Wednesday, 13 July 2011



The theme of these four extracts, translated by Sabidius, is that of 'Unwelcome people'. The first two are tricksters; the last two are both notorious women. Sallust's character assassination of Sempronia is particularly memorable. In the final extract Cicero is defending Caelius from the charge by his former mistress Clodia that he sought to poison her. As she was the sister of his bitter enemy, Clodius, Cicero was no doubt happy to blacken her character.   

These extracts are taken from the 'Cambridge Latin Anthology', edited by Ashley Carter and Phillip Parr, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

1. Pythius (From: Cicero: 'De Officiis, Book III, sections 58-59).

Gaius Canius, a Roman knight, when he had travelled (lit. taken himself) to Syracuse, said that he wished to buy some small estate, whither he could invite friends and where he (could) amuse himself without interruptors. When this had become well-known, a certain Pythius, who ran a bank in Syracuse, said to him that he had an estate, not indeed for sale, but which Canius could use as his own if he wished: and at the same time he invited the man to dinner. When he had accepted, Pythius summoned the fishermen to him, and asked them to fish in front of his estate the next day, and he told (them) what he wanted them to do. Canius came to dinner on time. (There was) a multitude of fishing boats before their eyes; each (man) according to his ability brought what he had caught; the fishes were deposited before Pythius' feet. Thereupon, Canius said, 'What is this, Pythius? Why (are there) so many fishes, (and) so many fishing boats?' And he said, 'Why (is it) surprising? All the fish there are (lit. Whatever there is of fish) in Syracuse are in this place.' Inflamed with desire, Canius pressed Pythius to sell (it to him). At first, he refused. At last, however, the greedy and rich man bought (it) for as much as Pythius wanted. The next day Canius invited his friends; he sees no fishing boat. He enquired from his nearest neighbour whether there was a fishermen's holiday. 'There is none, as far as I know,' he said, 'but no one is accustomed to fish here. So I was surprised at what had happened yesterday.' Canius was very angry, but what could he do?  

2. Regulus (From: Pliny the Younger: 'Letters', Book II, 20).

Gaius Plinius (sends) greetings to his (friend) Calvisius.

Have your copper ready and hear a first rate story, (or) stories rather; for the latest one reminded me of earlier ones, nor does it matter from which one I shall begin. Verania was lying gravely ill; Regulus came to her. Firstly, (what) impudence of a man who had come to a sick woman to whose husband he had been a personal enemy and most hateful to herself! It would have been enough if he had only come; but he even sat next to her bed. He asked her on which day (and) at which hour she had been born. When he heard (this), he composes his face, fixes his eyes, moves his lips, works his finger (and) makes calculations. When he has kept the poor woman in suspense for a long time, he says, 'You are going through a critical period but you will survive. In order that this may be more clear to you, I shall consult a soothsayer whom I have often used.' Without delay, he performs a sacrifice, (and) he affirms that the entrails accord with the signs of the stars. She, as you might expect believing that (she was) in danger, asked for a codicil and writes a legacy to Regulus.  Soon she grows worse, and, dying, she cries out that the man who had sworn a false oath himself on the safety of his son was wicked and treacherous and even worse than perjured.  Regulus does this no less wickedly than frequently, because he calls down the anger of the gods, whom he cheats daily, on to the head of his unfortunate son.

Velleius Blaesus, the famous rich ex-consul, was afflicted with a terminal illness: he wished to alter his will. Regulus, who was hoping for something from the new will, because he had recently begun to cultivate him, exhorts the doctors and asks that they prolong the man's life by any means whatever.  After the will is signed, he changes his tune, alters his manner of speaking, and says to the same doctors: 'How long are you going to torture the poor man? Why do you begrudge a good death (to a man) to whom you cannot give life?' Blaesus dies, and, as if he heard everything, (he left) to Regulus not even the least amount. 

3. Sempronia (From: Sallust: 'The Conspiracy of Catiline', chapter 25).

But among them was Sempronia, who had often committed many crimes of masculine boldness. This woman was fortunate enough in her birth and in her looks, in her husband and in her children; learned in Greek and Latin literature, she could play the lyre and dance more elegantly than is necessary for an honest woman, and (could) do many others things which are the means of extravagance. But all things were always dearer to her than modesty and chastity; you could not easily tell whether she was less sparing of her money or her reputation; she was so aroused by lust that she sought men more often than she was sought. But frequently before this time, she had broken her pledge, she had repudiated a loan and had been implicated in murder. However her ability (was) not insignificant. She could compose verse, crack a joke, and engage in conversation, whether modest or tender or wanton; in short there was in her much wit and much charm.  

4. Clodia (From: Cicero: 'Pro Caelio', 34-36).

When from a noble background you had married into a most renowned family, why was Caelius so intimate with you? For he was neither a relative nor a friend of your husband. What was (the reason for this) therefore except some recklessness and lust? Indeed, the accusers allege passions, love affairs, adulterous relationships, parties, (visits to) Baiae, concerts, boating trips; and they declare that they mention nothing with you (being) unwilling. It behoves you either to refute these accusations which you in a frenzied manner wanted to be reported in the forum and in the trial, or to confess that nothing either in your accusation or in your evidence is worthy of trust.

You caught sight of the young man from next door; his beauty, his height, his countenance, and his eyes impressed you; you wanted to see (him) more often; you were sometimes (lit. not never) in the same gardens; you, a noble woman, want to have him, the son of a miserly and parsimonious father, bound by your wealth; you cannot; he resists, he rejects (you), he does not think that your gifts are so great; take yourself somewhere else. You have bought gardens near the Tiber in that place, whither all the young people come for the sake of swimming. Here it is permitted that you pick up propositions daily; why are you troublesome to this young man who scorns you?

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