Magna mihi copia est memoranda: Modes of historiography in the speeches of caesar and cato (sallust, bellum catilinae 51–4)

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My starting point for this chapter is something the historian does not say. In the preface to the Catiline, Sallust responds to many of the questions the reader of a historiographic text expects to have answered: we learn how Sallust came to write history and how his life story qualifies him to write about it with authority and without bias. We learn of the scope of the work to come and why its subject is worth recording. We also meet praise of historiography as an appropriate arena for the author to win glory through strenuous labour. What we do not hear explicitly, though, is what his history will do for its readers. Sallust never promises the traditional rewards of historical reading, pleasure or utility, much less defines the terms of that utility. Indeed his one statement about readers, even if it is taken as apotropaic, suggests a very pessimistic view of the contract between author and audience: ‘most readers, when you reprimand failings, think you are speaking out of ill will and envy, but when you recall the great virtue and glory of good men, each accepts with equanimity what he thinks would be easy for him to do, but he considers anything beyond that made-up and untrue’ (Cat. 3.2). The moral capacities of the present thus threaten the very possibility of a reader’s understanding history as history, that is, as the genre that by definition records what really happened – the verum, not the fictum. There are several ways of responding to this absence in Sallust's prologue: one is to attempt to fill it based on generic expectations or by appeal to the author's view of history as something outside the text that we can use to understand it. For example, the much more explicit statements about the function of history-writing in the preface to the Jugurtha can be used to reconstruct authorial assumptions that are then used to explain the Catiline as well.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTime and Narrative in Ancient Historiography
Subtitle of host publicationThe 'Plupast' from Herodotus to Appian
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781139035200
ISBN (Print)9781107007406
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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