Dangers of Delegated Authority

Petrarch, Epystole Seniles 14.1.28

On this side, I am scarcely able to advise and exhort you enough not to put anyone of these people in charge of the country committed to you, thus making someone else the lord and not you. For there have been many in power who, while they wish to raise up their own people, have depressed their own standing and made themselves both contemptible and hated to the people, sold out and mocked by the very people whom they had promoted to the heights of power. In which especially Claudius, who preceded Nero in power, was considered vile because he so far elevated his freedmen (Narcissus and Pallas, men of no account) that they ruled provinces and stole both from him and from the empire. Yet he was needy while his slaves were rich. As Tranquillus says, “addicted both to the freedmen and to his wives, he conducted himself not like a prince, but like a minister.” By their counsel and driving, he did many things stupidly and cruelly.

Elegabalus is noted for the same thing, because he kept among him those who held exceptional sway to the suffering of all, and those who would sell everything, and some wicked familiars, who, as Lampridius says, “were turning him from a stupid man into a stupider man.” The same fault may be found in Didius Julianus, because he had put in charge of ruling the empire those whom he ought to have ruled with imperial authority.

Yet all of these things are tolerable enough under stupid or middling princes. But I suspect nothing middling, nothing not outstanding or singular from you. You will not satisfy my hopes nor those of the many unless you reach good and noble men, or sail past them and leave them behind your back. If anything should be lacking, I will attribute it not to nature but to you. Why do we delay over these minor examples, when it has been established that under Marc Antony, such a man and such a prince, his freedmen had substantial influence?

For which reason, both you and those to whom power and beneficence has been granted ought to take rather diligent care lest, under the pretext of humanity (in which you excel), you allow yourself to slip into this vice into which even famous princes have lapsed. For even if all illustrious men are to be imitated, yet not all of the vices of illustrious men should be embraced. There is no one who would not err in some way, and none who are not occasionally dissimilar to themselves.

Lawrence Alma Tadema, Proclaiming Claudius Emperor

Hac parte unum hoc monere satis atque hortari vix sufficio, ne quem talium sic commisse tibi patrie preficias, ut alius dominus sit quam tu. Fuerunt enim multi in imperio qui, dum suos attollere cupiunt, sese depresserunt et contemptibiles atque invisos populis effecerunt, per eos ipsos, quos ad alta promoverant, venditi et irrisi. In quo maxime Claudius, qui Neronem precessit in imperio, vilis est habitus, qui libertos suos, nullius precii homines, Possidem et Felicem, Narcissum et Pallantem, usque adeo evexit, ut provincias regerent eumque ipsum atque imperium spoliarent: et ille infelix servis suis affluentibus indigeret. «His et uxoribus addictus», ut Tranquillus ait, «non se principem sed ministrum egit»; horumque consilio et impulsu multa stulte gessit, multa crudeliter.

Eadem in re notatus est Heliogabalus, quod haberet qui apud eum plurimum possent omnium cum dolore, quique omnia venderent, et familiares improbos, «qui eum», ut Lampridius ait, «ex stulto stultiorem faciebant». Idem reprehensum in Didio Iuliano, quia quos regere auctoritate imperii debuisset, eos regendo imperio prefecisset.

Verumtamen hec sub stultis aut mediocribus principibus utcumque tolerabilia. Ego autem ex te nichil mediocre, nichil non egregium et singulare suscipio; non mee quidem et multorum spei satisfeceris, nisi bonos quoslibet et claros viros aut attigeris aut prevectus post terga reliqueris; si quid forte defuerit, non nature imputem sed tibi. Quid vero minoribus immoremur, cum sub Marco Antonio, tali viro et principe, libertos quoque multum potuisse compertum sit?

Quo tibi et omnibus quibus preesse et prodesse propositum, diligentius providendum est, ne humanitatis obtentu, qua plurimum polles, in hoc te vitium labi sinas, in quod clari etiam principes lapsi sunt. Etsi enim viri omnes illustres imitandi, non tamen omnia virorum illustrium amplectenda sunt. Nemo est qui aliqua in parte non erret sitque sibi ipse dissimilis.

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