Almost all agree that the Aemilii were one of the ancient and patrician houses in Rome; and those authors who affirm that King Numa was pupil toPythagoras tell us that the first who gave name to his posterity was Mamercus, the son of Pythagoras, who, for his grace and address in speaking, wascalled Aemilius. Most of this race that have risen through their merit to reputation also enjoyed good fortune: and even the misfortune to Lucius Paulus at the battle of Cannae gave testimony to his wisdom and valour. For not being able to persuade his colleague not to hazard the battle, he, though against his judgment, joined with him in the contest, but was no companion in his flight: on the contrary, when he that was so resolute to engage deserted him in the midst of danger he kept the field and died fighting. This Aemilius had a daughter named Aemilia, who was married to Scipio the Great, and a son Paulus, who is the subject of my present history.
In his early manhood, which fell at a time when Rome was flourishing with illustrious characters, he was distinguished for not attaching himself to the studies usual with the young men of mark of that age, nor treading the same paths to fame. For he did not practise oratory with a view to pleading causes, nor would he stoop to salute, embrace, and entertain the vulgar, which were the usual insinuating arts by which many grew popular. Not that he was incapable of either, but he chose to purchase a much more lasting glory by his valour, justice, and integrity, and in these virtues he soon oustripped all his equals.
The first honourable office he aspired to was that of aedile, which he carried against twelve competitors of such merit that all of them in process of time were consuls. Being afterwards chosen into the number of priests called augurs, appointed amongst the Romans to observe and register divinations made by the flight of birds or prodigies in the air, he so carefully studied the ancient customs of his country, and so thoroughly understood the religion of his ancestors, that this office which was before only esteemed a title of honour and merely upon that account sought after, by this means rose to the rank of one of the highest arts, and gave a confirmation to the correctness of the definition, which some philosophers have given of religion, that it is the science of worshipping the gods. When he performed any part of his duty, he did it with great skill and utmost care, making it, when he was engaged in it, his only business, not omitting any one ceremony, or adding the least circumstance, but always insisting, with his companions of the same order, even on points that might seem inconsiderable, and urging upon them, that though they might think the Deity was easily pacified, and ready to forgive faults of inadvertency, yet any such laxity was a very dangerous thing for a commonwealth to allow; because no man ever began the disturbance of his country’s peace by a notorious breach of its laws; and those who are careless in trifles give a precedent for remissness in important duties. Nor was he less severe in requiring and observing the ancient Roman discipline in military affairs; not endeavouring, when he had the command, to ingratiate himself with his soldiers by popular flattery, though this custom prevailed at that time amongst many, who, by favour and gentleness to those that were under them in their first employment, sought to be promoted to a second; but, by instructing them in the laws of military discipline with the same care and exactness a priest would use in teaching ceremonies and dreadful mysteries, and by severity to such as transgressed and contemned those laws, he maintained his country in its former greatness, esteeming victory over enemies itself but as an accessory to the proper training and disciplining of the citizens.
Whilst the Romans were engaged in war with Antiochus the Great, against whom their most experienced commanders were employed, there aroseanother war in the west, and they were all up in arms in Spain. Thither they sent Aemilius, in the quality of praetor, not with six axes, which number other praetors were accustomed to have carried before them, but with twelve; so that in his praetorship he was honoured with the dignity of a consul. He twice overcame the barbarians in battle, thirty thousand of whom were slain: successes chiefly to be ascribed to the wisdom and conduct of the commander, who by his great skill in choosing the advantage of the ground, and making the onset at the passage of a river, gave his soldiers an easy victory. Having made himself master of two hundred and fifty cities, whose inhabitants voluntarily yielded, and bound themselves by oath to fidelity, he left the province in peace, and returned to Rome, not enriching himself a drachma by the war. And, indeed, in general, he was but remiss in making money; though he always lived freely and generously on what he had, which was so far from being excessive, that after his death there was barely enough left to answer his wife’s dowry.
His first wife was Papiria, the daughter of Maso, who had formerly been consul. With her he lived a considerable time in wedlock, and then divorced her, though she had made him the father of noble children; being mother of the renowned Scipio and Fabius Maximus. The reason of this separation has not come to our knowledge; but there seems to be a truth conveyed in the account of another Roman’s being divorced from his wife, which may be applicable here. This person being highly blamed by his friends, who demanded, Was she not chaste? was she not fair? was she not fruitful? holding out his shoe, asked them, Whether it was not new? and well made? Yet, added he, none of you can tell where it pinches me. Certain it is, that great and open faults have often led to no separation; while mere petty repeated annoyances, arising from unpleasantness or incongruity of character, have been the occasion of such estrangement as to make it impossible for man and wife to live together with any content.
Aemilius, having thus put away Papiria, married a second wife, by whom he had two sons, whom he brought up in his own house, transferring the two former into the greatest and the most noble families of Rome. The elder was adopted into the house of Fabius Maximus, who was five times consul; the younger by the son of Scipio Africanus, his cousin-german, and was by him named Scipio.
Aemilius Paulus by Plutarch