Top positive review
All evicted Justice from their greedy thoughts (Catullus)
on 9 November 2013
In these biting texts Sallust lays bare the real purpose of the political (national and international) and social scheming of the Roman elites, together with in depth personal portraits (Jugurtha, Sulla), a dark picture of the war scene and an outspoken vision on the nature of mankind. His remarkable analyses are still very relevant today.
For Sallust, `false is the complaint that the human nature is weak and ruled by chance. It is the mind which is the leader and the commander of life. When it proceeds along the path of prowess, it does not need fortune. But, if the mind has been taken captive by perverse desires (and) when strength and intellect have ebbed away, those responsible transfer the blame from themselves to `events'.'
As Jugurtha characterized it mercilessly, Rome `was a city for sale and soon to be doomed - if only it found a buyer.'
National politics (the few and the many)
For Sallust, the many have been the plaything of the haughty few. The conduct of war and of domestic matter (the laws, the courts, the treasury, the provinces) rested solely in their hands. They flaunted `their priesthoods and consulships, and some their triumphs, as if these possessions were an honor, not plunder. Who are those who have taken the commonwealth? The most criminal of beings with gory hands and monstrous avarice, for whom loyalty, dignity, devotion and everything honorable and dishonorable is a source of profit.'
With Sulla, all the power of the few fell in the hands of one man.
In a letter in the name of Mithridates, Sallust lambasts the Romans to be `the world's bandits', having `only a single reason for making war on all nations, peoples and kings: a profound desire for empire and for riches.' He reminds them that they were `themselves former migrants without fatherland'. Now, they `are prevented by nothing human or divine from looting and destroying allies and friends, peoples distant and nearby and from regarding everything which is not subservient as their enemy. (They) keep their arms directed at everyone, the sharpest against those, when conquered, who afford the greatest spoils. It is by seeding wars from wars, that they have been great.'
The terrible war scene
The barbarous internecine battles for political power ended in ghastly horror scenes: `As for the many who had emerged from the camps for the purposes of viewing or plundering and were turning on the many corpses, some discovered a friend, other a guest or a relative.'
But there is more, `meanwhile the parents or small children of every soldier, whose neighbor was more powerful, were driven from their abode. So avarice accompanied by powerfulness attacked without limit or restraint, it tarnished and devastated everything.'
Sallust wrote a damning verdict of the Roman builders and exploiters of an empire. They killed relentlessly all those blocking their way to unlimited power and riches, enslaved whole populations and, if necessary, committed genocides. Sallust published his most outspoken violent condemnations in his nearly fully lost masterpiece (R. Syme) `Histories'.
Sallust's texts are brilliantly translated by Anthony J. Woodman, a formidable authority in matters of Latin classical texts (see his introduction and comments).
These texts are a must read for all those interested in the `real' history of Rome and of mankind.