Showing posts with label Symmachus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Symmachus. Show all posts

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A review of Callu's Symmachus

From Classical Review 61, 634

Callu, J.-P. (ed., trans.) Symmaque, Tome V. Discours--Rapports. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2009.

With the publication of this fifth volume of his Budé edition, nearly 40 years after the first, Callu has achieved the first complete translation of Symmachus in any modern language. This is a very welcome milestone. It is also only the second critical edition, after Otto Seeck’s brilliant contribution to Monumenta Germaniae Historica in 1883, of Symmachus’ complete surviving work (ten books of letters, the Relationes, and the Orationes). To edit Symmachus requires not only philological skills but also intimate knowledge of fourth-century administrative history and prosopography. Callu, who has published widely on both philological and historical aspects of his author, certainly has these qualifications.

This volume contains the speeches (parts of three imperial panegyrics and five speeches given in the senate, which were uncovered in a fragmentary palimpsest by Angelo Mai in 1815) and the Relationes (letters written to the emperors as prefect of Rome in 384-5, mostly to Valentinian II in Milan, but some to Theodosius and Arcadius in Constantinople). His text does not diverge hugely from Seeck’s, but he avoids the obelus and prints sometimes quite bold conjectures: his own conjectures are all worthy of consideration, and some are extremely shrewd. Such parts of the translation as I have read are accurate and, as far as I could judge, stylish (but at Or. 4.10 impotentiam refers to Maximinus’ abuse of power not Gratian’s lack of it). His introductions to the two separate parts of the work display his erudition and convey all the relevant information, though they are some way from tractable; the arbitrary mixture of footnotes and endnotes is an unhelpful feature of the Budé series, but the content here is helpful and detailed. If Callu has the habit of occasionally treating his own hypotheses as fact (for example the idea that the elder Nicomachus Flavianus served in the east under Theodosius in the early 380s), he shares it with most other scholarship on his author: it is an indirect product of Symmachus’ maddening vagueness. With the Relationes, he is on well-covered ground, not least by the detailed commentary by Domenico Vera (Pisa, 1981); the Orationes have been less well trodden (though cf. Pabst’s 1989 text and translation). Here Callu rejects Seeck’s deletion of certain phrases as authorial variants, rightly seeing them as a feature of Symmachus’ luxuriant style. He redates the panegyric on Gratian to that emperor’s tenth birthday, 18 April 369, which is plausible; the first panegyric for Valentinian’s Quinquennalia he puts in February 368, rather than 369, which has a minor impact on reconstructions of Symmachus’ career. He may well be right (but note confusion on p. x, n. 1; note also erroneous dates on xxii, where “28 mai 364” should be “28 mars” and xli, where “13 janvier 383” should be “19 janvier”).

I have one significant reservation. The apparatus criticus for the Orationes is flawed in several ways. The situation is complicated by the fact that the MS readings have been destroyed by the acids used to reveal them and are no longer available to be consulted. Mai’s early transcriptions were thoroughly overhauled by Seeck in his great edition of 1883. Thus the names of Mai and Seeck can represent either conjectural emendation or, sometimes, alternative transcriptions of the MS: in the former cases the apparatus should offer an MS reading, in the latter it should not (whether including Mai’s much inferior transcriptions contributes anything may be questioned, but it was reasonable to note them). Unfortunately, in a few places, Callu confuses the two categories, and what is in fact the undisputed MS reading is attributed to Mai: I noticed Or. 1.2 frigentia, 1.18 optauit, 2.5 perueniret, 2.17 fraudamur, 3.7 uinces, 4.14 subripuisset, 4.15 defuit (emendations by Seeck or others are thus implied to be alternative transcriptions). At 2.17 inermitas is not Seeck’s conjecture but the MS reading. A further problem: at places where Callu has adopted Seeck’s or his own transpositions, it is not made clear where the transposed text originally stood in the MS (Or. 1.16. 2.11, 3.3, 3.5). Those interested in serious study of the text of the Orationes will need to use this edition in conjunction with Seeck’s. That said, this volume will be valued for a fine text, translation, and notes.

[Copyright, The Classical Association]

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Symmachus declines an invitation from Ausonius (Ep. 1.20)

In 378, Ausonius, already joint praetorian prefect of the whole western empire except Illyricum, was appointed consul for the following year by his former pupil, the emperor Gratian. He invited his old friend Symmachus to come and celebrate his inauguration. Symmachus was in Italy, Ausonius was in Trier, the capital of the prefecture of Gaul. It is unsurprising that Symmachus avoided a month’s journey to Germany in midwinter. He may also have calculated that an invitation to Trier was not as attractive as it might have been had the emperor still been there; but Gratian was in the Balkans, dealing with the crisis after the eastern emperor Valens’ defeat and death at the hands of the Goths.

The letter opens with an unmistakable allusion to Pliny the Younger’s thanksgiving for his consulship (Panegyric 1.1), no doubt hinting at the speech of thanks which Ausonius would make (in fact he wrote his Gratiarum actio not for 1 January, but later in 379). The panegyrical mode can also be found in section 2, where we see comparisons of other teachers of great men (the first, unnamed pair being Aristotle and Alexander).

Well and wisely our forefathers (as in other things of that age) placed temples to Honour and Virtue together with twin façade, thinking, just as we have seen with you, that where the prizes of Honour are, there too are the rewards of Virtue. But nearby, in fact devotion to the Latin Muses is turned towards a holy spring, because the journey to winning magistracies is often advanced by literature. These institutions of our forefathers are the story of your consulship; the seriousness of your morals and the antiquity of your teaching have borne you the dignity of a curule chair. 2. Many hereafter will strive for the fine arts as the seeds of praise and the mothers of honours, but to whom will befall a pupil so fortunate or so ready to remember his debt? Or are we unaware that that great man, for whom fortune flowed beyond his prayers, bestowed nothing on his master, the man of Stagira? Doesn’t the fact that Ennius got only a cloak from the Aetolian booty dishonour Fulvius? And indeed neither was the price of his liberal teachings repaid to Panaetius by the second of the Africani, nor to Opillus by Rutilius, or to Cineas by Pyrrhus, or to his Metrodorus by Mithradates of Pontus. But now, a most educated emperor, and generous with riches and honours, as though he has conveyed the first things on you as interest payments, goes beyond that to the capital of the loan.§

3. In this great happiness of mine, what words can I offer for the fact I cannot come? I fear that, interpreting my excuses wrongly, you will fail to believe how much I congratulate you. I wanted to come before your eyes in an instant, but, at the end of my strength, which sickness has long drained, I decided to avoid lengthy travels and uncomfortable lodgings, as well as the arrival of the cold weather and the shortening of the days, and all the other things which are opportune for importuning. If you have a regard for me in your heart, I beg you to be fair to me and to accept my excuse which I put forward.* May luck befall that I obtain my old position of favour; now, what is enough, let me avoid giving offense. Farewell.


§I am not sure I have fully understood the financial metaphor here.

*has adlegationes boni consulas, an untranslatable play on Ausonius’ status as consul.

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).

1.44:

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.

1.52:

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

Monday, 11 October 2010

The date of accession of the emperor Valentinian I

This is a pedantic post (aren’t they all?). I was reading the relatively recent Budé edition of Symmachus’ speeches and relationes, wherein Jean-Pierre Callu rounds off the first complete translation of Symmachus into French or indeed any modern language (he published the first of the five volumes in 1972 and the last in 2009). Callu dates Symmachus’ first speech to 26 February 368; the 1883 edition of Seeck had placed it on 25 February 369. The principal dating criterion is that the speech explicitly celebrates the fifth anniversary of Valentinian’s accession in February 364, his Quinquennalia (Or. 1.16 lustrum imperialium iam condis annorum, “you now bring to their close a lustrum of imperial years”). It is clear that the whole of the fifth (and tenth, and fifteenth) year of an emperor’s rule was celebrated, so it could be any time within that period from February 368 to February 369. But it is likeliest to belong to the anniversary itself, and judging by parallel cases, the bigger celebration is likelier to be at the beginning of the year than at the end. So we should probably, though without complete confidence, follow Callu and count the five years inclusively: 364, 365, 366, 367, 368.

But on which day, 25 or 26 February? Reference works usually date Valentinian’s accession in 364 to 26 February. Seeck’s invaluable Regesten (published 38 years after his Symmachus edition) places it on 26 February. So does The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire and the Cambridge Ancient History.

Two sources give us the date: the chronicle known as Consularia Constantinopolitana gives die. v k. Mar. (“the fifth day before the Kalends [the first] of March”, counting inclusively). Ammianus tells us that the Roman empire was without a ruler for 10 days after the emperor Jovian died (which we know from other sources to have been on 17 February). But he also shows why counting inclusively from 17 to 26 February is not a straightforward answer. 364 was a leap year, and Ammianus takes the opportuinitry for a faux-learned digression on the leap year (26.1.8-14). The Romans added the leap-day not at the end of the month of February, but as a second 24 February – or in Latin, bis sextum kalendas Martias. It was therefore called the bissextile day. This was a day of ill-omen, and although Valentinian had arrived in Nicaea in time to be acclaimed on that day, he waited till the day after (26.1.7). If we choose to mark Valentinian’s dies imperii as the Romans did, it will be (as the Constantinopolitan Chronicle tells us), the fifth day before the Kalends of March, or 25 February. If we choose to translate to the modern Gregorian calendar, it will be 26 February. But we should remember that the anniversary would have been celebrated willy-nilly on the fifth day from the Kalends of March: 25 February in non-leap years, the day which we call 26 February only in leap years. So if Symmachus gave his speech in 368, you could describe it as being either 25 or 26 February, depending on your perspective. If he gave it in 369, it was on 25 February.

One final thought. Ammianus devotes a good deal of attention to depicting Valentinian’s reluctance to be acclaimed on a traditional ill-omen. On the fifth day before the Kalends of April (a month later, in Roman terms, 28 March in ours), Valentinian appointed his brother Valens as co-emperor at the suburb of Hebdomon, before processing with him back into Constantinople. As Neil McLynn has pointed out, this was also a significant day: Palm Sunday. Is Ammianus’ emphasis on Valentinian’s significant choice of the day for his accession influenced by his distaste for the day chosen for Valens?

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Symmachus' letter to Gratian (Ep. 10.2)

Symmachus' tenth book of letters, like the younger Pliny's, consists of letters written to emperors. The first catch in this comparison is that Symmachus' letters were not, with the possible exception of the first book, published in his lifetime, so there is no reason to suppose that Symmachus himself intended to model himself on Pliny. The second catch is that the first letter is written to Count Theodosius, father of the emperor Theodosius, who was officially consecrated as divus in the reign of his son, but was never an emperor. And there is no letter after the second in the book, to the emperor Gratian. Whether other letters are lost, or whether the collection now known as the Relationes were originally published as part of this book, is not clear.

The letter to Gratian was written in the summer of 376. Symmachus' cheerleading of the new regime (see here and here and here) had been recognized by the court, and he had been chosen for the task of reading to the senate an imperial letter which announced the execution of the hated praetorian prefect of Gaul, Maximinus.

The letter is addressed to Gratian specifically, but at times breaks into the second person plural, not only because it is conventional when there are multiple emperors to do this, but also because Gratian was the guardian of his young half-brother, Valentinian II, who had been proclaimed dubiously shortly after his father's death, and reluctantly recognized by the senior emperor, Valens, and Gratian.

To Gratian Augustus

I know that it arose through the love of which you generally judge leading men worthy, that I was employed as the reader of your sacred oration. But when I think that that speech in every way outshone whatever other rescripts that the senate has heard up to this point, I think that I too am esteemed higher than the rest; after all, for great affairs, as for great comedies, selected actors are placed on stage. In reciting plays the same honour didn’t belong to Publilius Pellio as Ambivius, nor did equal fame befall Aesop and Roscius. 2. Therefore, most excellent emperors, I embrace as offered by the divine what you planned so well for me. Your praise, lord Gratian, is my duty, since you are so spirited that when you bring healing to the republic you summon the help of my voice: for you have reduced public disorders into tranquility. It scarcely stood in your way that we all lay prone - such a great crime had the men who possessed the highest positions through wicked means unsheathed. 3. That Maximinus, savage because of his favourable fortunes, the trampler of judgments, unable to end feuds, ready to enter them, has expiated with capital punishment for everybody’s tears. Now this shines through for mankind: the senate holds its ancient rights; it is permitted to live, it is no regret to have been born, and all things look to safety; danger comes to none from poverty; the republic has restored itself to antiquity, spirits have changed from shadow into pleasant daylight, after you gave encouragement to virtue. 4. We see care taken with equal vigilance so that the corn supply is brought in to sate the city more generously, a general cleansing boils away the wickedness of money-coiners, the assessor does not tip the scales to increase the gold from the provincials, a thousand other things -- if I wished to continue about them, I’d be caught out as having consideration for your glory but none for my own incapacity. For no prudent man corrupts oracles with mere human words

5. Therefore, may your divine mind, young Augustus, the glory of the Roman name, be carried in the chariot of its own eloquence. In offering thanks we abase ourselves in humble fashion, better suited to the comic slipper than the tragic buskin, now that rhetorical flair has begun to be a possession of empire: for, as I know, you have given a hospitable place in your palace to the Muses. May this turn out well for you [both] and for your piety, since you have no memory of haughtiness or indolence, those faults of loftier fortune. When you are well, it brings adequate health to me. The good fortune besought in public prayers will ensure for your clemency that the opportunity of advancing your plans will prove as great as the pleasure in describing them. Farewell.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Symmachus’ first letter to Ausonius (9.88)

If I carry on translating Symmachus at this rate, I will have plenty left for my retirement. Here is Symmachus’ first letter to Ausonius. The rest of Symmachus’ letters to his older friend are found in a group in the first book of his correspondence –the only book which it is certain that Symmachus himself edited (for examples see here and here and here and here and here). This one comes from book 9, in which this and most other letters lack an addressee; the book was almost certainly published long after Symmachus’ death. It was long known that the professor of Bordeaux, Ausonius, met the Roman aristocrat Symmachus when Ausonius was the tutor of the young emperor Gratian and Symmachus a senatorial envoy at the court in Trier of Gratian’s father Valentinian, in the late 360s. It was Sergio Roda (in the Revue des etudes anciennes for 1981) who revived a suggestion of Symmachus’ seventeenth century editors that this letter was in fact addressed to Ausonius – and that it was Ausonius’ first letter in the correspondence, when the two knew each other only by reputation. He must certainly be right.

Ancient letters were always potentially public property, liable to be read out, and they often expressed social ambitions rather less subtly than we would consider normal – but it is still revealing to see what Symmachus chose not to publish.


Your reputation for letters has long made you someone I should like to cultivate, but I long postponed an expression of respect through writing for modesty’s sake, in case I seemed to be currying favour with one in a position at court: this is a disease so frequently adopted that men who care for their reputation blush for other people’s vices. Now all reason for my vacillation has been removed, since you have honoured me first with your greeting. After this generous welcome I shall enter the open gates of friendship and plan to make up for the delays of my shamefaced silence with more than frequent missives. 2. Only look with kindly indulgence, please, on the homage of an impoverished tongue, and for a moment relax the stern judgment of an imperial teacher. You have indicated that you have read some things of mine; I just ask for the same tolerance. I shall not be new to you and shall not be afraid of an unprepared critic: you have learnt to bear everything of mine. Also, an acquaintance has arisen, so as to make you more balanced towards me as a judge. Friendship after all is inclined to favour, and is changed from harsh examination towards kinder feelings by fondness. 3. But if I put aside the fear of my impoverished talent and promise you constant letters, you see how much more I have hopes from this generous barrel. I must acknowledge to you in friendly manner: I look for draughts of Gallic expressiveness, not because eloquence of Latium has left these seven hills, but because the rules of rhetoric were instilled in my breast by an old man who was once a foster-child of the Garonne; I have a real relationship with your schools through my teacher. 4. Whatever is in me, and I know how meagre it is, I owe to your heavens. So bedew us again from those Camenae which first gave me the milk of the liberal arts, and, if anything in my writing should offend you, either save with you silence someone who once attended your townsman, or you too, start teaching again. Farewell.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Three more letters of Symmachus to Ausonius

Two letters of recommendation and a thank you letter for a favour. This is the bread and butter of Symmachus' correspondence. Ausonius is at the peak of his power, Praetorian Prefect and either consul or consul elect.

Ep. 1.19
People who have been deserted by their self-confidence accept my letters to use their recommendations. It’s different in this case. I have given my letter to my brother Potitus on condition that he recommends it to you. He is, you see, no differently from me, among the highest of your friends. When he has brought you to share his presence, I fear that you will think my evasion not pardonable. But if through my experience I have properly become acquainted with your toleration towards me, I think it will turn out that you won’t attack me, who has stayed behind, in comparison with the other person who has come, but that you will welcome him all the more for the sake of us both. Farewell.

The letter is assumed to have been written at the end of 378 to excuse Symmachus for not coming to Trier for Ausonius' inauguration as consul on 1 January 379. Potitus was appointed Vicar of Rome later in 379.

Ep. 1.21
I rejoice that I’m worth more to you than the rest, when you are so energetic that on your own initiative you take care of my problem and don’t await entreaties, but follow the mere rumour of my wishes. I have received the four passports which will be incredibly convenient for my goings and comings. May the gods reward you for such kindness, and, since nothing can be added to blessings which are perfected and raised in a heap, may they keep safe with you and in your possession what they gave you. Farewell.

This letter is assumed to be from 379, when Ausonius holds both the senior consulate and the Praetorian Prefecture; he has sent Symmachus passes for use on the cursus publicus.

Ep. 1.26
I am making use with you of the confidence which you have given me. You have long been sparing of letters, but I shall not imitate your example, since I know that, for a man who’s placed at the pinnacle of honours and who therefore looks after varied and mighty concerns, it is not so much enthusiasm that is lacking as opportunity. It’s of course the way of the world that we consider things neglected despite all efforts as pardonable. But I, sure as always of your love, will not abstain from my customary sense of obligation, and will count it as the highest favour and honour, if profit in some form could fall to the good friend who will give you this letter, in proportion to his considerable attentions towards us. Farewell.

From around the same date, though it could be earlier on in Ausonius' period of power from 376-9.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Symmachus' speech for Trygetius

Symmachus’ speeches were rediscovered in the early nineteenth century by Cardinal Angelo Mai. The manuscript is a fragmentary palimpsest from Bobbio, the same codex as gave us what we possess of Cicero’s De Re Publica and the letters of Fronto. None of Symmachus’ speeches survive complete.

This speech, we know from Ep. 1.44, was delivered on 9 January 376, just over a week after the events described in Ep. 1.13. The context is the same: the immediate aftermath of the accession of Gratian and a change of attitude towards the senate, and of his father’s return from temporary exile. The speech was to support the designation of the young son of his colleague Trygetius as praetor in ten years’ time. The praetorship was the office which in this period launched a senatorial career, in the holder’s late teens: it’s suggested that the games a praetor had to put on were so expensive that time that the family needed time to prepare. Symmachus appears to have hijacked this speech in order to thank the senate for his father’s recall, and to praise the young emperor in terms reminiscent of Pliny on Trajan. He later sent copies to many leading senators.

I am not aware of any previous translation into English. There is a German version by Angela Papst; and the speeches were translated in the fifth and final volume of Callu's Budé of Symmachus, published about a month ago. Symmachus' precise meaning is often hard to gauge. Any corrections gratefully received!

‘… from longing for (?) you [the senate] when we are away, from witnessing you, when we come. Nor do we fear Envy. She has felt and experienced how she benefited from hostility to my father. Now, he had of his own accord yielded to the convenience of a few though his modesty, and free of cares was cultivating his mind with literature in order to return to you a finer man. But this the most excellent order did not long tolerate: at once you besought him, as if from far away, that he should agree to return – you told him, I’d rather say, for the senate, when it asks, gives rather firm instructions. 2. This seemed too little for those who asked it. Especially noble men are sent to him as ambassadors, to convey and announce the public will. How great is this procession of your longing, which wanted its benefaction almost to seem like canvassing. I believe it was your will, that he should be called in some way by fetiales: only the rods and scared herbs were lacking. What you ask, conscript fathers, is sure to be followed and cannot be refused, but he was summoned as if he could have said no.

3. To you too, revered emperor, the highest of this praise should be offered: the man keeps a republic free, under whom something enviable is in the senate’s grant. This is why you are great, this is why you are outstanding, because you prefer to be first than to be alone. Whatever good men obtain, benefits your age. Many once dragged… [lacuna]… sighs, and, as though being loved were permitted only to emperors, trod down the merits of private citizens. But to me he seems truly the father of the fatherland, under whom the best man is not afraid to be praised. That too is the freedom from care of your time, that nobody thinks himself less in the prince’s eyes if the emperor prefers a second person to him. For what room is there for envy, since all are loved by you in their rightful place?

4. But that’s already more than enough about us! Let us give some effort, some time to Trygetius, a man who is a faultless senator, who desires that I should pray and prevail upon you, that the tenth year from now should be designated for his son to fill the duties of Praetor. If his willingness is to be examined, you ought to approve a senator who is generous; if his resources, you can impose nothing more. 5. It is fitting that I too be considered in this business, who am accustomed to offer thanks, who do not allow good deeds to be ignored. It’s right that favours are lent for the second time, when the first have been strong. Bind this man with a new debt, and me with a double…’

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Another letter to Ausonius (Symmachus Ep. 1.14)

This one certainly has been translated before, many times (I haven't compared this version to any others except Callu's Budé). It is usually found with editions of Ausonius' Mosella, a delicious irony given that Symmachus' letter complains of the fact that Ausonius did not send him a copy of the poem. The conceit count is through the roof, and there are doubtless some that I have missed. The date is the early 370s, as there are references to Symmachus' stay at court in Trier at the end of 360s, but the western emperors are still Valentinian (d. 375) and Gratian. The version of the Mosel here described is therefore prior to the one that now survives, which refers obliquely to Ausonius' consulship of 379. The circles in Rome to whom it was sent may have been linked to the Prefect of Illyricum, Italy, and Africa, Sex. Claudius Petronius Probus, who has plausibly identified as the holder of high office praised in the latter stages of the poem.

You ask me for a longer letter. That is a sign of true affection for me. But since I am aware of the poverty of my intellect, I prefer striving for Laconic brevity to laying open, over manifold pages, the meagreness of my immaturity. And no surprise if the vein of my eloquence is diminished, since you have not helped by letting me read any poem of yours, nor any volumes in prose. Why do you request such a sizeable loan of my conversation, when you have trusted me with nothing of your own literary credit. 2. Your Mosella is flying through many people’s hands and laps, immortalised in divine verses by you, but its flow goes past my lips alone. Why, tell me, did you wish me to be deprived of that little book of yours? Either I must seem to you too kulturlos to be able to judge, or at any rate malicious so as not to know how to praise! So you either traduced my intellect or my character. And still, against your ban, I have managed, barely, to discover that work’s secrets. 3. I’d like to be silent about what I feel; I’d like to get revenge with a justifiable silence about you, but admiration for your writings breaks through my hurt feelings. I knew your river myself, when some time ago I was a companion [i.e. comes] to the standards of the eternal emperors: it is the equal of great rivers, unequal to the greatest. This river, against my expectations, you have rendered with the dignity of your lofty verses greater than Egyptian Melo, colder than Scythian Tanais, and more famous than our fellow citizen here, the Tiber. I would absoluely not believe the many things you say about the rise and flow of the Mosel, if I didn’t know for sure that you don’t lie even in a poem. 4. Where did you find those swarms of river fish, so various in their names and their colours alike, so distinct as in their size so in their taste, which you with the palette of your song have coloured beyond the gifts of nature? Although I often experienced your table, and though I often marvelled at many other things which offered for consumption in the palace, I never managed to catch this sort of fish. When were these fish of yours born in your book (they never existed in serving dishes)? 5. You think I am joking and dealing in trifles? So may I be esteemed by the gods, I place this poem of yours by the books of Vergil. But now I’ll stop being cloying in praise of you and forgetful of my hurt, in case you also twist to your glory the fact that I am offended and amazed. Even if you scatter your books around and always leave me out, I’ll still enjoy your work—but other people’s generosity.
Farewell.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Symmachus to Ausonius (2)

So what is Symmachus letter 1.13 all about (incidentally, I decided to add the Latin text to the previous post)? Perhaps I should have read more widely, but I have yet to see the context of this letter properly explained. Here is my take.

Symmachus was a prominent and aristocratic young member of the Roman senate in January 376. But he was not yet what he was to become: a Prefect of the City (in 384-5) or a consul (in 391). Indeed, his father L. Aurelius Avianus Symmachus had on the very same day returned to Rome from unofficial exile, after after an unwise alleged remark prompted the plebs to burn down his townhouse. But Symmachus did have one advantage over his peers: most of them had never been to court – indeed, the senate had a notoriously bad relationship with the emperor Valentinian – but Symmachus had, on an embassy at the turn of the 360s/370s. At Trier he had given panegyrics of the emperor Valentianian and of his young son Gratian and been promoted to Count, third class; he had also met Gratian’s tutor, Ausonius. And Ausonius, like his imperial masters, had never been to Rome. They maintained a correspondence thereafter (occasionally, as the opening lines of this letter suggest).

On 17 November 375, a month and a half before the events described in this letter, the emperor Valentinian died of a stroke, in Brigetio, near modern Budapest. The heir to the western empire was Gratian, who had held the title of Augustus since 367, but who was many hundreds of miles away in Trier. The civil and military high command on the ground, aided by Valentinian’s widow, decided on the quite unconstitutional promotion to Augustus of Gratian’s half-brother, Valentinian II, in Aquincum (Budapest) on 23 November.

Imagine the position of the teenage Gratian, hearing, perhaps in late November, that his father is dead and that he is the sole western ruler, and then a week later, that the army in Illyricum, many hundreds of miles away, has proclaimed his four year old half-brother as an emperor. He can’t disown his brother, but neither can he allow the civil and military authorities in Illyricum, abetted by his stepmother, to establish a puppet emperor (it is vitally important, I think, that Gratian is in a separate Prefecture, that of Gaul, which also covered Britain and Spain, from that of Illyricum, which also covers Italy and north Africa).

Gratian needs to exercise his control over the whole of the Roman west, the Gallic and Illyrican prefectures, and particularly over Rome itself; he needs to make sure that Valentinian II is not a threat to him. So he needs to win over the senate, who have suffered under his father from investigations on charges of magic and treason. Torture and executions have occurred. A message of conciliation needs to be got to them – by New Year’s day they have spent weeks wondering how Gratian will react to Valentinian II. If you consider that Gratian in Trier may not have heard of his father’s death and the threat from his younger brother till well into December 375, it is not incredible that his messenger to the senate may only have arrived in Rome on the night of the New Year, the day when the new consuls were announced. The messenger’s breathless haste may not be a commonplace! He may really have been in a desperate rush.

To whom had Gratian turned to compose his message to the senate, asserting conciliation and control? Roman emperors had on official who drafted laws and speeches, the quaestor sacri palatii – and Gratian’s quaestor was Ausonius. This is why Symmachus represents Ausonius as so keen to know how the message went down (though preserving the established fiction that the speech is Gratian’s own). In a different sense, the fact that Ausonius was Gratian’s quaestor, and that Symmachus is one of the only senators who has actually met him, is why Symmachus is so keen to exploit the connection. Gratian’s and Ausonius’ concessions to the senate obviously helped to establish their control over the whole of the west. And, as I shall show in future posts, Symmachus’ sycophancy worked in making him a leading spokesman of the Roman senate and in reestablishing his and his father’s credentials.

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.