Letters to friends/1.2

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To P. Lentulus Spinther in Cilicia[edit]

Rome, 15 January 56 BC[edit]

Nothing was done on the 13th of January in the senate, because the day was to a great extent spent in an altercation between the consul Lentulus and the tribune Caninius. On that day I also spoke at considerable length, and thought that I made a very great impression on the senate by dwelling on your affection for the house. Accordingly, next day we resolved that we would deliver our Opinions briefly: for it appeared to us that the feelings of the senate had been softened towards us—the result not only of my speech, but of my personal appeal and application to individual senators. Accordingly, the first proposition, that of Bibulus, having been delivered, that three legates should restore the king: the second, that of Hortensius, that you should restore him without an army: the third, that of Volcatius, that Pompey should do it, a demand was made that the proposal of Bibulus should be taken in two parts.[1] As far as he dealt with the religious difficulty—a point which was now past being opposed—his motion was carried; his proposition as to three legates was defeated by a large majority. The next was the proposition of Hortensius. Thereupon the tribune Lupus, on the ground that he had himself made a proposal about Pompey, starts the contention that he ought to divide the house before the consuls. His speech was received on all sides by loud cries of "No": for it was both unfair and unprecedented. The consuls would not give in, and yet did not oppose with any vigour. Their object was to waste the day, and in that they succeeded[2] for they saw very well that many times the number would vote for the proposal of Hortensius, although they openly professed their agreement with Volcatius. Large numbers were called upon for their opinion, and that, too, with the assent of the consuls: for they wanted the proposal of Bibulus carried. This dispute was protracted till nightfall, and the senate was dismissed. I happened to be dining with Pompey on that day, and I seized the opportunity—the best I have ever had, for since your departure I have never occupied a more honourable position in the senate than I had on that day—of talking to him in such a way, that I think I induced him to give up every other idea and resolve to support your claims. And, indeed, when I actually hear him talk, I acquit him entirely of all suspicion of personal ambition: but when I regard his intimates of every rank, I perceive, what is no secret to anybody, that this whole business has been long ago corruptly manipulated by a certain coterie, not without the king's own consent and that of his advisers. I write this on the 15th of January, before daybreak. Today there is to be a meeting of the senate. We shall maintain, as I hope, our position in the senate as far as it is possible to do so in such an age of perfidy and unfair dealing. As to an appeal to the people on the subject, we have, I think, secured that no proposition can be brought before them without neglect of the auspices or breach of the laws, or, in fine, without downright violence.[3] The day before my writing these words a resolution of the senate on these matters of the most serious character was passed, and though Cato and Caninius vetoed it, it was nevertheless written out.[4] I suppose it has been sent to you. On all other matters I will write and tell you what has been done, whatever it is, and I will see that everything is carried out with the most scrupulous fairness as far as my caution, labour, attention to details, and influence can secure it.


  1. The proposal of Bibulus to send "three legates" implied a concession to the Sibylline verse, in not sending "an army." It was therefore to be voted on as two questions—(1) Shall the Sibylline verse be obeyed, and an army not sent? (2) Shall three legates be sent?
  2. That is, the debate went off on the side issue as to who had the prior right of dividing the house. Lupus said he had, because the proposal of Volcatius was really made before the others, i.e., in the previous day's debate (see last letter). The consuls were only too glad thus to avoid having the main question brought to a vote, and let this technical point be spun out in a languid debate.
  3. Because they had magistrates ready to stop the comitia by declaring bad omens, and tribunes ready to veto any proposal.
  4. A senatus consultum vetoed by a tribune was written out, with the names of its proposers and backers, and a statement at the end as to the tribunes vetoing it. It was thus on record as an auctoritas senatus, "resolution of the senate," not a senatus consultum. A perfect specimen is given in Letter CCXXIII. This auctoritas was to the effect that no one was to undertake the restoration. See Letter CXIII.