previous next


But the invention of money opened a new field to human avarice, by giving rise to usury and the practice of lending money at interest, while the owner passes a life of idleness: and it was with no slow advances that, not mere avarice only, but a perfect hunger1 for gold became inflamed with a sort of rage for acquiring: to such a degree, in fact, that Septimuleius, the familiar friend of Caius Gracchus, not only cut off his head, upon which a price had been set of its weight in gold, but, before2 bringing it to Opimius,3 poured molten lead into the mouth, and so not only was guilty of the crime of parricide, but added to his criminality by cheating the state. Nor was it now any individual citizen, but the universal Roman name, that had been rendered infamous by avarice, when King Mithridates caused molten gold to be poured into the mouth of Aquilius4 the Roman general, whom he had taken prisoner: such were the results of cupidity.

One cannot but feel ashamed, on looking at those new-fangled names which are invented every now and then, from the Greek language, by which to designate vessels of silver filagreed5 or inlaid with gold, and the various other practices by which such articles of luxury, when only gilded,6 are made to sell at a higher price than they would have done if made of solid gold: and this, too, when we know that Spartacus7 forbade any one of his followers to introduce either gold or silver into the camp—so much more nobleness of mind was there in those days, even in our runaway slaves.

The orator Messala has informed us that Antonius the triumvir made use of golden vessels when satisfying the most humiliating wants of nature, a piece of criminality that would have reflected disgrace upon Cleopatra even! Till then, the most consummate instances of a similar licentiousness had been found among strangers only—that of King Philip, namely, who was in the habit of sleeping with a golden goblet placed beneath his pillows, and that of Hagnon of Teos, a commander under Alexander the Great, who used to fasten the soles of his sandals with nails of gold.8 It was reserved for Antonius to be the only one thus to impart a certain utility to gold, by putting an insult upon Nature. Oh how righteously would he himself have been proscribed! but then the proscription should have been made by Spartacus.9

1 "Fames auri." Similar to the words of Virgil, "Auri sacra fames." "The curst greed for gold." See Note 17 to Chapter 3 of this Book.

2 Another version of this story was, that he extracted the brain, and inserted lead in its place.

3 See B. xiv. c. 16.

4 In B.C. 88, M. Aquilius proceeded to Asia Minor as one of the consular legati to prosecute the war against Mithridates. On being defeated near Protomachium, he was delivered up to Mithridates by the inhabitants of Mytilene, and after being treated in the most barbarous manner, was put to death by pouring molten gold down his throat.

5 "Insperso." Sillig is of opinion that Pliny is here speaking of the work now known by Italian artists as tausia or lavoro all' agemina.

6 Hardouin thinks that Pliny is here making allusion to the Greek word "chrysendeta," vessels "encircled with gold." It is frequently used in Martial's works.

7 See B. xv. c. 38.

8 It is against such practices as these that Martial inveighs, B. i, Ep. 28, and B. ix. Ep. 12.

9 A slave only; and not by any of his brother patricians. Antony was rendered infamous by his proscriptions.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Latin (Karl Friedrich Theodor Mayhoff, 1906)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
88 BC (1)
hide References (2 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: