67335Letters to Atticus — 1.16 (XXI)Marcus Tullius Cicero

To Atticus edit

Rome, May 61 BC edit

You ask me what has happened about the trial, the result of which was so contrary to the general expectation, and at the same time you want to know how I came to make a worse fight of it than usual. I will answer the last first, after the manner of Homer.[1] The fact is that, so long as I had to defend the authority of the senate,[2] I battled with such gallantry and vigour that there were shouts of applause and crowds round me in the house ringing with my praise. Nay, if you ever thought that I showed courage in political business, you certainly would have admired my conduct in that cause. For when the culprit had betaken himself to public meetings, and had made an invidious use of my name, immortal gods! What battles! What havoc! What sallies I made upon Piso, Curio, on the whole of that set! How I fell upon the old men for their instability, on the young for their profligacy! Again and again, so help me heaven! I regretted your absence not only as the supporter of my policy, but as the spectator also of my admirable fighting. However, when Hortensius hit on the idea of a law as to the sacrilege being proposed by the tribune Fufius, in which there was no difference from the bill of the consul except as to the kind of jurymen—on that point, however, the whole question turned—and got it carried by sheer fighting, because he had persuaded himself and others that he could not get an acquittal no matter who were the jurymen, I drew in my sails, seeing the neediness of the jurors, and gave no evidence beyond what was so notorious and well attested that I could not omit it.[3] Therefore, if you ask reason of the acquittal—to return at length to the former of the two questions—it was entirely the poverty and low character of the jury. But that this was possible was entirely the result of Hortensius's policy. In his alarm lest Fufius should veto the law which was to be proposed in virtue of a senatorial decree, he failed to see that it was better that the culprit should be left under a cloud of disgrace and dishonour than that he should be trusted to the discretion of a weak jury. But in his passionate resentment he hastened to bring the case into court, saying that a leaden sword was good enough to cut his throat. But if you want to know the history of the trial, with its incredible verdict, it was such that Hortensius's policy is now blamed by other people after the event, though I disapproved of it from the first. When the rejection of jurors had taken place, amidst loud cheers and counter-cheers—the accuser like a strict censor rejecting the most worthless, the defendant like a kind-hearted trainer of gladiators all the best—as soon as the jury had taken their seats, the loyalists at once began to feel distrust. There never was a seedier lot round a table in a gambling hell. Senators under a cloud, equites out at elbows, tribunes who were not so much made of money as "collectors" of it, according to their official title.[4] However, there were a few honest men in the panel, whom he had been unable to drive off it by rejection, and they took their seats among their uncongenial comrades with gloomy looks and signs of emotion, and were keenly disgusted at having to rub elbows with such rascals. Hereupon, as question after question was referred to the panel in the preliminary proceedings, the severity of the decisions passes belief: there was no disagreement in voting, the defendant carried none of his points, while the accuser got even more than he asked. He was triumphant. Need I say more? Hortensius would have it that he was the only one of us who had seen the truth. There was not a man who did not think it impossible for him to stand his trial without being condemned a thousand times over. Further, when I was produced as a witness, I suppose you have been told how the shouts of Clodius's supporters were answered by the jury rising to their feet to gather round me, and openly to offer their throats to P. Clodius in my defence. This seemed to me a greater compliment than the well-known occasion when your fellow citizens[5] stopped Xenocrates from taking an oath in the witness-box, or when, upon the accounts of Metellus Numidicus[6] being as usual handed round, a Roman jury refused to look at them. The compliment paid me, I repeat, was much greater. Accordingly, as the jurymen were protecting me as the mainstay of the country, it was by their voices that the defendant was overwhelmed, and with him all his advocates suffered a crushing blow. Next day my house was visited by as great a throng as that which escorted me home when I laid down the consulship. Our eminent Areopagites then exclaimed that they would not come into court unless a guard was assigned them. The question was put to the whole panel: there was only one vote against the need of a guard. The question is brought before the senate: the decree is passed in the most solemn and laudatory terms : the jurymen are complimented: the magistrates are commissioned to carry it out: no one thought that the fellow would venture on a defence. "Tell me, ye Muses, now how first the fire befell!"[7] You know Bald-head, the Nanneian millionaire,[8] that panegyrist of mine, whose complimentary oration I have already mentioned to you in a letter. In two days' time, by the agency of a single slave, and one, too, from a school of gladiators, he settled the whole business—he summoned them to an interview, made a promise, offered security, paid money down. Still farther, good heavens, what a scandal! even favours from certain ladies, and introductions to young men of rank, were thrown in as a kind of pourboire to some of the jurors. Accordingly, with the loyalists holding completely aloof, with the forum full of slaves, twenty-five jurors were yet found so courageous that, though at the risk of their lives, they preferred even death to producing universal ruin. There were thirty-one who were more influenced by famine than fame. On seeing one of these latter Catulus said to him, "Why did you ask us for a guard? Did you fear being robbed of the money?" There you have, as briefly as I could put it, the nature of the trial and the cause of the acquittal.

Next you want to know the present state of public affairs and of my own. That settlement of the Republic—firmly established by my wisdom, as you thought, as I thought by God's—which seemed fixed on a sure foundation by the unanimity of all loyalists and the influence of my consulship—that I assure you, unless some God take compassion on us, has by this one verdict escaped from our grasp: if "verdict" it is to be called, when thirty of the most worthless and dissolute fellows in Rome for a paltry sum of money obliterate every principle of law and justice, and when that which every man—I had almost said every animal—knows to have taken place, a Thalna, a Plautus, and a Spongia, and other scum of that sort decide not to have taken place. However, to console you as to the state of the Republic, rascaldom is not as cheerful and exultant in its victory as the disloyal hoped after the infliction of such a wound upon the Republic. For they fully expected that when religion, morality, the honour of juries, and the prestige of the senate had sustained such a crushing fall, victorious profligacy and lawless lust would openly exact vengeance from all the best men for the mortification which the strictness of my consulship had branded in upon all the worst. And it is once more I—for I do not feel as if I were boasting vaingloriously when speaking of myself to you, especially in a letter not intended to be read by others—it was I once more, I say, who revived the fainting spirits of the loyalists, cheering and encouraging each personally. Moreover, by my denunciations and invectives against those corrupt jurors I left none of the favourers and supporters of that victory a word to say for themselves. I gave the consul Piso no rest anywhere, I got him deprived of Syria, which had been already plighted to him, I revived the fainting spirit of the senate and recalled it to its former severity. I overwhelmed Clodius in the senate to his face, both in a set speech, very weighty and serious, and also in an interchange of repartees, of which I append a specimen for your delectation. The rest lose all point and grace without the excitement of the contest, or, as you Greeks call it, the agôn. Well, at the meeting of the senate on the 15th of May, being called on for my opinion, I spoke at considerable length on the high interests of the Republic, and brought in the following passage by a happy inspiration: "Do not, Fathers, regard yourselves as fallen utterly, do not faint, because you have received one blow. The wound is one which I cannot disguise, but which I yet feel sure should not be regarded with extreme fear: to fear would show us to be the greatest of cowards, to ignore it the greatest of fools. Lentulus was twice acquitted, so was Catiline, a third such criminal has now been let loose by jurors upon the Republic. You are mistaken, Clodius: it is not for the city but for the prison that the jurors have reserved you, and their intention was not to retain you in the state, but to deprive you of the privilege of exile. Wherefore, Fathers, rouse up all your courage, hold fast to your high calling. There still remains in the Republic the old unanimity of the loyalists: their feelings have been outraged, their resolution has not been weakened: no fresh mischief has been done, only what was actually existing has been discovered. In the trial of one profligate many like him have been detected."—But what am I about? I have copied almost a speech into a letter. I return to the duel of words. Up gets our dandified young gentleman, and throws in my teeth my having been at Baiae. It wasn't true, but what did that matter to him? "It is as though you were to say," replied I, "that I had been in disguise!" "What business," quoth he, "has an Arpinate with hot baths?" "Say that to your patron," said I, "who coveted the watering-place of an Arpinate."[9] For you know about the marine villa. "How long," said he, "are we to put up with this king?" "Do you mention a king," quoth I, "when Rex[10] made no mention of you?" He, you know, had swallowed the inheritance of Rex in anticipation. "You have bought a house," says he. "You would think that he said," quoth I, "you have bought a jury." "They didn't trust you on your oath," said he. "Yes," said I, "twenty-five jurors did trust me, thirty-one didn't trust you, for they took care to get their money beforehand." Here he was overpowered by a burst of applause and broke down without a word to say.

My own position is this: with the loyalists I hold the same place as when you left town, with the tagrag and bobtail of the City I hold a much better one than at your departure. For it does me no harm that my evidence appears not to have availed. Envy has been let blood without causing pain, and even more so from the fact that all the supporters of that flagitious proceeding confess that a perfectly notorious fact has been hushed up by bribing the jury. Besides, the wretched starveling mob, the blood-sucker of the treasury, imagines me to be high in the favour of Magnus—and indeed we have been mutually united by frequent pleasant intercourse to such an extent, that our friends the boon companions of the conspiracy, the young chin-tufts, speak of him in ordinary conversation as Gnaeus Cicero. Accordingly, both in the circus and at the gladiatorial games, I received a remarkable ovation without a single cat-call. There is at present a lively anticipation of the elections, in which, contrary to everybody's wishes, our friend Magnus is pushing the claims of Aulus's son;[11] and in that matter his weapons are neither his prestige nor his popularity, but those by which Philip said that any fortress could be taken—if only an ass laden with gold could make its way up into it. Furthermore, that precious consul, playing as it were second fiddle to Pompey,[12] is said to have undertaken the business and to have bribery agents at his house, which I don't believe. But two decrees have already passed the house of an unpopular character, because they are thought to be directed against the consul on the demand of Cato and Domitius[13]—one that search should be allowed in magistrates' houses, and a second, that all who had bribery agents in their houses were guilty of treason. The tribune Lurco also, having entered on his office irregularly in view of the Aelian law, has been relieved from the provisions both of the Aelian and Fufian laws, in order to enable him to propose his law on bribery, which he promulgated with correct auspices though a cripple.[14] Accordingly, the comitia have been postponed to the 27th of July. There is this novelty in his bill, that a man who has promised money among the tribes, but not paid it, is not liable, but, if he has paid, he is liable for life to pay 3,000 sesterces to each tribe. I remarked that P. Clodius had obeyed this law by anticipation, for he was accustomed to promise, and not pay. But observe! Don't you see that the consulship of which we thought so much, which Curio used of old to call an apotheosis, if this Afranius is elected, will become a mere farce and mockery? Therefore I think one should play the philosopher, as you in fact do, and not care a straw for your consulships!

You say in your letter that you have decided not to go to Asia. For my part I should have preferred your going, and I fear that there may be some offence[15] given in that matter. Nevertheless, I am not the man to blame you, especially considering that I have not gone to a province myself. I shall be quite content with the inscriptions you have placed in your[16] Amaltheium, especially as Thyillus has deserted me and Archias written nothing about me. The latter, I am afraid, having composed a Greek poem on the Luculli, is now turning his attention to the Caecilian drama.[17] I have thanked Antonius on your account, and I have intrusted the letter to Mallius I have heretofore written to you more rarely because I had no one to whom I could trust a letter, and was not sure of your address. I have puffed you well. If Cincius should refer any business of yours to me, I will undertake it. But at present he is more intent on his own business, in which I am rendering him some assistance. If you mean to stay any length of time in one place you may expect frequent letters from me: but pray send even more yourself. I wish you would describe your Amaltheium to me, its decoration and its plan; and send me any poems or stories you may have about Amaltheia.[18] I should like to make a copy of it at Arpinum. I will forward you something of what I have written. At present there is nothing finished.

Footnotes edit

  1. husteron proteron Homêrikôs.
  2. That is, the resolution of the senate, that the consuls should endeavour to get the bill passed.
  3. Cicero deposed to having seen Clodius in Rome three hours after he swore that he was at Interamna (ninety miles off), thus spoiling his alibi.
  4. The difficulty of this sentence is well known. The juries were now made up of three decuriae—senators, equites, and tribuni aerarii. But the exact meaning of tribuni aerarii is not known, beyond the fact that they formed an ordo, coming immediately below the equites. Possibly they were old tribal officers who had the duty of distributing pay or collecting taxes (to which the translation supposes a punning reference), and as such were required to be of a census immediately below that of the equites. I do not profess to be satisfied, but I cannot think that Professor Tyrrell's proposal makes matters much easier—tribuni non tam aerarii, ut appellantur, quam aerati; for his translation of aerati as "bribed" is not better supported, and is a less natural deduction than "moneyed."
  5. I.e., the Athenians. Xenocrates of Calchedon (B.C. 396-314), residing at Athens, is said to have been so trusted that his word was taken as a witness without an oath (Diog. Laert. 4.2.4).
  6. Q Caecilius Numidicus, consul B.C. 109, commanded against Iugurtha. The event referred to in the text is said to have occurred on his trial de repetundis, after his return from a province which he had held as propraetor (Val. Max. II. x. i).
  7. Hom. Il. 16.112-113:

    e(/spete nu=n moi, *mou=sai, *)olu/mpia dw/mat' e)/xousai
    o(/ppws dh\ prw=ton pu=r e)/mpese nhusi\n *)axai/wn.

  8. The reference is to Crassus. But the rest is very dark. The old commentators say that he is here called lex Nanneianis because he made a large sum of money by the property of one Nanneius, who was among those proscribed by Sulla. His calling Crassus his "panegyrist" is explained by Letter XIX.
  9. C. Curio, the elder, defended Clodius. He had bought the villa of Marius (a native of Arpinum) at Baiae.
  10. Q Marcius Rex married a sister of Clodius, and dying, left him no legacy.
  11. L. Afranius.
  12. Reading deterioris histrionis similis, "like an inferior actor."
  13. Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, married to Cato's sister. Consul B.C. 54. A strong aristocrat and vehement opponent of Caesar.
  14. Aufidius Lurco had apparently proposed his law on bribery between the time of the notice of the elections (indictio) and the elections themselves, which was against a provision of the leges Aelia et Fufia. What his breach of the law was in entering on his office originally we do not know: perhaps some neglect of auspices, or his personal deformity.
  15. I.e., to Quintus Cicero, now propraetor in Asia, who apparently wished his brother-in-law to come to Asia in some official capacity.
  16. Some epigrams or inscriptions under a portrait bust of Cicero in the gymnasium of Atticus's villa at Buthrotum. Atticus had a taste for such compositions. See Nepos, Att. 18; Pliny, N. H. 35.11.
  17. Cicero had defended Archias, and Thyillus seems also to have been intimate with him but he says Archias, after complimenting the Luculli by a poem, is now doing the same to the Caecilii Metelli. The "Caecilian drama" is a reference to the old dramatist, Caecilius Statius (ob. B.C. 168).
  18. Of Amaltheia, nurse of Zeus in Crete, there were plenty of legends. Atticus is making in his house something like what Cicero had made in his, and called his academia or gymnasium. That of Atticus was probably also a summer house or study, with garden, fountains, etc., and a shrine or statue of Amaltheia.