We are fortunate that many of the great Roman historians, thinkers, poets and philosophers works have been kept alive. Here is a small selection:-
After the death of Julius Caesar, Augustus, previously known as Octavian, became the first, and one of the most important Emperors of Rome. His reign marked the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. After successfully ending a long period of civil strife, Augustus was able to bring forth an era of peace and prosperity (Pax Romana) to the empire. Augustus’ reign was characterized by order. He also valued culture, and offered protection and encouragement to the poets and writers of the time. Words which have been attributed to Augustus include:
Acta est fabula, plaudite! The play is over, applaud!
Celerius quam asparagi cocuntur. Quicker than cooking asparagus.
Festina Lente. Make haste slowly.
Urbem lateritiam invenit, marmoream reliquit. He found a city of bricks and left a city of marble.
Julius Casesar achieved great influence as a Roman military general and as a political leader, and statesman. His role in the changeover of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire was substantial. Latin students throughout the ages have read his account of his military campaigns. Caesar used his leadership abilities to establish order and prosperity in Rome as well as to achieve military victories abroad. Some famous lines associated with Casear include:
Alea iacta est. - The die is cast.
Et tu, Brute. - You too, Brutus.
Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt. - Men readily believe what they wish.
Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres. - All of Gaul is divided into three parts.
Veni, vidi, vici! - I came, I saw, I conquered.
CATO THE ELDER
Marcus Porcius became known as Cato the Elder, or Cato the Censor. He was a politician and leader who was recognized for his stern sense of morality and belief in simplicity. Besides writing a well-known handbook on agriculture, “De Agri Cultura,” Cato also became a famous orator. Many fragments of one hundred and fifty of his speeches have survived. A few famous quotes include:
Carthago delenda est. - Carthage must be destroyed.
Rem tene: verba sequentur. - Stick to the meaning: the words will follow.
Vir bonus, dicendi peritus. - A good man, skilled in speaking.
Gaius Valerius Catulllus was a Roman poet whose life story is suggested through hints in his poetry. His works are versatile but his poems of love stand out. He belonged to a group of young poets called “neoterics” who rejected traditional Roman views and looked toward Hellenistic Greek culture for inspiration. Quotes from Catullus include:
Ave atque vale. Hail and farewell.
Cui dono lepidum novum libellum? - To whom do I give my new elegant little book?
Da mi basia mille, deinde centum, deinde mille altera, deinde centum. - Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred, then another thousand, then a second hundred.
Difficile est longum subito deponere amorem. - It is difficult to suddenly give up a long love.
Odi et amo! - I love and I hate!
Risu inepto res ineptior nulla est. - There is nothing more foolish than a foolish laugh.
Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus. - Let us love, my Lesbia, and let us love.
Cicero was well-educated in rhetoric and philosophy and became famous both as an orator and as a statesman. Cicero’s name is derived from the Latin word for “chickpea” which referred to an ancestor’s unusual nasal feature. However, Cicero refused to change his name when he entered politics. His political career was beset by a changing political climate and although he remained a champion of the Republic, he lived in exile for a period of time. Some of his prose and speeches survive:
Abiit, excessit, evasit, erupit. - He departed, he escaped, he rushed forth.
Adhibenda est in iocando moderatio. - One should employ restraint in his/her jests.
Cedant arma togae, concedat laurea laudi. - May arms yield to the toga.
Cui bono? - For whose benefit is it?
Cum tacent, clamant. - When they are silent, they cry out.
Cura nihil aliud nisi ut valeas. - Pay attention to nothing except that you do well.
Dum spiro, spero. - While I breathe, I hope.
Epistula non erubescit. - A letter doesn't blush.
Esse quam videri. - To be rather than to seem.
Fortuna est caeca. - Fortune is blind.
Honor est praemium virtutis. - Honor is the reward of virtue.
Inhumanitas omni aetate molesta est. - Inhumanity is troublesome in every generation.
In virtute sunt multi levels. - There are many degrees in excellence.
Legum servi sumus ut liberi esse possimus. - We are slaves of laws so that we can be free.
Nihil agere delectat. - It is a delight to do nothing.
Nihil est incertius volgo. - Nothing is more uncertain than the masses.
Nihil tam munitum quod non expugnari pecunia possit. - No fortification is such that it cannot be subdued with money.
O, praeclarum custodem, ovium lupum! - O, excellent protector of sheep, the wolf!
Omnium rerum principia parva sunt. - The beginnings of all things are small.
Patria est communis omnium parens. - Our fatherland is the common parent of everyone.
Pauci veniunt ad senectutem. - Few people come to old age.
Quam se ipse amans-sine rivale! - Himself loving himself so much without a rival!
Saepe ne utile quidem est scire quid futurum sit. - Often it is not even useful to know what may be.
Salus populi suprema lex esto. - May the safety of the people be the highest law.
Semper idem. - Always the same.
Silent enim leges inter arma. - Laws are silent in times of war.
Stultum est timere quod vitare non potes. - It is stupid to be afraid of that which you cannot avoid.
Summum ius, summa iniuria. - The utmost law is the utmost injustice.
Tarditas et procrastinatio odiosa est. - Delay and procrastination are troublesome.
Trahimur omnes laudis studio. - We are all taken in by an enthusiasm for praise.
Vitam regit fortuna, non sapientia. - Fortune, not wisdom, rules lives.
Horace’s poetry has survived through the ages. Following service in Brutus’ unsuccessful army, Horace lost his family property and was impoverished. He claimed that his poverty drove him to become a poet. Horace’s poems appealed to so many because of the popular themes he chose and his use of perfect form. There are many famous lines attributed to him:
Aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem. - Remember when life's path is steep to keep your mind even.
Certum vot pete finnem. - Set a definite limit to your desire.
Culpam poena premit comes. - Punishment closely follows crime as its companion.
Denique non omnes eadem mirantur amantque. - All men do not admire and love the same things.
Dimidium facti qui coepit habet. - He who has begun has the work half done.
Dum loquimor fugerit invida aetas. - Even as we speak, time speeds swiftly away.
Eheu fugaces labuntur anni. - Alas, the fleeting years slip by.
Est modus in rebus. - There is a medium in things.
Non omnis moriar. - Not all of me will die.
Ridentem dicere verum quid vetat? - What prevents me from speaking the truth with a smile?
Sedit qui timuit ne non succederet. - He who feared he would not succeed sat still.
Vitanda est improba siren desidia. - One must avoid that wicked temptress, laziness.
Vitiis nemo sine nascitur. - No one is born without faults.
Error is continually repeated in action - So we must continually repeat the truth in words
Some authorities consider Juvenal to have been the greatest satirical poet ever. Little is known about his life but some people try to make guesses based on what they find in his writings. His satires contain oxymorons, paradoxes, and questions wrapped around with anger, bitterness, and a sense of irony. He was successful in evoking sympathy for the poor and was able to describe Roman scenes of life with just a few words. Juvenal wrote:
Difficile est saturam non scribere. - It is hard not to write satire.
Mens sana in corpore sano. - A sound mind in a sound body.
Panem et circenses. - Bread and circuses.
Probitas laudatur et alget. - Honesty is praised and left in the cold.
Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? - Who watches the watchmen?
Sic volo, sic iubeo. - I want this, I order this.
Nil proeteter nubes, et coeli numen adorant.
- Nought but the clouds, and heavens God adores
As a scholar, Livy’s greatest accomplishment was his monumental 142 volume history of Rome, of which thirty-five books survive intact. This treatise starts with the origins of Rome and continues to the death of Nero. The Emperor Augustus encouraged Livy who devoted his life to history and literature. Livy is credited with writing:
Caeca invidia est. - Envy is blind.
Periculum in mora. - There is danger in delay.
Potius sero quam numquam. - It is better to be late than never.
Vae victis! - Woe to the conquered!
Ovid studied to become a lawyer and held some minor official posts but he was always drawn to the more emotional side of life. He was well-known as a poet and moved freely in the social and literary circles of his time. Ovid’s first major success was the tragedy, “Medea.” Other acclaimed works followed, many of which are still read and enjoyed today. Ovid was also a gifted story teller, and he is often quoted:
Adde parvum parvo magnus acervus erit. - Add a little to a little and there will be a great heap.
Amor tussisque non celantur. - Love, and a cough, are not concealed.
Bene qui latuit, bene vixit. - One who lives well, lives unnoticed.
Credula res amore est. - Love is a credulous thing.
Cui peccare licet peccat minus. - One who is allowed to sin, sins less.
Est queadam fiere voluptas. - There is a certain pleasure in weeping.
Exitus acta probat. - The end proves the deeds.
Fas est et ab hoste doceri. - It's proper to learn even from an enemy.
Finis coronat opus. - The ending crowns the work.
Gutta cavat lapidem, non vi, sed saepe cadendo. - A drop of water hollows a stone, not by force, but by continuously dripping.
Medio tutissimus ibis. - You will go safest in the middle.
Nemo ante mortem beatus. - No one is happy before one's death.
Omnia iam fient fieri quae posse negabam. - All the things which I denied could happen are now happening.
Omnia mutantur; nihil interit. - All things are changed; nothing dies.
Perfer et obdura; dolor hic tibi proderit olim. - Be patient and tough; some day this pain will be useful to you.
Qui non est hodie cras minus aptus erit. - He who is not prepared today will be less prepared tomorrow.
Rident stolidi verba Latina. - Fools laugh at the Latin language.
Saepe creat molles aspera spina rosas. - Often a wild thorn produces tender roses.
Tempora mutantur, et nos mutamur in illis. - Times are changing and we are changing with them.
Petronius held a variety of public offices and was a member of Nero’s inner circle. His satirical and romantic novel, “Satyricon,” describes the adventures of two young men while exposing licentious life in the upper classes. The surviving fragments of his work suggest a massive piece of literature containing about four hundred thousand words. There is some confusion about Petronius’ identity but experts believe that this Petronius was the same man whom Tacitus described as the “arbiter elegantieae” or the “arbiter of taste.” After being accused of participating in a conspiracy against Nero, Petronius committed suicide. He gave us these words:
In alio pediculum, in te ricinum non vides. - You see a louse on someone else, but not a tick on yourself.
Manus manum lavat. - One hand washes the other.
Serva me, servabo te. - Save me and I will save you.
Sol omnibus lucet. - The sun shines upon us all.
We trained hard . . . but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.
Plautus, a man with humble beginnings, became well known as a comic playwright. His adaptations of Greek plays for the contemporary Roman audience were full of puns, jokes, alliterations, and other kinds of word-play. They depict Greek life with
humorous exaggerations. His introduction of song into the verse made for the first musical comedies. Plots often involved mistaken identities, misunderstandings, and slaves trying to help further the love affairs of their masters. Plautus’ drama provide us with Latin as the spoken language of that period. Plautus is credited with these lines:
Bonis quod bene fit haud perit. - Whatever is done for good men is never done in vain.
Factum est illud, fieri infectum non potest. - Done is done, it cannot be made undone.
Flamma fumo est proxima. - Flame follows smoke.
Mus uni non fidit antro. - A mouse does not rely on just one hole.
Tetigisti acu. - You have hit the nail on the head.
Quem di diligunt adolescens moritur. - He whom the gods prefer dies a young man.
PLINY THE YOUNGER
Pliny The Elder who was known as a writer of natural history (Cum grano salis: With a grain of salt) was the maternal uncle to Pliny the Younger. Pliny the Younger lived with his uncle and in time, Pliny the Elder adopted Pliny the Younger. Pliny the Younger trained to be a lawyer and worked his way up through the senatorial ladder. He was also an efficient manager of his holdings and became a rich man. He wrote ten books of letters which function as a large set of essays. A strong moral element throughout, the essays touch on many aspects of life including public affairs, his villas, scenery and daily activities like hunting, family matters, and also stories and dreams. Pliny wrote the following words:
Difficile est tenere quae acceperis nisi exerceas, - It is difficult to retain what you may have learned unless you should practice it.
Multi famam, conscientiam pauci verentur. - Many fear their reputation, few their conscience.
Nullus est liber tam malus ut non aliqua parte prosit. - There is no book so bad that it is not beneficial in some respect.
Seneca gained recognition as a philosopher, a statesman, and a writer. Although he was originally educated in grammar and rhetoric, he was always attracted to philosophy. As political advisor he guided Nero, his former student, toward good government for several years. Nero became more and more displeased with Seneca’s high sense of morality. In time, his declining influence and authority led Seneca to withdraw from public life. Seneca then devoted himself to philosophy, writing, and his friends. He wrote a famous set of ten ethical treatises. Other philosophical treatises detail the history of stoicism, drama, works on natural science, and letters. Famous words include:
Ars longa vita brevis - Art is long life is short
Diligentia maximum etiam mediocris ingeni subsidium. - Diligence is a very great help even to a mediocre intelligence.
Docendo discitur. - It is learned by teaching.
Dum docent, discunt. - While they teach, they learn.
Dum inter homines sumus, colamus humanitatem. - As long as we are among humans, let us be humane.
Errare humanum est. - To err is human.
Fallaces sunt rerum species. - The appearances of things are deceptive.
Homines, dum docent, discunt - The best way to learn is to teach.
Mens regnum bona possidet. - An honest heart is a kingdom in itself.
Non scholae sed vitae discimus. - We do not learn for school, but for life.
Nullum saeculum magnis ingeniis clausum est. - No generation is closed to great talents.
Potest ex casa magnus vir exire. - A great man can come from a hut.
Quam bene vivas refert, non quam diu. The important thing isn't how long you live, but how well you live.
Qui dedit benificium taceat; narret qui accepit. - Let him who has done a good deed be silent; let him who has received it, tell it.
Qui multum habet, plus cupit. - He who has much desires more.
Timendi causa est nescire. - Ignorance is the cause of fear.
Veritas numquam perit. - Truth never perishes.
Veritas odit moras. - Truth hates delay.
Tacitus, the historian, followed a senatorial career and established his reputation as an orator. He believed that individuals made history, and preferred the Republic of Rome to the Empire of Rome. As a historian he thought it important to record events so that future generations could readily understand virtue and vice. His concise writing style is much admired and his first work was “Agricola,” the biography of his father-in-law who served as governor of Britain. He also wrote biographies of Nero and Claudius. But Tacitus’ major writings were found in the twelve volume “Historiae” and the eighteen volume “Annales” although not all material survived. Some of Tacitus’ famous words are:
Corpora lente augescent cito extinguuntur. - Bodies grow slowly and die quickly.
Omne ignotum pro magnifico est. - We have great notions of everything unknown.
Pessimus inimicorum genus, laudantes. - The worst kind of enemies are those who can praise.
Sine ira et studio. - Without anger or bias.
Solitudinem fecerunt, pacem appelunt. - They made a desert and called it peace.
Born in Ande, a village near Mantua in Lombardy, Virgil studied philosophy and rhetoric in Rome. A contemporary and friend of Horace, Virgil’s epic poetry which depicts the greatness of the Roman Empire continues to be read today. Sadly, Virgil’s health was always weak. He worked on the “Aenid” for the last ten years of his life and left orders for it to be burned if it was not completed by the time of his death. The Emperor Augustus would not allow this to happen. He arranged for this work to be published after Varius and Tucca gave it a light edit. Virgils’ fame grew after he died and his verse is known for its technical perfection.
Virgil’s famous lines include:-
Ab uno disce omnes. - From one example, learn all.
Aegrescit medendo. - The disease worsens with treatment.
Aegri somnia vana. - A sick man's dream; hallucination.
Aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem. - Remember to maintain a calm mind while doing difficult tasks.
Amor vincit omnia. - Love conquers all.
Arma virumque cano.- I sing of arms and a man.
Aspirat primo Fortuna labori. - Fortune favors upon one's first effort.
Audentes fortuna iuvat. - Fortune favors the bold.
Fama crescit eundo. - The rumor grows as it goes.
Fama volat. - Rumor flies.
Fata viam invenient. - The Fates will find a way.
Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. - Happy is he who has been able to learn the causes of things.
Labor omnia vincit. - Work overcomes all things.
Ne cede malis. - May you not give way to evil things.
Non omnes possumus omnia. - We cannot all do everything.
Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. - Whatever it is, I fear Greeks bearing gifts.
Sic itur ad astra. - Such is the path to the stars.
Tanta molis erat Romanam condere gentem. - Such a great task it was to found the Roman race.
The Oxford Classical Dictionary, Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, Oxford University Press, 1996.
The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, M. C.Howatson, Oxford University Press, 1989.
www.biography.com - www.wikipedia.org