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Ser. Sulpi'cius Lemo'nia Rufus

the son of Quintus, was a contemporary and friend of Cicero, and of about the same age ( Cic. Brut. 40) : Cicero was born B. C. 106. The name Lemonia is the ablative case, and indicates the tribe to which Servius belonged. (Cic. Philipp. 9.7.) According to Cicero, the father of Servius was of the equestrian order. (Cic. pro Mur. 7.) Servius first devoted himself to oratory, and he studied his art with Cicero in his youth, and also at Rhodus B. C. 78, for he accompanied Cicero there (Brut. 41). It is said that he was induced to study law by a reproof of Q. Mucius Scaevola, the pontifex, whose opinion Servius had asked on a legal question, and as the pontifex saw that Servius did not understand his answer, he said that " it was disgraceful for a patrician and a noble, and one who pleaded causes, to be ignorant of the law with which he had to be engaged." (Dig. 1. tit. 2. s. 2.43.) Henceforth jurisprudence became his study, in which he surpassed his teachers, L. Balbus and Aquillius Gallus, and obtained a reputation in no respect inferior to that of the pontifex who reproved him. As an orator he had hardly a superior, unless it were Cicero himself.

Servius was successively quaestor of the district or provincia of Ostia, in B. C. 74 (Cic. pro Mur. 8); aedilis curulis, B. C. 69; and during his praetorship, B. C. 65, he had the quaestio peculatus (pro Mur. 20). In his first candidateship for the consulship, B. C. 63, Servius was rejected, and Servius and Cato joined in prosecuting L. Murena, who was elected. Murena was defended by Cicero, Hortensius, and M. Crassus (Oratio pro Murena). In B. C. 52, as interrex, he named Pompeius Magnus sole consul. In B. C. 51, he was elected consul with M. Claudius Marcellus; and on this occasion Cato was an unsuccessful candidate. (Plut. Cato, 49.) There is no mention of any decided part that Servius took in the war between Caesar and Pompeius, but he appears to have been a partizan of Caesar, who, after the battle of Pharsalia, made him proconsul of Achaea, B. C. 46 or 45; and Sulpicius held this office at the time when Cicero addressed to him a letter, which is still extant (ad Fam. 4.3). Marcellus, the former colleague of Servius in the consulship, was murdered at Peiraeeus during the government of Servius, who buried him in the gymnasium of the Academia, where a marble monument to his memory was raised. The death of Marcellus is told in a letter of Servius to Cicero.

In B. C. 43 he was sent by the senate, with L. Philippus and L. Calpurnius Piso, on a mission to M. Antonius, who was besieging Decimus Brutus, in Mutina. Servius, who was in bad health, died in the camp of Antonius. Cicero, in the senate, pronounced a panegyric on his distinguished friend, and on his motion a public funeral was decreed, and a bronze statue was erected to the memory of Servius, and appropriately placed in front of the rostra. The statue was still there when Pomponius wrote. (Cic. Philipp. 9.7; Pomponius, Dig. 1. tit. 2. s. 2.43.)

Servius had a wife named Postumia, and he left a son, Servius.

Our chief information about Servius is derived from Cicero, who attributes his great superiority as a lawyer to his study of philosophy, not that philosophy itself made him a distinguished lawyer, but the discipline, to which his mind had been subjected, developed and sharpened his natural talents. In a passage in his Brutus (100.41) Cicero has, in few words and in a masterly manner, shown in what the excellence of Servius consisted. His speeches and his response were free from all obscurity ; and this clearness was the result of a careful separation of a thing into all its parts, an exact definition of all that was by implication contained in it, and the removal of all obscurity by just interpretation. As to what was ambiguous, his first care was to ascertain the ambiguity, and then to separate it from every thing else; he applied a correct judgment to the estimate of truth and falsehood, and he deduced his conclusions from his premises with logical precision. To these qualities were added a profound knowledge of the Jus Civile, a perfect apprehension of the universal principles of the Jus Naturale, and a power of expression in which no man surpassed him. Perhaps of all the men of his age, or of any age, he was, as an orator, a jurist, and an advocate, without an equal or a rival. His friend Cicero has recorded the excellence of his moral character. Servius left about one hundred and eighty treatises, or parts or sections of treatises (libri), among which were criticisms on the responsa of Scaevola the pontifex. (Gel. 4.1; Dig. 17. tit. 2. s. 30.) Several of these treatises were extant in the time of Pomponius, and Servius is often cited by the jurists whose writings are excerpted in the Digest ; but there is no excerpt directly from Servius in the Digest. Servius had numerous pupils, the most distinguished of whom were A. Ofilius and Alfenus Varus. From the writings of eight of the pupils of Servius, Aufidius Namusa, who was one of them, compiled a large treatise in 140 parts ; and it is to this work that later jurists refer, when they cite " Servii auditores " as a collective term. He was probably the author of a commentary on the Twelve Tables; and he wrote also Ad Edictum, and Notae ad Mucium, which have been already referred to. He was also the author of a treatise De Dotibus (Gel. 4.3; Dig. 12. tit. 4. s. 8), and of several books De Sacris Detestandis (Gel. 6.121); and there are fragments or short notices of various other works of his (Cic. Top. 8 ; Macrob. Saturn. 3), and of his orations. Quintilian speaks of three Orationes of Servius as being extant in his time (Inst. Or. 10.1 and 7); one of these was his speech against L. Licinius Murena, who was accused of ambitus, B. C. 63; and the other was a speech Pro Aufidia, or Contra Aufidiam, it is doubtful which, delivered probably in B. C. 44 or 43. (Meyer, Oratorum Romanorum Frag. p. 398, 2d ed.)

There are extant in the collection of Cicero's Epistles (ad Fam. iv.), two letters from Sulpicius to Cicero, one of which is the well-known letter of consolation on the death of Tullia, the daughter of the orator. The same book contains several letters from Cicero to Sulpicius. He is also said to have written some erotic poetry. (Ovid, Ov. Tr. 2.1, 141; Plin. Ep. 5.3.)


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  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 5.3
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 4.1
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 4.3
    • Ovid, Tristia, 2.1
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