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I OBSERVE that levitas is now generally used to denote inconsistency and changeableness, and nequitia, in the sense of craftiness and cunning. But those of the men of early days who spoke properly and purely applied the term leves to those whom we now commonly call worthless and meriting no esteem. That is, they used levitas with precisely the force of vilitas, and applied the term nequam to a man of no [p. 53] importance nor worth, the sort of man that the Greeks usually call ἄσωτος (beyond recovery) or ἀκόλαστος(incorrigible). One who desires examples of these words need not resort to books that are very inaccessible, but he will find them in Marcus Tullius' second Oration against Antony. For when Cicero wished to indicate a kind of extreme sordidness in the life and conduct of Marcus Antonius, that he lurked in a tavern, that he drank deep until evening, and that he travelled with his face covered, so as not to be recognized— when he wished to give expression to these and similar charges against him, he said: 1 “Just see the worthlessness (levitatem) of the man,” as if by that reproach he branded him with all those various marks of infamy which I have mentioned. But afterwards, when he had heaped upon the same Antony sundry other scornful and opprobrious charges, he finally added “O man of no worth (nequam)! for there is no term that I can use more fittingly.” But from that passage of Marcus Tullius I should like to add a somewhat longer extract: “Just see the worthlessness of the man! Having come to Saxa Rubra at about the tenth hour of the day, 2 he lurked in a certain low tavern, and shutting himself up there drank deep until evening. Then riding swiftly to the city in a cab, he came to his home with covered face. The doorkeeper asked: 'Who are you?' 'The bearer of a letter from Marcus,' was the reply. He was at once taken to the lady on whose account he had come, 3 and handed her the letter. While she read it with tears—for it was written in amorous terms and its [p. 55] main point was this: that hereafter he would have nothing to do with that actress, that he had cast aside all his love for her and transferred it to the reader—when the woman wept still more copiously, the compassionate man could not endure it; he uncovered his face and threw himself on her neck. O man of no worth!—for I can use no more fitting term; was it, then, that your wife might unexpectedly see you, when you had surprised her by appearing as her lover, that you upset the city with terror by night and Italy with dread for many days?” In a very similar way Quintus Claudius too, in the first book of his Annals, called a prodigal and wasteful life of luxury nequitia, using these words: 4 “They persuade a young man from Lucania, who was born in a most exalted station, but had squandered great wealth in luxury and prodigality (nequitia).” Marcus Varro in his work On the Latin Language says: 5 “Just as from non and volo we have nolo, so from ne and quicquam is formed nequam, with the loss of the medial syllable.” Publius Africanus, speaking In his own Defence against Tiberius Asellus in the matter of a fine, thus addressed the people: 6 “All the evils, shameful deeds, and crimes that men commit come from two things, malice and profligacy (nequitia). Against which charge do you defend yourself, that of malice or profligacy, or both together? If you wish to defend yourself against the charge of profligacy, well and good; if you have squandered more money on one harlot than you reported for the census as the value of all the [p. 57] equipment of your Sabine estate; if this is so, who pledges a thousand sesterces? 7 If you have wasted more than a third of your patrimony and spent it on your vices; if that is so, who pledges a thousand sesterces? You do not care to defend yourself against the charge of profligacy; at least refute the charge of malice. If you have sworn falsely in set terms knowingly and deliberately; if this is so, who pledges a thousand sesterces?”
1 Phil. ii. 77.
2 About four o'clock in the afternoon.
3 His wife, Fulvia.
4 Fr. 15, Peter2.
5 x. 5. 81.
6 O. R. F., p. 183, Meyer2.
7 The lexicons and commentators define the sponsio as a “legal wager,” in which the two parties to a suit put up a sum of money, which was forfeited by the one who lost his case; and they cite Gaius, Inst. iv. 93. But in iv. 94 Gaius says that only one party pledged a sum of money (unde etiam is, cum quo agetur, non restipulabatur), that it was merely a preliminary to legal action, and that the sum was not forfeited (non tamen haec summa sponsionis exigitur; nec enim poenalis sed praeiudicialis, et propter hoc solum fit, ut per earn de re iudicetur). Wagers, however, were common; see Plaut. Pers. 186 ff.; Cas. prol. 75; Catull. 44. 4; Ovid, Ars Amat. i. 168.
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