Letters to friends/1.7

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To P. Lentulus Spinther in Cilicia[edit]

Rome, October 56 BC[edit]

I have read your letter in which you say that you are obliged for the frequent information I give you about all current events, and for the clear proof you have of my kindness to yourself. The latter—the regarding you with warm affection—it is my duty to do, if I wish to maintain the character which you desired for me; the former it is a pleasure to do, namely, separated as we are by length of space and time, to converse with you as frequently as possible by means of letters. But if this shall occur less frequently than you expect, the reason will be that my letters are of such a kind that I dare not trust them to everybody promiscuously. As often as I get hold of trustworthy persons to whom I may safely deliver them, I will not omit to do so. As to your question about each particular person's loyalty and friendly feelings towards you, it is difficult to speak in regard to individuals. I can venture on this one assertion, which I often hinted to you before, and now write from close observation and knowledge&mdashthat certain persons, and those, above all others, who were most bound and most able to help you, have been exceedingly jealous of your claims: and that, though the point in question is different, your present position is exceedingly like what mine was some time ago in this, that those whom you had attacked on public grounds now openly assail you, while those whose authority, rank, and policy you had defended, are not so much mindful of your kindness as enemies to your reputation. In these circumstances, as I wrote you word before, I perceive that Hortensius is very warmly your friend, Lucullus anxious to serve you: while of the magistrates L. Racilius shews special loyalty and affection. For my taking up the cudgels for you, and advocating your claims, would seem in the eyes of most people to be the measure of my obligation to you rather than of my deliberate opinion. Besides these I am, in fact, not able to bear witness to any one of the consulars shewing zeal or kindness or friendly feeling towards you. For you are aware that Pompey, who is very frequently accustomed, not on my instigation but of his own accord, to confide in me about you, did not often attend the senate during these discussions. It is true your last letter, as I could easily conceive, was very gratifying to him. To me, indeed, your reasonableness, or rather your extreme wisdom, seemed not only charming, but simply admirable. For by that letter you retained your hold on a man of lofty character, who was bound to you by the signal generosity of your conduct towards him, but who was entertaining some suspicions that, owing to the impression prevailing among certain persons as to his own ambitious desires, you were alienated from him. I always thought that he wished to support your reputation, even in that very dubious episode of Caninius's proposal;[1] but when he had read your letter, I could plainly see that he was thinking with his whole soul of you, your honours, and your interests. Wherefore look upon what I am going to write as written after frequent discussions with him, in accordance with his opinion, and with the weight of his authority. It is this: "That, since no senatorial decree exists taking the restoration of the Alexandrine king out of your hands, and since the resolution written out upon that restoration (which, as you are aware, was vetoed) to the effect that no one was to restore the king at all,[2] has rather the weight of a measure adopted by men in anger than of a deliberate decision of the senate—you can yourself see, since you are in possession of Cilicia and Cyprus,[3] what it is within your power to effect and secure; and that, if circumstances seem to make it possible for you to occupy Alexandria and Egypt, it is for your own dignity and that of the empire that, after having first placed the king at Ptolemais or some neighbouring place, you should proceed with fleet and army to Alexandria, in order that, when you have secured it by restoring peace and placing a garrison in it, Ptolemy may go back to his kingdom: thus it will be brought about that he is restored at once by your agency, as the senate originally voted, and without a 'host,' as those who are scrupulous about religion said was the order of the Sibyl."

But though both he and I agreed in this decision, we yet thought that men would judge of your policy by its result: if it turns out as we wish and desire everybody will say that you acted wisely and courageously if any hitch occurs, those same men will say that you acted ambitiously and rashly. Wherefore what you really can do it is not so easy for us to judge as for you who have Egypt almost within sight For us, our view is this if you are certain that you can get possession of that kingdom, you should not delay: if it is doubtful, you should not make the attempt. I can guarantee you this, that, if you succeed, you will be applauded by many while abroad, by all when you return. I see great danger in any failure, on account of the senatorial resolution and the religious scruple that have been introduced into the question. But for me, as I exhort you to snatch at what is certain to bring you credit, so I warn you against running any risks, and I return to what I said at the beginning of my letter—that men will judge all you do, not so much from the policy which prompted it as from its result. But if this method of procedure appears to you to be dangerous, our opinion is that, if the king fulfils his obligations to those of your friends, who throughout your province and sphere of government have lent him money, you should assist him both with troops and supplies: such is the nature and convenient situation of your province, that you either secure his restoration by giving him aid, or hinder it by neglecting to do so. In carrying out this policy you will perceive better and more easily than anyone else what the actual state of affairs, the nature of the case, and the circumstances of the hour admit: what our opinion was I thought that I was the person, above all others, to tell you.

As to your congratulations to myself on my present position, on my intimacy with Milo, on the frivolity and impotency of Clodius—I am not at all surprised that, like a first-rate artist, you take pleasure in the brilliant works of your own hands. However, people's wrong-headedness—I don't like to use a harsher word—surpasses belief; they might have secured me by their sympathy in a cause in which they were all equally interested, yet they have alienated me by their jealousy: for by their carping and most malicious criticisms I must tell you that I have been all but driven from that old political standpoint of mine, so long maintained, not, it is true, so far as to forget my position, but far enough to admit at length some consideration for my personal safety also. Both might have been amply secured if there had been any good faith, any solidity in our consulars : but such is the frivolity of most of them, that they do not so much take pleasure in my political consistency, as offence at my brilliant position. I am the more outspoken in writing this to you, because you lent your support, not only to my present position, which I obtained through you, but also long ago to my reputation and political eminence, when they were, so to speak, but just coming into existence; and at the same time because I see that it was not, as I used formerly to think, my want of curule pedigree that excited prejudice: for I have noticed in your case, one of the noblest of the land, a similar exhibition of base jealousy, and though they did not object to class you among the oblesse, they were unwilling that you should take any higher flight. I rejoice that your fortune has been unlike mine: for there is a great difference between having one's reputation lowered and one's personal safety abandoned to the enemy. In my case it was your noble conduct that prevented me from being too much disgusted with my own; for you secured that men should consider more to have been added to my future glory than had been taken from my present fortune. As for you—instigated both by your kindness to myself and my affection for you, I urge you to use all your care and industry to obtain the full glory, for which you have burned with such generous ardour from boyhood, and never, under anyone's injurious conduct, to bend that high spirit of yours, which I have always admired and always loved. Men have a high opinion of you; they loudly praise your liberality; they vividly remember your consulship. You must surely perceive how much more marked, and how much more prominent these sentiments will be, if backed up by some considerable repute from your province and your government. However, in every administrative act which you have to perform by means of your army and in virtue of your imperium, I would have you reflect on these objects long before you act, prepare yourself with a view to them, turn them over in your mind, train yourself to obtain them, and convince yourself that you can with the greatest ease maintain the highest and most exalted position in the state. This you have always looked for, and I am sure you understand that you have attained it. And that you may not think this exhortation of mine meaningless or adopted without reason, I should explain that the consideration which has moved me to make it was the conviction that you required to be warned by the incidents, which our careers have had in common, to be careful for the rest of your life as to whom to trust and against whom to be on your guard.

As to your question about the state of public affairs—there is the most profound difference of opinion, but the energy is all on one side. For those who are strong in wealth, arms, and material power, appear to me to have scored so great a success from the stupidity and fickleness of their opponents, that they are now the stronger in moral weight as well. Accordingly, with very few to oppose them, they have got everything through the senate, which they never expected to get even by the popular vote without a riot: for a grant for military pay and ten legates have been given to Caesar by decree,[4] and no difficulty has been made of deferring the nomination of his successor, as required by the Sempronian law.[5] I say the less to you on this point because this position of public affairs is no pleasure to me: I mention it, however, in order to urge you to learn, while you can do so without suffering for it, the lesson which I myself, though devoted from boyhood to every kind of reading, yet learnt rather from bitter experience than from study, that we must neither consider our personal safety to the exclusion of our dignity, nor our dignity to the exclusion of our safety.

In your congratulations as to my daughter and Crassipes I am obliged to you for your kindness, and do indeed expect and hope that this connexion may be a source of pleasure to us. Our dear Lentulus, a young man who gives such splendid promise of the highest qualities, be sure you instruct both in those accomplishments which you have yourself ever been forward in pursuing, and also, above all, in the imitation of yourself: he can study in no better school than that. He holds a very high place in my regard and affection, as well because he is yours, as because he is worthy of such a father, and because he is devoted to me, and has always been so.


  1. See Letter XCV.
  2. See Letter CII.
  3. Joined to the province of Cilicia by Cato in B.C. 58-57. What Cicero is recommending is a clear evasion Lentulus is not to take Ptolemy back, but to go to Egypt and make it ready for him.
  4. Cicero says elsewhere that he supported this (pro Balbo, 61; de Prov. Cons. 28; cp. Dio, 39.25).
  5. The law of Gaius Gracchus (B.C. 123) enacting that the senate should name before the elections the provinces to be held by the next consuls.