2000 Years of Latin Prose | History and Literature

Chapter 3 – Gaius Gracchus: Beware Of Politicians

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.

Two thou­sand years of Latin Prose is a dig­i­tal anthol­o­gy of Latin Prose. Here you will be able to find texts from two mil­len­nia of gems in Latin. In this third chap­ter, we will learn about, and read part of a speech from, Gaius Grac­chus as found in Aulus Gel­lius XI.10.2–6.


If you want to learn more about the anthol­o­gy, you will find the pref­ace here.

You can down­load a pdf here Get a print-ready PDF ver­sion of this chap­ter: 2000 Years of Latin Prose: Chap­ter 3. Grac­chus.

Life & Works of Gaius Gracchus

In this sec­tion you will learn about the author’s life and works.

(154–121 B.C.)

Gaius Grac­chus is per­haps most famous for his trag­ic end which strong­ly echoed that of his old­er broth­er, Tiberius Grac­chus. Gaius Grac­chus was, just as his broth­er had been, a very strong ora­tor, renowned for his ele­gant and pure Latin.

Life of Gracchus

Gaius Sem­pro­nius Grac­chus was born in 154 B.C. to con­sul Tiberius Grac­chus and Cor­nelia Africana.

Painting by Laurent de la Hyre showing Cornelia, mother of Gaius Gracchus, rejecting King Ptolemys proposal.
CORNELIA REJECTS THE CROWN OF PTOLEMY, LAURENT DE LA HYRE

His moth­er Cor­nelia was, or rather is, one of the most famous Roman women. She was the daugh­ter of the great Roman gen­er­al Sci­pio Africanus (the one who defeat­ed Han­ni­bal) and she became the ide­al of how a Roman woman should be. Tiberius Grac­chus was much old­er than her, but they had twelve chil­dren togeth­er out of which only three sur­vived child­hood: Tiberius Grac­chus Minor, Gaius, and Sempronia. 

When Cor­nelia was wid­owed she raised her chil­dren alone. She has been giv­en praise through­out his­to­ry for the edu­ca­tion she pro­vid­ed for her chil­dren, and for her knowl­edge and pru­dence. Cicero was very impressed by her and praised her for mak­ing sure her sons learned Greek prop­er­ly, for instance, she made sure that one of their teach­ers was Dio­phanes of Myti­lene, who was one of the most famous con­tem­po­rary speak­ers (Cicero, Bru­tus, 2.11). So involved was she with her chil­dren, which was con­trary to all aris­to­crat­ic prac­tice at the time (Bru­tus, 2.11), that when the Egypt­ian king, Ptole­my VIII, pro­posed to her, she turned him down—at least so we’re told by his­to­ri­an Plutar­chos, known in Eng­lish as Plutarch (46–120 A.D.) (Tiberius Grac­chus, 1).

This thor­ough edu­ca­tion ensured by his moth­er gave Gaius, just as it gave his old­er broth­er Tiberius, a great ground to stand upon in the polit­i­cal are­na of Rome. They had prac­ticed Greek rhetor­i­cal tech­niques and been drilled by their moth­er in find­ing sim­ple and pre­cise expres­sions. This turned them both into skilled orators. 

THE BROTHERS GRACCHI, BY EUGENE GUILLAME.

Tiberius Minor was nine years old­er than Grac­chus and became a tri­bune of the plebs. He became famous and infa­mous for his many reforms to help the poor. He, for instance, want­ed to trans­fer land from wealthy Romans to poor­er citizens—a reform pop­u­lar amongst the poor but not by the wealthy. He was killed by an angry sen­a­to­r­i­al mob. 

The death of his broth­er hit Gaius hard. He was not even allowed to bury him, as his body was thrown into the Tiber. So, he stepped back from pol­i­tics and his career and kept qui­et for a while. But, as his friend Vet­tius was under pros­e­cu­tion, he came back into the pub­lic light to defend him. And this was only the beginning. 

In 126 B.C. he became quaestor in Sar­dinia, where he earned him­self a good rep­u­ta­tion, and then, in 123 B.C., he became tri­bune of the plebs, the same office that his broth­er had held. How­ev­er, Gaius’ reforms were even greater than his broth­er’s had been. He revived the land reform pro­gram his broth­er had insti­gat­ed, he ini­ti­at­ed tax reforms, mil­i­tary reforms, as well as mak­ing sure the state would buy bulk grain to dis­trib­ute to poor­er cit­i­zens at a low price – the so-called Lex Fru­men­taria

Grac­chus’ reforms and pop­u­lar­i­ty with the peo­ple brought him a lot of ene­mies, espe­cial­ly with the sen­ate. So, when the deci­sion was made to found a colony by the recent­ly destroyed Carthage, Gaius was appoint­ed to over­see the con­struc­tion togeth­er with one of his allies, Ful­vius Flac­cus. They were there­fore sent to Africa. 

Painting by Félix Auvray showing the death of Gaius Gracchus.
THE DEATH OF GRACCHUS, BY FÉLIX AUVRAY

In 121 B.C., upon their return to Rome, the polit­i­cal cli­mate had changed, erupt­ing in riots and vio­lence. The two men and their fol­low­ers met with a sit­u­a­tion so dan­ger­ous that the only option was to flee the city. They failed. Flac­cus was killed by a mob. Gaius man­aged to get to the oth­er side of the Tiber, where the seri­ous­ness of the sit­u­a­tion caught up with him, and he decid­ed to take his own life with the help of his slave Philocrates.

3000 of Gaius’ sup­port­ers were also killed and thrown into the Tiber, their prop­er­ties con­fis­cat­ed and their wives for­bid­den to mourn. 

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Accord­ing to Greek-Roman his­to­ri­an Appi­anus, or Appi­an (95–165 A.D.), the heads of Flac­cus and Gaius were car­ried to Lucius Opim­ius, con­sul and sworn ene­my of Gaius and his supporters—who lat­er repealed all of his laws and reforms, save Lex Fru­men­taria. Opim­ius gave their weight in gold to those who had brought heads. (Appi­anus, Civ­il Wars, 1.26) Plutarch also men­tions this inci­dent but adds that the one who brought Gaius’ head tried to cheat and filled it with molt­ed led to make it heav­ier and that those who brought Flac­cus’ head were of such an obscure sort that they got noth­ing from Opim­ius. (Gaius Grac­chus, 17) 

Works of Gracchus

As men­tioned ear­li­er, Gaius was famous for his pure and ele­gant Latin, owing to his mother’s thor­ough edu­ca­tion and his Greek teach­ers. He mixed an elo­quent Latin with Greek speak­ing tech­niques with a pas­sion for what he spoke about. 

Engraving showing Gaius Gracchus as a tribune speaking to the crowds at Rome.
GAIUS GRACCHUS TRIBUNE OF THE PEOPLE, FROM “FIGURES DE L’HISTOIRE DE LA RÉPUBLIQUE ROMAINE ACCOMPAGNÉES D’UN PRÉCIS HISTORIQUE”, 1799

Accord­ing to Plutarch, Gaius’ speech was awe-inspir­ing and pas­sion­ate, but he had a tem­per and was sup­pos­ed­ly often car­ried away by it. So, when his voice was raised too high due to the heat of the moment, a ser­vant – Licinius – who always stood behind him when he spoke, sound­ed a soft key with a pitch pipe so that Gaius would remem­ber to take his voice back down. (Plutar­chos, Tiberius Grac­chus, 2)

So famous was Gaius Grac­chus for his rhetoric ele­gance that the Roman rhetor­i­cal trea­tise, called Rhetor­i­ca Ad Heren­ni­um, draws a sub­stan­tial part of its exam­ples from him. 

“Quid? ipsa auc­tori­tas antiquo­rum non cum res prob­a­bil­iores tum hominum stu­dia ad imi­tan­dum alacrio­ra red­dit? Immo erig­it omni­um cupid­i­tates et acuit indus­tri­am cum spes iniec­ta est posse imi­tan­do Grac­ci aut Cras­si con­se­qui facultatem.”

— Ad Heren­ni­um, IV, II.

And fur­ther­more, does not the very pres­tige of the ancients not only lend greater author­i­ty to their doc­trine but also sharp­en in men the desire to imi­tate them? Yes, it excites the ambi­tions and whets the zeal of all men when the hope is implant­ed in them of being able by imi­ta­tion to attain to the skill of a Grac­chus or a Crassus.

Though Gaius Grac­chus was an impor­tant ora­tor, only a few frag­ments of his speech­es have come done to us. 

In today’s chap­ter of 2000 years of Latin Prose, we will take a look at a part of his speech oppos­ing the Lex Aufeia, a Roman tax law, from 124 or 123 B.C. The pas­sage is found in Aulus Gel­lius’ Noctes Atti­cae (2nd cent. A.D.), an eclec­tic work con­tain­ing a myr­i­ad of extracts from Roman authors. We will return to the Noctes Atti­cae in the chap­ter about Gellius.

Further resources and reading

If you want to learn more about Grac­chus and his broth­er and their polit­i­cal ideas as well as their grue­some deaths, I can rec­om­mend read­ing the chap­ters about the Grac­chi broth­ers in Plutarch’s Lives. Tiberius and Gaius Grac­chus and in Appi­anus’ Civ­il wars, liber 1. Details dif­fer between the two his­to­ri­ans, but they are both real­ly good reads. Though, for those of you who, like me, do not read Greek, I rec­om­mend turn­ing to the Eng­lish translation. 

If you are curi­ous about the Lex Aufeia and dat­ing it, there is an arti­cle from Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press about it here: ”The So-called Lex Aufeia (Gel­lius xi 10)”

Audio & Video in Latin

Click below to read and lis­ten to a pas­sage of a speech by Gracchus.

Video with English subtitles

Audio of Latin text

Latin text

Below you will find the orig­i­nal text of the pas­sage in Latin.

AP. GELL. XI.10.2–6
”Nam vōs, Quirītēs, sī velītis sapi­en­tiā atque virtūte ūtī, etsī quaeri­tis, nēminem nos­trum inveniētis sine pretiō hūc prōdīre. Omnēs nōs, quī ver­ba facimus, aliq­uid petimus, neque ūllīus reī causā quisquam ad vōs prōdit, nisi ut aliq­uid auferat.

Ego ipse, quī aput vōs ver­ba faciō utī vec­tīgālia ves­tra augeātis, quō facil­ius ves­tra com­mo­da et rem pūbli­cam admin­istrāre pos­sītis, nōn grātīs prōdeō; vērum petō ā vōbīs nōn pecū­ni­am, sed bonam exīs­timātiōnem atque honōrem.

Quī prōde­unt dis­suāsūrī nē hanc lēgem accip­iātis, petunt nōn honōrem ā vōbīs, vērum ā Nīcomēde pecū­ni­am; quī suā­dent, ut accip­iātis, hī quoque petunt nōn ā vōbīs bonam exīs­timātiōnem, vērum ā Mithridāte reī famil­iārī suae pretium et praemi­um; quī autem ex eōdem locō atque ōrdine tacent, hī vel ācer­rimī sunt; nam ab omnibus pretium accip­i­unt et omnīs fallunt.

Vōs, cum putātis eōs ab hīs rēbus remōtōs esse, impertītis bonam exīs­timātiōnem; lēgātiōnēs autem ā rēgibus, cum putant eōs suā causā ret­icēre, sūmp­tūs atque pecūniās max­imās praebent, item utī in ter­rā Grae­ciā, quō in tem­pore tra­goe­dus glōri­ae sibi dūcē­bat tal­en­tum mag­num ob ūnam fābu­lam datum esse, homō ēlo­quen­tis­simus cīvitātis suae Dēmādēs eī respondisse dīc­i­tur: “Mīrum tibi vidē­tur, sī tū loquendō tal­en­tum quaesīstī? ego, ut tacērem, decem tal­en­ta ā rēge accēpī.” Item nunc istī pre­tia max­i­ma ob tacen­dum accipiunt”.

Vocabulary and Commentary

These fol­low­ing words are key to under­stand­ing the text, if you already know them — great! — if not, make a men­tal note of them.

aput: in your pres­ence. Aput is anoth­er form of the more com­mon apud,

exis­ti­ma­tio: opin­ion, reputation

glo­ri­ae sibi duc­ere: To con­sid­er praise­wor­thy, to boast; this is a so-called dou­ble dative, or final dative, which is a com­mon con­struc­tion in Latin, cf. Hoc mihi hon­ori est (This is an hon­our for me.”) and Hoc mihi gau­dio est (“This is joy­ous for me”). 

gratis (adv.): for free

item (adv): sim­i­lar­ly

mag­num tal­en­tum: a whole tal­ent. A weight of pre­cious met­al or sum, which var­ied over time (ca. 60–70lb.).

neque ullius rei causa: (lit.) and not for any oth­er rea­son. Causâ placed after a noun in the gen­i­tive express­es pur­pose, not cause.

ob tacen­dum: to be quiet

quirites: Quiritesorig­i­nal­ly des­ig­nat­ed the inhab­i­tants of the Sabine town Cures (cf. Col. praef. § 19, vet­eres illi Sabi­ni Quirites).After the Sabines and the Romans had unit­ed in one com­mu­ni­ty, under Romu­lus, the name of Quirites was tak­en in addi­tion to that of Romani, the Romans call­ing them­selves, in a civ­il capac­i­ty, Quirites, while, in a polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary capac­i­ty, they retained the name of Romani. (Lewis & Short)

quo facil­ius: Final claus­es with com­par­a­tive adverbs, e.g. facil­ius, in Clas­si­cal Latin are usu­al­ly con­struct­ed with quo instead of ut, e.g. Latine loqu­un­tur quo melius legant (“They speak Latin in order to read better”).

res famil­iaris: house­hould, prop­er­ty, possesions 

ret­icere: keep silent (about something)

sua causa: for their (own) sake

ver­ba facere: talk, give a speech

Prac­tice your Latin with week­ly Latin videos

In our com­mu­ni­ty, you get access to:

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  • Easy Latin sto­ries with translations
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English Translation

Below you will find an Eng­lish trans­la­tion of the text.

Ap. Gell. XI. 10.2–6

“For you, fel­low cit­i­zens, if you wish to be wise and hon­est, and if you inquire into the mat­ter, will find that none of us comes for­ward here with­out pay. All of us who address you are after some­thing, and no one appears before you for any pur­pose except to car­ry some­thing away.

I myself, who am now rec­om­mend­ing you to increase your tax­es, in order that you may the more eas­i­ly serve your own advan­tage and admin­is­ter the gov­ern­ment, do not come here for noth­ing; but I ask of you, not mon­ey, but hon­our and your good opinion.

Those who come for­ward to per­suade you not to accept this law, do not seek hon­our from you, but mon­ey from Nicomedes; those also who advise you to accept it are not seek­ing a good opin­ion from you, but from Mithri­dates a reward and an increase of their pos­ses­sions; those, how­ev­er, of the same rank and order who are silent are your very bit­ter­est ene­mies, since they take mon­ey from all and are false to all.

You, think­ing that they are inno­cent of such con­duct, give them your esteem; but the embassies from the kings, think­ing it is for their sake that they are silent, give them great gifts and rewards. So in the land of Greece, when a Greek trag­ic actor boast­ed that he had received a whole tal­ent for one play, Demades, the most elo­quent man of his coun­try, is said to have replied to him: ‘Does it seem strange to you that you have gained a tal­ent by speak­ing? I was paid ten tal­ents by the king for hold­ing my tongue.’ Just so, these men now receive a very high price for hold­ing their tongues.” 

Trans­lat­ed by J.C. Rolfe (1927).

Amelie Rosengren

Amelie Rosengren

Amelie Rosengren, M.A. and co-founder of Latinitium, is a published author, illustrator and historian. She specializes in daily life, has a soft spot for historic curiosities, and works as a museum educator at the world’s oldest open air museum, Skansen.
Written by Amelie Rosengren

Written by Amelie Rosengren

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