BMCR 1994.08.08

1994.08.08, McGushin, Sallust: Histories vol. 2

, , The histories. Clarendon ancient history series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992-1994. volumes 1-2 ; 22 cm.. ISBN 9780198721413. $45.00.

This volume completes M[cGushin]’s translation of and commentary on the fragments of S[allust]’s Histories for the Clarendon Ancient History Series (Volume I, Books i-ii was published in 1992). Despite its lack of a Latin text, this edition was sorely needed and is greatly welcome: Reynolds’ admirable OCT (1991) printed a new text of the letters and speeches, together with many of the more important fragments, but this is the first modern edition of the whole work, incorporating some fragments discovered since Maurenbrecher’s critical edition of 1893. This lack of attention surprises. The Histories, an annalistic treatment of Roman history, both res internae and res externae, from 78 to 67 BCE, are the best preserved of all the fragmentary pre-Livian annalistic histories, and as such are crucially important in any attempt to characterize that earlier tradition before Livy put his ineradicable stamp on it. Any pioneering work has its pluses and its minuses, but whatever my reservations about this one, I wish to stress at the outset that everyone interested in S. will want to own M.’s book.

M. relies to a considerable extent on Maurenbrecher’s reconstruction of the work’s structure, while also incorporating the modifications of LaPenna and others. His explication of the original plot of the book is admirable, esp. his treatment of the Wrong but Romantic rebel Spartacus (pp.110-12: no mention, though, of oysters or snails…), and he pays close attention to the contexts of the indirect tradition, often with interesting results (cf. his note on camels, 3.29). I wonder, given the recall at Liv. 5.48.7 (the Roman defenders during the Gallic siege) postremo spe quoque iam non solum cibo deficiente et cum stationes procederent prope obruentibus infirmum corpus armis of 3.28 (3.40M) ut sustinere corpora plerique nequeuntes arma sua quisque stans incumberet, whether the latter might not be from a description of the besieged at Cyzicus rather than from one of Lucullus’ marching army. The biggest change that M. makes is to reject Maurenbrecher’s grouping together of fragments dealing with res minores, unimportant events which nevertheless drag on for more than one year, on the grounds that S. followed a strict—and Thucydidean—chronological arrangement, (pp.13-14, 64). He does not mention, however, the two instances where Tacitus pointedly joins events of more than one year, once ( A. 6.38.1) joining res externae for two consecutive years to relieve the reader’s tedium, again ( A. 12.40.6) putting together events ne diuisa haud perinde ad memoriam sui ualerent—precisely the sort of rationale to which Maurenbrecher appealed for his proposed grouping of res minores. The Tacitean passages do not prove that S. did the same thing, but they suggest that it was a real possibility.

More serious, to my mind, is M.’s disregard for his author’s relation to historians aside from Thucydides. While no one would question S.’s debt to his great predecessor (on which M. might have referred the reader to T.F. Scanlon, The influence of Thucydides upon Sallust, 1980), just as interesting and important is the status of the Histories in the Latin historiographical tradition. M. treats S.’s place in and reaction to this tradition in his Commentary on 1.1-15; in the Introduction, however, which is repeated almost verbatim in Vol. II (with no indication that it is being so repeated), he mentions only Thucydides as a model (pp. 14-15). Reference at least to the notes on the programmatic preface would be most helpful for a reader trying to situate S. in his native tradition.

M. warns the non-historian at the beginning of Vol. I that philological and grammatical points are treated ‘only where they have a bearing on the historical content of the fragments’ (p. 21): there are however places throughout Vol. II where some treatment of historiographical and narrative topoi would have helped elucidate S.’s sense of how history is written. For example, M. does not mention the debate over the extent to which individual historians inserted speeches of their own free composition into their histories; he remarks only (p.87) that ‘Sallust … who took care to arrange his material to produce desired effects on his readers, undoubtedly contributed to [Macer’s] speech as we now have it.’ Yes, indeed: and M. could usefully have adduced frag. 10 of Uncertain Reference (1.76M) in hunc modum disseruit, a tag widely recognized to be a Sallustian manner of flagging a speech as ‘like life’ (cf. BC 20.1 with M.’s own note). He accepts that Mithridates’ letter (4.67) is ‘an extremely skilful exercise by S. in the genre of deliberative oratory,’ a suasoria (p.174). Given this, parallels from real showpiece suasoriae, such as those slightly later ones preserved by Seneca the Elder, might have illuminated S.’s technique, esp. since M. is at some pains to bring out the rhetorical structure and colores used in the letter. Other points that could be further explained by historiographical parallels include Macer’s assertion that he is acting solus in trying to restore tribunician rights (3.34.5), which M. surmises might have been because his fellow tr. plebis had been suborned (pp. 88-9). That motif shows up frequently in Livy (e.g. 6.35.6), but the naming of only the tribune active in working for reform is also typical (cf. BJ 27.2, Liv. 6.6.1), and is not necessarily evidence that the others were corrupted. So too Macer’s accusations that the patricians are using war as a pretext (3.34.6) and are trying to bribe the plebs (3.34.19) are topoi, while his reference to plebeian ‘magistrates’ (3.34.3), while perhaps ‘misleading’ (p.88), is standard (e.g. Liv. 2.33.1), and parallels to it and the accompanying idea that the plebs occupied a separate city (e.g. Liv. 2.24.1) would have enhanced M.’s note on the ius gentium at 3.34.17. In general, one misses reference to Seager’s articles on popularis rhetoric ( CQ 22 (1972) 328-38; 27 (1977) 377-90). M. also lets ‘tyrant’ topoi go unnoted, e.g. pp.127-8 on Sertorius: ‘He became isolated, reclusive, and exercised his power in overbearing fashion (Diod. 37.22a; Liv. Per. 92 and 96) … “[he] was never without his bodyguard of spearmen” [=App. BC 1.113]’. True or not, these are standard anti-tyrannical accusations; if S.’s treatment of Sertorius was a main source for these later portraits, then it appears that he used the tyrant stereotype to explain Sertorius’ downfall, as Tacitus would later use it against Tiberius and others.

Ethnographical topoi, too, receive short shrift, though there are several geographical excursuses in Books 3-5. S.’s description of the Black Sea (3.43-59), for instance, elicits much valuable comment from M. It would also be useful, however, to have notes on the method of organization that S. uses (as of a traveler, describing things as he goes along: the order is mentioned on p.103 but no parallels given); on his description of the shape of the Black Sea (3.44): M. has a long note on what a Scythian bow looked like, but for the comparison of a geographical shape to a familiar object cf. Tac. Ag. 10.3 with Ogilvie-Richmond, and cross-refer to M. on 2.2 (Sardinia the shape of a human foot); or on the stress on nomadism (3.53, 3.56) which is characteristic of such ethnographies (cf. R.F. Thomas, Lands and peoples [1982] 5). The Letter of Mithridates, famous as an attack on Roman imperialism from the pen of a Roman writer, would benefit from comparison with other such documents—e.g. the speech of Pontius the Samnite at Liv. 9.1.3-11, or Calgacus at Tac. Ag. 30-2—as these attacks became something of a genre in themselves.

Thirdly, M. sometimes misses narrative moves familiar from S.’s monographs and from other history, which could help the reader see the continuity between the Histories and the rest of the tradition. For example, the character sketch of Lucullus (4.69), ‘apart from the immoderate desire that his command should be prolonged, he was considered outstanding in other respects’: this singling out of one (often negative) element is a typical element in historiographical character assessments, esp. of great men (cf. 2.18 modestus ad alia omnia nisi ad dominationem, 3.3, Liv. frag. Book 120 omnium aduersorum nihil ut uiro dignum erat tulit praeter mortem, Vell. 20.3 ciuis in toga, nisi ubi uereretur ne quem haberet parem, modestissimus, 46.2 uir cetera sanctissimus with Woodman’s n.); in this case, moreover, M’s translation loses the typically Sallustian bite of the original: imperii prolatandi percupidus habebatur, cetera egregius. Frag. 17 of Unc. Ref., about a beautiful woman, possibly a conspirator, misses a parallel with Sempronia; and for that matter, the Ligurian who answers the call of nature at frag. 39 of Unc. Ref., whom M. compares to the snail-tracking Ligurian of BJ 93.2, should have a cross-reference to the menstruating women of 4.34—in each case, an episode beneath the dignity of history finds its place therein because the characters, engaged in private pursuits, suddenly end up in the wrong—or the right—place at the right time (cf. Fabia at Liv. 6.34.6-10). At 4.67.21, extinguent omnia aut occident, M. correctly takes the latter verb as from ‘die’ rather than ‘kill’: S. seems to be varying the typical polar expression ‘kill or be killed,’ and one thinks of Liv. praef. 12 desiderium … pereundi perdendique omnia. Lastly, on 3.77-8, M. rejects Appian’s report of an early, frustrated attempt against Sertorius’ life to which Maurenbrecher assigned these fragments; but his own account of Tarquitius’ role in the main (and successful) assassination attempt is not convincing, and though Appian can be ‘shown to be confused and unreliable on many other matters’ (p.128), it may be worth noting that S. seems to have liked these unsuccessful ‘first’ conspiracies: cf. BC 18 (the Pisonian conspiracy), BJ 70-2 (an intercepted letter betrays a plot against Jugurtha).

Finally, the translation. On the whole this is very good indeed: literate, sensible, with clear discussions of variants when M.’s text diverges from Reynolds’ or from Maurenbrecher’s. M. does have a tendency to euphemize (e.g. 3.34.2 capessundam … libertatem = ‘the recovery of your liberty,’ missing both the sense ‘seize’ ( OLD 1) and the allusion to capessere rem publicam, ‘to take part in government’; 3.34.3 pellere dominatione incipiam = ‘whose domination I am seeking to overthrow,’ missing the metaphor; 3.48 Aeetae hospitis domum uiolasse = ‘violate the hospitality received in the house of King Aeetes,’ where I think there is a more specific reference to the seduction of Medea; 3.88 ‘cover their bare bodies with skins’ loses the pun intectum … tegunt; frag. 26 of Unc. Ref. laborare festinare = ‘they worked .. without respite,’ losing the effect of the asyndeton bimembre); or to over-translate (e.g. 3.27 simplici morte = ‘the normal kind of death’: M. explains his reasons, but the point of the Latin, as he notes (pp.82-3), is that the deaths were unusual deaths because caused by more than one means—why, then, lose the sense of simplex ?; 3.34.21 delenimenta = ‘plans to ingratiate themselves with you’; 4.41 ut tabes in urbem coierit = ‘has penetrated the city and spread like a disease’ (where M. accepts the MS reading, which I cannot translate, instead of Aldus’coniectus; mention could also have been made in the Commentary ad loc. of the three other places where S. uses disease metaphor of corruption, BC 10.6, 36.5, BJ 32.4, twice with tabes and inuado, cf. also Liv. 2.23.6); 4.67.13 mea dicta‘my prediction’; 4.67.16 belli prudentes = ‘trained in warfare with the Romans’). I am not sure, either, of 3.64A sudes‘spears’: given the context (improvised weapons), ‘stakes’ would be better ( OLD 1b, cf. Tac. A. 4.51.1 with Martin-Woodman’s n.); 4.26 scissum‘worn away’—why not ‘divided’ ( OLD 3a)?; 4.47 scalas pares moenium altitudine = ‘ladders which were equal to the walls in height,’ though Arusianus quoted this as an illustration of par + abl. (so ‘equal to the height of the walls’); 4.59 postero die is left out; 4.60 ‘five hundred’ is not in the Latin; 4.73 ‘because of the spaciousness of the area’ seems to be rather a reason for enthusiastic attack than for retreat, and ‘wavering’ might be better here than ‘forced to give way’ for inclinatos; 5.13 militum uoluntatem = ‘state of mind of his soldiers’: but the reference is specifically to their (lack of) good will; frag. 27 of Unc. Ref. canina facundia, ‘a barking kind of eloquence,’ (better, ‘snarling’?), probably does not ‘imply a resorting to forensic oratory’ but a specific kind of invective-filled, tribunician delivery, cf. Vell. 64.3 with Woodman’s n. and Quint. 12.9.9 with Austin’s n. 1

It would have been helpful to have reprinted from Vol. I the relevant parts of Section 8, ‘About this edition,’ along with the rest of the Introduction; as it is, there appears to be nowhere in Vol. II where the asterisks in front of selected fragments are explained (they are frags. transmitted without book number). Even more helpful would have been a map, esp. for some of the detailed reconstructions of the marches around the Black Sea.

Although this review has concentrated on ways in which I would have treated these fragments differently, I want to say again that while not everyone will find everything to their taste in this book, it is an indispensable tool for Sallustians and ancient historiographers alike. M. has made available for the first time one of the critical documents in ancient history, and thoroughly explicated its historical content. Much remains to be done, but we can thank M. for giving us such a careful and thought-provoking start.

  • [1] There are a few minor typographical errors, some of them confusing: p.12, line 19, for ‘book 4’ read ‘book 3’; p.31, line 9, for ‘now’ read ‘not’; p. 42, line 12, for ‘(3.105)’ read ‘(3.103)’; also on p.42, the frag. numbers have gotten out of line with the frags., from 3.103 through 24 each should be shifted down one frag.; p.64, line 7 up, for ‘Publiocola’ read ‘Publicola’; p.109, line 7, accents are missing; p.122, line 9, for ‘on’ read ‘of’; p.188, last line(s) is/are missing; p.204, line 14 up, for ‘Lucullus’ read ‘Lucullus”; p.207, line 8 up, for ‘effusa‘ read ‘effusas‘; p.217, line 13 up, for ’22’ read ‘122’; p.223, note on frag. 21, add that this is frag. 3.55M; p.223, line 7 up, for ‘(3.16M)’ read ‘(3.61M)’; p.225, line 13, for ‘(5.54M)’ read ‘(4.54M)’; p.226, line 18 up, for ‘(4.80)’ read ‘(4.80M)’; p.227, line 13 up, for ‘(5.26)’ read ‘(5.26M)’; p.228, line 12 up, for ‘regio‘ read ‘regione‘; p.234, line 16, for ‘the’ the text has ‘a.’