Category Archives: Roman Empire

Item of the Day: Polybius, translated by Edward Spelman (1743)

Full Title: A Fragment Out of the Sixth Book of Polybius, Containing a Dissertation upon Government in general, particularly applied to That of the Romans, together with a Description of the several Powers of Consuls, Senate, and People of Rome. Translated from the Greek with Notes. To which is prefixed a Preface, wherein the System of Polybius is applied to the Government of England: And, to the above-mentioned Fragment concerning the Powers of the Senate, is annexed a Dissertation upon the Constitution of it. By a Gentleman. London: Printed by J. Tettenham, and sold by W. Meyer . . . , M.DCC.XLIII. [1743].

 

Of the several FORMS of GOVERNMENT: Of the Origin, and natural Transition of those Governments to one another: That the best Constitution is That, which is compounded of all of them; and that the Constitution of the Romans is such a one.

Concerning those Greek Commonwealths, which have often encreased in Power, and often, to their Ruine, experienced a contrary Turn of Fortune, it is an easy Matter both to relate past Transactions, and foretel those to come; there being no great Difficulty, either in recounting what one knows, or in publishing Conjectures of future Events, from those that are past. But concerning the Roman commonwealth, it is not at all easy, either to give an account of the present State of their Affairs, by Reason of the Variety of their Institutions; or to foretel what may happen to them, through the Ignorance of the peculiar Frame of their government, both publick and private, upon which such Conjectures must be founded. For which Reason, an uncommon Attention and Enquiry seem requisite, to form a clear Idea of the Points, in which the Roman Commonwealth differs from Those of Greece.

It is, I find, customary with those, who professedly treat this Subject, to establish three Sorts of Government; kindly Government, Aristocracy, and Democracy: Upon which, one may, I think, very properly ask them, whether they lay these down as the only Forms of Government, or, as the best: For, in both Cases, they seem to be in an Error; since it is manifest that the best Form of Government is That which is compounded of all three. This we not only find to be founded in Reason, but also in Experience; Lycurgus having set the Example of this Form of Goverment in the Institution of the Lacedaemonian Commonwealth. Besides, these three are not to be received as the only Forms; since we may have observed some monarchical and tyrannical Governments, which, though widely different from kingly Government, seem still to bear some Resemblance to it. For which Reason, all Monarchs agree in using their utmost Endeavours, however falsely, or abusively, to be styled Kings. We may have also observed still more Oligarchies, which seemed, in some Degree, to resemble Artistocracies, though the Difference between them has been extremely great. The same Thing may be said also of Democracy.

What I have advanced, will become evident from the following Considerations; for, every Monarchy is not presently to be called a kingly Government, but only That, which is the Gift of a willing People, and is founded on their Consent, rather than on Fear and Violence. Neither, is every Oligarchy to be looked upon as Aristocracy, but only That, which is administered by a select Number of those, who are most eminent for their Justice and Prudence. In the same Manner, that Government ought not to be looked upon as a Democracy, where the Multitude have a Power of doing whatever they desire and propose; but That only, in which it is an established Law and Custom to worship the Gods, to honour their Parents, to respect their Elders, and obey the Laws; when, in Assemblies so formed, every Thing is decided by the Majority, such a Government deserves the Name of a Democracy.

So that, six Kinds of Government must be allowed; three, which are generally established, and have been already mentioned; and three, that are allied to them, namely, Monarchy, Oligarchy and the Government of the Multitude. The first of these is instituted by Nature, without the Assistance of Art: The next is kingly Government, which is derived from the other by Art, and Improvement; when this degenerates into the Evil, that is allied to it, I mean, Tyranny, the Destruction of the Tyrant gives Birth to Aristocracy; which, degenerating also, according to the Nature of Things, into Oligarchy, the People, inflamed with Anger, revenge the Injustice of their Magistrates, and form a Democracy; from the Insolence of which, and their Contempt of the Laws, arises, in Time, the Government of the Multitude.

Whoever examines, with Attention, the natural Principles, the Birth, and Revolution of each of these Forms of Government, will be convinced of the Truth of what I have advanced: For he alone, who knows in what Manner each of them is produced, can form a Judgment of the Encrease, the Perfection, the Revolution, and the End of each; and when, by what Means, and to which of the former States they will return. I thought this Detail, in a particular Manner, applicable to the Roman Government, because the Establishment and Encrease of That was, from the Beginning, founded on Nature. . . .

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Filed under 1740's, Constitution, Eighteenth century, Government, Greek/Roman Translations, Political Philosophy, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Roman Empire

Item of the Day: Gibbon’s Decline and Fall (1797)

Full Title: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. By Edward Gibbon, Esq. Volume the Third. A New Edition. London: Printed for a. Strahan; and T. Cadell Jun. and W. Davies (Successors to Mr. Cadell) in the Strand, M.DCC.XCVII.

See earlier post here.

Chap. XX.

The Motives, Progress, and Effects of the Conversion of Constantine.–Legal Establishment and Constitution of the Christian or Catholic Church.

The public establishment of Christianity may be considered as one of those important and domestic revolutions which excite the most curiosity, and afford the most valuable instruction.  The victories of the civil policy of Constantine no longer influence the state of Europe; but a considerable portion of the globe still retains the impression which it received from the conversion of that monarch; and the ecclesiastical institutions of his reign are still connected, by an indissoluble chain, with the opinions, the passions, and the interests of the present generation.

In the consideration of a subject which may be viewed with indifference, but cannot be viewed with indifference, a difficulty immediately arises of a very unexpected nature; that of ascertaining the real and precise date of the conversion of Constantine.  The eloquent Lactantius, in the midst of his court seems impatient to proclaim the world the glorious example of the sovereign of Gaul; who, in the first moments of his reign, acknowledged and adored the majesty of the true and only God.  The learned Eusebius has ascribed the faith of Constantine to the miraculous sign which was displayed in the heavens whilest he meditated and prepared the Italian expedition.  The historian Zosimus maliciously asserts that the emperor had embrued his hands in the blood of his eledest son, before he publicly renounced the gods of Rome and of his ancestors.  The perplexity produced from these discordant authorities, is derived from the behavior of Constantine himself.  According to the strictness of ecclesiastical language, the first of the Christian emperors was unworthy of that name, till the moment of his death; since it was only during his last illness that he received, as a catechumen, the imposition of hands, and was afterwards admitted, by the initiatory rites of baptism, into the number of the faithful.  The Christianity of Constantine must be allowed in a much more vague and qualified sense; and the nicest accuracy is required in tracing the slow and almost imperceptible gradations by which the monarch declared himself the protector, and at length the proselyte, of the church.  It was an arduous task to eradicate the habits and prejudices of his education, to acknowledge the divine power of Christ, and to understand that the truth of his revelation was incompatible with the worship of the gods.  The obstacles which he had probably experienced in his own mind, instructed him to proceed with caution in the momentous change of a national religion; and he insensibly discovered his new opinions, as far as he could enforce them with safety and with effect.  During the whole course of his reign, the stream of Christianity flowed with a gentle, though accelerated motion: but its general direction was sometimes checked, sometimes diverted, by the accidental circumstances of the times, and by the prudence, or possibly the caprice, of the monarch.  His ministers were permitted to signify the intentions of their master in the various language which was best adapted to their respective principles; and he artfully balanced the hopes and fears of his subjects, by publishing in the same year two edicts; the first of which enjoined the solemn observance of Sunday, and the second directed the regular consultation of the Aruspices.  While this important revolution yet remained in suspense, the Christians and the Pagans watched the conduct of their sovereign with the same anxiety, but with very opposite sentiments.  The former were prompted by every motive of zeal, as well as vanity, to exaggerate the marks of his favour, and the evidences of his faith.  The latter, till their just apprehensions were changed into despair, and resentment, attempted to conceal from the world, and from themselves, that the gods of Rome could no longer reckon the emperor in the number of their votaries.  The same passions and prejudices have engaged the partial writers of the times to connect the public profession of Christianity with the most glorious or the most ignominious aera of the reign of Constantine.   

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Filed under 1790's, Eighteenth century, History, Posted by Matthew Williams, Religion, Roman Empire

Item of the Day: Gordon’s Sallust (1744)

Full Title:

The Works of Sallust, Translated into English. With Political Discourses upon that Author. To which is added, a Translation of Cicero’s Four Orations Against Catiline. [Trans. T. Gordon.] Printed in London for T. Woodward, and J. Peele, sold by J. Osborn at the Golden Bell in Pater-noster Row, 1744.

From the translator’s Introduction:

An able Writer not only gives, but enforces, his own Meaning: His Manner is as significant as his Words, and therefore becomes Part of his Sentiments. It is thus in Speaking as well as Writing: The liveliest Speech in the World, rehearsed by a heavy Man, will sound heavily. What moved, and fired, and charmed the Audience, out of one Mouth, would put them to Sleep out of another. An Oration of Demosthenes, repeated like a Lease by a Clerk; or one of Cicero‘s, pronounced by a Pedant; instead of Rage and Terror, would rouse Laughter and Impatience.

Who can discover the Ardour and Vivacity of Horace, in the Version of Monsieur D’Acier? Yet D’Acier knew, as well as any Man, the Meaning of every Word in Horace, with all his Figures, Allusions, and References.

Plutarch, the entertaining judicious Plutarch, is a dry Writer, as translated by the same D’Acier, though accurately translated: Plutarch, translated by Amyot, is an entertaining, a pleasing Author: Yet, in Amyot‘s Translation, there are numberless Mistakes: A French Critic, and a very learned Man, Monsieur Meziriac, reckons them at Two thousand, all very gross ones. D’Acier‘s is an exact Translation of Plutarch‘s Words: Amyot is a Copy of Plutarch himself; resembles his Author, and writes as well. Amyot is a Genius: D’Acier is a learned Man.

I am much concerned to see so learned and useful a Writer as Plutarch, make so ill a Figure in English: Most of his Lives are poorly Englished; nor is bad Language the worst Fault: They are full of egregious Blunders. Several of them are ill translated from Amyot, by such as understood not French. Many of the instructive Pieces, called his Morals, have fared as ill. A good Translation of all his Works would be a valuable Performance.

Who would not rather read a Discourse of Archbiship Tillotson‘s upon any ordinary Subject, though ever so full of Inaccuracies, than a learned Dissertation of the correct Mr. Thomas Hearn on the best Subject?

I doubt no Work of Genius can be well translated, but by an Author of Genius; and therefore, there can never be many tolerable Translations in the World. Cicero, in translating the noblest Greek Writers, has excelled them all: Cicero was a good Translator, because he was a great Genius.

Terence is only a Translator; but he had fine Taste, Politeness, and Parts, and a Genius for Comedy and genteel Conversation. This was his great Qualification: His Knowlege of the two Languages only helped him to shew it. He might have had great Skill in both, without success, or Fame, as a Comic Poet. Terence translated Comedy with Applause, becasue he had a fine Genius for Comedy. He himself is shamefully travestied by Sir Roger L’Estrange, and Dr. Echard, and much gross Ribaldry fathered upon so pure and polite a Writer.

Mr. Hobbes has translated the Historian Thucydides well; for Mr. Hobbes had equal Talents for History: But he has ill translated Homer, though he well understood Homer; for he had not equal Talents for Poetry. Mr. Dryden, with all his Faults, and many unwarrantable Freedoms, has mad a fine Translation of Virgil, because he was as great a Poet as Virgil; indeed, a great and various Poet: We have Poems of his, such as, I think, Virgil could not write; one Ode particularly, equal, if not superior, to any in Antiquity.

Many of the Speeches and brightest Passages in Lucan, are rendered by Mr. Row with an equal Force, in a Language so unequal, because he had a Genius as warm and poetical as Lucan; though Lucan, with infinite Sinkings, has infinite Elevation, and many glorious Lines.

I have often wished, that such a fine Genius as Dr. Burnet of the Charter-house, had translated Livy. He had grave and grand Conceptions, with harmonious flowing Periods, equal to those of the great Roman Historian. Sir Walter Raleigh would have still done it better, as he was a wonderful Master of such Subjects, and wonderfully qualified to represent them. Many Parts of his History of the World are hardly to be matched, never to be exceeded; particularly his Relation of the second Punic War; where he recounts the Conduct of the Roman and Carthaginian Commonwealths, and of their several Commanders, especially of Hannibal, with surprising Capacity, Clearness, and Force.

There occurs to me one Passage out of the English Livy, which will shew what Justice we have done that noble and elegant Writer. A great Officer says to a Roman General in the Field, (I think he calls him Sir, too) ‘Whilst you stand Shilly-shally here, as a Man may say, the Enemy will tread upon your Toes.’ Could a Groom of that General have used meaner Language to a Fellow Groom? I give the Passage upon Memory—-The Words are either Shilly-shally, or with your Hands in your Pockets, or both.

A Writer of Genius, translated by one who has none, or a mean one, will appear meanly. Even the Meaning of every Word may be conveyed, yet the Meaning of the Writer missed or mangled. It is in Translating, as in Painting: Where the Air, the Spirit, and Dignity of the Original are wanting, Resemblance is wanting. To be able to translate, a Man must be able to do something like what he translates.

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Filed under 1740's, Greek/Roman Translations, Oratory, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt, Roman Empire

Item of the Day: Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1797)

Full Title: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. By Edward Gibbon, Esq. Volume the First. A New Edition. London: Printed for a. Strahan; and T. Cadell Jun. and W. Davies (Successors to Mr. Cadell) in the Strand, M.DCC.XCVII.

 PREFACE.

It is not my intention to detain the reader by expatiating on the variety, or the importance of the subject, which I have undertaken to treat: since the merit of the choice would serve to render the weakness of the execution still more apparent, and still less excusable. But as I have presumed to lay before the Public a first volume only of the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, it will perhaps be expected that I should explain, in a few words, the nature and limits of my general plan.

The memorable series of revolutions, which, in the course of about thirteen centuries, gradually undermined, and at length destroyed, the solid fabric of human greatness, may, with some propriety, be divided into the three following periods.

I. The first of these periods may be traced from the age of Trajan and the Antonines, when the Roman monarchy, having attained its full strength and maturity, began to verge towards its decline; and will extend to the subversion of the Western Empire, by the barbarians of Germany and Scythia, the rude ancestors of the most polished nations of modern Europe. This extraordinary revolution, which subjected Rome to the power of a Gothic conqueror, was completed about the beginning of the sixth century.

II. The second period of the Decline and Fall of Rome, may be supposed to commence with the reign of Justinian, who by his laws, as well as by his victories, restored a transient splendour to the Eastern Empire. It will comprehend the invasion of Italy by the Lombards; the conquest of the Asiatic and African provinces by the Arabs, who embraced the religion of Mahomet; the revolt of the Roman people against the feeble princes of Constantinople; and the elevation of Charlemagne, who, in the year eight hundred, established the second, or German Empire of the west.

III. The last and longest of these periods includes about six centuries and a half; from the revival of the Western Empire, till the taking of Constantinople by the Turks, and the extinction of a degenerate race of princes, who continued to assume the titles of Caesar and Augustus, after their dominions were contracted to the limits of a single city; in which the language as well as manners of the ancient Romans had been long since forgotten. The writer who should undertake to relate the events of this period, would find himself obliged to enter into the general history of the Crusades, as far as they contributed to the ruin of the Greek empire; and he would scarcely be able to restrain his curiosity from making some inquiry into the state of the city of Rome, during the darkness and confusion of the middle ages.

As I have ventured, perhaps too hastily, to commit to the press, a work, which, in every sense of the word, deserves the epithet of imperfect, I consider myself as contracting an engagement to finish, most probably in a second volume, the first of these memorable periods; and to deliver to the Public the complete History of the Decline and Fall of Rome, from the age of the Antonines, to the subversion of the Western Empire. With regard to the subsequent periods, though I may entertain some hopes, I dare not presume to give any assurances. The execution of the extensive plan which I have described, would connect the ancient and modern history of the World: but it would require many yeas of health, of leisure, and of perseverance.

Bentinck-Street

February 1, 1776.

P.S. The entire History, which is now published, of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the West, abundantly discharges my engagements with the Public. Perhaps their favourable opinion may encourage me to prosecute a work, which, however laborious it may seem, is the most agreeable occupation of my leisure hours.

Bentinck-Street

March 1, 1781.

An Author easily persuades himself that the public opinion is still favourable to his labours; and I have now embraced the serious resolution of proceeding to the last period of my original design, and of the Roman Empire, the taking of Constantinople by the Turks, in the year one thousand four hundred and fifty-three. The most patient Reader, who computes that three ponderous volumes have been already employed on the events of four centuries, may, perhaps, be alarmed at the long pros0pect of nine hundred years. But it is not my intention to expatiate with the same minuteness on the whole series of Byzantine history. At our entrance into this period, the reign of Justinian, and the conquests of the Mahometans, will deserve and detain our attention, and the last age of Constantinople (the Crusades and the Turks) is connected with the revolutions of Modern Europe. From the seventh to the eleventh century, the obscure interval will be supplied by a concise narrative of such facts, as may still appear either interesting or important.

Bentinck-Street

March 1, 1782.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is now delivered to the Public in a more convenient form. Some alterations and improvements had presented themselves to my mind, but I was unwilling to injure or offende the purchasers of the preceding editions. The accuracy of the Corrector of the Press has been already tried and approved; and, perhaps, I may stand excused, if, amidst the avocations of a busy winter, I have preferred the pleasures of composition and study, to the minute diligence of revising a former publication.

Bentick-Street

April 20, 1783.

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Filed under 1790's, History, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Roman Empire