previous next

Ma'ximus, Vale'rius

Valerius Maximus, to whom the praenomen Marcus is assigned in one of the best MSS., and that of Publius in another, is known to us as the compiler of a large collection of historical anecdotes, entitled De Factis Dictisque Memorabilibus Libri IX., arranged under different heads, the sayings and doings of Roman worthies being, moreover, kept distinct in each division from those of foreigners. No reasonable doubt can be entertained with regard to the period when he fourished. The dedication is indeed couched in such general terms, that the adulation might apply to almost any Caesar; but when we find the writer speaking of himself as removed by two generations only from M. Antonius the orator (6.8.1), when we remark the studied abhorrence everywhere expressed towards Brutus and Cassius (6.4.5, 1.8.8), and the eager flattery so lavishly heaped upon the Julian line, we at once conclude that he lived under the first emperors. The description of the reigning prince as one descended from both of the two illustrious censors, Claudius Nero and Livius Salinator (9.2.6), distinctly marks out Tiberius; and, this point being fixed, we can determine that the parricide, whose treason and destruction form the theme of a glowing invective (9.11.4), must be the notorious Sejanus. The opinion hazarded by some of the earlier scholars, that we ought to regard this Valerius Maximus as the same person with the consul of that name who held office for the first time under Volusianus in A. D. 253, and for second time under Gallienus in A. D. 256, seems to be totally devoid of any foundation, and is directly contradicted not only by the evidence recited above, but also by the fact that the Valerius Maximus whom we are now considering is referred to by the elder Pliny (H. N. i. ind. lib. vii.), by Plutarch (Marcell. sub fin.), and by Aulus Gellius (12.7), the testimony of the last especially being quite impregnable. Of his personal history we know nothing, except the solitary circumstance, recorded by himself, that he accompanied, but in what capacity we are not told, Sex. Pompeius into Asia (2.6.8), the Sextus Pompeius apparently who was consul A. D. 14, at the time when Augustus died, and who was the first to render homage to his successor.


The subjects treated of are of a character so miscellaneous, that it would be impossible, without transcribing the short notices placed at the head of each chapter, to convey a clear idea of the contents. In some books the topics selected for illustration are closely allied to each other, in others no bond of union can be traced. Thus the first book is entirley, devoted to matters connected with sacred rites, and we have a succession of narratives: De Religione Obscurata, De Religione Neglecta, De Religione Simulata, De Religione Peregrina Rejecta, De Auspiciis, De Ominibus, De Prodigiis, De Somniis, De Miraculis; the second book relates chiefly to certain remarkable civil institutions; the third, fourth, fifth and sixth, to the more prominent social virtues; but in the seventh the chapters De Strategematis, De Repulsis, are abruptly followed by those De Necessitate, De Testamentis Rescissis, De Ratis Testamentis et Insperatis. Upon observing the symmetry which prevails in some places with the disorder so perceptible in others, we feel strongly disposed to conjecture that particular sections may have been at one time circulated separately, and afterwards collected without due attention being paid to their proper collocation; while at the same time we are impressed with the conviction that a much more suitable and natural disposition of the different parts might be introduced. In this way something like a general plan would become visible; for without going so far as to assert that the whole ought to be regarded in the light of a formal treatise on morality, taught by examples, it is even now very evident that the greater number of the stories are designed to illustrate some great moral principle. In an historical point of view the work is by no means without value, since it preserves a record of many curious events not to be found elsewhere; but from the errors actually detected upon points where we possess more precise information, it is manifest that we must not repose implicit confidence in the statements unless where they are corroborated by collateral testimony. The writer is much too eager to make a strong impression, and is willing to sacrifice both simplicity and probability for the sake of astonishing and confounding his readers. The style, in like manner, although not destitute of force and point, is throughout constrained and ambitious, full of violent antitheses and harsh metaphors, cumbrous and obscure. The Latinity which was pronounced by Erasmus to bear no more resemblance to that of Cicero than a mule does to a man, is of such anl inferior stamp that many critics have been unable to persuade themselves that it could have proceeded from one who bordered closely upon the Augustan age, and hence have been driven to adopt the hypothesis that what we now possess is not really the production of Valerius Maximus, but a series of extracts from h im, collected and compressed by a later hand, according to the plan pursued by Justin towards Trogus Pompeius [JUSTINUS]; and Vossius supposes that this task was performed by a certain Julius Paris. Without dwelling upon the à priori argument, which is, however, very convincing, that the pages now before us contain many ornaments, many diffuse descriptions, and many grandiloquent periods, which would have been omitted, curtailed, and tamed down by an epitomator, we must make stome inquiries into the extent of the original work, and these will be found to bear directly upon the origin and plausibility of the theory which we have just stated.


All the most important MSS. and the earliest printed editions present us with nine books and no More. But to a few codices a short tract is found appended on the history and import of the praenomen among the Romans. To this are usually prefixed two brief introductions, first pabli.,hed from MSS. by Pighilus. One professes to be C. Titi Probi in Epitomen suam Praefatiatio, the other is anonymous; but both regard this fragments as belonging to an abridgment of a tenth book of Valerius Maximus, which is supposed to have discussed all the different names in use; and the second preface ascribes the abridgement expressly to " Julius Paris, the abbreviator of Valerius," who, it is added, entitled it Liber Decimus de Praenominibus et similibus. Now, although the " Epitome de Nominum Ratione," as it is sometimes called, does not, as it stands, bear the slightest resemblance in form or in substance to the Memorabilia, and although it is hard to understand how it could, from whatever source derived, have been in any way connected with it, we are fully entitled to infer from these little prefaces that Valerius Maximus had been abridged by a Titus Probus, and by a Julius Paris ; and, in addition to these two, a letter published by Labbe (biblioth. MSS. vol. i. p. 669) furnishes us with the name of a third epitomator, Januarius Nepotianus. the belief, however, that what now passes as the work of Valerius Maximus was, in truth, one of these abridgments, has been Completely everthrownm in so far as Parise and Nepotianus are concerned, by the researches of Angelo Mai, who detected in the library of the Vatican MSS. of these very abridgements, and printed them in his " Scriptorum Veterum Nova Collectio e Vaticanis Codicibus edita," 4to. Rom. 1828, vol. iii. pt. iii. p. 1-116. The abridgement of Julius Paris includes the whole of the nine books, and also the Liber Decimus de Praenominibus, which terminates, it would seem, abruptly, for the index at the beginning of the MS. promises six chapters, De Praenominsibus, De Nominibus, De Cognominibus, De Agnomninibus, De Appellationibus, De Verbis, of which the first only is extant. There is a dedication likewise to a Licinius Cyriacus, in which Paris declares "decem Valerii Maximi libros dictorum et factorum melmorabilium ad unum volumen epitomae coegi." This piece was unquestionably executed at a very early period, for the phraseology is very pure, and is by no means a close transcript of the original, from which the epitomator departs not only in words, but occasionally in facts also, as may be seen from the examples quoted in Mai (praef. xxii.). The abridgement of Nepotianus again is very inmperfect, breaking off in the second chapter of the third book : it belongs to a later epoch than the former, but is quite independent of it, it is more brief, passes over several of the examples given by Valerius, and substitutes others in their room. We are led to surmise that the same MS. may at one time have embraced the abridgement of Probus also, for subjoined to the conclusion of Julius Paris we read the title C. TITI PROBI FINIT EPITOMA HISTORIARUM DIVERSORUM EXEMPLORUMQUE ROMANORUM. FELICITER EMENDAVI DESCRIPTUM RABENNAE RUSTICIUS HELPIDIUS DOMNULUS, V. C. If these words stand upon a separate leaf, which is not quite certain from the description of Mai, we should be induced to conclude that a large number of sheets had been left out in binding up the MS., and that these had comprehended the five missing sections, "De Nominum Ratione," together with the whole abridgement of Probus. Although the question with respect to the tenth book of Valerius is involved in greater obscurity than ever by the result of the above investigations, we may now feel certain that the second and third of the three propositions by which Vossius endeavoured to get rid of the difficulties by which the subject is embarrassed, cannot be maintained. These were: 1. That Julius Paris was the epitomator of the nine books of Valerius Maximus; 2. That he was the author of the essay " De Nominum Ratione ;" 3. That Probus merely drew up an epitome of the essay by Julius Paris.

Finally, we must not omit to point out that even before the discovery of Mai the abridgment by Paris was not altogether unknown. There is a blank in the MSS. of Valerius Maximus extending from 1.1.5, of the " externa exempla," down to the end of chapter IV. This hiatus Aldus filled up by an extract supplied to him by Cuspiniianus, from the epitome of Paris then existing at Vienna; and this has been retained in all subsequent editions, so that what we now read within the above limits are not the words of Maximus, but of Paris.

Besides the abridgements already specified, Mai found no less than three more among the MSS. of the Vatican, two of them anonymous; the third by " John the son of Andrew ;" and so late as the end of the fifteenth century Robert de Valla and J. Hinorius arranged similar excerpta, which were published, the former in 4to., without date and without name of place or printer, but about 1500, the latter at Leipzig, 4to. 1503. These facts prove how highly the Memorabilia was valued as a storehouse where rhetoricians could at all times find a large and varied stock of striking illustrations ready for use; and Paris informs us that his epitome was intended to render these treasures more available to debaters and declaimers.


The Editio Princeps of Valerius Maximus, according to the best bibliographers, is a folio in Gothic characters, without date and without any name of place or printer, but which is known to have been the work of J. Mentelin of Strasburg, and to have appeared about 1470: this and two other very old impressions, one by Peter Schoyfer, fol. Mount. 1471, the other by Vindelin de Spira, fol. Venet. 1471, contest the honour of being the first, and in addition, upwards of fourteen distinct editions, were published before 1490, a sure indication of the high estimation in which the book was held.

The first critical edition was that of Aldus, 8vo. Venet. 1502; and the text was gradually improved by the labours of Paulus Manutius, 8vo. Venet. 1534; of Steph. Pighius, who filled up many blanks from MSS., but did not bestow sufficient time upon his task, 8vo. Antv. Plantin. 1657.; of Vorstius, 8vo. Berol. 1672; and especially of Torrenius, 4to. Leid. 1726, whose text is still the standard, although some improvements were introduced by Kappius, 8vo. Lips. 1782; and much still remains in a most unsatisfactory condition.


We have an English translation, The History of the Acts and Sayiings of the Ancient Romans, written by Valerius Maximus, translated into English by W. Speed, 8vo. Lond. 1678; another by Charles Lloyd was advertised in 1814; but it seems doubtful whether it was ever published. There is a very old half translation, half commentary, in French, by Simon de Hesdin and Nicolas de Gonesse, commenced by the former as early as 1364, finished by the latter about 1405, and printed without date or name of place about 1476. See Mémoires d(e l'Académie de Belles Lettres, vol. xxxvi. p. 165. There are also several translations into French, Italian, and German, the most recent in the three languages respectively being those by Fremion, 3 vols. 8vo. Paris, 1827; by Michaele Battagia, 2 vols. 8vo. Treviro, 1821; and by Hoffmann, 5 vols. 16vo. Stuttgard, 1828.


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.
256 AD (1)
253 AD (1)
14 AD (1)
hide References (1 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (1):
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 12.7
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: