- For those who participate in the chat on Marius, or read the book: I just
found a backup of the "hayseed without Greek" refutation, in Erich Gruen's
"Cultural and National Identity in Republican Rome, p. 268 ff.
"The Hellenism of a Roman aristocrat needs to be worn lightly. Its value
rests in the advance of traditional interests.
A final - -and notorious -- example serves to confirm the argument. The
impression of C. Marius, fostered by himself, his supporters, his opponents,
or some combination thereof, is that of the rugged, rural nationalist
untutored by and uninterested in higher learning. Sallust ascribes to Marius
a speech in which he denies any exposure to Greek literature, adding that he
had rejected such learning because it had brought no virtue to those who
professed it. The story that he was uneducated in Greek and deliberately
scorned such education plainly circulated in his own day and after.
The truth lies elsewhere. The pose of Marius is closely akin to that of
several Roman nobiles of the previous three generations. He put weight on
native virtus as opposed to Hellenic rhetorical overrefinement -- long since
a standard line. Political and pragmatic purposes dictated such a stance on
appropriate occasions. In fact, Marius was not ignorant of Hellenic matters.
Plutarch at one point has him make reference to a line of Pindar. And after
his victories in the German wars, it was said, Marius took to drinking from a
Bacchic vessel in deliberate imitation of Dionysus' practice after his Indian
triumph. Hence, Marius did not shrink from overt allusion to Hellenic myth
and tradition. Plutarch offers the best insight into Marius' public attitude:
he never used the Greek language for serious matters. The statement implies
that he knew Greek but would not employ it in an official capacity or in
situations of public import. That stance, as we have seen, has a host of
precedents. The purpose, it need hardly be said, was to reaffirm Roman
mastery and superiority. Marius delivered the point by explaining that it
would be absurd to take instruction from those who are the slaves of others.
A particular episode exemplifies Marius' attitude. The great general, after
his second triumph, sponsored a public show in Greek style. When the
performance took place, Marius sat down in the theater, took one look, and
then exited. It would seem natural to infer that he arranged the incident in
order to exhibit contempt for Greek plays and, by extension, for Greek
culture generally. That would be a rash conclusion. If Marius' conspicuous
entrance and departure expressed disdain, they would surely reflect disdain
for the populace who attended -- not a polite or politic act. A more
plausible motive suggests itself. Marius financed and produced the show for
the edification of the public, at tended its opening, and then withdrew. Like
L. Anicius in 167, the Roman imperator demonstrated that his nation
controlled the cultural products of Greece and could employ them for the
advantage of its own citizens."
Co-host, Ancient/Classical History Forum