Thursday, 24 December 2009

Symmachus to Ausonius again

This letter combines several of the cliches of Symmachus' style; it begins with the 'nothing-to-write' topos, then identifies a subject, and reveals itself by the end as yet another letter of recommendation. The Rhetor Palladius had a successful career in Rome; it was not under Ausonius as Praetorian Prefect (376-9) that he moved on to a political career, but a few years after this letter, under Theodosius I in the east (he became Comes Sacrarum Largitionum in 381 and Magister Officiorum in 382-4).

What exactly the situation was in which Symmachus heard Palladius is not clear, nor what exactly the Latiare concilium, the group which heard Palladius put his declaiming skills into practice, was. John Matthews attractively adduces the parallel case of Augustine of Hippo; Symmachus as Prefect of Rome and famous orator heard the young rhetor in 384 and sent him off to Milan with a recommendation, with results that changed the history of Christian thought ("Four funerals and a wedding: this world and the next in fourth-century Rome", in P. Rousseau and M. Papoutsakis, Transformations of Late Antiquity: Essays for Peter Brown, Farnham, 129-146). I should also admit that I am not too sure of whether the text or my translation can be trusted in section 2, when Symmachus suggests that Palladius is part of a (non-literal?) family of speakers. I would love to be illuminated!

Ep. 1.15
1. It almost turned out that I communicated succinctly and briefly with you, since there was a lack of things worthy of mention, and when facts are absent there’s no point indulging in words, but in a timely fashion our rhetor Palladius’ declamation has lengthened my page. As it pleased the leading men of literature it should not be secret from you. So since such a report befits both my sense of duty and your enthusiasm, although our gathering has scarcely scattered, I have dictated with red-hot judgment an account of what I heard, while it’s still ringing in my ears. 2. The logos of our Athenian guest moved the Latian assembly with with the skill of his division, the abundance of his inventiveness, the seriousness of his feelings, the clarity of his words. I speak my opinion: he’s as proper in his speech as his morals. On this occasion the men of our city, who often disagree with each other about other things, held a united view of his excellence. I firmly believe, and my credence is not misplaced, that this is a family of rhetors; this race, full of genius, can be recognised. It is not features or complexion alone that claim descendants for their ancestor’s honour; nature has surer ways of claiming paternity. Heirs of thinking well and speaking well are born, not written into the will. What others have from teaching, he had from birth.
3. About this, my lord, I did not believe I should not keep silence, because I consider nothing of any weight beside my love for you, and because in turn I will never regret how valued I have become with you, and because I want for Palladius that things honourable to proclaim should not be hidden. Take care of your health, and since you have at hand the capacity to write, add to that the wish to do so.

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