Letters to Atticus/4.17

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Letters to Atticus by Marcus Tullius Cicero
4.17 (CXLVIII)
Translated by Evelyn Shuckburgh

To Atticus abroad, from Rome, 1 October 54 BC[1]

You think I imagine that I write more rarely to you than I used to do from having forgotten my regular habit and purpose, but the fact is that, perceiving your locality and journeys to be equally uncertain, I have never entrusted a letter to anyone—either for Epirus, or Athens, or Asia, or anywhere else—unless he was going expressly to you. For my letters are not of the sort to make their non-delivery a matter of indifference; they contain so many confidential secrets that I do not as a rule trust them even to an amanuensis, for fear of some jest leaking out in some direction or another.

The consuls are in a blaze of infamy because Gaius Memmius, one of the candidates, read out in the senate a compact which he and his fellow candidate, Domitius Calvinus, had made with the consuls—that both were to forfeit to the consuls 40 sestertia apiece (in Case they were themselves elected consuls), if they did not produce three augurs to depose that they had been present at the passing of a lex curiata, which, in fact, had not been passed; and two consulars to depose to having helped to draft a decree for furnishing the consular provinces, though there had not even been a meeting of the senate at all.[2] As this compact was alleged not to have been a mere verbal one, but to have been drawn up with the sums to be paid duly entered, formal orders for payment, and written attestations of many persons, it was, on the suggestion of Pompey, produced by Memmius, but with the names obliterated. It has made no difference to Appius—he had no character to lose! To the other consul it was a real knock-down blow, and he is, I assure you, a ruined man.

Memmius, however, having thus dissolved the coalition, has lost all chance of election, and is by this time in a worse position than ever, because we are now informed that his revelation is strongly disapproved of by Caesar. Our friend Messalla and his fellow candidate, Domitius Calvinus, have been very liberal to the people. Nothing can exceed their popularity. They are certain to be consuls. But the senate has passed a decree that a "trial with closed doors" should be held before the elections in respect to each of the candidates severally, by the panels already allotted to them all. The candidates are in a great fright. But certain jurors--among them Opimius, Veiento, and Rantius--appealed to the tribunes to prevent their being called upon to act as jurors without an order of the people.[3] The business goes on. The comitia are postponed by a decree of the senate till such time as the law for the "trial with closed doors" is carried. The day for passing the law arrived. Terentius vetoed it. The consuls, having all along conducted this business in a half-hearted kind of way, referred the matter back to the senate. Hereupon —Bedlam! my voice being heard with the rest. "Aren't you wise enough to keep quiet, after all?" you will say. Forgive me: I can hardly restrain myself. But, nevertheless, was there ever such a farce? The senate had voted that the elections should not be held till the law was passed: that, in case of a tribunician veto, the whole question should be referred to them afresh. The law is introduced in a perfunctory manner: is vetoed, to the great relief of the proposers: the matter is referred to the senate. Upon that the senate voted that it was for the interest of the state that the elections should be held at the earliest possible time!

Scaurus, who had been acquitted a few days before,[4] after a most elaborate speech from me on his behalf—when all the days up to the 29th of September (on which I write this) had one after the other been rendered impossible for the comitia by notices of ill omens put in by Scaevola—paid the people what they expected at his own house, tribe by tribe. But all the same, though his liberality was more generous, it was not so acceptable as that of the two mentioned above, who had got the start of him. I could have wished to see your face when you read this;[5] for I am certain you entertain some hope that these transactions will occupy a great many weeks! But there is to be a meeting of the senate today, that is, the 1st of October—for day is already breaking. There no one will speak his mind except Antius and Favonius,[6] for Cato is ill. Don't be afraid about me: nevertheless, I make no promises.

Is there anything else you want to know? Anything? Yes, the trials, I think. Drusus and Scaurus[7] are believed not to have been guilty. Three candidates are thought likely to be prosecuted: Domitius Calvinus by Memmius, Messalla by Q. Pompeius Rufus, Scaurus[8] by Triarius or by L. Caesar. "What will you be able to say for them?" quoth you. May I die if I know! In those three books[9] certainly, of which you speak so highly, I find no suggestion.


  1. Shuckburgh has recombined the paragraphs of this letter and A 4.16 into two slightly different letters (see A 4.16 & part of 17 and A 4.17 & parts of 16 at Perseus. I have disentangled and recombined the paragraphs to match the Latin text. Nicknack009
  2. The object of the existing consuls in making such a bargain was to get to their provinces without difficulty, with imperium, which had to be bestowed by a formal meeting of the old comitia curiata. But that formality could be stopped by tribunes or other magistrates "watching the sky," or declaring evil omens: and just as these means were being resorted to to put off the elections, so they were also likely to be used in this matter. If it was thus put off into the next year, Domitius and Appius, not being any longer consuls, would have still greater difficulty. Corrupt as the arrangement was, it seems not to have come under any existing law, and both escaped punishment. Appius went as proconsul to Cilicia, in spite of the lex curiata not being passed, but Domitius Ahenobarbus seems not to have had a province. The object of Domitius Calvinus and Memmius in making the compact was to secure their own election, which the existing consuls had many means of assisting, but it is not clear what Memmius's object in disclosing it was. Perhaps anger on finding his hopes gone, and an idea that anything that humiliated Ahenobarbus would be pleasing to Caesar. He also seems to have quarrelled with Calvinus. Gaius Memmius Gemellus is not to be confounded with Gaius Memmius the tribune mentioned in the next letter.
  3. There is considerable uncertainty as to the exact nature of judicium tacitum, here rendered "a trial with closed doors," on the analogy of the senatus consultum tacitum described by Capitolinus, in Gordian. ch. xli. It is not, I think, mentioned elsewhere (judiciis tacitis of Off. 2.24, is a general expression for "anonymous expressions of opinion"), and the passage in Plutarch (Cato Min. 44) introduces a new difficulty, for it indicates a court in which candidates after election are to purge themselves. Again, quae erant omnibus sortita is very difficult. Cicero nowhere else, I believe, uses the passive sortitus. But, passing that, what are the consilia meant? The tense and mood show, I think, that the words are explanatory by the writer, not part of the decree. I venture, contrary to all editors, to take omnibus as dative, and to suppose that the consilia meant are those of the album judicum who had been selected to try cases of ambitus, of which many were expected. There is no proof that the judices in a judicium tacitum had to be senators, and the names in the next sentence point the other way. The senate proposed that the law should allow this selection from the album to form the judicium tacitum, which would give no public verdict, but on whose report they could afterwards act.
  4. M. Aemilius Scaurus was acquitted on the 2nd of September on a charge of extortion in Sardinia. The trial had been hurried on lest he should use the Sardinian money in bribing for the consulship. Hence he could not begin distributing his gifts to the electors till after September 2nd, and his rivals Domitius and Messalla got the start of him. See Asconius, 131 seq.
  5. He means that Atticus--as a lender of money--would be glad of anything that kept the rate of interest up. He is, of course, joking.
  6. Antius is not known. Favonius was a close imitator of Cato's Stoicism. He was now opposing both Pompey and Caesar strenuously, but on the Civil War breaking out, attached himself strongly to Pompey. He was put to death by Augustus after the battle of Philippi (Suet. Aug. 13). He had a very biting tongue. See Plut. Pomp. 60.
  7. Drusus was probably Livius Drusus, the father of Livia, wife of Augustus; he was accused by Lucretius of praevaricatio, "collusion."
  8. This time for ambitus.
  9. The de Oratore.