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[4arg] How Sulpicius Apollinaris made fun of a man who asserted that he alone understood Sallust's histories, by inquiring the meaning of these words in Sallust: incertum, stolidior an vacnior.

WHEN I was already a young man at Rome, having laid aside the purple-bordered toga of boyhood, and was on my own account seeking masters of deeper knowledge, I happened to be with the booksellers in Shoemaker's Street at the time when Sulpicius Apollinaris, the most learned man of all within my memory, in the presence of a large gathering made fun of a boastful fellow who was parading his reading of Sallust, and turned him into ridicule with that kind of witty irony which Socrates used against the sophists. For when the man declared that he was the one and only reader and expositor of Sallust, and openly boasted that he did not merely search into the outer skin and obvious meaning of his sentences, but delved into and thoroughly examined the very blood and marrow of his words, then Apollinaris, pretending to embrace and venerate his learning, said: “Most opportunely, my good master, do you come to me now with the blood and marrow of Sallust's language. For yesterday I was asked what in the world those words of his meant which he wrote in the fourth book of his Histories about Gnaeus Lentulus, of whom he says that it is uncertain whether he was more churlish or more unreliable”; and he quoted the very words, as Sallust wrote them: 1 “But Gnaeus Lentulus, his colleague, surnamed Clodianus, a man of patrician family—and it is not at all easy to say whether he [p. 309] was more churlish or more unreliable—proposed a bill for exacting the money which Sulla had remitted to the purchasers of property.”

Apolinaris therefore asserted that it was asked of him, and that he had not been able to answer tile question, what was meant by vanior and what by stolidior, since Sallust seemed to have separated the words and contrasted them with each other, as if they were different and unlike and did not both designate the same fault; and therefore he asked that the man would tell him the meaning and origin of the two words.

Then the other, showing by a grin and a grimace that he despised both the subject of the inquiry and the questioner himself; said: “I am accustomed to examine and explain the marrow and blood of ancient and recondite words, as I said, not of those which are in common use and trite. Surely a man is more worthless and stupid than Gnaeus Lentulus himself, if he does not know that vanitas and stoliditas indicate the same kind of folly.” But having said that, he left us in the very midst of our discussion and began to sneak off: Then we laid hold on him and pressed him, and in particular Apollinaris begged him to discourse at greater length and more plainly upon the difference, or, if he preferred, on the similarity of the words, and not to begrudge the information to one who was eager to learn.

Then the fellow, realizing by this time that he was being laughed at, pleaded an engagement and made off But we afterwards learned from Apollinaris that the term rani was properly applied, not as in common parlance to those who were foolish or dull or silly, but, as the most learned of the ancients [p. 311] had used them, to liars, deceivers, and those who cleverly devised light and empty statements in place of those which were true and earnest. But that those were called stolidi who were not so much foolish and witless as austere, churlish and disagreeable, such men as the Greeks called μοχθηροί, “ugly fellows,” and φορτικοί, “common” or “vulgar folk.” He also said that the roots and derivations of these words were to be found in the books of Nigidius. 2 Having sought for these words and found them, with examples of their earliest meanings, I made a note of them, in order to include them in the notes contained in these Nights, and I think that I have already introduced them somewhere among them. 3

1 list. iv. 1, Maur.

2 Fr. 45, Swoboda. Vanus is related to vacare and vacuus; Eng. “want”; stolidus to stolo, “dullard,” from the root stel-, “stand,” “be stiff.”

3 viii. 14.

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  • Cross-references to this page (2):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), LIBER
    • Smith's Bio, Lentulus
  • Cross-references in general dictionaries to this page (1):
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