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Cornelius Nepos, Life of Hannibal

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Cornelius Nepos

2. Reading Nepos

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When reading Nepos′ Lives, one is immediately struck by their straightforward style. Nepos′ syntax is, for the most part, clear and uncomplicated. His more complex sentences unfold in regular patterns, and he pays studious attention to signaling the circumstances in which action takes place and the connection of one thought to the next. He shows a fondness for antithesis, alliteration (e. g. quotiēnscumque cum eō congressus est, 1.2), and the occasional wordplay or pun. His vocabulary is similar to that found in Cicero and his contemporaries, but is more limited in scope, allowing even novice readers to spare the dictionary.

The Romans too deemed Nepos suitable for novices, even if Nepos himself did not set out to create a schoolbook. For modern readers, his simple, regular style provides a useful counterpoint to the more artful and varied grammar, vocabulary, and techniques found in more illustrious authors. Like many other Roman academics, encyclopedists, and chroniclers — e. g. Ve...

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