Letters to his brother Quintus/3.5&6

Translated by Evelyn Shuckburgh

To Q. Tullius Cicero in GaulEdit

Tusculum, October 54 BCEdit

You ask me what I have done about the books which I begun to write when in my Cuman villa: I have not been idle and am not being idle now; but I have frequently changed the whole plan and arrangement of the work. I had already completed two books, in which I represented a conversation taking place on the Novendialia held in the consulship of Tuditanus and Aquilius,[1] between Africanus, shortly before his death, and Laelius, Philus, Manilius, P. Rutilius, Q. Tubero, and Laelius's sons-in-law, Fannius and Scaevola; a conversation which was extended to nine days and the same number of books "On the best Constitution of the State" and "On the best Citizen." The work was excellently composed, and the rank of the speakers added considerable weight to the style. But when these books were read to me in the presence of Sallustius at Tusculum, it was suggested to me by him that a discourse on such subjects would come with much greater force if I were myself the speaker on the Republic, especially as I was a no mere Heraclides Ponticus,[2] but an ex-consul, and one who had been engaged in the most important affairs in the state: that when I put them in the mouth of men of such ancient date they would have an air of unreality: that I had shewn good taste in my books about the science of rhetoric in keeping the dialogue of the orators apart from myself, and yet had attributed it to men whom I had personally seen: and, finally, that Aristotle delivers in the first person his essays "On the Republic" and "On the Eminent Man." I was influenced the more by this from the fact that I was unable to touch on the most important commotions in our state, because they were subsequent to the age of the speakers. Moreover, my express object then was not to offend anyone by launching into the events of my own time: as it is, I shall avoid that and at the same time be the speaker with you. Nevertheless, when I come to Rome I will send you the dialogues as they originally stood. For I fancy that those books will convince you that they have not been abandoned by me without some chagrin.

I am extremely gratified by Caesar's affection of which you write to me. The offers which he holds out I do not much reckon on, nor have I any thirst for honours or longing for glory; and I look forward more to the continuation of his kindness than to the fulfillment of his promises. Still, I live a life so prominent and laborious that I might seem to be expecting the very thing that I deprecate. As to your request that I should compose some verses, you could hardly believe, my dear brother, how short of time I am: nor do I feel much moved in spirit to write poetry on the subject you mention. Do you really come to me for disquisitions on things that I can scarcely conceive even in imagination—you who have distanced everybody in that style of vivid and descriptive writing? Yet I would have done it if I could, but, as you will assuredly not fail to notice, for writing poetry there is need of a certain freshness of mind of which my occupations entirely deprive me. I withdraw myself, it is true, from all political anxiety and devote myself to literature; still, I will hint to you what, by heaven, I specially wished to have concealed from you. It cuts me to the heart, my dearest brother, to the heart, to think that there is no Republic, no law courts, and that my present time of life, which ought to have been in the full bloom of senatorial dignity, is distracted with the labours of the forum or eked out by private studies, and that the object on which from boyhood I had set my heart,

Far to excel, and tower above the crowd,[3]

is entirely gone: that my opponents have in some cases been left unattacked by me, in others even defended: that not only my sympathies, but my very dislikes, are not free: and that Caesar is the one man in the world who has been found to love me to my heart's Content, or even, as others think, the only one who was inclined to do so. However, there is none of all these vexations of such a kind as to be beyond the reach of many daily consolations; but the greatest of consolations will be our being together. As it is, to those other sources of vexation there is added my very deep regret for your absence. If I had defended Gabinius, which Pansa thought I ought to have done, I should have been quite ruined: those who hate him--and that is entire orders—would have begun to hate me for the sake of their hatred for him. I confined myself, as I think with great dignity, to doing only that which all the world saw me do. And to sum up the whole case, I am, as you advise, devoting all my efforts to tranquillity and peace. As to the books: Tyrannio is a slow-coach: I will speak to Chrysippus, but it is a laborious business and requires a man of the utmost industry. I find it in my own case, for, though I am as diligent as possible, I get nothing done. As to the Latin books, I don't know which way to turn—they are copied and exposed for sale with such a quantity of errors! However, whatever can possibly be done I will not neglect to do. Gaius Rebilus, as I wrote to you before, is at Rome. He solemnly affirms his great obligations to you, and reports well of your health.[4] I think the question of the treasury was settled in my absence. When you speak of having finished four tragedies in sixteen days, I presume you are borrowing from some one else? And do you deign to be indebted to others after writing the Electra and the Troades? Don't be idle; and don't think the proverbial gnôthi seauton was only meant to discourage vanity: it means also that we should be aware of our own qualities. But pray send me these tragedies as well as the Erigona. I have now answered your last two letters.


  1. 129 BC. The Novendialia was a nine days' festival on the occasion of some special evil omens or prodigies; for an instance (in 202 BC), see Livy, 30, 38. The book referred to is that "On the Republic."
  2. i.e., a mere theorist like Heraclides Ponticus, a pupil of Plato's, whose work "On Constitutions" still exists.
  3. Hom. 51.6.208.
  4. Reading qui omnia adiurat debere tibi et te valere renuntiat. The text, however, is corrupt.