Cicero on the “Unforgettable Ides of March”

Cicero, Letters to Atticus (14.4) 10 April 44

“But should all these things befall us, the Ides of March may console. Our heroes too accomplished most gloriously and magnificently everything it was in their power to do. For the rest, we need money and troops, neither of which we have.”

Sed omnia licet concurrant, Idus Martiae consolantur. nostri autem ἥρωες quod per ipsos confici potuit gloriosissime et magnificentissime confecerunt; reliquae res opes et copias desiderant, quas nullas habemus


Cicero, Letters to Brutus  I.15 (23) 14 July 43

“Therefore, come here, by the gods, as fast as possible; Convince yourself that it would do your country no greater good if you come quickly than you did on the Ides of March when you freed your fellow citizens from slavery.”

subveni igitur, per deos, idque quam primum, tibique persuade non te Idibus Martiis, quibus servitutem a tuis civibus depulisti, plus profuisse patriae quam, si mature veneris, profuturum.


Cicero, Letters to Brutus, 1.15 (23) July 43

“After the death of Caesar and your unforgettable Ides of March, Brutus, you will not have lost sight of the the fact that I said that one thing was overlooked by you—how much a storm loomed over the Republic. The greatest disease was warded off thanks to you—a great blight was cleansed from the Roman people—and you won immortal fame for your part. But the mechanism of monarchy fell then to Lepidus and Antonius—one of whom is more erratic, while the other is rather unclean—both fearing peace and ill-fit to idle time.”

Post interitum Caesaris et vestras memorabilis Idus Martias, Brute, quid ego praetermissum a vobis quantamque impendere rei publicae tempestatem dixerim non es oblitus. magna pestis erat depulsa per vos, magna populi Romani macula deleta, vobis vero parta divina gloria, sed instrumentum regni delatum ad Lepidum et Antonium, quorum alter inconstantior, alter impurior, uterque pacem metuens, inimicus otio.

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The death of Julius Caesar in the Roman Senate by Vincenzo Camuccini


Harmless, Useless Sophistry

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers  [Chrysippus] 7.7

“If someone is in Megara he is not in Athens. If a body is in Megara there is nobody in Athens. If you say something, then something moves through your mouth. So, you say “wagon”. And then a wagon moves through your mouth. Also, if you did not lose anything, then you have it. You never lost horns, so you have horns.” Some say Euboulides said this.”

“εἴ τίς ἐστιν ἐν Μεγάροις, οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν Ἀθήναις· ἄνθρωπος δ᾿ ἐστὶν ἐν Μεγάροις· οὐκ ἄρ᾿ ἐστὶν ἄνθρωπος ἐν Ἀθήναις.” καὶ πάλιν· “εἴ τι λαλεῖς, τοῦτο διὰ τοῦ στόματός σου διέρχεται· ἅμαξαν δὲ λαλεῖς· ἅμαξα ἄρα διὰ τοῦ στόματός σου διέρχεται.” καί· “εἴ τι οὐκ ἀπέβαλες, τοῦτ᾿ ἔχεις· κέρατα δ᾿ οὐκ ἀπέβαλες· κέρατ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἔχεις.” οἱ δ᾿ Εὐβουλίδου τοῦτό φασι.

Seneca, Moral Epistle 45.8

“Again, the one who is asked whether he has horns is not so foolish as to search his own brow nor also so incompetent or limited that you may persuade him that he doesn’t know this with that most sophisticated logic. These kinds of things deceive without harm in the same way as the dice and cup of a juggler in which the deception itself entertains me. But explain how the trick works, and I lose my interest. I say that same thing about these word tricks, for by what name might I better call sophistries? They are harmless if you don’t understand them, and useless if you do.”

Ceterum qui interrogatur, an cornua habeat, non est tam stultus, ut frontem suam temptet, nec rursus tam ineptus aut hebes, ut ne sciat tu illi subtilissima collectione persuaseris. Sic ista sine noxa decipiunt, quomodo praestigiatorum acetabula et calculi, in quibus me fallacia ipsa delectat. Effice, ut quomodo fiat intellegam; perdidi usum. Idem de istis captionibus dico; quo enim nomine potius sophismata appellem? Nec ignoranti nocent nec scientem iuvant.

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Bronze head of a Philosopher from a shipwreck near Antikythera

A Tyranny of Luck and a Stranger

Sallust, Letter to Caesar 2.3

“While the courts just as in previous eras have been run by the three orders, those political factions still rule them: they give and take what they may, giving the innocent the runaround and heaping honors on their own. Neither crime nor shame nor public disgrace disqualifies them from office. They rob, despoil whomever they please. And finally, as if the city has been sacked, they rely on their own lust and excess instead of the laws.

And for me this would only be a source of limited grief if, in their typical fashion, they were pursuing a victory born from excellence. But the laziest of people whose total strength and excellence come from their tongue are arrogantly administering a tyranny gained through luck and from another person! For what treason or civil discord has obliterated so many families? Who whose spirit was ever so hasty and extreme in victory?”

Iudicia tametsi, sicut antea, tribus ordinibus tradita sunt, tamen idem illi factiosi regunt, dant, adimunt quae lubet, innocentis circumveniunt, suos ad honorem extollunt. Non facinus, non probrum aut flagitium obstat, quo minus magistratus capiant. Quos commodum est trahunt, rapiunt; postremo tamquam urbe capta libidine ac licentia sua pro legibus utuntur.

Ac me quidem mediocris dolor angeret, si virtute partam victoriam more suo per servitium exercerent. Sed homines inertissimi, quorum omnis vis virtusque in lingua sita est, forte atque alterius socordia dominationem oblatam insolentes agitant. Nam quae seditio aut dissensio civilis tot tam illustris familias ab stirpe evertit? Aut quorum umquam in victoria animus tam praeceps tamque inmoderatus fuit?


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How We Occupy Our Sorry Days…

Cicero, De Inventione 1.41

“For, in all things, familiarity is the mother of boredom”

nam omnibus in rebus similitudo mater est satietatis.

Sidonius, Letters 2.2.7 to Ecdicus

 “What more? Nothing will be discovered in these places which might be more sacred to examine. Still, only a few little verses will delay a reader a little bit—and these are only slightly inappropriate. Although they leave no desire to read them again, they can be read completely without boredom.”

quid plura? nihil illis paginis impressum reperietur quod non vidisse sit sanctius. pauci tamen versiculi lectorem adventicium remorabuntur minime improbo temperamento, quia eos nec relegisse desiderio est nec perlegisse fastidio.

Jerome, Letters 43.2

“Why do we, animals of the stomach, ever act this way? If a second hour reading falls on us, we yawn and distract our hunger by rubbing our face with our hands and then, as if after hard work, we distract ourselves with worldly duties again. I won’t even mention the meals by which our burdened minds are oppressed.

It is shameful to mention all the visits to say ‘hello’, how we go daily to someone else’s home or we wait for others to come to ours. When they come, we fall to conversation and our absent friends are attacked; others’ lives are detailed, and as we sink our teeth into others we are chewed on in turn. This is the kind of meal that entertains and then dismisses us. Then, when our friends have left, we add up our accounts. Now our anger dons the face of a lion and now silly concerns work out schemes for many years ahead.”

Quid nos, ventris animalia, tale umquam fecimus? Quos si secunda hora legentes invenerit, oscitamus, manu faciem defricantes continemus stomachum et quasi post multum laborem mundialibus rursum negotiis occupamur. Praetermitto prandia, quibus onerata mens premitur. Pudet dicere de frequentia salutandi, qua aut ipsi cotidie ad alios pergimus aut ad nos venientes ceteros expectamus. Deinceps itur in verba, sermo teritur, lacerantur absentes, vita aliena describitur et mordentes invicem consumimur ab invicem. Talis nos cibus et occupat et dimittit. Cum vero amici recesserint, ratiocinia subputamus. Nunc ira personam nobis leonis inponit, nunc cura superflua in annos multos duratura praecogitat

Some Roman Collusion for a Year of Confusion

Plautus, Rudens 1248

“I have no interest in profit made from collusion”

ego mi collusim nil moror ullum lucrum.


Tacitus Annals 11.5

“After that point, Suillius was persistent and brutal in pursuing his affairs and in his boldness for finding a mass of rivals. For the union of laws and wealth of offices gathered in one person furnished abundant opportunities for theft. And there was nothing in public so much for sale as the corruption of the advocates. It was so bad that Samius, a rather distinguished Roman knight, after he paid four hundred thousand sesterces to Suillius and once the collusion was revealed, laid down on his sword in his own house.

Therefore, when Gaius Silius was taking the lead of the elected consul—a man whose power and fall I will discuss in the appropriate time, the senators came together and asked for the Cincian law which carried the ancient warning that no one should receive money or a gift for pleading a case.”

 Continuus inde et saevus accusandis reis Suillius multique audaciae eius aemuli; nam cuncta legum et magistratuum munia in se trahens princeps materiam praedandi patefecerat. Nec quicquam publicae mercis tam venale fuit quam advocatorum perfidia, adeo ut Samius, insignis eques Romanus, quadringentis nummorum milibus Suillio datis et cognita praevaricatione ferro in domo eius incubuerit. Igitur incipiente C. Silio consule designato, cuius de potentia et exitio in tempore memorabo, consurgunt patres legemque Cinciam flagitant, qua cavetur antiquitus, ne quis ob causam orandam pecuniam donumve accipiat.


CICERO TO ATTICUS 92 (IV.18 Rome, between 24 October and 2 November 54)

“By what means was he acquitted? The beginning and the end of it was the incredible ineptitude of the prosecutors, specifically that of Lucius Lentulus the younger whom everyone yelled was colluding. Add to this the wondrous work of Pompeii and a crooked jury. Even with this there were 32 guilt votes and 38 for acquittal.  Remaining cases are waiting for him. He is not yet clearly unimpeded.”

quo modo ergo absolutus? omnino πρῷρα πρύμνα accusatorum incredibilis infantia, id est L. Lentuli L. f., quem fremunt omnes praevaricatum, deinde Pompei mira contentio, iudicum sordes. Ac tamen xxxii  condemnarunt, xxxviii absolverunt. iudicia reliqua impendent. nondum est plane expeditus.

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How Gift-Giving is Like Getting Drunk: Fronto with Seasonal Advice

Cornelius Fronto, To Appian from Fronto 7

“The person who sends rather weighty gifts causes no less grief than the one who throws the ball too hard to his teammate or offers a big cup to his fellow drinker in toast. For the latter seems to toast not for pleasure but for getting drunk. Just as in wise drinking parties we see that the wine is mixed with a little pure alcohol and a lot of water, so too are gifts mixed best with a lot of thought and a little expenditure.

For who should we say gets the benefit from expensive gifts? Is it the poor? They are not capable of giving them. The rich? They don’t need to get them. In addition, it is not possible to constantly give expensive gifts—there will be a failure of resources if someone should often send out immense gifts. It is possible, however, to give small gifts endlessly and without regret—since someone owes only small thanks to the one who gave a small gift.”

  1. Ὁ δὲ τὰ βαρύτερα δῶρα πέμπων οὐχ ἧττον λυπεῖ τοῦ βαρεῖαν πέμποντος ἐπὶ τὸν συσφαιρίζοντα ἢ μεγάλην κύλην προπίνοντος τῷ συμπότῃ・ εἰς γὰρ μέθην οὐκ εἰς ἡδονὴν προπίνειν ἔοικεν. ὥσπερ δὲ τὸν οἶνον ἐν τοῖς σώφροσιν συμποσίοις ὁρῶμεν κιρνάμενον ἀκράτῳ μὲν πάνυ ὀλίγῳ, πλείστῳ δὲ τῷ ὕδατι, οὕτω δὴ καὶ τὰ δῶρα κιρνάναι προσῆκεν πολλῇ μὲν φιλοφροσύνῃ, ἐλαχίστῳ δὲ ἀναλώματι. τίσιν γὰp ἂν Φαίημεν ἁρμόττειν τὰ πολυτελῆ δῶρα; ἆρά γε τοῖς πένησιν; ἀλλὰ πέμπειν οὐ δύνανται・ ἢ τοῖς πλουσίοις; ἀλλά λαμβάνειν οὐ δέονται. τοῖς μὲν οὖν μεγάλοις δώροις τὸ συνεχὲς οὐ πρόσεστιν, ἢ ἐκπεσεῖν ἀναγκὴ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων, εἴ τις μεγάλα τε πέμποι καὶ πολλάκις. τοῖς δὲ μικροῖς δώροις τό τε συνεχὲς πρόσεστιν καί τὸ ἀμεταγνωστόν, εἰ <καὶ μικρὰ δεῖ τε>λέσαι μικρὰ πέμψαντι.†


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Hermit at work on a manuscript, from the Estoire del Saint Graal, France 

The Transformation of Philosophy into Philology

Seneca, Moral Epistle 108

“Attalus used to praise a pillow which resisted the weight of the body. I use one like this too, now that I am old, in which it is impossible to leave a trace of my presence. I tell you these things so I might indicate how fiery new students are toward their first attractions to the best matters, if anyone should encourage them or kindle them that way.

But some error comes thanks to our teachers who instruct us how to argue but not how to live; some error too comes from students, who bring themselves to teachers not for the nourishing of the soul, but the cultivation of our wit. Thus what was philosophy has been turned into philology.”

Laudare solebat Attalus culcitam, quae resisteret corpori; tali utor etiam senex, in qua vestigium apparere non possit. Haec rettuli ut probarem tibi, quam vehementes haberent tirunculi impetus primos ad optima quaeque, si quis exhortaretur illos, si quis incenderet. Sed aliquid praecipientium vitio peccatur, qui nos docent disputare, non vivere, aliquid discentium, qui propositum adferunt ad praeceptores suos non animum excolendi, sed ingenium. Itaque quae philosophia fuit, facta philologia est.

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Roman Sarcophagus with Children, Vienna, Museum of Art History (c. 2nd Century CE)

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