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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.


  • [Tiberius Claudius Nero, step-son of Augustus; born 42 B.C.; served with distinction in Spain, Asia Minor, and Germany; adopted by Augustus, and became emperor A.D. 14; used his power at first with moderation, but soon abandoned the government to his minister Sejanus; retired from Rome, never to return, 26, and gave himself up at Capri to a life of profligacy and cruelty; died A.D. 37.]
  • You leave the setting to court the rising sun.

  • Of the feeling of the Roman people towards his successor, Caligula. When Sulla opposed Pompey’s triumph, on the ground that he had been neither consul nor prætor, the latter bade him consider that “more worship the rising than the setting sun;” intimating that his power was increasing, and Sulla’s upon the decline. Sulla did not hear what the “beardless youth” said; but, when told, admired Pompey’s spirit, and cried, “Let him triumph!”—PLUTARCH: Life of Pompey. Shakespeare (“Timon of Athens,” I. 2) borrowed part of the saying: “Men shut their doors against a setting sun.” Garrick wrote an ode on the death of Henry Pelham, chancellor of the exchequer in 1742: he died on the day of the publication of Bolingbroke’s works, which caused the poet to reverse Pompey’s saying,—
  • “Let others hail the rising sun,
  • I bow to that whose course is run.”
  • Of Bolingbroke himself, Johnson declared, “He was a scoundrel and a coward,—a scoundrel, for charging a blunderbuss against religion and morality; a coward, because he had not resolution enough to fire it off himself, but left half a crown to a beggarly Scotchman to draw the trigger after his death.”
  • Oderint dum metuant.

  • The most common maxim of Tiberius concerning his subjects was, “Let them hate me, provided they approve of my conduct” (Oderint dum probent).—SUETONIUS: Life. This is a change of the line of the poet Accius (“Atreus”) “Oderint dum metuant” (Let them hate, if they only fear me). It is often quoted by Cicero, as in the orations for Sestius, and the First Philippic, and in “De Officiis;” also by Seneca, in the treatise “De Clementia.” It was the favorite motto of the emperor Caligula.
  • Tiberius hated his grandson, who bore the same name as himself, and said that “Caligula is rearing a hydra for the people of Rome, and a Phaëton for all the world;” referring to the son of Helios, the sun-god, who was allowed to drive his father’s chariot across the sky; but, being too weak to control the horses, nearly destroyed the earth. This jealousy of Caius (Caligula) and hatred of Tiberius caused the emperor often to exclaim, “Happy Priam, who survived all his children!”
  • When asked by a condemned criminal to hasten his execution, and grant him a speedy despatch, Tiberius replied, “You and I are not yet friends” (Nondum tecum in gratiam redii).—SUETONIUS: Life.
  • Augustus perceived the dangerous qualities which were later to prove so detrimental to the empire; and, after a day’s interview with Tiberius, towards the close of his life, remarked, as his stepson left the room, “Unhappy Roman people, to be ground by the jaws of such a slow devourer!” (Miserum populum Romanum, qui sub tam lentis maxillis erit!) The comparison was drawn from the combats of men and beasts in the arena. Augustus also said that he left one to succeed him who never consulted twice in the same affair.—PLUTARCH: Apothegms.
  • Tiberius affected, for a long time, to refuse the imperial power; keeping the senate in suspense, until one of the senators cried out, “Others are slow to perform what they promise, but you are slow to promise what you actually perform.” The cause of his long demur was a fear of the dangers which threatened him on all hands, insomuch that he said, “I have got a wolf by the ears.”—SUETONIUS: Life. It was a proverb, for a position surrounded by almost insurmountable difficulties, which Tiberius found included in a line of Terence’s “Phormio,” III. 3:—
  • “Immo id, quod aiunt, auribus teneo lupum.”
  • (More than that, I hold, as they say, a wolf by the ears.)