The Rise of Publius Clodius Wasn’t Pulcher


Velleius Paterculus History of Rome 2.50

“At the same time, Publius Clodius, a man of noble family,  daring and eloquent, who acknowledged no limit to speech or deed other than his own desire and was most eager in the performance of evil plans, also well-known as the defiler of a sister and a defendant against a charge of incestuous violation of the most holy of Roman rites, was pursuing a severe enmity against Marcus Cicero—for how could there be friendship  between such dissimilar men?. This Clodius had been transferred from patrician to plebian class and then as tribune proposed a law that would impose exile [“prohibition on water and fire”] on anyone who killed a Roman citizen without trial. Even though Cicero was not named directly, he was the only one targeted.

What Kind of a Monster Could Hate this Man? Mommsen.

In this way, a man who had rightly earned the thanks from the republic received the punishment of exile as the price of saving the country. Caesar and Pompey did not lack suspicion for the suppression of Cicero. Cicero seemed to have asked for this from them because he did not want to be among the twenty men who divided land in Campania. Within two years, thanks to Pompey’s attention—though late, effective once begun—and thanks to the prayers of Italy, the decrees of the senate, and the virtue and effort of Annius Milo, the tribune of the people, Cicero was returned to his station and his country. No exile after the return of Numidicus was banished so unpopularly or welcomed back so happily. As viciously as Cicero’s home was torn down by Clodius, so spectacularly did the senate rebuild it.”


Per idem tempus P. Clodius, homo nobilis, disertus, audax, quique neque dicendi neque faciendi ullum nisi quem vellet nosset modum, malorum propositorum executor acerrimus, infamis etiam sororis stupro et actus incesti reus ob initum inter religiosissima populi Romani sacra adulterium, cum graves inimicitias cum M. Cicerone exerceret (quid enim inter tam dissimiles amicum esse poterat?) et a patribus ad plebem transisset, legem in tribunatu tulit, qui civem Romanum indemnatum interemisset, ei aqua et igni interdiceretur: cuius verbis etsi non nominabatur Cicero, tamen solus petebatur. 2 Ita vir optime meritus de re publica conservatae patriae pretium calamitatem exilii tulit. Non caruerunt suspicione oppressi Ciceronis Caesar et Pompeius. Hoc sibi contraxisse videbatur Cicero, quod inter viginti viros dividendo agro Campano esse noluisset. 3 Idem intra biennium sera Cn. Pompei cura, verum ut coepit intenta, votisque Italiae ac decretis senatus, virtute atque actione Annii Milonis tribuni plebis dignitati patriaeque restitutus est. Neque post Numidici exilium aut reditum quisquam aut expulsus invidiosius aut receptus est laetius. Cuius domus quam infeste a Clodio disiecta erat, tam speciose a senatu restituta est.

Velleius Paterculus on the death of Augustus, II.123



“This is the time attended by the most fear. Augustus had sent his own grandson Germanicus to Germany to handle the end of the conflict there. And he was about to send his son Tiberius to Illyricum to shore up the peace where he had subjugated with war. Following him and at the same time intending to visit the athletic competitions which had been established in his honor by the Neapolitans, Augustus traveled to Campania. Although he had already at that point felt the growth of weakness and sensed the beginning of his own deterioration, he followed his son with a resolute strength of spirit—he parted from him at Beneventum and left for Nola. There, as his strength dissipated by the day, and he recognized whom it was necessary to summon if he wished for everything to remain safe once he was gone, he quickly recalled his son.

Tiberius returned back to the father of his fatherland more quickly than he was expected. Then, confessing that he has more content because he was surrounded by the embrace of his son, he entrusted to him their common efforts without any kind of an end, allowing that, if the fates demanded, he was ready. Even though he was renewed at first by the sight of his son and at the voice of someone dearest to him, soon, since the fates can conquer every kind of care, he released his elements and returned his divine soul to heaven in his seventy-sixth year, during the consulship of Pompeius and Apuleius” (14 CE).

Venitur ad tempus, in quo fuit plurimum metus. Quippe Caesar Augustus cum Germanicum nepotem suum reliqua belli patraturum misisset in Germaniam. Tiberium autem filium missurus esset in Illyricum ad firmanda pace quae bello subegerat, prosequens eum simulque interfuturus athletarum certaminis ludicro, quod eius honori sacratum a Neapolitanis est, processit in Campaniam. Quamquam iam motus imbecillitatis inclinataeque in deterius principia valetudinis senserat, tamen obnitente vi animi prosecutus filium digressusque ab eo Beneventi ipse Nolam petiit: et ingravescente in dies valetudine, cum sciret, quis volenti omnia post se salva remanere accersendus foret, festinanter revocavit filium; ille ad patrem patriae expectato revolavit maturius. 2 Tum securum se Augustus praedicans circumfususque amplexibus Tiberii sui, commendans illi sua atque ipsius opera nec quidquam iam de fine, si fata poscerent, recusans, subrefectus primo conspectu alloquioque carissimi sibi spiritus, mox, cum omnem curam fata vincerent, in sua resolutus initia Pompeio Apuleioque consulibus septuagesimo et sexto anno animam caelestem caelo reddidit.


“Geniuses Came Only From Athens?” Velleius Paterculus on the Greatness of a Single City

“My wonder passes from clustering in certain times to cities. A solitary Attic city bloomed with more works of every kind of eloquence than the rest of Greece together, to the point that you might believe that the bodies of that race were separated into different cities, but that the geniuses were enclosed only within the walls of Athens. I find this no more surprising than the fact that no Argive, Theban or Spartan was considered worthy of note while he was alive or after he died. These cities, though preeminent for other things, were intellectually infertile, except for Pindar’s single voice which graced Thebes—for the Laconians mark Alcman as their own wrongly.”

[18] Transit admiratio ab conditione temporum et ad urbium. Una urbs Attica pluribus omnis eloquentiae quam universa Graecia operibus usque floruit adeo ut corpora gentis illius separata sint in alias civitates, ingenia vero solis Atheniensium muris clausa existimes. 2 Neque hoc ego magis miratus sim quam neminem Argivum Thebanum Lacedaemonium oratorem aut dum vixit auctoritate aut post mortem memoria dignum existimatum. 3 Quae urbes eximiae alias talium studiorum fuere steriles, nisi Thebas unum os Pindari inluminaret: nam Alcmana Lacones falso sibi vindicant.


Here Velleius moves from the clustering of intellects in time to their clustering in space. Although, to be fair, it seems that one would be impossible without the other…

Why Are Similar Minds Clustered in History? Envy, Emulation, Desire

Velleius Paterculus on intellectual clustering, part 2 (History of Rome, I.17)

[part 1 is here]

“Although I often seek explanations for why similar minds cluster in one period and focus on the same pursuit with similar success, I never find any I am sure are true, but only those that seem probable, especially the following. Emulation fosters genius; and then envy, then admiration which motivates imitation. By nature, whatever is sought with the utmost passion advances to the greatest degree. It is difficult to continue from there to perfection; naturally, what cannot proceed recedes.

In this way, at the beginning we are motivated to pursue those who lead before us, but when we have lost hope that we might surpass or equal them, our passion weakens with our hope. What we cannot match, we decline to follow, and we abandon a discipline, because it is thoroughly occupied, in search of a new one. When we have passed over that in which we cannot be exceptional, we look for something else in which we might compete. It follows that the greatest obstacle to achieving perfection is our frequent and fickle change in passions.”


Huius ergo recedentis in suum quodque saeculum ingeniorum similitudinis congregantisque se et in studium par et in emolumentum causas cum saepe requiro, numquam reperio, quas esse veras confidam, sed fortasse veri similes, inter quas has maxime. 6 Alit aemulatio ingenia, et nunc invidia, nunc admiratio imitationem accendit, naturaque quod summo studio petitum est, ascendit in summum difficilisque in perfecto mora est, naturaliterque quod procedere non potest, recedit. 8 Et ut primo ad consequendos quos priores ducimus accendimur, ita ubi aut praeteriri aut aequari eos posse desperavimus, studium cum spe senescit, et quod adsequi non potest, sequi desinit et velut occupatam relinquens materiam quaerit novam, praeteritoque eo, in quo eminere non possumus, aliquid, in quo nitamur, conquirimus, sequiturque ut frequens ac mobilis transitus maximum perfecti operis impedimentum sit.


Earlier, I posted Velleius Paterculus’ contemplation of the clustering of geniuses in specific fields in one era. One does not often associate unparalleled and original thought with this historian, but his consideration of this phenomenon seems pretty unique and somewhat out of place with his brief history.

We don’t really need a Gladwellian just-so explanation to go with his observation. His answer seems rather well-engaged with human psychology as it is. Although he hedges that the explanation he offers is true (quas esse veras) he wins me over in offering what he thinks is likely (sed fortasse veri similes).

Apart from the article I cited from Malcolm Gladwell,  I have the sense that I have read about this phenomenon before, I just can seem to think of the right author or terminology.  Any suggestions?

Why Are Similar Minds Clustered Together in History?

Velleius Paterculus, History of Rome I.17

“Who can be surprised enough at the fact that the most prominent minds of each discipline tend to gather together in the same form and the same short period of time, no less than the way animals of different types tend to group together, separated from foreign species, in one group when enclosed in the same pen? Don’t minds capable of distinguished accomplishment separate themselves from different natures in the similarity both of their eras and their pursuits? A single span of time, not lasting many years, made tragedy illustrious through men of divine spirit: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. Similarly, one era perfected that ancient form of comedy under the auspices of Cratinus, Aristophanes and Eupolis; And Menander and his peers—in age more than in accomplishment—Philemos and Phiphilus—created the form of New Comedy and made it impossible to imitate. So, too, the brilliant minds of philosophers inspired by Socrates’ speech—whom we mentioned earlier—how long did they thrive after the deaths of Plato and Aristotle? What repute existed among orators before Isocrates or after his students and their followers? They were together in so narrow a span of time that none of them worthy of mention could have avoided being seen by another one!”

2 Quis enim abunde mirari potest, quod eminentissima cuiusque professionis ingenia in eandem formam et in idem artati temporis congruere spatium, et quemadmodum clausa capso aliove saepto diversi generis animalia nihilo minus separata alienis in unum quodque corpus congregantur, ita cuiusque clari operis capacia ingenia in similitudine et temporum et profectuum semet ipsa ab aliis separaverunt? 3 Una neque multorum annorum spatio divisa aetas per divini spiritus viros, Aeschylum, Sophoclen Euripiden, inlustravit tragoediam; una priscam illam et veterem sub Cratino Aristophaneque et Eupolide comoediam; ac novam comicam Menander aequalesque eius aetatis magis quam operis, Philemo ac Diphilus, et invenere intra paucissimos annos neque imitandam reliquere. 4 Philosophorum quoque ingenia Socratico ore defluentia omnium, quos pauco ante enumeravimus, quanto post Platonis Aristotelisque mortem floruere spatio? 5 Quid ante Isocratem, quid post eius auditores eorumque discipulos clarum in oratoribus fuit? Adeo quidem artatum angustiis temporum, ut nemo memoria dignus alter ab altero videri nequiverint.


Velleius Paterculus may have been ahead of his time in considering such intellectual and cultural clusters—in fact, this is exactly the type of thing Malcolm Gladwell might write about. Velleius has some answers of his own.  [Coming later!]

Rome Was Rebuilt By Expanding Citizenship


Velleius Paterculus, History of Rome 2.16.4


“Gradually, then, by granting citizenship to those who had not carried arms or had put them down rather late, the population was rebuilt as Pompeius, Sulla and Marius restored the flagging and sputtering power of the Roman people.”

Paulatim deinde recipiendo in civitatem, qui arma aut non ceperant aut deposuerant maturius, vires refectae sunt, Pompeio Sullaque et Mano fluentem procumbentemque rem populi Romani restituentibus.

Any student of Roman history understands that Rome’s expansion and strength relied in part on its ability to absorb and assimilate hostile populations. Today we often forget that the Italian peninsula was far from a uniform culture. (And a tour through modern Italy will confirm the persistence of many differences).  The process, of course, was not without pain and hard compromises, as Vergil echoes in Aeneid 6 during Anchises’ prophecy to Aeneas (851-3):

tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento
(hae tibi erunt artes), pacique imponere morem,
parcere subiectis et debellare superbos.


“Roman, remember that your arts are to rule
The nations with your empire, to enforce the custom of peace,
To spare the conquered and to subjugate the proud.”

The Refined and the Rude: Velleius on Cultivated Generals

Velleius Paterculus, History of Rome 1.13.3

“The generals had different habits and different interests. Scipio was certainly such a refined admirer and supporter of the liberal arts and any kind of learning that he kept two exceptional minds with him at home and in the field, Polybius and Panaetius. No one ever took leave from work with a more cultivated use of his leisure than Scipio—and neither has anyone pursued the arts always in war and peace alike. Dedicated always to arms and arts, he either exercised his body with dangers or his mind with studying. Now Mummius was so coarse that, when Corinth was taken and he was arranging for the paintings and sculptures finished by the hands of the greatest artists to be returned to Italy, he ordered the movers to be warned that if they broke them, they would have to make new ones!

But I do not suppose, Vinicius, that you would be reluctant to allow that it might have been better for the affairs of the state if we had remained ignorant of Corinthian statues to this day—instead of the statues being understood—and that the inexperience of that time was more conducive to public good than our present wisdom.”

Diversi imperatoribus mores, diversa fuere studia: quippe Scipio tam elegans liberalium studiorum omnisque doctrinae et auctor et admirator fuit, ut Polybium Panaetiumque, praecellentes ingenio viros, domi militiaeque secum habuerit. Neque enim quisquam hoc Scipione elegantius intervalla negotiorum otio dispunxit semperque aut belli aut pacis serviit artibus: semper inter arma ac studia versatus aut corpus periculis aut animum disciplinis exercuit. 4 Mummius tam rudis fuit, ut capta Corintho cum maximorum artificum perfectas manibus tabulas ac statuas in Italiam portandas locaret, iuberet praedici conducentibus, si eas perdidissent, novas eos reddituros. 5 Non tamen puto dubites, Vinici, quin magis pro re publica fuerit manere adhuc rudem Corinthiorum intellectum quam in tantum ea intellegi, et quin hac prudentia illa imprudentia decori publico fuerit convenientior.

In lieu of my clunky translation for the second paragraph above, Christopher Mackay (an actual Latinist!) has suggested the following translation: ““Nonetheless, you have no doubt, I imagine, Vinicius, that it was more in the public interest for our understanding to have still remained ignorant of Corinthian wares than for those things to have been understood to such a degree, and that the lack of expertise at that time was more beneficial to the national repute than today’s expertise is.”

[I find Velleius a bit dense and challenging to translate. But, alas, I am a Homerist, and parataxis has ruined me for Latin prose!]