Front Page Titles (by Subject) CONCERNING THE FORTUNE OF THE ROMANS. - The Morals, vol. 4
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CONCERNING THE FORTUNE OF THE ROMANS. - Plutarch, The Morals, vol. 4 
Plutarch’s Morals. Translated from the Greek by Several Hands. Corrected and Revised by William W. Goodwin, with an Introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. 5 Volumes. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1878). Vol. 4.
Part of: Plutarch’s Morals, 5 vols.
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CONCERNING THE FORTUNE OF THE ROMANS.
1.Among the many warm disputes which have often happened between Virtue and Fortune, this concerning the Roman empire is none of the least considerable, whether of them shall have the honor of founding that empire at first, and raising it afterwards to vast power and glory. The victory in this cause will be no small commendation of the conqueror, and will sufficiently vindicate either of the contending parties from the allegations that are usually made against it. For Virtue is accused as unprofitable, though beautiful, and Fortune as unstable, though good; the former as laboring in vain, the latter as deceitful in its gifts. But who can deny but Virtue has been most profitable, if Rome does favor her cause in this contention, since she procured so much good to brave and gallant men; or that Fortune is most constant, if she be victorious in this contest, since she continued her gifts with the Romans for so long a time?
Ion the poet has written somewhere in prose, that Fortune and Wisdom, though they be very much different from one another, are nevertheless the causes of the very same effects. Both of them do advance and adorn men; both do raise them to glory, power, and empire. It were needless to multiply instances by a long enumeration of particulars, when even Nature itself, which produces all things, is by some reputed Fortune, and by others Wisdom. And therefore the present controversy will conciliate great honor and veneration to the city of Rome, since she is thought worthy of the same enquiry which uses to be made concerning the earth and seas, the heavens and the stars, — whether she owes her being to Fortune or to Providence.
2. In which question, I think it may be truly affirmed that, notwithstanding the fierce and lasting wars which have been between Virtue and Fortune, they did both amicably conspire to rear up the structure of her vast empire and power, and join their united endeavors to finish the most beautiful work that ever was of human production. It was the opinion of Plato, that the whole world was composed of fire and earth, as necessary first principles, which being mixed together did render it visible and tangible, — the earth contributing weight and firmness, while the fire gave color, form, and motion to the several parts of matter; but for the tempering and union of these extremes, he thought it necessary that the water and air, being of a middle nature, should mitigate and rebate the contrary force by composition. After the same manner did God and Time, who laid the foundations of Rome, conjoin and mingle Virtue and Fortune together, that by the union of their several powers, they might compose a Vesta, truly sacred and beneficent to all men, which should be a firm stay, an eternal support, and a steady anchor (as Democritus calls it) amidst the fluctuating and uncertain affairs of human life. For as naturalists say, that the world was not framed at first into that beautiful order and structure in which we now behold it, nor would these several bodies that compose it unite and mix so that Nature might receive a common form by their union, but that all things did fluctuate a long while in confusion and crashing, — whilst some bodies were still small and variously moved, and slipped and avoided all seizure and connections, and others which were greater and already compacted, being of contrary natures, did frequently justle and jar one against another, — and that all was full of destruction and confusion and wreck, until such time as the earth, being framed of them both in its due magnitude, was established in its proper place, and by its stability gave occasion to all the other bodies of the universe either to settle upon it or round about it; just so it happened to the greatest kingdoms and empires of men, which were long tossed with various changes and broken in pieces by mutual clashings. And for want of one supreme ruler over all, while all aspired to rule, the world was filled with unspeakable violence, confusion, and revolution in all things, until such time as Rome was raised to its just strength and greatness, which, comprehending under her power many strange nations and even transmarine dominions, did lay the foundation of firmness and stability to the greatest of human affairs; for by this vast compass of one and the same empire, government was secured as in an unmovable circle, resting upon the centre of peace. Whosoever therefore contrived and compassed these great designs must not only have been endowed with all virtues, but likewise have been assisted by Fortune in many things; as will plainly appear from the following discourse.
3. And now methinks I behold, as from a turret, Virtue and Fortune coming to this conference. As to Virtue, her gait is modest, her countenance grave, the blushing color of her face shows her earnest desire of obtaining victory and honor in this contest. Fortune in her hasty pace, leaves her far behind, but she is led and accompanied by many brave and gallant men,
A martial host, ghastly with bloody arms,*
all wounded in the fore part of their bodies, distilling blood mingled with sweat, and they lean upon the bending spoils of their enemies. If you enquire who they are, they answer, We are of the Fabricii, Camilli, and Lucii, and Cincinnati, and Fabii Maximi, and Claudii Marcelli, and the Scipios. I perceive also in the train of Virtue Caius Marius angry with Fortune, and Mucius Scaevola holding out his burning hand and crying with a loud voice, Will ye attribute this to Fortune also? And Marcus Horatius, who behaved himself gallantly at the river Tiber, when he cut the bridge and swam over, being loaded with Tyrrhenian darts, showing his wounded thigh, thus expostulates from out of the deep whirlpit of the river, Was I also thus maimed by mere chance? Such is the company of Virtue, when she comes to the dispute; “a company powerful in arms, terrible to their foes.”
4. But as to Fortune, her gait is hasty, her looks bold, her hope arrogant; and leaving Virtue far behind her, she enters the lists, not, as she is described, with light wings, balancing herself in the air, or lightly tripping with her tiptoes upon the convexity of the globe, as if she were presently to vanish away out of sight. No, she does not appear here in any such doubtful and uncertain posture; but as the Spartans say that Venus, when she passed over the Eurotas, put off her gewgaws and female ornaments, and armed herself with spear and shield for the sake of Lycurgus; so Fortune, having deserted the Persians and Assyrians, did swiftly fly over Macedonia, and quickly threw off her favorite Alexander the Great, and after that, having passed through the countries of Egypt and Syria, and oftentimes by turns supported the Carthaginians, she did at last fly over Tiber to the Palatine Mount, and there she put off her wings, her Mercurial shoes, and left her slippery and deceitful globe. Thus she entered Rome, as one that was to be resident there, and thus she comes to the bar in this controversy. She is no more uncertain, as Pindar describes her; she does not henceforth guide a double helm, but continues constant to the Romans, and therefore may be called the sister of Eunomia and Persuasion, and the daughter of Providence, as Alcman describes her pedigree. This is certain in the opinion of all men, that she holds in her hand the Horn of Plenty, not that which is filled with verdant fruits, but that which pours forth abundance of all things which the earth or the sea, the rivers or the metals, or the harbors afford. Several illustrious and famous men are seen to accompany her, Numa Pompilius from the Sabines, and Priscus from Tarquinii, whom, being foreigners and strangers, Fortune seated on the throne of Romulus. Aemilius Paulus also, bringing back his army from Perseus and the Macedonians, and triumphing in an unbloody and entire victory, does greatly magnify and extol Fortune. The same does Caecilius Metellus, that brave old gentleman surnamed Macedonicus, whose corpse was carried forth to its funeral by his four sons, Quintus Balearicus, Lucius Diadematus, Marcus Metellus, and Caius Caprarius, and his two sons-in-law, — who were all six honorable men, and of consular dignity, — and also by his two grandsons, who were famous for the good offices they did to the commonwealth, both abroad by their heroical actions and at home by the administration of justice. Aemilius Scaurus, from a mean estate and a meaner family, was raised by Fortune to that height of dignity that he was chosen Prince of the Senate. It was Fortune that took Cornelius Sylla out of the bosom of Nicopolis the whore, and exalted him above the Cimbrian triumphs of Marius and the dignity of his seven consulships, giving him at once the powers of a monarch and a dictator; upon which account he adopted himself and all his memorable actions to Fortune, crying out with Oedipus in Sophocles, I think myself the son of Fortune.* In the Roman tongue he was called Felix, the happy; but he writ himself to the Greeks Lucius Cornelius Sylla Venustus, i. e. Beloved of Venus, — which is also the inscription on all his trophies, both those at Chaeronea with us, and those in honor of his victories over Mithridates; and that not without reason, since it is not the Night, as Menander thought, but Fortune, that enjoys the greatest part of Venus.
5. And thus, having made a seasonable beginning in defence of Fortune, we may now call in, for witnesses in this cause, the Romans themselves, who attributed more to Fortune than to Virtue. For the temple of Virtue was but lately built by Scipio Numantinus, a long time after the building of the city. And after that, Marcellus dedicated a temple to Virtue and Honor; and Aemilius Scaurus, who lived in the time of the Cimbrian war, founded another to the Mind, when now, by the subtilties of sophisters and encomiastics of orators, these things began to be mightily extolled. And to this very day there is no temple built to Wisdom, nor to Temperance, Patience, Magnanimity, or Continence. On the contrary, the temples dedicated to Fortune are splendid and ancient, almost as old as the first foundations of Rome itself. The first that built her a temple was Ancus Marcius, born of the sister of Numa, being the third king from Romulus; and he seems to have made Fortune surname to Fortitude, to which she contributes very much for obtaining victory. The Romans built the temple of Feminine Fortune before the time of Camillus, when by the help of the women they turned back Marcius Coriolanus, leading up the Volsci against the city of Rome; for the women being sent ambassadors to him, together with his mother and wife, prevailed with the man to spare the city at that time and to draw off the army of the barbarians. It is said that this statue of Fortune, when it was consecrated, uttered these words: It was piously done, O ye city matrons, to dedicate me by the law of your state. But (which is more remarkable) Furius Camillus, having quenched the flame of the Gallic war, and rescued Rome from the balance and scales in which her price was weighed to them in gold, did not upon this occasion found a temple to Prudence and Fortitude, but to Fame and Presage; which he built hard by the New Way, in that very place where (it is said) Marcus Caedicius walking in the night-time heard a prophetical voice, commanding him shortly to expect a war from the Gauls. And the Fortune whose temple is near the river they call Fortis (that is, stout, or valiant, or manly), as having the power of conquering all things.* And her temple is built in those very gardens which were left by Caesar as a legacy to the people, because they thought that he also was raised to the height of power by the favor of Fortune.
6. And so Caesar himself testified, otherwise I should be ashamed to say such a thing of so great a person. For when he loosed from Brundisium, and embarked in pursuit of Pompey, on the fourth day of January, though it was then the latter end of winter, he passed over the sea in safety by the good conduct of Fortune, which was stronger than the rigor of the season. And when he found Pompey powerful by sea and land, with all his forces lying together, and himself with his small party altogether unable to give him battle, while the army of Antonius and Sabinus lagged behind, he ventured to set forth again in a little bark, unknown either to the master of the vessel or the pilot, who took him for some servant. But when he saw the pilot began to change his purpose of putting out to sea, because of the violence of the waves, which hindered the sailing out at the mouth of the river, he presently plucked off the disguise from his head and showed himself, encouraging the pilot in these words: Put on, brave fellow, and fear nothing, but commit the sails to Fortune, and expose all boldly to the winds; for thou carriest Caesar and Caesar’s fortune. So resolute was Caesar upon this assurance, that Fortune did favor him in his voyages and journeys, his armies and battles; and that it was her province to give calmness to the sea and warmth to a winter season, to give swiftness to the slowest, and vigor to the most sluggish creatures; and (which is more incredible than all this) he believed that Fortune put Pompey to flight, and gave Ptolemy the opportunity of murdering his guest, so that Pompey should fall and Caesar be innocent.
7. What shall I say of his son, the first that had the honor to be surnamed Augustus, who was emperor four and fifty years? Did not he pray the Gods for his grandson, when he sent him forth to battle, to grant him the courage of Scipio, and the wisdom of Pompey, but his own Fortune, as counting her the chief artificer of his wonderful self? It was she that imposed him upon Cicero, Lepidus, Pansa, Hirtius, and Mark Antony, and by their victories and famous exploits, by their navies, battles, and armies, raised him to the greatest height of power and honor, degrading them by whose means he was thus advanced. For it was for him that Cicero governed the state, Lepidus conducted the armies, and Pansa gained the victories. It was for him that Hirtius fell, and Mark Antony committed licentious outrages. Nay, even Cleopatra herself is to be reckoned as part of his good fortune; for on her, as on a dangerous rock, Antony was shipwrecked, although he was so mighty a commander, that Augustus alone might wear the title of Caesar. It is reported of Antony and Augustus, when they lived familiarly together in daily conversation, that Antony was always beaten by Caesar at ball or dice, and in quail or cock fighting. Whereupon a certain friend, who pretended to the art of divination, did freely admonish Antony, and say: “What have you to do, my friend, with this young man? Why don’t you avoid his company? You excel him in glory and largeness of empire, you exceed him in age and experience, having signalized your valor in the wars. But your Genius is afraid of his; your Fortune, which is great by itself, does fawn upon his, and will undoubtedly pass over to him, unless you remove yourself to a great distance.”
8. By these testimonies of men the cause of Fortune is supported; after which I proceed now to other arguments taken from the things themselves, beginning from the first foundations of the city of Rome. And first of all, it cannot be denied that, by the birth and preservation of Romulus, by his education and growth, the foundations of Rome were first laid by Fortune; but then withal it must be acknowledged that Virtue finished the building. As to their origin and birth who first founded and built the city, it looked like a wonderful good Fortune. For it is said that their mother conceived by a God; and as Hercules is said to have been sown in a long night, the natural day being preternaturally prolonged by the sun’s standing still; so it is reported concerning the begetting of Romulus, that the sun was eclipsed at the time, being in conjunction with the moon, as the immortal God Mars was with the mortal Sylvia. The same is said to have happened about the time of his death. For on the seventh of July, called Nonae Capratinae, which is a feast observed to this day with great solemnity, while the sun was under an eclipse, he suddenly vanished out of the sight of men. After their nativity, when the tyrant would have murdered the new-born babes, by the conduct of Fortune, who was concerned for the preservation of their lives, Romulus and Remus fell into the hands of a servant no ways barbarous and cruel, but pitiful and tender-hearted, who laid them on the pleasant green bank of a river, in a place shaded with lowly shrubs, near to that wild fig-tree, to which the name of Ruminalis was afterwards given. There it was that a she-wolf, having lost her young whelps, by chance lighted on them, and being burdened with her swollen dugs, inflamed for want of evacuation, she gladly let out her overheated milk, as if it had been a second birth, and suckled the young children. The woodpecker also, a bird sacred to Mars, came often unto them, and supporting herself upon one claw, she did by turns open both their mouths with the other, and distribute unto each of them convenient gobbets of her own food. This fig-tree was therefore called Ruminalis, from Ruma, the dug, which the wolf lying down there gave to the infants. And from a veneration of this strange chance of Romulus and of every thing resembling it, the inhabitants thereabout would not expose any of their offspring; but they carefully reared and fostered all new births.
Above all things, the hidden craft of Fortune appeared in their education at the city Gabii; for there they were secretly nursed and brought up, and the people knew nothing of their pedigree, that they were the sons of Sylvia and the grandchildren of king Numitor; which seems to be so ordered on purpose to prevent that untimely death which the knowledge of their royal race would occasion, and to give them opportunity of showing themselves hereafter by their famous exploits, and discovering the nobility of their extraction by their heroical actions. And this brings to my mind the saying of that great and wise commander Themistocles to some of the Athenian captains, who, having followed him in the wars with good success, were grown ambitious to be preferred above him. There was an eager contest, said he, between the festival day and the day following, for precedency. Thou, says the following day, art full of tumult and business, but I give men the peaceful opportunity of enjoying themselves. Ay, says the festival, that’s true; but then, I pray you, tell me, if I had not been, where had you been? So, says Themistocles, if I had not preserved my country in the war with the Medes, what use would there be of you now? And after this manner Fortune seems to accost the virtue of Romulus: it is true indeed, your actions are great and famous, by which you have clearly shown that you are descended of the race of the Gods. But see now how far you come behind me. For if I had not relieved the infants in their distress by my bounty and humanity, if I had deserted and betrayed them when they lay naked and exposed, how could you have appeared with such lustre and splendor as now you do? If a she-wolf had not then lighted upon them, inflamed with the abundance and pressure of her milk, which wanted one to give food unto more than any food for herself; if some wild beast had happened to come in her stead, hungry and ravaging for meat; then there had been no such beautiful and stately palaces, temples, theatres, walks, courts, and forum, as now you justly glory of; then your followers had still been shepherds, and your buildings cottages or stables, and they had still lived in subjection to the Albanian, Tyrrhenian, or Latin lords. Certainly the first beginning of all things is of greatest importance, and more especially in building of a city. But it was Fortune that first gave a beginning to Rome, by preserving the founder of it in so many dangers to which he was exposed. For as Virtue made Romulus great, so Fortune preserved him till his virtue did appear.
9. It is confessed by all, that the reign of Numa, which lasted longest, was conducted by a wonderful good fortune. For as to the story of the wise goddess Egeria, one of the Dryades, — that she being in love conversed familiarly with him, and assisted him in laying the platform and cementing the frame of the commonwealth, — it appears to be rather fabulous than true, since there were others that had Goddesses for their wives and are said to have been loved by them, such as Peleus, Anchises, Orion, and Emathion, who, for all that, did not live so pleasantly and free from trouble. But Numa seems to have had good fortune for his domestic companion and colleague in the government, which, receiving the city of Rome into her protection, at such time as she was tossed like a troublesome sea by the wars of neighboring states, and inflamed with intestine feuds, did quickly heal those breaches and allay those storms that threatened her ruin. And as the sea is said to receive the halcyon brood in a tempest, which it preserves and nourishes; so the people of Rome being lately gathered together, after various commotions and tossings, were by Fortune delivered from all wars, diseases, dangers, and terrors, and settled in such a lasting peace, that they had time and leisure to take root in their new soil and grow up securely into a well-compacted city. For as a great ship or galley is not made without many blows, and much force from hammers, nails, wedges, saws, and axes, and being once built, it must rest for some time upon the stocks, until the bands of its structure grow strong and tenacious, and the nails be well fastened which hold its parts together, lest, being launched while it is loose and unsettled, the hulk should be shattered by the concussion of the waves and let in the water, — so the first artificer of Rome, having built the city of rustical men and shepherds, as on strong foundations, was forced to endure hard labor and maintain dangerous wars against those who opposed its first origination and institution; but after it was once framed and compacted by this force, the second artificer, by the benignity of Fortune, gave it so long rest and peace, till all its parts were consolidated and settled in a firm and lasting posture. But if at that time, when the city was newly built, some Porsena had advanced the Etruscan camp and army to the walls, being yet moist and trembling, or some warlike revolter of the Marsian grandees, or some envious and contentious Lucanian, such as in latter times were Mutius or the bold Silo, or the last plague of Sylla’s faction, Telesinus, who with one alarm armed all Italy, — if any of these, I say, had encompassed the philosopher Numa with the sound of trumpets, while he was sacrificing and praying to the Gods, the city being yet unsettled and unfinished, he could never have resisted so great a torrent and tempest, nor increased unto so great numbers of stout and valiant men.
That long time of peace therefore in Numa’s reign did prepare and fortify the Romans against all the wars which happened afterwards; for by its continuance, during the space of forty-three years, the body of the people was confirmed in that athletic habit which they acquired in the war under Romulus, and which generally prevailed henceforward against all their enemies. For in these years they say Rome was not afflicted with famine or pestilence, with barrenness of the earth, or any notable calamity by winter or summer; all which must be attributed, not to human prudence, but to the good conduct of divine Fortune governing for that time. Then the double gate of Janus was shut, which they call the gate of war, because it is always opened in time of war and shut in time of peace. After Numa’s death, it was opened again when the war with the Albans commenced, which was followed with other wars without number in a continued series of time; but after four hundred and eighty years, it was shut again when peace was concluded at the end of the first Punic war, in the consulship of Caius Atilius and Titus Manlius. The next year it was opened again, and the wars lasted until the victory which Augustus obtained at Actium. Then the Roman arms rested but a little while; for the tumults from Cantabria and the wars with the Gauls and Germans breaking in upon them quickly disturbed the peace. These things I have added to explain this argument of the good fortune of Numa.
10. Even those kings which followed him have admired Fortune as the governess and nurse of Rome, and the city supporter, as Pindar saith. For proof of this, we may consider that the temple of Virtue at Rome was but lately built, many years after the beginning of the city, by that Marcellus who took Syracuse.* There is also a temple dedicated to the Mind, or rather to good counsel, called Mens, by Scaurus Aemilius, who lived in the time of the Cimbrian war, when the arms of rhetoric and the sophistry of logic had crept into the city. And even to this day, there are no temples built to Wisdom, Temperance, Patience, and Magnanimity; but the temples of Fortune are very ancient and splendid, adorned with all sorts of honors, and divided amongst the most famous parts and places of Rome. The temple of Manly Fortune was built by Ancus Marcius, the fourth king; which name was therefore given it, because Fortune does contribute very much to valor in obtaining victory. The temple of Feminine Fortune was consecrated by the matrons, when they drove away Marcius Coriolanus at the head of an army marching against Rome, as everybody knows. Moreover, Servius Tullius, who above all the kings did most enlarge the power of the people and adorn the commonwealth, who first established a good order for the giving of suffrages and for the good discipline of the militia, who was the first censor and overseer of men’s lives and sobriety, and is esteemed a most wise and valiant man, — even he threw himself upon Fortune, and owned his kingdom to be derived from her. So great was her kindness to him, that she is thought to have descended into his house by a gateway (which is now called Fenestella) and there to have conversed familiarly with him. Upon which account he built two temples to Fortune, one to that which is called Primogenia in the Capitol, i. e. the first born, as one may expound it; another to that which is called Obsequens, which some interpret as being obsequious to his desires, and others as mild and gentle. I will henceforth leave the Roman names, and endeavor to reckon up and interpret in Greek the meaning of these temples. There is the temple of Private Fortune on the Mount Palatine, and that of Viscous Fortune; which name, though it seems ridiculous, does by a metaphor explain to us the nature of Fortune, that she attracts things at a distance, and retains them when they are brought to contact. At the fountain which is called Mossy the temple of Virgin Fortune is still to be seen; and that of Regardful Fortune in Abescymae. There is an altar also to Fortune of Good Hope in the long narrow street; and near to the altar of Venus Epitalaria (Foot-winged) there is a chapel to Male Fortune.
Infinite are the honors and titles of Fortune, the greater part of which were instituted by Servius, who knew that “Fortune is of great weight — nay, is every thing — in all human affairs,”* and more especially had found by experience that by her favor he was preferred from a captive and hostile nation to be king of the Romans. For when Corniculum was taken by the Romans, the virgin Ocresia being taken at the same time, she for her illustrious beauty and virtue (which the meanness of her fortune could not hide or obscure) was presented to Tanaquil, the consort of King Tarquinius, with whom she served till she was married to one of the retainers whom the Romans call clients; and of them was born Servius. Others tell the story after this manner: that the virgin Ocresia using often to receive the first-fruits and libations from the royal table, which were to be offered in sacrifice, it happened on a time that when, according to the custom, she had thrown them into the fire, upon the sudden expiration of the flame, there appeared to come out of it the genital member of a man. The virgin, being frighted with so strange a sight, told the whole matter to Queen Tanaquil; who, being a wise and understanding woman, judged the vision to be divine, and therefore dressed up the virgin in all her bridal ornaments and attire, and then shut her up in a room together with this apparition. Some attribute this amour to Lar the household God, and others to Vulcan; but whichsoever it was, Ocresia was with child, and gave birth to Servius. And while he was yet an infant, his head was seen to send forth a wonderful brightness, like lightning darted from the skies. But Antias tells this story after a different manner: that when Servius’s wife Getania was dead, he fell into a sleep through grief and dejection of mind, in the presence of his mother, and then his head was seen by the woman encompassed by fire; which, as it was a certain token that he was born of fire, so was a good omen of that unexpected kingdom which he obtained after the death of Tarquin, by the means of Tanaquil. This is so much the more to be wondered at, because he of all kings seems to have been least fitted by Nature and most averse by inclination to monarchical government; since he would have resigned his kingdom and divested himself of regal authority, if he had not been hindered by the oath which it appears he made to Tanaquil when she was dying, that he should continue during his life in kingly power, and never change that form of government which he had received from his ancestors. Thus the reign of Servius was wholly owing to Fortune, because he both received it beside his expectation, and retained it against his will.
11. But lest we should seem to shun the light of bright and evident arguments, and retreat to ancient stories, as to a place of darkness and obscurity, let us now pass over the time of the kings, and go on in our discourse to the most noted actions and famous wars of following times. And first of all it must be confessed that the boldness and courage which are necessary for war do aid and improve military virtue, as Timotheus says; and yet it is manifest to him that will reason aright, that the abundance of success which advanced the Roman Empire to such vast power and greatness is not to be attributed to human strength and counsels, but to a certain divine impulse and a full gale of running Fortune, which carried all before it that hindered the rising glory of the Romans. For now trophies were erected upon trophies, and triumphs hastened to meet one another; before the blood was cold upon their arms, it was washed off with the fresh blood of their falling enemies. Henceforth the victories were not reckoned by the numbers of the slain or the greatness of the spoils, but by the kingdoms that were taken, by the nations that were conquered, by the isles and continents which were added to the vastness of their empire. At one battle Philip was forced to quit all Macedonia, by one stroke Antiochus was beaten out of Asia, by one victory the Carthaginians lost Libya; but which is yet more wonderful, Armenia, the Euxine sea, Syria, Arabia, the Albanians, Iberians, with all the regions as far as Caucasus and the Hyrcanians, were by one man and the success of one expedition reduced under the power of the Roman Empire. The Ocean, which environs the whole earth, beheld him thrice victorious; for he subdued the Numidians in Africa, as far as the southern shores; he conquered Spain, which joined in the madness of Sertorius, as far as the Atlantic Ocean; and he pursued the Albanian kings as far as the Caspian sea. Pompeius Magnus, one and the same man, achieved all those great and stupendous things, by the assistance of that public Fortune which waited upon the Roman arms with success; and after all this, he sank under the weight of his own fatal greatness.
The great Genius of the Romans was not propitious for a day only, or for a little time, like that of the Macedonians; it was not powerful by land only, like that of the Laconians, or by sea only, like that of the Athenians. It was not too slowly sensible of injuries, as that of the Persians, nor too easily pacified, like that of the Colophonians; but from the beginning growing up with the city, the more it increased, the more it enlarged the empire, and constantly aided the Romans with its auspicious influence by sea and land, in peace and war, against all their enemies, whether Greeks or barbarians. It was this Genius which dissipated Hannibal the Carthaginian, when he broke in upon Italy like a torrent, and the people could give no assistance, being torn in pieces by intestine jars. It was this Genius that separated the two armies of the Cimbri and Teutones, that they should not meet at the same time and place; by which means Marius the Roman general encountered each army by itself, and overcame them; which, if they had been joined together, would have overflowed all Italy like a deluge, with three hundred thousand valiant men, invincible in arms. It was the same Genius that hindered Antiochus by other occasions from assisting Philip while he was engaged in war with the Romans; so that Philip was first vanquished while Antiochus was still in danger. It was by the conduct of the same Genius that Mithridates was taken up with the Sarmatic and Bastarnic wars while the Marsians attacked Rome; that jealousy and envy divided Tigranes from Mithridates while the latter was flushed with success; but both of them were joined together in the defeat, that they might perish in the same common ruin.
12. What shall I say more? Has not Fortune relieved the city, when it was reduced to the greatest extremity of danger? When the Gauls encamped about the Capitol and besieged the castle,
And heaped the camp with mountains of the dead,*
did not Fortune and chance discover their secret attack in the night-time, which otherwise had surprised all men? Of which wonderful accident it will not be unseasonable to discourse here a little more largely.
After the great overthrow and slaughter of the Romans at the river Allia, some of those that remained fled hastily to Rome, and communicated their terror and consternation to the people there. Some trussed up their bag and baggage and conveyed themselves into the Capitol, resolving there to wait the event of so dismal a calamity; others flocked in great multitudes to Veii, and there proclaimed Furius Camillus dictator, giving him now in their distress an absolute and unaccountable power, whom before in their pride and prosperity they had condemned and banished, as guilty of robbing the public treasure. But Camillus, to strengthen his title to this authority, which might seem to be given him only for the present necessity, contrary to the law of the state touching the election of such a magistrate, scorned to accept an election from a body of armed soldiers, so lately shattered and beaten, as if the government of the city were dissolved; but sent to acquaint the senators that were in the Capitol, and know if they would approve the election of the soldiers. To accomplish this, there was one C. Pontius, who undertook to carry the news of this decree to those in the Capitol, though it was with great danger of his life; for he was to go through the midst of the enemies, who were entrenched and kept watch about the castle. He came therefore in the night-time to the river Tiber, and by the help of broad corks supporting the weight of his body, he was carried down the stream in a smooth calm water, and safely landed on the other side. From thence he passed through places uninhabited, being conducted by darkness and silence, to the rock of the Capitol; and climbing up through its winding and rough passages, with much labor and difficulty at last he arrived at the summit, where, being received by the watch, he acquainted the senators with what was done by the soldiers, and having received their approbation of the decree of election, he returned again to Camillus. The next day after, one of the barbarians by chance walking about this rock, and seeing in one place the prints of his feet and his falls, in another place the grass trodden down which grew upon the interspersed earth, and the plain marks of his body in its winding ascent through the craggy precipice, went presently and informed the rest of the Gauls of the whole matter. They, finding that a way was shown them by the enemy, resolved to follow his footsteps; and taking the advantage of the dead time of the night, when all were fast asleep, not so much as a watch stirring or a dog barking, they climbed up secretly to the castle.
But Fortune in this case was wonderfully propitious to the Romans, in discovering and preventing such an imminent danger by the voice of the sacred geese, which were maintained about the temple of Juno for the worship of that Goddess. For that animal being wakeful by nature and easily frighted with the least noise, these sacred geese had been so much neglected by reason of the scarcity of provisions which was in the castle, that they were more easily wakened by the approach of the enemy out of their light and hungry sleep. Therefore they presently perceived the Gauls appearing upon the walls, and with a loud voice flew proudly towards them; but being yet more frightened with the sight of their shining armor, they raised a louder gaggling noise, which wakened the Romans; who understanding the design, presently beat back the enemies, and threw them down over the precipices of the rock. Therefore, in remembrance of this wonderful accident, a dog fastened to a cross, and a goose lying in a bed of state upon a rich cushion, are carried about, even to this day, in pompous solemnity. And now who is not astonished that considers how great the misery of the city was at that time, and how great its happiness is now at this day, when he beholds the splendor and riches of its donatives, the emulation of liberal arts that flourish in it, the accession of noble cities and royal crowns to its empire, and the chief products of sea and land, of isles and continents, of rivers and trees, of animals and fields, of mountains and metallic mines, crowding to adorn and beautify this place? Who is not stunned with admiration at the imminent danger which then was, whether ever those things should be or no; and at those poor timorous birds, which first began the deliverance of the city, when all places were filled with fire, darkness, and smoke, with the swords of barbarians and bloody-minded men? What a prodigy of Fortune was it that those great commanders, the Manlii, the Servii, Postumii, and Papirii, so famous for their warlike exploits and for the illustrious families that have descended from them, should be alarmed in this extremity of danger by the silly geese, to fight for their country’s God and their country? And if that be true which Polybius writes in his second book of those Gauls which then possessed Rome, — that they made a peace with Camillus and departed, as soon as they heard the news of the invasion that was made upon their territories by the neighboring barbarians, — then it is past all controversy, that Fortune was the cause of Rome’s preservation by drawing off the enemies to another place, or rather forcing them from Rome beyond all men’s expectation.
13. But why do I dwell upon those things which have nothing of certain or evident truth, since the memories of those times have perished, and the history of them is confused, as Livy tells us? For those things which happened in following ages, being plain and manifest to all, do sufficiently demonstrate the benignity of Fortune to Rome; among which I reckon the death of Alexander to be no small cause of the Romans’ happiness and security. For he, being a man of wonderful success and most famous exploits, of invincible confidence and pride, who shot like a star, with incredible swiftness, from the rising to the setting sun, was meditating to bring the lustre of his arms into Italy. The pretence of this intended expedition was the death of Alexander Molossus, who was killed at Pandosia by the Bruttians and Lucanians; but the true cause was the desire of glory and the emulation of empire, which instigated him to war against all mankind, that he might extend his dominion beyond the bounds of Bacchus and Hercules. He had heard of the Roman power in Italy, terrible as an army in battle array; of the illustrious name and glory which they had acquired by innumerable battles, in which they were flushed with victory; and this was a sufficient provocation to his ambitious spirit to commence a war against them, which could not have been decided without an ocean of blood;* for both armies appeared invincible, both of fearless and undaunted minds; and the Romans then had no fewer than one hundred and thirty thousand stout and valiant men,†
[* ]Odyss. XI. 41.
[* ]Soph. Oed. Tyr. 1080.
[* ]The temple built in Caesar’s gardens was a temple of Fors Fortuna; and as this name appeared most frequently in the genitive, Fortis Fortunae, Plutarch probably mistook the title for Fortis, which he translates by ἀνδρεία. As the gardens of Caesar were trans Tiberim, Plutarch cannot refer to the temple still standing in the Forum Boarium, generally called that of Fortuna Virilis(?). See Becker’s Römische Alterthümer, I. pp. 478-480, note. (G.)
[* ]Much that follows is a repetition of Chapter Fifth. (G.)
[* ]Demosth. Ol. II. p. 24, 14.
[* ]Il. I. 10.
[* ]See Odyss. XVIII. 149.
[† ]The rest of this discourse appears to be lost, wherein we miss the arguments which Virtue alleged for herself in this contest.
[‡ ]Odyss. IX. 49.