If Our Republic Falls Apart

Cicero, Letters to Friends 6.2 To A. Torquatus, April 45

“Truly our republic will either be oppressed by constant fighting, will flourish again if weapons or put down, or face complete ruin. If we turn to fighting, you don’t need to worry about which side forgives you or which you help. If we put weapons down in a treaty, give them up in exhaustion, or have them taken away in victory, the the state will breathe anew and you will be allowed to enjoy your status and your luck. But if everything falls apart—that every outcome which the most prudent man, Marcus Antonius was already fearing when he gazed at the great, impending destruction—then one solace will remain for you, even if it is sad however necessary for someone like you: that what happens to an individual will need be mourned no less than what has transpired for the state.

The detail contained in these few words—and there would have been more best not written in a letter—you will understand something you probably already do without any update from me that you have something to hope for and nothing to be afraid of in this or any other state. If all goes to hell, then you must bear what chance brings since you would not wish to survive the end of the republic, even if it is possible, especially since you are free of guilt. That’s enough of these things.”

est enim aut armis urgeri rem publicam sempiternis aut iis positis recreari aliquando aut funditus interire. si arma valebunt, nec eos a quibus reciperis vereri debes nec eos quos adiuvisti; si armis aut condicione positis aut defatigatione abiectis aut victoria detractis civitas respiraverit, et dignitate tua frui tibi et fortunis licebit; sin omnino interierint omnia fueritque is exitus quem vir prudentissimus, M. Antonius, iam tum timebat cum tantum instare malorum suspicabatur, misera est illa quidem consolatio, tali praesertim civi et viro, sed tamen necessaria, nihil esse praecipue cuiquam dolendum in eo quod accidat universis.

Quae vis insit in his paucis verbis (plura enim committenda epistulae non erant) si attendes, quod facis profecto etiam sine meis litteris, intelleges te aliquid habere quod speres, nihil quod aut hoc aut aliquo rei publicae statu timeas; omnia si interierint, cum superstitem te esse rei publicae ne si liceat quidem velis, ferendam esse fortunam, praesertim quae absit a culpa. sed haec hactenus.

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Cicero

Divine Justice is a Lot Slower than it Used to Be

Anonymus, Origin of the Roman Tribe, 18, 2

“Aremulus Silvius ruled after him, and he was reported to be a man of such arrogance against not only humans but even against the gods that he declared that he was greater than Jupiter and when the sky was thundering told his troops to slap their shields with their swords to make a louder sound.

Well, he suffered retribution for this almost immediately: he was struck by lightning, ripped away by a wind, and plunged into the Alban Lake, according to the fourth book of the Annals and in the second Epitome following Piso. Aufidius claims in his Epitome—and Domitius repeats this in his first book—that Aremulus was not hit by lightning, but that he was immersed in the Alban Lake along with his whole palace thanks to an earthquake.”

Post eum regnavit Aremulus Silvius, qui tantae superbiae non adversum homines modo, sed etiam deos fuisse traditur, ut praedicaret superiorem se esse ipso Jove ac tonante caelo militibus imperaret, ut telis clipeos quaterent, dictitaretque clariorem sonum se facere. (3) qui tamen praesenti affectus est poena; nam fulmine ictus raptusque turbine in Albanum lacum praecipitatus est, ut scriptum est Annalium libro quarto et Epitomarum Pisonis secundo. (4) Aufidius sane in Epitomis et Domitius libro primo non fulmine ictum, sed terrae motu prolapsam simul cum eo regiam in Albanum lacum tradunt.

The status of Zeus at Tonnerre de Zeus at Parc Astérix

Sergius, Victor Over Fortune

Pliny, Natural History 7.104-106

“Even though the great accomplishments of Sergio’s virtue are clear in these deeds, the impact of fortune is greater. I do not think that anyone can justly rank any person higher than Marcus Sergius—even with his great-grandson Catiline undermining his name.

Sergius lost his right hand in his second expedition; in two campaigns he received twenty-three wounds and even though he was disabled in both hands and both feet, his spirit was still whole and he still served on many campaigns despite his disabilities. He was captured twice by Hannibal—for he was no regular enemy at all—and escaped twice from his chains even though he was guarded in bonds or shackles every day for 20 months.

He fought only with his left hand four times and had two horses he was riding on killed under him. He made an iron right had for himself and with that tied on, he ended the siege at Cremona, rescued Placentia, and seized twelve hostile camps in Gaul. All these exploits are told in his speech during his quaestorship when his senatorial colleagues wanted to expel him from the sacrifices because he was disabled—this man who would have made a heap of wreaths had he faced a different enemy. How much a difference the times in which your virtue emerges matters! What civic rewards were offered by Trebbia, Ticinus or Trasimine? What crowns were earned after Cannae, where the greatest virtue was flight? Others were victors over men, only Sergius conquered fortune.”

Verum in his sunt quidem virtutis opera magna, sed maiora fortunae: M. Sergio, ut equidem arbitror, nemo quemquam hominum iure praetulerit, licet pronepos Catilina gratiam nomini deroget. secundo stipendio dextram manum perdidit, stipendiis duobus ter et vicies vulneratus est, ob id neutra manu, neutro pede satis utilis, animo tantum salvo, plurimis postea stipendiis debilis miles. bis ab Hannibale captus—neque enim cum quolibet hoste res fuit—,bis vinculorum eius profugus, in viginti mensibus nullo non die in catenis aut compedibus custoditus. sinistra manu sola quater pugnavit, duobus equis insidente eo suffossis. dextram sibi ferream fecit, eaque religata proeliatus Cremonam obsidione exemit, Placentiam tutatus est, duodena castra hostium in Gallia cepit, quae omnia ex oratione eius apparent habita cum in praetura sacris arceretur a collegis ut debilis, quos hic coronarum acervos constructurus hoste mutato! etenim plurimum refert in quae cuiusque virtus tempora inciderit. quas Trebia Ticinusve aut Trasimenus civicas dedere? quae Cannis corona merita, unde fugisse virtutis summum opus fuit? ceteri profecto victores hominum fuere, Sergius vicit etiam fortunam

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As the amazing Dr. Liv Yarrow recently let me know, there is a coin commemorating Sergius. Check out her post. She also wrote an awesome follow-up.

A Tyranny Gained Through Luck

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? 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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Distracted from Justice by Profit

Plutarch, Life of Brutus 29

“Faith in his sense of principle provided was the foundation of his great good will and fame. For Pompey the Great was not expected—should he overcome Caesar—to put down his power in deference to the laws, but people thought he would keep his political control, smooth-talking the people with the name of consulship or dictator or some other more palatable office.

Now it was imagined that Cassius, an eager and emotional man often distracted from justice by profit, was pursuing war and adventure to create some dynasty for himself rather than freedom for his fellow citizens. For in an earlier time than that, people like Cinna, Marius, and Carbo, even though they made their own country their victory prize and source for spoils, they warred by their own confession for tyranny alone.”

καὶ μέγιστον ὑπῆρχεν αὐτῷ πρὸς εὔνοιαν καὶ δόξαν ἡ τῆς προαιρέσεως πίστις, οὔτε γὰρ ἐκεῖνος ὁ μέγας Πομπήϊος, εἰ Καίσαρα καθεῖλεν, ἠλπίζετο βεβαίως προήσεσθαι τοῖς νόμοις τὴν δύναμιν, ἀλλ᾿ ἀεὶ τὰ πράγματα καθέξειν, ὑπατείας ὀνόματι καὶ δικτατορίας ἤ τινος ἄλλης μαλακωτέρας ἀρχῆς παραμυθούμενος τὸν 5δῆμον· Κάσσιον δὲ τοῦτον, σφοδρὸν ἄνδρα καὶ θυμοειδῆ καὶ πολλαχοῦ πρὸς τὸ κερδαλέον ἐκφερόμενον τοῦ δικαίου, παντὸς μᾶλλον ᾤοντο πολεμεῖν καὶ πλανᾶσθαι καὶ κινδυνεύειν αὑτῷ τινα δυναστείαν κατασκευαζόμενον, οὐκ ἐλευθερίαν 6τοῖς πολίταις. τὰ μὲν γὰρ ἔτι τούτων πρεσβύτερα, Κίνναι καὶ Μάριοι καὶ Κάρβωνες, ἆθλον ἐν μέσῳ καὶ λείαν προθέμενοι τὴν πατρίδα, μονονουχὶ ῥητῶς ὑπὲρ τυραννίδος ἐπολέμησαν.

 

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Chief Minister of Bullsh*t

Cicero, Letters to Atticus 92 (4.18) October or November 54

You may ask me “how are you handling these things?” By god, pretty damn well and I love myself for doing so. My friend, we have not only lost the marrow and blood of a just state, but we’ve lost its decoration and facade too.

There is no Republic where I might find happiness or comfort. You may ask, “Can you really take this well?” Yes. That’s it. I recall how well the state thrived when I was governing it and the gratitude it gave me. No grief touches me at all at seeing one person capable of everything. Those who were upset that I had any power are wrecked by it.

No, I have many things to bring me solace. But I do not move from where I am, instead I return to that way of life which is most natural, to my books and my research.”

Dices ‘tu ergo haec quo modo fers?’ belle mehercule et in eo me valde amo. amisimus, mi Pomponi, omnem non modo sucum ac sanguinem sed etiam colorem et speciem pristinae civitatis. nulla est res publica quae delectet, in qua acquiescam. ‘idne igitur’ inquies ‘facile fers?’ id ipsum. recordor enim quam bella paulisper nobis gubernantibus civitas fuerit, quae mihi gratia relata sit. nullus dolor me angit unum omnia posse; dirumpuntur ii qui me aliquid posse doluerunt. multa mihi dant solacia, nec tamen ego de meo statu demigro, quaeque vita maxime est ad naturam, ad eam me refero, ad litteras et studia nostra.

Carved bust of Cicero 

Modesty and Shame are For The Weak

Sallust, Letter to Caesar 1

“Enough has been said about the war. When it comes to peace, since you and all your people are still working on this, I beg you first to think about what kind of thing you are considering. Thus, once you have separated the good from the bad, you can take an open road to the truth. I am of the following opinion: since everything which is born dies, citizens will wage war against their fellow citizens since the fate of Rome’s ruin has come in this storm. In their tired and wounded state, the people will be easy prey for a king or a foreign nation. There is no other way that the whole world or all the races united together could challenge or defeat this empire.

Therefore, you must establish the advantages of harmony and cast aside the horrors of strife. This can happen if you remove the freedom of excessive expenditure and seizures, not by holding people to ancient standards which have long been a joke thanks to our corrupted habits, but if you make each person’s current assets the boundary for his expenditures. It is currently the habit for young men to think it extremely fine to spend someone else’s money and to deny nothing to their own desire and other people’s requests, and, moreover, to believe that this behavior is virtuous and noble even as they think that modesty and shame are for the weak”

De bello satis dictum. De pace firmanda quoniam tuque et omnes tui agitatis, primum id quaeso, considera quale sit de quo consultas; ita bonis malisque dimotis patenti via ad verum perges. Ego sic existimo: quoniam orta omnia intereunt, qua tempestate urbi Romanae fatum excidii adventarit, civis cum civibus manus conserturos, ita defessos et exsanguis regi aut nationi praedae futuros. Aliter non orbis terrarum neque cunctae gentes conglobatae movere aut contundere queunt hoc imperium. Firmanda igitur sunt vel concordiae bona et discordiae mala expellenda. Id ita eveniet, si sumptuum et rapinarum licentiam dempseris, non ad vetera instituta revocans, quae iam pridem corruptis moribus ludibrio sunt, sed si suam quoique rem familiarem finem sumptuum statueris; quoniam is incessit mos, ut homines adulescentuli sua atque aliena consumere, nihil libidinei atque aliis rogantibus denegare pulcherrimum putent, eam virtutem et magnitudinem animi, pudorem atque modestiam pro socordia aestiment.

Modern Statue of Sallust

Two Plagues in Imperial Rome

Suetonius 8.2 Titus 4-5 [79-81 CE, Plague in 80 CE]

“During the public fire at Rome he said nothing except “I am destroyed” and he designated all the decorations of his own houses for public buildings and temples. He put several people from the equestrian order in command of this so that the work might be completing more quickly. There was no effort either human or divine he did not pursue for healing and lessening the strength of the disease: he tried every type of sacrifice and every kind of treatment.

Among the challenges of the times there were also conmen and their associates, long left to their own devices. Once they were beaten in the Forum with whips and clubs and then led in a perp-walk through the floor of the amphitheater, ordered some of them to be sold and others sent off to the most remote islands. In order to dissuade those who might pursue these kinds of activities, he made it illegal for people to be sued under multiple laws for the same offense or for anything to be pursued from a dead person after a set number of years.”

Urbis incendio nihil publice nisi periisse testatus, cuncta praetoriorum suorum ornamenta operibus ac templis destinavit praeposuitque compluris ex equestri ordine, quo quaeque maturius peragerentur. Medendae valitudini leniendisque morbis nullam divinam humanamque opem non adhibuit inquisito omni sacrificiorum remediorumque genere.

Inter adversa temporum et delatores mandatoresque erant ex licentia veteri. Hos assidue in Foro flagellis ac fustibus caesos ac novissime traductos per amphitheatri harenam partim subici ac venire imperavit, partim in asperrimas insularum avehi. Utque etiam similia quandoque ausuros perpetuo coerceret, vetuit inter cetera de eadem re pluribus legibus agi quaerive de cuiusquam defunctorum statu ultra certos annos.

 

Tacitus, Annals 16.13 [=reign of Nero, 65/66 CE]

“The gods marked this year already tainted by so many crimes with storms and disease. Campania was destroyed by a tornado which laid waste to homes, fruit trees, and crops all over and then took its violence to the streets of the capital where a powerful epidemic was bringing death to all groups of people.

There was no sign of disease in the air to see, but dead bodies filled the homes and funerals filled the street. No gender or age avoided the danger; slaves and the free were killed one after another while spouses and children lamented even as they were often soon cremated on the same mound since they were around the people they mourned. Knights and senators, even though they perished similarly, were mourned less, just as if they had avoided the emperor’s violence by dying a commoner’s death.”

XIII. Tot facinoribus foedum annum etiam di tempestatibus et morbis insignivere. Vastata Campania turbine ventorum, qui villas arbusta fruges passim disiecit pertulitque violentiam ad vicina urbi; in qua omne mortalium genus vis pestilentiae depopulabatur, nulla caeli intemperie, quae occurreret oculis. Sed domus corporibus exanimis, itinera funeribus complebantur; non sexus, non aetas periculo vacua; servitia perinde et ingenua plebes raptim extingui, inter coniugum et liberorum lamenta, qui dum adsident, dum deflent, saepe eodem rogo cremabantur. Equitum senatorumque interitus, quamvis promisci, minus flebiles erant, tamquam communi mortalitate saevitiam principis praevenirent.

the Triumph of Titus by Lawrence Alma-Tadema,1885

Cicero, Always Chirping about the Ides of March

Previously we have posted about Cicero’s comments about the Ides of March to Brutus. Here is a letter from Brutus complaining about Cicero.

Letters: Brutus to Atticus, I.17

“You write to me that Cicero is amazed that I say nothing about his deeds. Since you are hassling me, I will write you what I think thanks to your coaxing.

I know that Cicero has done everything with the best intention. What could be more proved to me than his love for the republic? But certain things seem to me, what can I say, that the most prudent man has acted as if inexperienced or ambitiously, this man who was not reluctant to take on Antony as an enemy when he was strongest?

I don’t know what to write to you except a single thing: the boy’s desire and weakness have been increased rather than repressed by Cicero and that he grinds on so far in his indulgence that he does not refrain from invectives that rebound in two ways. For he too has killed many and he must admit that he is an assassin before what he objects to Casca—in which case he acts the part of Bestia to Casca—

Or because we are not tossing about every hour the Ides of March the way he always has the Nones of December in his mouth, will Cicero find fault in the most noble deed from a better vantage point than Bestia and Clodius were accustomed to insult his consulship?

Our toga-clad friend Cicero brags that he has stood up to Antony’s war. How does it profit me if the cost of Antony defeated is the resumption of Antony’s place?  Or if our avenger of this evil has turned out to be the author of another—an evil which has a foundation and deeper roots, even if we concede <whether it is true or not> those things which he does come from the fact that he either fears tyranny or Antony as a tyrant?

 But I don’t have gratitude for anyone who does not protest the situation itself provided only that he serves one who is not raging at him. Triumphs, stipends, encouragement with every kind of degree so that it does not shame him to desire the fortune of the man whose name he has taken—is that a mark of a Consular man, of a Cicero?

1Scribis mihi mirari Ciceronem quod nihil significem umquam de suis actis; quoniam me flagitas, coactu tuo scribam quae sentio.

Omnia fecisse Ciceronem optimo animo scio. quid enim mihi exploratius esse potest quam illius animus in rem publicam? sed quaedam mihi videtur—quid dicam? imperite vir omnium prudentissimus an ambitiose fecisse, qui valentissimum Antonium suscipere pro re publica non dubitarit inimicum? nescio quid scribam tibi nisi unum: pueri et cupiditatem et licentiam potius esse irritatam quam repressam a Cicerone, tantumque eum tribuere huic indulgentiae ut se maledictis non abstineat iis quidem quae in ipsum dupliciter recidunt, quod et pluris occidit uno seque prius oportet fateatur sicarium quam obiciat Cascae quod obicit et imitetur in Casca Bestiam. an quia non omnibus horis iactamus Idus Martias similiter atque ille Nonas Decembris suas in ore habet, eo meliore condicione Cicero pulcherrimum factum vituperabit quam Bestia et Clodius reprehendere illius consulatum soliti sunt?

Sustinuisse mihi gloriatur bellum Antoni togatus Cicero noster. quid hoc mihi prodest, si merces Antoni oppressi poscitur in Antoni locum successio et si vindex illius mali auctor exstitit alterius fundamentum et radices habituri altiores, si patiamur, ut iam <dubium sit utrum>ista quae facit dominationem an dominum [an] Antonium timentis sint? ego autem gratiam non habeo si quis, dum ne irato serviat, rem ipsam non deprecatur. immo triumphus et stipendium et omnibus decretis hortatio ne eius pudeat concupiscere fortunam cuius nomen susceperit, consularis aut Ciceronis est?

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Gambling With Roman Emperors

Dio Cassius, Roman Histories 59.22 [ AD 39]

“Once, when [Caligula] was playing dice and had learned that he didn’t have any money, he demanded the tax roles of the Gauls and then ordered the wealthiest of them to be killed. He returned to his said that “while you have been competing over a few mere handfuls, I have come into one hundred and fifty million.” And those men died without any plan it all.

A certain one of them, Julius Sacerdos, who was well-to-do but certainly not one of the super-rich to the each that he should have been attached for it, was killed because he had a similar name. Everything happened with as little concern as this.

I don’t need to mention any of the many others who died by name, but I will talk about those for whom history demands some memory. First, he had Lentulus Gaetulicus killed—he was well-reputed in every way and had been an overseer of Germany for ten years all because he was dear to his soldiers. He also killed Lepidus, his lover and beloved, Drusilla’s husband, a man who had joined Gaius himself in having sex with those other sisters, Argippina and Julia. He had even stood for office five years soon than the law allowed and he had kept announcing that he would leave him as the successor of the empire. He sent the soldiers money for that man, as if he had overcome some enemy, and also sent three daggers to Mars the Avenger in Rome.”

κυβεύων δέ ποτε, καὶ μαθὼν ὅτι οὐκ εἴη οἱ ἀργύριον, ᾔτησέ τε τὰς τῶν Γαλατῶν ἀπογραφάς, καὶ ἐξ αὐτῶν τοὺς πλουσιωτάτους θανατωθῆναι κελεύσας, ἐπανῆλθέ τε πρὸς τοὺς συγκυβευτὰς καὶ ἔφη ὅτι “ὑμεῖς περὶ ὀλίγων δραχμῶν ἀγωνίζεσθε, ἐγὼ δὲ ἐς μυρίας καὶ πεντακισχιλίας μυριάδας ἤθροισα.” καὶ οὗτοι μὲν ἐν οὐδενὶ λόγῳ ἀπώλοντο· ἀμέλει εἷς τις αὐτῶν Ἰούλιος Σακερδὼς ἄλλως μὲν εὖ χρημάτων ἥκων, οὐ μέντοι καὶ ὑπερπλουτῶν ὥστε καὶ ἐπιβουλευθῆναι δι᾿ αὐτά, ὅμως ἐξ ἐπωνυμίας ἀπεσφάγη· οὕτως ἀκρίτως πάντα ἐγίγνετο. τῶν δὲ ἄλλων τοὺς μὲν πολλοὺς οὐδὲν δέομαι ὀνομαστὶ καταλέγειν, ὧν δὲ δὴ ἡ ἱστορία τὴν μνήμην ἀπαιτεῖ, φράσω. τοῦτο μὲν γὰρ Γαιτούλικον Λέντουλον, τά τε ἄλλα εὐδόκιμον ὄντα καὶ τῆς Γερμανίας δέκα ἔτεσιν ἄρξαντα, ἀπέκτεινεν, ὅτι τοῖς στρατιώταις ᾠκείωτο· τοῦτο δὲ τὸν Λέπιδον ἐκεῖνον τὸν ἐραστὴν τὸν ἐρώμενον, τὸν τῆς Δρουσίλλης ἄνδρα, τὸν καὶ ταῖς ἄλλαις αὐτοῦ ἀδελφαῖς τῇ τε Ἀγριππίνῃ καὶ τῇ Ἰουλίᾳ μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ ἐκείνου συνόντα, ᾧ πέντε ἔτεσι θᾶσσον τὰς ἀρχὰς παρὰ τοὺς νόμους αἰτῆσαι ἐπέτρεψεν, ὃν καὶ διάδοχον τῆς ἡγεμονίας καταλείψειν ἐπηγγέλλετο, κατεφόνευσε. καὶ τοῖς τε στρατιώταις ἀργύριον ἐπὶ τούτῳ, καθάπερ πολεμίων τινῶν κεκρατηκώς, ἔδωκε, καὶ ξιφίδια τρία τῷ Ἄρει τῷ Τιμωρῷ ἐς τὴν Ῥώμην ἔπεμψε.

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Portrait de l’empereur Gaius Julius Augustus Germanicus