Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

This webpage reproduces the essay
De Fortuna Romanorum


as published in Vol. IV
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1936

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

(Vol. IV) Plutarch, Moralia

 p320  On the Fortune of the Romans


The work appears in pp319‑377 of Vol. IV of the Loeb Classical Library's edition of the Moralia, first published in 1936. The Greek text and the English translation (by F. C. Babbitt) are now in the public domain pursuant to the 1978 revision of the U. S. Copyright Code, since the copyright expired in 1964 and was not renewed at the appropriate time, which would have been that year or the year before. (Details here on the copyright law involved.)

Loeb Edition Introduction

Plutarch's essay on the Fortune of the Romans, like the following essays, is very plainly an epideictic oration. Where and when it was delivered, or whether it was ever delivered at all, we have no means of ascertaining. Hartman feels very sure that it was delivered to a Roman audience in the early days of Plutarch's sojourn at Rome, and was intended to commend the speaker to other Romans besides his personal friends there.

The thesis that Fortune was responsible for the great Roman empire would hardly be pleasing to Romans, but Plutarch is careful to point out that the high character of many individual Romans also contributed to the Roman success. In fact the essay might well bear the double title of Fortune or Virtues,​1 as does the essay on Alexander. Plutarch was thoroughly familiar with the interpretations of Roman history then fashionable, and in this essay he gives a colourful sketch of as much as will serve his purpose. Much that is here may also be found elsewhere in Plutarch's writings.

The essay comes to a somewhat abrupt conclusion, and many have thought it unfinished; the same is true of the essays immediately following. One may  p321 wonder whether a time limit was set for these orations, as in the courts at Athens where the time allowed was measured by the water-clock or clepsydra. We may note, however, that these orations are of quite unequal length.

The text is fairly good, and the majority of the MS. mistakes have been corrected by the various editors and commentators. The essay is No. 175 in Lamprias's list of Plutarch's works.


1 316c Virtue and Fortune, who have often engaged in many great contests, are now engaging each other in the present contest, which is the greatest of all; for in this they are striving for a decision regarding the hegemony of Rome, to determine whose work it is and which of them created such a mighty power. For to her who is victorious this will be no slight testimonial, but rather a defence against accusation. For Virtue is accused of being a fair thing, but unprofitable; Fortune of being a thing inconstant, but good. Virtue's labours, they say, are fruitless, Fortune's gifts untrustworthy. Who, then, will not declare, when Rome shall have been added to the achievements of one of the contestants, either that Virtue is a most profitable thing dif she has done such good to good men, or that Good Fortune is a thing most steadfast if she has already preserved for so long a time that which she has bestowed?

The poet Ion​2 in his prose works observes that Fortune is a thing very dissimilar to Wisdom, and yet she becomes the creator of things very similar: they both bring increase and added honours to men, they lead them on to high repute, to power, to dominion. What need to be tedious by enumerating the many examples? Even Nature herself, who creates and  p325 produces all things for us, some think to be Fortune, others Wisdom. eWherefore our present discourse does, in a measure, bestow a fair and enviable dignity upon Rome, if we raise the question over her, even as we do over earth and sea, heaven and stars, whether she has come to her present state by Fortune or by Forethought.3

2 1 I believe myself to be right in suspecting that, even if Fortune and Virtue are engaged in a direct and continual strife and discord with each other, yet, at least for such a welding together of dominion and power, it is likely that they suspended hostilities and joined forces; and by joining forces they co-operated in completing this most beautiful of human works. Even as Plato​4 asserts that the entire universe arose from fire and earth as the first and necessary elements, that it might become visible and tangible, fearth contributing to it weight and stability, and fire contributing colour, form, and movement; but the medial elements, water and air, by softening and quenching the dissimilarity of both extremes, united them and brought about the composite nature of Matter through them; in this way, then, in my opinion, did Time lay the foundation for the Roman State and, with the help of God, so combine and join together Fortune and Virtue 317that, by taking the peculiar qualities of each, he might construct for all mankind a Hearth, in truth both holy and beneficent, a steadfast cable, a principle abiding for ever, "an anchorage from the swell and drift," as Democritus​5 says, amid the shifting conditions of human affairs. For even as  p327 the physicists​6 assert that the world was in ancient days not a world nor were the atoms willing to coalesce and mix together and bestow a universal form upon Nature, but, since the atoms, which were yet small and were being borne hither and thither, kept eluding and escaping incorporation and entanglement, and the larger, close-compacted atoms bwere already engaging in terrific struggles and confusion among themselves, there was pitching and tossing, and all things were full of destruction and drift and wreckage until such time as the earth, by acquiring magnitude from the union of the wandering atoms, somehow came to be permanently abiding herself, and provided a permanent abode in herself and round about herself for the other elements; even so, while the mightiest powers and dominions among men were being driven about as Fortune willed, and were continuing to collide one with another because no one held the supreme power, but all wished to hold it, the continuous movement, drift, and change of all peoples remained without remedy, until such time as Rome acquired strength and growth, cand had attached to herself not only the nations and peoples within her own borders, but also royal dominions of foreign peoples beyond the seas, and thus the affairs of this vast empire gained stability and security, since the supreme government, which never knew reverse, was brought within an orderly and single cycle of peace; for though Virtue in every form was inborn who contrived these things, yet great Good Fortune was also joined therewith, as it will be possible to demonstrate as the discourse proceeds.

 p329  3 1 And now, methinks, from my lofty look-out, as it were, from whence I survey the matter in hand, I can descry Fortune and Virtue advancing to be judged and tried one against the other.​7 The gait of Virtue is unhurried, her gaze unwavering; dyet the flush of ambition lends to her countenance some intimation regarding the contest. She follows far behind Fortune, who makes great haste, and in a throng conducting her and guarding her person are

Heroes slain in the conflict, wearing their blood-stained armour,​8

men befouled with wounds in front, dripping blood with sweat commingled, trampling upon battered spoils. Is it your desire that we inquire what men are these? They declare themselves to be the Fabricii, the Camilli, the Decii, the Cincinnati, the Fabii Maximi, the Claudii Marcelli, and the Scipios. I see also Gaius Marius showing anger at Fortune, and yonder Mucius Scaevola is exhibiting his burning hand and crying, "Do you graciously attribute this also to Fortune?" eAnd Marcus Horatius, the hero of the battle by the Tiber, weighed down by Etruscan shafts and showing his limping limb, cries aloud from the deep whirl of the waters, "Then am I also maimed by Fortune's will?" Of such character is Virtue's choir that advances to the lists,

Sturdy contender in arms, baleful to all that oppose.​9

 p331  4 1 But swift is the pace of Fortune, bold is her spirit, and most vaunting her hopes; she outstrips Virtue and is close at hand. She does not raise herself in the air on light pinions, nor advance "poised on tip-toe above a globe," in precarious and hesitant posture, and then depart from sight. But even as the Spartans say that Aphroditê, fas she crossed the Eurotas, put aside her mirrors and ornaments and her magic girdle, and took a spear and shield, adorning herself to please Lycurgus, even so Fortune, when she had deserted the Persians and Assyrians, had flitted lightly over Macedonia, and had quickly shaken off Alexander, made her way through Egypt and Syria, conveying kingships here and there; and turning about, she would often exalt the Carthaginians. 318But when she was approaching the Palatine and crossing the Tiber, it appears that she took off her wings, stepped out of her sandals, and abandoned her untrustworthy and unstable globe.​10 Thus did she enter Rome, as with intent to abide, and in such guise is she present to‑day, as though ready to meet her trial.

For stubborn she is not,

as Pindar​11 says,

Nor is the rudder double that she plies;

but rather is she

The sister of Good Order and persuasion, and

The daughter of Foresight,

 p333  as Alcman​12 describes her lineage. And she holds that celebrated Horn of Plenty in her hand, filled not with fruits of everlasting bloom, but as many as are the products of the whole earth band of all the seas, rivers, mines and harbours, these does she pour forth in unstinted abundance. Not a few splendid and distinguished men are seen in her company: Numa Pompilius from the Sabine country and Priscus from Tarquinii, whom as adventitious and foreign kings she set upon the throne of Romulus; and Aemilius Paulus, leading back his army without a wound​13 from Perseus and the Macedonians, triumphing for a tearless victory, magnifies Fortune. There magnifies her also the aged Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus,​14 borne to his grave by four sons of consular rank, Quintus Baliaricus, cLucius Diadematus,​15 Marcus Metellus, Gaius Caprarius, and by two sons-in‑law of consular rank, and by grandsons made distinguished by illustrious deeds and offices. Aemilius Scaurus, a novus homo,​16 was raised by her from a humble station and a humbler family to be enrolled as the first man of the Senate.​17 Cornelius Sulla she took up and elevated from the embraces of his mistress, Nicopolis,​18 and designated him for a monarchy and dictator­ship which ranked far above the Cimbrian triumphs and the seven consul­ships of Marius. Sulla used openly to declare himself, together with his exploits, to be  p335 the adopted child of Fortune, loudly asserting in the words of Sophocles' Oedipus,19

dAnd Fortune's son I hold myself to be.

In the Latin tongue he was called Felix,​20 but for the Greeks he wrote his name thus: Lucius Cornelius Sulla Epaphroditus.​21 And the trophies at my home in Chaeroneia and those of the Mithridatic Wars are thus inscribed, quite appropriately; for not "Night," as Menander​22 has it, but Fortune has the "greater share in Aphroditê."

5 1 Might one, then, after proffering this as a suitable introduction, bring on the Romans once more as witnesses in behalf of Fortune, on the ground that they assigned more to Fortune than to Virtue? At least, it was only recently and after many years that Scipio Numantinus built a shrine of Virtue in Rome; elater Marcellus​23 built what is called the Temple of Virtue and Honour;​24 and Aemilius Scaurus,​25 who lived in the time of the Cimbrian Wars, built the shrine of Mens (Mind) so‑called, which might be considered a Temple of Reason. For at this time rhetoric, sophistry, and argumentation had already found their way into the City; and people were beginning to  p337 magnify such pursuits. But even to this day they have no shrine of Wisdom or Prudence or Magnanimity or Constancy or Moderation. But of Fortune there are splendid and ancient shrines,​26 all but coeval with the first foundations of the City. For the first to build a temple of Fortune was Ancus Marcius, the grandson of Numa​27 fand king fourth in line from Romulus. He, perchance, it was who added the title of Fortis to Fortuna;​28 for in Fortune Manly Fortitude shares most largely in the winning of victory. They erected a temple of Fortuna Muliebris29 before the time of Camillus, when, through the offices of their women, they had turned back Marcius Coriolanus, who was leading the Volsci against the City. For a delegation of women, together with his mother and his wife, went to the hero and besought him and gained their request that he spare the City and lead away the foreign army. 319It is said that at this time, when the statue of Fortune was consecrated, it spoke and said, "Women of the City, you have dedicated me by the holy law of Rome."

And it is a fact that Furius Camillus likewise, when he had quenched the Gallic conflagration and had removed Rome from the balance and scales when her price was being weighed in gold,​30 founded no shrine  p339 of Good Counsel or of Valour, but a shrine of Report and Rumour​31 by New Street, where, as they assert, before the war there came to Marcus Caedicius, as he was walking by night, a voice which told him to expect in a short time a Gallic war.

The Fortune whose temple is by the river they call Fortis,​32 bthat is, strong or valiant or manly, as having the power to conquer everything. And her temple they have built in the Gardens bequeathed by Caesar to the People,​33 since they believed that he also reached his most exalted position through good fortune, as he himself has testified.

6 1 Yet I should hesitate to say of Gaius Caesar that he was raised to his most exalted position by good fortune, if he had not himself testified to this. For when on the fourth day of January he put out from Brundisium in pursuit of Pompey,​34 though it was the time of the winter solstice, cyet he crossed the sea in safety; for Fortune postponed the season. But when he found that Pompey had a compact and numerous army on land and a large fleet on the sea, and was well entrenched with all his forces, while he himself had a force many times smaller, and since his army with Antony and Sabinus was slow in coming, he had the courage to go on board a small boat and put out to sea in the guise of a servant, unrecognized by the captain and the pilot.​35 But there was a violent  p341 commotion where heavy surge from without encountered the current of the river, and Caesar, seeing the pilot changing his course, removed the cloak from his head and, revealing himself, said, "Go on, good sir, be brave and fear nothing! dBut entrust your sails to Fortune​36 and receive her breeze, confident because you bear Caesar and Caesar's Fortune." Thus firmly was he convinced that Fortune accompanied him on his voyages, his travels, his campaigns, his commands; Fortune's task it was to enjoin calm upon the sea, summer weather upon the winter-time,​37 speed upon the slowest of men, courage upon the most dispirited, and (more unbelievable than these) to enjoin flight upon Pompey, and upon Ptolemy the murder of his guest, that Pompey should fall and Caesar should escape the stain of his blood.

7 1 What then? Caesar's son, who was the first to be styled Augustus, and who ruled for fifty-four years, ewhen he was sending forth his grandson to war, did he not pray to the goddess to bestow upon the young man the courage of Scipio, the popularity of Pompey, and his own Fortune,​38 thus recording Fortune as the creator of himself, quite as though he were inscribing the artist's name on a great monument?​a For it was Fortune that imposed him upon Cicero, Lepidus, Pansa, Hirtius, and Mark Antony, and by their displays of valour, their deeds, victories, fleets, wars, armies, raised him on high to be the first of Roman citizens; and she cast down these men, through whom he had mounted, and left him to rule alone.  p343 It was, in fact, for him that Cicero governed the State, that Lepidus commanded armies, that Pansa conquered, that Hirtius fell, that Antony played the wanton. fFor I reckon even Cleopatra as a part of Caesar's Fortune, on whom, as on a reef, even so great a commander as Antony was wrecked and crushed that Caesar might rule alone. The tale​39 is told of Caesar and Antony that, when there was much familiarity and intimacy between them, they often devoted their leisure to a game of ball or dice or even to fights of pet birds, such as quails or cocks; and Antony always retired from the field defeated. It is further related​40 that one of his friends, who prided himself on his knowledge of divination, was often wont to speak freely to him and admonish him, 320"Sir, what business have you with this youth? Avoid him! Your repute is greater, you are older, you govern more men, you have fought in wars, you excel in experience; but your Guardian Spirit fears this man's Spirit. Your Fortune is mighty by herself, but abases herself before his. Unless you keep far away from him, your Fortune will depart and go over to him!

8 1 But enough! For such important testimonies from her witnesses has Fortune to support her. But we must also introduce the testimony of the very events of history, taking as the beginning of our account the beginning of Rome. To begin with, who would not at once declare touching the birth, the preservation, the nurture, the development of Romulus, bthat Fortune laid the foundations, and that Virtue finished the building? In the first place,  p345 then, it appears that the circumstances surrounding the origin and the birth of the very founders and builders of Rome were of a marvellous good fortune.​41 For their mother is said to have consorted with a god; and even as they relate that Heracles was conceived during a long night (for the day was retarded in contrariety to nature, and the sun delayed), so regarding the generation and conception of Romulus they record that the sun was eclipsed and came into exact conjunction with the moon at the time when Mars, a god, consorted with the mortal Silvia.​42 cAnd this same thing, they say, happened to Romulus also at the very time of his translation from this life; for they relate that he disappeared during an eclipse of the sun on the Capratine Nones,​43b on which day, even to the present time, they hold high festival.

Later, when the children were born and the despot gave orders to do away with them, by the decree of Fortune no barbarous or savage servant but a compassionate and humane man received them, with the result that he did not kill them; but there was a margin of the river, bordering upon a green meadow,​44 shaded round about with lowly shrubs; and here the servant deposited the infants near a certain wild fig-tree, to which people later gave the name Ruminalis.​45 dThen a she-wolf, that had newly whelped, with her dugs distended and overflowing with milk because her young had perished, being  p347 herself in great need of relief, circled around​46 the infants and then gave them suck, thus ridding herself of the pain caused by the milk as if it had been a second birth-pang. And a bird sacred to Mars, which they call the woodpecker, visited them and, perching near on tiptoe, would, with its claw, open the mouth of each child in turn and place therein a morsel, sharing with them a portion of its own food. Wherefore they named this wild fig-tree Ruminalis, from the teat (ruma) which the wolf offered to the children as she crouched beside the tree.​c And for a long time the people who dwelt near this place preserved the custom eof never exposing any of the new-born infants, but they acknowledged and reared them all, in honour of Romulus's experience and the similarity of the children'sº case with his.

And, in truth, the fact that they were not discovered while they were being reared and educated in Gabii, and that it was unknown that they were the sons of Silvia and the grandchildren of king Numitor surely appears to have been a furtive and shrewd device of Fortune, so that they might not, because of their lineage, be put to death before performing their tasks, but that they might in their very successes be discovered, by bringing to notice their noble qualities as tokens by which to recognize their high birth.

At this point there occurs to me the remark of a great and prudent general, Themistocles,​47 which was made to certain of the generals fwho came into favour at Athens after him and felt that they deserved to be rated above him. He said that the Day-After contended  p349 with the Feast-Day, saying that the Feast-Day was full of wearying tasks and labours, but on the Day-After men enjoyed in quiet all things that had been made ready. Then the Feast-Day said, "What you say is true; but if I had not been, where would you be?" "And so," said Themistocles, "if I had not been at the time of the Persian Wars, what benefit would now come from you?" And this, methinks, is what Fortune says to the Virtue of Romulus: "Brilliant and mighty are your deeds, and in very truth you have proved yourself to be divine in blood and birth. 321But do you observe how far you fall behind me? For if, at the time of his birth, I had not accompanied him in a helpful and humane guise, but had deserted and abandoned the infants, how could you have come into being and whence had you derived such lustre? If on that occasion there had not come to them a female beast swollen with the abundance and the burden of her milk, and in need of some creature to be fed rather than of something to yield her sustenance, but if instead there had come some utterly savage and ravening creature, would not even now these fair palaces and temples, theatres, promenades, fora, and public buildings be herdsmen's huts and folds of shepherds who paid homage to some man of Alba or Etruria or Latium as their lord?" bThe beginning, as every one knows, is of supreme importance in everything,​48 and particularly in the founding and building of a city; and this Fortune provided, since she had preserved and protected the founder. For Virtue made Romulus great, but Fortune watched over him until he became great.

9 1 And in truth, it is generally agreed that a  p351 marvellous good Fortune guided the reign of Numa which endured for so many years.​49 For the tale that a certain Egeria, a dryad and a wise divinity, consorted in love with the man, and helped him in instituting and shaping the government of his State,​50 is perhaps somewhat fabulous. cFor other mortals who are said to have attained divine marriages and to have been beloved of goddesses, men like Peleus and Anchises, Orion and Emathion, by no means lived through their lives in a satisfactory, or even painless, manner. On the contrary, it appears likely that Numa had Good Fortune as his true wife, counsellor, and colleague; and she took the city in charge when it was being carried hither and yon amid the enmity and fierceness of bordering tribes and neighbours, as in the midst of turbulent billows of a troubled sea and was inflamed by countless struggles and dissensions; and she calmed those opposing passions and jealousies as though they had been but gusts of wind. dEven as they relate that the sea, when it has received the brood of halcyons in the stormy season, keeps them safe and assists in their nurture, even such a calm in the affairs of Rome, free from war or pestilence or danger or terror, Fortune caused to overspread and surround the city, and thus afforded the opportunity to a newly settled and sorely shaken people to take root and to establish their city on a firm foundation where it might grow in quiet, securely and unhindered. It is as with a merchantman or a trireme, which is constructed by blows and with great violence, and is buffeted by hammers and nails, bolts and saws and axes, and, when it is completed, it must remain at rest and grow firm for  p353 a suitable period of time until its bonds hold tight and its fastenings have acquired affinity; ebut if it be launched while its joinings are still damp and slippery, these will all be loosened when they are racked by the waves, and will admit the sea. Even so the first ruler and artificer of Rome, in organizing the city from rustics and shepherds, as though building up from a stout keel,​51 took upon himself no few labours, nor of slight moment were the wars and dangers that he withstood in warding off, of necessity, those who opposed the creation and foundation of Rome.

But he who was the second to take over the State gained time by good fortune to consolidate and make assured the enlargement of Rome; for much peace did he secure for her and much quiet. fBut if at that time a Porsenna had pressed hard upon the city and had erected an Etruscan stockade and a camp beside the new walls which were still moist and unstable, or if from the Marsi had come some rebellious chief filled with warlike frenzy, or some Lucanian, incited by envy and love of strife, a man contentious and warlike, as later was Mutilus or the bold Silo​52 or Sulla's last antagonist, Telesinus,​53 arming all Italy at any time one preconcerted signal, as it were — if one of these had sounded his trumpets round about Numa, the lover of wisdom, while he was sacrificing and praying, the early beginnings of the City would not have been able to hold out against such a mighty surge and billow, 322nor would they ever have increased to such a goodly and numerous people. But as it is, it seems likely that the peace of Numa's reign was a provision to equip  p355 them for their subsequent wars, and that the people, like an athlete, having, during a period of forty-three years following the contests of Romulus's time, trained themselves in quiet and made their strength staunch enough to cope in battle with those who later arrayed themselves against them. For they relate that no famine nor pestilence nor failure of crops nor any unseasonable occurrence in either summer or winter vexed Rome during that time, as if it were not a wise human counsel, but divine Fortune that was Rome's guardian during those crucial days. Therefore at that time the double door of Janus's​54 temple was shut, which the Romans call the Portal of War; bfor it is open when there is war, but closed when peace has been made. But after Numa died it was opened, since the war with the Albans had broken out. Then countless of the wars followed in continuous succession until again, after four hundred and eighty years, it was closed in the peace following the Punic War, when Gaius Atilius and Titus Manlius were consuls.​55 After this year it was again opened and the wars continued until Caesar's victory at Actium.​56 Then the arms of Rome were idle for a time, but not for long; cfor the tumults caused by the Cantabri and Gaul, breaking forth at the same time with the Germans, disturbed the peace. These facts are added to the record as proofs of Numa's good fortune.

10 1 And even the kings who succeeded Numa honoured Fortune as the head and foster-parent of  p357 Rome and, as Pindar​57 has it, truly the "Prop of the State."​58 And Servius Tullius, the man who of all kings most increased the power of his people, and introduced a well-regulated government and imposed order upon both the holding of elections and military procedure, and became the first censor and overseer of the lives and decorum of the citizens, and held the highest repute for courage and wisdom, of his own initiative attached himself to Fortune and bound his sovereignty fast to her, with the result that it was even thought that Fortune consorted with him, descending into his chamber through a certain  p359 window which they now call the Porta Fenestella.​59 fHe, accordingly, built on the Capitoline a temple of Fortune which is now called the Temple of Fortuna Primigenia​60 (which one might translate as "First-Born") and the Temple of Fortuna Obsequens,​61 which some think means "obedient" and others "gracious." However, I prefer to abandon the Latin nomenclature, and shall endeavour to enumerate in Greek the different functions of the shrines of Fortune. There is, in fact, a shrine of Private Fortune on the Palatine, and the shrine of the Fowler's Fortune which, even though it be a ridiculous name, yet gives reason for reflexion on metaphorical grounds, as if she attracted far-away objects and held them fast when they come into contact with her. Beside the mossy Spring, as it is called, 323there is even yet a temple of Virgin Fortune; and on the Esquiline a shrine of Regardful​62 Fortune. In the Angiportus Longusd there is an altar of Fortune of Good Hope; and there is also beside the altar of Venus of the Basket a shrine of the Men's Fortune. And there are countless other honours and appellations of Fortune, the greater part of which Servius instituted; for he knew that "Fortune is of great moment, or rather, she is everything in human affairs,"​63 and particularly since he himself, through good fortune, had been promoted from the family of a captive enemy to the kingship. For, when the town of Corniculum  p361 was taken by the Romans, a captive maiden Ocrisia,​64 bwhose fortune could not obscure either her beauty or her character, was given to be a slave to Tanaquil, the wife of king Tarquin; and a certain dependent, one of these whom the Romans call clientes, had her to wife; from these parents Servius was born. Others deny this, but assert that Ocrisia was a maiden who took the first-fruits and the libations on all occasions from the royal table and brought them to the hearth; and once on a time when she chanced, as usual, to be casting the offerings upon the fire, suddenly, as the flames died down, the member of a man rose up out of the hearth; cand this the girl, greatly frightened, told to Tanaquil only. Now Tanaquil was an intelligent and understanding woman, and she decked the maiden in garments such as become a bride, and shut her up in the room with the apparition, for she judged it to be of a divine nature. Some declare that this love was manifested by the Lar of the house, others that it was by Vulcan. At any rate, it resulted in the birth of Servius, and, while he was still a child, his head shone with a radiance very like the gleam of lightning. But Antias​65 and his school say not so, but relate that when Servius's wife Gegania lay dying, in the presence of his mother he fell into a sleep from dejection and grief; and as he slept, his face was seen by the women to be surrounded by the gleam of fire. dThis was a token of his birth from fire and an excellent sign pointing to his unexpected accession to the kingship, which he gained after the death of Tarquin, by  p363 the zealous assistance of Tanaquil.​66 Inasmuch as he of all kings is thought to have been naturally the least suited to monarchy and the least desirous of it, he who was minded to resign the kingship,​67 but was prevented from doing so; for it appears that Tanaquil on her death-bed made him swear that he would remain in power and would ever set before him the ancestral Roman form of government. Thus to Fortune wholly belongs the kingship of Servius, which he received contrary to his expectations and retained against his will.

11 e That we may not, however, appear to be retreating and withdrawing from illuminating and perspicuous testimonials into the dim past, as into a place of darkness, let us now leave the kings and transfer our discourse to the most notable deeds and the most celebrated wars. And in these wars, who would not acknowledge that much daring and courage was needed and also, as Timotheüs​68 has it,

Shame, the helpmate of warring Valour?

Yet the smooth flow of events and the impelling swiftness of Rome's progress to so high a pinnacle of power and expansion demonstrates to all who reason aright that the progress of Rome's sovereignty was not brought about by the handiwork and urging of human beings, but was speeded on its way by divine escort and the fair wind of Fortune. fTrophy upon trophy arises, triumph meets triumph, and the first blood, while still warm on their arms, is overtaken and washed away by a second flood. They count  p365 their victories, not by the multitude of corpses and spoils, but by captive kingdoms, by nations enslaved, by islands and continents added to their mighty realm. In one battle Philip lost Macedonia, with one stroke Antiochus was forced to withdraw from Asia, by one defeat the Carthaginians lost Africa. 324One man​69 in the swift onset of one campaign added to the Roman dominion Armenia, Pontus, the Euxine, Syria, Arabia, the Albanians, the Iberians, and all the territory to the Caucasus and the Hyrcanians; thrice did the Ocean which encircles the inhabited world see him victorious, for in Africa he drove back the Numidians​70 to the strands of the southern sea; even as far as the Atlantic Ocean, he subdued Iberia,​71 which had joined in the distemper of Sertorius; the kings of the Albanians were pursued until he brought them to a halt near the Caspian Sea.​72 All these successes he won through enjoying the Fortune of the Roman commonwealth; then he was overthrown by his own fate.

bBut the great Guardian Spirit of Rome sent a favouring breeze, not for one day, nor at its height for a brief time only, like the Macedonian, nor but a land breeze, like the Spartan, nor but a sea breeze, like the Athenian, nor late to rise, like the Persian, nor quick to cease, like the Carthaginian;​73 but this Spirit, from its first creation, grew in maturity, in might, and  p367 in polity together with the City, and remained constant to it on land and on sea, in war and in peace, against foreigners, against Greeks. This it was that dissipated and exhausted in the confines of Italy, like a mountain torrent, Hannibal the Carthaginian, csince no fresh aid flowed to him from home because of jealousy and political enmities. This it was that separated and kept apart by great intervals of space and time the armies of the Cimbri and of the Teutons, that Marius​74 might avail to fight each of them in turn, and that three hundred thousand men of irresistible and invincible arms might not simultaneously invade and overwhelm Italy. Through the agency of this Spirit Antiochus was fully occupied while war was being waged against Philip,​75 and Philip had been vanquished and was falling when Antiochus was making his venture; the Sarmatian and Bastarnian wars restrained Mithridates​76 during the time when the Marsian war was blazing up against Rome; dsuspicion and jealousy kept Tigranes​77 from Mithridates while Mithridates was brilliantly successful, but he joined himself to Mithridates only to perish with him in defeat.

12 1 And why not admit that Fortune also retrieved the city in times of the greatest danger? When the Gauls were encamped round about the Capitol and were besieging the citadel,

Baneful the plague that she brought on the host, and the people were dying.​78

And as for the Gauls' nocturnal assault, though they  p369 were noticed by none, yet Fortune and Chance brought about the discovery.

Concerning this assault of the Gauls it will perhaps not be unseasonable to give some additional details, however briefly. After the great defeat of the Romans at the river Allia,​79 esome in their flight found a haven in Rome and filled the people with consternation and terror, and caused them to scatter far and wide, although a few went to the Capitol and prepared to stand a siege.​80 Others, immediately after their defeat, gathered together at Veii and appointed as dictator Furius Camillus, whom the people in their prosperity and lofty pride had rejected and deposed because he had become involved in a suit concerning the appropriation of public property.​81 But now, cowed and humbled after their defeat, they were for recalling him, and offered to hand over to him the supreme command, accountable to no one. Accordingly, that he might not be thought to be obtaining office because of the crisis, but in accordance with the law, and that he should not, as if he had given up all hope for the city, fbe elected by soldiery in a canvass of the remnants of the army, now scattered and wandering, it was necessary that the senators on the Capitoline should vote upon the matter after they had been informed of the decision of the soldiers. Now there was a certain Gaius Pontius,​82 a brave man, who, by volunteering personally to report these resolutions to Senate on the Capitol, took upon himself great danger. For the way led through the midst of the enemy, who encompassed the citadel with sentries and  p371 palisades. When, accordingly, he had come by night to the river, 325he bound broad strips of cork beneath his breast and, entrusting his body to the buoyancy of this support, committed himself to the stream. Encountering a gentle current which bore him slowly down stream, he reached the opposite bank in safety, and, climbing out of the river, advanced toward the senate void of lights, inferring from the darkness and quiet that no one was there. Clinging to the precipitous cliff and entrusting himself to the support of sloping and circuitous ways and jagged surfaces of the rock which would allow a foothold or afford a clutch for his hand, he reached the top of the rock; he was received by the sentries, and made known to those within the decision of the army, band having obtained the decree of the Senate, he returned again to Camillus.

The next day one of the barbarians was wandering idly about this place, when he saw in one spot prints of feet and marks of slipping, and in another the bruising and tearing off of the grass, which grew on the earth of the cliff, and marks of the zigzag dragging and pulling up of a body; and this he told to the others. They, thinking that the way was pointed out to them by their enemies, attempted to rival them; and waiting till the very dead of night, they made the ascent, unnoticed not only by the sentinels, but also by the dogs which shared guard duty and formed the outpost, but then were overcome by sleep.

cRome's Fortune, however, did not lack a voice capable of revealing and declaring such a great mischance. Sacred geese​83 were kept near the temple of Juno for  p373 the service of the goddess. Now by nature this bird is easily disturbed and frightened by noise; and at this time, since they were neglected, because dire want oppressed the garrison, their sleep was light, and was made uncomfortable by hunger, with the result that they were at once aware of the enemy as they showed themselves above the edge of the cliff. The geese hissed at them and rushed at them impetuously, and at the sight of arms, became even more excited, and filled the place with piercing and discordant clamour. dBy this the Romans were aroused, and, when they comprehended what had happened, they forced back their enemies and hurled them over the precipice. And even to this day, in memory of these events, there are borne in solemn procession a dog impaled on a stake,​84 but a goose perched in state upon a costly coverlet in a litter.

This spectacle exhibits the might of Fortune and the ease with which, whenever she busies herself and takes command, she provides from unexpected sources against all emergencies by implanting intelligence in the unreasoning and senseless, and prowess and daring in the craven. For who would not, truly, be struck with astonishment and amazement when he has come to learn and has embraced in his consideration the former dejection of the city and her present prosperity, eand has looked upon the splendour of her temples, the richness of her votive offerings, the rivalry of her arts and crafts, the ambitious efforts of subject cities, the crowns of dependent kings, and all things which the earth contributes and the sea and islands, continents,  p375 rivers, trees, living creatures, plains, mountains, mines, the first-fruits of everything, vying for beauty in the aspect and grace that adorns this place? And then comes the thought: how near did all this come to not being created and to not existing at all! When all things else were overcome by fire and frightful darkness and gloom, by foreign swords and murderous rage, it was poor, irrational, and timorous creatures that contributed the beginning of deliverance; fand those great heroes and commanders, the Manlii, the Servilii, the Postumii, the Papirii, the founders of future illustrious houses, whom naught separated from death, geese aroused to make defence for the god of their fathers and for their fatherland. But if it be true, as Polybius​85 has recorded in his second book, concerning the Gauls who had at this time seized Rome, that, when news suddenly came to them that their domains at home were in danger of being lost to them at the hands of neighbouring barbarians who had invaded their land and were masters of it, they concluded a treaty of peace with Camillus and withdrew — 326if this be true, then there can be no contention with Fortune that she was not the cause of Rome's preservation, by distracting the enemy, or rather, by abstracting them from Rome quite unexpectedly.

13 1 But what need is there to dwell on these matters, which offer nothing certain or definite because of the confusion of the events of Roman history and the destruction of contemporary chronicles, as Livy​86 has recorded? Certainly the  p377 later events, plainer and clearer as they are, exhibit Fortune's benignity; and to Fortune I ascribe also the death of Alexander, a man who by great good luck and lofty aspirations, was sweeping swiftly through the world blike a shooting star from East to West, and was already allowing the lustre of his arms to gleam upon Italy, since the destruction of Alexander the Molossian​87 near Pandosia at the hands of the Bruttians and Lucanians served him as pretext for the campaign. But truly that love of glory which led him against all mankind embraced both an emulous desire for sovereignty and a wish to rival and to pass beyond the limits of Dionysus's and Heracles'​88 expeditions. He learned that Rome's power and courage was arrayed for the protection of Italy like a firm-set battle-line; cfor some account of their illustrious name and fame was often transmitted to him, as of athletes thoroughly practised in countless wars.

Not without spilling of blood could this matter, I deem, have been settled,​89

had the great aspirations of these two unconquered peoples with their invincible arms clashed with each other. For in numbers at this time the Romans were no fewer than an hundred and thirty thousand men;​90 and every one of them was warlike and intrepid,91

Knowing on horseback

How to do battle with men, and even, if need be, dismounted.​92

The Editor's Notes:

1 This name it actually does bear in seven (out of a total of about twenty-six) MSS.

2 Cf. Moralia, 717B.

3 That is, Wisdom.

4 Timaeus, 28B, 31B-32B.

5 Diels, Frag. der Vorsokratiker, II.88, Frag. B 148; cf. Moralia, 495E.

6 Cf. Moralia, 878C-F; De Anima, I.1 (Bernardakis, vol. VII, p1).

7 This scenes is perhaps imitated from Xenophon, Memorabilia, (p329)II.1.21‑34: Prodicus's Heracles and the contest of the goddesses, Virtue and Vice.

8 Homer, Od. XI.41.

9 Bergk, Poet. Lyr. Graec. II. p242, or Edmonds, Elegy and Iambus, I. p420; cf. Moralia, 334D, infra, 640A; Compar. of Demosthenes and Cicero, ii. (887B); cf. 337D, infra.

10 This is the Fortuna of Horace, Carmina, I.35; cf. Dio Chrysostom, Oration LXIII (p591 C-D); Galen, Protrepticus, 2.

11 Pindar, Frags. 39‑41 (ed. Christ), or Bergk, Poet. Lyr. Graec. I. p382.

12 Bergk, Poet. Lyr. Graec. III. p58, Alcman, no. 62; or Edmonds, Lyra Graeca, I. p90.

13 An exaggeration: 100 were killed: cf. Life of Aemilius Paulus, chap. xxi (266E); Livy, XLIV.42.

14 Cf. Cicero, De Finibus, V.27 (82); Tusculan Disp. i. (p333)35 (85); Velleius Paterculus, I.11.7; Valerius Maximus, VII.1.1; Pliny, Natural History, VII.13.59; 44.142.

15 That is, Vittatus.

16 Not literally true; he was of the gens Aemilia (cf. Cicero, Pro Murena, 7 (16)); but his father was engaged in the charcoal trade, and he had to fight his way as though he had been a novus homo.

17 Princeps senatus.

18 Life of Sulla, chap. ii (452B-C).

19 Oedipus Tyrannus, 1080.

20 Life of Sulla, chap. xxxiv (473D-E); Appian, Civil (p335)Wars, I.97; Diodorus, XXXVIII.15; Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum, VII. nos. 264, 372, 413 (=Dittenberger, Sylloge3, 747, 752).

21 That is, Venustus.

22 Koch, Com. Att. Frag. III.209, Menander, no. 739, or Menander, ed. Allinson (in L. C. L.), p528: cf. Moralia, 654D; scholia on Theocritus, II.10.

23 Life of Marcellus, chap. xxviii (314C); Livy, XXVII.25, XXIX.11; Valerius Maximus, I.1.8; Cicero, Verrine Orations, IV.54 (121); De Natura Deorum, II.23 (61).

24 The following passage is repeated in the MSS. with some changes infra, 322C-E, where see the note.

25 Cicero, De Natura Deorum, II.23 (61).

26 Cf. 281E, supra.

27 Cf. Life of Numa, chap. xxi (74B).

Thayer's Note: The point of the Loeb edition's note is uncertain. Neither in this passage, nor anywhere else in the Life of Numa is there anything about the Temple of Fortune. The passage referred to merely states that Ancus Marcus was Numa's grandson.

28 Contrast Life of Coriolanus, chap. i (214B). W. W. Goodwin's suggestion that Plutarch misunderstood Fors Fortuna in an oblique case (e.g. Fortis Fortunae), is not unlikely; see e.g. Tacitus, Annals, II.41, where the mistake would be easy for a foreigner.

Thayer's Note: For the temple(s) of Fors Fortuna, see the article in Platner and Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.

29 The Women's Fortune: cf. Life of Coriolanus, chap. xxxvii (231F ff.); Livy, II.40.12; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, VIII.56.2; Valerius Maximus, I.8.4; 5.2.

Thayer's Note: See also Festus, quoted by Platner & Ashby s.v.  Sacellum Pudicitiae Patriciae.

30 Cf. Life of Camillus, chap. xxix (143E).

31 Perhaps an attempted translation of Aius Locutius; cf. Livy, V. 32.6; 50.5; Life of Camillus, chap. xxx (144C-D); Aulus Gellius, XVI.17; Cicero, De Divinatione, I.45 (101); II.32 (69).

32 See note c on p337.

33 Cf. Suetonius, Divus Julius, 83; Dio Cassius, XLIV.35.3.

34 Cf. Lucan, Pharsalia, V.406 ff.

35 Cf. Moralia, 206C-D, and note b in L. C. L. Vol. III p226.

36 Cf. the metaphor of Tacitus, Historiae, I.52 "panderet modo sinum et venienti Fortunae occurreret."

37 As above, 319B: "Fortune postponed the season."

38 Cf.  Moralia, 207E.

39 Cf. Classical Review, XXV.15.

Thayer's Note: Plutarch repeats this in Life of Antony, 33.3.

40 Cf. Life of Antony, xxxiii (930D-E).

41 Cf. Life of Romulus, chaps. iii‑iv (19C-F); and 268F, 278C, supra.

42 Cf. Life of Romulus, chap. xxvii (34E); Life of Camillus, xxxiii (146D).

Thayer's Note: So the Loeb edition; but the Life of Romulus reference has nothing to do with the matter at hand, q.v.; and the Life of Camillus reference has to do with the eclipse not at the birth of Romulus but at his death; it belonged in the next note, where I have copied it.

43 July 7th; cf. Life of Romulus, chap. xxix (36C); Life of Numa, chap. ii (60C); Life of Camillus, xxxiii (146D);º Müller, Frag. Hist. Graec. IV.552‑553; Varro, De Lingua Latina, VI.18.

44 Perhaps Plutarch is attempting to give a version of super ripas Tiberis effusus lenibus stagnis . . . in proxima alluvie of Livy, I.4.

45 Cf. 278C, supra.

46 Cf. cursum flexisse of Livy, I.4.

47 Cf. 270B, supra, and the note.

48 Cf. the Pythagorean ἀρχὴ μέν τοι ἢμισυ παντός (Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras, 162).

49 Cf. Life of Numa, chap. iv (61F ff.); Livy, I.19.5, 21.3; Ovid, Metamorphoses, XV.487; Fasti, III.261 ff.; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, II.60.5.

50 Cf. Life of Numa, chap. iv (62A).

51 Is this a reminiscence of Plato, Timaeus, 81B; or of Polybius, I.38.5?

52 Cf. Life of Marius, chap. xxxiii (424D).

53 Life of Sulla, chap. xxix (470D); Compar. of Lysander and Sulla, iv. (477F).

54 Cf. Life of Numa, chap. xx (73A); Livy, I.19.2‑7; Pliny, Natural History, XXXIV.7.33; Suetonius, Augustus, 22.

55 In 235 B.C. after the First Punic War; references may be found in Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encycl. XIV.1207.

56 In 31 B.C.

57 Cf. Pausanias, IV.30.6.

58 It is possible that in the MSS. the next section, which interrupts the historical sequence, is a copyist's error, being perhaps copied from an earlier page of the archetype (sc. 318D-F, supra) with some slight additions, changes, and omissions by later copyists. Another theory, however, is (p357)possible: the section before us appeared in Plutarch's first sketch of the essay, and was later modified and completed in chap. v (supra); Plutarch did not himself publish the essay, but after his death the first editor neglected to cancel the present passage (Bruhn and Stegmann). A translation follows:

"One may consider the matter thus: there is in Rome an honoured shrine of Virtue which they themselves call the shrine of Virtus; but it was built late and after a considerable lapse of time by Marcellus, who captured Syracuse. There is also a shrine of Reason, or verily of Good Counsel, which they call Mens (Mind); but this also was dedicated by Aemilius Scaurus, who lived in the era of the Cimbrian Wars, at which time rhetoric and sophistry and Greek argumentation had already found their way into the City. But even now they have no temple of Wisdom or Prudence or Constancy or Magnanimity. But of Fortune there are very many ancient and splendid temples built with every honour, one might say, and interspersed throughout the most conspicuous districts and localities of the City. The shrine of the Men's Fortune was built by Ancus Marcius, the fourth king, and so named because Fortune has the largest share with Manly Fortitude for winning the victory. And again, that the shrine of the Women's Fortune was dedicated by the women who turned back Marcius Coriolanus when he was leading enemies against Rome, there is no one who does not know."

59 Cf. 273B, supra.

60 Cf. 281E and 289B-C, supra; Cicero, De Legibus, II.11.28; Livy, XXIX.36.8, XXXIV.53.5.

61 With this and the following passage 281D-F, supra, should be carefully compared.

62 Is this meant to be a translation of Redux?

Thayer's Note: See the article Fortuna εὐέλπις in Platner & Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.

63 A literal quotation from Demosthenes, Olynthiae ii.22.

64 Cf. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman AntiquitiesIV.1; Ovid, Fasti, VI.627 ff.; Livy, I.39; Pliny, Natural History, XXXVI.27.204.

65 Peter, Frag. Hist. Rom. p154, Valerius Antias, Frag. 12.

66 Cf. 273C, supra.

67 Cf. Livy, I.48.9; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, IV.40.3.

68 From the Persians: Frag. 14, ed. Wilamowitz; cf. Moralia, 32D, and Edmonds, Lyra Graeca, III. p307.

69 Cf. Life of Pompey, chap. xlv (642E); Housman on Manilius IV.52.

70 Cf. Life of Pompey, chap. xii (624F).

71 Ibid. chaps. xviii‑xxi (627D-629C).

72 Ibid. chap. xxxv (637F).

73 "Carthaginian" is an emendation, the MSS. having "Colophonians" (cf. Thucydides, III.37). Almost any reasonable guess might serve as well.

74 Cf. Life of Marius, chap. xv (414B).

75 Cf. Life of Flamininus, chap. ix (374B); it is interesting to find a critical modern historian interpreting these events (p367)in almost the same words as Plutarch: see M. Holleaux in the Cambridge Ancient History, vol. VIII p225.

76 Cf. Appian, Mithridatica, 15, 69.

77 Cf. Life of Lucullus, chap. xxii (505F-506A)

78 Homer, Il. I.10.

79 Cf. Life of Camillus, chap. xviii (137E); Livy, V.35‑38.

80 Cf. ibid. chap. xx (138F); Livy, V.39‑40.

81 Cf. Life of Camillus, chap. xii (134F).

82 Ibid. chaps. xxv‑xxvii (141D‑143A); Livy V.46, 47; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman AntiquitiesXIII.7.

83 Cf. 287C, supra.

84 Cf. Pliny, Natural History, XXIX.4 (57); Aelian, De Natura Animalium, XII.33; Lydus, De Mensibus, IV.114; Bücheler, Umbrica, p128.

85 II.18.3.

86 Livy, VI.1.2.

87 In 330 B.C.; he was the uncle of Alexander the Great. Cf. Livy, VIII.17.24.

88 Cf. 332A infra; Lucian, True History, I.7.

89 Adapted from Homer, Od. XVIII.149.

90 Cf. Livy, IX.19.2, who says 250,000.

91 Cf. Livy, IX.16.19 ff., for a comparison of Alexander and the Romans.

92 Homer, Od. IX.49‑50.

Thayer's Notes:

a I've never seen the name of an artist, sculptor, or architect on any Roman monument, and I believe such signatures are very rare; I hear tell that they are commoner on Greek monuments.

b Something is wrong here, either in Plutarch or his sources that the eclipse fell on the Capratine Nones; or in Plutarch's statement that the Nones Capratinae were those of Quintilis/July (Life of Numa, 2.1): there was, at any rate, no eclipse of the sun visible in Rome on or near July 5 at any time during the 8th (or 7th) centuries B.C. — this according to Oppolzer's Canon der Finsternisse, the standard authority on eclipses thru most of the 20c and until very recently.

There were, however, two (and only two) total solar eclipses visible at Rome in the 8c B.C., in Feb 765 and Mar 711; if there is any truth at all to the tradition of Romulus's life being bracketed by eclipses, they are very attractive candidates: for details, see my note on Cassius Dio I.5.12; but remember also that the Roman calendar was not fully set in order until the reign of Augustus, so that we may owe the Capratine Nones date to some unknown traditional source, and the detailed eclipse stories and the 54 years to Varro's astrologer — see that same note of mine.

The maximum duration of the total phase of an eclipse, by the way, when the earth would be dark, is something less than 8 minutes: unlike Hercules, and in keeping with his own temperament, of which there are many other indications in ancient literature, Mars made quick work of it.

An alternate solution, which I owe to the kindness of Alberto Monteiro, for the eclipse during which Romulus was conceived is the partial eclipse of the Sun of June 24, 772 B.C. (i.e., -771 astronomical). This would have put his birth in March, 771 B.C., "one of the dates that the ancient writers assigned to the birth of Romulus".

At Rome mind you the disk of the Moon just barely touched that of the Sun, so that the eclipse would hardly qualify as "night", and was very short; Mars would really have to have been zippy about it. The June date, on the other hand, doesn't invalidate anything: the disorder in the Roman calendar was such that what was felt at the time to be July 5 could very well have been June 24.

c For further details, especially about the etymology, see the article in Platner and Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.

d Plutarch's Greek is ἐν δὲ τῷ μακρῷ στενωπῷ, and Angiportus longus is an invention of the 20c translator: while angiportus (a cognate of angustus, narrow) is a good translation of στενωπός (from στενός, narrow), inscriptions show that in reality the Romans knew the street as Vicus Longus; and for that matter, despite thousands of inscriptions and all of Latin literature, there is apparently no known example in Rome of a named angiportus (Philip W. Harsh, "Angiportum, Platea, and Vicus", in Class. Phil. XXXII: p48). At any rate, see the article Vicus Longus in Platner and Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 14 Jul 18