The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

I. Rhetoric, also, as well as Grammar, was not introduced amongst us
till a late period, and with still more difficulty, inasmuch as we find
that, at times, the practice of it was even prohibited. In order to
leave no doubt of this, I will subjoin an ancient decree of the senate,
as well as an edict of the censors:–“In the consulship of Caius Fannius
Strabo, and Marcus Palerius Messala [904]: the praetor Marcus Pomponius
moved the senate, that an act be passed respecting Philosophers and
Rhetoricians. In this matter, they have decreed as follows: ‘It shall be
lawful for M. Pomponius, the praetor, to take such measures, and make
such provisions, as the good of the Republic, and the duty of his office,
require, that no Philosophers or Rhetoricians be suffered at Rome.'”

After some interval, the censor Cnaeus Domitius Aenobarbus and Lucius
Licinius Crassus issued the following edict upon the same subject: “It is
reported to us that certain persons have instituted a new kind of
discipline; that our youth resort to their schools; that they have
assumed the title of Latin Rhetoricians; and that young men waste their
time there for whole days together. Our ancestors have ordained what
instruction it is fitting their children should receive, and what schools
they should attend. These novelties, contrary to the customs and
instructions of our ancestors, we neither approve, nor do they appear to
us good. Wherefore it appears to be our duty that we should notify our
judgment both to those who keep such schools, and those who are in the
practice of frequenting them, that they meet our disapprobation.”

However, by slow degrees, rhetoric manifested itself to be a (525) useful
and honourable study, and many persons devoted themselves to it, both as
a means of defence and of acquiring reputation. Cicero declaimed in
Greek until his praetorship, but afterwards, as he grew older, in Latin
also; and even in the consulship of Hirtius and Pansa [905], whom he
calls “his great and noble disciples.” Some historians state that Cneius
Pompey resumed the practice of declaiming even during the civil war, in
order to be better prepared to argue against Caius Curio, a young man of
great talents, to whom the defence of Caesar was entrusted. They say,
likewise, that it was not forgotten by Mark Antony, nor by Augustus, even
during the war of Modena. Nero also declaimed [906] even after he became
emperor, in the first year of his reign, which he had done before in
public but twice. Many speeches of orators were also published. In
consequence, public favour was so much attracted to the study of
rhetoric, that a vast number of professors and learned men devoted
themselves to it; and it flourished to such a degree, that some of them
raised themselves by it to the rank of senators and the highest offices.

But the same mode of teaching was not adopted by all, nor, indeed, did
individuals always confine themselves to the same system, but each varied
his plan of teaching according to circumstances. For they were
accustomed, in stating their argument with the utmost clearness, to use
figures and apologies, to put cases, as circumstances required, and to
relate facts, sometimes briefly and succinctly, and, at other times, more
at large and with greater feeling. Nor did they omit, on occasion, to
resort to translations from the Greek, and to expatiate in the praise, or
to launch their censures on the faults, of illustrious men. They also
dealt with matters connected with every-day life, pointing out such as
are useful and necessary, and such as are hurtful and needless. They had
occasion often to support the authority of fabulous accounts, and to
detract from that of historical narratives, which sort the Greeks call
“Propositions,” “Refutations” and “Corroboration,” until by a gradual
process they have exhausted these topics, and arrive at the gist of the

Among the ancients, subjects of controversy were drawn either from
history, as indeed some are even now, or from (526) actual facts, of
recent occurrence. It was, therefore, the custom to state them
precisely, with details of the names of places. We certainly so find
them collected and published, and it may be well to give one or two of
them literally, by way of example:

“A company of young men from the city, having made an excursion to Ostia
in the summer season, and going down to the beach, fell in with some
fishermen who were casting their nets in the sea. Having bargained with
them for the haul, whatever it might turn out to be, for a certain sum,
they paid down the money. They waited a long time while the nets were
being drawn, and when at last they were dragged on shore, there was no
fish in them, but some gold sewn up in a basket. The buyers claim the
haul as theirs, the fishermen assert that it belongs to them.”

Again: “Some dealers having to land from a ship at Brundusium a cargo of
slaves, among which there was a handsome boy of great value, they, in
order to deceive the collectors of the customs, smuggled him ashore in
the dress of a freeborn youth, with the bullum [907] hung about his neck.
The fraud easily escaped detection. They proceed to Rome; the affair
becomes the subject of judicial inquiry; it is alleged that the boy was
entitled to his freedom, because his master had voluntarily treated him
as free.”

Formerly, they called these by a Greek term, syntaxeis, but of late
“controversies;” but they may be either fictitious cases, or those which
come under trial in the courts. Of the eminent professors of this
science, of whom any memorials are extant, it would not be easy to find
many others than those of whom I shall now proceed to give an account.

II. LUCIUS PLOTIUS GALLUS. Of him Marcus Tullius Cicero thus writes to
Marcus Titinnius [908]: “I remember well that when we were boys, one
Lucius Plotius first began to teach Latin; and as great numbers flocked
to his school, so that all who were most devoted to study were eager to
take lessons from him, it was a great trouble to me that I too was not
allowed to do so. I was prevented, however, by the decided opinion (527)
of men of the greatest learning, who considered that it was best to
cultivate the genius by the study of Greek.” This same Gallus, for he
lived to a great age, was pointed at by M. Caelius, in a speech which he
was forced to make in his own cause, as having supplied his accuser,
Atracinus [909], with materials for his charge. Suppressing his name, he
says that such a rhetorician was like barley bread [910] compared to a
wheaten loaf,–windy, chaffy, and coarse.

III. LUCIUS OCTACILIUS PILITUS is said to have been a slave, and,
according to the old custom, chained to the door like a watch-dog [911];
until, having been presented with his freedom for his genius and devotion
to learning, he drew up for his patron the act of accusation in a cause
he was prosecuting. After that, becoming a professor of rhetoric, he
gave instructions to Cneius Pompey the Great, and composed an account of
his actions, as well as of those of his father, being the first freedman,
according to the opinion of Cornelius Nepos [912], who ventured to write
history, which before his time had not been done by any one who was not
of the highest ranks in society.

IV. About this time, EPIDIUS [913] having fallen into disgrace for
bringing a false accusation, opened a school of instruction, in which he
taught, among others, Mark Antony and Augustus. On one occasion Caius
Canutius jeered them for presuming to belong to the party of the consul
Isauricus [914] in his administration of the republic; upon which he
replied, that he would rather be the disciple of Isauricus, than of
Epidius, the false accuser. This Epidius claimed to be descended from
Epidius Nuncio, who, as (528) ancient traditions assert, fell into the
fountain of the river Sarnus [915] when the streams were overflown, and
not being afterwards found, was reckoned among the number of the gods.

V. SEXTUS CLODIUS, a native of Sicily, a professor both of Greek and
Latin eloquence, had bad eyes and a facetious tongue. It was a saying of
his, that he lost a pair of eyes from his intimacy with Mark Antony, the
triumvir [916]. Of his wife, Fulvia, when there was a swelling in one of
her cheeks, he said that “she tempted the point of his style;” [917] nor
did Antony think any the worse of him for the joke, but quite enjoyed it;
and soon afterwards, when Antony was consul [918], he even made him a
large grant of land, which Cicero charges him with in his Philippics
[919]. “You patronize,” he said, “a master of the schools for the sake
of his buffoonery, and make a rhetorician one of your pot-companions;
allowing him to cut his jokes on any one he pleased; a witty man, no
doubt, but it was an easy matter to say smart things of such as you and
your companions. But listen, Conscript Fathers, while I tell you what
reward was given to this rhetorician, and let the wounds of the republic
be laid bare to view. You assigned two thousand acres of the Leontine
territory [920] to Sextus Clodius, the rhetorician, and not content with
that, exonerated the estate from all taxes. Hear this, and learn from
the extravagance of the grant, how little wisdom is displayed in your

VI. CAIUS ALBUTIUS SILUS, of Novara [921], while, in the execution (529)
of the office of edile in his native place, he was sitting for the
administration of justice, was dragged by the feet from the tribunal by
some persons against whom he was pronouncing a decree. In great
indignation at this usage, he made straight for the gate of the town, and
proceeded to Rome. There he was admitted to fellowship, and lodged, with
Plancus the orator [922], whose practice it was, before he made a speech
in public, to set up some one to take the contrary side in the argument.
The office was undertaken by Albutius with such success, that he silenced
Plancus, who did not venture to put himself in competition with him.
This bringing him into notice, he collected an audience of his own, and
it was his custom to open the question proposed for debate, sitting; but
as he warmed with the subject, he stood up, and made his peroration in
that posture. His declamations were of different kinds; sometimes
brilliant and polished, at others, that they might not be thought to
savour too much of the schools, he curtailed them of all ornament, and
used only familiar phrases. He also pleaded causes, but rarely, being
employed in such as were of the highest importance, and in every case
undertaking the peroration only.

In the end, he gave up practising in the forum, partly from shame, partly
from fear. For, in a certain trial before the court of the One Hundred
[923], having lashed the defendant as a man void of natural affection for
his parents, he called upon him by a bold figure of speech, “to swear by
the ashes of his father and mother which lay unburied;” his adversary
taking him up for the suggestion, and the judges frowning upon it, he
lost his cause, and was much blamed. At another time, on a trial for
murder at Milan, before Lucius Piso, the proconsul, having to defend the
culprit, he worked himself up to such a pitch of vehemence, that in a
crowded court, who loudly applauded him, notwithstanding all the efforts
of the lictor to maintain order, he broke out into a lamentation on the
miserable state of Italy [924], then in danger of being again reduced, he
said, into (530) the form of a province, and turning to the statue of
Marcus Brutus, which stood in the Forum, he invoked him as “the founder
and vindicator of the liberties of the people.” For this he narrowly
escaped a prosecution. Suffering, at an advanced period of life, from an
ulcerated tumour, he returned to Novara, and calling the people together
in a public assembly, addressed them in a set speech, of considerable
length, explaining the reasons which induced him to put an end to
existence: and this he did by abstaining from food.

Publius Terentius Afer, a native of Carthage, was a slave, at Rome, of
the senator Terentius Lucanus, who, struck by his abilities and handsome
person, gave him not only a liberal education in his youth, but his
freedom when he arrived at years of maturity. Some say that he was a
captive taken in war, but this, as Fenestella [925] informs us, could by
no means have been the case, since both his birth and death took place in
the interval between the termination of the second Punic war and the
commencement of the third [926]; nor, even supposing that he had been
taken prisoner by the Numidian or Getulian tribes, could he have fallen
into the hands of a Roman general, as there was no commercial intercourse
between the Italians and Africans until after the fall of Carthage [927].
Terence lived in great familiarity with many persons of high station, and
especially with Scipio Africanus, and Caius Delius, whose favour he is
even supposed to have purchased by the foulest means. But Fenestella
reverses the charge, contending that Terence was older than either of
them. Cornelius Nepos, however, (532) informs us that they were all of
nearly equal age; and Porcias intimates a suspicion of this criminal
commerce in the following passage:–

“While Terence plays the wanton with the great, and recommends himself to
them by the meretricious ornaments of his person; while, with greedy
ears, he drinks in the divine melody of Africanus’s voice; while he
thinks of being a constant guest at the table of Furius, and the handsome
Laelius; while he thinks that he is fondly loved by them, and often
invited to Albanum for his youthful beauty, he finds himself stripped of
his property, and reduced to the lowest state of indigence. Then,
withdrawing from the world, he betook himself to Greece, where he met his
end, dying at Strymphalos, a town in Arcadia. What availed him the
friendship of Scipio, of Laelius, or of Furius, three of the most
affluent nobles of that age? They did not even minister to his
necessities so much as to provide him a hired house, to which his slave
might return with the intelligence of his master’s death.”

He wrote comedies, the earliest of which, The Andria, having to be
performed at the public spectacles given by the aediles [928], he was
commanded to read it first before Caecilius [929]. Having been
introduced while Caecilius was at supper, and being meanly dressed, he is
reported to have read the beginning of the play seated on a low stool
near the great man’s couch. But after reciting a few verses, he was
invited to take his place at table, and, having supped with his host,
went through the rest to his great delight. This play and five others
were received by the public with similar applause, although Volcatius, in
his enumeration of them, says that “The Hecyra [930] must not be reckoned
among these.”

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