in Bertrams

Chapter 01 – Vae Victis!

Vae victis

This Latin phrase is rendered into English as “woe to the conquered!”  Not only is this Latin phrase the title of the first chapter, but it is also used through the chapter to frame Trollope’s argument.  In the first chapter (it could almost be described as an essay), Trollope laments the hyper-competitive nature of British society.  He states that the age he lives in, while advanced, has lost a good deal of its humanity.  The “conquered” in this case are those who are not the absolute best at what they do.  The phrase is attributed to the leader of the Gauls who defeated the legions of Rome in the late fourth century BCE.  There is a deal of irony in this, as the hyper-competition Trollope is describing using Latin is something the Romans would have participated in and even endorsed.  By using the Latin phrase and not just a similar sentiment in English, Trollope bestows a timeless nature on the problem of hyper-competition and  establishes Britain as a continuation of Rome itself.  [CMC 2012]

When the Gallic leader exclaims vae victis in Livy, the Romans are the conquered ones, though Livy reminds his audience that these temporarily defeated people will eventually rule a large empire.  The shifting identification of “conqueror” and “conquered” will play a role in The Bertrams; only at the novel’s end will the winners and losers become apparent.  For instance Arthur Wilkinson–who is disappointed in his academic aspirations at the novel’s outset–will find more happiness and contentment than George Bertram or Henry Harcout, upon whom favor seems to shine at the start of the book.  [RR 2012]

Source:  Livy, History of Rome 5.48.


success as a god

As part of his examination and bemoaning of the competitive aspect of British society, Trollope likens success to a god that is worshipped by Britain.  Here, “god” is used the the pagan or Classical sense, as it is clearly not the Christian god of Victorian England.  This is in keeping with the Classical theme established by the title of the chapter.  It could also be said that the Romans themselves valued success almost on a par with their pantheon.  [CMC 2012]


occupet extremum scabies

This phrase is literally translated as “let an itch take the last one,” an appropriate quotation for Trollope to use when describing the competitive attitude engrained in Victorian society.  The phrase is originally found in Horace’s Ars Poetica, where Horace is lamenting that contemporary poets have not really mastered their craft and conduct their careers with a competitive and almost economic spirit.  [CMC & RR 2012]

Source:  Horace, Ars Poetica 417.


consult the shade

Trollope suggests, as part of an extended metaphor comparing race horses to the youths of England racing against one another for success, that the reader consult a number of noblemen to confirm that trained race-horses are only good for racing.  One of these men is in fact deceased, and Trollope states that the reader should “consult the shade” of the man.  This recalls both Odysseus and Aeneas, who travel to the underworld to ask the dead for advice.  By using the Classcial reference, Trollope lifts the problem out of contemporary British society and frames it as a timeless issue.  [CMC 2012]

Sources:  Homer, Odyssey 11.
Vergil, Aeneid 6.


Crucifix, Iliona, Toxophilite

These are the names of the three horses that Trollope uses in his racing metaphor describing the competitive nature of English society.  He states that the horses trained for racing are good for nothing save racing on a track, just as the men produced by Britain’s system will be good at nothing but trying to out-compete one another.  All three are real famous Victorian race-horses and have Classical names.  Crucifix is named for a Roman method of torture and execution on a cross, Iliona was the oldest daughter of Priam and Hecuba, and Toxophilite is Greek for “archery lover.”  [CMC 2012]

Sources:  OCD and LSJ.



In his example of how competition is bad for society, Trollope invents a scenario where one Johnson has written a poem about Iphigenia and has asked his friend Thompson to read it.  Thompson has not had time to read it as he is too busy.  Iphigenia is the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, whom Artemis demanded as a sacrifice before the winds would send the Argives to Troy.  Euripides wrote a tragedy on this theme.  It is also of note that, like Iphigenia, the “conquered” youth of England are being offered up for sacrifice on the altar of success.  [CMC 2012]

Source:  OCD.


old mythology

The “old mythology” referenced by Trollope’s invented Thompson is undoubtedly Classical mythology, as evidenced by the fact that the example of “modern poetry” based on it has for its subject matter Iphigenia.  This demonstrates the tension seen by Trollope in British society between the Classical past and modernity.  Classical education has trained these men to be busy and competitive, but the fruits of this have made it impossible for Thompson to have time to read poetry on the subject.  Thompson finally advises Johnson to give up Iphigenia, the manifestation of both of their educations.  Trollope is not faulting Classics here, but how it is being used by Britain.   [CMC 2012]


Vox populi, vox Dei

This Latin phrase translates as “the voice of the people, the voice of God.”  This is uttered by Trollope’s invented young British man Thompson as he advises Johnson to give up his poetry as his poems are proving unpopular.  It is ironic that Thompson is using a Classical phrase to urge Johnson to give up Classically-inspired poetry.  The sentence neatly summarizes what would take at least two or three lines in English for Thompson to explain.  [CMC 2012]

The phrase can be found in one of Alcuin’s letters to Charlemagne, though Alcuin argues against treating popular opinion as divine mandate.  Trollope’s Thompson harnesses the seeming authority of a Latin phrase but reverses the point Alcuin used it to make.  [RR 2012]

Source:  Alcuin, Epistle 132.


Amaryllis and Neaera

Both of these names can be found in ancient pastoral poetry.  Both names are used by Vergil in the Eclogues, while Horace utilizes Neaera in the Epodes.  Trollope uses these names to describe what those men who race one another loose in the process:  the love of a woman.  It is also worth noting that the two names are also used together by Milton, who himself used an abundance of Classical references and whom Trollope employs at other times in The Bertrams as a model for using Classics.  [CMC 2012]

Sources:  Vergil, Eclogue 1, 2, 3, 8, 9 (Amaryllis); 3 (Neaera).
Horace, Epode 15.
Milton, Lycidas 68-69.


first in Classics

One of Arthur Wilkinson’s main subjects of study at Cambridge was Classics, and he had hoped that his final exams would earn him a “first”–that is, an honor of the first degree.  In this first chapter we learn that Arthur’s hope was not fulfilled; he has fallen victim to the system of competition Trollope has been lamenting in the chapter.  [CMC & RR 2012]


all men said all good things of him

Trollope describes Arthur Wilkinson as a good boy and states that “all men said all good things of him.”  This is a translation from the Roman comedy Andria written by Terence.  The protagonist’s father is worried that his son is associating with the wrong type of people, although everyone seems to think and speak will of the son.  The quotation is especially appropriate here because Trollope also uses it to talk about a father being told about the character of his son.  [CMC 2012]

Source:  Terence, Andria 96-97.



George Bertram is described as the academic victor when compared to Arthur Wilkinson (and indeed all his fellow students).  This active noun is in contrast with the passive participle that forms part of the title of this chapter (victis) which means “conquered.”  George is not the conquered, but rather is the conquerer.  [CMC 2012]



George Bertram is described as having spouted Latin hexameters at secondary school and because of his skill winning a medal.  This is in contrast to Arthur Wilkinson, who did not even qualify to compete.  Hexameter is a form of poetry that contains six feet to a line.  The hexameters mentioned here are most likely dactylic hexameters, well known as the standard meter of ancient epic poetry.  Trollope could be being clever here, as the use of the epic verse in describing George Bertram’s victory adds to its grandness.  George is described as being a hero in the realm of academia, so it makes sense for Trollope to associate him with the art form commonly used to portray heroes.  [CMC 2012]



Wilkinson is described here as a hero having been beaten out of the field of academic competition by the seemingly effortlessly brilliant George Bertram.  Given the plethora of Classical references in this chapter, it seems likely that Trollope is using “hero” in its Classical sense here.  It is with a degree of gentle humor though, as poor Arthur can hardly be called a true epic hero after working so hard but still being beaten.  [CMC 2012]



George Bertram is described as Arthur Wilkinson’s triumphant friend.  The use of this adjective is especially appropriate given the title of the chapter.  In contrast to the conquered Arthur, George is triumphant in his acquisition of a double-first.  This is in keeping with the overall theme of the chapter.  [CMC 2012]

“Triumphant” also recalls Roman triumphs, the celebratory parades granted to highly successful Roman commanders.  George has emerged victorious from his academic “campaign.”  [RR 2012]


play of Aristophanes

As Arthur tries to write to his father, George picks up a play of Aristophanes as some light reading to pass the time.  Aristophanes was a Greek playwright who lived in the 5th c. BCE.  He was an author of comedies, which is why Trollope uses him as an example of “light reading” befitting a newly-minted double-first.  However, as the play would have still been in Greek and not English, Trollope is also being cheeky, since Greek can hardly be considered light reading.  [CMC 2012]