Some stories of the elder Publius Africanus

From Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights (4.18). Not to assert wrongdoing on his part but my modern sensibility finds these tales more amusing if I imagine Scipio here as testing the limits of his own capacity to pull off a bluff.

Some stories of the elder Publius Africanus, taken from the annals and well worth relating.

How greatly the earlier Scipio Africanus excelled in the splendour of his merits, how lofty and noble of spirit he was, and to what an extent he was upheld by consciousness of his own rectitude, is evident from many of his words and acts. Among these are the following two instances of his extreme self-confidence and sense of superiority.

When Marcus Naevius, tribune of the commons, accused him before the people and declared that he had received money from king Antiochus to make peace with him in the name of the Roman people on favourable and easy terms, and when the tribune added sundry other charges which were unworthy of so great a man, then Scipio, after a few preliminary remarks such as were called for by the dignity and renown of his life, said: “I recall, fellow citizens, that this is the day on which in Africa in a mighty battle I conquered Hannibal the Carthaginian, the most bitter enemy of your power, and won for you a splendid peace and a glorious victory. Let us then not be ungrateful to the gods, but, I suggest, let us leave this worthless fellow, and go at once to render thanks to Jupiter, greatest and best of gods.” So saying, he turned away and set out for the Capitol. Thereupon the whole assembly, which had gathered to pass judgment on Scipio, left the tribune, accompanied Scipio to the Capitol, and then escorted him to his home with the joy and expressions of gratitude suited to a festal occasion. The very speech is in circulation which is believed to have been delivered that day by Scipio, and those who deny its authenticity at least admit that these words which I have quoted were spoken by Scipio.

There is also another celebrated act of his. Certain Petilii, tribunes of the commons, influenced they say by Marcus Cato, Scipio’s personal enemy, and instigated to appear against him, insisted most vigorously in the senate on his rendering an account of the money of Antiochus and of the booty taken in that war; for he had been deputy to his brother Lucius Scipio Asiaticus, the commander in that campaign. Thereupon Scipio arose, and taking a roll from the fold of his toga, said that it contained an account of all the money and all the booty; that he had brought it to be publicly read and deposited in the treasury. “But that,” said he, “I shall not do now, nor will I so degrade myself.” And at once, before them all, he tore the roll across with his own hands and rent it into bits, indignant that an account of money taken in war should be required of him, to whose account the salvation of the Roman State and its power ought to be credited.


De P. Africano superiore sumpta quaedam ex annalibus memoratu dignissima.

Scipio Africanus antiquior quanta virtutum gloria praestiterit et quam fuerit altus animi atque magnificus et qua sui conscientia subnixus, plurimis rebus quae dixit quaeque fecit declaratum est. Ex quibus sunt haec duo exempla eius fiduciae atque exuperantiae ingentis.

Cum M. Naevius tribunus plebis accusaret eum ad populum diceretque accepisse a rege Antiocho pecuniam, ut condicionibus gratiosis et mollibus pax cum eo populi Romani nomine fieret, et quaedam item alia crimini daret indigna tali viro, tum Scipio pauca praefatus quae dignitas vitae suae atque gloria postulabat, “Memoria,” inquit, “Quirites, repeto, diem esse hodiernum quo Hannibalem Poenum imperio vestro inimicissimum magno proelio vici in terra Africa pacemque et victoriam vobis peperi spectabilem. Non igitur simus adversum deos ingrati et, censeo, relinquamus nebulonem hunc, eamus hinc protinus Iovi optimo maximo gratulatum.” Id cum dixisset, avertit et ire ad Capitolium coepit. Tum contio universa, quae ad sententiam de Scipione ferendam convenerat, relicto tribuno, Scipionem in Capitolium comitata atque inde ad aedes eius cum laetitia et gratulatione sollemni prosecuta est. Fertur etiam oratio quae videtur habita eo die a Scipione, et qui dicunt eam non veram, non eunt infitias quin haec quidem verba fuerint, quae dixi, Scipionis.

Item aliud est factum eius praeclarum. Petilii quidam tribuni plebis a M., ut aiunt, Catone, inimico Scipionis, comparati in eum atque inmissi, desiderabant in senatu instantissime ut pecuniae Antiochinae praedaeque in eo bello captae rationem redderet; fuerat enim L. Scipioni Asiatico, fratri suo, imperatori in ea provincia legatus. Ibi Scipio exurgit et, prolato e sinu togae libro, rationes in eo scriptas esse dixit omnis pecuniae omnisque praedae; illatum, ut palam recitaretur et ad aerarium deferretur. “Sed enim id iam non faciam,” inquit, “nec me ipse afficiam contumelia,” eumque librum statim coram discidit suis manibus et concerpsit, aegre passus quod cui salus imperii ac reipublicae accepta ferri deberet rationem pecuniae praedatae posceretur.

That man has the horse of Seius

From Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights 3.9. Also reported in Erasmus’ Adagia 997 (citing Gellius).

The characteristics of the horse of Seius, which is mentioned in the proverb…

Gavius Bassus in his Commentaries, and Julius Modestus in the second book of his Miscellaneous Questions, tell the history of the horse of Seius, a tale wonderful and worthy of record. They say that there was a clerk called Gnaeus Seius, and that he had a horse foaled at Argos, in the land of Greece, about which there was a persistent tradition that it was sprung from the breed of horses that had belonged to the Thracian Diomedes, those which Hercules, after slaying Diomedes, had taken from Thrace to Argos. They say that this horse was of extraordinary size, with a lofty neck, bay in colour, with a thick, glossy mane, and that it was far superior to all horses in other points of excellence; but that same horse, they go on to say, was of such a fate or fortune, that whoever owned and possessed it came to utter ruin, as well as his whole house, his family and all his possessions. Thus, to begin with, that Gnaeus Seius who owned him was condemned and suffered a cruel death at the hands of Marcus Antonius, afterwards one of the triumvirs for setting the State in order. 1 At that same time Cornelius Dolabella, the consul, on his way to Syria, attracted by the renown of this horse, turned aside to Argos, was fired with a desire to own the animal, and bought it for a hundred thousand sesterces; but Dolabella in his turn was besieged in Syria during the civil war, and slain. And soon afterwards Gaius Cassius, who had besieged Dolabella, carried off this same horse, which had been Dolabella’s. It is notorious too that this Cassius, after his party had been vanquished and his army routed, met a wretched end. Then later, after the death of Cassius, Antonius, who had defeated him, sought for this famous horse of Cassius, and after getting possession of it was himself afterwards defeated and deserted in his turn, and died an ignominious death. Hence the proverb, applied to unfortunate men, arose and is current: “That man has the horse of Seius.”


Quis et cuiusmodi fuerit qui in proverbio fertur equus Seianus …

Gavius Bassus in commentariis suis, item Iulius Modestus in secundo Quaestionum Confusarum, historiam de equo Seiano tradunt dignam memoria atque admiratione: Gnaeum Seium quempiam scribam fuisse eumque habuisse equum natum Argis in terra Graecia, de quo fama constans esset tamquam de genere equorum progenitus foret qui Diomedis Thracis fuissent, quos Hercules, Diomede occiso, e Thracia Argos perduxisset. Eum equum fuisse dicunt magnitudine invisitata, cervice ardua, colore poeniceo, flora et comanti iuba, omnibusque aliis equorum laudibus quoque longe praestitisse; sed eundem equum tali fuisse fato sive fortuna ferunt, ut quisquis haberet eum possideretque, ut is cum omni domo, familia fortunisque omnibus suis ad internecionem deperiret. Itaque primum illum Gnaeum Seium, dominum eius, a M. Antonio, qui postea triumvirum reipublicae constituendae fuit, capitis damnatum, miserando supplicio affectum esse; eodem tempore Cornelium Dolabellam consulem, im Syriam proficiscentem, fama istius equi adductum Argos devertisse cupidineque habendi eius exarsisse emisseque eum sestertiis centum milibus; sed ipsum quoque Dolabellam in Syria bello civili obsessum atque interfectum esse; mox eundem equum, qui Dolabellae fuerat, C. Cassium, qui Dolabellam obsederat, abduxisse. Eum Cassium postea satis notum est victis partibus fusoque exercitu suo miseram mortem oppetisse, deinde post Antonium, post interitum Cassii parta victoria, equum illum nobilem Cassi requisisse et, cum eo potitus esset, ipsum quoque postea victum atque desertum, detestabili exitio interisse. Hinc proverbium de hominibus calamitosis ortum dicique solitum: “Ille homo habet equum Seianum.”

λεξιθηρέω – word-hunting

From Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights 2.9

In bringing this charge [of an incorrectly used word] against Epicurus Plutarch is “word-hunting” with excessive minuteness and almost with frigidity; for far from hunting up such verbal meticulousness and such refinements of diction, Epicurus hunts them down.

Nimis minute ac prope etiam subfrigide Plutarchus in Epicuro accusando λεξιθηρεῖ Has enim curas vocum verborumque elegantias non modo non sectatur Epicurus, sed etiam insectatur.

I enjoy Gellius’ verb here – λεξιθηρέω, a simple compound of ‘word’ (λέξις) and the verbal form of hunt (θήρα). It seems a near hapax in surviving works, though Clement uses a related noun λεξιθηρία in his Paedagogus (page 15 in this online version) and the grammarian Phrynicus Arabius (in Latin here) gives a few other related forms like λεξιθήρ and λεξιθήρας. For those two, Pape in his Greek-German dictionary gives the cleanest overall rendering of the idea with ein Wortjäger. The sense in Gellius and Clement (who denies he’s engaging in the activity) is fussy pedantism but we let that slide.

πολυμαθίη νόον οὐ διδάσκει

From Aulus Gellius’ preface to Noctes Atticae – quoting Heraclitus, though in a variant of what is cited elsewhere.

The perusal of such collections will exhaust the mind through weariness or disgust, before it finds one or two notes which it is a pleasure to read, or inspiring to have read, or helpful to remember. I myself, on the contrary, having at heart that well-known saying of the famous Ephesian, “Much learning does not make a scholar,” did it is true busy and even weary myself in unrolling and running through many a scroll, working without cessation in all the intervals of business whenever I could steal the leisure; but I took few items from them, confining myself to those which, by furnishing a quick and easy short-cut, might lead active and alert minds to a desire for independent learning and to the study of the useful arts

quibus in legendis ante animus senio ac taedio languebit quam unum alterumve reppererit quod sit aut voluptati legere aut cultui legisse aut usui meminisse. Ego vero, cum illud Ephesii viri summe nobilis verbum cordi haberem, quod profecto ita est quibus in legendis ante animus senio ac taedio languebit quam unum alterumve reppererit quod sit aut voluptati legere aut cultui 12legisse aut usui meminisse. Ego vero, cum illud Ephesii viri summe nobilis verbum cordi haberem, quod profecto ita est πολυμαθίη νόον οὐ διδάσκει, ipse quidem volvendis transeundisque multis admodum voluminibus per omnia semper negotiorum intervalla in quibus furari otium potui exercitus defessusque sum, sed modica ex his eaque sola accepi quae aut ingenia prompta expeditaque ad honestae eruditionis cupidinem utiliumque artium contemplationem celeri facilique compendio ducerent, ipse quidem volvendis transeundisque multis admodum voluminibus per omnia semper negotiorum intervalla in quibus furari otium potui exercitus defessusque sum, sed modica ex his eaque sola accepi quae aut ingenia prompta expeditaque ad honestae eruditionis cupidinem utiliumque artium contemplationem celeri facilique compendio ducerent

I am accustomed to inquire rather than to decide

From Aulus Gellius Noctes Atticae 20.1.9:

“Don’t ask me,” said Favorinus, “what I think.  For you know that I am accustomed, according to the rule of the sect that I follow, to inquire rather than to decide.”

“Noli” inquit Favorinus “ex me quaerere, quid ego existumeme.  Scis enim solitum esse me pro disciplina sectae, quam colo, inquirere potius quam decernere.”