Sunday, October 15, 2017


Another Bundle of Contradictions

Historia Augusta, 6: Life of Avidius Cassius 3.4 (tr. David Magie):
Such was his character, then, that sometimes he seemed stern and savage, sometimes mild and gentle, often devout and again scornful of sacred things, addicted to drink and also temperate, a lover of eating yet able to endure hunger, a devotee of Venus and a lover of chastity.

fuit his moribus, ut nonnumquam trux et asper videretur, aliquando mitis et lenis, saepe religiosus, alias contemptor sacrorum, avidus vini item abstinens, cibi adpetens et inediae patiens, Veneris cupidus et castitatis amator.
See Thomas Wiedemann, "The Figure of Catiline in the Historia Augusta," Classical Quarterly 29.2 (1979) 479-484 (esp. 482-483), who remarks (at 480, footnotes omitted):
Men who were not straightforwardly black or white were rather a problem for educated Romans. Popular moral philosophy assumed that a man's character (physis, natura) never normally changed: the Lives of Plutarch are perhaps the most obvious expression of this widespread attitude. But this was not just a philosophical postulate. During their years at school, Romans had not merely read through with their grammaticus innumerable character-sketches in historians and orators which were little more than lists of either good or bad qualities; they had formally learnt at the rhetorician's school the framework into which any conceivable person would have to be fitted if he was going to be mentioned in a speech, either positively or negatively. We can see this (for example) from Cicero's summary of the 'laudandi vituperandique rationes' in the Partitiones Oratoriae, or Quintilian's scheme 'de laude ac vituperatione'.

After this kind of education, any figure who combined positive and negative qualities was bound to be a problem...
Related post: A Bundle of Contradictions.

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