Three Latin Passages About Treason, For No Particular Reason

Lucan 4.218-226
“Must we beg Caesar to handle us no worse than
His other slaves? Have your generals lives been begged?
Our safety will never be the price and bribe for foul treason.
This is not a civil war they fight for us to live.
We are dragged this way under the claims of peace.
People would not search for iron in a deep mine,
They would not strengthen any city with walls,
No fierce steed would rush to war,
No sea would bear towered ships of the fleet,
If it were ever just to trade freedom for peace.”

Utque habeat famulos nullo discrimine Caesar,
Exorandus erit? ducibus quoque vita petita est?
Numquam nostra salus pretium mercesque nefandae
Proditionis erit; non hoc civilia bella,
Ut vivamus, agunt. Trahimur sub nomine pacis.
Non chalybem gentes penitus fugiente metallo
Eruerent, nulli vallarent oppida muri,
Non sonipes in bella ferox, non iret in aequor
Turrigeras classis pelago sparsura carinas
Si bene libertas umquam pro pace daretur


From the Twelve Tables
“The Law of the Twelve Tables commands that anyone who has conspired with an enemy against the state or handed a citizen to a public enemy, should suffer capital punishment.”

Marcianus, ap. Dig., XLVIII, 4, 3: Lex XII Tabularum iubet eum qui hostem concitaverit quive civem hosti tradiderit capite puniri.


Tacitus Histories 3. 57
“How much power the audacity of single individuals can have during civil discord! Claudius Flaventinus, a centurion dismissed by Galba in shame, made the fleet at Misenum revolt with forged letters from Vespasian promising a reward for treason. Claudius Apollinaris, a man neither exceptional for his loyalty nor dedicated in his betrayal, was in charge of the fleet; and Apinius Tiro, an ex-praetor who was by chance at Minturnae then, put himself forth as the leader of the defectors.”


Sed classem Misenensem (tantum civilibus discordiis etiam singulorum audacia valet) Claudius Faventinus centurio per ignominiam a Galba dimissus ad defectionem traxit, fictis Vespasiani epistulis pretium proditionis ostentans. Praeerat classi Claudius Apollinaris, neque fidei constans neque strenuus in perfidia; et Apinius Tiro praetura functus ac tum forte Minturnis agens ducem se defectoribus obtulit.


Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.1145-1160: On The Origin of the Social Contract

“The race of man, tired of living in a state of violence
was languishing in feuds and they were eager
to submit themselves to law and strict judgments.
Otherwise, each man would turn himself to vengeance
More harshly than our current laws allow,
And this is why man has avoided living in a state of violence.
From here comes the fear that alters life’s rewards
Since violence and pain entrap the man who wields them
And tend to return most to those who acted first.
It isn’t easy to lead a quiet and peaceful life
If you break the faith of a community’s written peace.
Even if you deceive the races of god and man,
There’s no way to be sure to keep a secret forever.
Often many men reveal themselves by speaking in sleep
Or confused by a lengthy illness, they finally
Disclose their deeply hidden memories and sins.”


nam genus humanum, defessum vi colere aevom,
ex inimicitiis languebat; quo magis ipsum
sponte sua cecidit sub leges artaque iura.

acrius ex ira quod enim se quisque parabat
ulcisci quam nunc concessumst legibus aequis,
hanc ob rem est homines pertaesum vi colere aevom.
inde metus maculat poenarum praemia vitae.
circumretit enim vis atque iniuria quemque
atque unde exortast, ad eum plerumque revertit,
nec facilest placidam ac pacatam degere vitam
qui violat factis communia foedera pacis.
etsi fallit enim divom genus humanumque,
perpetuo tamen id fore clam diffidere debet;
quippe ubi se multi per somnia saepe loquentes
aut morbo delirantes protraxe ferantur
et celata [mala] in medium et peccata dedisse.

Sophocles, Elektra 1503-1507: Orestes (!) Wants to Kill All Criminals


Orestes says at the end of Elektra:


“You cannot die wherever you want—
I must guard this bitter poison from you.
It is right that this be the penalty for everyone:
Kill whoever wants to break the law—
Then there wouldn’t be so much treachery.”



ΟΡ.                      Μὴ μὲν οὖν καθ’ ἡδονὴν
θάνῃς· φυλάξαι δεῖ με τοῦτό σοι πικρόν.
Χρῆν δ’ εὐθὺς εἶναι τήνδε τοῖς πᾶσιν δίκην,
ὅστις πέρα πράσσειν γε τῶν νόμων θέλει,
κτείνειν· τὸ γὰρ πανοῦργον οὐκ ἂν ἦν πολύ.


I remain dissatisfied with my translation of πανοῦργον .  I am not at all dissatisfied with the irony that Sheriff Orestes might be calling for his own head.

Euripides, fr.346 (Dictys): A Universal Law of Love?


“There is one universal law among men

And one that is right to the gods, I believe truly—

And to all animals as well: to love the children we bear.

In everything else, we follow different laws.”


εἷς γάρ τις ἔστι κοινὸς ἀνθρώποις νόμος

καὶ θεοῖσι τοῦτο δόξαν, ὡς σαφῶς λέγω,

θηρσίν τε πᾶσι, τέκνα τίκτουσιν φιλεῖν·

τὰ δ’ ἄλλα χωρὶς χρώμεθ’ ἀλλήλων νόμοις.

Aeschylus, Eumenides: Some Highlights on Man, Mortality and Law



“Mankind’s delusions so sacred under the sky

Shrink as they melt on the earth without honor.”


—       δόξαι δ’ ἀνδρῶν καὶ μάλ’ ὑπ’ αἰθέρι σεμναὶ

τακόμεναι κατὰ γᾶς μινύθουσιν ἄτιμοι



“This affair is greater than anyone who is mortal can judge”


Αθ.       τὸ πρᾶγμα μεῖζον ἤ τις οἴεται τόδε

βροτοῖς δικάζειν·




“Choose neither the anarchic life nor one of despotism.

God gives strength to the middle in all things.”


μήτ’ ἄναρκτον βίον

μήτε δεσποτούμενον


παντὶ μέσῳ τὸ κράτος θεὸς ὤπασεν


644-651: Apollo on Mortal Life


“After the dust has soaked up the blood

Of a dying man, there is no resurrection.

My father can’t cast a spell on this

But all other things he can turn back and forth

Without losing his breath at all.”


ἀνδρὸς δ’ ἐπειδὰν αἷμ’ ἀνασπάσῃ κόνις

ἅπαξ θανόντος, οὔτις ἔστ’ ἀνάστασις.

τούτων ἐπῳδὰς οὐκ ἐποίησεν πατὴρ

οὑμός, τὰ δ’ ἄλλα πάντ’ ἄνω τε καὶ κάτω

στρέφων τίθησιν οὐδὲν ἀσθμαίνων μένει.



696-7: Athena on the right government


“I counsel the citizens here to revere

Neither anarchy nor despotism

And never to cast fear out of this city.”


τὸ μήτ’ ἄναρχον μήτε δεσποτούμενον

ἀστοῖς περιστέλλουσι βουλεύω σέβειν,

καὶ μὴ τὸ δεινὸν πᾶν πόλεως ἔξω βαλεῖν.



704-706: Athena on the establishment of Trial by Jury


“This court must be established free of personal gain,

Revered, sharp-hearted, a wakeful guard I set over the land

For the sleeping people.”


κερδῶν ἄθικτον τοῦτο βουλευτήριον,

αἰδοῖον, ὀξύθυμον, εὑδόντων ὕπερ

ἐγρηγορὸς φρούρημα γῆς καθίσταμαι.

Critias, fr. 11. 1-4 (Pirithous)



“A good character is stronger than the law;

It is a thing no orator can ever twist

Over and back as he troubles it and stains

It with words.”


τρόπος δὲ χρηστὸς ἀσφαλέστερος νόμου·

τὸν μὲν γὰρ οὐδεὶς ἂν διαστρέψαι ποτέ

ῥήτωρ δύναιτο, τὸν δ’ ἄνω τε καὶ κάτω

λόγοις ταράσσων πολλάκις λυμαίνεται


Who is Critias? Even Plato (his grand-nephew) liked to talk about him…But, alas, he was one of the Thirty Tyrants too.  So, no friend to Lysias.