The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

Sunt bona, sunt quaedam mediocria, sunt mala plura,
Quae legis: hic aliter non fit, Avite, liber.

Some are good, some indifferent, and some again still worse;
Such, Avitus, you will find is a common case with verse.

I. The science of grammar [842] was in ancient times far from being in
vogue at Rome; indeed, it was of little use in a rude state of society,
when the people were engaged in constant wars, and had not much time to
bestow on the cultivation of the liberal arts [843]. At the outset, its
pretensions were very slender, for the earliest men of learning, who were
both poets and orators, may be considered as half-Greek: I speak of
Livius [844] and Ennius [845], who are acknowledged to have taught both
languages as well at Rome as in foreign parts [846]. But they (507) only
translated from the Greek, and if they composed anything of their own in
Latin, it was only from what they had before read. For although there
are those who say that this Ennius published two books, one on “Letters
and Syllables,” and the other on “Metres,” Lucius Cotta has
satisfactorily proved that they are not the works of the poet Ennius, but
of another writer of the same name, to whom also the treatise on the
“Rules of Augury” is attributed.

II. Crates of Mallos [847], then, was, in our opinion, the first who
introduced the study of grammar at Rome. He was cotemporary with
Aristarchus [848], and having been sent by king Attalus as envoy to the
senate in the interval between the second and third Punic wars [849],
soon after the death of Ennius [850], he had the misfortune to fall into
an open sewer in the Palatine quarter of the city, and broke his leg.
After which, during the whole period of his embassy and convalescence, he
gave frequent lectures, taking much pains to instruct his hearers, and he
has left us an example well worthy of imitation. It was so far followed,
that poems hitherto little known, the works either of deceased friends or
other approved writers, were brought to light, and being read and
commented on, were explained to others. Thus, Caius Octavius Lampadio
edited the Punic War of Naevius [851], which having been written in one
volume without any break in the manuscript, he divided into seven books.
After that, Quintus Vargonteius undertook the Annals of Ennius, which he
read on certain fixed days to crowded audiences. So Laelius Archelaus,
and Vectius Philocomus, read and commented on the Satires of their friend
Lucilius [852], which Lenaeus Pompeius, a freedman, tells us he studied
under Archelaus; and Valerius Cato, under Philocomus. Two others also
taught and promoted (508) grammar in various branches, namely, Lucius
Aelius Lanuvinus, the son-in-law of Quintus Aelius, and Servius Claudius,
both of whom were Roman knights, and men who rendered great services both
to learning and the republic.

III. Lucius Aelius had a double cognomen, for he was called Praeconius,
because his father was a herald; Stilo, because he was in the habit of
composing orations for most of the speakers of highest rank; indeed, he
was so strong a partisan of the nobles, that he accompanied Quintus
Metellus Numidicus [853] in his exile. Servius [854] having
clandestinely obtained his father-in-law’s book before it was published,
was disowned for the fraud, which he took so much to heart, that,
overwhelmed with shame and distress, he retired from Rome; and being
seized with a fit of the gout, in his impatience, he applied a poisonous
ointment to his feet, which half-killed him, so that his lower limbs
mortified while he was still alive. After this, more attention was paid
to the science of letters, and it grew in public estimation, insomuch,
that men of the highest rank did not hesitate in undertaking to write
something on the subject; and it is related that sometimes there were no
less than twenty celebrated scholars in Rome. So high was the value, and
so great were the rewards, of grammarians, that Lutatius Daphnides,
jocularly called “Pan’s herd” [855] by Lenaeus Melissus, was purchased by
Quintus Catullus for two hundred thousand sesterces, and shortly
afterwards made a freedman; and that Lucius Apuleius, who was taken into
the pay of Epicius Calvinus, a wealthy Roman knight, at the annual salary
of ten thousand crowns, had many scholars. Grammar also penetrated into
the provinces, and some of the most eminent amongst the learned taught it
in foreign parts, particularly in Gallia Togata. In the number of these,
we may reckon Octavius (509) Teucer, Siscennius Jacchus, and Oppius Cares
[856], who persisted in teaching to a most advanced period of his life,
at a time when he was not only unable to walk, but his sight failed.

IV. The appellation of grammarian was borrowed from the Greeks; but at
first, the Latins called such persons literati. Cornelius Nepos, also,
in his book, where he draws a distinction between a literate and a
philologist, says that in common phrase, those are properly called
literati who are skilled in speaking or writing with care or accuracy,
and those more especially deserve the name who translated the poets, and
were called grammarians by the Greeks. It appears that they were named
literators by Messala Corvinus, in one of his letters, when he says,
“that it does not refer to Furius Bibaculus, nor even to Sigida, nor to
Cato, the literator,” [857] meaning, doubtless, that Valerius Cato was
both a poet and an eminent grammarian. Some there are who draw a
distinction between a literati and a literator, as the Greeks do between
a grammarian and a grammatist, applying the former term to men of real
erudition, the latter to those whose pretensions to learning are
moderate; and this opinion Orbilius supports by examples. For he says
that in old times, when a company of slaves was offered for sale by any
person, it was not customary, without good reason, to describe either of
them in the catalogue as a literati, but only as a literator, meaning
that he was not a proficient in letters, but had a smattering of

The early grammarians taught rhetoric also, and we have many of their
treatises which include both sciences; whence it arose, I think, that in
later times, although the two professions had then become distinct, the
old custom was retained, or the grammarians introduced into their
teaching some of the elements required for public speaking, such as the
problem, the periphrasis, the choice of words, description of character,
and the like; in order that they might not transfer (510) their pupils to
the rhetoricians no better than ill-taught boys. But I perceive that
these lessons are now given up in some cases, on account of the want of
application, or the tender years, of the scholar, for I do not believe
that it arises from any dislike in the master. I recollect that when I
was a boy it was the custom of one of these, whose name was Princeps, to
take alternate days for declaiming and disputing; and sometimes he would
lecture in the morning, and declaim in the afternoon, when he had his
pulpit removed. I heard, also, that even within the memories of our own
fathers, some of the pupils of the grammarians passed directly from the
schools to the courts, and at once took a high place in the ranks of the
most distinguished advocates. The professors at that time were, indeed,
men of great eminence, of some of whom I may be able to give an account
in the following chapters.

V. SAEVIUS [858] NICANOR first acquired fame and reputation by his
teaching: and, besides, he made commentaries, the greater part of which,
however, are said to have been borrowed. He also wrote a satire, in
which he informs us that he was a freedman, and had a double cognomen, in
the following verses;

Saevius Nicanor Marci libertus negabit,
Saevius Posthumius idem, sed Marcus, docebit.

What Saevius Nicanor, the freedman of Marcus, will deny,
The same Saevius, called also Posthumius Marcus, will assert.

It is reported, that in consequence of some infamy attached to his
character, he retired to Sardinia, and there ended his days.

VI. AURELIUS OPILIUS [859], the freedman of some Epicurean, first taught
philosophy, then rhetoric, and last of all, grammar. (511) Having closed
his school, he followed Rutilius Rufus, when he was banished to Asia, and
there the two friends grew old together. He also wrote several volumes
on a variety of learned topics, nine books of which he distinguished by
the number and names of the nine Muses; as he says, not without reason,
they being the patrons of authors and poets. I observe that its title is
given in several indexes by a single letter, but he uses two in the
heading of a book called Pinax.

VII. MARCUS ANTONIUS GNIPHO [860], a free-born native of Gaul, was
exposed in his infancy, and afterwards received his freedom from his
foster-father; and, as some say, was educated at Alexandria, where
Dionysius Scytobrachion [861] was his fellow pupil. This, however, I am
not very ready to believe, as the times at which they flourished scarcely
agree. He is said to have been a man of great genius, of singular
memory, well read in Greek as well as Latin, and of a most obliging and
agreeable temper, who never haggled about remuneration, but generally
left it to the liberality of his scholars. He first taught in the house
of Julius Caesar [862], when the latter was yet but a boy, and,
afterwards, in his own private house. He gave instruction in rhetoric
also, teaching the rules of eloquence every day, but declaiming only on
festivals. It is said that some very celebrated men frequented his
school,–and, among others, Marcus Cicero, during the time he held the
praetorship [863]. He wrote a number of works, although he did not live
beyond his fiftieth year; but Atteius, the philologist [864], says, that
he left only two volumes, “De Latino Sermone;” and, that the other works
ascribed to him, were composed by his disciples, and were not his,
although his name is sometimes to be found in them.

VIII. M. POMPILIUS ANDRONICUS, a native of Syria, while he professed to
be a grammarian, was considered an idle follower of the Epicurean sect,
and little qualified to be a master (512) of a school. Finding,
therefore, that, at Rome, not only Antonius Gnipho, but even other
teachers of less note were preferred to him, he retired to Cumae, where
he lived at his ease; and, though he wrote several books, he was so
needy, and reduced to such straits, as to be compelled to sell that
excellent little work of his, “The Index to the Annals,” for sixteen
thousand sesterces. Orbilius has informed us, that he redeemed this work
from the oblivion into which it had fallen, and took care to have it
published with the author’s name.

IX. ORBILIUS PUPILLUS, of Beneventum, being left an orphan, by the death
of his parents, who both fell a sacrifice to the plots of their enemies
on the same day, acted, at first, as apparitor to the magistrates. He
then joined the troops in Macedonia, when he was first decorated with the
plumed helmet [865], and, afterwards, promoted to serve on horseback.
Having completed his military service, he resumed his studies, which he
had pursued with no small diligence from his youth upwards; and, having
been a professor for a long period in his own country, at last, during
the consulship of Cicero, made his way to Rome, where he taught with more
reputation than profit. For in one of his works he says, that “he was
then very old, and lived in a garret.” He also published a book with the
title of Perialogos; containing complaints of the injurious treatment to
which professors submitted, without seeking redress at the hands of
parents. His sour temper betrayed itself, not only in his disputes with
the sophists opposed to him, whom he lashed on every occasion, but also
towards his scholars, as Horace tells us, who calls him “a flogger;”
[866] and Domitius Marsus [867], who says of him:

Si quos Orbilius ferula scuticaque cecidit.
If those Orbilius with rod or ferule thrashed.

(513) And not even men of rank escaped his sarcasms; for, before he
became noticed, happening to be examined as a witness in a crowded court,
Varro, the advocate on the other side, put the question to him, “What he
did and by what profession he gained his livelihood?” He replied, “That
he lived by removing hunchbacks from the sunshine into the shade,”
alluding to Muraena’s deformity. He lived till he was near a hundred
years old; but he had long lost his memory, as the verse of Bibaculus
informs us:

Orbilius ubinam est, literarum oblivio?
Where is Orbilius now, that wreck of learning lost?

His statue is shown in the Capitol at Beneventum. It stands on the left
hand, and is sculptured in marble [868], representing him in a sitting
posture, wearing the pallium, with two writing-cases in his hand. He
left a son, named also Orbilius, who, like his father, was a professor of

X. ATTEIUS, THE PHILOLOGIST, a freedman, was born at Athens. Of him,
Capito Atteius [869], the well-known jurisconsult, says that he was a
rhetorician among the grammarians, and a grammarian among the
rhetoricians. Asinius Pollio [870], in the book in which he finds fault
with the writings of Sallust for his great affectation of obsolete words,
speaks thus: “In this work his chief assistant was a certain Atteius, a
man of rank, a splendid Latin grammarian, the aider and preceptor of
those who studied the practice of declamation; in short, one who claimed
for himself the cognomen of Philologus.” Writing to Lucius Hermas, he
says, “that he had made great proficiency in Greek literature, and some
in Latin; that he had been a hearer of Antonius Gnipho, and his Hermas
[871], and afterwards began to teach others. Moreover, that he had for
pupils many illustrious youths, among whom were the two (514) brothers,
Appius and Pulcher Claudius; and that he even accompanied them to their
province.” He appears to have assumed the name of Philologus, because,
like Eratosthenes [872], who first adopted that cognomen, he was in high
repute for his rich and varied stores of learning; which, indeed, is
evident from his commentaries, though but few of them are extant.
Another letter, however, to the same Hermas, shews that they were very
numerous: “Remember,” it says, “to recommend generally our Extracts,
which we have collected, as you know, of all kinds, into eight hundred
books.” He afterwards formed an intimate acquaintance with Caius
Sallustius, and, on his death, with Asinius Pollio; and when they
undertook to write a history, he supplied the one with short annals of
all Roman affairs, from which he could select at pleasure; and the other,
with rules on the art of composition. I am, therefore, surprised that
Asinius Pollio should have supposed that he was in the habit of
collecting old words and figures of speech for Sallust, when he must have
known that his own advice was, that none but well known, and common and
appropriate expressions should be made use of; and that, above all
things, the obscurity of the style of Sallust, and his bold freedom in
translations, should be avoided.

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