Letters to Atticus/4.6

Translated by Evelyn Shuckburgh

To Atticus at RomeEdit

The country, April-May 56 BCEdit

Of course I am as sorry about Lentulus as I am bound to be: we have lost a good patriot and a great man, one who to great strength of character united a culture equally profound. My consolation is a miserable one, but still it is a consolation—that I do not grieve on his account: I don't mean in the sense of Saufeius and your Epicurean friends, but, by Hercules, because he loved his country so deeply, that he seems to me to have been snatched away by a special favour of providence from its conflagration. For what could be more humiliating than the life we are living, especially mine? For as to yourself, though by nature a politician, you have yet avoided having any servitude peculiar to yourself: you merely come under an appellation common to us all.[1] But!; who, if I say what I ought about the Republic, am looked on as mad, if what expediency dictates, as a slave, and if I say nothing, as utterly crushed and helpless—what must I be suffering? Suffer, indeed, I do, and all the more keenly that I cannot even shew my pain without appearing ungrateful. Again: what if I should choose a life of inactivity and take refuge in the harbour of retired leisure? Impossible! Rather war and the camp Am I to serve in the ranks after refusing to be a general? I suppose I must. For I perceive you, too, think so, you whom I wish that I had always obeyed. All that is left to me now is, "You have drawn Sparta: make the best of it!" But, by heavens, I can't: and I feel for Philoxenus,[2] who preferred a return to jail. However, in my present retirement I am thinking over how to express my rejection of the old policy, and when we meet you will strengthen me in it.

I notice that you have written to me at frequent intervals, but I received all the letters at once. This circumstance increased my grief. For I had read three to begin with, in which the report of Lentulus was that he was a little better. Then came the thunderbolt of the fourth. But it is not he, as I said, who is to be pitied, but we who are so callous as to live on.[3] You remind me to write that essay on Hortensius: I have digressed into other subjects, but have not forgotten your charge. But, by heaven, at the first line I shrank from the task, lest I, who seem to have acted foolishly in resenting foolishly rendering his injurious treatment of me conspicuous, his intemperate conduct as a friend, should once more be if I wrote anything; and at the same time lest my high morale, manifested in my actions, should be somewhat obscured in my writing, and this mode of taking satisfaction should seem to imply a certain instability. But we shall see. Only be sure to write me something as often as possible. I sent a letter to Lucceius asking him to write the history of my consulship: be sure you get it from him, for it is a very pretty bit of writing, and urge him to use despatch, and thank him for having written me an answer saying that he would do so. Go and see my house as often as you can. Say something to Vestorius:[4] for he is acting very liberally in regard to me.


  1. Reading communi fueris nomine. After all, the meaning is very doubtful.
  2. Philoxenus, who, having been sent to the quarries by Dionysius of Syracuse, for criticising the tyrant's poetry, was given another chance. After reading a few lines he turned away silently. "Where are you going?" said Dionysius. "Back to the quarries," said Philoxenus. For Spartan elaches, tautên kosmei, see Author:Marcus Tullius Cicero/Letters/XXV\XXV.
  3. Ferrei. The true meaning of the word here seems to me to be shewn by de Am. 87, quis tam esset ferreus, qui eam vitam ferre posset, cuique non auferret fructum voluptatum omnium solitudo? There is an intentional play on the words ferreus and ferre. Others have altered it to servi, and others have explained it as an allusion to the iron age, in both cases spoiling the antithesis—he died, we remain—and in the latter using the word in a sense not elsewhere found. Lentulus is L. Cornelius Lentulus. See Letter L.
  4. A money-lender.