Pliny on the Malice and Villainy of Regulus

From Pliny’s Letters, 1.4

“After a few days, Regulus himself came to see me in his function as a praetor. Having followed me there, he asked to speak in private. He said that he was afraid that I may still be vexed by a comment which he made in the centumviral court, when he responded both to me and to Satrius Rufus with, ‘Satrius Rufus, who does not vie with Cicero, and is perfectly content with the eloquence of our age.’ I responded that I now understood that he had spoken maliciously, under his own confession; otherwise, I would have thought that it was a compliment. I said, ‘I, for my part, do attempt to rival Cicero, nor am I content with the eloquence of our day, and I think it the stupidest thing not to sent out the finest things of their kind for imitation. But you, who have recalled this case, why have you forgotten the one in which you asked me what I thought about the piety of Mettius Modestus?’ He grew notably pale (even though he was always pale) and hesitating, he said, ‘I asked you that not to harm you, but Modestus.’ Just consider the cruelty of this man, who does not even pretend that he did not wish to harm a man in exile. He even added a note about that famous case, ‘Modestus wrote in a certain letter, which was recited in front of Domitian, Regulus, the most worthless thing with two feet,’ which Modestus wrote with considerable truth. This was about the end of our talk, and I did not want to proceed any longer, so that I could keep everything  open until Mauricus arrived; nor did it escape me that Regulus was difficult to catch; for he is wealthy, intriguing, cared for by many, and feared by most (which is often a much stronger thing than love). Nevertheless, it happens that these things can be struck and diminished, because the favor of the wicked is as untrustworthy as they themselves are.”

Meant to represent ‘verbal wrangling.’

11 Paucos post dies ipse me Regulus convenit in praetoris officio; illuc persecutus secretum petit; ait timere se ne animo meo penitus haereret, quod in centumvirali iudicio aliquando dixisset, cum responderet mihi et Satrio Rufo: ‘Satrius Rufus, cui non est cum Cicerone aemulatio et qui contentus est eloquentia saeculi nostri’. 12 Respondi nunc me intellegere maligne dictum quia ipse confiteretur, ceterum potuisse honorificum existimari. ‘Est enim’ inquam ‘mihi cum Cicerone aemulatio, nec sum contentus eloquentia saeculi nostri; 13 nam stultissimum credo ad imitandum non optima quaeque proponere. Sed tu qui huius iudicii meministi, cur illius oblitus es, in quo me interrogasti, quid de Metti Modesti pietate sentirem?’ Expalluit notabiliter, quamvis palleat semper, et haesitabundus: ‘Interrogavi non ut tibi nocerem, sed ut Modesto.’ Vide hominis crudelitatem, qui se non dissimulet exsuli nocere voluisse. 14Subiunxit egregiam causam: ‘Scripsit’ inquit ‘in epistula quadam, quae apud Domitianum recitata est: “Regulus, omnium bipedum nequissimus”‘; quod quidem Modestus verissime scripserat. 15 Hic fere nobis sermonis terminus; neque enim volui progredi longius, ut mihi omnia libera servarem dum Mauricus venit. Nec me praeterit esse Regulum ‘dyskathaireton’; est enim locuples factiosus, curatur a multis, timetur a pluribus, quod plerumque fortius amore est. 16 Potest tamen fieri ut haec concussa labantur; nam gratia malorum tam infida est quam ipsi. Verum, ut idem saepius dicam, exspecto Mauricum. Vir est gravis prudens, multis experimentis eruditus et qui futura possit ex praeteritis providere. Mihi et temptandi aliquid et quiescendi illo auctore ratio constabit. 17 Haec tibi scripsi, quia aequum erat te pro amore mutuo non solum omnia mea facta dictaque, verum etiam consilia cognoscere. Vale.

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