntatibus regnari tamen omnes volebant, libertatis dulcedine nondum experta. Timor deinde patres incessit ne civitatem sine imperio, exercitum sine duce, multarum circa civitatium inritatis animis, vis aliqua externa adoriretur.

The Mind Rules All (Or Fails…)

Sallust, Bellum Jugurthinum 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.

BH- Zeus Olympia

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….

Feats of Mind Beat Feats of Strength

Sallust, War with Catiline 1.1 

“All men who desire to be better than the rest of the animals should try with all their strength not to move through life in silence like cattle, creatures nature has made low and slaves to their stomachs. But all our ability resides in either mind or body: we use the mind to rule and the body as its servant; one is our common ground with the gods, the other with the beasts. For this reason, it seems better to me to seek glory through feats of intelligence instead of strength. And, since the life we experience is brief, to fashion for it a remembrance that is as robust as possible. For, while the fame of riches and beauty is fickle and weak, excellence is bright and eternal.”

 

Omnis homines, qui sese student praestare ceteris animalibus, summa ope niti decet, ne vitam silentio transeant veluti pecora, quae natura prona atque ventri oboedientia finxit. 2 Sed nostra omnis vis in animo et corpore sita est: animi imperio, corporis servitio magis utimur; alterum nobis cum dis, alterum cum beluis commune est. 3 Quo mihi rectius videtur ingeni quam virium opibus gloriam quaerere et, quoniam vita ipsa, qua fruimur, brevis est, memoriam nostri quam maxume longam efficere. 4 Nam divitiarum et formae gloria fluxa atque fragilis est, virtus clara aeternaque habetur.