Trying to Deter the Criminals Among Us

Cicero, Letters to Brutus 23.10-11

“That’s plenty said about honors. Now we need to talk a bit about punishments. I have truly understood from your letters that you want to be praised for the clemency you have shown to those you have conquered. Well, I think that everything you do is done wisely! But, speaking for myself, I consider forgiving the punishment of crimes–which is what pardoning really is–is tolerable in other matters, but insidious in this war. There has been no civil war in our state to my knowledge that did not present some kind of future constitution regardless of which side won.

But in this conflict, I can’t be sure about what order the state will have if we win, but there surely won’t be any at all if we lose. This is why I advocated for harsh punishments for Antony and Lepidus too, not in as much for the sake of vengeance as to deter the other criminals among us from attacking the state right now and to offer a clear example for the future so that no one will be inspired to imitate such madness.”

Satis multa de honoribus. nunc de poena pauca dicenda sunt. intellexi enim ex tuis saepe litteris te in iis quos bello devicisti clementiam tuam velle laudari. existimo equidem nihil a te nisi sapienter. sed sceleris poenam praetermittere (id enim est quod vocatur ignoscere), etiam si in ceteris rebus tolerabile est, in hoc bello perniciosum puto. nullum enim bellum civile fuit in nostra re publica omnium quae memoria mea fuerunt, in quo bello non, utracumque pars vicisset, tamen aliqua forma esset futura rei publicae: hoc bello victores quam rem publicam simus habituri non facile adfirmarim, victis certe nulla umquam erit. dixi igitur sententias in Antonium, dixi in Lepidum severas, neque tam ulciscendi causa quam ut et in praesens sceleratos civis timore ab impugnanda patria deterrerem et in posterum documentum statuerem ne quis talem amentiam vellet imitari. 

Relief with the punishment of Ixion (2nd century) in the Side Archaeological Museum (Side, Turkey).

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