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).

The Strange Madness of a ‘National Divorce’

Cicero, Letters 16.12

From Tully to Tiro.

My safety is in doubt along with that of all honest people and the whole republic, a thing you can see from the way we have left our homes and the capitol city itself to theft and fire. We have come to a place we won’t survive unless some god or an accident preserves us.

From the moment I came to the city, I didn’t think, say, or do anything that didn’t aim towards peace. But a strange madness filled the air. It wasn’t just scoundrels who lusted for war, but it was those alleged decent men too even as I lamented that civil conflict is the most terrible affliction. Pushed on by some foolishness, Caesar, forgetful of his name and honors, captured Ariminium, Pisarum, Ancona and Arretium. Then we abandoned Rome–and there’s no profit now in arguing whether this was wise or brave.”

TULLIUS S. D. TIRONI SUO

Quo in discrimine versetur salus mea et bonorum omnium atque universae rei publicae ex eo scire potes quod domos nostras et patriam ipsam vel diripiendam vel inflammandam reliquimus. in eum locum res deducta est ut, nisi qui deus vel casus aliquis subvenerit, salvi esse nequeamus.

Equidem, ut veni ad urbem, non destiti omnia et sentire et dicere et facere quae ad concordiam pertinerent. sed mirus invaserat furor non solum improbis sed etiam iis qui boni habentur, ut pugnare cuperent, me clamante nihil esse bello civili miserius. itaque, cum Caesar amentia quadam raperetur et oblitus nominis atque honorum suorum Ariminum, Pisaurum, Anconam, Arretium occupavisset, urbem reliquimus, quam sapienter aut quam fortiter nihil attinet disputari.

El Greco, “Laocoön”, c. 1610-14