Going into Exile to Save the State

Seneca, Moral Epistles 86.1-3

“I write to you while staying that that very home of Scipio Africanus, now that I have given my due to his memory and the altar that I believe is the grave of so great a man. I am certain that his spirit returned to the sky it came from, not because he led enormous armies–for irate Cambyses also had armies and he used his rage well–but thanks to his exceptional moderation and his dutifulness.

I judge this quality to be more admirable than the fact that left his country while he was defending it. For  either Scipio had to stay in Rome, or Rome could be free. He said, “I wish to limit the laws in no way, nor to undermine our customs. Let the law be equal for all citizens. My country: use the good I have done without me. I have been responsible for your freedom and I will also be its test. I leave as an exile, if I have grown beyond what is good for you.”

How can I but admire this greatness of spirit that guided him to depart voluntarily into exile and unburden the state? Circumstances were drawn to a point where either freedom would abuse Scipio or Scipio would abuse freedom.”

In ipsa Scipionis Africani villa iacens haec tibi scribo adoratis manibus eius et ara, quam sepulchrum esse tanti viri suspicor. Animum quidem eius in caelum, ex quo erat, redisse persuadeo mihi, non quia magnos exercitus duxit, hos enim et Cambyses furiosus ac furore feliciter usus habuit, sed ob egregiam moderationem pietatemque, quam magis in illo admirabilem iudico, cum reliquit patriam, quam cum defendit; aut Scipio Romae esse debebat aut Roma in libertate. “Nihil,” inquit, “volo derogare legibus, nihil institutis. Aequum inter omnes cives ius sit. Utere sine me beneficio meo, patria. Causa tibi libertatis fui, ero et argumentum; exeo, si plus quam tibi expedit, crevi.”

Quidni ego admirer hanc magnitudinem animi, qua in exilium voluntarium secessit et civitatem exoneravit? Eo perducta res erat, ut aut libertas Scipioni aut Scipio libertati faceret iniuriam

Color photograph of a bronze statue head from a 3/4 angle. Lips are pursed, eyes are intense.
“Scipio Africanus the Elder”. The Roman general Scipio earned the surname Africanus after his victory at the Battle of Zama, which ended the Second Punic War in 202 BC. This bust of Scipio Africanus the Elder is at the National Museum in Naples, Italy.

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