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Reading at Random in Classical Literature

Archive for the ‘Scriptores Historiae Augustae’ Category

“Julius Capitolinus”, Pertinax 14.1-2

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Another excerpt from the dubious set of emperors’ biographies know as the Historia Augusta, this time on Pertinax, who ruled for only a few months in 193.

signa interitus haec fuerunt: ipse ante triduum quam occideretur in piscina sibi visus est videre hominem cum gladio infestantem, et ea die qua occisus est negabant in oculis eius pupulas cum imaginibus, quas reddunt, spectantibus visas.

These were the omens of his death: on the third day before he was killed, he looked into a pool of water and thought he saw a man attacking him with a sword. And on that very day when he was killed they said that the pupils of his eyes, and the pictures which they reflect, were invisible to anyone who looked at him.

Written by aleatorclassicus

October 10, 2012 at 12:00 PM

Hadrian, To his Soul

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Allegedly written by the Emperor Hadrian on his deathbed (“et moriens quidem hos versus fecisse dicitur”) and therefore quite famous, in the original and in translations (by Byron among others). However, we shouldn’t forget that this poem is quoted by the shady character “Aelius Spartianus” (Life of Hadrian 25.9), whom we’ve already encountered, so we can be excused for maybe having doubts about its authenticity.

animula vagula blandula,
hospes comesque corporis,
quae nunc abibis in loca
pallidula rigida nudula,
nec ut soles dabis iocos.

My little soul, inconstant yet charming, my body’s guest and companion, into what regions you are now retiring, a pale, cold, naked little thing; you will not give me the fun you used to.

Aelius Spartianus wasn’t impressed by this effort:

tales autem nec multo meliores fecit et Graecos.

He wrote poems like (and not much better than) this one, as well as Greek ones.

Written by aleatorclassicus

September 4, 2010 at 12:00 PM

“Aelius Spartianus”, Hadrian 2.8

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In this passage from the Historia Augusta, a collection of imperial biographies of dubious authorship, the young Hadrian opens the text of Virgil at random in search of an oracular message (just as people in more recent times have done with the Bible). He gets an encouraging answer from Aeneid 6.808-812!

quo quidem tempore cum sollicitus de imperatoris erga se iudicio Vergilianas sortes consuleret,

quis procul ille autem ramis insignis olivae
sacra ferens? nosco crines incanaque menta
regis Romani primam qui legibus urbem
fundabit Curibus parvis et paupere terra
missus in imperium magnum, cui deinde subibit…

sors excidit, quam alii ex Sibyllinis versibus ei provenisse dixerunt.

At this time, when he was worried about the emperor’s [i.e. Trajan’s] opinion of him, he consulted the ‘Virgilian oracles’, and out came the oracle:

But who is that man far off, remarkable for boughs of olive
and carrying sacred objects? I recognise the hair
and the hoary beard of a Roman king, who will lay the city’s foundations
with laws, a man sent from little Cures and its poor land
to great power. Then after him shall come…

Others have said that this oracle came to him from the Sibylline verses.

Written by aleatorclassicus

July 10, 2010 at 12:00 PM