The emperor Julius Valerius Maiorianus, known to English-speaking posterity as Majorian, was a vigorous and able sovereign. He is conceded to have been one of the last western Roman leaders who made an energetic effort to maintain and improve the empire’s institutions. Even Gibbon, who usually had only snide comments for the later occupants of the Roman throne, condescended to say a good word for him in chapter 36 of his History.Continue reading
Sidonius Apollinaris, who died in 489 A.D., was a diplomat, literary figure, and ecclesiastical official of fifth-century Gaul. He was also a letter-writer of impressive fecundity and erudition; and his powers of memory were so great, we are told, that he was able to recite long liturgies from memory and deliver orations without notes or preparation. One of his letters (II.10), written to a friend named Hesperius, contains the following noteworthy sentence:
In a letter to Titinius Capito, the Roman official and career lawyer Pliny discusses the idea of writing a book of history. Of particular concern to him was the choice of topic: he was uncertain whether he should treat an ancient or a modern subject. Valid arguments existed for both options. An older subject might allow for a more considered perspective, far removed from the passions of immediate memory; whereas the treatment of a current subject might inflame unreasonable emotions in his readers. Pliny has serious doubts about choosing a subject that might be within the living memory of his readers. He summarizes his feelings with this sentence:
Many men are in the habit of seeing only the privileges of the powerful, while failing to take note of the crushing burdens that such men must carry. Nothing in this world is gifted to us for free; there is a price to be paid for every acquisition, every privilege, and every benefit. This cost may not be apparent at first; but over time, it will make itself known.