Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.10.12

Stephan Schmal, Sallust. Studienbücher Antike, Band 8.   Hildesheim:  Georg Olms, 2001.  Pp. 216.  ISBN 3-487-11442-9.  EUR 15,80 (pb).  

Reviewed by Christopher B. Krebs, University College, Oxford (
Word count: 1809 words

Stephan Schmal's monograph on Sallust is the eighth volume of the series Studienbücher Antike. Aiming at being "ein Wegweiser (...) durch die Schriften des Autors, den historischen und literarischen Kontext sowie die wichtigsten Aspekte der Forschungsliteratur" (p.7), it provides the reader with the necessary information about Sallust's life and times (1), then circumspectly presents and discusses the corpus Sallustianum (2-5), and finally addresses the indispensable topics of geography and ethnography (6), philosophy and concept of history (7), language and style (8), predecessors and models (9), reception (10), and research (11). With his thorough knowledge of English, French, German, and Italian scholarship cited and discussed with great accuracy, and his careful and balanced approach to Sallustian problems, S. fills a gap: for those who know little or nothing about Sallust, this book is an excellent starting point.

But before the more detailed discussion of the individual chapters, two general problems which slightly impair the positive overall impression must be mentioned. First, it is to be regretted that there is so little Latin in a book on a Latin author. Sallust's immortalis velocitas (Quint. X. 1. 102) with its startling amputatae sententiae et verba ante exspectatum cadentia et obscura brevitas (Sen. Epp. 114. 17) cannot be fully appreciated except in Latin; this is the more problematic, as Sallust's style often enough adds to the meaning (see e.g. Jug. 4.7 furtim et per latrocinia and Syme's analysis in Philologus IOC (1962), p.302). Then the second problem: sometimes a rushed reference to another Latin author conveys an inaccurate or even false impression; those I will discuss ad loc.

In "Leben und Zeit" (1), S. illuminates the historical context, describes Sallust's entering politics and his relationship to Caesar and finally touches upon Sallust's becoming a historiographer, drawing of course on the famous prologues. This chapter is well structured and straightforward. But two details caught this reviewer's attention: it is surprising that S. when talking about Sallust's famous gardens (p.20) does not even mention Syme's thesis that those gardens drew their name not from the historian but from the minister of Augustus (Syme, 1964, p.283, fn.38). Secondly, S. points out that Sallust's assurance (Jug.4.4) maius[que] commodum ex otio meo quam ex aliorum negotiis rei publicae venturum, is a sign of greater confidence, and he adds in a footnote (p.22, n.58) that Tacitus' 'Dialogus' in the penultimate paragraph gives evidence, "dass dieser Gedankengang noch weit davon entfernt war, verbreitete Anerkennung zu finden" (He quotes Tac. Dial. 41.5 (quoniam nemo eodem tempore adsequi potest magnam famam et magnam quietem).) But neither this sentence nor Tacitus' treatise is concerned with the problem of writing as a socially accepted profession. (For a discussion of the reading of this passage of Tacitus see Heldmann (1982, esp. p.280) and -- with a contrary understanding -- Döpp (1995, esp. p.223).) Tacitus' contemporary admirer Pliny would have been a better example of the still-not-quite-overcome feeling of writing's inferiority; hence his emphasis: Equidem beatos puto, quibus deorum munere datum est aut facere scribenda aut scribere legenda (...) (VI. 16).

In chapter 2 S. carefully weighs the pros and cons as to whether the invectiva in Ciceronem and the two epistulae ad Caesarem are Sallustian or not; as they cannot be proven to be, S. rightly refrains from taking them into account for the interpretation of Sallust and his oeuvre.

Presenting the opera Sallustiana, S. starts with an overview of the content and composition of the respective works; he frequently addresses the questions of Sallust's accuracy and the modern (i.e. our) problem with 'Clio's cosmetics' and elucidates what might have moved this ancient historiographer to pick these topics. Some notes:

The state of the state (3.2): First S. tells the reader that Catilina's persona is symptomatic of the crises of the state. He then goes on: "So sehr die moralische Sichtweise auch in allen Bereichen dominiert, hat Sallust doch sehr wohl auch diachronische und synchronische Kategorien zur Verfügung, mit denen das Geschehen unabhängig von der schlichten Analogisierung zum Wertehaushalt von Einzelpersonen auf eine überpersönliche Ebene gehoben werden soll" (p.34). While the former of these two observations should merely be the consequence of the latter (C. is symptomatic because in him the effects of those diachronic and synchronic forces come to light), S. seems to leave these two aspects distinct, at least for most of his treatment (though the last paragraph of p.57 perhaps hints at a different view).

Addressing the excessively disputed problem of the historical value of the Catilina, S. gives another unnecessarily hurried reference: "Cicero meinte, dass das Lesen von Geschichtsschreibung Vergnügen bereiten müsse" (p.43); the reference is to Cic. ad Fam. 5. 12. 3. S.'s presentation of this letter is here and in chap. 9.2 problematic; this reference is the more unfortunate as in this passage Cicero asks Lucceius ut in eo leges historiae neglegas (which is why S.'s term "historiographisches Programm" (p.147) is not appropriate either).

Turning to the question 'why Catilina', S. discards the thesis of the author's partiality for Caesar (among the first to do so was Boissier (1905, esp. p.12) whose important book is the one title this reviewer missed in S.'s otherwise comprehensive bibliography) and finishes this chapter with a carefully balanced answer.

In the discussion of Sallust's second monograph (chap.4) S.'s reconstruction of how the problems of the respublica materialize in Jugurtha is clear and convincing; giving special attention to the 'philosophy' of the novus homo he illuminates the figure of Marius (S. could have referred to Evans (1994) here) and repeatedly points out where Sallust prefers artistic creativity to historical accuracy. This leads him finally to address the question of the historian's method: S. points out (p.69) that Sallust presents himself more as a "Geschichtsschreiber denn als Geschichtsforscher". In consequence of this, he discusses further questions of composition, Sallust's character portraits, and the thematic importance of greed.

Sallust's fragmented opus magnum (chap.5): here S. asserts a little bit too firmly that there were originally no more than the four speeches which have come down to us in the separate codex. An acknowledging nod to the fragments IV.39, 40MG and V.17, 18MG, which have been argued to belong to speeches by Pompeius and Gabinius respectively, would have been in place. (Büchner (1982, pp.204f.) Syme (1964, p.198) and McGushin (1994, p.215) form a philological phalanx which must be considered.) Stressing the annalistic principle, S. gives a careful outline of what the Historiae might have been like; he then quite naturally focuses on the letters and speeches and finally addresses the question of a development within Sallust's work. Based on the fragments 1,8-1,12MG, he argues (following Latta 1989, esp. pp.41ff. and p.56; but Latta's precursory paper on 'Geschichtsauffassung' appeared in Maia 40 (1988), not 41 (1989)) that there is a 'Hobbesian turn': in his Histories Sallust's anthropology is bleak and pessimistic, which is different from his position in the BC, where good human nature was visible in a shining past. Since the fragments we have might have been chosen because of their extraordinariness (for this problem see Kraus/Woodman 1997, p.40, n.137), it seems risky to say the least to argue that there was a different anthropology in the Histories.

With 'Geographie und Ethnographie' the discussion of broader topics starts (chap.6-11): Here S., whose first book was on "Feindbilder bei den frühen Griechen", touches (necessarily) briefly but competently upon the Greek tradition (focussing on the 'anthropo-geographical' and ethnocentric concepts), and demonstrates how Sallust makes use of ethnographical stereotypes. He then tries to give a balanced verdict on Sallust's perception of the foreign world. In this convincing chapter one still notices the absence of 'new' approaches using modern literary and cultural concepts: a comment on the interesting link between intellectual and territorial appropriation, for example, would have been in place, considering the amount of attention it has recently received (see e.g. Kraus/Woodman, 1997, p.40 with further lit.).

In 'Philosophie und Geschichtsdenken' S. discusses the problem of the proems and their connection with the narrative, a question much disputed since Quintilian. He focuses on Sallust's thoughts on 'animus et corpus' and 'virtus et gloria', and turns then to the moral decline. The final two sub-chapters are on Sallust's anthropology and his historical understanding.

'Sprache und Stil': this is the chapter with comparatively lots of Latin, needed to discuss archaism, brevitas, variatio, gravitas and 'Gräzismen'. S.'s example of variatio is 'modo ad urbem, modo Galliam versus' which is according to S. (p.133) "in gängigem Latein etwa (...): modo adversus urbem, modo adversus Galliam". Well, but S.'s Latin actually means something different from Sallust's, as becomes clearer when put in context (BC. 56. 4): Catilina ... modo ad urbem modo Galliam versus castra movere. This reviewer is thus more than hesitant to regard this as a case of variatio. Addressing the question of why Sallust chose this style, S. limits exaggerated psychological interpretations à la le style est l'homme même, and seems to support the thesis that Sallust wanted to show facta dictis non posse exaequari. Sallust's style is his accusation of his time.

'Vorgänger und Vorbilder' are dealt with in chapter 9: having carefully weighed (not without some teasing) the scholarly literature on Quellenforschung, S. illuminates the Roman tradition and discusses the significance of Cato the Elder; he then goes on and presents the influence of Greek historiography (for S.'s inadequate reference to Cic. ad Fam. 5.12 see above). The final concern is a balanced discussion of Sallust's debt to Thucydides.

'Rezeption': S. starts with Sallust's influence on ancient writers, Tacitus in particular. He then surveys the Middle Ages, humanism and finally concentrates on special personae and passages.

The final chapter on trends in research is significant for two reasons: S. does pay attention to the fact that there have been classical studies in the former eastern Germany which were thriving in their own right; the rather newer approaches to Sallust, working with narratological concepts or ideas of cultural studies, are absent.

Two final remarks: the table of contents is excellent and allows for selective reading; the bibliography and the indices are exemplary.

In view of the structure of this monograph, the careful discussions of Sallust and the literature that tries to shed light on his works, it is not surprising that this book on Sallust is already being recommended as an introduction on reading lists for German undergraduates.


Boissier, G., La conjuration de Catilina, Paris 1905.

Büchner, K., Sallust, Heidelberg (2) 1982 (first pub. 1960).

Döpp, S., Zeitverhältnisse und Kultur im Taciteischen Dialogus in: B. Kühnert et al. (edd.), Prinzipat und Kultur im 1. u. 2. Jahrhundert, Bonn 1995, pp.210-28.

Evans, R.J., Gaius Marius -- a political biography, Pretoria 1994.

Heldmann, K., Antike Theorien über Entwicklung und Verfall der Redekunst, München 1982.

Kraus, C.S. / Woodman, A.J., Latin historians, Oxford 1997.

Syme, R., Two emendations in Sallust in Philologus CVI (1962), pp.300-304.

Syme, R., Sallust, Berkeley and Los Angeles 1964.

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