BMCR 2021.11.18

Lectissimus pensator verborum: tre studi su Sallustio

, Lectissimus pensator verborum: tre studi su Sallustio. Testi e manuali per l'insegnamento universitario del latino; nuova serie, 145. Bologna: Pàtron Editore, 2019. Pp. 326. ISBN 9788855534451

The volume under review consists of three essays by Rodolfo Funari and seven collections of sources about the life and reception of Sallust by Gerard Duursma.

Toward the middle of the Bellum Catilinae, after reporting that the senate declared Catiline a public enemy, Sallust inserts a digression about the corruption of Rome (36.4–39.4). This digression is the subject of the first essay, which is a reprint of an article published in 1998. Funari conducts an analysis of about thirty expressions from this excursus and advances a twofold argument: Sallust’s language reveals many points of contact with Cicero (p. 17), and these points of contact demonstrate that Cicero and Sallust voiced similar concerns about the decline of the republic.

The analysis of lexical and semantical overlap is thorough and at times erudite: Funari lists various passages where Cicero and Sallust use similar diction and/or concepts, he makes use of the TLL and cites various commentaries and secondary literature in English, German, Italian and French. Readers should be on their guard, however, lest these lists and references lead them to conclude more than Funari claims. Most of the analyzed expressions strike me as mainstream Latin, and their wording exhibits the standard language of the end of the Republic that is well attested in and beyond Cicero and Sallust. For example, Sallust identifies the loss of paternal inheritance, patrimoniis amissis, as one of the causes of corruption of the urban plebs (Cat. 37.5), and Funari shows that Cicero uses similar language to pass a similar moral judgment (p. 31); but Catullus (29.22) and Nepos (Att. 12.3.6) do the same. In fact, the moral judgment awaiting those who squander their patrimony is a topos both in Plautinian comedy and in manuals of rhetoric, where the (good or bad) use of inheritance is recommended as a locus for praise or blame (cf. Rhet. Her. 4.67, with Koster, Die Invektive in der griechischen und römischen Literatur, 1980). Similarly, Sallust characterizes the urban plebs as moved by desire for revolution, rerum novarum studio (37.1, p. 22-3). Funari lists various similar expressions used by Cicero, like studio perditarum rerum (Att. 1.14.6) or rerum novarum cupidi (Att. 9.12.3), but expressions of this sort are equally found in Caesar (cupidum rerum novarum, Gall. 1.18.3 and 5.6.1) and in the Invectiva in Sallustium (19.1). Funari claims that the binomial victus and cultus is Ciceronian and suggests that Sallust took it from him (Cat. 37.6, p. 34); in fact, the same expression is attested not only in Cicero and Caesar (Gall. 6.24.4), as Funari acknowledges, but also in Plautus (Merc. 832) and Nepos (Alc. 11.4). Lastly, Funari suggests that Cicero is the model of Sallust’s usage of res publica governed by compounds from turbo, like conturbo, disturbo and perturbo, but, if we trust the manuscripts of Nepos, Cornelia had already used one of these expressions (ecquando perpudescet miscenda atque perturbanda re publica? Epistula, fr. 1.2).

In short, Funari convincingly shows that Cicero and Sallust shared themes and language; however, since other writers did the same, it does not follow that Sallust took them from Cicero (p. 60).

A nearly exclusive focus on Cicero and Sallust devalues some more persuasive observations, for Sallust does use some motifs and expressions which are first attested in Cicero.

For example, Sallust’s use of sentina indicating the rabble of Rome more convincingly suggests lexical and thematic overlap with Cicero. Funari properly gives the references to Cicero’s consular speeches (Agr. 2.70 and Cat. 1.12 and 2.7), but he could have pointed out that these are the first attestations with this meaning. In this case, then, it is more probable that Cicero influenced Sallust’s language and imagery.

The second thesis, that Cicero and Sallust partook in the same conversation about the decline of the republic, is presented in unconvincing terms in the introduction, but wisely tempered in the conclusion. Rather than displaying a common understanding of the main players and of the social dynamics revealed by the conspiracy (p. 18), Sallust may have appropriated some “elementi tematici e lessicali” from Cicero (p. 60).

The second essay, which appeared as an article in 1999, deals with Sallust’s reliability as a historian in Catilina and Jugurtha. Funari lists and analyzes sixteen passages where Sallust confesses that uncertainty about some sources leaves him unable to vouch for some reported details. For Funari, this critical scrutiny of sources demonstrates Sallust’s scrupulousness as a historian. As in the previous essay, the analysis is thorough, and there is much one can learn from each close reading. In my view, whether proclaimed doubts attest Sallust’s veracity is a different matter. Confessions of uncertainty are fairly typical of ancient historiography, as Funari acknowledges (n. 3, p. 64, where Pauw, Impersonal expressions and unidentified spokesmen in Greek and Roman historiography and biography, 1980 is cited, but the more nuanced Marincola, Authority and tradition in ancient historiography, 1997 is missing); and indeed, rhetorical training recommended dubitatio precisely to strengthen an orator’s credibility (cf. Rhet. Her. 4.40 and Quint. Inst. 9.2.19; with Lausberg § 776-8). Perhaps a discussion about Sallust’s historical veracity could have been grounded more explicitly within the scholarly debate about rhetoric and historiography.

The third essay, which has not been published before, analyzes the concept of superbia in and before Sallust. In the Bellum Catilinae, various characters associate superbia with the nobilitas, but the (mostly) indirect nature of this connection allows Sallust to maintain the fair stance typical of rigorous historians. In the Bellum Jugurthinum, however, superbia moves center stage, and Sallust’s condemnation of the nobilitas is more direct and explicit. Funari rightly understands superbia as excessive self-confidence (e.g., p. 136), which overreaches and leans toward tyrannical rule (p. 133). In her analysis, Yelena Baraz comes to a similar understanding, and it is a pity that Funari does not engage her 2008 piece (“From vice to virtue,” in Kakos ed. R. Rosen and I. Sluiter) on the denigration and rehabilitation of superbia. A short bibliography followed by an index and an index locorum closes the first part of the volume.

The second part opens with a straightforward disclaimer: Duursma does not attempt to offer original research, but an assemblage of testimonia. The seven chapters that follow include a list of sources for Sallust’s life and names (I and II) and for the title, fortune and sources of his works (III, IV and V), an index locorum with the passages cited in the second part of the volume and a succinct bibliography (VI and VII). This collection of material is dry, but incredibly rich and useful: for example, testimonia about Sallust’s life are clearly listed and referenced in chronological order, starting from his birth until his private life after retiring from politics. Duursma does not assess the reliability of such testimonia, so, for example, he properly lists Horace’s statement that Sallust was crazy for freedwomen (Sat. 1.2.47-9, p. 184), even if the identification of this Sallust with the historian remains debated. Chapter IV, about reception, is equally rich and includes an entire section with references of classical authors’ uses of Sallust (pp. 196-203) and judgments about him as a historian, moralist and writer (pp. 204–207). The material is laid out as clearly as it can be, thanks to a division by topic, e.g., archaisms, relation to Greek models, brevitas, etc., and within each topic between neutral, positive and negative assessments. The citations and testimonia about his works are listed alphabetically (chapter V) and span almost one hundred pages.

In short, this volume offers a very helpful collection of material for research on Sallust: in the first part Funari congregates a series of salient passages with plenty of parallels and many solid philological observations; and in the second half, Duursma gathers an unprecedented mass of data, which has much to offer to scholars interested in Sallust.