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Nihílne te nocturnum praesídium Palati, nihil urbis vigíliae, nihil timor
pópuli, nihil concursus bonorum ómnium, nihil hic munitíssimus
habendi senatus locus, nihil horum ora vultusque moverunt?
How far will you, Catiline, abuse our patience? How long will this mad
rage of yours mock us? Is there no limit to your boastful ambition and
unbridled audacity? Does the nightly setting of guards on the Palatine hill
mean nothing to you, nothing too the watches posted in the city, nothing
the people™s anxiety, nothing the coming together of all the loyal citizens,
nothing the fact that the Senate is meeting in this heavily forti¬ed place,
nothing the looks and faces of these men gathered here?

Linguistically this is rather a dif¬cult text, which you cannot read in
Latin until you have had quite a lot of experience with the language.
Here we will just look at a few of the things which show how the
speaker went about his oratorical task. It is easy to see that Cicero™s
tactic was to show Catiline up as a dangerous man from whom everyone
should keep their distance.The aim was not to debate whether Catiline
was or was not a rebel against the state, but to make everyone feel that
he was. The tactic was so successful that he did not think it was even
worth trying to speak in his own defence in front of the Senate, and so
he simply left Rome. Cicero succeeded in what is always an orator™s
chief aim: to make his audience think what he wanted them to think.
To that end, he exploited many of the orator™s tricks of the trade.
Some of these are easy to recognize. For example, he starts out with
three provocative questions one after the other. They were not
meant to be answered, for there is no reasonable answer that could
be given; in reality, they are statements.Today we call such questions
rhetorical. In the following sentence, Cicero repeats the word nihil

Latin and the Romans

˜nothing/not at all™ six times to hammer home the fact that Catiline
is ruthless and callous. These are just two examples of devices which
could be used to make a speech effective.
Many others wanted to be able to perform like this, and Cicero™s
speeches were used as models which were carefully studied in Roman
schools. But although these speeches are in fact incredibly well con-
structed, not many people read them today, for the simple reason that
they are designed for speci¬c occasions and you often have to know a
good deal about Roman politics and law to understand them at all.
They are rich and varied in their choice of vocabulary, but to the
modern reader this can make them seem wordy and even boring; the
effect must have been completely different when they were delivered.
Cicero was not just a master of public speaking himself; he was also
a great theorist. He wrote several important books about what he
called ars oratória ˜the art of public speaking™. Ars obviously means
˜art™, and oratoria ˜oratorical, having to do with public speaking™ is an
adjective which has been formed from the noun orator ˜speaker™.
This word in turn comes from the verb orare ˜to make a speech, to
orate™. The same discipline was also known by the Greek name
ars rhetorica ˜the art of rhetoric™, from the Greek word for a public
speaker, which was rhetor.
Rhetoric was one of the many disciplines that the Greeks invented.
It was linked, in their view, on the one hand with poetics, the theory
of poetry or of creative writing in general, and on the other with
politics, the theory of the state. Rhetoric was about how to persuade
people by means of the spoken word and by Cicero™s time the Greeks
had already written textbooks and theses on this subject and had been
teaching it for several hundred years. Cicero learnt everything the
Greeks had to teach in his youth and thereafter honed his skills
through a lifetime of practice, while in his spare time he wrote books
in Latin on rhetoric.A hundred years after his death, another Roman,
Quintilian, wrote the most detailed and best-known handbook on the
subject, the Institutio Oratoria ˜Training in Oratory™.
In most other subjects, what was taught in the ancient world has
long been superseded. The physics of antiquity, for example, is of

A natural history of Latin

interest only to historians of science, and the same goes for for most
other ¬elds of study. But rhetoric is different. Those whose concern
is the arts of public speaking and persuasion often take Quintilian
and Cicero as a foundation. The reason probably lies in the fact that
this subject was so important to the Romans that their best talents
consumed much of their energy and imagination on it, and hence
their views still hold good today. The most successful modern hand-
books of rhetoric owe much of their contents to the teachings of the
ancient writers on the subject.
You can get some idea of what it is all about by looking at the basic
terms. If you were planning a speech, you had to concentrate on
¬ve things: the ¬rst was inv©ntio or ˜invention™, in other words ¬nd-
ing the line of reasoning and the arguments which were to be used in
the speech. The next phase was disposítio or ˜arrangement™ of the
different parts, which was followed by elocútio or ˜expression™, that
is to say putting the argument into the right words. This particular
sub-area of rhetoric is the origin of the modern discipline of stylistics.
After this comes memória or ˜memory™: when the speaker had
worked out and written down a speech he had to learn the whole
thing by heart, and rhetorical teaching included a number of inter-
esting techniques for training the memory which are still useful
today. Finally, there was pronuntiátio or the ˜delivery™ of the speech,
including modulation of the voice, gestures, and so forth.
In a sense, then, making a speech was the most important literary
activity in ancient Rome. But there were other ways of using the
language which were of great importance, and to which other
prominent Romans eagerly devoted their energies.

The language of history

In this book I have written quite a bit about the history of the Romans
from the earliest times and down through the centuries.That we know
anything about this is due to the fact that the Romans themselves

Latin and the Romans

were very interested in writing their history.The idea was another one
which came originally from the Greeks, who had started to record
their own history several hundred years before the Romans, and
many of the sources we still have for the history of Rome were actu-
ally in Greek. But once the Romans got started, they produced a num-
ber of excellent works. Several of the Roman historians are still well
worth reading today if you are interested in the subject.
The ¬rst to get a mention is usually Sallust (in Latin Sallustius),
who was one of the of¬cers closest to Caesar, and who also became a
senator and governor of the province of Numidia (roughly, modern
Algeria). He probably plundered his province, since he became rich
enough to buy himself a house with a huge garden in the best part
of Rome. When he was about forty, he retired there and devoted
himself to writing.
What has survived are just two short books, of which one is about
that same Catiline whom Cicero had attacked. It is very readable,
and was used in schools for many hundreds of years. Sallust writes
very well, in an abrupt style, and he spices his narrative with neatly
phrased re¬‚ections about the way people are, and the way they should
be, as for example R©gibus boni quam mali suspectiores sunt ˜To
a king good people are more to be suspected than evil ones™ (word for
word in Latin: ˜To kings, good than bad more suspected are™). He set
a fashion among Roman historians to look for moral lessons in the
events of history.
One of the things that distinguishes Roman historians from
modern ones is the fact that they often had their main characters
perform and make speeches. This was actually historically accurate
in the sense that the Romans did make speeches to the Senate and to
the troops before a pitched battle, or to the people at times of crisis.
Of course, the historian could not know exactly what had been said,
but it was part of his task to try to render the important speeches
as he imagined they might have been delivered. This is the same
technique as is employed by the scriptwriters for historical docu-
mentaries on television. History books could often be used as tools
in the training of future orators.

A natural history of Latin

Caesar, Sallust™s commander and protector, was himself a very
skilled writer, and the works of his that survive are also historical, in
a way. He wrote his own account of the war he waged in Gaul, which
is seven books long (but remember that a Roman book or liber is
much shorter than a modern one), and another one, three books in
length, about the subsequent civil war which he precipitated. Both
these works are deliberately couched in a seemingly neutral and
objective style, as if they were simply reports home to Rome about
the events that had taken place.A characteristic feature of his style is
that Caesar never writes about himself as ˜I™ but always writes
˜Caesar™ as if he was discussing someone else. However, when you
look more carefully at what Caesar says, you soon ¬nd that it is to
a large extent propaganda which aims to explain and defend his
actions. For the most part he marched his army around and fought
pitched battles, which makes the narrative rather monotonous, as
millions of schoolchildren have discovered, since his account of the
Gallic war has quite undeservedly taken up a great deal of time in the
traditional Latin syllabus. For many, its opening sentence has been
the ¬rst authentic text in Latin which they have encountered:
Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam íncolunt Belgae, áliam
Aquitani, t©rtiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae nostra Galli appellantur.
The whole of Gaul is divided into three parts, of which the Belgians
inhabit one, the Aquitanians another and the third is inhabited by those
who in their own language are called Celts and in ours Gauls.

In this sentence Caesar gives us a brief introduction to the inhabit-
ants of the new country. In the north-east were the Belgae and in
the south the Aquitani, while in the large area between the two, that
is to say most of modern France, lived the Gauls. Many of the words
in the text are easy to recognize. Divisa means and is clearly related
to ˜divided™, partes tres means ˜three parts™ (˜one part™ would be una
pars). The three words unam, aliam, tertiam obviously correspond
to ˜one™, ˜another, i.e. second™, and ˜third™. The word for language is
lingua and lingua nostra means ˜our language™. Appellantur ˜they
are called™ reminds us of the French verb appeler ˜to call™.

Latin and the Romans

Many others came after Sallust and Caesar. One of the best-
known is Livy, who lived around the time of the birth of Christ and
devoted his whole life to writing a complete history of Rome from
753 bce, the year of the city™s foundation, until 9 bce. This work is
called Ab urbe cóndita ˜From the foundation of the city™. It contains
142 books, corresponding to about 6,000 printed pages, and about
a quarter of it has been preserved. There were probably not many
complete copies in any case, even in antiquity, for, as we have
said, the expense involved in producing each individual copy was
The parts that have survived are from the early period. It was Livy
who passed on most of the tall stories about brave and just Roman
warriors. He saw it as the duty of the historian to provide posterity
with an example. He was not therefore so interested in examining
and criticizing his sources, although he did not consciously lie or
make things up. He sought to give the Romans a splendid and glori-
ous version of their own history, and one that was also readable. In
this he succeeded; he is a very adept storyteller, and very good at giv-
ing lively descriptions of situations and events. It is most fun to read
the very ¬rst part, where the sources were few and fanciful, and
where Livy was able to embellish the stories using his own imagination.
The bit about the Roman war against the Carthaginians used to be
required reading for schoolchildren, and here we ¬nd such pearls as
the description of Hannibal™s march across the Alps. Unfortunately,
there are also a great many descriptions of pitched battles and
stratagems, which are hardly of interest to anyone except military

Imperium romanum: Augustus and
the Roman empire

After Caesar had been assassinated, it transpired that in his will he had
adopted the nineteen-year-old grandson of one of his sisters. In our

A natural history of Latin

source it says:Gaium Octávium in famíliam nom©nque adoptavit˜He
adopted Gaius Octavius into the family and the name™. From that day
forth the young man was called Gaius Julius Caesar, with the addi-
tional name Octavianus (in English Octavian). At ¬rst the established
politicians tried to ignore him,but in so doing they made a big mistake.
Within a couple of years, he was camped outside Rome with his own
army and had forced the Senate into appointing him as consul at the
tender age of twenty-one. There followed some ¬fteen years of
intrigue and civil war, in which the main protagonists were Octavian
and Antony, who had been Caesar™s closest ally. When Antony and
Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, were ¬nally defeated and died,
Octavian, who was then thirty-¬ve, became the unchallenged leader
of the empire. He had shown himself to be ruthless and cruel, and it
seemed likely that he would preside over a reign of terror, but things
turned out differently.
Octavian did not want to be dictator or consul for life, and he
explained to the Senate that he was restoring power into their hands.
However, he retained for himself a number of powers which in
practice were crucial. It is fair to say that he gave Rome a new consti-
tution according to which one man had most of the power, but the
Senate and consuls and other of¬cers of state were still there as
before and had a great deal of say in government. One way in which
the Senate thanked him was to give him the name Augustus which
means ˜venerable™ or ˜majestic™. That is the name by which he has
become known to posterity, and he bore it from 27 bce until his death
at the age of seventy-six in 14 ce.
Augustus was the ¬rst of a new kind of ruler. He was succeeded by
his stepson Tiberius, and after him there came a long line all the way
down to the last ruler of the western empire, who was deposed in the
year 476 ce, half a millennium after Augustus had introduced his
new form of government. In English these rulers are called emperors,
but in German the word is Kaiser, a word which derives from the
name Caesar, and which entered the Germanic language family at
an early stage and is also found in modern Germanic languages
like Swedish, Danish, Dutch, and Icelandic. This of course is not

Latin and the Romans

incorrect, since Caesar was part of the full title of all the emperors;
but their of¬cial designation was Augustus,the honorary name which


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( 44 .)