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Servius Oppidius, rich in the possession of an ancient estate, is reported when dying to have divided two farms at Canusium between his two sons, and to have addressed the boys, called to his bed-side, [in the following manner]: When I saw you, Aulus, carry your playthings and nuts carelessly in your bosom, [and] to give them and game them away; you, Tiberius, count them, and anxious hide them in holes; I was afraid lest a madness of a different nature should possess you: lest you [Aulus], should follow the example of Nomentanus, you, [Tiberius], that of Cicuta. Wherefore each of you, entreated by our household gods, do you (Aulus) take care lest you lessen; you (Tiberius) lest you make that greater, which your father thinks and the purposes of nature determine to be sufficient. Further, lest glory should entice you, I will bind each of you by an oath: whichever of you shall be an aedile or a praetor, let him be excommunicated and accursed. Would you destroy your effects in [largesses of] peas, beans, and lupines,1 that you may stalk in the circus at large, or stand in a statue of brass, O madman, stripped of your paternal estate, stripped of your money To the end, forsooth, that you may gain those applauses, which Agrippa2 gains, like a cunning fox imitating a generous lion? O Agamemnon, why do you prohibit any one from burying3 Ajax? I am a king. I, a plebeian,4 make no further inquiry. And I command a just thing: but, if I seem unjust to any one, I permit you to speak your sentiments with impunity. Greatest of kings, may the gods grant that, after the taking of Troy, you may conduct your fleet safe home: may I then have the liberty to ask questions, and reply in my turn? Ask. Why does Ajax, the second hero after Achilles, rot [above ground], so often renowned for having saved the Grecians; that Priam and Priam's people may exult in his being unburied, by whose means so many youths have been deprived of their country's rites of sepulture. In his madness he killed a thousand sheep, crying out that he was destroying the famous Ulysses and Menelaus, together with me. When you at Aulis substituted your sweet daughter in the place of a heifer before the altar, and, O impious one, sprinkled her head with the salt cake; did you preserve soundness of mind? Why do you ask? What then did the mad Ajax do, when he slew the flock with his sword? He abstained from any violence to his wife and child, though he had imprecated many curses on the sons of Atreus: he neither hurt Teucer, nor even Ulysses himself. But I, out of prudence, appeased the gods with blood, that I might loose the ships detained on an adverse shore. Yes, madman! with your own blood. With my own [indeed], but I was not mad. Whoever shall form images foreign from reality, and confused in the tumult of impiety,5 will always be reckoned disturbed in mind: and it will not matter, whether he go wrong through folly or through rage. Is Ajax delirious, while he kills the harmless lambs? Are you right in your head, when you willfully commit a crime for empty titles? And is your heart pure, while it is swollen with the vice?6 If any person should take a delight to carry about with him in his sedan a pretty lambkin; and should provide clothes, should provide maids and gold for it, as for a daughter; should call it Rufa and Rufilla, and should destine it a wife for some stout husband; the praetor would take power from him being interdicted, and the management of him would devolve to his relations, that were in their senses. What, if a man devote his daughter instead of a dumb lambkin, is he right of mind? Never say it. Therefore, wherever there is a foolish depravity, there will be the height of madness. He who is wicked, will be frantic too: Bellona, who delights in bloodshed, has thundered about him, whom precarious fame has captivated.
1 Distributions of these were frequently made to the people by candidates for offices, or by the aediles at the celebration of the games, etc. Oppidius asks whether his son would be so mad as to squander his property in largesses, for the sake of obtaining an office in the state. Comp.
2 This compliment to Agrippa is introduced with great art, as if it escaped accidentally, and it is enlivened by a comparison, short but noble. Although Agrippa had been consul in 717, yet he condescended to accept the office of aedile in 720, when he entertained the people with a magnificence and expense beyond what they had ever seen.
3 Here opens another scene, in which a king and a Stoic are engaged, and in which the philosopher proves in good form, that this greatest of monarchs is a fool and a madman. The debate arises from an incident in a play of Sophocles, in which Agamemnon refuses to let Ajax be buried.(Ajax 1223-1375)
4 Agamemnon finding his answer, I am a king, a little too tyrannical, adds, our decree was just. Perhaps the humility of the philosopher, either ironical or serious, in seeming to allow his royal manner of deciding the question, extorted this condescension from the monarch.
5 i. e. the perturbation of mind leading to the commission of impious deeds.
6 i. e. of madness.
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