Letters to Atticus/2.19

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Letters to Atticus by Marcus Tullius Cicero
2.19 (XLV)
Translated by Evelyn Shuckburgh

To Atticus in Epirus[edit]

Rome, July 59 BC[edit]

I have many causes for anxiety, both from the disturbed state of politics and from the personal dangers with which I am threatened. They are very numerous; but nothing gives me more annoyance than the manumission of Statius:[1] "To think that he should have no reverence for my authority! But of authority I say nothing—that he should have no fear of a quarrel with me, to put it mildly."[2] But what I am to do I don't know, nor indeed is there so much in the affair as you would think from the talk about it. For myself, I am positively incapable of being angry with those I love deeply. I only feel vexed, and that to a surprising degree. Other vexations are on really important matters. The threats of Clodius and the conflicts before me touch me only slightly. For I think I can either confront them with perfect dignity or decline them without any embarrassment. You will say, perhaps, "Enough of dignity, like the proverb, 'Enough of the oak':[3] an you love me, take thought for safety!" Ah, dear me, dear me, why are you not here? Nothing, certainly, could have escaped you. I, perhaps, am somewhat blinded, and too much affected by my high ideal. I assure you there never was anything so scandalous, so shameful, so offensive to all sorts, Conditions and ages of men alike, as the present state of affairs. It is more so, by Hercules, than I could have wished, but not more than I had expected. Your populares have now taught even usually quiet men to hiss. Bibulus is praised to the skies: I don't know why, but he has the same sort of applause as his

Who by delays restored alone our State.[4]

Pompey—the man I loved—has, to my infinite sorrow, ruined his own reputation They hold no one by affection, and I fear they will be forced to use terror. I, however, refrain from hostility to their cause owing to my friendship for him, and yet I cannot approve, lest I should stultify my own past. The feeling of the people was shown as clearly as possible in the theatre and at the shows. For at the gladiators both master and supporters were overwhelmed with hisses. At the games of Apollo the actor Diphilus made a pert allusion to Pompey, in the words:

By our misfortunes thou art—Great.

He was encored countless times. When he delivered the line,

The time will come when thou wilt deeply mourn
That self-same valour,

the whole theatre broke out into applause, and so on with the rest. For the verses do seem exactly as though they were written by some enemy of Pompey's to hit the time. "If neither laws nor customs can control," etc., caused great sensation and loud shouts. Caesar having entered as the applause died away, he was followed by the younger Curio. The latter received an ovation such as used to be given to Pompey when the constitution was still intact. Caesar was much annoyed. A despatch is said to have been sent flying off to Pompey at Capua.[5] They are offended with the equites, who rose to their feet and cheered Curio, and are at war with everybody. They are threatening the Roscian law,[6] and even the corn law.[7] There has been a great hubbub altogether. For my part, I should have preferred their doings being silently ignored; but that, I fear, won't be allowed. Men are indignant at what nevertheless must, it seems, be put up with. The whole people have indeed now one voice, but its strength depends rather on exasperation than anything to back it up. Furthermore, our Publius is threatening me: he is hostile, and a storm is hanging over my head which should bring you post haste to town. I believe that I am still firmly supported by the same phalanx of all loyal or even tolerably loyal men which supported me when consul. Pompey displays no common affection for me. He also asserts that Clodius is not going to say a word about me. In which he is not deceiving me, but is himself deceived. Cosconius having died, I am invited to fill his place.[8] That would indeed be a case of "invited to a dead man's place." I should have been beneath contempt in the eyes of the world, and nothing could be conceived less likely to secure that very "personal safety" of which you speak. For those commissioners are disliked by the loyalists, and so I should have retained my own unpopularity with the disloyal, with the addition of that attaching to others. Caesar wishes me to accept a legateship under him. This is a more honourable method of avoiding the danger. But I don't wish to avoid it. What do I want, then? Why, I prefer fighting. However, I have not made up my mind. Again I say, Oh that you were here! However, if it is absolutely necessary I will summon you. What else is there to say? What else? This, I think: I am certain that all is lost. For why mince matters any longer? But I write this in haste, and, by Hercules, in rather a nervous state. On some future occasion I will either write to you at full length, if I find a very trustworthy person to whom to give a letter, or if I write darkly you will understand all the same. In these letters I will be Laelius, you Furius; the rest shall be in riddles. Here I cultivate Caecilius,[9] and pay him assiduous attention. I hear Bibulus's edicts have been sent to you. Our friend Pompey is hot with indignation and wrath at them.[10]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Statius, a slave of Quintus, was unpopular in the province. See Letter LII.
  2. Terence, Phorm. 232.
  3. halis druos, i.e., feeding on acorns is a thing of the past, it is out of date, like the golden age when they fed on wild fruit et quae deciderant patula Iovis arbore glandes (Ovid, Met. 1.106); and so is dignity, it is a question of safety now.
  4. Ennius on Q. Fabius Maximus Cunctator.
  5. Pompey was in Campania acting as one of the twenty land commissioners.
  6. The lex Roscia theatralis (B.C. 67), which gave fourteen rows of seats to the equites.
  7. That is, the law for distribution of corn among poorer citizens. There were many such. Perhaps the most recent was the lex Cassia Terentia (B.C. 73). Caesar, who, when in later years he became supreme, restricted this privilege, may have threatened to do so now.
  8. I.e., as one of the twenty land commissioners. The next clause seems to refer to some proverbial expression, "to be invited to a place at Pluto's table," or some such sentence. Cicero means that his acceptance would be equivalent to political extinction, either from the obscurity of Cosconius or the inconsistency of the proceeding.
  9. The uncle of Atticus. See Letter X.
  10. After the scene of violence in which Bibulus, on attempting to prevent the agrarian law being passed, was driven from the rostra, with his lictors' fasces broken, he shut himself up in his house and published edicts declaring Caesar's acts invalid, and denouncing the conduct of Pompey (Suet. Caes. 20; Dio, 38.6).