Letters to Atticus/1.14

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Letters to Atticus by Marcus Tullius Cicero
1.14 (XIX)
Translated by Evelyn Shuckburgh

To Atticus in Epirus[edit]

Rome, 13 February 61 BC[edit]

I fear it may seem affectation to tell you how occupied I have been; but I am so distracted with business that I have only just found time for this short letter, and that has been stolen from the most urgent engagements. I have already described to you Pompey's first public speech—it did not please the poor, nor satisfy the disloyal, nor find favour with the wealthy, nor appear sound to the loyalists; accordingly, he is down in the world.[1] Presently, on the instigation of the consul Piso, that most insignificant of tribunes, Fufius, brought Pompey on to the platform. The meeting was in the circus Flaminius, and there was in the same place that day a crowd of market people—a kind of tiers état.[2] He asked him to say whether he approved of the jurymen being selected by the praetor, to form a panel for the praetor himself to employ. That was the regulation made by the senate in the matter of Clodius's sacrilege. Thereupon Pompey made a highly "aristocratic" speech, and replied (and at great length) that in all matters the authority of the senate was of the greatest weight in his eyes and had always been so. Later on the consul Messalla in the senate asked Pompey his opinion as to the sacrilege and the bill that had been published. His speech in the senate amounted to a general commendation of all decrees of the house, and when he sat down he said to me, "I think my answer covers your case also."[3] When Crassus observed that Pompey had got a cheer from the idea in men's minds that he approved my consulship, he rose also to his feet and delivered a speech in the most complimentary terms on my consulship, going so far as to say that he owed it to me that he was still a senator, a citizen, nay, a free man; and that he never beheld wife, home, or country without beholding the fruits of my conduct. In short: that whole topic, which I am wont to paint in various colours in my speeches (of which you are the Aristarchus), the fire, the sword—you know my paint-pots—he elaborated to the highest pitch. I was sitting next to Pompey. I noticed that he was agitated, either at Crassus earning the gratitude which he had himself neglected, or to think that my achievements were, after all, of such magnitude that the senate was so glad to hear them praised, especially by a man who was the less under an obligation to praise me, because in everything I ever wrote[4] my praise of Pompey was practically a reflection on him. This day has brought me very close to Crassus, and yet in spite of all I accepted with pleasure any compliment—open or covert—from Pompey. But as for my own speech, good heavens! how I did "put it on" for the benefit of my new auditor Pompey! If I ever did bring every art into play, I did then—period, transition, enthymeme, deduction—everything. In short, I was cheered to the echo. For the subject of my speech was the dignity of the senate, its harmony with the equites, the unanimity of Italy, the dying embers of the conspiracy, the fall in prices, the establishment of peace. You know my thunder when these are my themes. It was so loud, in fact, that I may cut short my description, as I think you must have heard it even in Epirus.

The state of things at Rome is this: the senate is a perfect Areopagus. You cannot conceive anything firmer, more grave, or more high-spirited. For when the day came for proposing the bill in accordance with the vote of the senate, a crowd of our dandies with their chin-tufts assembled, all the Catiline set, with Curio's girlish son at their head, and implored the people to reject it. Moreover, Piso the consul, who formally introduced the bill, spoke against it. Clodius's hired ruffians had filled up the entrances to the voting boxes. The voting tickets were so manipulated that no "ayes" were distributed. Hereupon imagine Cato hurrying to the rostra, delivering an admirable invective against the consul, if we can call that an "invective" which was really a speech of the utmost weight and authority, and in fact containing the most salutary advice. He is followed to the same effect by your friend Hortensius, and many loyalists besides, among whom, however, the contribution of Favonius was conspicuous. By this rally of the Optimates the comitia is dissolved, the senate summoned. On the question being put in a full house—in spite of the opposition of Piso, and in spite of Clodius throwing himself at the feet of the senators one after the other—that the consuls should exhort the people to pass the bill, about fifteen voted with Curio, who was against any decree being passed; on the other side there were fully four hundred. So the vote passed. The tribune Fufius then gave in.[5] Clodius delivered some wretched speeches to the people, in which he bestowed some injurious epithets on Lucullus, Hortensius, C. Piso, and the consul Messalla; me he only charged with having "discovered" everything.[6] In regard to the assignation of provinces to the praetors, the hearing legations, and other business, the senate voted that nothing should be brought before it till the bill had been brought before the people. There is the state of things at Rome for you. Yet pray listen to this one thing more which has surpassed my hopes. Messalla is a superlatively good consul, courageous, firm, painstaking; he praises, shows attachment to, and imitates me. That other one (Piso) is the less mischievous because of one vice—he is lazy, sleepy, unbusinesslike, an utter fainéant, but in intention he is so disaffected that he has begun to loathe Pompey since he made the speech in which some praise was bestowed on the senate. Accordingly, he has alienated all the loyalists to a remarkable degree. And his action is not dictated by love for Clodius more than by a taste for a profligate policy and a profligate party. But he has nobody among the magistrates like himself, with the single exception of the tribune Fufius. The tribunes are excellent, and in Cornutus we have a quasi-Cato. Can I say more?

Now to return to private matters. "Teucris" has fulfilled her promise.[7] Pray execute the commission you undertook. My brother Quintus, who purchased the remaining three-fourths of the house in the Argiletum for 725 sestertia, is now trying to sell his Tusculan property, in order to purchase, if he can, the town house of Pacilius. Make it up with Lucceius! I see that he is all agog to stand for the consulship. I will do my best. Be careful to let me know exactly how you are, where you are, and how your business goes on.

13 February.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. The letter giving this description is lost. I think frigebat is epistolary imperfect—"he is in the cold shade," not, "it fell flat."
  2. πανήγυρις. Cicero uses the word (an honourable one in Greek) contemptuously of the rabble brought together at a market.
  3. Pompey's general commendation of the decrees of the senate would include those regarding the Catiline conspirators, and he therefore claimed to have satisfied Cicero.
  4. Meis omnibus litteris, the MS. reading. Prof. Tyrrell's emendation, orationibus meis, omnibus litteris, "in my speeches, every letter of them," seems to me even harsher than the MS., a gross exaggeration, and doubtful Latin. Meis litteris is well supported by literae forenses et senatoriae of de Off. 2.3, and though it is an unusual mode of referring to speeches, we must remember that they were now published and were "literature." The particular reference is to the speech pro Imperio Pompeii, in which, among other things, the whole credit of the reduction of Spartacus's gladiators is given to Pompey, whereas the brunt of the war had been borne by Crassus.
  5. Fufius, though Cicero does not say so, must have vetoed the decree, but in the face of such a majority withdrew his veto. The practice seems to have been, in case of tribunician veto, to take the vote, which remained as an auctoritas senatus, but was not a senatus consultum unless the tribune was induced to withdraw.
  6. Comperisse. See Letter XVII, note 1.
  7. See Letters XVI and XVIII.