GREEK TEXTS AND LATIN TRANSLATION
From the age of Cicero to the age of Marcus Aurelius, the more cultivated members of the Roman elite were, if not bilingual, at any rate fluent in Greek.1 As late as Gellius and Apuleius we find well-to-do westerners spending years of study in the university towns of the Greek East.2 Greek was the language in which the elite studied philosophy, both as students in Athens itself and later in life with Greek scholars who shared their houses in Rome. We hear little of Latin translations, because most Romans who wanted to read Greek books could read them in the original. The few translations we know of from the late Republic and early empire are mainly adaptations with artistic ambitions of their own rather than straightforward attempts to make the work in question available to Greekless readers.3 No one who was not, in the telling formula, “skilled in both languages” (utraque linguaperitus) could lay any claim to be truly cultivated.
Greek philosophy was still thriving in late third-century Rome. From 243 to 270 Plotinus presided over the most famous philosophical school of the age. Among those who flocked to his classes were “men and women of the highest rank.”4 Porphyry mentions a mother and daughter both called Gemina, in whose city house Plotinus lived, and a man called Castricius Firmus, at whose country estate near Minturnae he was a frequent visitor. It had always been common for Roman notables to retain a Greek philosopher as a sort of domestic chaplain. But Plotinus was the spiritual director of a far wider circle than normally fell to the most fashionable philosopher’s lot. Even the empress Salonina fell under his spell. We need not believe they all took their philosophy seriously, but some did. One senator called Rogatianus renounced his praetorship when the lictors were waiting at his front door, dismissed his servants, sold his property, made do with eating alternate days, and in no time was cured of the gout—a classic illustration of the value of philosophy.
The keenest philosophers among the senators were Marcellus Arruntius and Sabinillus, the latter at any rate a person of real consequence if he was the Sabinillus
1. See now Swain 2004, 3–40.
2. Fronto belittles his own command of Greek, but clearly read and even wrote it fluently: Swain 2004, 17–28.
3. For a general outline, Kaimio 1979, 271–94.
4. Porph. Vita Plot. 7 and 9.