Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.07.43 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.07.43

J. C. Rolfe, John T. Ramsey, Sallust, I: The War with Catiline; The War with Jugurtha (edited and revised; first published 1921). Loeb classical library, 116.   Cambridge, MA; London:  Harvard University Press, 2013.  Pp. lxxxviii, 440.  ISBN 9780674996847.  $26.00.  

Reviewed by Michael S. Vasta, Indiana University (

The last several years have seen a number of new Sallust translations. Versions containing the Catilina, Jugurtha, and selections from the fragmentary Histories have been produced by A. J. Woodman for Penguin and William W. Batstone for Oxford World’s Classics, while Michael Comber and Catalina Balmaceda published a Jugurtha for Aris and Phillips.1 John T. Ramsey has now joined this group with a new edition of Sallust for the Loeb Classical Library, revising J. C. Rolfe’s original (1921, revised 1931). Ramsey marks out a spot within this crowded market with a comprehensive introduction, thorough notes, and a translation that preserves Sallust’s unique voice.

This the new edition for the Loeb Library benefits from the decision to divide the Sallustian corpus between two volumes. This first volume contains only the monographs, but takes advantage of the additional space to enlarge the introductory material and footnotes. The second volume will contain the fragments of the Histories in their entirety, as well as the spurious Epistles to Caesar.2 The new general introduction is adapted and greatly expanded from Ramsey’s introduction to his commentary on the Bellum Catilinae published by the APA.3 It covers standard topics such as life and career, contribution to historiography, influences, choice of subject, style, and textual tradition, but stands out from the other recent editions thanks to its exhaustive detail. Ramsey synthesizes much of the Sallustian scholarship on these topics of the past century, condensing it and providing it all for his reader in one convenient location. It is, however, primarily a historical and conventional approach, reading like a modern update and summarizing of Syme’s Sallust.4 While this is ideal for one’s first exposure to Sallustian studies, I think Ramsey’s introduction works best alongside an essay such as Kraus and Woodman’s chapter from Latin Historians, providing a more literary approach to the author.5 That said, with its volume of information, Ramsey’s essay ought to become the definitive introduction to Sallust.

Two other parts of introductory material deserve mention. The first, and a particular highlight for this reader, is a massive bibliography, organized into editions, translations, and commentaries on the Sallustian and pseudo-Sallustian texts, and modern publications on the individual monographs, the “First Conspiracy” of Catiline, and Sallust and Roman history and historiography in general. Like the introduction, this bibliography is an updated and expanded version of the one included in Ramsey’s APA Catilina, now including publications on the Jugurtha. Furthermore, just as the introduction provides the student or scholar with all one might need for Sallust’s historical background, this bibliography offers a comprehensive “what to read next,” including the literary analysis that is absent from the introduction.6

Secondly, each of the monographs also receives a brief introductory discussion of Sallust’s sources, a separate, extensive chronology keyed to outside sources (e.g. Cicero’s Catilinarians or Plutarch’s Lives) and an outline of the narrative. The chronology is especially helpful in the case of the Jugurtha with its notoriously ambiguous time-keeping. That monograph also benefits from a family tree of the Numidian royal house. After the translation of the monographs, there is an index of people and places, keyed to Pauly-Wissowa where appropriate, and maps of Rome, Italy, and North Africa.

Sallust, by his very nature, is hard to translate into English. His archaic, abrupt style was dramatically different from the smooth periods advocated by Cicero, and no doubt would have seemed avant-garde to a contemporary Roman audience. But if a modern translator attempts to showcase that archaism, the “cutting edge” effect is lost to the English reader. However, if the translator chooses to render Sallust in a modern artistic prose style, the aesthetic may be present but fidelity to the original could be lost.

In the preface to this volume, Ramsey writes that the reader of a Loeb typically has “at least one eye on the left-hand page,” ranging from a student who has a basic understanding of the language to the advanced scholar who consults a Loeb for help in rendering a difficult passage (x-xi). With this audience in mind, his translation adheres very closely to Sallust’s Latin, maintaining original word order and sentence structure where possible and using an elevated vocabulary. This results in longer sentences with more clauses than are typical in modern American English, and, as such, a less smooth reading experience though truer to the original. The simple choice to translate using elevated vocabulary— polysyllabic words derived from Greek or Latin roots rather than words with a Germanic base that are more frequent in spoken English – appropriately replicates the effect Sallust must have had on Roman audiences. The language is “special” enough to draw attention, but nothing is so foreign that meaning is obscured.

One aspect of Ramsey’s translation that I find particularly admirable is his treatment of Sallust’s complex moral vocabulary. In his 1961 monograph, The Political Thought of Sallust, D. C. Earl attempted to find secure, distinct definitions for the historian’s terminology, coming up with, for example, the conclusion that virtus is “the functioning of the ingenium to achieve egregia facinora and thus to win gloria by the exercise of bonae artes.”7 Not only is this impossible to render in the succinct fashion required of a translation, more recent scholarship has also revealed that Sallust’s moral thought is more complex and the vocabulary less secure than previously believed,8 though it is clear that he had something more precise in mind than simply “virtue.” Ramsey finds a way to resolve this discrepancy. Instead of trying to come up with a single word to represent all of the different shades of meaning of virtus, he translates it as “excellence,” “prowess,” “merit,” “valor,” “bravery,” as well as just “virtue.” This seems to me to be the best solution as a 1:1 translation, while faithful to the Latin, cannot convey the multitude of implications inherent in the word, but if the translator is too loose or has too many different renditions, the precision in Sallust’s vocabulary is lost. Ramsey’s decision should appeal both to traditionalists and those who prefer a more post-modern approach to Sallust.

There are many notes within the text: the majority provide the chronological, geographical, legal, or cultural details one would expect from a historical commentary. They are brief, accurate, and helpful. They are especially welcome during the Jugurtha’s battle scenes, providing the reader with a more solid grounding than can always be gained from Sallust’s text. In other footnotes, Ramsey provides a literal rendition of the Latin when the translation within the main body is a bit looser. There are also a number of cross references, but the logic behind them can be somewhat inconsistent. For example, Sallust alludes to the story of Manlius Torquatus in the Catilina’s archaeology (9.4), which Cato invokes as an exemplum during his oration (52.30-31). Neither location has a cross-reference note, despite the distance within the narrative between the two, and the importance of the re-occurring exemplum to the interpretation of the monograph. Indeed, the absence is conspicuous when Ramsey is thorough enough to remind us that Pompey was away commanding an army in the East twice within two chapters (Cat. 16.5, 17.7).

Beyond this, there are only two other complaints I have about the volume, both very minor. First, in his assessment of pre-Sallustian historiography in the general introduction, Ramsey merely reports what Cicero and Sallust have to say, that the early annalists were rather dull and bare. I think a brief observation from Ramsey that Cicero and Sallust might not have accurately represented those authors, confined, perhaps, just to a footnote, would be beneficial, so as not to give those less familiar with the genre the wrong impression. Secondly, the formatting within the general introduction could be improved, giving a better indication of the relationship between sections and subsections.9 Neither of these issues hampered my experience of the volume in the slightest. Errata are infrequent and minor.10

Ramsey provides a list of divergences from L. D. Reynolds’ 1991 Oxford Text (20 in the Cat. and 32 in the Jug.), a brief critical apparatus, and includes explanatory notes for his textual reading. No readings seem particularly controversial.

In assessing Ramsey’s success with this volume, I return to his comments about a Loeb reader as one who keeps an eye on the left-hand page. His translation, preserving many of Sallust’s stylistic nuances, does not always make for the most fluid reading. As such, one of the other excellent English translations mentioned at the beginning of this review might be more suitable for an undergraduate history or political science student who has no real need to experience Sallust’s Latin. For that reader who does pay attention to the left-hand page, though, Ramsey’s Loeb is an excellent resource. His introduction helpfully provides all the information even an experienced scholar needs to be immediately grounded in this complex ancient historian. Furthermore, the thorough bibliography points in the right direction for further study of Sallust. Lastly, for the reader who does “occasionally turns to a Loeb to see how it renders some particular passage” (xi), Ramsey’s faithful translation is a reliable companion. I eagerly await Ramsey’s second Sallust volume and look forward to see how he handles the Histories.


1.   Woodman, A. J., ed. and trans. Sallust. Catiline’s War, The Jugurthine War, Histories. Penguin Classics. London; New York: Penguin, 2007; Batstone, William W., ed. and trans. Sallust. Catiline’s Conspiracy, The Jugurthine War, Histories. Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2010; Comber, Michael, and Catalina Balmaceda, eds. and trans. Sallust. The War Against Jugurtha. Aris and Phillips Classical Texts. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2009 (BMCR 2010.01.02).
2.   Two Invectives have been passed down by the manuscript tradition, purporting to be an exchange between Sallust and Cicero in the Senate. While the previous Sallust Loeb volume by J. C. Rolfe contained these texts, they were recently treated by D. R. Shackleton Bailey in his 2002 Loeb of Cicero’s Letters of Quintus and Brutus (BMCR 2002.08.10). Therefore, Ramsey will not be including them in his volumes.
3.   Ramsey, John T., ed. Sallust’s Bellum Catilinae. 2d ed. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2007 (BMCR 2009.03.22).
4.   Syme, Ronald. Sallust. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964.
5.   Kraus, Christina Shuttleworth, and A. J. Woodman. “Sallust.” In Latin Historians, 10–50. Greece and Rome: New Surveys in the Classics 27. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
6.   It is also worth mentioning that Ramsey has created a “companion website” for his APA edition of the Catilina, including, among other things, an annotated bibliography, covering many of the same works listed in the Loeb volume. Nearly every item is given a helpful one sentence summary. This is an outstanding resource for any scholar, new or experienced, who wants to get a quick grasp of Sallustian scholarship. It can be accessed here.
7.   Earl 1961: 16.
8.   e.g. Batstone, William W. “Intellectual Conflict and Mimesis in Sallust’s Bellum Catilinae.” In Conflict, Antithesis and the Ancient Historian, edited by J. W. Allison, 112–32. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1990.
9.   Specifically, under section 4, “Sallust’s Style,” one subsection is given as “Sallustian Traits: Brevity,” followed with “Vocabulary,” “Grammar and Syntax,” and “Inconcinnity.” Obviously, those three sections belong to the category of Sallustian traits, but a repetition of the header, or a further way to indicate hierarchy could make this clearer. The complaint is almost trivial, but it did cause this reader to think he had missed a section change.
10.   Cat. 3.1, “it is a fine thing to do serve the Republic…”; Cat. 47.4, “for at little earlier…”; Jug. 63.5, “in such as way”; Jug. 87.2, “that by means of arms liberty, country and parents.”

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