The Ancient Library

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(Jrsicinus, one of the most ahle among the generals rf Constan.tius, and accompanied him to the East in 350. He returned with his commander to Italy four years afterwards, from thence passed over into Graul, and assisted in the enterprise against Sylva-nus, again followed Ursicinus when despatched, for i second time to the East, and appears to have lever quitted him until the period of his final dis­grace in 360. Ammianus subsequently attended ;he emperor Julian in his campaign against the Persians, was present at Antioch in 371, when the ilot of Theodorus was detected in the reign of Valens, and witnessed the tortures inflicted upon ;he conspirators, (xxix. i. § 24.) Eventually le established himself at Rome, where he com-Dosed his history, and during the progress of the ;ask read several portions publicly, which were

•eceived with great applause. (Liban. Epist. DCCccLxxxiii. p. 60, ed. Wolf.) The precise date >f his death is not recorded, but it must have hap->ened later than. 390, since a reference occurs to .he consulship of Neoterius, which belongs to that rear.

The work of Ammianus extended from the ac-lession of Nerva, a. d. 96, the point at which the listories of Tacitus and the biographies of Sueto-lius terminated, to the death of Valens, a. d. 378, omprising a period of 282 years. It was divided nto thirty-one books, of which the first thirteen ,re lost. The remaining eighteen embrace the acts

•f Constantius from a. d. 353, the seventeenth year f his reign, together with the whole career of 5fallus, Julianus, Jovianus, Valentinianus, and /"alens. The portion preserved includes the trans­itions of twenty-five years only, which proves hat the earlier books must have presented a very ondensed abridgment of the events contained in he long space over which they stretched; and ence we may feel satisfied, that what has been aved is much more valuable than what has pe-ished.

Gibbon (cap. xxvi.) pays a well deserved tri-ute to the accuracy, fidelity, and 'impartiality of Lmmianus. We are indebted to him for a know-?dge of many important facts not elsewhere re-ordedj and for much valuable insight into the lodes of thought and the general tone of public jeling prevalent in his day. His history must not, owever, be regarded as a complete chronicle of that ra; those proceedings only are brought forward rominently in which he himself was engaged, and early all the statements admitted appear to be mnded upon his own observations, or upon the in-mnation derived from trustworthy eye-witnesses, l considerable number of dissertations and digres-ons are introduced, many of them highly interest-ig and valuable. Such are his notices of the istitutions and manners of the Saracens (xiv. 4). [ the Scythians and Sarmatians (xvii. 12), of the tuns and Alani (xxxi. 2), of the Egyptians and icir country (xxii. 6, 14—16), and his geogra-tiical discussions upon Gaul (xv. 9), the Pontus £.xii. 8), and Thrace (xxvii. 4), although the ^curacy of many of his details has been called in jestion by D'Anville. Less legitimate and less idicious are his geological speculations upon earth-lakes (xvii. 7), his astronomical inquiries into ;lipses (xx. 3), comets (xxv. 10), and the regu-tion of the calendar (xxvi. 1), his medical re-arches into the origin of epidemics (xix. 4), his lological theory on the destruction of lions by



mosquitoes (xviii. 7), and his horticultural essay on the impregnation of palms (xxiv. 3). But in addition to industry in research and honesty of purpose, he was gifted with a large measure of strong common sense which enabled him in many points to rise superior to the prejudice of his day, and with a clear-sighted independence of spirit which prevented him from being dazzled or over­awed by the brilliancy and the terrors which en­veloped the imperial throne. The wretched vanity, weakness, and debauchery of Constantius, rendering him an easy prey to the designs of the profligate minions by whom he was surrounded, the female intrigues which ruled the court of Gallus, and the conflicting elements of vice and virtue which were so strongly combined in the cha­racter of Valentinian, are all sketched with bold­ness, vigour, and truth. But although sufficiently acute in detecting and exposing the follies of others, and especially in ridiculing the absurdities of po­pular superstition, Ammianus did not entirely escape the contagion. The general and deep-seated belief in magic spells, omens, prodigies, and oracles, which appears to have gained additional strength upon the first introduction of Christianity, evidently exercised no small influence over his mind. The old legends and doctrines of the Pagan creed and the subtle mysticism which philosophers pretended to discover lurking below, when mixed up with the pure and simple but startling tenets of the new faith, formed a confused mass which few intellects, except those of the very highest class, could reduce to order and harmony.

A keen controversy has been maintained with regard to the religious creed of our author. (See Bayle.) There is nothing in his writings which can entitle us to decide the question positively. In several passages he speaks with marked respect of Christianity and its professors (xxi. sub fin., xxii. 11, xxvii. 3 ; compare xxii. 12, xxv. 4); but even his strongest expressions, which are all attributed by Gibbon " to the incomparable pliancy of a polytheist," afford no conclusive evidence that he was himself a disciple of the cross. On the other hand he does not scruple to stigmatize with the utmost severity the savage fury of the contending sects (xxii. 5), nor fail to reprobate the bloody vio­lence of Damasus and Ursinus in the contest for the see of Rome (xxvii. 3): the absence of all censure on the apostacy of Julian, and the terms which he employs with regard to Nemesis (xiv. 11, xxii. 3), the Genius (xxi. 14), Mercurius (xvi. 5, xxv. 4), and other deities, are by many con­sidered as decisive proofs that he was a pagan. Indeed, as Heyne justly remarks, many of the writers of this epoch seem purposely to avoid committing themselves. Being probably devoid of strong religious principles, they felt unwilling to hazard any declaration which might one day ex­pose them to persecution and prevent them from adopting the various forms which the faith of the court might from time to time assume.

Little can be said in praise of the style of Am­mianus. The melodious flow and simple dignity of the purer models of composition had long ceased to be relished, and we too often detect the harsh diction and involved periods of an imperfectly educated foreign soldier, relieved occasionally by the pompous inflation and flashy glitter of the rhetori­cal schools. His phraseology as it regards the sig­nification, grammatical inflexions, and syntactical

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