Cicero,   On the Republic

-   Book 1 , 38-71

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.

Previous sections (1-37)  

{24.} [38] Scipio. I will do as you wish, as well as I can, and shall at once begin my discussion, following the rule which, I think ought always to be observed in the exposition of a subject if one wishes to avoid confusion, that is, that if the name of a subject is agreed upon, the meaning of this name should first be explained. Not until this meaning is agreed upon should the actual discussion be begun, for the qualities of the thing to be discussed can never be understood unless one understands first exactly what the thing itself is. Therefore, since the commonwealth is the subject of our investigation, let us first consider exactly what it is that we are investigating.   

As Laelius approved of this, Africanus continued as follows : But naturally, in taking up a topic so familiar and well known, I shall not go all the way back to its original elements, as learned men usually do in treating this subject, and begin with the first union of male and female, the birth of offspring, and the origin of kinship , nor shall I give repeated definitions of exactly what the subject of discussion is, how many forms of it exist, or what different names are given to it. For, as I am speaking to intelligent men who have taken a glorious part, both in the field and at home, in the administration of the greatest of all States, I will not allow the subject of my discussion to be clearer than my discussion itself. ** For I have not undertaken the task of making an absolutely complete examination of the topic, as a schoolmaster might, nor do I promise that no single point will be omitted in my discussion of it.   

Laelius. For my part, I am looking forward to exactly the kind of discussion you promise.   

{25.} [39] L   Scipio. Well, then, a commonwealth is the property of a people . ** But a people is not any collection of human beings brought together in any sort of way, but an assemblage of people in large numbers associated in an agreement with respect to justice and a partnership for the common good. The first cause of such an association is not so much the weakness of the individual as a certain social spirit which nature has implanted in man . ** For man is not a solitary or unsocial creature, but born with such a nature that not even under conditions of great prosperity of every sort [is he willing to be isolated from his fellow men ] . . .   

{ About fifteen lines are lost. The following fragment may be part of the missing passage. }  

[40] ... In a short time a scattered and wandering multitude had become a body of citizens by mutual agreement. . . .   

{26.} [41] L   . . . certain seeds, as we may call them, for [otherwise] no source for the other virtues nor for the State itself could be discovered. Such an assemblage of men, therefore, originating for the reason I have mentioned, established itself in a definite place, at first in order to provide dwellings ; and this place being fortified by its natural situation and by their labours, they called such a collection of dwellings a town or city, and provided it with shrines and gathering places which were common property. Therefore every people, which is such a gathering of large numbers as I have described, every city, which is an orderly settlement of a people, every commonwealth, which, as I said, is "the property of a people," must be governed by some deliberative body if it is to be permanent. And this deliberative body must, in the first place, always owe its beginning to the same cause as that which produced the State itself. [42] In the second   place, this function must either be granted to one man, or to certain selected citizens, or must be assumed by the whole body of citizens And so when the supreme authority is in the hands of one man, we call him a king, and the form of this State a kingship. When selected citizens hold this power, we say that the State is ruled by an aristocracy. But a popular government (for so it is called) exists when all the power is in the hands of the people. And any one of these three forms of government (if only the bond which originally joined the citizens together in the partnership of the State holds fast), though not perfect or in my opinion the best, is tolerable, though one of them may be superior to another. For either a just and wise king, or a select number of leading citizens, or even the people itself, though this is the least commendable type, can nevertheless, as it seems, form a government that is not unstable, provided that no elements of injustice or greed are mingled with it.   

{27.} [43] L   But in kingships the subjects have too small a share in the administration of justice and in deliberation , and in aristocracies the masses can hardly have their share of liberty, since they are entirely excluded from deliberation for the common weal and from power ; and when all the power is in the people's hands, even though they exercise it with justice and, moderation, yet the resulting equality itself is inequitable, since it allows no distinctions in rank. Therefore, even though the Persian Cyrus was the most just and wisest of kings, that form of government does not seem to me the most desirable, since "the property of the people " (for that is what a commonwealth is, as I have said) is administered at the nod and caprice of one man ; even though the Massilians, now under our protection, are ruled with the greatest justice by a select number of their leading citizens, such a situation is nevertheless to some extent like slavery for a people; and even though the Athenians at certain periods, after they had deprived the Areopagus of its power, succeeded in carrying on all their public business by the resolutions and decrees of the people, their State, because it had no definite distinctions in rank, could not maintain its fair renown.   

{28.} [44] I am now speaking of these three forms of government, not when they are confused and mingled with one another, but when they retain their appropriate character. All of them are, in the first place, subject each to the faults I have mentioned, and they suffer from other dangerous faults in addition for before every one of them lies a slippery and precipitous path leading to a certain depraved form that is a close neighbour to it. For underneath the tolerable, or, if you like, the lovable King Cyrus (to cite him as a pre-eminent example) lies the utterly cruel Phalaris, impelling him to an arbitrary change of character ; for the absolute rule of one man will easily and quickly degenerate into a tyranny like his And a close neighbour to the excellent Massilian government, conducted by a few leading citizens, is such a partisan combination of thirty men as once ruled Athens. ** And as for the absolute power of the Athenian people - not to seek other examples of popular government - when it changed into the fury and licence of a mob . . .   

{ About fifteen lines are lost. The first two lines of what follows ( to itemque ) appear to be corrupt, and cannot be translated. }  

{29.} [45] L   . . . and likewise some other form usually arises from those I have mentioned, and remarkable indeed are the periodical revolutions and circular courses followed by the constant changes and sequences in governmental forms. ** A wise man should be acquainted with these changes, but it calls for great citizens and for a man of almost divine powers to foresee them when they threaten, and, while holding the reins of government, to direct their courses and keep them under his control. Therefore I consider a fourth form of government the most commendable - that form which is a well-regulated mixture of the three which I mentioned at first.   

{30.} [46] Laelius. I know that is your opinion, Africanus, for I have often heard you say so. Nevertheless, if it will not give you too much trouble, I should like to know which you consider the best of the three forms of government of which you have been speaking. For it might help us somewhat to understand . . .   

{ About fifteen lines are lost. In what follows Scipio is evidently stating the common opinion that liberty is impossible in a monarchy or an aristocracy. }   

{31.} [47] L   Scipio. . . . and every State is such as its ruler's character and will make it. Hence liberty has no dwelling-place in any State except that in which the people's power is the greatest, and surely nothing can be sweeter than liberty ; but if it is not the same for all, it does not deserve the name of liberty. And how can it be the same for all, I will not say in a kingdom, where there is no obscurity or doubt about the slavery of the subject, but even in States where everyone is ostensibly free ? I mean States in which the people vote, elect commanders and officials, are canvassed for their votes, and have bills proposed to them, but really grant only what they would have to grant even if they were unwilling to do so, and are asked to give to others what they do not possess themselves. For they have no share in the governing power, in the deliberative function, or in the courts, over which selected judges preside, for those privileges are granted on the basis of birth or wealth. But in a free nation, such as the Rhodians or the Athenians, there is not one of the citizens who [may not hold the offices of State and take an active part in the government ] . . .    

{ About fifteen lines are lost In what follows Scipio evidently continues his summing up of the common arguments in favour of democratic government. }   

{32.} [48] . . . [Our authorities] say [that] when one person or a few stand out from the crowd as richer and more prosperous, then, as a result of the haughty and arrogant behaviour of these, there arises [a government of one or a few], the cowardly and weak giving way and bowing down to the pride of wealth. But if the people would maintain their rights, they say that no form of government would be superior, either in liberty or happiness, for they themselves would be masters of the laws and the courts, of war and peace, of international agreements, and of every citizen's life and property; this government alone, they believe, can rightly be called a commonwealth, that is, "the property of the people." And it is for that reason, they say, that "the property of the people " is often liberated from the domination of kings or senators, while free peoples do not seek kings or the power and wealth of aristocracies. [49] L   And indeed they claim that this free popular government ought not to be entirely rejected on account of the excesses of an unbridled mob, for, according to them, when a sovereign people is pervaded by a spirit of harmony and tests every measure by the standard of their own safety and liberty, no form of government is less subject to change or more stable. And they insist that harmony is very easily obtainable in a State where the interests of all are the same, for discord arises from conflicting interests, where different measures are advantageous to different citizens. Therefore they maintain that when a senate has been supreme, the State has never had a stable government, and that such stability is less attainable by far in kingdoms, in which, as Ennius says,   
    No sacred partnership or honour is. **   

Therefore, since law is the bond which unites the civic association, and the justice enforced by law is the same for all, by what justice can an association of citizens be held together when there is no equality among the citizens ? For if we cannot agree to equalise men's wealth, and equality of innate ability is impossible, the legal rights at least of those who are citizens of the same commonwealth ought to be equal. For what is a State except an association or partnership in justice ? . . .   

{ About fifteen lines are lost. There is no change of topic. }   

{33.} [50] . . . Indeed they think that States of the other kinds have no right at all to the names which they arrogate to themselves. For why should I give the name of king, the title of Jupiter the Best, to a man who is greedy for personal power and absolute authority, a man who lords it over an oppressed people ? Should I not rather call him tyrant? For tyrants may be merciful as well as oppressive ; so that the only difference between the nations governed by these rulers is that between the slaves of a kind and those of a cruel master; for in any case the subjects must be slaves And how could Sparta, at the time when the mode of life inculcated by her constitution was considered so excellent, be assured of always having good and just kings, when a person of any sort, if he was born of the royal family, had to be accepted as king? As to aristocrats, who could tolerate men that have claimed the title without the people's acquiescence, but merely by their own will? For how is a man adjudged to be "the best"? On the basis of knowledge, skill, learning, [and similar qualities surely, not because of his own desire to possess the title ! ] . . ,   

{ About thirty lines are lost. At the end of the gap, Scipio is criticizing the arguments for democracy, and stating those for aristocracy. }   

{34.} [51] L   ... If [the State] leaves [the selection of its rulers] to chance, ** it will be as quickly overturned as a ship whose pilot should be chosen by lot from among the passengers. But if a free people chooses the men to whom it is to entrust its fortunes, and, since it desires its own safety, chooses the best men, then certainly the safety of the State depends upon the wisdom of its best men, especially since Nature has provided not only that those men who are superior in virtue and in spirit should rule the weaker, but also that the weaker should be willing to obey the stronger.   

But they claim that this ideal form of State has been rejected on account of the false notions of men, who, through their ignorance of virtue - for just as virtue is possessed by only a few, so it can be distinguished and perceived by only a few - think that the best men are those who are rich, prosperous, or born of famous families. For when, on account of this mistaken notion of the common people, the State begins to be ruled by the riches, instead of the virtue, of a few men, these rulers tenaciously retain the title, though they do not possess the character, of the "best." For riches, names, and power, when they lack wisdom and the knowledge of how to live and to rule over others, are full of dishonour and insolent pride, nor is there any more depraved type of State than that in which the richest are accounted the best. [52] But what can be nobler than the government of the State by virtue? For then the man who rules others is not himself a slave to any passion, but has already acquired for himself all those qualities to which he is training and summoning his fellows. Such a man imposes no laws upon the people that he does not obey himself, but puts his own life before his fellow-citizens as their law. If a single individual of this character could order all things properly in a State, there would be no need of more than one ruler , or if the citizens as a body could see what was best and agree upon it, no one would desire a selected group of rulers. It has been the difficulty of formulating policies that has transferred the power from a king to a larger number; and the perversity and rashness of popular assemblies that have transferred it from the many to the few. Thus, between the weakness of a single ruler and the rashness of the many, aristocracies have occupied that intermediate position which represents the utmost moderation , and in a State ruled by its best men, the citizens must necessarily enjoy the greatest happiness, being freed from all cares and worries, when once they have entrusted the preservation of their tranquillity to others, whose duty it is to guard it vigilantly and never to allow the people to think that their interests are being neglected by their rulers. [53] L   For that equality of legal rights of which free peoples are so fond cannot be maintained (for the people themselves, though free and unrestrained, give very many special powers to many individuals, and create great distinctions among men and the honours granted to them), and what is called equality is really most inequitable. For when equal honour is given to the highest and the lowest - for men of both types must exist in every nation - then this very "fairness" is most unfair ; but this cannot happen in States ruled by their best citizens. These arguments and others like them, Laelius, are approximately those which are advanced by men who consider this form of government the best.   

{35.} [54] Laelius. But what about yourself, Scipio ? Which of these three forms do you consider the best?   

Scipio. You are right to ask which I consider the best of the three, for I do not approve of any of them when employed by itself, and consider the form which is a combination of all them superior to any single one of them But if I were compelled to approve one single unmixed form, [I might choose] the kingship . . . the name of king seems like that of father to us, since the king provides for the citizens as if they were his own children, and is more eager to protect them than ** . . . [55] L   to be sustained by the care of one man who is the most virtuous and most eminent. But here are the aristocrats, with the claim that they can do this more effectively, and that there will be more wisdom in the counsels of several than in those of one man, and an equal amount of fairness and scrupulousness And here also are the people, shouting with a loud voice that they are willing to obey neither one nor a few, that nothing is sweeter than liberty even to wild beasts, and that all who are slaves, whether to a king or to an aristocracy, are deprived of liberty. Thus kings attract us by our affection for them, aristocracies by their wisdom, and popular governments by then freedom, so that in comparing them it is difficult to say which one prefers.   

Laelius. No doubt ; but it will be almost impossible to solve the problems that follow, if you abandon this one before reaching a solution.   

{36.} [56] Scipio. Then let us imitate Aratus, ** who, in beginning the treatment of lofty subjects, thought he must commence with Jupiter.   

Laelius. With Jupiter ? And what similarity has Aratus' poem with our present discussion ?   

Scipio. Only this, that is proper for us to begin our discussion with that god who alone is admitted by everyone, learned and unlearned alike, to be king of all gods and men.   

Laelius. Why ?   

[57] L   Scipio. Why do you imagine, except for the reason that lies before your eyes? It may be that the rulers of States have introduced, for its usefulness in practical life, the belief that there is one king in heaven, who moves all Olympus with a nod, as Homer says, ** and is both king and father of all ; in that case we have an excellent precedent and the testimony of many witnesses - if all can be called "many" - to the fact that the nations have agreed (to wit, by the decisions of their rulers) that nothing is better than a king, since, as they believe, all the gods are ruled by the authority of one. ** But if, on the other hand, we have become convinced that these beliefs have their origin in the false ideas of the ignorant and are to be classed as fables, then let us listen to those who may be called the teachers of educated men, to those who, as we may say, have seen with their own eyes things of which we hardly get an inkling through our ears.   

Laelius. What men are these ?   

Scipio. Those who by searching out the nature of all things have come to realize that the whole universe [is ruled] by [a single] mind . . .   

{ About thirty lines are lost At the end of the gap, Scipio is still presenting the arguments in favour of monarchy. }   

{37.} [58] Scipio. . . But, if you like, Laelius, I will bring before you witnesses who are neither so very ancient nor by any means barbarians.   

Laelius. It is such witnesses that I desire.   

Scipio. Are you aware that it is less than four hundred years since this city was ruled by kings ?   

Laelius. It is certainly less than that.   

Scipio. Well, four hundred years is not very long , is it, in the life of a city or State ?   

Laelius. Hardly enough to bring it to maturity.   

Scipio. Then there was a king at Rome less than four hundred years ago ?  

Laelius. Yes, and a proud one. **  

Scipio. And who preceded him ?   

Laelius. A very just king, ** and the line reaches all the way back to Romulus, who reigned six hundred years ago.   

Scipio. Then even he is not very remote from us ?   

Laelius. Not at all ; for Greece was already approaching old age in his time   

Scipio. Now tell me : was Romulus a king of barbarians ?   

Laelius. If, as the Greeks say, all men are either Greeks or barbarians, I am afraid be was, but if that name ought to be applied on the basis of men's manners rather than their language, I do not consider the Greeks less barbarous than the Romans.   

Scipio. Yet for the purposes of our present subject we consider only character, not race. For if they were sensible men and lived at a period not very remote, who desired to be ruled by kings, then the witnesses I am bringing forward are neither of very ancient date nor uncivilized savages   

{38.} [59] L   Laelius. I see that you are plentifully supplied with witnesses, Scipio, but to me, as to any good judge, demonstrations are more convincing than the testimony of witnesses.   

Scipio. Then, Laelius, make use of an argument from your own feelings   

Laelius. What feelings are those ?   

Scipio. Those which you have experienced in case, by any chance, you have ever been conscious of being angry with anyone   

Laelius. I have been in that state, and oftener than I could wish.   

Scipio. Well, when you are angry, do you allow your anger to rule your mind ?   

Laelius. Certainly not, but I imitate the famous Archytas of Tarentum, who, when he found, upon arriving at his country place, that all his orders had been disobeyed, said to his superintendent: "You are at fault, wretched man, and I should have had you flogged to death ere this were I not angry ! "   

[60] Scipio. Excellent! Then Archytas clearly regarded anger, when it disagreed with calm judgment, as a sort of rebellion within the mind, which he desired should be put down by reason. Take as further examples avarice, greed for power and glory, and the passions ; you see, if there is any kingly power in the minds of men, it must be the domination of a single element, and this is reason (for that is the best part of the mind), and, if reason holds dominion, there is no room for the passions, for anger, for rash action.   

Laelius. That is true.   

Scipio. Well then, does a mind so governed meet with your approval ?   

Laelius. Nothing could be better.   

Scipio. In that case you would not approve if reason should be dethroned, and our innumerable passions, or our anger, should obtain complete domination ?   

Laelius. I can think of nothing more wretched than such a mind, or than the man that possesses it.   

Scipio. Then you think that the mind should be a kingdom, all of whose parts are to be ruled reason ?  

Laelius. I certainly do .   

Scipio. How then can you be doubtful as to your conclusion about the State ? For if the management of a State is committed to more than one, you can see that there will be no authority at all to take command, for unless such authority is a unit, it can amount to nothing.   

{39.} [61] L   Laelius. But let me ask what difference there is between one and many, if the many possess justice.   

Scipio. As I realise that no great impression has been made upon you by my witnesses, I shall continue using you as my witness in order to prove what I say.   

Laelius. Me ? In what way ?   

Scipio. A short time ago, when we were at your place at Formiae, I noticed that you gave your people emphatic orders to obey the directions of one person only.   

Laelius. Certainly ; my superintendent, of course.   

Scipio. How about your residence in the city? Are several persons in charge there ?   

Laelius. Of course not ; only one.   

Scipio. And no one else but yourself rules your whole household ?   

Laelius. Certainly not   

Scipio. Why then will you not admit that in the State likewise, the rule one man is best, if he be just?   

Laelius. I am almost forced to agree with you.   

{40.} [62] Scipio. You will be all the more inclined to agree, Laelius, if, omitting the analogies of the ship and the sick man, more advantageously entrusted to a single pilot and a single physician, if only they be proficient in their professions, ** I go on to examples of greater importance.   

Laelius. What examples are these ?   

Scipio. Are you not aware that it was the insolence and pride of one man, Tarquinius, that made the title of king odious to our people ?   

Laelius. Certainly I am aware of it .   

Scipio. Then you are also aware of a fact about which I expect to have more to say in the course of my discussion - that when Tarquinius was driven out, the people showed a strange way of rejoicing in their unwonted liberty; then it was that innocent men were driven into exile, then that the property of many citizens was pillaged, that the annual consulship was introduced, that the rods were lowered before the people, ** that appeals were allowed in cases of every sort, that secessions of the plebeians took place, and that, in a word, almost everything was done to give the people full power in all things. **   

[63] L   Laelius. What you say is quite true.   

Scipio. Yes, and it is generally true in times of peace and security, for licence is possible as long as one has nothing to fear ; as, for example, on board a ship, or frequently in the case of an illness that is trivial. But just as the sailor, when the sea suddenly grows rough, and the invalid when his illness becomes severe, both implore the assistance of one man, so our people, that in times of peace and while engaged at home wield authority, threaten even their magistrates, refuse to obey them, and appeal from one to another or to the people, yet in time of war yield obedience to their rulers as to a king , for safety prevails over caprice. Indeed, in wars of more serious import our people have preferred that all the power should be granted to one man without a colleague. And this man's title shows the character of his power, for though he is commonly called "dictator" from the fact that he is "named," ** yet you   know, Laelius, that in our books ** he is called "master of the people."   

Laelius. I do.   

Scipio. Therefore the men of old time [acted] wisely . . .   

{ About fifteen lines are lost. }   

{41.} [64] . . . indeed when a people is orphaned by the loss of a just king, as Ennius says,   
    For many a day doth sorrow fill their breasts, 
    Whenever a goodly king hath met his end ; 
    In grief one to another thus they speak : 
    O Romulus, O Romulus divine, 
    A mighty bulwark of our native land 
    You were, - sent down from heaven to our need ; 
    O sire, O father, blood from gods derived !   

Neither "masters" nor "lords" did they call those men whom they lawfully obeyed, nay, not "kings" either, but "guardians of the fatherland," "fathers," "gods" ; and not without reason, for what is the next line ?   
    To realms of light thy people hast thou led. **  

They thought that life, honour, and glory had been granted to them through the justice of their king. And the same goodwill toward kings would have abided in their descendants had the true image of kingship abided; but, as you know, it was through the injustice of one man alone that this whole form of government was overthrown   

Laelius. I know it, and am eager to learn the course taken by such changes of government, not merely in our own State, but in all others as well.   

{42.} [65] L   Scipio. When I have set forth my ideas in regard to the form of State which I consider the best, I shall have to take up in greater detail those changes to which States are liable, though I think it will not be at all easy for any such changes to take place in the State which I have in mind. But the first and most certain of these changes is the one that takes place in kingships : when the king begins to be unjust, that form of government is immediately at an end, and the king has become a tyrant. This is the worst sort of government, though closely related to the best. If the best men overthrow it, as usually happens, then the State is in the second of its three stages; for this form is similar to a kingship, being one in which a paternal council of leading men makes good provision for the people's welfare. But if the people themselves have killed or driven out the tyrant, they govern rather moderately, as long as they are wise and prudent, and, delighting in their exploit, they endeavour to maintain the government they have themselves set up. But if the people ever rebel against a just king and deprive him of his kingdom, or, as happens more frequently, taste the blood of the aristocracy and subject the whole State to their own caprices (and do not dream, Laelius, that any sea or any conflagration is so powerful that it cannot be more easily subdued than an unbridled multitude enjoying unwonted power), then we have a condition which is splendidly described by Plato, ** if only I can reproduce his description in Latin; it is difficult, but I will attempt it. {43.} [66] He says: "When the insatiable throats of the people have become dry with the thirst for liberty, and, served by evil ministers, they have drained in their thirst a draught of liberty which, instead of being moderately tempered, is too strong for them, then, unless the magistrates and men of high rank are very mild and indulgent, serving them with liberty in generous quantities, the people persecute them, charge them with crime and impeach them, calling them despots, kings, and tyrants." I think you are acquainted with this passage   

Laelius. It is very familiar to me.   

[67] L   Scipio. He continues thus: "Those who follow  the lead of prominent citizens are persecuted by such a people and called willing slaves ; but those who, though in office, try to act like private citizens, and those private citizens who try to destroy all distinction between a private citizen and a magistrate are praised to the skies and loaded with honours. It necessarily follows in such a State that liberty prevails everywhere, to such an extent that not only are homes one and all without a master, but the vice of anarchy extends even to the domestic animals, until finally the father fears his son, the son flouts his father, all sense of shame disappears, and all is so absolutely free that there is no distinction between citizen and alien , the schoolmaster fears and flatters his pupils, and pupils despise their masters; youths take on the gravity of age, and old men stoop to the games of youth, for fear they may be disliked by their juniors and seem to them too serious. Under such conditions even the slaves come to behave with unseemly freedom, wives have the same rights as their husbands, and in the abundance of liberty even the dogs, the horses, and the asses are so free in their running about that men must make way for them in the streets. Therefore," he concludes, "the final result of this boundless licence is that the minds of the citizens become so squeamish and sensitive that, if the authority of government is exercised in the smallest degree, they become angry and cannot bear it. On this account they begin to neglect the laws as well, and so finally are utterly without a master of any kind."  

{44.} [68] Laelius. You have given us his description with great exactness.   

Scipio. Well, to return now to my own style of discourse, he also says that from this exaggerated licence, which is the only thing such people call liberty, tyrants spring up as from a root, and are, as it were, engendered. For just as an excess of power in the hands of the aristocrats results in the overthrow of an aristocracy, so liberty itself reduces a people who possess it in too great degree to servitude. Thus everything which is in excess - when, for instance, either in the weather, or in the fields, or in men's bodies, conditions have been too favourable - is usually changed into its opposite ; and this is especially true in States, where such excess of liberty either in nations or in individuals turns into an excess of servitude. This extreme liberty gives birth to a tyrant and the utterly unjust and cruel servitude of the tyranny. For out of such an ungoverned, or rather, untamed, populace someone is usually chosen as leader against those leading citizens who have already been subjected to persecution and cast down from their leadership - some bold and depraved man, who shamelessly harasses oftentimes even those who have deserved well of the State, and curries favour with the people by bestowing upon them the property of others as well as his own. To such a man, because he has much reason to be afraid if he remains a private citizen, official power is given and continually renewed, he is also surrounded by armed guards, as was Pisistratus at Athens ; and finally he emerges as a tyrant over the very people who have raised him to power. If the better citizens overthrow such a tyrant, as often happens, then the State is re-established , but if it is the bolder sort who do so, then we have that oligarchy which is only a tyranny of another kind. This same form of government also arises from the excellent rule of an aristocracy, when some bad influence turns the leading citizens themselves from the right path. Thus the ruling power of the State, like a ball, is snatched from kings by tyrants, from tyrants by aristocrats or the people, and from them again by an oligarchical faction or a tyrant, so that no single form of government ever maintains itself very long.   

{45.} [69] L   Since this is true, the kingship, in my opinion, is by far the best of the three primary forms, but a moderate and balanced form of government which is a combination of the three good simple forms is preferable even to the kingship. For there should be a supreme and royal element in the State, some power also ought to be granted to the leading citizens, and certain matters should be left to the judgment and desires of the masses. Such a constitution, in the first place, offers in a high degree a sort of equality, which is a thing free men can hardly do without for any considerable length of time, and, secondly, it has stability. For the primary forms already mentioned degenerate easily into the corresponding perverted forms, the king being replaced by a despot, the aristocracy by an oligarchical faction, and the people by a mob and anarchy, but whereas these forms are frequently changed into new ones, this does not usually happen in the case of the mixed and evenly balanced constitution, except through great faults in the governing class. For there is no reason for a change when every citizen is firmly established in his own station, and there underlies it no perverted form into which it can plunge and sink.   

{46.} [70] But I am afraid that you, Laelius, and you, my very dear and learned friends, may think, if I spend more time upon this aspect of the subject, that my discourse is rather that of a master or teacher than of one who is merely considering these matters in company with yourselves. Therefore I will pass to a topic which is familiar to everyone, and which we ourselves discussed some time ago. For I am convinced, I believe, and I declare that no other form of government is comparable, either in its general character, in its distribution of powers, or in the training it gives, with that which our ancestors received from their own forefathers, and have handed down to us. Therefore, if you have no objection - since you have desired to hear me discourse upon matters with which you are already familiar - I will explain the character of this constitution and show why it is the best; and, using our own government as my pattern, I will fit to it, if I can, all I have to say about the ideal State. If I can keep to this intention and carry it through, the task that Laelius has imposed upon me will, in my opinion, have been abundantly accomplished .   

{47.} [71] L   Laelius. The task is yours indeed, Scipio, and yours alone ; for who is better qualified than yourself to speak of the institutions of our ancestors, since you yourself are descended from most famous forefathers? Or who is better able to speak of the ideal State? For if we are to have such a constitution (surely at present that is not the case), who would be more prominent in its administration than yourself? Or who is better qualified to speak of provisions for the future, when you have provided for all future time by freeing our city from the two dangers that threatened it ? **   


     . . . nor for very learned men 
    That Manius Persius read these words I care 
    No whit; let Junius Congus read them all. **   

[fr.2]   Therefore, as our fatherland is the author of more benefits, and is an earlier parent than the father who begot us, surely greater gratitude is due to it than to a father.   

[fr.3]   Nor could Carthage have prospered so greatly for about six hundred years without good counsel and strict training.   

[fr.4]   . . . that I certainly am acquainted, he said, with this habit of yours, and with your eagerness for discussion . . .   

[fr.5]   Surely all the discussions of the men you mention, though they contain abundant springs of virtue and knowledge, nevertheless, if compared with what the others have actually performed and accomplished, would appear, I am afraid, to have provided men with more entertainment than stimulus to practical work.   

[fr.6]   . . . from which these friends of yours were summoning away . . .  

Book 2



(1)   This seems to mean :  “As the nature of a commonwealth is practically quite clear to my present audience, I shall not becloud the subject with abstruse and obscure definitions.”

(2)   i.e., res publica (public thing or property) is the same as res populi (thing or property of a people). 

(3)   Compare Aristotle, Politics 1, 1253 A : “Man is by nature a political animal." 

(4)   The so-called “ Thirty Tyrants " (404—403 B.C.). 

(5)   Compare Aristotle, Politics III, 1279 A-B. 

(6)   Probably from one of Ennius' dramas. 

(7)   i.e., chooses its rulers by lot, as had been done in Athens. 

(8)   The text of this passage is fragmentary and obscure, but it evidently contains a brief statement of the advantages of the kingship. 

(9)   See section 22 . The first words of the poem are : ek Dios archōmestha.

(10)   e.g., Iliad I, 527-530.

(11)   Compare the argument in Isocrates, Nicocles 28. 

(12)   Tarquinius Superbus. 

(13)   Servius Tullius. 

(14)   Such comparisons are very common in Plato ; for one similar to this, developed in detail, see Politicus 298-299. 

(15)   The bundle of rods (fasces) with the axe was a symbol of the highest governmental authority. These rods were carried by attendants (lictors), who lowered them in the presence of an assembly of the people. The axe was not carried within the city. 

(16)   These events are related in Livy, Book II.

(17)   Cicero derives the title dictator from dico, "to name" or "to appoint".

(18)   The records of the augurs (libri augurum). Compare Seneca, Epist. Mor. 108, 31. 

(19)   Both these quotations are probably from Book I of the Annales of Ennius. 

(20)   Plato, Republic VIII, 562 C-563 E. What follows is an abbreviated paraphrase, not a translation. 

(21)   i.e., its two rivals, Carthage and Numantia, both taken by Scipio. 

(22)   Quoted from Lucilius ; probably from Book XXVI of the Saturae ; compare Cicero, De Oratore II, 25 ; De Fin I, 7 .The idea seems to be that the work is not intended for very learned men, but for the student or "general reader".

Book 2

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