The Test of Character

Rutilius Namatianus (Namatian) lived about the year 400. He wrote a poem On his Return, describing in elegiac couplets his journey back to his property in Gaul (modern France) after a career in administration at Rome. Alarmed by the random pillaging executed by the nomadic tribes (Alans, Vandals, Suebs, and others) that had crossed the Rhine, the northeastern border of the Roman Empire, when it froze over on New Year’s Eve 406, Namatian had to return home to see to the management of his country manor in 417.

3 mos maison fronto

The whole first book (about 640 lines), and some of the second survive. It is a beautiful description of his coasting, with many stops, between the western shore of Italy and the islands opposite, punctuated by many profound insights and lessons in patience.

In this excerpt, Namatian has been praising the virtues of the good public official, reminding me of a quotation attributed to 510px-Peyton_Manning_-_BroncosGoethe that I read recently at the top of an article about Peyton Manning.

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” 

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (attrib.)

Namatian (De Reditu Suo 1.505–506) says:

Plus palmae est illos inter voluisse placere, / inter quos minor est displicuisse pudor.

It more redounds your glory if you strive to please,

the ones whom not to please is lesser shame. (trans. mine)


Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.



About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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