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).

A Husband Writes Home with a Packing List

P.Mich. 3 214

“Paniskos [writes] to my spouse, Ploutogenia, mother of my daughter, many greetings.

Above all, I pray for your good fortune every day from the paternal gods. I want you to know, sister, that we have been staying in Koptos near your sister and her children, so do not feel any annoyance at coming to Koptos, since your relatives are here. And just as you wholly desire to embrace her much and you pray to the gods each day, so too does she long to embrace you with your mother.

As soon as you receive this letter, make ready so that you may come immediately if I send for you. And, when you come, bring with you: ten skins of wool, six jars of olives, four of honey, my shield—only the unused one—and my helmet. Oh, bring my lances too. Bring also all the parts for the tent. If you find the occasion, come here with good people. Have Nonnos come too. Bring all of our clothing when you come. Also bring your golden jewelry when you come, but don’t wear those things openly on the boat.

Greetings to my lady and my daughter Heliodôra. Hermias says hello.

On the other side: “Give this to my wife and my daughter. From their father Paniskos.”

Πανίσκο[ς] τῇ σοιμβ[ί]ῳ μου Πλουτογενίᾳ μητρὶ τῆς θυγατρός μου πλῖστα χαίρειν. πρὸ μὲν <πάντων> εὔχομέ σοι τὴν ὁλοκληρία[ν] καθ᾿ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν παρὰ τοῖς θεοῖς πᾶ⟦τρ⟧σι. γινώσκειν σε οὖν θέλω, ἀδελφή, ὅτι ἐν Κόπτωι αἰ⟦ε⟧μίναμεν ἐνγὺς τῆς ἀδελφῆς ⟦μου⟧ σου καὶ τῶν τέκνων αὐτῆς, ὅπως μὴ λυπηθῇς ἐρχομένη ἐν τῇ Κόπτῳ· εἰσὶ γὰρ ἐνθάδε οἱ ἀδελφοί σου. ὅπερ καὶ σὺ πάντως βούλῃ αὐτὴν ἀσπάσαστε {αὐτὴν} πολλά, τοῖς θεοῖς εὔχετ[ε] καθ᾿ ἡμέραν βουλομένη σε ἀσπάζε[σ]θαι μετὰ τῆς μητρός σου. δ[ε]ξαμ[έ]νη οὖν μου τὰ γράμ <μα>-τα ταῦτα ποίησόν σου τὰ <κατὰ> χέρα, ὅπως, ἐὰν πέμψω ἐπὶ σέν, ταχέως ἔλθῃς. καὶ ἔνεγκον ἐρχομένη ποκάρια ἐριδίων δέκα, ἐλεῶν κεράμια ἕξ, στά⟦υ⟧γματος κεράμια τέσσερα, καὶ τὸ ὅπλον μου τὸ κενὸν μόνον, τὸ κασίδιόν μου. φέρε καὶ τὰ λογχία μου. φέρε καὶ τὰ τοῦ παπυλίωνος σκεύη. ἐὰν εὕρητε εὐκερίαν, μετὰ ἀνθρώπων καλῶν δεῦτε. ἐρχέστω μεθ᾿ ἡμῶν Νόννος. ἔνεγκον ἡμῶν πάντα τὰ ἡμάτια ἐρχομένη. ἔνεγκον ἐρχομένη σου τὰ χρυσία, ἀλλὰ μὴ αὐτὰ φορέσῃς ἐν τῷ πλο[ί]ῳ. ἀσπάζεμε τὴν κυρίαν μου θυγατέραν Ἡλιοδώραν. ἀσπάζετε ὑμᾶς Ἑρμίας.


Living Like Cicero–Reading Things, Writing Things

Cicero, Letters 197 (IX.26) to Papirius Paetus

“And so, life passes. Each day, something is read or is written. Then, since I owe something to my friends, I eat with them–not beyond the law, as if anything is these days, but just a little short of it and clearly so. You don’t need to fear my visit at all. You’ll find a guest who eats little, but has many jokes.”

Sic igitur vivitur. cottidie aliquid legitur aut scribitur. dein, ne amicis nihil tribuamus, epulamur una non modo non contra legem, si ulla nunc lex est, sed etiam intra legem, et quidem aliquanto. qua re nihil est quod adventum nostrum extimescas. non multi cibi hospitem accipies, multi ioci.

Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 281 (XII.40)

“Well, you write that you fear that my reputation and my respect is depleted because of my mourning and I don’t understand what people are criticizing or what they expect. That I not feel grief? How’s that possible? Should I not be laid out because of it? Who was ever less paralyzed than me? When your home was lifting me up, who did I refuse? Who came and was offended?

I left from you for Astura. These pleasant folks who criticize me can’t even read the number of pages I have written. How well they would do it is another matter, but it is the kind of writing that no one with a truly depressed spirit could accomplish. So, I spend thirty days at “the garden”. Did anyone go lacking seeing me or enjoying my easy conversation?

Right now I am reading things, I am writing things even as those who are with me are managing leisure worse than I handle work. If anyone asks why I’m not at Rome it’s because it’s vacation.”

Quod scribis te vereri ne et gratia et auctoritas nostra hoc meo maerore minuatur, ego quid homines aut reprehendant aut postulent nescio. ne doleam? qui potest? ne iaceam? quis umquam minus? dum tua me domus levabat, quis a me exclusus? quis venit qui offenderet? Asturam sum a te profectus. legere isti laeti qui me reprehendunt tam multa non possunt quam ego scripsi. quam bene, nihil ad rem; sed genus scribendi id fuit quod nemo abiecto animo facere posset. triginta dies in horto fui. quis aut congressum meum aut facilitatem sermonis desideravit? nunc ipsum ea lego, ea scribo ut hi qui mecum sunt difficilius otium ferant quam ego laborem. si quis requirit cur Romae non sim: quia discessus est

VIcenzo Foppa, The Young Cicero Reading, 15th century

I’ll Come to Dinner, But Don’t Make Me Drink Too Much

Pliny, Letters 3.12, To Catilius Severus

“I will come to dinner, but I am making request beforehand: it must be quick and sparse and it should only overflow in Socratic discussions. Let this be moderate too. There will be visitors early tomorrow, people not even Cato would be allowed to reject, even though Caesar praised him as much as he criticized him. For he describes the people Cato met were flushed with embarrassment when they realized who was drunk: “you would have imagined they were caught by Cato not that Cato was caught by them!”

Is it possible to pay a better tribute to Cato than to say he was still so venerable when drunk? But our meal needs a limit for preparation and cost as well as time. We are certainly not the types of people our enemies can’t fail to blame without praising us too!

    1. Plinius Catilio Severo Suo S.

Veniam ad cenam, sed iam nunc paciscor, sit expedita sit parca, Socraticis tantum sermonibus abundet, in his quoque teneat modum. Erunt officia antelucana, in quae incidere impune ne Catoni quidem licuit, quem tamen C. Caesar ita reprehendit ut laudet. Describit enim eos, quibus obvius fuerit,

cum caput ebrii retexissent, erubuisse; deinde adicit: “Putares non ab illis Catonem, sed illos a Catone deprehensos.” Potuitne plus auctoritatis tribui Catoni, quam si ebrius quoque tam venerabilis erat? 4Nostrae tamen cenae, ut adparatus et impendii, sic temporis modus constet. Neque enim ii sumus quos vituperare ne inimici quidem possint, nisi ut simul laudent. Vale.

Mosaic depicting the vintage (from Cherchell, present-day AlgeriaRoman Africa)

The Brevity and Quickness of Life

Pliny, Letters 3.7 To Caninius Rufus

“I have just learned that Silius Italicus ended his life by starvation in Naples. Sickness was the cause of death, really: he had an untreatable tumor whose pain made him escape by death. He made it to his final day happy and fortunate, except that he lost his two younger songs. He left the older and better son successful and already of consular rank.

Silius harmed his reputation under Nero—for he was believed to have accused people willingly—but he conducted himself in his friendship with Vitellius wisely and with kindness. He earned some fame for his proconsulate in Asia and cleansed the stain of his earlier activity with a praiseworthy retirement.

He was among our top citizens without holding power or incurring envy. He was visited and much sought out, nearly always reclining on his couch in a room crowded not by accident. He filled his days with the most educated conversation whenever he took a break from writing. He used to write his poems more with effort than inspiration, and did not spare himself from critical judgment thanks to his recitations.

In recent years, he left Rome in a concession to old age. Once he made his home in Campania, he did not leave, not even for the coming of a new Emperor. This is reason for great praise for Caesar since he allowed this freedom and for Silius himself since he dared to take it.

He was a lover of things to the extent that he was mocked for excessive purchases. He owned multiple homes in the same neighborhood and overlooked the older ones in his excitement for the new ones. In each he had plenty books, statues, paintings and busts, each of which meant much to him, especially the one of Vergil, whose birthday he celebrated more religiously than his own, especially at Naples where he used to visit his grave as if it were a temple.

He completed his seventy-fifth year in this peaceful place. His body was solicitously tended even though he was not disabled. He was the final consul Nero appointed and the last of Nero’s consuls to die. It is remarkable that not only did Nero’s final consul die with him but that Nero died when he was consul!

Pity for human fragility fills me as I tell you this. Nothing is as brief and quick as the longest human life. Doesn’t it seem to you that Nero just died? But not one of the men who were consuls in his time remain alive today. I should not be so surprised! Only recently did Lucius Piso, the father of the Piso who was killed so evilly by Valerius Festus in Italy, used to say that none of those men he used to ask to speak when he was consul were still in the Senate!

The boundaries of life are so narrow that even in a community of great size I think we could forgive the Persian king for his famous tears—or maybe even admire him for them. For it is reported that after Xerxes reviewed his immense army, he wept when he thought that so many would die in so short a time.

This is why we should draw out our passing minutes with reading and writing, since we don’t have any control over them and action seems futile. Since we cannot live a long life, let us leave something to declare we have lived.

I know that you don’t need to be encouraged. But my concern for you still drives me to encourage you, like a horse eager to run, as you urge me in turn. Competition is good when friends push each other on with shared exhortations on the love of immortal memory.”

Plinius Caninio Rufo Suo S.

Modo nuntiatus est Silius Italicus in Neapolitano suo inedia finisse vitam. Causa mortis valetudo. Erat illi natus insanabilis clavus, cuius taedio ad mortem inrevocabili constantia decucurrit usque ad supremum diem beatus et felix, nisi quod minorem ex liberis duobus amisit, sed maiorem melioremque florentem atque etiam consularem reliquit. Laeserat famam suam sub Nerone (credebatur sponte accusasse), sed in Vitelli amicitia sapienter se et comiter gesserat, ex proconsulatu Asiae gloriam reportaverat, maculam veteris industriae laudabili otio abluerat.

Fuit inter principes civitatis sine potentia, sine invidia: salutabatur colebatur, multumque in lectulo iacens cubiculo semper, non ex fortuna frequenti, doctissimis sermonibus dies transigebat, cum a scribendo vacaret. Scribebat carmina maiore cura quam ingenio, non numquam iudicia hominum recitationibus 6experiebatur. Novissime ita suadentibus annis ab urbe secessit, seque in Campania tenuit, ac ne adventu quidem novi principis inde commotus est: magna Caesaris laus sub quo hoc liberum fuit, magna illius 8qui hac libertate ausus est uti.

Erat ϕιλόκαλος usque ad emacitatis reprehensionem. Plures isdem in locis villas possidebat, adamatisque novis priores neglegebat. Multum ubique librorum, multum statuarum, multum imaginum, quas non habebat modo, verum etiam venerabatur, Vergili ante omnes, cuius natalem religiosius quam suum celebrabat, Neapoli maxime, ubi monimentum eius adire ut templum solebat. In hac tranquillitate annum quintum et septuagensimum excessit, delicato magis corpore quam infirmo; utque novissimus a Nerone factus est consul, ita postremus ex omnibus, quos Nero consules fecerat, decessit. Illud etiam notabile: ultimus ex Neronianis consularibus obiit, quo consule Nero periit. Quod me recordantem fragilitatis humanae miseratio subit.

Quid enim tam circumcisum tam breve quam homini vita longissima? An non videtur tibi Nero modo modo fuisse? cum interim ex iis, qui sub illo gesserant consulatum, nemo iam superest. Quamquam quid hoc miror? Nuper L. Piso, pater Pisonis illius, qui a Valerio Festo per summum facinus in Africa occisus est, dicere solebat neminem se videre in senatu, quem consul ipse sententiam rogavisset.

Tam angustis terminis tantae multitudinis vivacitas ipsa concluditur, ut mihi non venia solum dignae, verum etiam laude videantur illae regiae lacrimae; nam ferunt Xersen, cum immensum exercitum oculis obisset, inlacrimasse, quod tot milibus tam brevis immineret occasus. Sed tanto magis hoc, quidquid est temporis futilis et caduci, si non datur factis (nam horum materia in aliena manu), certe studiis proferamus, et quatenus nobis denegatur diu vivere, relinquamus aliquid, quo nos vixisse testemur. Scio te stimulis non egere: me tamen tui caritas evocat, ut currentem quoque instigem, sicut tu soles me. ’Αγαθὴ δ’ ἔρις cum invicem se mutuis exhortationibus amici ad amorem immortalitatis exacuunt. Vale.

Vergil’s Tomb by Moonlight, with Silius Italicus Declaiming by Joseph Wright

The Epidemic’s Over, We’re Fine

Cicero, Letters to Friends, to Terentia 8 (14.1)

“When it comes to my family, I will do what you report seems right to our friends. Concerning where I am currently, the epidemic is certainly already over and, even though it lasted a while, it didn’t touch me. Plancius, the most dutiful man, longs to keep me with him and detains me here.

I was hoping to stay in some deserted place in Epirus where Piso and his soldiers would never come, but Plancius holds me here. He posts that it will turn out to be possible for him to leave for Italy with me. Should I see that day and return to your embrace and my families and get you and myself back again, I will judge that a great profit of your commitment and mine.”

De familia, quo modo placuisse scribis amicis faciemus. de loco, nunc quidem iam abiit pestilentia, sed quam diu fuit me non attigit. Plancius, homo officiosissimus, me cupit esse secum et adhuc retinet. ego volebam loco magis deserto esse in Epiro, quo neque Piso veniret nec milites, sed adhuc Plancius me retinet; sperat posse fieri ut mecum in Italiam decedat. quem ego diem si videro et si in vestrum complexum venero ac si et vos et me ipsum reciperaro, satis magnum mihi fructum videbor percepisse et vestrae pietatis et meae.

Cicero Very Fine

Skipping the Passive for the Straight-Up Aggressive

Pliny, Letters 2.1

“I am super mad and whether or not it is right I’m not sure but I’m super mad. You know how unfair love is frequently, often powerless always quick to be offended. But my reason is still serious whether I believe it’s right and I am as mad as I would be if it were right since I have had no letter from you for such a long time.

The only solution to this is if you write me many really long letters right now. This is the only way I will forgive you. Other things seem fake. I won’t even hear “I was in Rome” or “I was busy”. But Gods forbid you say, “I’ve been sick.”

I’ve been in my country-house enjoying my two delights that come from leisure: reading and resting. Bye!”

Plinius Paulino Suo S.

1Irascor, nec liquet mihi an debeam, sed irascor. Scis, quam sit amor iniquus interdum, impotens saepe μικραίτιος semper. Haec tamen causa magna est, nescio an iusta; sed ego, tamquam non minus iusta quam magna sit, graviter irascor, quod a te tam diu litterae nullae. Exorare me potes uno modo, si nunc saltem plurimas et longissimas miseris. Haec mihi sola excusatio vera, ceterae falsae videbuntur. Non sum auditurus “non eram Romae” uel “occupatior eram”; illud enim nec di sinant, ut “infirmior”. Ipse ad villam partim studiis partim desidia fruor, quorum utrumque ex otio nascitur. Vale.

File:Ancient Roman villa of Salar 012 (30512518878).jpg ...
This is a Villa. It is not Pliny’s. 

Bypassing Treatment for Sorrow

Libanius, 6 6. Ἀρισταινέτῳ

“When I heard that your wife was sick, I felt compassion as I thought about how you probably felt about her condition. Then, when I learned that she died, I moaned out loud, taking it badly that Aristainetos, a man so naturally suited to celebrations, was in grief.

I was going to try to comfort you with a speech, but I restrained myself because I worried that even though I think I know you well I might be caught ignorant. For those passages I was about to use to relieve you–the bits from Pindar and Simonides and all those we are in the habit of using from the tragedians as a treatment for sorrow–I imagine that you knew them long ago and spoke them to others yourself.

So I figured that if these were the kinds of things to comfort your despair, then you could minister to yourself or, if not, it would be useless for someone else to recite them to you. So, I stopped that project and I offer instead a summary of everything that has happened during the winter.”

  1. Καὶ ὅτε ἀσθενεῖν σοι τὴν γυναῖκα ἠκούομεν, συνηλγοῦμεν ἐννοοῦντες ὡς εἰκός σε διακεῖσθαι καμνούσης, καὶ ἐπειδὴ τὴν τελευτὴν ἐπυθόμην, ἀνῴμωξα δεινόν τι ποιούμενος Ἀρισταίνετον εἶναι ἐν πένθει, οὗ τῇ φύσει πανηγύρεις πρέπουσιν.
  2. ὁρμήσας δὲ παραμυθεῖσθαι λόγοις ἀνέσχον δείσας μὴ πάνυ σε δοκῶν εἰδέναι ἔπειτα ἁλοίην ἀγνοῶν. οἷς γὰρ ἔμελλόν σε κουφιεῖν, τούτοις δὴ τοῖς Πινδάρου καὶ Σιμωνίδου, καὶ ὅσα ἐκ τραγῳδιῶν εἰώθαμεν φάρμακα λύπῃ προσάγειν, πάντα ἐδόκεις μοι πάλαι τε εἰδέναι κἂν πρὸς ἄλλους εἰπεῖν.
  3. ἐλογιζόμην οὖν ὅτι, εἰ μὲν οἷά τε κατακοιμίζειν ἀθυμίαν, αὐτὸς ἰάσῃ σαυτόν, εἰ δ᾿ οὐχ οἷά τε, καὶ παρ᾿ ἄλλου μάτην ἂν λέγοιτο. διὰ ταῦτα τοῦ μὲν ἀφίσταμαι, τὴν διήγησιν δέ σοι τῶν πραγμάτων ἀποδίδωμι, ἃ τοῦ χειμῶνος συνέβη.
David Teniers The Younger “Man of Sorrow”

The Weakness of Bodies and the Strength to Be Better

Basil, Letter 195

“Please understand that our own situation is no more endurable than it usually is. It is enough to say this and point to the weakness of our bodies. When it comes to the overwhelming sickness that dominates us, it is not easier to illustrate it with words or to be persuaded by fact whether or not I have suffered any kind of sickness greater than what you have known yourself. Ah, it is God’s job to provide us with the ability to endure the hits to our body sent by the Lord to make us better.”

Τὰ δὲ ἡμέτερα μηδὲν ἀνεκτότερα γίνωσκε τῆς συνηθείας εἶναι. ἀρκεῖ δὲ τοσοῦτον εἰπεῖν, καὶ ἐνδείξασθαί σοι τοῦ σώματος ἡμῶν τὴν ἀσθένειαν. τὴν γὰρ νῦν κατέχουσαν ἡμᾶς εἰς τὸ ἀρρωστεῖν ὑπερβολήν, οὔτε λόγῳ ἐνδείξασθαι ῥᾷδιον, οὔτε ἔργῳ πεισθῆναι, εἴπερ ἐκείνων, ὧν αὐτὸς ᾔδεις, εὑρέθη τι πλεῖον παρ᾿ ἡμῖν1 εἰς ἀρρωστίαν. Θεοῦ δὲ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ἔργον δοῦναι ἡμῖν δύναμιν, πρὸς τὸ ἐν ὑπομονῇ φέρειν τὰς ἐπὶ συμφέροντι ἡμῖν ἐπαγομένας εἰς τὸ σῶμα πληγὰς παρὰ τοῦ εὐεργετοῦντος ἡμᾶς Κυρίου.

I Hope This Email Finds You…Busy

Cicero to Quintus Cornificius (Ad Fam. 12.30)

 “Is this true? Does no one apart from suitors take my letters to you? There are certainly many of those types lately–since you have made it clear that no one is safely recommended to you without my letter. But who of all your friends said that I would give my letter to anyone without meaning to do so? What greater pleasure remains to me than writing to you or reading a letter from you since I can’t actually talk to you?

What annoys me the most is that I have so much work to do that I am not capable of writing to you whenever I want to. I would have assaulted you not only with letters but huge tomes that I would have used rightly to be challenged to you to write back.

Although you are busy, you still have more leisure than I; or, if you don’t have free time, don’t be so shameless as to annoy me by asking for ever more responses when you only write to me after long breaks.”

itane? praeter litigatores nemo ad te meas litteras? multae istae quidem ; tu enim perfecisti ut nemo sine litteris meis tibi se commendatum putaret ; sed quis umquam tuorum mihi dixit esse cui darem, quin dederim? aut quid mi iucundius quam, cum coram tecum loqui non possim, aut scribere ad te aut tuas legere litteras? illud magis mihi solet esse molestum, tantis me impediri occupationibus, ut ad te scribendi meo arbitratu facultas nulla detur.non enim te epistulis sed voluminibus lacesserem ; quibus quidem me a te provocari oportebat. 

quamvis enim occupatus sis,’ oti tamen plus habes ; aut, si ne tu quidem vacas, noli impudens esse nec mihi molestiam exhibere et a me litteras crebriores, cum tu mihi raro mittas, flagitare.