Cicero,   On the Republic

-   Book 1 , 1-37

Translated by C.W.Keyes (1928). The Latin text has survived mostly in a palimpsest, discovered in 1819, and because there is no complete manuscript, there are frequent gaps in the text. Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each section. Click on ** to go to the translator's footnotes.

{ The equivalent of about ten pages is lost at the beginning. Our manuscript commences in the midst of Cicero's preface to the dialogue: at this point he is evidently combating the Epicurean hostility to patriotism and the life of a statesman. }  

{1.} [1] L   [Without active patriotism ] ** .... could [never] have delivered [our native land] from attack, nor could Gaius Duelius, Aulus Atilius, or Lucius Metellus have freed [Rome] from her fear of Carthage, nor could the two Scipios ** have extinguished  with their blood the rising flames of the Second Punic War, nor, when it broke forth again with greater fury, could Quintus Maximus ** have reduced it to impotence or Marcus Marcellus have crushed it, nor could Publius Africanus ** have torn it from the gates of this city and driven it within the enemy's walls.     

Marcus Cato again, unknown and of obscure birth ** - by whom, as by a pattern for our emulation, all of us who are devoted to the same pursuits are drawn to diligence and valour - might surely have remained at Tusculum in the enjoyment of the leisurely life of that healthful spot so near to Rome. But he, a madman as our friends ** maintain, preferred, though no necessity constrained him, to be tossed by the billows and storms of our public life even to an extreme old age, rather than to live a life of complete happiness in the calm and ease of such retirement. I will not speak of the men, countless in number, who have each been the salvation of this republic; and as their lives do not much antedate the remembrance of the present generation, I will refrain from mentioning their names, lest someone complain of the omission of himself or some member of his family. I will content myself with asserting that Nature has implanted in the human race so great a need of virtue and so great a desire to defend the common safety that the strength thereof has conquered all the allurements of pleasure and ease.   

{2.} [2] But it is not enough to possess virtue, as if it were an art of some sort, unless you make use of it. Though it is true that an art, even if you never use it, can still remain in your possession by the very fact of your knowledge of it, yet the existence of virtue depends entirely upon its use , and its noblest use is the government of the State, and the realisation in fact, not in words, of those very things that the philosophers, in their corners, are continually dinning in our ears. For there is no principle enunciated by the philosophers - at least none that is just and honourable - that has not been discovered and established by those who have drawn up codes of law for States. For whence comes our sense of duty? From whom do we obtain the principles of religion ? Whence comes the law of nations, or even that law of ours which is called " civil " ? ** Whence justice, honour, fair-dealing? Whence decency, self-restraint, fear of disgrace, eagerness for praise and honour ? Whence comes endurance amid toils and dangers ? I say, from those men who, when these things had been inculcated by a system of training, either confirmed them by custom or else enforced them by statutes. [3] L   Indeed Xenocrates, one of the most eminent of philosophers, when asked what his disciples learned, is said to have replied, "To do of their own accord what they are compelled to do by the law." Therefore the citizen who compels all men, by the authority of magistrates and the penalties imposed by law, to follow rules of whose validity philosophers find it hard to convince even a few by their admonitions, must be considered superior even to the teachers who enunciate these principles. For what speech of theirs is excellent enough to be preferred to a State well provided with law and custom? Indeed, just as I think that "cities great and dominant," ** as Ennius calls them, are to be ranked above small villages and strongholds, so I believe that those who rule such cities by wise counsel and authority are to be deemed far superior, even in wisdom, to those who take no part at all in the business of government. And since we feel a mighty urge to increase the resources of mankind, since we desire to make human life safer and richer by our thought and effort, and are goaded on to the fulfilment of this desire by Nature herself, let us hold to the course which has ever been that of all excellent men, turning deaf ears to those who, in the hope of even recalling those who have already gone ahead, are sounding the retreat.   

{3.} [4] As their first objection to these arguments, so well founded and so obviously sound, those who attack them plead the severity of the labour that must be performed in the defence of the State - surely a trifling obstacle to the watchful and diligent man, and one that merits only scorn, not merely with reference to matters of such moment, but even in the case of things of only moderate importance, such as a man's studies, or duties, or even his business affairs. Then too they allege the danger to which life is exposed, and confront brave men with a dishonourable fear of death, yet such men are wont to regard it a greater misfortune to be consumed by the processes of Nature and old age, than to be granted the opportunity of surrendering for their country's sake, in preference to all else, that life which in any event must be surrendered to Nature. On this point, however, the objectors wax wordy and, as they imagine, eloquent, going on to cite the misfortunes of eminent men and the wrongs they have suffered at the hands of their ungrateful fellow-citizens. [5] L   For at this point they enumerate, first the famous illustrations taken from Greek history - the story of Miltiades, vanquisher and conqueror of the Persians, who, before the wounds had yet healed which he had received full in the front on the occasion of his glorious victory, was cast into chains by his own fellow-countrymen, and at their hands lost the life which the enemy's weapons had spared; and that of Themistocles, who, when driven in terror from his country, the land which he had set free, took refuge, not in the harbours of Greece, saved by his prowess, but in the recesses of the barbarian land which he had laid prostrate. Indeed there is no lack of instances of the fickleness and cruelty of Athens toward her most eminent citizens, and this vice, originating and spreading there, has, they say, overflowed even into our own powerful republic. [6] For we are reminded of the exile of  Camillus, the disgrace suffered by Ahala, the hatred directed against Nasica, the exile of Laenas, the condemnation of Opimius, the flight of Metellus, the bitter disaster to Gaius Marius, and, a little later, the slaughter and ruin of so many eminent men. ** In fact they now include my name also, and presumably because they think it was through my counsel and at my risk that their own peaceful life has been preserved to them, they complain even more bitterly and with greater kindness of the treatment I have received. But I find it difficult to say why, when these very men cross the seas merely to gain knowledge and to visit other countries , ** [they should expect us to be deterred by considerations of danger from the much more important task of defending our native land. For if the philosophers are repaid for the dangers of travel by the knowledge they gain thereby, statesmen surely win a much greater reward in the gratitude of their fellow-citizens. {4.} [7] L   Few may have imagined, in view of all I had suffered, that when,] as I retired from the consulship, I took my oath before an assembly of the people, and the Roman people took the same oath, that the republic was safe ** [as a result of my efforts alone,] I was amply repaid thereby for all the anxiety and vexation that resulted from the injustice done to me. And yet my sufferings brought me more honour than trouble, more glory than vexation, and the joy I found in the affectionate longing felt for me by good citizens ** was greater than my grief at the exultation of the wicked. But, as I said before, if it had happened otherwise, how could I complain? For none of the misfortunes that fell to my lot in consequence of my great services was unexpected by me or more serious than I had foreseen. For such was my nature that, although, on account of the manifold pleasures I found in the studies which had engaged me from boyhood, it would have been possible for me, on the one hand, to reap greater profit from a quiet life than other men, or, on the other hand, if any disaster should happen to us all, to suffer no more than my fair share of the common misfortune, yet I could not hesitate to expose myself to the severest storms, and, I might almost say, even to thunderbolts, for the sake of the safety of my fellow-citizens, and to secure, at the cost of my own personal danger, a quiet life for all the rest. [8] For, in truth, our country has not given us birth and education without expecting to receive some sustenance, as it were, from us in return ; nor has it been merely to serve our convenience that she has granted to our leisure a safe refuge and for our moments of repose a calm retreat ; on the contrary, she has given us these advantages so that she may appropriate to her own use the greater and more important part of our courage, our talents, and our wisdom, leaving to us for our own private uses only so much as may be left after her needs have been satisfied. **  

{5.} [9] L   Moreover we ought certainly not to listen to the other excuses to which these men resort, that they may be more free to enjoy the quiet life. They say, for example, that it is mostly worthless men who take part in politics, men with whom it is degrading to be compared, while to have conflict with them, especially when the mob is aroused, is a wretched and dangerous task. Therefore, they maintain, a wise man should not attempt to take the reins, as he cannot restrain the insane and untamed fury of the common herd, nor is it proper for a freeman, by contending with vile and wicked opponents, to submit to the scourgings of abuse or expose himself to wrongs which are intolerable to the wise - as if, in the view of good, brave, and high-minded men, there could be any nobler motive for entering public life than the resolution, not to be ruled by wicked men and not to allow the republic to be destroyed by them, seeing that the philosophers themselves, even if they should desire to help, would be impotent.   

{6.} [10] And who in the world can approve of the single exception they make, when they say that no wise man will take any part in public affairs unless some emergency compels him to do so ? As if any greater emergency could come upon anyone than that with which I was confronted ; and what could I have done in that crisis unless I had been consul at the time? And how could I have been consul unless I had held to a manner of life from my boyhood which led me to the highest office of State in spite of my equestrian birth ? Hence it is clear that the opportunity of serving the State, however great be the dangers with which it is threatened, does not come suddenly, or when we wish it, unless we are in such a position that it is possible for us to take action. [11] L   It has always seemed to me that the most amazing of the teachings of learned men is that they deny their own ability to steer when the sea is calm, having never learned the art nor cared to know it, while at the same time they assure us that, when the waves dash highest, they will take the helm. For it is their habit to proclaim openly, and even to make it their great boast, that they have neither learned nor do they teach anything about the principles of the State, either to establish it or to safeguard it, and that they consider the knowledge of such things unsuited to learned or wise men, but better to be left to those who have trained themselves in that business. How can it be reasonable, therefore, for them to promise to aid the State in case they are compelled by an emergency to do so, when they do not know how to rule the State when no emergency threatens it, though this is a much easier task than the other ? Indeed, if it be true that the wise man does not, as a general thing, willingly descend from his lofty heights to statecraft, but does not decline the duty if conditions force him to assume it, yet I should think he ought by no means to neglect this science of politics, because it is his duty to acquire in advance all the knowledge that, for aught he knows, it may be necessary for him to use at some future time   

{7.} [12] I have treated these matters at considerable length because I have planned and undertaken in this work a discussion of the State ; hence, in order that this discussion might not be valueless, I had, in the first place, to remove all grounds for hesitation about taking part in public affairs. Yet if there be any who are influenced by the authority of philosophers, let them for a few moments listen and attend to those whose authority and reputation stand highest among learned men ; for even if these have not governed the State themselves, nevertheless, since they have dealt with the State in many investigations and treatises, I consider that they have performed a certain function of their own in the State. And in fact I note that nearly every one of those Seven whom the Greeks called "wise" took an important part in the affairs of government. For there is really no other occupation in which human virtue approaches more closely the august function of the gods than that of founding new States or preserving those already in existence.   

{8.} [13] L   Wherefore, since it is my good fortune to have accomplished, in the actual government of the republic, something worthy to live in men's memories, and also to have acquired some skill in setting forth political principles through practice and also by reason of my enthusiasm for learning and teaching, [I consider myself not unsuited to the task I have now undertaken ; for, as a matter of fact, this combination of accomplishments is rare among those who are considered] authorities [on statecraft], since while certain men in former times have shown great skill in theoretical discussion, they are discovered to have accomplished nothing practical, and there have been others who have been efficient in action, but clumsy in exposition. Indeed the principles I am about to state are not at all new or original to myself, but it is my intention to recall a discussion carried on by men who were at a certain period the most eminent and wisest in our republic. This discussion was once reported to you, ** in your youth, and to me by Publius Rutilius Rufus, when we were spending several days together at Smyrna, in it, I believe, very little is omitted that would contribute greatly to a logical exposition of the whole subject.   

{9.} [14] In the year when Tuditanus and Aquilius were consuls, ** Publius Africanus, ** the son of Paulus, decided to spend the Latin holidays ** at his country seat, and a considerable number of his most intimate friends stated their intention of visiting him during that period. Early in the morning of the holiday itself, his nephew, Quintus Tubero, arrived in advance of all the rest. Scipio greeted him cordially, for he was truly glad to see him, and then asked: Why are you here so early, Tubero? For these holidays would certainly have provided you with an excellent opportunity for pursuing your literary studies.   

Tubero. My books are at home to me at any time, for they are never busy, but it is a very great privilege to find you at leisure, especially at this time of political unrest   

Scipio. Yes, you have found me at leisure, but less so in mind than in occupation   

Tubero. Yet it is your duty to relax your mind also. For a large number of us are prepared, as we have decided, to spend this time of leisure with you, if it suits your convenience.   

Scipio. I shall be delighted, for at last we shall have an opportunity for the discussion of instructive topics   

{10.} [15] L   Tubero. Well, then, Africanus, since you give me a sort of invitation, and encourage me in my hope regarding yourself, shall we not first inquire, before the others arrive, what the facts are in regard to that second sun that has been reported to the senate ? For those who claim to have seen two suns are neither few nor untrustworthy, so that we must rather explain the fact than disbelieve it.   

Scipio. How I wish our friend Panaetius were with us ! For it is his habit to make careful investigation of such celestial phenomena, as well as of other matters. But, Tubero, to give you my frank opinion, I do not entirely approve of our friend's habit in all matters of this kind : in dealing with things of whose nature we can hardly get an inkling by conjecture, he speaks with such assurance that one would think that he could see them with his own eyes or actually touch them with his hands. I always consider Socrates to have shown greater wisdom in refusing to take any interest in such matters and maintaining that the problems of natural phenomena were either too difficult for the human understanding to fathom or else were of no importance whatever to human life. **  

[16] Tubero. I cannot understand, Africanus, why the tradition has been handed down that Socrates refused to indulge in any discussions of that character, and confined himself to the study of human life and human morals. For what more trustworthy authority on Socrates can we cite than Plato ? And in many passages of Plato's works Socrates, in the midst of his discussions of morals, of the virtues, and even of the State, makes it clear by what he says that he desires to combine with these subjects the consideration of arithmetic, geometry, and harmony, following the methods of Pythagoras.  

Scipio. What you say is quite true, Tubero, but I suppose you have heard that, after Socrates' death, Plato went on journeys, first to Egypt for purposes of study, and later to Italy and Sicily ** in order to become acquainted with the discoveries of Pythagoras; and that he spent a great deal of time in the company of Archytas of Tarentum and Timaeus of Locri, and also got possession of Philolaus' notes. And, as Pythagoras' reputation was then great in that country, he devoted himself entirely to that teacher's disciples and doctrines. And so, as he loved Sociates with singular affection and wished to give him credit for everything, he interwove Socrates' charm and subtlety in argument with the obscurity and ponderous learning of Pythagoras in so many branches of knowledge.  

{11.} [17] L   After this speech, Scipio noticed Lucius Furius Philus coming in unannounced, and after greeting him with the greatest cordiality, he took his hand and led him to a place on his own couch. Publius Rutilius, who later reported the conversation to us, came in at the same time, received Scipio's greeting, and was given a place beside Tubero.   

Philus. What are you discussing ? I hope our arrival has not interrupted your conversation.   

Scipio. Certainly not, for the point which Tubero began to inquire into a short time ago belongs to the very class of subjects which you are always interested in investigating. As for our friend Rutilius, he used to discuss such topics with me occasionally, even under the very walls of Numantia.   

Philus. What was this particular subject?   

Scipio. Those two suns, Philus, and I am anxious to hear your opinion of them.   

{12.} [18] No sooner had he said this than a servant announced that Laelius was coming, and had already left his house. Whereupon Scipio dressed and put on his shoes, and, leaving his bed-chamber, walked in the portico for a little while. On Laelius' arrival, he greeted him and those who had come with him - Spurius Mummius, of whom he was very fond, Gaius Fannius, and Quintus Scaevola, Laelius' sons-in-law, who were young men of excellent education, and had now reached the appropriate age for the quaestorship. ** After all these salutations he turned about in the portico, giving Laelius the place in the centre ; for there was a kind of rule in their friendship, according to which Laelius honoured Scipio like a god in the field, on account of his unexcelled glory in war, while at home Scipio in his turn revered Laelius like a father, on account of his greater age. Then after they had conversed for a short time while walking up and down, Scipio, who had been greatly pleased and delighted at their arrival, thought it best that they should seat themselves in the sunniest part of the lawn, as it was winter. They were quite willing, and just then Manius Manilius came in, a man of good sense, who was agreeable to the whole company and beloved by them. After receiving a friendly greeting from Scipio and the rest, he sat down beside Laelius.   

{13.} [19] L   Philus. I do not see why we should change the subject of our conversation because these friends have come in, but I think we must treat it more carefully, and be sure our remarks are worth their attention.   

Laelius. What were you discussing ? What sort of conversation was it that we have interrupted ?   

Philus. Scipio had just asked me what I thought of the generally admitted fact that two suns have been seen.   

Laelius. Do you really think then, Philus, that we have already acquired a perfect knowledge of those matters that relate to our own homes and to the State, since we are now seeking to learn what is going on in the heavens ?   

Philus. Do you not think it important for our homes that we should know what is happening and being done in that home which is not shut in by the walls we build, but is the whole universe, a home and a fatherland which the gods have given us the privilege of sharing with them? Surely it is important, especially since, if we are ignorant of these matters, we must remain ignorant of many other important things. Besides, the mere learning about the facts of nature and their investigation gives me at least the greatest pleasure, as it certainly must to you also, Laelius, and to all who are eager for wisdom.   

[20] Laelius. I have no objection to the topic, especially as this is a holiday. But are we to hear some discussion of it, or have we come too late ?   

Philus. There has been no discussion as yet, and, since we have not begun, I should be pleased to yield to you, Laelius, so that you may give us your opinion on the subject.  

Laelius. On the contrary, let us hear yours, unless perhaps Manilius thinks that a provisional edict ought to be issued embodying a compromise between the two suns, whereby "they shall have and hold the sky in such manner that they shall both in common have and hold it."   

Manilius. Laelius, are you still mocking at that art ** in which you are so proficient yourself, and without which no one can know what belongs to him and what does not ? However, we can discuss that later, let us at present listen to Philus, who is already being consulted, I see, about matters of greater import than those on which Publius Mucius or I are asked for our opinions.   

{14.} [21] L   Philus. I have nothing new to bring before you, nor anything that I have thought out or discovered by myself. For I remember an incident in the life of Gaius Sulpicius Gallus, a most learned man, as you know : at a time when a similar phenomenon was reported, and he happened to be at the house of Marcus Marcellus, his colleague in the consulship , ** he ordered the celestial globe to be brought out which the grandfather of Marcellus had carried off from Syracuse, when that very rich and beautiful city was taken , ** though he took home with him nothing else out of the great store of booty captured. Though I had heard this globe mentioned quite frequently on account of the fame of Archimedes, when I actually saw it I did not particularly admire it ; for that other celestial globe, also constructed by Archimedes, which the same Marcellus placed in the temple of Virtue, is more beautiful as well as more widely known among the people. ** [22] But when Gallus began to give a very learned explanation of the device, I concluded that the famous Sicilian had been endowed with greater genius than one would imagine it possible for a human being to possess. For Gallus told us that the other kind of celestial globe, which was solid and contained no hollow space, was a very early invention, the first one of that kind having been constructed by Thales of Miletus, and later marked by Eudoxus of Cnidus (a disciple of Plato, it was claimed) with the constellations and stars which are fixed in the sky. He also said that many years later Aratus, borrowing this whole arrangement and plan from Eudoxus, had described it in verse, without any knowledge of astronomy, but with considerable poetic talent. ** But this newer kind of globe, he said, on which were delineated the motions of the sun and moon and of those five stars which are called wanderers, or, as we might say, rovers, ** contained more than could be shown on the solid globe, and the invention of Archimedes deserved special admiration because he had thought out a way to represent accurately by a single device for turning the globe those various and divergent movements with their different rates of speed. And when Gallus moved the globe, it was actually true that the moon was always as many revolutions behind the sun on the bronze contrivance as would agree with the number of days it was behind it in the sky. Thus the same eclipse of the sun happened on the globe as would actually happen, and the moon came to the point where the shadow of the earth was at the very time when the sun . . . out of the region . . .   

{ About two and a half pages appear to be lost. At the end of the gap, Scipio is speaking of Gaius Sulpicius Gallus. }  

{15.} [23] L   Scipio. . . . for I myself loved the man, and I was aware that he was also greatly esteemed and beloved by my father Paulus. For in my early youth, when my father, then consul, was in Macedonia, and I was in camp with him, I recollect that our army was on one occasion disturbed by superstitious fears because, on a cloudless night, a bright full moon was suddenly darkened. Gallus was at that time ** our legate (it being then about a year before his election to the consulship), and on the next day he unhesitatingly made a public statement in the camp that this was no miracle, but that it had happened at that time, and would always happen, at fixed times in the future, when the sun was in such a position that its light could not reach the moon.   

Tubero. Do you really mean to say that he could convince men who were little more than simple peasants of such a thing, or that he dared even to state it before the ignorant ?   

Scipio. He certainly did, and with great . . .   

{ About fifteen lines appear to be lost. There is no change of subject. }    

[24] . . . for his speech showed no conceited desire to display his knowledge, nor was it unsuitable to the character of a man of the greatest dignity ; in fact, he accomplished a very important result in relieving the troubled minds of the soldiers from foolish superstitious fear.    

{16.} [25] L   And a similar story is told of an event in that great war in which the Athenians and Lacedaemonians contended so fiercely. ** For when the sun was suddenly obscured and darkness reigned, ** and the Athenians were overwhelmed with the greatest terror, Pericles, who was then supreme among his countrymen in influence, eloquence, and wisdom, is said to have communicated to his fellow-citizens the information he had received from Anaxagoras, whose pupil he had been - that this phenomenon occurs at fixed periods and by inevitable law, whenever the moon passes entirely beneath the orb of the sun, ** and that therefore, though it does not happen at every new moon, it cannot happen except at certain periods of the new moon. When he had discussed the subject and given the explanation of the phenomenon, the people were freed of their fears. For at that time it was a strange and unfamiliar idea that the sun was regularly eclipsed by the interposition of the moon - a fact which Thales of Miletus is said to have been the first to observe. But later even our own Ennius was not ignorant of it, for he wrote that, in about the three hundred and fiftieth year ** after Rome was founded :   
    In the month of June - the day was then the fifth - 
    The moon and night obscured the shining sun. **   

And now so much exact knowledge in regard to this matter has been gained that, by the use of the date recorded by Ennius and in the Great Annals, ** the dates of previous eclipses of the sun have been reckoned, all the way back to that which occurred on July fifth in the reign of Romulus. For even though, during the darkness of that eclipse, Nature carried Romulus away to man's inevitable end, yet the story is that it was his merit that caused his translation to heaven. **  

{17.} [26] Tubero. Do you see, Africanus, that what you had a different opinion of a short time ago . . .   

{ About fifteen lines are lost. }   

Scipio. . . . things which others may see. Furthermore how can any man regard anything in human affairs either as exalted, if he has examined into yonder realms of the gods, or as of long duration, if he has realized the meaning of eternity, or as glorious, if he has perceived how small is the earth - not only the earth as a whole, but especially that part of it which is inhabited by man - and has noticed how we Romans, though confined to a scanty portion of it and entirely unknown to many races of men, hope nevertheless that our name will be borne abroad on wings and will spread to the ends of the earth ? [27] L   But as far as our lands, houses, herds, and immense stores of silver and gold are concerned, the man who never thinks of these things or speaks of them as "goods," because he sees that the enjoyment of them is slight, then usefulness scanty, their ownership uncertain, and has noticed that the vilest of men often possess them in unmeasured abundance - how fortunate is he to be esteemed ! For only such a man can really claim all things as his own, by virtue of the decision, not of the Roman People, but of the wise, not by any obligation of the civil law, but by the common law of Nature, which forbids that anything shall belong to any man save to him that knows how to employ and to use it; only such a man will consider that our military commands and consulships are to be classed among things necessary rather than things desirable, and that they are to be undertaken from a sense of duty and not sought for profit or glory , ** only such a man, finally, can say of himself what my grandfather Africanus used to say, according to Cato's account ** - that he was never doing more than when he was doing nothing, and never less alone than when alone. [28] For who can really believe that Dionysius, when by the greatest exertions he deprived his fellow-citizens of their liberty, was doing more than Archimedes, one of those citizens, when he made that very globe of which we have spoken, in making which he appeared to be doing nothing ? And who does not believe that those are more alone who, though in the crowded forum, have no one with whom they care to talk, than those who, when no one else is present, either commune with themselves or, as we may say, participate in a gathering of most learned men, finding delight in their discoveries and writings ? Who in truth would consider anyone richer than the man who lacks nothing that his nature requires, or more powerful than one who gams all he strives for, or happier than one who is set free from all perturbation of mind, or more secure in his wealth than one who possesses only what, as the saying goes, he can carry away with him out of a shipwreck ? What power, moreover, what office, what kingdom can be preferable to the state of one who despises all human possessions, considers them inferior to wisdom, and never meditates on any subject that is not eternal and divine, who believes that, though others may be called men, only those are men who are perfected in the arts appropriate to humanity ? In this connection the remark made by Plato, or perhaps someone else, ** seems to me particularly apt. [29] L   For when a storm at sea had driven him to an unknown land and stranded him on a deserted shore, and his companions were frightened on account of their ignorance of the country, he, according to the story, noticed certain geometrical figures traced in the sand, and immediately cried out, "Be of good courage ; I see the tracks of men." He drew his inference, evidently, not from the cultivation of the soil, which he also observed, but from the indications of learning. For these reasons, Tubero, I have always delighted in learning, in men of erudition, and in such studies as those which you pursue.   

{18.} [30] Laelius. In regard to these arguments, Scipio, I dare not say that either you or Philus or Manilius ... to such an extent . . .   

{ About fifteen lines are lost, in which Laelius evidently says that, while he has no desire to disparage abstract learning, it ought not to interfere with the practical duties of a public man. }    

Laelius. . . . that friend of ours belonged to his father's family, and was worthy of his emulation.   
    Sagacious Aelius Sextus, a man most wise, **  

who was really most wise and sagacious, and was called so by Ennius, not because he sought what he could never find, but because he gave counsel which freed his clients from trouble and anxiety And when he was arguing against the favourite studies of Gallus, he always had on his lips those famous words of Achilles in the Iphigenia , **   
    The astral signs that are observed above, 
    When goat or scorpion of Jove arise, 
    Or other beasts ; all gaze intent thereon, 
    Nor ever see what lies before their feet !   

Yet this same man used to say (for I have often listened to him, and with pleasure) that the Zethus of Pacuvius ** was too hostile to culture ; the Neoptolemus of Ennius was more to his taste in saying that he desired "to study philosophy, but in moderation ; for he did not approve of doing so entirely." ** But if the studies which occupied the Greeks attract you so powerfully, there are others, of a more free character and of wider range, which we can employ either for the conduct of our own lives or even for the service of the State. As for those arts of yours, if for anything at all, they are valuable only to sharpen somewhat and, we may say, stir up the faculties of the young, so that they find it easier to learn things of greater importance   

{19.} [31] L   Tubero. I do not disagree with you, Laelius, but I should like to know what those things are which you consider of greater importance.   

Laelius. I will tell you, to be sure, and perchance you may scorn my opinion, since it was you who inquired of Scipio about those celestial matters. Nevertheless, I should consider those things which are directly before our own eyes more worthy of investigation. For why is it that the grandson ** of Lucius Paulus, the nephew of our friend here, a scion of a most worthy family and of this most glorious republic, is asking how two suns could have been seen, instead of asking why, in one State, we have almost reached the point where there are two senates and two separate peoples ? For, as you observe, the death of Tiberius Gracchus, and, even before his death, the whole character of his tribunate, divided one people into two factions. And in fact Scipio's slanderers and enemies, at first led by Publius Crassus and Appius Claudius, even now that those men are dead keep a part of the senate in opposition to you under the leadership of Metellus and Publius Mucius ; and these men will not allow our friend here, who is the only man able to do so, to help us in our present dangerous emergency, though our allies and the Latins are roused against us, treaties have been broken, seditious triumvirs are plotting some new villainy daily, and our good citizens are in despair. ** [32] For these reasons, young gentlemen, if you will listen to me, you will not be alarmed by the second sun (for either no such thing can really exist, or else let it exist, since it has been seen, provided it does us no harm ; and we are either unable to learn anything at all about such matters, or else, even if we do learn all there is to know, we can never become better or happier through such knowledge), but as to our having a united senate and people, it is possible, and unless it is brought about, we shall have serious trouble, we know and observe that the situation is far from being as it should be, and that, if this can be brought about, our lives will be better and happier.   

{20.} [33] L   Mucius. What knowledge then, Laelius, do you think we ought to acquire, in order to be able to accomplish the result you demand of us ?   

Laelius. The knowledge of those arts which can make us useful to the State , for I consider this the noblest function of wisdom, and the highest duty of virtue as well as the best proof of its possession. Therefore, in order that these holidays may be devoted to discussions which, beyond any other object, are highly useful to the State, let us ask Scipio to tell us which form of government he considers the best. After that we will investigate other subjects, the knowledge of which will, I hope, lead us at the same time to the consideration of the present situation and to an understanding of what now lies before us.   

{21.} [34] When Philus, Manilius, and Mummius had expressed their enthusiastic approval of this suggestion . . .  

{ About fifteen lines are lost. The following fragment is probably a part of the missing passage. }   

. . therefore, if you please, bring your conversation down from the heavens to these things which lie nearer to us.   

Laelius. . . . I desired this, not only because it was proper that an eminent statesman rather than anyone else should discuss the State, but also because I recollected that you used to converse very frequently with Panaetius on this subject in company with Polybius - two Greeks who were perhaps the best versed of them all in politics - and that you assembled many arguments to prove that the form of government handed down to us by our ancestors is by far the best of all. Now since you are better prepared than the rest of us to undertake this discussion, you will do us all a favour, if I may speak for the company, by presenting your ideas on the State.   

{22.} [35] L   Scipio. I cannot, indeed, assert that any other subject claims more of my interest and careful thought, Laelius, than the one which you now assign to me. Furthermore, since I have noticed that the thoughts and efforts of every craftsman, if he is proficient, are directed to no other end than the improvement of his skill in his own craft, should not I, seeing that the guardianship and administration of the State have been handed down to me by my parents and ancestors as my sole task, have to confess that I am more slothful than any craftsman, if I have devoted less labour to the supreme craft than they to their humble tasks ? [36] But I am not satisfied with the works dealing with this subject which the greatest and wisest men of Greece have left us ; ** nor on the other hand am I bold enough to rate my opinion above theirs. Therefore I ask you to listen to me as to one who is neither entirely ignorant of the Greek authorities, nor, on the other hand, prefers their views, particularly on this subject, to our own, but rather as to a Roman who, though provided by a father's care with a liberal education and eager for knowledge from boyhood, yet has been trained by experience and the maxims learned at home much more than by books.   

{23.} [37] L   Philus. By Hercules, I am confident, Scipio, that no one is your superior in innate ability, and that your experience in the highest spheres of government is absolutely unsurpassed ; we are also aware to what studies you have always devoted yourself. Wherefore if, as you say, you have also devoted your attention to this science, or craft, as it may be called, I am very grateful to Laelius ; for I hope that what you tell us will be far more profitable than anything contained in the treatises of the Greeks.   

Scipio. You are setting very great expectations on what I shall say - a heavy burden to one who is about to discuss matters of such importance.   

Philus. However great our expectations may be, you will still surpass them as usual ; for there is no danger that you will lack eloquence in discussing such a topic as the State.  

Following sections (38-71) →  



(1)   Conjectural restorations of the sense in fragmentary passages are enclosed in brackets. 

(2)   Publius Cornelius Scipio (consul 218) and his brother Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus (consul 222). 

(3)   Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator. 

(4)   Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Minor. 

(5)   A novus homo is a man who is the first of his family to hold high office. 

(6)   The Epicureans, whose ideal of a quiet life free from pain made them discountenance participation in politics.

(7)   The ius gentium (law of nations) is that common to all peoples ; the ius civile is the Roman private law. 

(8)   Probably a quotation from the Annales of Ennius. 

(9)   For the sufferings of these men, see the Index. The last words evidently refer to Sulla's proscriptions in 81. 

(10)   About fifteen lines are lost at this point; a conjectural restoration of the sense is given in brackets 

(11)   Compare Cicero, In Pisonem III, 6 

(12)   Cicero is referring to his exile (March 58— August 57).

(13)   Compare Plato, Crito 51 A — C.

(14)   The person to whom the work is dedicated. 

(15)   129 B.C. 

(16)   Publius Cornelius Seipio Aemilianus Africanus Minor. 

(17)   These ancient holy days of the Latin cities appear to have been usually three or four in number; the time of these celebrations was fixed by a proclamation of the consuls.

(18)   See Xenophon, Memorabilia I, 1, 11-12 ; I, 1 16 ; IV, 7, 2-4. 

(19)   This passage is our earliest authentic source for Plato's journeys His visit to Sicily is now generally accepted as a fact, but the Egyptian journey is considered very doubtful. 

(20)   About thirty years.

(21)   The profession of counsellor-at-law (iuris consultus).

(22)   166 B.C.

(23)   212 B.C. 

(24)   See Cicero, Tusc. Disp. I, 63 ; Ovid, Fasti VI, 277. 

(25)   The poem referred to is the Phaenomena, translated into Latin by Cicero in his youth. Fragments of the translation are extant.

(26)   The five planets: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, and Venus 

(27)   168 B.C. 

(28)   The Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.). 

(29)   The eclipse referred to is that of Aug. 3, 431 (Thucyd. II, 28). The story of Pericles' explanation of it is told in a slightly different form by Plutarch, Pericles 35. 

(30)   i.e., when the moon comes between the earth and the sun. 

(31)   i.e., about 401 B.C., if Cicero is consistent in his chronology (see Book II, 18 and note); perhaps the eclipse of June 21, 400 B.C. , is referred to. 

(32)   Probably from Book IV of the Annales of Ennius. 

(33)   The Annales Maximi, kept by the chief pontiffs, contained the names of the consuls and other important officials of the year, and other very important events, including those believed to be prodigies.

(34)   In 714 B.C., according to Cicero's chronology; this is fiction, of course. Livy's version of the story (1, 16) mentions a storm but no eclipse (compare De Re Pub II, 17) .

(35)   Compare Plato, Republic I, 347 B "good men will not consent to hold office for the sake either of money or of honour." 

(36)   The same saying is quoted in somewhat different terms in Cicero's De Officiis III, 1. We do not know whether it comes from the Origines or some other work of Cato .

(37)   This saying is credited by Vitruvius (VI, 1) to Aristippus. 

(38)   Probably from Ennius, Annales X. This line is also quoted by Cicero in De Oratore I, 198 and Tusc. Disp. I, 18. 

(39)   Usually taken as part of a speech of Achilles in the Iphigenia of Ennius, but the text is doubtful. Compare Plato, Theaetetus 174 A. 

(40)   Probably a reference to a speech in the Antiopa of Pacuvius. Compare Cicero, De Oratore II, 155 ; Rhet. ad Herenn II, 43. 

(41)   Probably from a play entitled either Neoptolemus or Philoctetes. We find the same quotation in Tusc. Disp. II, 1 and De Oratore II, 156 ; it is also cited by Aulus Gellius (V, 15, 9) and by Apuleius (Apologia 13). A very similar sentiment is expressed by Plato ( Gorgias 484 C). 

(42)   Tubero ; see sections 14-15.

(43)   The troubles following the enactment of Tiberius Gracchus' agrarian measures in 133 B.C. are referred to here. (It should be remembered that the imaginary date of the dialogue is 129 B.C.) 

(44)   He is evidently thinking primarily of Plato's Republic, though the reference undoubtedly includes many other treatises (see De Legg, III, 13-14 and notes). 

Following sections (38-71)

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