Monday, 18 October 2010

Two more letters of Symmachus (Ep. 1.44, 52)

When Gratian became the senior emperor in the west, and Symmachus’ father was recalled by the senate from his temporary exile, Symmachus decided to use the opportunity of a bread-and-butter speech in the senate on quite another matter to push himself forward. His speech “For Trygetius”, or what is now left of it, is translated here. He sent copies to various friends and associates. One of these was Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, the former Urban Prefect (Ep. 1.44). Covering letters of this sort for rhetorical works are also found in the letters of Pliny the Younger, though it is my impression that Symmachus is even less modest than Pliny. Praetextatus replied with the expected praise, enabling Symmachus to reply to that reply (Ep. 1.52).


To Agorius Praetextatus

It is only fair, given your sedulous attitude towards me, that I should not let you be kept in the dark about things that have brought me glory. I think that rumour must have informed you that my father, in the country and on retreat, cooling off after the injustice of losing his house, was summoned by the senate with abundant requests and finally envoys sent to beg him, an unprecedented honour. For this reason, the very first time a day came with the opportunity of speaking before his colleagues, my father expressed his gratitude to the senate with that weighty eloquence for which he is well-known. That was on the Kalends which open the year [i.e. 1 January 376]. 2. Shortly afterwards, when I had promised to assist the son of my friend Trygetius, a candidate for praetor, duty pressed on my heart so that, taking the opportunity of this fixed obligation I fulfilled a task which I still owed my father, though he had discharged it to the senate. So on the ninth of January I made a speech before the most distinguished order. When it comes into your hands, you will guess from you own feelings the judgments of the rest. Uncertain of your critical eye, I thought that the opinions of the others should be concealed, so that I should not seem to press on you with the pre-judgment of so great an order. Farewell.


To Agorius Praetextatus

I rejoice not a whit less that my speech pleased you than that the senate, better part of the human race, heard it with a favourable opinion. You have added the weight of an oath and sworn in due form, being one you knows that the judgments of those who love one fall under suspicion of doing favours. For where friendship is undoubted, there the truthfulness of praise is more doubtful. Accordingly, sure of your critical eye I dismiss the opinions of the rest. What if you had been there, to hear such goodwill? Why, I would have touched the vault of heaven, as they say, with a finger. Some other time, perhaps, we shall have the opportunity, yet more desirable, to have you there at hand. For now we enjoy the testimony of your letter, then we shall benefit from the assistance of your support. Farewell

No comments: