2000 Years of Latin Prose | History and Literature

Chapter 9 – Sallustius: Mind, Body, & Glory

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 ninth chap­ter, we will learn more about Sal­lustius, known to many as Sal­lust. We will also read a pas­sage from his most famous work Bel­lum Catilinae.

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 9. Sallustius

Life and works of Gaius Sallustius Crispus

In this sec­tion you will learn about the life and works of Sallustius.

(86–35 B.C)

Portrait of Sallustius by Louis-Gabriel Monnier from the 18th century.
Por­trait of Sal­lustius by Louis-Gabriel Mon­nier, 1777

Gaius Sal­lustius Cris­pus, or sim­ply Sal­lust, was a Roman politi­cian and his­to­ri­an, prob­a­bly born in Amiter­num in cen­tral Italy. 

Life of Sallustius

Of Sal­lustius’ ear­ly years, we know very lit­tle, hard­ly any­thing. It is not until the 50’s B.C. that we have more than spec­u­la­tion to go on. 

Pri­or to 52 B.C. Sal­lustius might have been a quaestor, though this has been dis­put­ed. In 52 B.C., he became a Tri­bune of the Plebs. How­ev­er, two years lat­er, in 50 B.C., he was, along with some oth­ers, dri­ven from the sen­ate. This was per­haps (but noth­ing is cer­tain) due to his sym­pa­thies towards Julius Cae­sar, a man he would sup­port and lat­er thank for his life. 

Cae­sar lat­er appoint­ed Sal­lustius com­man­der of a legion. Even though he did not stand out mil­i­tary­wise, he was reward­ed for his sup­port and loy­al­ty by being appoint­ed gov­er­nor of the province Africa Nova (the old King­doms of Numidia and Mau­re­ta­nia in north­west­ern Africa).

Sal­lustius was not a good gov­er­nor. If we are to believe his­to­ri­an Dio Cas­sius (155–235 A.D.), he was a ter­ri­ble, oppres­sive gov­er­nor. Accord­ing to Cas­sius (lib 43.9), he harassed and plun­dered his sub­jects, con­fis­cat­ed prop­er­ty, and took bribes to line his own pock­ets. When he returned to Rome, some­time around 45 or 44 B.C., it was only thanks to Julius Cae­sar that he escaped charges.

Sal­lustius turned away from pub­lic life, per­haps after Caesar’s death, though the exact time for his with­draw­al is uncer­tain. He then spent the rest of his days writ­ing his­tor­i­cal lit­er­a­ture and devel­op­ing his gar­dens, the Hor­ti Sallustiani.

Liebig card set: "Grands historiens et episodes de leur vie", ca 1900, showing Sallust and Caesar.
Liebig card set: “Grands his­to­riens et episodes de leur vie”, ca 1900, show­ing Sal­lust and Cae­sar at the senate.

Sal­lustius life was a lit­tle bit of a contradiction:

On the one hand, we have an active politi­cian whose writ­ings, that we soon shall turn to, are (amongst oth­er things) famous for their stern cri­tique of the loose moral­i­ty of the Roman aris­toc­ra­cy and for their con­cern about Rome’s moral decline. 

On the oth­er hand, we have a man who oppressed the region he was sup­posed to gov­ern and was infa­mous for his loose living.

For exam­ple, Aulus Gel­lius relates a sto­ry from Var­ro about when Sal­lustius was caught, red-hand­ed, by Titus Annius Milo (known from Cicero’s speech Pro Milone) com­mit­ting adul­tery. Rumour has it that the woman Sal­lustius was sleep­ing with was none oth­er than Milo’s own wife Faus­ta Cor­nelia, daugh­ter of Sul­la. Gel­lius does not point her out; how­ev­er, Milo’s reac­tion to Sal­lustius’ indis­cre­tion speaks for itself: he beat the author with thongs and refused to let him leave until Sal­lustius had paid him a sum of money.

“in adul­te­rio dep­re­hen­sum ab Annio Milone loris bene cae­sum dic­it et, cum dedis­set pecu­ni­am, dimissum. ”

— Aulus Gel­lis, lib. XVII.xviii

Dio Cas­sius, though not a con­tem­po­rary, harsh­ly remarks that Sal­lustius did not prac­tice what he preached. (Dio Cass. 43. 9)

Works of Sallustius

Three of Sal­lustius’ works remain today; Frag­ments of the His­to­ri­aeBel­lum Iugurthinum, and Bel­lum Catili­nae.  

12th century manuscript of Sallust's Bellum Iugurthinum.
The begin­ning of Sallust’s Bel­lum Iugurthinum, in Ms. Bib­liote­ca Apos­toli­ca Vat­i­cana, Vat­i­canus Palat­i­nus Lat. 883, Fol. 21R., 12th Century.

The His­to­ri­ae was a con­tin­u­a­tion of Cor­nelius Sisen­na’s (120–67 B.C.) now lost work, also called His­to­ri­ae. Sisenna’s work was a his­to­ry cov­er­ing the years 90 B.C. to 78 B.C.

Sal­lustius’ His­to­ri­ae began where Sisen­na’s work end­ed, 78 B.C. and con­tin­ued to the year 67 B.C. It would have con­tin­ued onwards, but Sal­lustius died before he could fin­ish it. 

Today we have parts left from the His­to­ri­ae; four speech­es, two let­ters, and about 500 fragments. 

Bel­lum Iuguthinum was writ­ten around 40 B.C. and deals with the Jugurthine War (111–105 B.C.) fought between Jugurtha, king of Numidia, and Rome.

Bel­lum Catili­nae is the most famous of Sal­lustius’ works and was per­haps writ­ten around 42 B.C. as his first pub­lished work. It is also to this work we shall turn in today’s chap­ter to sam­ple his writings. 

Bel­lum Catili­nae goes through the Cati­line Con­spir­a­cy of 63 B.C. that we have already heard a lit­tle bit about in this dig­i­tal Anthology’s Chap­ter 5: Cicero and his De Catili­na. 

A manuscript from 1475 of Sallust's De Conjuratione Catilinae.
De Con­ju­ra­tione Catili­nae, man­u­script from 1475.

The con­spir­a­cy was a plot to over­throw the Roman Repub­lic and was named after the main con­spir­a­tor, Lucius Sergius Catili­na. Though the con­spir­a­cy hap­pened dur­ing Sal­lustius’ life, he was most like­ly not in Rome at the time but instead was in the mil­i­tary ser­vice. His Bel­lum Catili­na is not writ­ten around the time of the con­spir­a­cy in the 60’s B.C. but between 44 and 40 B.C. Thus, ca. 20 years had passed in between the actu­al events and the book.

The pas­sage we shall be look­ing at today is the begin­ning of Bel­lum Catili­na. Sal­lustius is not one to go straight to the point but instead sets the tone of his work with this pas­sage with thoughts on the mind, body, and glory.

Further reading and resources

Audio & Video

Click below to read and lis­ten to a pas­sage from Sal­lustius’ Bel­lum Catili­nae

Video With English Subtitles

Audio Of Latin Text

Latin Text

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

Bel­lum Catili­nae, 1.1–3

Omnis homines, qui sese stu­dent praestare ceteris ani­mal­ibus, sum­ma ope niti decet, ne vitam silen­tio transeant velu­ti pec­o­ra, quae natu­ra prona atque ven­tri oboe­di­en­tia finx­it. Sed nos­tra omnis vis in ani­mo et cor­pore sita est: ani­mi impe­rio, cor­poris servi­tio magis utimur; alterum nobis cum dis, alterum cum beluis com­mune est. Quo mihi rec­tius vide­tur ingeni quam vir­i­um opibus glo­ri­am quaerere et, quo­ni­am vita ipsa, qua fruimur, bre­vis est, memo­ri­am nos­tri quam max­ume longam effi­cere. Nam divi­tiarum et for­mae glo­ria fluxa atque frag­ilis est, vir­tus clara aeter­naque habetur. Sed diu mag­num inter mor­tal­is cer­ta­men fuit, vine cor­poris an vir­tute ani­mi res mil­i­taris magis pro­ced­eret. Nam et, prius quam incip­ias, con­sul­to et, ubi con­sulueris, mature fac­to opus est. Ita utrumque per se indi­gens alterum alterius aux­ilio eget. 

Igi­tur ini­tio reges – nam in ter­ris nomen imperi id pri­mum fuit – divor­si pars inge­ni­um, alii cor­pus exerce­bant: eti­am tum vita hominum sine cupid­i­tate agita­batur; sua cuique satis place­bant. Postea vero quam in Asia Cyrus, in Grae­cia Lacedae­monii et Athe­niens­es coepere urbis atque nationes subigere, lubidinem dom­i­nan­di causam bel­li habere, max­u­mam glo­ri­am in max­u­mo impe­rio putare, tum demum per­icu­lo atque negoti­is com­per­tum est in bel­lo plu­ru­mum inge­ni­um posse. Quod si regum atque imper­a­to­rum ani­mi vir­tus in pace ita ut in bel­lo valeret, aequa­bil­ius atque con­stan­tius sese res humanae haber­ent neque ali­ud alio fer­ri neque mutari ac mis­ceri omnia cerneres. Nam imperi­um facile iis art­ibus retine­tur, quibus ini­tio par­tum est. Verum ubi pro labore desidia, pro con­ti­nen­tia et aequi­tate lubido atque super­bia invasere, for­tu­na simul cum moribus inmu­tatur. Ita imperi­um sem­per ad optu­mum quemque a minus bono trans­fer­tur. Quae homines arant, nav­i­gant, aed­i­f­i­cant, vir­tu­ti omnia par­ent. Sed mul­ti mor­tales, dedi­ti ven­tri atque som­no, indoc­ti incul­tique vitam sicu­ti pere­gri­nantes tran­siere; quibus pro­fec­to con­tra nat­u­ram cor­pus volup­tati, ani­ma oneri fuit. Eorum ego vitam mortemque iux­ta aes­tu­mo, quo­ni­am de utraque sile­tur. Verum enim vero is demum mihi vivere atque frui ani­ma vide­tur, qui aliquo nego­tio inten­tus praeclari faci­noris aut artis bonae famam quaer­it. Sed in magna copia rerum ali­ud alii natu­ra iter ostendit.

Pul­chrum est bene facere rei pub­li­cae, eti­am bene dicere haud absur­dum est; vel pace vel bel­lo clarum fieri licet; et qui fecere et qui fac­ta alio­rum scripsere, mul­ti lau­dan­tur. Ac mihi qui­dem, tamet­si haudquaquam par glo­ria sequitur scrip­torem et actorem rerum, tamen in prim­is ardu­um vide­tur res ges­tas scribere: pri­mum, quod fac­ta dic­tis exae­quan­da sunt; dehinc, quia plerique, quae delic­ta rep­re­hen­deris, malev­o­len­tia et invidia dic­ta putant, ubi de magna vir­tute atque glo­ria bono­rum mem­o­res, quae sibi quisque facil­ia fac­tu putat, aequo ani­mo accip­it, supra ea velu­ti fic­ta pro fal­sis ducit.

Explained In Latin

patreon latinitium schola Bellum catilinae thumb.jpg

If you are a Patron on Patreon.com/latinitium, you can also find a video les­son on the first part, 1.1, of Bel­lum Catili­nae where Daniel goes through the text, you can find it here.

Vocabulary & Commentary

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


sese præstare: acc. and inf. after stu­dent, a rare con­str. instead of the sim­ple inf., which is the rule after verbs of wish­ing, seek­ing, etc., when the sub­ject of both verbs is the same. In Cicero and Cae­sar the reflex­ive pro­noun is gen­er­al­ly expressed after verbs of wish­ing and striv­ing only when the infini­tive takes a pred. noun or adj. (Ram­sey 1984), e.g. gra­tum se videri studet, ‘he is anx­ious to seem pleas­ing’ (Cic., de Off. ii. 20. 7.). Some edi­tors think that the inser­tion of the pron. sese gives spe­cial empha­sis, oth­ers that it is a col­lo­qui­al­ism or archaism.

sum­ma ope: Instead of the more com­mon sum­mopere, like­ly to add an archa­ic flavour. (McGushin 1980)

silen­tio: pass, sense, ‘not spo­ken about,’ ‘in obscu­ri­ty,’ or ‘unno­ticed.’

prona finx­it: ‘whom nature has made to gaze on the ground and serve their bel­ly’; ven­tri, i. e. the nat­ur­al appetites.

Sed nos­tra omnis vis: ‘Now our capac­i­ty, tak­en as a whole, resides in the mind and the body joint­ly; we employ the gov­er­nance of the mind, the ser­vice rather of the body (or more freely, ‘the mind is the rul­ing, the body rather the serv­ing ele­ment in us’). For omnis cf. Caesar’s Gal­lia est omnis divisa in partes tres (B. G. I. 1.). Sed is not adver­sa­tive and only intro­duces a new con­cept (McGushin 1980).

alterum…alteram: refers loose­ly to ani­mus and cor­pus, ‘the one we share with the gods, the oth­er with the beasts.’

quo mihi rec­tius vide­tur: ‘and so it seems to me more rea­son­able to seek glo­ry…’; quo is sim­ply ‘and there­fore,’ and should not be tak­en with rec­tius; Some edi­tors, how­ev­er, take quo as the com­mon abl. with the comp. rec­tius(‘by which…the more rea­son­able’) and explain by an ellipse, quan­to di præs­tant belu­uis tan­to rec­tius mihi vide­tur, ‘in pro­por­tion as gods sur­pass beasts, so much the more rea­son­able does it seem to me.’

vita ipsa qua fruimur: our life on earth con­trast­ed with the lega­cy and mem­o­ry that lives on after our time. (McGushin 1980)

fluxa atque frag­ilis: alliterative,’fleeting and frail.’

virtus…habetur: ‘mer­it is a noble and eter­nal pos­ses­sion’; habetur: not ‘is con­sid­ered,’ but ‘is a possession’.

mor­talīs: Sal­lust uses omnes homines and omnes mor­tales indif­fer­ent­ly and there is noth­ing to sup­port the view that it is used because it is an archa­ic word. (McGushin 1980)

nam et…prius opus est: the present and per­fect sub­junc­tive with the sec­ond per­son refers to an unde­fined per­son ‘you’, ‘one’; ‘for there is need both of delib­er­a­tion before one begins, and of well-timed action after one has deliberated.’

utrumque: ‘each, incom­plete by itself, needs the help the one of the oth­er’, i. e., ‘needs the other’s help’; alterum resumes the utrumque.

igi­tur: Sall. puts igi­tur as the first word except in ques­tions. This is an archaism. (McGushin 1980)

divor­si pars… alii: ‘tak­ing oppo­site cours­es, some employed the intel­lect, oth­ers the bod­i­ly pow­ers’; pars, alii, inpar­ti­tive appo­si­tion to reges; pars is often opposed by Sall. to alii, mul­ti, pau­ci, to give vari­ety, instead of the reg­u­lar pars…pars.

agita­batur:‘to live’, an archaich use. Sall., is espe­cial­ly fond of fre­quen­ta­tive forms.

lubidinem…habere: ‘to have in their lust for rule a pre­text for war, to find the great­est glo­ry in the great­est empire.’

per­icu­lo atque negoti­is: ‘it was found out by expe­ri­ence’. Non­ius 578L quotes this phrase to show that per­icu­lum is some­times equi­v­i­va­lent to exper­i­men­tum. (McGushin 1980)

regum atque imper­a­to­rum ani­mi vir­tus: the intel­lec­tu­al excel­lence (or ‘abil­i­ty’) of kings and rulers’; imper­a­tores in a wider sense than regum, not in the tech­ni­cal Roman sense of ‘mil­i­tary commanders’.

neque ali­ud … cerneres: ‘nor would you have seen con­stant shift­ings to and fro, and the whole world in a state of change and con­fu­sion’; alio, adverb.

iis art­ibus: ‘by those qual­i­ties’ or ‘means’; artes, a favourite word of Sall., espe­cial­ly in phras­es bonae artes, ‘virtues’; malae artes, ‘vices.’

invasere: as we say ‘have come in’ in sense of ‘have become com­mon’; a favourite word of Sall.; here used absol., but usu­al­ly with acc. or in and acc.

quae: cog­nate acc. to the three verbs, arant, nav­i­gant, aed­i­f­i­cant; lit.’ the plough­ings which men plough, the sail­ings which they sail, etc.’; each of the three phras­es, quae arant, etc., is equiv. to a sub­st., and the three, tak­en up and repeat­ed by omnia, are subj. of par­ent: ‘whether men plough, or sail the sea or build, every­thing they do depends upon mer­it’ (or ‘upon ener­gy’). McGushin (1980) para­phras­es the sen­tence for clar­i­ty as quae homines aran­do, nav­i­gan­do, aed­i­f­i­can­do efficunt.

sicu­ti pere­gri­nantes: i. e. pass­ing care­less­ly through life with­out real knowl­edge or study of its pos­si­bil­i­ties, as a tourist does not trou­ble to study a land in which he is only tem­porar­i­ly settled.

iux­ta aes­tu­mo: ‘I val­ue alike,’ i. e. at an equal­ly low rate; for iux­ta = ‘equal­ly,’

is demum…: ‘that man, and that man alone, seems to me to live and have real enjoy­ment of his vital powers…’

nego­tio inten­tus: Com­men­ta­tors dis­pute whether the case in this and sim­i­lar phras­es (proe­lio inten­tus, etc.) is dat. or abl.; prob. the lat­ter, inten­tus keep­ing its par­ticip­i­al force, ‘kept on the stretch by…’; inten­tus is gen­er­al­ly used absolutely.

bene facere rei pub­li­cae: facere con­trast­ed with dicere, hence transl. here not ‘to ben­e­fit the state,’ but ‘to act well for the advan­tage of the state,’ ‘to ben­e­fit the state by action.’

bene dicere: is used absolute­ly, and does not gov­ern rei pub­li­cae.

lau­dan­tur: its subj. is the antecedent of qui fecere, qui scripsere, to which mul­ti is added in appo­si­tion; transl. ‘many, both those who have done great deeds, and those who have described the deeds of oth­ers, win praise.’

pri­mum: three rea­sons are giv­en introd. by pri­mum, dehinc, ubi de.

fac­ta dic­tis exae­quan­da sunt: lit. ‘the deeds must be matched by the words.’ as we might say, ‘noble actions must be worthi­ly described’; dic­tis, abl. of means.

plerique…: ‘most men think that the faults you have cen­sured (quae delic­ta rep­re­hen­deris) have been men­tioned (dic­ta) out of spite and envy.’

supra ea: for quae supra ea sunt, ‘what goes beyond that he regards as false (pro fal­sis), as though it were a mere inven­tion (velu­ti fic­ta).’

ambi­tione cor­rup­ta tenebatur: bet­ter (1) cor­rup­ta nom., agree­ment with aetas, ‘was seduced and held pris­on­er by a love of hon­our’ than (2) as Dietsch, cor­rup­ta, abl. agree­ment with ambi­tione, ‘by a cor­rupt’ or ‘cor­rupt­ing ambition.’

hon­oris cupi­do eadem qua ceteros…: the order is hon­oris cupi­do vex­a­bat me eadem fama atque invidia qua ceteros (vex­a­bat), ‘the desire for the hon­ours of office caused me to be dogged with the same slan­der and jeal­ousy as the rest (of my com­peti­tors)’; fama in sense of mala fama.

English Translation

Below you will find an Eng­lish trans­la­tion of the text. 

The Cati­line War, 1.1–3

It behooves all men who wish to excel the oth­er ani­mals to strive with might and main not to pass through life unher­ald­ed, like the beasts, which Nature has fash­ioned grov­el­ling and slaves to the bel­ly. All our pow­er, on the con­trary, lies in both mind and body; we employ the mind to rule, the body rather to serve; the one we have in com­mon with the Gods, the oth­er with the brutes. There­fore I find it becom­ing, in seek­ing renown, that we should employ the resources of the intel­lect rather than those of brute strength, to the end that, since the span of life which we enjoy is short, we may make the mem­o­ry of our lives as long as pos­si­ble. For the renown which rich­es or beau­ty con­fer is fleet­ing and frail; men­tal excel­lence is a splen­did and last­ing possession.

Yet for a long time mor­tal men have dis­cussed the ques­tion whether suc­cess in arms depends more on strength of body or excel­lence of mind; for before you begin, delib­er­a­tion is nec­es­sary, when you have delib­er­at­ed, prompt action. Thus each of these, being incom­plete in itself, requires the oth­er’s aid.

Accord­ing­ly in the begin­ning kings (for that was the first title of sov­er­eign­ty among men), took dif­fer­ent cours­es, some train­ing their minds and oth­ers their bod­ies. Even at that time men’s lives were still free from cov­etous­ness; each was quite con­tent with his own pos­ses­sions. But when Cyrus in Asia and in Greece the Athe­ni­ans and Lacedae­mo­ni­ans began to sub­due cities and nations, to make the lust for domin­ion a pre­text for war, to con­sid­er the great­est empire the great­est glo­ry, then at last men learned from per­ilous enter­pris­es that qual­i­ties of mind availed most in war.

Now if the men­tal excel­lence with which kings and rulers are endowed were as potent in peace as in war, human affairs would run an even­er and stead­ier course, and you would not see pow­er pass­ing from hand to hand and every­thing in tur­moil and con­fu­sion; for empire is eas­i­ly retained by the qual­i­ties by which it was first won. But when sloth has usurped the place of indus­try, and law­less­ness and inso­lence have super­seded self-restraint and jus­tice, the for­tune of princes changes with their char­ac­ter. Thus the sway is always pass­ing to the best man from the hands of his infe­ri­or. Suc­cess in agri­cul­ture, nav­i­ga­tion, and archi­tec­ture depends invari­ably upon men­tal excel­lence. Yet many men, being slaves to appetite and sleep, have passed through life untaught and untrained, like mere way­far­ers in these men we see, con­trary to Nature’s intent, the body a source of plea­sure, the soul a bur­den. For my own part, I con­sid­er the lives and deaths of such men as about alike, since no record is made of either. In very truth that man alone lives and makes the most of life, as it  seems to me, who devotes him­self to some occu­pa­tion, court­ing the fame of a glo­ri­ous deed or a noble career. But amid the wealth of oppor­tu­ni­ties Nature points out one path to one and anoth­er to another.

It is glo­ri­ous to serve one’s coun­try by deeds; even to serve her by words is a thing not to be despised; one may become famous in peace as well as in war. Not only those who have act­ed, but those also who have record­ed the acts of oth­ers often­times receive our appro­ba­tion. And for myself, although I am well aware that by no means equal repute attends the nar­ra­tor and the doer of deeds, yet I regard the writ­ing of his­to­ry as one of the most dif­fi­cult of tasks: first, because the style and dic­tion must be equal to the deeds record­ed; and in the sec­ond place, because such crit­i­cism as you make of oth­ers’ short­com­ings are thought by most men to be due to mal­ice and envy. Fur­ther­more, when you com­mem­o­rate the dis­tin­guished mer­it and fame of good men, while every one is quite ready to believe you when you tell of things which he thinks he could eas­i­ly do him­self, every­thing beyond that he regards as fic­ti­tious, if not false.

When I myself was a young man, my incli­na­tions at first led me, like many anoth­er, into pub­lic life, and there I encoun­tered many obsta­cles; for instead of mod­esty, incor­rupt­ibil­i­ty and hon­esty, shame­less­ness, bribery and rapac­i­ty held sway. And although my soul, a stranger to evil ways, recoiled from such faults, yet amid so many vices my youth­ful weak­ness was led astray and held cap­tive my ambi­tion; for while I of took no part in the evil prac­tices of the oth­ers, yet the desire for prefer­ment made me the vic­tim of the same ill-repute and jeal­ousy as they.

Trans­la­tion by John C. Rolfe (1931).

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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