Monday, 14 September 2009

A letter to Ausonius (Symmachus Ep. 1.13)

Soon after 1 January 376, Q. Aurelius Symmachus wrote from Rome to Ausonius, who was serving as Quaestor to Gratian, now the senior emperor in the west. Perhaps, as with Festus, this has actually been published in English translation before, but if so I don't remember seeing it anywhere in complete form.

Symmachus to Ausonius

Joyfulness is accustomed to be eloquent and, spurning the narrows of a closed heart, to exult: as for you, my friend, good fortune has made you forget to write. This could not be a point for me to imitate, whom our Lord Gratian’s heavenly speech has filled with good hope and joyfulness. So I have not refrained for my own part from addressing a sluggard, because it’s my duty to do so, or my joy: our friendship suggested one of these options, public felicity the other. 2. If you can spare the time, please cast your mind back just a bit for my purposes.

Janus was opening the first Kalends of the year. We had come, a packed senate, into the curia that morning, before clear day could undo the dark of night. By chance a rumour had been brought, that the words of a longed-for prince had arrived far into the night. And it was true, for a courier stood there exhausted from his sleepless nights. We rush together when the sky was not yet white: with the lamps lit, the destinies of the new age are recited. Need I say more? We welcomed the light which we were still awaiting. 3. ‘Tell me’ you say – for this is important to hear – ‘what did the Fathers feel about that speech.’ May Nature herself answer with those wishes with which longed-for piety is heard. We know to embrace our blessings. If you can believe it, I even now suffer a certain indigestion of that joy of mine. Good Nerva, toiling Trajan, guiltless Pius, Marcus abounding in responsibility were helped by the times, which then did not know other morals: it is the nature of the prince that is a matter of praise now, then it was the blessing of olden times. Why, with order reversed, should we think these examples of outstanding traits and those remnants of an earlier age? 4. May Fortune preserve her blessing, and desire at least to save for the Roman name this beloved! Let the public joy be bitten by no witchcraft! You have heard everything – but only the very first tiny effusions from my lips. The glories of our curia will talk more fully with you. Then, when you find more written to you, think how much more eloquent are the thoughts of one man’s mind than all our effusions of applause. Farewell.

Symmachus Ausonio

Solet facundia esse laetitia et angustias clausi pectoris aspernata gestire; tibi, amice, scribendi officium oblivionem peperit res secunda. id mihi imitationi esse non potuit, quem domini nostri Gratiani caelestis oratio bonae spei et hilaritatis implevit. Ultro igitur adloqui residem non peperci vel officii vel gaudii mei gratia, quorum alterum familiaritas nostra, alterum felicitas publica suggerebat. 2. nunc si operae est, utendum mihi tantisper animum fac remittas. primores Kalendas Ianus anni aperibat. frequens senatus mature in curiam veneramus, priusquam manifestus dies creperum noctis absolveret. forte rumor adlatus est sermonem desiderati principis multa nocte venisse. et erat verum; nam tabellarius vigiliarum fessus adstabat. nondum caelo albente concurritur; luminibus accensis novi saeculi fata recitantur. quid multa? lucem, quam adhuc opperiebamur, accepimus. 3. dic mihi, inquies - nam id praestat audire - quid nostri patres super ea oratione senserunt? rerum tibi natura respondeat quibus suffragiis exoptata pietas audiatur. novimus bona nostra complecti. si credis, etiamnum illius gaudii mei quandam patior cruditatem. bonus Nerva, Traianus strenuus, Pius innocens, Marcus plenus officii temporibus adiuti sunt, quae tunc mores alios nesciebant: hic in laude est natura principis, ibi priscae munus aetatis. cur verso ordine ista optimarum artium putemus exempla et illa de saeculo priore vestigia? 4. beneficium suum fortuna tutetur et has saltem Romano nomini velit servare delicias! nullo fascino felicitas publica mordeatur! audisti omnia, de summo tenus ore libata; monumenta curiae nostrae plenius tecum loquentur. ubi cum plura scripta reppereris, aestima quanto uberiora unius mens optaverit, quam plausus effuderit. vale.


Roger Pearse said...

Letters must be an ideal thing to do for blogs, and there's also the follow-up post to tell us the context of it all.

Delighted to see this. Will you consider doing more letters by Symmachus?

Gavin Kelly said...

Thank you! I agree about letters on blogs, and perhaps others could offer them - and you prompted me to offer the follow up post a couple of days early.

I do need to think about the letters and speeches of Symmachus in the next year, especially those composed under Valentinian I and Gratian, so I do hope to translate some more.