The History, 27.11

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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11About this time, Vulcatius Rufinus died, while filling the office of prefect of the prætorium, and Probus was summoned from Rome to succeed him, a man well known to the whole Roman world for the eminence of his family, and his influence, as well as for his vast riches, for he possessed a patrimonial inheritance which was scattered over the whole empire; whether acquired justly or unjustly it is not for us to decide.

2A certain good fortune, as the poets would represent it, attended him from his birth, and bore him on her rapid wings, exhibiting him sometimes as a man of beneficent character, promoting the interests of his friends, though often also a formidable intriguer, and cruel and mischievous in the gratification of his enmities. As long as he lived he had great power, owing to the magnificence of his gifts and to his frequent possession of office, and yet he was at times timid towards the bold, though domineering over the timid; so that when full of self-confidence he appeared to be spouting in the tragic buskin, and when he was afraid he seemed more abased than the most abject character in comedy.

3And as fishes, when removed from their natural element, cannot live long on the land, so he began to pine when not in some post of authority which he was driven to be solicitous for by the squabbles of his troops of clients, whose boundless cupidity prevented their ever being innocent, and who thrust their patron forward into affairs of state in order to be able to perpetrate all sorts of crimes with impunity.

4For it must be confessed that though he was a man of such magnanimity that he never desired any dependent or servant of his to do an unlawful thing, yet if he found that any one of them had committed a crime, he laid aside all consideration of justice, would not allow the case to be inquired into, but defended the man without the slightest regard for right or wrong. Now this is a fault expressly condemned by Cicero, who thus speaks: “For what difference is there between one who has advised an action, and one who approves of it after it is performed? or what difference does it make whether I wished it be done, or am glad that it is done?”

5He was a man of a suspicious temper, self-relying, often wearing a bitter smile, and sometimes caressing a man the more effectually to injure him.

6This vice is a very conspicuous one in dispositions of that kind, and mostly so when it is thought possible to conceal it. He was also so implacable and obstinate in his enmities, that if he ever resolved to injure any one he would never be diverted from his purpose by any entreaties, nor be led to pardon any faults, so that his ears seemed to be stopped not with wax but with lead.

7Even when at the very summit of wealth and dignity he was always anxious and watchful, and therefore he was continually subject to trifling illnesses.

8Such was the course of events which took place in the western provinces of the empire.

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