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Sallust's 'Jugurtha': concord, discord, and the digressions.

The current fashion for emphasizing ambiguities and discontinuities in literary texts should have found Sallust's writings congenial. The Catiline explores competing and contradictory claims to virtus, exemplified by Caesar, Cato, and Catiline himself, a paragon of ambiguity in contrast to the unproblematic Cicero. The Jugurthine War is twice the length, with a more complicated structure and a wider range of material, including three formal digressions. A concern with the relationship between virtue and success, and with conflict between alternative virtues, is central to this monograph too; it concludes with a victory achieved not by years of military exertion but as the result of Jugurtha's treacherous betrayal to Sulla by Bocchus in contravention of all recognized moral principles (|kinship, marriage, and a formal treaty': cognationem, affinitatem, praeterea foedus intervenisse; cf. |deceit', composito dolo, 111.2 and 4).

Although the three digressions are a highly visible feature of the Jugurtha, surprisingly little attention has been directed to their functions within the narrative. Two of these digressions - the first and third - where they are discussed at all in recent commentaries, continue to be thought to have little material relevance to Sallust's theme. Where explanation of these two digressions has been attempted, as in Buchner's commentary or Scanlon's The Influence of Thucydides on Sallust, it has tended to be in stylistic terms. Histories from Herodotus onwards included digressions for a range of literary reasons - as structural devices to divide the text into distinct sections; to denote the passing of a period of time; as a way of adding variety and colour to what was ostensibly a matter-of-fact military narrative; and as a practical means to feed the reader additional material supporting the author's argument, which in a recited text (or unravelled volume) could not be done in the form of the notes or appendices that are available to writers today.(1) Such explanations in primarily literary terms are attractive in view of the digressions used by Sallust's exemplar, Thucydides. Thus Thucydides begins his account of the Sicilian Expedition with a description of the island's geography and ethnography (6. 1-5); he describes the origins of party strife, stasis, at Corcyra (3. 82-4); and he uses the semi-legendary story of Harmodius and Aristogeiton to explain Athenian attitudes to tyranny (6. 53-4). These three passages clearly gave Sallust some inspiration for his own three digressions in the Jugurtha (for convenience, we may refer to them as A, B, and C): A. The ethnography of north Africa; B. Civil discord at Rome; C. The legend of the Philaeni. Each is carefully marked off from the preceding and following text. A: |Res postulare videtur ... ad necessitudinem rei satis dictum' (17.1-19.8: |The subject seems to demand ... enough has been said for what the subject requires'); B: |ceterum mos partium et factionum ... quam ob rem ad inceptum redeo' (41.1-42.5: |As for the tendency of division and faction ... so I return to the narrative I have begun'); and C: |Sed quoniam in eas regiones per Leptitanorum negotia venimus, non indignum videtur egregium atque mirabile facinus duorum Carthaginensium memorare ... nunc ad rem redeo' (79.1-10: |Since the business of Leptis has taken me to that part of the world, it does not seem unworthy to relate the outstanding and astonishing deed of two Carthaginian brothers ... now I return to the subject').(2)

How, if at all, does their subject-matter relate to Sallust's theme? The answer will depend on what we take Sallust's theme to be. |I am going to write up the war which the Roman people waged with Jugurtha king of the Numidians, (a) firstly because it was great and bloody and with victories on both sides, (b) next because that was the first occasion when the arrogance of the nobility was challenged. That struggle brought disorder to everything divine and human, and reached such a degree of madness that war and the devastation of Italy were the only limit to civil strife' (5.1).(3) The three commonplaces of advertising the historian's material as exciting to read because it is great, bloody, and containing many changes of fortune, follow precedent.(4) Sallust's second explicit reason sounds more interesting and has been variously interpreted, depending upon whether scholars preferred to emphasize Sallust as a moralist opposing the vice of arrogance, or (following Mommsen) as a political pamphleteer opposed to the nobilitas. The view that his purpose in writing history was primarily political presupposes a picture of Roman politics as structured around two political groupings - |parties' as understood in the nineteenth century, rather than modern democratic mass parties - with Sallust supporting the |popular' leader, Julius Caesar. This is not a view of Roman politics which many find acceptable today. There are also problems about the assumption that Sallust was Caesar's protege; why, in that case, was he expelled from the Senate by Appius Claudius, one of the censors of 50 B.C., without protest from the other censor, Lucius Piso, who was Caesar's father-in-law and represented his interests? (There is nothing surprising about Sallust's joining Caesar in 49 B.C.; like others who had been excluded from political advancement, he saw that a Caesarian victory was a precondition for any further role in public life.)(5)

Whatever our view of the historical Sallust's political affiliation, the passage explicitly advises the reader that the monograph he is about to read discusses the beginning of the sequence of events that led to the devastation of Italy: the civil wars between Sulla and the |Marians' in the 80s, but for Sallust's contemporaries perhaps more immediately those of the 40s B.C. The external and internal conflicts are tightly connected, and Sallust links the two around the polarity of concord or co-operation versus discord and envy (there are of course other moral issues whose consideration binds his text together). That conceptual polarity is vividly brought to the fore by the deathbed advice given by Micipsa to his sons: |small things grow as a result of concord, but the greatest things will waste away as a result of discord.'(6)

The three digressions separate off and introduce phases of the war under various Roman commanders who represent different ethical states. A: the catastrophic Roman failures under the command of the nobles Bestia and Albinus, who notwithstanding their hereditary claim to virtus suffer from the vices of avaritia and imperitia. B: the second phase, in which the aristocratic general Metellus is indeed competent, but fails to make the best use of his subordinate Marius because of his arrogance. Finally C, the last phase of the war, in which Marius is successful, but not on his own. The final surrender of Jugurtha to the Romans by the Mauretanian king Bocchus is brought about by Marius' quaestor Sulla, to whom Sallust devotes a detailed and ambiguously positive character-sketch (ch. 95). The reader cannot ignore the moral: the best noble commander cannot succeed if he ignores the talent of a novus homo; but a talented novus homo can only succeed in co-operation with a talented aristocrat. Marius and Sulla together brought success for Roman arms against the external threat; contrast the |bellum atque vastitas Italiae' later brought about by their discord, which |I am not sure whether I would be more ashamed or more disgusted to narrate' (incertum habeo pudeat an pigeat magis disserere, 95.4).

Sallust's other themes are secondary to this emphasis on co-operation. He has subordinated his selection of narrative material to this moral theme to the extent that geographical or chronological precision, as commentators constantly remind us, are of little interest to him. Thus he fails to make explicit reference to the winters that separated the campaigning seasons of 108, 107, and 106 B.C. (Syme, Sallust, p. 145; Paul, p. 198; Watkiss, p. 27). The break in Sallust's narrative represented by digression C probably corresponds to the first of these winters, but that only shows that Sallust's objective was not to record a sequence of campaigns, but to structure his text in terms of an account of political virtues and vices. The same applies to digression A: one of its functions may well be to cover a period of perhaps four years between Rome's division of Numidia and Jugurtha's seizure of Adherbal's portion, but that is not something Sallust chooses to tell us: rather, he wants to signal that he is about to begin his account of the events leading to direct military intervention. The three digressions separate phases of the war which illustrate different moralities, associated with a series of Roman commanders, who are not only contrasted with one another, but also with the enemies they are fighting against.

Of the three digressions, B (on partes, political divisions) is the one whose thematic relevance to the narrative is the easiest to identify: it gives the reader the background to popular hostility to the |nobles' and to the Mamilian rogation. The Gracchi are treated as a separate and discrete theme, justifying Sallust's at first sight curious assertion in ch. 5.1 that Rome's political divisions began only at the time of the Jugurthan war. These chapters were composed at a time when the experience of civil war and of the triumviral proscriptions was still fresh; it is not illegitimate to assume that Sallust wished his readers to understand them with reference to the actions and claims of contemporary political leaders. The emphasis on civil discord is reinforced by the stylistic parallels with the analysis of stasis given by Thucydides on the occasion of one of the first major outbreaks of civil strife recorded in that narrative, at Corcyra in 3. 79-81.(7) Sallust's account associates other vices with civil dissension (41.10). It is preceded by a sentence describing the court of enquiry set up by the Mamilian rogation, |conducted harshly and violently, on the basis of uncorroborated rumours and in accordance with the caprice of the people: at that time, with things going their way, the people exercised total lack of restraint, just as the nobility had so often done' (|exercita aspere violenterque ex rumore et lubidine plebis: ut saepe nobilitatem, sic ea tempestate plebem ex secundis rebus insolentia ceperat'). Lubido, capriciousness, is picked up again in the digression, first applied to the people (41.5), and then to the nobilitas (42.4). To read this digression as a political attack on the |nobility' would be naive: on the contrary, Sallust explicitly describes the Gracchi as themselves |noble' (|the first nobles to prefer true glory to the unjust exercise of power', |primi ex nobilitate ... qui veram gloriam iniustae potentiae anteponerent': 41.10). If the account of civil conflict has a programme, it is to analyse rival claims to political virtus.

Political co-operation and discord are also the theme of the first digression, whose timbre is at first sight very different. Sallust wants it to look like the ethnographical digressions in which Hellenistic historians displayed their erudition, in competition with their predecessors.(8) He makes no claim to have learnt anything about Numidia through autopsy (there is no reference to his having governed the territory, although the description of the Numidian huts at 18.8 looks like autopsy: see Koestermann, ad loc.); instead, he claims to have read King Hiempsal's description, written in Punic, in a specially prepared translation. Notwithstanding such a recondite (and, to his Italian readers, inaccessible) literary source, Sallust disclaims all responsibility for the truth-value of its contents (as Herodotus sometimes does). Hiempsal's myth explaining the origins of the peoples of North Africa in terms of the Median, Persian, and Armenian components of the army that accompanied Hercules on his expedition to the far west tells the reader nothing about the political structure of second-century B.C. Numidia, or of the background to its relationship with Rome, outlined in a few sentences (ch. 19.7). Its relevance to Sallust's narrative lies elsewhere: it is a statement about the difference between a well-ordered state, and the anarchy of division. Hercules is to be understood as the symbol of civil society; it was as a founder of cities that he was known in the western Mediterranean.(9) Hercules' death results in the division and dispersal of his army. For the Persian contingent, civil life is abandoned, and civilized norms are transgressed: ships are turned upside down to make huts, commerce (with Spain) becomes impossible because there is no common language, and they end up as nomads like the autochthonous Gaetulians (18.3-8). City life developed sooner among the Medians and Armenians because their proximity to Spain facilitated commerce (an argument reminiscent of Thucydides in his Archaeology), but it was not that particular ethnic element that established control over North Africa: it was the more warlike and nomadic ex-Persians, now calling themselves Numidians. Sallust has chosen to report Hiempsal's myth because of the moral point it makes. It explains the discord endemic in North Africa. It also glosses the division of Numidia in the immediately preceding chapter (16.5), with Adherbal's portion |having more harbours and fine buildings' corresponding to that originally inhabited by Libyans, and Jugurtha's |richer in fields and population' to the Gaetulian part. The phrase in divisione with which that sentence begins is picked up by the first words of Sallust's account of the controversy amongst geographers as to whether Africa is a separate entity or not: In divisione orbis terrae ... (17.3: |in dividing up the globe'). |Africa' entails disagreement.

Throughout the monograph, Sallust's account of the actions of Rome's African enemies emphasizes division and disorder. This is particularly true of the final phase of the war. |When the kings learnt about Marius' arrival, they went their separate ways to inaccessible places'; Sallust comments that Jugurtha hoped that he could similarly divide the Roman forces (ch. 87.4). Even when Jugurtha's and Bocchus' armies combine to attack the Romans, there is no organization - |not in line or in any normal battle formation, but in gangs just as chance grouped them together' (97.4). The emphasis on the role of chance, confusion, and indiscipline in explaining the outcome of particular incidents in warfare is of course Thucydidean in origin. But for Sallust indiscipline and division are moral weaknesses, instances of man's failure to rise above the level of the beasts, either at the individual or at the social level. In classical literature, one typical marker of the point where men are almost animals is the nomad.(10) Having destroyed his own supporters, and beginning to realize that he cannot win the war, Jugurtha declines to the level of a nomad: he is |doubtful and uncertain', varius incertusque; |He changed his itineraries and his commanders from day to day; sometimes he moved against the enemy, sometimes into the desert' (74.1); |After that he never stayed in one place for more than one day or one night' (76.1), repeating |contrary to royal dignity, he often rested in a different place each night, and sometimes he would wake from his sleep, grab his weapons and make a disturbance' (72.2). As in other character sketches - most strikingly that of Catiline - internal and external instability go hand in hand. They are inimical to civil society, but characteristic of despots, such as Bocchus: |Royal wishes are generally as fickle as they are emphatic, and often contradict themselves' (|plerumque regiae voluntates ut vehementes sic mobiles, saepe ipsae sibi advorsae': 113.1). Bocchus' mobilitas ingeni, constant changes of plan, and treachery (explicitly called Punica fides: 108.3; cf. 88.6, 102.15) are repeatedly emphasized. To the very last moment, Bocchus is divided within himself as to whether to betray Jugurtha to Sulla or vice versa. |During the night which preceded the day set for the conference, the Moor first summoned his friends, then changed his mind and sent everyone else away, and is said to have had a great struggle with himself, changing the expression of his face and eyes as he kept changing his mind; although he said nothing, they betrayed what was hidden in his heart' (113.3.).

But it is not just among Africans that civilized behaviour is liable to break down, to revert to unstable nomadism. The autochthonous Gaetulians and Libyans had lived like beasts, |they were ruled by no customs or law or anyone's authority' (18.2). Rome too is threatened by that absence of law, so Memmius claims at the beginning of his speech attacking the domination of the aristocracy (no justice, 31.1; not law but caprice, 31.7). Particularly striking is the account of indiscipline in the Roman army in Africa. Just as the pre-Herculean Gaetulians are described in epic terms as restless and roaming about (vagi palantes, 18.2: cf. Koestermann, ad loc.), so the Romans had abandoned discipline: |they roamed about restlessly, wasting the fields' (vagabantur et palantes agros vastare, 44.5). Sallust's description of the state in which Metellus found his army consciously uses phrases reminding the reader of chapter 18, but there are interesting differences: the nomads move from place to place to find fresh land, agros temptantes, but the Roman army moves camp only when forced to by stench or lack of fodder; while the Persians and Medes respectively find it difficult to buy or barter things with the people of Spain (ab Hispanis emundi aut mutandi copia) and barter amongst themselves (mutare res inter se instituerant, 18.5 and 9), the Roman soldiers barter their illicit war booty with traders for imported wine (mutare cum mercatoribus vino advecticio). Spurius Albinus' absence and his brother's incompetence had allowed the Roman army in Africa to sink to the level reminscent of Hercules' army after it had lost its leader.

The virtus of the brothers Albinus lay solely in their birth, and Spurius' support for his brother by entrusting him with command of the army in his absence brought disaster on the Romans; indeed they cannot really be described as co-operating, since Aulus acts in Spurius' absence (and seeks to win the glory of ending the war in competition with him), and Spurius refuses to recognize his brother's treaty (ch. 37-9). Their failure as brothers is highlighted by the very peculiar theme of Sallust's third digression. It is carefully prepared by a statement about an appeal of Lepcis to Metellus (selected for no other reason than to give Sallust an excuse for introducing the story). |Since the affairs of the people of Lepcis have brought us to this region, it seems fitting to relate the noble and memorable act of two Carthaginians' (79.1). Egregium atque mirabile facinus, as the historian's material is typically supposed to be; though the reader is taken aback to find a Roman historian selecting Carthaginians as exemplars of a noble deed. In fact neither Lepcis nor its would-be tyrant Hamilcar are of significance to the progress of the war, and Sallust does not bother to mention either of them again. It is the ethical import of the story of the Philaeni that interests Sallust. Buchner suggested that Sallust intended it to reinforce the reader's appreciation of the virtus of Metellus (and perhaps also of Marius), as though virtus were unproblematic. But the qualities shown by the Philaeni are more complex than athletic energy and a willingness to be buried alive for their country. The fact that the protagonists are brothers is an essential element of the story. To run a race, only one competitor is needed to represent each city. The fact that they are pairs of brothers places the story in a line of similar tales illustrating anxieties about the potential for rivalry between brothers. Fraternal cooperation came to represent the highest moral virtue. An example - perhaps one which triggered Sallust's story - was Solon's account of Cleobis and Biton (Herodotus 1. 3 1).(11)

|Who can be more of a friend than one brother to another' asks Micipsa in his deathbed speech, and immediately continues with the warning: |and what outsider would you be able to trust if you became an enemy of your own people?' (10.5). Brothers represent conflict more frequently than mutual support. That conflict may lead to fratricide, as in the story of Eteocles and Polynices. Twins, as the closest type of fraternal relationship, may symbolize the danger most sharply: Acrisius and Proetius quarrelled while still in the womb, and resolved their quarrel by fighting when they grew up (thus becoming the inventors of the shield: Apollodorus, ed. Frazer, Loeb vol. I p. 145 n. 4). For Romans, the story of the quarrel between Romulus and Remus was a central part of the myth of their city's foundation, providing an explanation for civil discord until eventually the Christian patrons Peter and Paul replaced Romulus and Remus. Such anxieties are not limited to Greece and Rome, as the story of Jacob and Esau shows (Genesis 25. 21 ff), nor to societies whose rules of inheritance gave brothers (and at Rome sisters) equal and rival claims to inherit their father's property. Shakespeare's Lear shows that even when, from the tenth century on, north-western Europeans developed the system of primogeniture as a means to regulate precedence and inheritance between siblings, the theme lost little if any of its mythical power.

What then are the parallels Sallust wishes to draw between the tale of the Philaeni and the third phase of the war? Metellus, learning of Marius' appointment, feels insulted, fails to pursue his military advantage, and final success eludes him. Even before that, Metellus' and Marius' co-operation is only at surface level: when they campaign together, they act in different places - divorsi agebant, 55.6. In contrast the Philaeni, when slandered as not having set off on the prescribed day, accept the challenge and sacrifice their lives for their country. Their co-operation with their country is symbolized by their mutual solidarity: the Romans, too, will achieve their aims, but only if the two partes - represented by Marius and Sulla - cooperate.

It is not only the two Roman pairs Metellus/Marius and Marius/Sulla who exemplify the problems of co-operation. There is also the relationship between Jugurtha and his courtier Bomilcar, and between Jugurtha and his fellow king Bocchus. In chapters 61 and 62, Sallust describes how Metellus planned to entrap Jugurtha by suborning Bomilcar to persuade him to surrender unconditionally. Jugurtha initially agrees, but then changes his mind, and the war continues. Immediately after this comes Sallust's account of Marius' request for leave to bid for the consulship: just as Bomilcar treacherously and unsuccessfully tries to persuade Jugurtha to surrender, so Metellus disloyally and unsuccessfully tries to persuade Marius to put off his bid for the consulship. Sallust is scathing in his account of the behaviour of both Romans: |he had a contemptuous and proud spirit, that common vice of the nobility' (64.1); |he behaved with ambition and with anger, the worst of advisors ... he talked both accusingly and boastfully about the progress of the war' (64.4f.). The episode of Bomilcar's treachery against Jugurtha is concluded a few pages later, and he is executed; in the following chapter, the episode of Metellus' lack of support for Marius is concluded when Metellus sends him home (domum dimittit), to stand for the consulship (chs. 72 and 73).

We may conclude that the material of the three digressions is far from irrelevant to the theme of Sallust's history. As Sir Ronald Syme put it, |The digressions are often a clue to the writer's closest preoccupations'. In a text which questions different |virtues' and explores the conflicts between them, the consistently positive emphasis on concordia may surprise; but both aspects are entirely consistent with the historical experience of Italians in the 40s B.C.


(1.) T. F. Scanlon, The Influence of Thucydides on Sallust (Heidelberg, 1980), pp. 175; 126-37; K. Buchner, DerAufbau von Sallusts Bellum Fugurthinum (1956), p. 15 emphasizes the structural role (|die gliedernde Funktion') of the first digression. G. M. Paul, A Historical Commentary on Sallust's Bellum Fugurthinum (Liverpool, 1984), has little specific to say on the literary functions of the digressions: p. 72 (A), p. 198 (C). L. Watkiss's student edition leaves the third digression out of his analysis completely: p. 19. (2.) The four introductory chapters also display elements typical of a digression, ending with the standard digressory formula |nunc ad rem redeo': see T. E. J. Wiedemann, LCM 4 (1979), 13-16 and LCM 5.7 (July 1980), 147-9. They introduce a discrete section (chs. 5-16) containing material about the background to the war analogous to that given by Thucydides in his first book. (3.) |Bellum scripturus sum quod populus Romanus cum Iugurtha rege Numidarum gessit, primum quia magnum et atrox variaque victoria fuit, dehinc quia tunc primum superbiae nobilitatis obviam itum est. Quae contentio divina et humana cuncta permiscuit eoque vecordiae processit, ut studiis civilibus bellum atque vastitas Italiae finem faceret.' (4.) On the epic greatness of the war about to be narrated, cf, e.g., Herodotus 1. 1, Thucydides 1. 23.1, Polybius 1. 13.11, Livy 21. 1.12 etc., and for verse writers, e.g., Vergil Aeneid 7. 44f.: |maius opus moveo.' We may also note that Sallust's account of the military operations of the final phase of the war, under Marius' command, is introduced by the phrase |it seemed [to Marius] that it was time to undertake greater and more difficult things': 89.3. (5.) Piso |belonged to Caesar' and intervened to prevent the removal from the senate of |Caesar's supporter Curio: Cassius Dio 40. 63.3. For Caesar's reinstatement of those demoted by the censors, cf. Suetonius, Divus Fulius 41.1. On the historical Sallust, see J. Malitz, Ambitio Mala (Bonn, 1975). (6.) |Concordia parvae res crescunt, discordia maxumae dilabuntur': 10.6. The importance of concord as a political slogan in the Ciceronian period was discussed by Hermann Strasburger in his 1931 doctoral thesis (Studien zur Alten Geschichte I [Hildesheim, 1982], 1 ff). (7.) Scanlon, pp. 13 1 ff. (8.) Syme, Sallust (Oxford, 1964), p. 152: |Greek erudition and fancies.' (9.) G. Karl Galinsky, The Herakles Theme (Oxford, 1972). At Athens, it was Theseus who became the founding hero of the |city' and of political life: hence Theseus is associated with Herakles in some of his adventures, and takes over some of his attributes. (10.) Wiedemann, |Between men and beasts', in I. S. Moxon, J. D. Smart, and A.J. Woodman (edd.), Past Perspectives (Cambridge, 1986), pp. 189 ff. (11.) Similar tales of races run to establish boundaries between cities may involve several runners, but not brothers. In the race between Clazomenae and Cyme, the plurality of runners is explained by the requirement to offer a sacrifice at the boundary: Diodorus 15. 1.
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Author:Wiedemann, Thomas
Publication:Greece & Rome
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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