Translated by Evelyn Shuckburgh

To Atticus at RomeEdit

Thessalonica, 17 August 58 BCEdit

On the 13th of August I received four letters from you: one in which you urge me in a tone of reproof to be less weak; a second, in which you say that Crassus's freedman has told you about my anxiety and leanness; a third, in which you describe the proceedings in the senate; a fourth on the subject of Varro's assurances to you as to the friendly feelings of Pompey. To the first my answer is this: though I do grieve, yet I keep all my mental faculties, and it is precisely that which vexes me—I have no opportunity and no one with whom to employ so sound an intellect. For if you cannot find yourself separated from one individual like myself without sorrow, what do you think must be my case, who am deprived both of you and of everyone else? And if you, while still in possession of all your rights, miss me, to what an extent do you think those rights are missed by me? I will not enumerate the things of which I have been despoiled, not only because you are not ignorant of them, but also lest I should reopen my own sorrow. I only assert this, that never did anyone in an unofficial position possess such great advantages, or fall into such great miseries. Moreover, lapse of time not only does not soften this grief, it even enhances it. For other sorrows are softened by age, this one cannot but be daily increased both by my sense of present misery and the recollection of my past life. For it is not only property or friends that I miss, but myself. For what am I? But I will not allow myself either to wring your soul with my complaints, or to place my hands too often on my wounds. For as to your defence of those whom I said had been jealous of me, and among them Cato, I indeed think that lie was so far removed from that crime, that I am above all things sorry that the pretended zeal of others had more influence with me than his honesty. As for your excuses for the others, they ought to be excused in my eyes if they are so in yours. But all this is an old story now. Crassus's freedman, I think, spoke without any real sincerity. In the senate you say that the debate was satisfactory. But what about Curio? Hasn't he read that speech? I can't make out how it got into circulation! But Axius, in describing the proceedings of the same day, does not speak so highly of Curio.[1] But he may be omitting something; I know you have certainly not written anything except what actually occurred. Varro's talk gives me some hope of Caesar, and would that Varro himself would throw himself into the cause! Which he certainly will do both of his own accord and under pressure from you. For myself if fortune ever grants me the enjoyment of you all and of my country I will at least take care that you shall above all the rest of my friends, have cause to be glad and I will so discharge all the duties of affection and friendship, which (to confess the truth) have not heretofore been conspicuous that you shall regard me as restored to yourself as much as to my brother and my children. If I have in any way sinned in my con duct to you, or rather since I have done so pardon me For I have sinned more grievously against myself. And I do not write this to you because I know you not to feel deeply for my misfortune: but certainly if it had been a matter of obligation with you, and had always been so, to love me as much as you do and have done, you would never have allowed me to lack that judgment with which you are so well supplied,[2] nor would you have allowed me to be persuaded that the passing of the bill for the "colleges" was to our advantage.[3] But you did nothing but weep over my sorrow, as though you were my second self. This was indeed a sign of your affection: but what might have been done, if I had earned it at your hands—the spending by you of days and nights in thinking out the Course I ought to have pursued—that was omitted, owing to my own culpable imprudence, not yours. Now if, I don't say you only, but if there had been anyone to urge me, when alarmed at Pompey's ungenerous answer,[4] not to adopt that most degrading course—and you are the person that, above all others, could have done it—I should either have died honourably, or we should have been living today triumphant. In this you must forgive me. For I find much greater fault with myself, and only call you in question afterwards, as at once my second self and the sharer in my error; and, besides, if I am ever restored, our mistake will seem still less in my eyes, and to you at least I shall be endeared by your own kindness, since there is none on my side.[5] There is something in the suggestion you mentioned as having been made in your conversation with Culleo as to a privilegium,[6] but by far the better course is to have the law repealed. For if no one vetoes it, what course can be safer? But if anyone is found to prohibit its passing, he will be equally able to veto a decree of the senate. Nor is there need for the repeal of anything else. For the previous law did not touch me: and if, on its publication, I had chosen to speak in its favour, or to ignore it, as it ought to have been ignored, it could not have done me any harm at all.[7] It was at this point first that my judgment failed to assist me, nay, even did me harm. Blind, blind, I say, was I in laying aside my senator's toga, and in entreating the people; it was a fatal step to take before some attack had been begun upon me by name.[8] But I am harping on the past: it is, however, for the purpose of advising you, if any action is to be taken, not to touch that law, in which there are many provisions in the interests of the people. But it is foolish for me to be laying down rules as to what you are to do and how. I only wish that something may be done! And it is on that point that your letter displays much reserve: I presume, to prevent my being too much agitated by despair. For what action do you see possible to be taken, or in what way? Through the senate? But you yourself told me that Clodius had fixed upon the doorpost of the senate-house a certain clause in the law, "that it might neither be put to the house nor mentioned."[9] How could Domitius,[10] therefore, say that he would bring it before the house? How came it about also that Clodius held his tongue, when those you mention in your letter both spoke on the subject and demanded that a motion should be brought in? But if you go to the people--can it be carried except with the unanimous approval of the tribunes? What about my property? What about my house? Will it be possible to have it restored? Or, if that cannot, how can I be? Unless you see these difficulties on the way to be solved, what is the hope to which you invite me? But if, again, there is no hope, what sort of life is there for me? So I await at Thessalonica the gazette of the proceedings of the 1st of August, in accordance with which I shall decide whether to take refuge on your estate, in order at once to avoid seeing people I don't want to see, to see you, according to your letter, and to be nearer at hand in case of any motion being made (and this I understand is in accordance with your view and that of my brother Quintus), or to depart for Cyzicus. Now, my dear Pomponius, since you imparted to me none of your wisdom in time to save me, either because you had made up your mind that I had judgment enough of my own, or that you owed me nothing beyond being by my side; and since, betrayed, beguiled, and hurried into a snare as I was, I neglected all my defences, abandoned and left Italy, which was everywhere on the qui vive to defend me, and surrendered myself and mine into the hands of enemies while you looked on and said nothing, though, even if you were not my superior in mental power, you were at least in less of a fright: now, if you can, raise the fallen, and in that way assist me But if every avenue is barred, take care that I know that also, and cease at length either to scold me or to offer your kindly-meant consolations. If I had meant to impeach your good faith, I should not have chosen your roof, of all others, to which to trust myself: it is my own folly that I blame for having thought that your love for me was exactly what I could have wished it to be:[11] for if that had been so, you would have displayed the same good faith, but greater circumspection; at least, you would have held me back when plunging headlong into ruin, and would not have had to encounter the labours which you are now enduring in saving the wrecks of my fortunes. Wherefore do be careful to look into, examine thoroughly, and write fully everything that occurs, and resolve (as I am sure you do) that I shall be some one, since I cannot now be the man I was and the man I might have been; and lastly, believe that in this letter it is not you, but myself that I have accused. If there are any people to whom you think that letters ought to be delivered in my name, pray compose them and see them delivered.

17 August.


  1. Or, as Prof. Tyrrell suggests, "does not quote Curio to that effect , I think, however, that Cicero does not use laudo in this sense except in connexion with auctorem, auctores, and even then generally with a sub-sense, at least, of commendation The speech was composed to be delivered against the elder Curio and Clodius (see p 155) but was never delivered. Its personal tone made it dangerous now.
  2. Cicero means that Atticus acted with the emotion spontaneously arising from his affection, but not with the caution which he would have shown in doing a thing which he was under some obligation to do.
  3. The ancient "colleges" or "clubs" had been gradually increasing and a decree of the senate in BC 64 bad declared certain of them unlawful. But Clodius had overridden this decree by a lex early in BC 58, and many new ones were formed, which he used for his political purposes (pro Sest. § 55; Dio, 38.13).
  4. That he could do nothing against the wishes of Caesar (Att. 10.4.3; cp. in Pis. § 77). According to Plutarch, Pompey avoided a personal interview (Cic. 31).
  5. The kindness has been all on the side of Atticus, who will therefore be attached to the object of it—for the benefactor loves more than the benefited.
  6. A privilegium was a law referring to a particular person, which was forbidden by the twelve tables, and if it was shown to be unconstitutional a decree of the senate could declare it void. But Cicero seems to think that such a proceeding of the senate would give a possibility of raising the question afresh.
  7. The first bill named no one, but enacted that "anyone who had put a citizen to death uncondemned should be forbidden fire and water." The second, "that M. Tullius be forbidden fire and water." Cicero says that the former did not touch him, I suppose, because it could not be retrospective. This is in accordance with the view of Caesar, who approved of the law, but said that old sores ought not to be ripped up—ou mên kai prosêkein epi parelêluthosi toiouton tina nomon sungraphesthai (Dio, 38.17).
  8. Because it shewed that he considered himself as coming under the new law.
  9. Letter LXVIII
  10. L. Domitius Ahenobarbus, who was a praetor this year.
  11. Though Cicero uses tantum ... quantum here, he does not mean that Atticus failed to love him enough—that would have been too unreasonable. In a certain way he means that he loved him too much. He allowed his spontaneous feelings full vent, without acting with the cool wisdom which he would have shewn in fulfilling a duty or moral obligation. It is more fully expressed above. Still, it was a difficult thing to say, and he doesn't succeed in making it very clear.