The reputation of the once archetypical villain, Catiline, has under gone a complete transformation over the past 150 years. Once considered the epitome of political villainy, Lucius Sergius Catiline has been rehabilitated within the western canon; transformed, as it were, from a villain to a hero.
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On the one hand, the verdict rendered by ancient authors against Catiline is universal. Those held by the majority of our contemporary scholars, however, such as Henrik Ibsen, Aleksandr Blok, Ann Thomas Wilkins, Lester Hutchinson, E. G. Hardy, C. MacDonald and Judith Kalb, tend to admire him. There are those opinions about Sallust which are almost as bad; especially for those who follow the opinions of pseudo-Cicero or Cassius Dio. The trend in contemporary scholarship, however, is to discredit Sallust’s scholarship as opposed to the mere traduction of his character as Polio did.
Many more important scholars, particularly his contemporaries and the Renaissance humanists inspired by them, have praised him as a historian par excellence. Ironically, the history of the Bellum Catilinae has been handed down by two of Catiline’s bitterest enemies, Cicero and Sallust, who had a mutual dislike for each other; and although they hated one another, they were united in hating Catiline. The history of Catiline’s conspiracy, and his putsch against the Roman republic, was transmitted to us, more or less, authentically from the classical authors to the Renaissance humanists. The authentic transmission, however, ended with Voltaire’s dramatic piece. Ibsen’s dramatization of the event marked a new beginning. Once the historical persona Catiline was removed from what was considered the pinnacle of classical historical authorship, and transmitted into the dramatic arts, the history of the event itself began to change until the historical persona, Catiline, had undergone a complete historical revision, from villain to hero.
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