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From Pagan And Puritan: The “Octavius” of Minucius, Freely Translated by Arthur Aikin Brodribb, London: George Bell & Sons; 1903; pp. 1-5.

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[Part I. The Reason For The Debate]

WHENEVER my thoughts dwell on my good old friend Octavius, his charming and lovable personality becomes so real to me that I seem in a manner to return to the past, with something more than a mere recollection of its closed pages. My eyes can no longer see him, but his portrait is for that very reason all the more deeply engraved on my heart and my inmost feelings. He was a remarkable and saintly man, and his departure from this world left me with an indefinite sense of loss. In truth, he was so much attached to me that our thoughts and wishes, whether grave or gay, always coincided; it was as though we had only one mind between us. The result of this unanimity was that, while he was the only partner of my pleasures, he shared my errors also. So, again, when I escaped from the dark slough of ignorance 2 into the light of wisdom and truth, he did not cast off his companion, but, much more nobly, ran on to show him the way. Consequently, when my thoughts range over the whole period of our intimacy, my most vivid recollection is of a discourse of his in which by sheer force of argument he converted Quintus Caecilius from his belated superstition to the true faith.

Octavius had come to Rome partly on business, and partly in order to see me; and he had left his wife and children at home, the little ones just at the age of innocence, and at the most lovable time when they try to say short words with delightfully quaint attempts at pronunciation. I cannot say how pleased I was to see my greatest friend, especially as his arrival was unexpected. After a day or two of renewed intimacy, when we had to some extent satisfied our hunger for each other’s company, and had thoroughly compared notes together, we determined to go to Ostia, an exceedingly nice place, where I had been advised to try the bracing effects of sea-bathing. The vintage holidays had released me from the law-courts, and after the heat of summer there was a touch of autumn in the air.


Well, early one morning we were walking down to the sea, to enjoy the cool breeze and a stroll over the sands, when Caecilius, who was with us, noticed an image of Serapis,1 and in the usual superstitious way kissed his hand to it.

Then Octavius said to me: “Marcus, my brother, here is a man who is closely connected with you, both in private life and in business. You are not doing your duty by him if you leave him in ignorant blindness, and let him stumble in broad daylight over blocks of stone, even though they are carved and anointed and crowned. You must be aware that his error is as discreditable to yourself as it is to him.”

This remark brought us past the town to the open shore, where the gentle waves had made us a promenade of level sand. The sea, which is never absolutely still, even when there is no wind, came in, not white and foaming, but in curling, twisting waves which it was a pleasure to look at, and, when we walked quite at the edge of the water, played round our footsteps and then receded from 4 them. So we walked on, slowly and quietly, along the slight curve of the shore, amusing ourselves with conversation and with Octavius’s accounts of his experiences on board ship. When we had gone far enough, walking and talking, we turned to come back the same way, and, as we came to a place where some boats were laid up high and dry upon baulks of timber, we saw a number of boys playing at ducks and drakes with bits of tile. The game, of course, is to choose a flat piece, with rounded edges, and then, holding it low, to throw it so that it may skim the surface of the water and make as many hops and jumps as possible; and the boy whose shot goes farthest and jumps oftenest is the winner.

The sight distinctly amused Octavius and me, but Caecilius took no notice of it and did not so much as smile, but showed by his preoccupied expression that he was trying to keep to himself something or other that had annoyed him.

“Now, Caecilius,” said I, “what is the matter with you? What has become of all your gaiety? You generally look more cheerful than that even on serious occasions.

“It is that nasty remark of our friend 5 Octavius,” he replied, “that has been irritating me all this time. It was addressed ostensibly to you, because he blamed your negligence; but that was only his indirect way of charging me with ignorance, which is worse. As he has practically raised the whole question, the matter cannot rest where it is, so I shall have to have it out with him. All I know is that, if he wants me to argue on behalf of the school I belong to, he will soon find it easier to wrangle among his friends than to conduct a philosophical discussion. However, suppose we sit down on this stone breakwater, by the baths, and rest, and thresh it out.”

So we sat down as he suggested, with myself in the middle; not that etiquette demanded that I should have the place of honour, because friendship always assumes or makes equality, but in order that I might act as judge, and hear both sides equally, and part the combatants.


 1  See note at end.

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Part II.  Pagan: Caecilius