J.G.W. Henderson, Fighting for Rome: Poets and Caesars, History and Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Pp. x + 348. ISBN 0-521-58026-9. UK£45.00, US$69.95.
Department of Classics, University of the Witwatersrand
To find out about war/RAW read the heavily allusive idiolect/licet I)DI/W| LO/GW| gnomona scribere of John Henderson. Neat in some 350 pages, the style takes some getting used to, but it underscores a damning indictment of the effects of civil war and the autocracies that resulted from it on Rome. Where ancient historians would try to recreate the facts, Henderson has given us illuminating insight into a very important, and to a modern, an embarrassingly sensitive, aspect of the Roman mentality. He maintains that although Rome valued valour, foreign conquest and triumph, its history was in fact dominated by civil war. Foreign conquest and empire building are hardly referred to; the subject of the book is internal conflict. It is in fact a collection of previously published essays, which explains some of the gaps in the treatment. Close reading of the ancient texts and 'powerful' translation (p. i) will reveal the terror of Rome.
The introduction makes it clear that 'fighting for Rome' is not 'pro' Rome, but fighting to gain absolute political power.
The book analyses features of Appian's account of the proscriptions under the Second Triumvirate, then Caesar's apology for his civil war, two poems of Horace that refer to the civil wars of the 40's and 30's, Lucan's 'poem of outrage' (p. 4) on Caesar's war, Statius on fraternal strife in the mythical period at Thebes, Tacitus on Nero (largely) and Livy on presenting a panorama of Rome.
Chapter 1, 'Three Men in a Vote: proscription (Appian Civil Wars 4.1-6)' (pp. 11-36), concentrates on the horror of the peculiarly Roman method of terror, the proscriptions. Is one expected to recall from the title Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat and the quarrelsomeness underlying the humour, and if not . . . ? Formalised murder by decree shows the 'implosion' (p. 14, a favourite metaphor) of the republic. The after-effects in the Augustan period are noted in the careers of survivors, many of them consuls, under the man who had agreed to their deaths many years before. Henderson asks (pp. xv, 24) whether Horace was among the proscribed.[] One's first reaction to the suggestion is one of scepticism: Horace was not a member of the aristocracy and, in spite of the education his father gave him, not among the wealthiest. The idea depends on the comment of Pseudo-Acron on Epod. 2.2.41: Horatius cum aliis proscriptus est, id est hereditate priuatus. It would seem that proscriptus is being used in a restricted sense here, referring to loss of property alone, not to a sentence of death.
Henderson notes Syme's 'drily sado-dispassionate eye' (p. 20) in treating the same period, but carries it deeper and on a broader scale with apt quotation. The lethal combination of autocracy and anarchy is made fully apparent. The analysis of the triumvirs' use of documentation is very illuminating. Henderson is also concerned with how later authors 'fixed' the events in their literary accounts. Hence a discussion of the edict of proscription as preserved in Appian and a highlighting of his frequent use of GRA/FEIN and its compounds.
Henderson's stylistic effects underline his points. There are frequent apt quotations from modern writers. Shock words are substituted in well-worn phrases, as the triumvirs 'write' every wrong (p. 12, for 'right'). Modern scholars 'have their own writes' (p. 29). Latin terms are jerked into contemporaneity by new equivalents like 'supremo', 'blacklist', 'flying squad', and correspondences found for new formations: Cicero's ita sullaturit animus eius et proscripturit iam diu (Att. 9.10) becomes 'for his mind is Sullavatin' 'n' proscripturatin' long since' (p. 16). Henderson's application of his acute linguistic sensibility to normally sidelined or dismissed 'secondary' sources has produced an excellent result.
So too his analysis of the school text Caesar. However, the emphasis in chapter 2, 'XPDNC: Writing Caesar (On the civil war)' (pp. 37-72), is not on the terror, as in chapter 1 (which will be featured in the analysis of Lucan's account of the war in chapter 5), but on Caesars' self-justification of his role in civil war. Henderson begins by placing heavy emphasis on the (unquoted) letter which Caesar sent to the senate in 49 (Caes. BC 1.1) containing his conditions for not proceeding with armed confrontation. He seizes the moral high-ground and retains that position impervious to criticism or event throughout. His account of the debate is correct, apparently neutral (but the absent Pompey is allowed to obtrude in 1.2.1; 2.6). Henderson then takes part in the debate in person qua Roman senator (p. 38) and exposes Caesar's hidden agenda. (This has the useful effect of involving the modern reader, trained at school to regard Caesar as a series of lexical and syntactical problems obstructing translation into English, in the real issue.) We are made to assess Caesar's rhetoric. There follows a skilful analysis of the importance of programmatic writing (in 'letters' to the other side) and the effect of Caesar's writing on our assessment of his position (p. 42). There is possible over- simplification, as in the assimilation of the Bellum Gallicum and the Bellum Civile, certainly not a Roman attitude at the time. (Is 'BC VIII' [p. 50] just a misprint for 'BG VIII'?) But the exposé of Caesar is devastating. Henderson has succeeded in updating Caesar's monographs as stark contemporary documents, to be taken seriously and in depth.
In chapter 3, 'On Getting Rid of Kings: Horace, Satires 1.7' (pp. 73-107), Henderson turns to Horace. He acknowledges the fact that Horace's actions during the triumviral period and under the Augustan system are hard to reconcile: did he remain loyal to the tyrannicides or become a turncoat? As Henderson admits, Horace's reticence is difficult to fathom. He then focuses on the little-noticed but hard to interpret satire (Hor. Sat. 1.7) about a provincial law case introducing Brutus (but only in the last two fifths of the poem). At the end Brutus is urged to condemn the defendant; his cognomen of Rex allows a pun on Brutus' actions on the Ides of March. One may quibble that this pun on King at the end and the appearances of the term proscriptus at the outset are insufficient to regard this as a poem solely on civil war and autocracy. Horace gives little background. The defendant, P. Rupilius Rex of Praeneste (Palestrina), is prominently labelled 'proscribed' (1ine 1). The scholiasts say that he was an ex- praetor: modern commentators compare the P. Rupilius who was the manager (magister) of a company of tax-collectors in Bithynia mentioned by Cicero in a pre-war letter (Fam. 13.9). Horace locates him at Clazomenae (Klazümen near Urla which was close to Smyrna [Izmir], where Brutus and Cassius met in November 43 to decide strategy for the coming war against the Caesarians.) He was accused by a Graecus (line 32), used pejoratively in the forensic context: the accuser's name was Persius, a respectable enough Roman name, not to be assigned, as Henderson does (p. 78), associations with the king of Persia, for which the adjective would be Persicus. In fact, it is probably Etruscan.[] He was probably a prouincialis, i.e., a Roman citizen resident in the province. Horace designates him hybrida (1ine 2): those of mixed descent were normally despised, but the republicans had been forced to recruit hybridi against Caesar (BAfr. 19) and Cicero's co-consul had the cognomen of Hibrida. Persius was in fact a very wealthy businessman. At this juncture Brutus' main objective in Asia was to raise finance for the coming war. One may suspect that the proscribed Rupilius had rehabilitated himself financially and was proving useful to Brutus in the area. In spite of the ostentatious condemnation of another ex-praetor for embezzlement (Plut. Brut. 35), Brutus was ruthless in financial matters: Cicero had disapproved of his treatment of his debtors the Salaminians in Cyprus (Att. 5.21) and he was on his way to the city of Xanthus (Kinik) which he was to punish brutally for not having provided funds and supplies for his war effort (App. BCiv. 4.76-80).
Brutus heard the case as governor: the old fashioned term of praetor (1ine 18) is applied to him, but as praetor of 'rich' Asia. (Tacitus [Agr. 6] later also called the province diues and parata peccantibus. On the temptations of Asia, cf. Cic. QFr. 1.1.19.) The word conuentus (1ine 23) for 'assize' is technical, as is the legal phraseology (1ines 9f, 20). Horace does not tell us the outcome of the trial: instead, the poem ends with the word play on Rupilius' cognomen which involved Brutus (in praise or discomfort?). Why should Horace relate an obscure event in a remote province? Henderson (p. 74) accepts that Horace was present. In fact (a phrase Henderson distrusts), a prominent participant. As military tribune he would have been part of Brutus' cohors (line 23) or official entourage, like those listed as assisting the governor in the same province of Asia during the Civil War by Josephus (AJ 14.238f.). And Horace may have evinced an interest in the law. He has his esteemed father holding up the iudices selecti (those selected from the equestrian order [to which Horace belonged as a military tribune] for jury service) for admiration.[] Henderson (pp. 98f.) sees the 'message' of the satire in the recalling to mind of the violence used by Brutus to realize his political objectives in Rome. Perhaps something more. Romans could be indignant about exploitation in the provinces, as Cicero against Verres, or, later, Pliny and Tacitus. Is there criticism of Brutus' provincial administration? Persius (1ine 35) says that it is part of Brutus' business (operum tuorum est) to see that justice is done. Kiessling/Heinze ponderously elucidate as follows: 'die pflichtmässigen Obliegenheiten, deren Besorgung man von einem Brutus erwartet'. As well as a satire on Roman politics we have an exposé of a routine trial by a governor on assize: Horace alerts us to power factors that could distort the administration of justice for provincials.
Chapter 4. 'Polishing off the Politics: Horace's Ode to Pollio (Odes 2.1)' (pp. 108-64), is devoted to Horace on Pollio, a participant in the Civil Wars who survived -- if compromised, still respected.
Part III, Epic, deals with Lucan (Chapter 5 'The Word at War', pp. 165-211), and Statius' Thebaid (Chapter 6 'Statius' Thebaid: form [p]re- made', pp. 212-57). We are shown how the poets bring us face-to-face with the actualities of war and the psychology of the powermongers behind it.
Part IV returns to the historians. They receive the same careful linguistic and stylistic analyses as had the poets. Chapter 7, 'Tacitus: the World in Pieces' (pp. 257-300), is devoted to Tacitus. Henderson concentrates on the Neronian books, with interesting flashbacks to Tiberius (Nero is a Tiberius in reverse [p. 266]). At the outset Tacitus' purpose and achievement is deduced from the proemium to the Annals, referred to on several occasions. Though he used an old genre, the annalistic, which was peculiarly moulded for recounting the history of the Republic and the working of its political system, Tacitus in fact succeeded in showing how tyranny, even when disguised as principatus, became a system which did not even bother to abolish the old Republican constitutional baggage. It had the complaisance of the fawning elite (p. 276), the nobles who had survived but lost their moral fibre. Julius Caesar is fitted in as the first autocrat (p. 259), recalling the undermining of his 'writing' in chapter 2. Augustus and the Julio-Claudians continued his work, but Henderson does not trace the links from Caesar to Nero.
Henderson's stylistic effects continue: analysis has become 'Annalysis' (even in a French quotation [p. 260]: cf. 'ironize' [ibid.]; 'sucksession' [p. 275], which is used to pinpoint senatorial abdication of responsibility in the face of new routes to self- advancement. In a Symean fashion, Henderson rewrites Tacitus in abbreviation, bringing out his points of condemnation more starkly; cf. his treatment of Tacitus' double assessment of Augustus [pp. 271f.]). But the result can be unfair to Tacitean complexity: to take a detail, the son of Tiberius' 'star-gazer' (p. 280) was in fact a distinguished literary figure (Sen. QNat. 4.2) who ultimately became governor of Egypt (Claudius Balbillus, PIR C 813 + p. xxi) and to the Romans astrology was not just bamboozling, a science in fact, and Tiberius' astrologer (Thrasyllus, PIR T 137) was a respected mathematician and philosopher (with a book all of his own).[] C. Julius Vestinus Atticus, consul in the year of the Pisonian conspiracy, deserves more sophisticated contextualisation than he is given (p. 261). He was an important upholder of a more independent Rome. He came from Narbonensis, then a breeding ground of 'traditionalist' senators, like Tacitus himself, to accept one theory about his origins. Sodalitas is hardly 'friendship': rather 'association'. Vestinus in fact belonged to the sodalitas Claudialium Augustalium, the elite brotherhood responsible for the cult of divus Claudius.[] Surely the etymology of Atticus misleads. It is true that his hometown of Vienne (Vienna) was not devoid of Greek influence, situated as it was between the university towns of Marseilles (Massilia) and Autun (Augustodunum).[] Vestinus could have used his second cognomen to refer to Attica and Athens. But as the Ciceronian Atticus shows, the reference was to culture, not politics, and 'democrat' (p. 261) is anachronistic. Vestinus was in fact a precursor of the sort of senator Tacitus admired, namely Agricola, also of Narbonese origin. Atticus, in fact is not a rare cognomen in Narbonensis: it derives from a Celtic root,[] but Henderson could of course argue that Vestinus interpreted it à la grecque. Not a helpful etymology, like that offered for Sagitta: this is hardly likely to recall the arrow of Cupid, in spite of the love story told by Tacitus of him. He was a tribune of the plebs (cf. Pliny Ep. 1.23 trying to reassert the dignity of this tribunate), the son of an important member of the equestrian order under Augustus. He had in fact failed to be a Vestinus. If the Romans had thought of the meaning of his name Arrow at all, it would have been to recall his descent from a military figure: in the late Republic and early Empire soldiers were in the habit of arrogating the names of weapons and other militaria as cognomina (cf. Pontius' Pilatus). The moral of the story could be: passion destroys the upward mobility of (great- )grandfather, who was a soldier or centurion, to the father, who was an officer, to the son, who was commencing a senatorial path. It is unfortunate that Henderson does not speculate on the remark in the life of Lucan by Vacca that Lucan wrote two essays on Sagitta: the result would have been interesting. Even moderns, such as Frank Goodyear (p. 277), get the etymology treatment in Henderson.
Henderson's Nero is portrayed brilliantly. The actor- emperor is put on the screen as a racing driver, and could there be a better translation of qualis artifex pereo than 'I am the last movie'? Chapter 8, 'Livy and the invention of history' (pp. 301-19), on Livy, is devoted to the problem he faced in 'writing Rome into a history book' (p. 301) and settling the point at which he should end his work (p. 313): this would have determined his post- Augustan re-ordering of Roman identity (p. 319).
So much for dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (Hor. Od. 3.2). R.G.M. Nisbet tried to soften its impact by proposing the emendation dulci et decorum est pro patria mori ('it is fitting to die for the dear fatherland', i.e., the fatherland is now dear, not death for it) but he has been challenged: the debate continues.[]
Henderson may be criticized for sometimes isolating persons and events from their contexts, and so skewing their full significance. His translations sometimes increase the decibels of the Latin, but what he has to say is innovative and of primary importance. He has made us realize that the Latin writers of the Late Republic and Early Empire were appalled by violence and its cover-up by authoritarian power-figures. Several made their own accommodation with the situation,[] but exposed the underlying realities all the same. It is the achievement of Henderson to have pierced the ancient rhetoric and much superficial modern scholarship and to have enabled us to realise some of the issues involved in Roman civil war and the cost of its suppression. He operates with the centres of power. We seldom see the ordinary participant, as in Propertius' haunting poem 1.21 or the soldier in the civil war of 69 who, after slaying a fellow Roman legionary and then surveying his face, saw that it was his own father (Tac. Hist. 3.25).[] But this is perhaps the subject of another book.
[] Cf. F. Hinard, Les proscriptions (Rome 1985) 485, for the evidence.
[] W. Schulze, Zur Geschichte lateinischer Eigennamen (Berlin 1904 reprinted 1966) 88.
[] Sat. 1.4.123. L.R. Taylor, 'Republican and Augustan Writers Enrolled in the Equestrian Census', TAPhA XCIX (1968) 478, argued that Horace was referring to himself as a iudex in Sat. 2.7.54.
[] H. Tarrant, Thrasyllan Platonism (Ithaca, New York 1993).
[] Année Épigraphique 1946, 124. Nero was also a member (ILS 5025).
[] Tac. Agr. 4; Ann. 2.143, and note Pliny Ep. 4.22 on its Greek games later under Trajan.
[] A. Holder, Alt-celtischer Sprachschatz I (Graz 1896, reprinted 1961) 275.
[] R.G.M. Nisbet, 'A Rival Teubner Horace', CR XXXVI (1986) 231 = Collected Papers (Oxford 1995) 197. Nisbet noted the challenge to his interpretation in an appendix to the latter version of the review (p. 433, n. 12).
[] Horace's auream . . . mediocritatem (Od. 2.10), Tacitus' obsequiumque ac modestiam, si industria ac uigor adsint (Agr. 42.5).
[] uoce flebili precabatur placatos patris manis, neue se ut parricidam auersarentur: publicum id facinus; et unum militem quotam ciuilium armorum partem?.