How Things Stand

Cicero, Letter to Atticus 2.21.

Why should I write to you about the republic in detail? It’s been completely ruined, and that’s even worse than you left it.  Back then, a tyranny of a sort seemed to oppress the state. For the mass of ordinary people, that was alright; for the elites it was a problem but not a disaster. Now all of a sudden the government is so hated by all that we shudder to think what this fracturing will bring. 

I really hoped, as I often told you, that the wheel of the republic turned in such a way that we would hardly hear a sound, hardly see a mark.  And so it would have been, if men had only waited for the storm to pass. Instead they sighed in secret for a long time. Then they all began to groan. And finally they all began to talk and shout. 

And so that “friend” of ours, unaccustomed to disgrace, used to praise always swirling around him, used to abounding in glory, is now disfigured in body, broken in spirit, and does not know where to turn. 

De re publica quid ego tibi subtiliter? tota periit; atque hoc est miserior quam reliquisti, quod tum videbatur eius modi dominatio civitatem oppressisse quae iucunda esset multitudini, bonis autem ita molesta ut tamen sine pernicie, nunc repente tanto in odio est omnibus ut quorsus ruptura sit horreamus . . .

equidem sperabam, ut saepe etiam loqui tecum solebam, sic orbem rei publicae esse conversum ut vix sonitum audire, vix impressam orbitam videre possemus; et fuisset ita, si homines transitum tempestatis exspectare potuissent. sed cum diu occulte suspirassent, postea iam gemere, ad extremum vero loqui omnes et clamare coeperunt.

itaque ille noster amicus insolens infamiae, semper in laude versatus, circumfluens gloria, deformatus corpore, fractus animo, quo se conferat nescit . . .

Soldiers marching into the US Capital Building

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

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