Letters to Atticus/2.21

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Letters to Atticus by Marcus Tullius Cicero
2.21 (XLVII)
Translated by Evelyn Shuckburgh

To Atticus in Epirus[edit]

Rome, July 59 BC[edit]

Why should I write to you on the Republic in detail? It is utterly ruined; and is, so far, in a worse state than when you left it, that then a despotism seemed to be oppressing it which was popular with the multitude, and though offensive to the loyalists, yet short of actual mischief; but now all on a sudden they have become so universally hated, that I tremble to think what will be the end of it. For we have had experience of those men's resentment and violence, who have ruined everything in their anger against Cato; yet they were employing such slow poisons, that it seemed as though our end might be painless. Now, however, I fear they have been exasperated by the hisses of the crowd, the talk of the respectable classes, and the murmurs of Italy. For my part, I was in hopes, as I often used actually to say to you, that the wheel of the state chariot had made its revolution with scarcely any noise and leaving scarcely any visible rut; and it would have been so, if people could only have waited till the storm had blown over. But after sighing in secret for a long time they all began, first to groan, and at last to talk and shout. Accordingly, that friend of ours, unaccustomed to being unpopular, always used to an atmosphere of praise, and revelling in glory, now disfigured in body and broken in spirit, does not know which way to turn; sees that to go on is dangerous, to return a betrayal of vacillation; has the loyalists his enemies, the disloyal themselves not his friends. Yet see how soft-hearted I am. I could not refrain from tears when, on the 25th of July, I saw him making a speech on the edicts of Bibulus. The man who in old times had been used to bear himself in that place with the utmost confidence and dignity, surrounded by the warmest affection of the people, amidst universal favour—how humble, how cast down he was then! How ill-content with himself, to say nothing of how unpleasing to his audience! Oh, what a spectacle! No one could have liked it but Crassus--no one else in the world! Not I, for considering his headlong descent from the stars, he seemed to me have lost his footing rather than to have been deliberately following a path; and, as Apelles, if he had seen his Venus, or Protogenes his Ialysus daubed with mud, would, I presume, have felt great sorrow, so neither could I behold without great sorrow a man, portrayed and embellished with all the colours of my art, suddenly disfigured. Although no one thought, in view of the Clodius business, that I was bound to be his friend, yet so great was my affection for him, that no amount of injury was capable of making it run dry. The result is that those Archilochian edicts of Bibulus against him are so popular, that one can't get past the place where they are put up for the crowd of readers, and so deeply annoying to himself that he is pining with vexation. To me, by Hercules, they are distressing, both because they give excessive pain to a man whom I have always loved, and because I fear lest one so impulsive and so quick to strike, and so unaccustomed to personal abuse, may, in his passionate resentment, obey the dictates of indignation and anger. I don't know what is to be the end of Bibulus. As things stand at present he is enjoying a wonderful reputation. For on his having postponed the comitia to October, as that is a measure which is always against the popular feeling, Caesar had imagined that the assembly could be induced by a speech of his to go to Bibulus's house; but after a long harangue full of seditious suggestions, he failed to extract a word from any-one. In short, they feel that they do not possess the cordial goodwill of any section: all the more must we fear some act of violence. Clodius is hostile to us. Pompey persists in asserting that he will do nothing against me. It is risky for me to believe that, and I am preparing myself to meet his attack. I hope to have the warmest feelings of all orders on my side. I have personally a longing for you, and circumstances also demand your presence at that time. I shall feel it a very great addition to my policy, to my courage, and, in a word, to my safety, if I see you in time. Varro does all I can expect. Pompey talks like an angel. I have hopes that I shall come off with flying colours, or at any rate without being molested. Be sure and tell me how you are, how you are amusing yourself, and what settlement you have come to with the Sicyonians.