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.


Lucan, Bedtime Reading, and A Question for Readers

Today was my first day back to work after a rather indolent summer break, and the general sense of distress caused by the infandus dolor of that return kept me from getting to sleep last night. Therefore, I reached for a book which I remembered with something less than keen enthusiasm – Lucan’s de Bello Civili (or Pharsalia, if you’re a bit more old-fashioned).  Though I expected to be lulled to sleep by endless geography and rhetorical exercise, I found myself rather captivated this time around, and managed to finish Book 1 before feeling tired enough to turn off the lights.  (It remains to be seen whether this is a sustainable enthusiasm.)

Before presenting some of the highlights, I pose this question to our readers:

What book have you initially hated, only to find during a later reading that you actually rather appreciate it?

Here are some of the high points from Book 1 of Lucan:

“Caesar cannot tolerate a better, and Pompey cannot tolerate an equal. One cannot say who took up arms with more semblance of justice; each one vindicates himself with great authority. The gods preferred the winning side – Cato preferred the vanquished.”
nec quemquam iam ferre potest Caesarue priorem 
Pompeiusue parem. quis iustius induit arma
scire nefas: magno se iudice quisque tuetur;
uictrix causa deis placuit sed uicta Catoni. (1.125-128)

“This was no longer that nation which could enjoy a quiet peace, which once feasted on its freedom and left its sword unswung. Then, they became quick to anger and whatever poverty urged – a vile crime – and it became a great glory which one might obtain violence to have more power than one’s whole country; violence became the arbiter of justice.”

non erat is populus quem pax tranquilla iuuaret,
quem sua libertas inmotis pasceret armis.
inde irae faciles et, quod suasisset egestas,
uile nefas, magnumque decus ferroque petendum
plus patria potuisse sua, mensuraque iuris 175
uis erat… (1.171-176)

“Make haste – delay has always harmed those who are prepared.”

Tolle moras; semper nocuit differre paratis. (1.281)

“And the Vangiones, who are like the Sarmatians in wearing loose pants.”

Et qui te laxis imitantur, Sarmata, bracis
Vangiones… (1.430-431)

“Thus, the frenzied crowd rushed through the city with hurried steps, and, as if its one hope was to escape from the walls of its home city, fled with no direction.”
…sic turba per urbem 
praecipiti lymphata gradu, uelut unica rebus
spes foret adflictis patrios excedere muros,
inconsulta ruit. (1.495-498)

“Virtue will be just a word, and this madness will last for many years. What good is it to entreat the gods to end it? Along with peace, we will have a tyrant.”
nomen erit uirtus, multosque exibit in annos
hic furor. et superos quid prodest poscere finem?
cum domino pax ista uenit. (1.668-670)

What We Could Have Done Instead of War: Lucan on Labor Lost (6.48-63)

{I have debated Lucan’s ability before, but this passage has an urgency and power I find compelling)

“Now let ancient myth build up Troy’s walls
and credit it to the gods; let the retreating Parthians
wonder at the brick walls encircling Babylon—
Look, a place as great as that the Tigris or swift Orontes embraces–
one large enough to be a kingdom for Assyrians in the East–
such a space is suddenly enclosed by the tumult of war!
Such labors are wasted.
So many hands might have joined Sestus to Abydos
with an earthenwork made to erase Phrixus’ sea.
Or they could have ripped Corinth from the Peloponnese
To give relief to ships from the distant Cape Malea,
Or some other part of the world–even if nature denied it–
They could have changed the place for the better.
The plain of war is engaged. Here we nourish blood that will flow on all lands;
Here we hold the victims from Thessaly and Libya;
Here the insanity of civil war churns on narrow strands.”

nunc uetus Iliacos attollat fabula muros
ascribatque deis; fragili circumdata testa
moenia mirentur refugi Babylonia Parthi. 50
en, quantum Tigris, quantum celer ambit Orontes,
Assyriis quantum populis telluris Eoae
sufficit in regnum, subitum bellique tumultu
raptum clausit opus. tanti periere labores.
tot potuere manus aut iungere Seston Abydo 55
ingestoque solo Phrixeum elidere pontum,
aut Pelopis latis Ephyren abrumpere regnis
et ratibus longae flexus donare Maleae,
aut aliquem mundi, quamuis natura negasset,
in melius mutare locum. coit area belli: 60
hic alitur sanguis terras fluxurus in omnis,
hic et Thessalicae clades Libycaeque tenentur;
aestuat angusta rabies ciuilis harena.

Why is the Victor so Slow to Conquer? Cicero to Pompey (Lucan, VII.67-73)

In the following passage, Cicero marshals his rhetorical talents to encourage Pompey to finally face Caesar in the field.


“In exchange for so many favors, Magnus, Fortune begs you
for only one thing: that you will use her; and your captains,
and the kings of your kingdoms, stand with the whole world before you
as suppliants: we ask you to commit to conquering your father-in-law.
Will Caesar remain for so long a time the root of war for mankind?
It is right for nations which were overcome by Pompey in haste
To be angry at his slowness to conquer now.
Where did your eagerness go? Where is your faith in your destiny?”

hoc pro tot meritis solum te, Magne, precatur
uti se Fortuna uelis, proceresque tuorum
castrorum regesque tui cum supplice mundo 70
adfusi uinci socerum patiare rogamus.
humani generis tam longo tempore bellum
Caesar erit? merito Pompeium uincere lente
gentibus indignum est a transcurrente subactis.
quo tibi feruor abit aut quo fiducia fati?

Whether Life is Chance or Fate Rules All, Be Sudden (Lucan, 2.4-14)

Since we have lately been a bit obsessed with Housman’s idea of scholarship, his invective, and his memory for student names, I thought it only fair to visit with a poet he edited (and there was no way I was reading Manilius this morning):

“…Ruler of Olympos, why did you
Add this worry to human suffering:
To learn of coming horrors through awful omens?
Is it true that the father of nature, when he first grasped unformed realms
And the raw material as creation’s flame receded,
Established causality forever, an act which bound him
To keep the law himself, carrying out the ordered ages
that he decreed for the world with his unchangeable boundary?
Or is it that nothing is certain, and chance wanders without reason:
It turns and returns and governs human outcomes?
May you be prepared, whatever is true, to be sudden:
May man’s mind be blind to future fate; allow the fearful to hope.”

…cur hanc tibi, rector Olympi,
sollicitis uisum mortalibus addere curam, 5
noscant uenturas ut dira per omina clades?
siue parens rerum, cum primum informia regna
materiamque rudem flamma cedente recepit,
fixit in aeternum causas, qua cuncta coercet
se quoque lege tenens, et saecula iussa ferentem 10
fatorum inmoto diuisit limite mundum,
siue nihil positum est, sed fors incerta uagatur
fertque refertque uices et habet mortalia casus,
sit subitum quodcumque paras; sit caeca futuri
mens hominum fati; liceat sperare timenti.

Lucan’s lines of thought are so long! But I do like this passage….

Lucan, The Civil War, 1.1-6: Beginnings, Eloquence and, eventually, Cicero

“War something more than civil over Emathian plains,
Legitimacy conferred on crime, and a powerful people,
We sing, a people who turned right hands against their own stomachs;
Battlelines of relatives, even when the pledge of tyranny was broken,
The forces of a shocked world marched toward common sin.
Standards waved to face enemy standards,
Eagles eyed each other and each javelin took aim at its mate.
What insanity is this, my countrymen, why so great a lust for violence?”

Bella per Emathios plus quam ciuilia campos
iusque datum sceleri canimus, populumque potentem
in sua uictrici conuersum uiscera dextra
cognatasque acies, et rupto foedere regni
certatum totis concussi uiribus orbis 5
in commune nefas, infestisque obuia signis
signa, pares aquilas et pila minantia pilis.
quis furor, o ciues, quae tanta licentia ferri?

Lucan, during the madness of the reign of Nero, wrote a sometimes incomprehensible and often untranslatable poem about the wars between Caesar and Pompey. Our friend Cicero shows up briefly in book 7 (61ff). The narrative description is less than flattering:

“The great model of eloquence, Cicero–
under whose rule and dress Cataline quavered–
brought forth the angry voices of the Roman people.
He was enraged by the wars and how soldiers had kept him
in a lengthy silence from the speaker’s platform and forum.
His florid strength supported a rotten cause.”

cunctorum uoces Romani maximus auctor
Tullius eloquii, cuius sub iure togaque
pacificas saeuos tremuit Catilina securis,
pertulit iratus bellis, cum rostra forumque 65
optaret passus tam longa silentia miles.
addidit inualidae robur facundia causae.

Cicero goes on to support Pompey….

Lucan, Pharsalia 3.364-6

“Just as a great fire dissipates when nothing stands in its way, thus the absence of an enemy harms me, and I consider my army wasted if those who can be conquered refuse to fight back.”

Utque perit magnus nullis obstantibus ignis,
sic hostes mihi deesse nocet, damnumque putamus
armorum, nisi qui vinci potuere rebellant.

This is yet another completely exaggerated speech which Lucan places into the mouth of Caesar. Throughout the poem, he portrays Caesar as a vain warlord with an unquenchable thirst for destruction and subjugation. Caesar was, indeed, a powerful military adventurer, and was known to have something of what the modern psychologist would term a “Type-A” personality, yet we can still be forgiven for feeling that Lucan’s portrait of an indomitable and irresponsibly violent Caesar stretches the limits of credulity.

Lucan, Pharsalia 1.125-6

“Nor by this time could Caesar tolerate a superior, nor Pompey an equal.”


Nec quemquam iam ferre potest Caesarve priorem

Pompeiusve parem.


A similar sentiment is expressed by Suetonius in his Life of Caesar (section 29):


Caesar, disturbed by these things and considering (as people frequently claim to have heard from him) that it would be more difficult to force him from first place to second than from second to last, resisted with all his power.

Commotus his Caesar ac iudicans, quod saepe ex eo auditum ferunt, difficilius se principem civitatis a primo ordine in secundum quam ex secundo in novissimum detrudi, summa ope restitit