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Nimietatem frigoris aut caloris vel umoris vel siccitatis pestilentias gignere philosophi et illustres medici tradiderunt. unde accolentes loca palustria vel humecta tusses et oculares casus et similia perferunt, contra confines caloribus tepore febrium arescunt. sed quanto ignis materies ceteris est efficacior, tanto ad perimendum celerior siccitas. hinc cum decennali bello Graecia desudaret ne peregrinus poenas dissociati regalis matrimonii lucraretur, huius modi grassante pernicie telis Apollinis periere complures, qui sol aestimatur. atque ut Thucydides exponit, clades illa, quae in Peloponnesiaci belli principiis Athenienses acerbo genere morbi vexavit, ab usque ferventi Aethiopiae plaga paulatim proserpens Atticam occupavit. aliis placet auras, ut solent, aquasque vitiatas faetore cadaverum vel similibus salubritatis violare maximam partem, vel certe aeris permutationem subitam aegritudines parere leviores. affirmant etiam aliqui terrarum halitu densiore crassatum aera emittendis corporis spiraminibus resistentem necare non nullos, qua causa animalia praeter homines cetera iugiter prona Homero auctore et experimentis deinceps multis, cum talis incesserit labes, ante novimus interire. et prima species luis pandemus adpellatur, quae efficit in aridioribus locis agentes caloribus crebris interpellari, secunda epidemus, quae tempore ingruens acies hebetat luminum et concitat periculosos humores, tertia loemodes, quae itidem temporaria est sed volucri velocitate letabilis.
(Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 19.4.2-7)

Philosophers and eminent physicians have told us that an excess of cold or heat, or of moisture or dryness, produces plagues. Hence those who dwell in marshy or damp places suffer from coughs, from affections of the eyes, and from similar complaints; on the other hand, the inhabitants of hot climates dry up with the heat of fever. But by as much as the substance of fire is fiercer and more effective than the other elements, by so much is drought the swifter to kill. Therefore when Greece was toiling in a ten years’ war in order that a foreigner* might not evade the penalty for separating a royal pair, a scourge of this kind raged and many men perished by the darts of Apollo**, who is regarded as the sun. And, as Thucydides shows***, that calamity which, at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war, harassed the Athenians with a grievous kind of sickness, gradually crept all the way from the torrid region of Africa and laid hold upon Attica. Others believe that when the air, as often happens, and the waters are polluted by the stench of corpses or the like, the greater part of their healthfulness is spoiled, or at any rate that a sudden change of air causes minor ailments. Some also assert that when the air is made heavy by grosser exhalations from the earth, it checks the secretions that should be expelled from the body, and is fatal to some; and it is for that reason, as we know on the authority of Homer**** as well as from many later experiences, that when such a pestilence has appeared, the other animals besides man, which constantly look downward, are the first to perish. Now the first kind of plague is called endemic, and causes those who live in places that are too dry to be cut off by frequent fevers. The second is epidemic, which breaks out at certain seasons of the year, dimming the sight of the eyes and causing a dangerous flow of moisture. The third is loemodes*****, which is also periodic, but deadly from its winged speed.

* Paris, the cause of the Trojan War.
** See Iliad, i. 9 ff. and 43 ff. Apollo was angry because the request of his priest was denied. Ammianus rationalizes the myth, attributing the pestilence to the heat of the sun, and likening its rays to the arrows of the god.
*** Cf. Thuc. ii. 4, 7.
**** Iliad, i. 50, οὐρῆας μὲν πρῶτον ἐπῴχετο καὶ κύνας ἀργούς.
***** Pestilential.

(tr. John C. Rolfe, with his notes)



Tempore quo primis auspiciis in mundanum fulgorem surgeret victura dum erunt homines Roma, ut augeretur sublimibus incrementis, foedere pacis aeternae Virtus convenit atque Fortuna plerumque dissidentes, quarum si altera defuisset, ad perfectam non venerat summitatem. eius populus ab incunabulis primis ad usque pueritiae tempus extremum, quod annis circumcluditur fere trecentis, circummurana pertulit bella, deinde aetatem ingressus adultam post multiplices bellorum aerumnas Alpes transcendit et fretum, in iuvenem erectus et virum ex omni plaga quam orbis ambit immensus, reportavit laureas et triumphos, iamque vergens in senium et nomine solo aliquotiens vincens ad tranquilliora vitae discessit. ideo urbs venerabilis post superbas efferatarum gentium cervices oppressas latasque leges fundamenta libertatis et retinacula sempiterna velut frugi parens et prudens et dives Caesaribus tamquam liberis suis regenda patrimonii iura permisit. et olim licet otiosae sint tribus pacataeque centuriae et nulla suffragiorum certamina set Pompiliani redierit securitas temporis, per omnes tamen quotquot sunt partes terrarum, ut domina suscipitur et regina et ubique patrum reverenda cum auctoritate canities populique Romani nomen circumspectum et verecundum. sed laeditur hic coetuum magnificus splendor levitate paucorum incondita, ubi nati sunt non reputantium, sed tamquam indulta licentia vitiis ad errores lapsorum ac lasciviam. ut enim Simonides lyricus docet, beate perfecta ratione victuro ante alia patriam esse convenit gloriosam. ex his quidam aeternitati se commendari posse per statuas aestimantes eas ardenter adfectant quasi plus praemii de figmentis aereis sensu carentibus adepturi, quam ex conscientia honeste recteque factorum, easque auro curant imbratteari, quod Acilio Glabrioni delatum est primo, cum consiliis armisque regem superasset Antiochum. quam autem sit pulchrum exigua haec spernentem et minima ad ascensus verae gloriae tendere longos et arduos, ut memorat vates Ascraeus, Censorius Cato monstravit. Qui interrogatus quam ob rem inter multos ipse statuam non haberet, “malo” inquit “ambigere bonos quam ob rem id non meruerim, quam (quod est gravius) cur impetraverim mussitare.”
(Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 14.6.3-8)

At the time when Rome first began to rise into a position of world-wide splendour, destined to live so long as men shall exist, in order that she might grow to a towering stature, Virtue and Fortune, ordinarily at variance, formed a pact of eternal peace; for if either one of them had failed her, Rome had not come to complete supremacy. Her people, from the very cradle to the end of their childhood, a period of about three hundred years, carried on wars about her walls. Then, entering upon adult life, after many toilsome wars, they crossed the Alps and the sea. Grown to youth and manhood, from every region which the vast globe includes, they brought back laurels and triumphs. And now, declining into old age, and often owing victory to its name alone, it has come to a quieter period of life. Thus the venerable city, after humbling the proud necks of savage nations, and making laws, the everlasting foundations and moorings of liberty, like a thrifty parent, wise and wealthy, has entrusted the management of her inheritance to the Caesars, as to her children. And although for some time the tribes have been inactive and the centuries at peace, and there are no contests for votes but the tranquillity of Numa’s time has returned, yet throughout all regions and parts of the earth she is accepted as mistress and queen; everywhere the white hair of the senators and their authority are revered and the name of the Roman people is respected and honoured. But this magnificence and splendour of the assemblies is marred by the rude worthlessness of a few, who do not consider where they were born, but, as if licence were granted to vice, descend to sin and wantonness. For as the lyric poet Simonides tells us, one who is going to live happy and in accord with perfect reason ought above all else to have a glorious fatherland. Some of these men eagerly strive for statues, thinking that by them they can be made immortal, as if they would gain a greater reward from senseless brazen images than from the consciousness of honourable and virtuous conduct. And they take pains to have them overlaid with gold, a fashion first introduced by Acilius Glabrio, after his skill and his arms had overcome King Antiochus. But how noble it is, scorning these slight and trivial honours, to aim to tread the long and steep ascent to true glory, as the bard of Ascra expresses it, is made clear by Cato the Censor. For when he was asked why he alone among many did not have a statue, he replied: “I would rather that good men should wonder why I did not deserve one than (which is much worse) should mutter ‘Why was he given one?'” (tr. John C. Rolfe)


Hans Baldung Grien, Die Hexen (1510)

Per id omne tempus Palladius ille, coagulum omnium aerumnarum, quem captum a Fortunatiano docuimus primum, ipsa sortis infimitate ad omnia praeceps, clades alias super alias cumulando lacrimis universa perfuderat luctuosis. nanctus enim copiam nominandi sine fortunarum distantia quos voluisset ut artibus interdictis imbutos, ita ut ferarum occulta vestigia doctus observare venator, multos intra casses lugubres includebat, quosdam veneficiorum notitia pollutos, alios ut adpetitoribus inminuendae conscios maiestatis. et ne vel coniugibus maritorum vacaret miserias flere, inmittebantur confestim qui signatis domibus inter scrutinia suppellectilis poenis addicti, incantamenta quaedam anilia vel ludibriosa subderent amatoria, ad insontium perniciem concinnata: quibus in iudicio recitatis, ubi non lex, non religio, non aequitas veritatem a mendaciis dirimebat, indefensi bonis ablatis, nullo contacti delicto, promiscue iuvenes aliique membris omnibus capti ad supplicia sellis gestatoriis ducebantur. inde factum est per orientales provincias ut omnes metu similium exurerent libraria omnia: tantus universos invaserat terror. Namque ut pressius loquar, omnes ea tempestate velut in Cimmeriis tenebris reptabamus, paria convivis Siculi Dionysii pavitantes, qui cum epulis omni tristioribus fame saginarentur, ex summis domorum laqueariis, in quibus discumbebant, setis nexos equinis et occipitiis incumbentes gladios perhorrebant.
(Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae

During all this time, the notorious Palladius, the fomenter of all these troubles, who, as we said at first, was taken in custody by Fortunatianus, being by the very lowness of his condition ready to plunge into anything, by heaping disaster on disaster, had drenched the whole empire with grief and tears. For having gained leave to name all whom he desired, without distinction of fortune, as dabbling in forbidden practices, like a hunter skilled in observing the secret tracks of wild beasts, he entangled many persons in his lamentable nets, some of them on the ground of having stained themselves with the knowledge of magic, others as accomplices of those who were aiming at treason. And in order that even wives should have no time to weep over the misfortunes of their husbands, men were immediately sent to put the seal* on the houses, and during the examination of the furniture of the householder who had been condemned, to introduce privily old-wives’ incantations or unbecoming love-potions, contrived for the ruin of innocent people. And when these were in a court where there was no law or scruple or justice to distinguish truth from falsehood, without opportunity for defence young and old without discrimination were robbed of their goods and, although they were found stained by no fault, after being maimed in all their limbs were carried off in litters to execution. As a result, throughout the oriental provinces owners of books, through fear of a like fate, burned their entire libraries; so great was the terror that had seized upon all. Indeed, to speak briefly, at that time we all crept about as if in Cimmerian darkness, feeling the same fears as the guests of the Sicilian Dionysius, who, while filled to repletion with banquets more terrible than any possible hunger, saw with a shudder the swords hanging over their heads from the ceilings of the rooms in which they reclined and held only by single horsehairs.

* Until the owner should be acquitted or condemned; in the latter case his house and property went to the fiscus.

(tr. John C. Rolfe, with his note)



Magiam opinionum insignium auctor amplissimus Plato hagistiam esse verbo mystico docet, divinorum incorruptissimum cultum, cuius scientiae saeculis priscis multa ex Chaldaeorum arcanis Bactrianus addidit Zoroastres, deinde Hystaspes rex prudentissimus Darei pater. qui cum superioris Indiae secreta fidentius penetraret, ad nemorosam quandam venerat solitudinem, cuius tranquillis silentiis praecelsa Brachmanorum ingenia potiuntur, eorumque monitu rationes mundani motus et siderum, purosque sacrorum ritus (quantum colligere potuit) eruditus, ex his, quae didicit, aliqua sensibus magorum infudit, quae illi cum disciplinis praesentiendi futura, per suam quisque progeniem, posteris aetatibus tradunt.
(Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 23.6.32-33)

According to Plato, the most eminent author of lofty ideas, magic, under the mystic name of hagistia, is the purest worship of the gods. To the science of this, derived from the secret lore of the Chaldaeans, in ages long past the Bactrian Zoroaster made many contributions, and after him the wise king Hystaspes, the father of Darius. When Zoroaster had boldly made his way into the unknown regions of Upper India, he reached a wooded wilderness, whose calm silence the lofty intellects of the Brahmins control. From their teaching he learned as much as he could grasp of the laws regulating the movements of the earth and the stars, and of the pure sacrificial rites. Of what he had learned he communicated something to the understanding of the Magi, which they, along with the art of divining the future, hand on from generation to generation to later times. (tr. John C. Rolfe)


Civilitatis autem hoc apud eos est nunc summum, quod expedit peregrino fratrem interficere cuiuslibet, quam cum rogatus sit ad convivium excusare: defectum enim patrimonii se opimi perpeti senator existimat, si is defuerit quem aliquotiens libratis sententiis, invitaverit semel. pars eorum si agros visuri processerunt longius, aut alienis laboribus venaturi, Alexandri Magni itinera se putant aequiperasse, vel Caesaris: aut si a lacu Averni lembis invecti sunt pictis Puteolos, velleris certamen, maxime cum id vaporato audeant tempore. ubi si inter aurata flabella laciniis sericis insederint muscae, vel per foramen umbraculi pensilis radiolus irruperit solis, queruntur quod non sunt apud Cimmerios nati.
(Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 28.4.17-18)

But the height of refinement with these men at present is, that it is better for a stranger to kill any man’s brother than to decline his invitation to dinner. For a senator thinks that he is suffering the loss of a rich property, if the man whom he has, after considerable weighing of pros and cons, invited once, fails to appear at his table. Some of them, if they make a longish journey to visit their estates, or to hunt by the labours of others, think that they have equalled the marches of Alexander the Great or of Caesar; or if they have sailed in their gaily-painted boats from the Lake of Avernus to Puteoli, it is the adventure of the golden fleece, especially if they should dare it in the hot season. And if amid the gilded fans flies have lighted on the silken fringes, or through a rent in the hanging curtain a little ray of sun has broken in, they lament that they were not born in the land of the Cimmerians. (tr. John C. Rolfe)


Et quamquam ut bestiarii obiceremur intractabilibus feris, perpendentes tamen hoc bonum habere tristia accidentia, quod in locum suum secunda substituunt, mirabamur illam sententiam Tullianam, ex internis veritatis ipsius promulgatam, quae est talis: “et quamquam optatissimum est perpetuo fortunam quam florentissimam permanere, illa tamen aequalitas vitae non tantum habet sensum, quantum cum ex miseria et perditis rebus ad meliorem statum fortuna revocatur.”
(Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 15.5.23)

But although we were, like gladiators, cast before ravening wild beasts, yet reflecting that melancholy events after all have this good sequel, that they give way to good fortune, we admired that saying of Tully’s*, delivered even from the inmost depths of truth itself, which runs as follows: “And although it is most desirable that our fortune always remain wholly favourable, yet that evenness of life does not give so great a sense of satisfaction as when, after wretchedness and disaster, fortune is recalled to a better estate.”

* i.e. Cicero’s

(tr. John C. Rolfe)


Tertius eorum est ordo, qui ut in professione turbulenta clarescant, ad expugnandam veritatem ora mercenaria procudentes, per prostitutas frontes vilesque latratus, quo velint aditus sibi patefaciunt crebros: qui inter sollicitudines iudicum per multa distentas, irresolubili nexu vincientes negotia, laborant, ut omnis quies litibus implicetur, et nodosis quaestionibus de industria iudicia circumscribunt, quae cum recte procedunt, delubra sunt aequitatis: cum depravantur, foveae fallaces et caecae: in quas si captus ceciderit quisquam, non nisi per multa exsiliet lustra, ad usque ipsas medullas exsuctus.
(Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 30.4.13)

A third group* consists of those who, in order to gain glory by their troublous profession, sharpen their venal tongues to attack the truth, and with shameless brow and base yelping often gain entrance wherever they wish. When the anxious judges are distracted by many cares, they tie up the business in an inexplicable tangle, and do their best to involve all peace and quiet in lawsuits and purposely by knotty inquisitions they deceive the courts, which, when their procedure is right, are temples of justice, when corrupted, are deceptive and hidden pits: and if anyone is deluded and falls into those pits, he will not get out except after many a term of years, when he has been sucked dry to his very marrow.

* of the “powerful and rapacious classes of men flitting from one forum to another, besieging the homes of the wealthy” (30.4.8).

(tr. John C. Rolfe)



Nemo apud eos arat nec stivam aliquando contingit. omnes enim sine sedibus fixis, absque lare vel lege aut victu stabili dispalantur, semper fugientium similes, cum carpentis in quibus habitant: ubi coniuges taetra illis vestimenta contexunt, et coeunt cum maritis, et pariunt, et ad usque pubertatem nutriunt pueros. nullusque apud eos interrogatus respondere unde oritur potest, alibi conceptus natusque procul, et longius educatus.
(Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 31.2.10)

No one in their country* ever plows a field or touches a plow-handle. They are all without fixed abode, without hearth, or law, or settled mode of life, and keep roaming from place to place, like fugitives, accompanied by the wagons in which they live; in wagons their wives weave for them their hideous garments, in wagons they cohabit with their p387husbands, bear children, and rear them to the age of puberty. None of their offspring, when asked, can tell you where he comes from, since he was conceived in one place, born far from there, and brought up still farther away.

* that of the Huns.

(tr. John C. Rolfe)