The verb “probare”

I’m concerned at present as to what probare might mean in Pliny NH 33.132 and most of my thoughts on this verb in Roman political discourse go back to the third century: probare is something that happens to both bronze coins and also ship rams in the 1st Punic War (earlier post, follow up; see previous post under 86 BCE for context of why this Pliny passage matters). This blog post is to round out my understanding of its usage in formal governmental contexts, esp. to describe the action of a magistrate.

eum libellum Caesari dedi. probavit causam, rescripsit Attico aequa eum postulare, admonuit tamen ut pecuniam reliquam Buthrotii ad diem solverent. Cic. Att. 16.16a actually a copy of a letter addressed to Plancus as praetor-designate, 4 or 5 July 44.

I gave Caesar the document. He approved the case, and wrote back to Atticus that his request was reasonable, with a warning however that the Buthrotians must pay the sum outstanding punctually. (S-B trans.)

Haec illo vivo. post interitum autem Caesaris, ut primum ex senatus consulto causas consules cognoscere instituerunt, haec quae supra scripsi ad eos delata sunt. probaverunt causam sine ulla dubitatione seque ad te litteras daturos esse dixerunt. again from Cic. Att. 16.16a a copy of a letter addressed to Plancus as praetor-designate, 4 or 5 July 44.

That was as far as the affair went during Caesar’s lifetime. After his death, as soon as the Consuls commenced their review of cases according to the Senate’s decree, the facts which I have just stated were presented to them. They approved the case without any hesitation and undertook to send a letter to you. (S-B trans.)

sed, cum tanta res agatur Attici nostri, nunc vero etiam existimatio, ut id quod probavit Caesar nobis testibus et obsignatoribus qui et decretis et responsis Caesaris interfueramus videatur obtinere potuisse,… Cic. Att.16.16E a copy of another letter addressed to Plancus as praetor-designate, mid July 44.

But it is of so much consequence to our friend Atticus financially, and now in reputation as well, that he should show himself able to maintain in actuality what Caesar sanctioned both in decrees and in replies… (S-B trans.)

Dixit idem Dolabellam impetrasse. Omen magis patribus conscriptis quam causa placuit; probaverunt. Cic. Verr. 2.1.99

“He said that Dolabella had been granted the same concession: the conscript fathers found the argument weak but the parallel suggestive, and agreed.” (Loeb trans modified)

Cic. Or. 157: I should not criticize the form “scripsere” in scripsere alii rem, yet I feel that scripserunt is more correct, but I am glad to follow custom which favours the ear. Ennius says “idem campus habet” and on temples we findidem probavit”. But isdem would be more correct, not eisdem, however: the sound is too broad. Isdem had an unpleasant sound, and so custom granted permission to err for the sake of agreeable effect. (Loeb trans)

Loeb note on this phrase: “The same (official) approved.” Cicero is unusually brief here, and as a result there is a certain obscurity. He means to say that the original form of the word was isdem (the spelling eisdem, which he rejects, uses ei to represent long i, but the i of isdem is short), and that this was changed to idem for the sake of euphony.

Liv. 4.22: Eo anno C. Furius Paculus et M. Geganius Macerinus censores villam publicam in campo Martio probaverunt

In that year Gaius Furius Paculus and Marcus Geganius Macerinus the censors approved a public building erected in the Campus Martius,

et cum ad rem publicam pertineret viam Domitiam muniri, legatis suis, primariis viris, C. Annio Bellieno et C. Fonteio, negotium dedit; itaque praefuerunt; imperaverunt pro dignitate sua, quod visum est, et probaverunt; quod vos, si nulla alia ex re, ex litteris quidem nostris, quas exscripsistis, et missis et adlatis certe scire potuistis. Cic. Font. 18

“When M. Fonteius was hindered by great affairs of state and when it was in the public interest for the Via Domitia to be paved, he assigned the task to his legates, outstanding men, C. Annius Bellienus and C. Fonteius; they therefore were in charge; in line with their standing they made demands at their discretion and issued certifications.” (Dyck translation)

Dyck in his commentary rightly notes that isn’t really a defense. M. Fonteius was still responsible for their actions. (on Dyck see early blog post)

Less legal/formal but similar sense:

Maxime vero consulatum meum Cn. Pompeius probavit Cic. Phil. 2.12

Above all, my consulship was approved by Gnaeus Pompeius…(Loeb trans)

In praetura, in consulatu praefectum fabrum detulit; consilium hominis probavit, fidem est complexus, officia observantiamque dilexit. Cic. Balb. 63

When praetor, and when consul, Caesar appointed him as his “Chief Engineer,” he approved of the man’s judgment, he appreciated his loyalty, he valued highly his services and his respect. (Loeb trans)

Warmington in his Loeb volumes on Archaic Latin wants to translate probavit in all cases as “acceptably completed”. I think this is a misguided translation in these cases. I think approved or sanctioned would be better in all cases he cites.

There are over a hundred inscriptions from the republican period from Latium and surounding areas that use the abbreviation PROB or probaverunt, or probavit, or probavere, or even probavunt to describe the action of a magistrate typically for them carrying in out the wishes of a council or senate where there was an expenditure of money. It is an action that is distinguished from other verbs such as curare (often spelt coerare) or dedere, and thus clearly indicated another, albeit related, type of action or responsibility.

Carthaginienses eo anno argentum in stipendium impositum primum Romam advexerunt. id quia probum non esse quaestores renuntiaverant, experientibusque pars quarta decocta erat, pecunia Romae mutua sumpta intertrimentum argenti expleverunt. (Liv. 32.2)

That year the Carthaginians brought to Rome the first payment in silver of the indemnity imposed on them. Because the quaestors reported that the metal was not pure and that a quarter of it had boiled down to dross during the assay, the Carthaginians made good the shortfall of silver by borrowing in Rome. (Loeb trans. modified)

Notice that the Latin is not inprobum (bad, dishonorable), but rather probum non esse, unapproved. The quaestors could not validate by their authority the silver–word for the testing is experientibus. For the moral usage of inprobus/probus cf. ad Herr. 2.38 with regard to the character of a husband.

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