Decimus Laberius

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Like a tomb, I keep nothing but my name.
He whom many fear must needs fear many.

Decimus Laberius (c. 105 – 43 BC) was a Roman eques and writer of mimes (farces), known for his caustic wit.


Text and translation: Robert A. Kaster, Macrobius: Saturnalia, Vol. 1, LCL 510 (2011)
  • Quem nulla ambitio, nulla umquam largitio,
    nullus timor, vis nulla, nulla auctoritas
    movere potuit in iuventa de statu,
    ecce in senecta ut facile labefecit loco
    viri excellentis mente clemente edita
    summissa placide blandiloquens oratio?
    • No ambition, no largesse, no fear, no force, no man’s prestige could make me shift my stance when I was young: now that I’m old, do you see how easily I’m undone by the invitation—humble and mild—that issues from the merciful mind of the man who towers above us?
    • Quoted by Macrobius, Saturnalia, II, vii, 3
    • Other translations: Oliver Goldsmith, An Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe (1759), pp. 176–7: see Austin Dobson, ed., Selected Poems of Goldsmith (1887), pp. 156–7; W. Below, The Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius, Vol. 2 (1795), pp. 133–4; Richard Cumberland, The Observer, Vol. 2 (5th ed., 1798), pp. 248–50; John Dunlop, Charles Neaves and William E. Aytoun in Blackwood's Magazine (April 1838), pp. 551–3; Norbert Gutterman, A Book of Latin Quotations (1966), p. 79; Percival Vaughan Davies, The Saturnalia (Columbia University Press, 1969), p. 180
  • Ut hedera serpens vires arboreas necat,
    ita me vetustas amplexu annorum enecat.
    sepulcri similis nihil nisi nomen retineo.
    • As ivy destroys the vital force of trees by creeping ’round them, so long passage of years is killing me. Like a tomb, I keep nothing but my name.
    • Quoted by Macrobius, Saturnalia, II, iii, 25
  • Porro, Quirites, libertatem perdimus.
    • From this moment on, citizens, we lose our freedom.
    • Quoted by Macrobius, Saturnalia, II, iv
  • Necesse est multos timeat quem multi timent.
    • He whom many fear must needs fear many.
    • Quoted by Macrobius, Saturnalia, II, iv
  • Non possunt primi esse omnes omni in tempore.
    summum ad gradum cum claritatis veneris,
    consistes aegre et citius quam ascendas cades.
    cecidi ego, cadet qui sequitur: laus est publica.
    • All men cannot come out first each time. When you’ve reached the highest step on fame’s ladder, you’ll find it hard to keep your footing and fall more quickly than you rise: I fell, and so will the one who follows: fame belongs to no one man.
    • Quoted by Macrobius, Saturnalia, II, ix
    • Other translations:
      None the first place for ever can retain—
      But, ever as the topmost round you gain,
      Painful your station there and swift your fall.
      I fell—the next who wins with equal pain
      The slippery height, falls too—pride lifts, and lowers all.
      —William Bodham Donne, in William Smith, ed., Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, Vol. 2 (London, 1850), p. 695
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