Cicero : Philippic 9

This speech was delivered about honours for Servius Sulpicius Rufus, in January 43 B.C.

The translation is by W.C.A. Ker (1926). Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each section. Click on ** to go to the translator's footnotes.

[1.] L   [1] I could wish the immortal Gods, conscript fathers, had allowed us now to be returning thanks to Servius Sulpicius ** in life rather than devising honours for him in death! Nor do I doubt that, if it had been possible for that great man to report on the embassy, his return would have been welcome to you and beneficial to the State - not that Lucius Philippus and Lucius Piso failed in either zeal or diligence in so important a duty, so important a charge ; ** but, as Servius Sulpicius was superior to them in age, and to all men in wisdom, his sudden removal from the mission left the whole embassy destitute and weakened.

[2] But if honour has been justly paid in death to any envoy, in no man's case will it prove more just than in that of Servius Sulpicius. Others who have died on an embassy have set out to confront the uncertain risks of life, but without any fear of death ; Servius Sulpicius set out with some hope of reaching Marcus Antonius, with none of returning. Although he was in such a condition as to distrust his strength if exertion were added to ill health, he did not shrink from trying even with his latest breath what service he could render to the State. Accordingly neither the violence of winter, nor snow, nor length of journey, nor roughness of the way, nor aggravation of disease, prevented him, and when he had got so far as to meet and have speech with the man to whom he was sent, in the very midst of his cares and thoughts for the performance of his charge he passed away.

[3] As then in other instances, Caius Pansa, so in this you have acted nobly both in exhorting us to honour Servius Sulpicius, and in having said much and abundantly in his praise, To what you have said I would merely add my vote, did I not think I ought to reply to so illustrious a man as Publius Servilius, who has given his opinion that this honour of a statue should be conferred on no man that has not been slain by the sword on an embassy. But I, conscript fathers, interpret the feelings of our ancestors in the sense that they thought it was the cause of death, not its particular character, that should be examined. For when the actual embassy had brought death to any man, they wished that a monument to him should be raised, that in dangerous wars men might undertake the office of ambassador with greater boldness. We should not, therefore, search for precedents among our ancestors, but rather examine what was that policy of theirs to which the actual precedents owe their birth.

[2.] L   [4] Lars Tolumnius, the king of the Veientines, put to death at Fidenae four ambassadors of the Roman people, whose statues stood down to the time of my recollection on the rostra. ** It was a deserved honour; for to those that died in the service of the State our ancestors, as a return for the shortness of life, gave an everlasting memorial. We see on the rostra the statue of Cnaeus Octavius, ** an illustrious and great man, who was the first to bring a consulship into a family that was afterwards rich in gallant men. No man then grudged the new man his honours; none failed to pay homage to his virtue. But the embassy of Octavius was one where lurked no suspicion of danger; for having been sent by the Senate to observe the feelings of the kings and free populations, and in particular to forbid the grandson of King Antiochus, the king who had waged war with our ancestors, to maintain a fleet and to rear elephants, he was slain at Laodicea in the gymnasium by a certain Leptines. [5] A statue was granted him then by our ancestors in return for the loss of his life, to ennoble his descendants for many years, and it remains now the sole record of so great a family. And yet in his case, and in those of Tullus Cluvius, and Lucius Roscius, and Spurius Antius, and Caius Fulcinius, who were slain by the king of the Veientines, it was not that their death was accompanied by bloodshed, but the simple fact of death in the public service that brought them honour.

[3.] L   Therefore, conscript fathers, if some accident had caused the death of Servius Sulpicius, I should indeed grieve that the State had suffered so great a wound, but should hold that his death deserved the honour, not of a monument, but of public mourning. But as it is, who doubts that it was the embassy, and nothing else, that robbed him of life? For he took death out with him ; and this, had he remained with us, he might have avoided by his own care, and by the attention of his excellent son and most faithful wife. [6] But seeing as he did that, if he did not obey your commission, he would be unlike himself, but that, if he obeyed, the commission undertaken on behalf of the State would be fatal to his life, he chose at an important crisis of. the State to die rather than to seem not to have assisted the State to the utmost of his power. In many cities on his journey he had the opportunity of recruiting and caring for his health, There were also liberal offers of hospitality, as befitting the dignity of so eminent a man, and the solicitation of those sent with him that he should take rest and consult his health. But he, hurrying, hastening on in his desire to fulfil your commands, persevered, while thwarted by disease, in this steadfast purpose. [7] On his arrival Antonius was much disturbed that the injunctions laid upon him by your command had been laid down at the instance and on the opinion of Servius Sulpicius, and he displayed his hatred of the Senate by insolent delight at the death of the adviser of the Senate.

Leptines, therefore, did not kill Octavius, nor the king of the Veientines those I have mentioned, more certainly than Antonius killed Servius Sulpicius ; for assuredly the man that was the cause of death also inflicted it. Wherefore I think it also concerns the enlightenment of posterity that it should be clearly manifested what was the judgment of the Senate on this war; for the statue will itself be a witness that the war was so serious that the death of an envoy won a memorial of honour.

[4.] L   [8] But if you are willing to call to mind, conscript fathers, the excuse Servius Sulpicius made for declining the embassy no doubt will be left that we should repair by honour to the dead the injury we inflicted on the living. For you, conscript fathers, - it is a heavy charge to make, yet I must make it - you, I repeat, deprived Servius Sulpicius of life. When you saw him urging the excuse of illness rather by his looks than by his words, though you were not cruel - for what charge is less applicable to this body ? - yet, in your expectation that there was nothing impossible of accomplishment by his authority and wisdom, you the more urgently withstood his excuses, and compelled the man who ever regarded your unanimous opinion as of the greatest weight to waive his decision. [9] But when there was added an exhortation of the Consul Pansa, more impressive than Servius Sulpicius could listen to and resist, then at last he took me and his son aside, and used words which told us that he preferred to set your authority before his own life. We, in admiration of his virtue, did not venture to oppose his resolution. His son, a man of singular filial affection, was moved ; and my sorrow did not fall short of his emotion: but each of us was forced to yield to his greatness of mind and to his impressive words, when amidst the fullest praises and congratulations of all of you, he promised to perform your wishes, and not to shun the danger attaching to the proposal of which he had been the author. On the next morning we escorted him on his departure as he hastened to fulfil your commands ; and when he parted from us he spoke to me in words that seemed ominous of his fate.

[5.] L   [10] Restore to him, therefore, conscript fathers, the life you have taken away ; for the life of the dead is set in the memory of the living. Ensure that the man whom ignorantly you sent to his death shall win immortality at your hands. If by your decree you erect his statue on the rostra, no forgetfulness of posterity will cloud the memory of his embassy. For in all other respects the life of Servius Sulpicius will have been commended to the recollection of all men by many splendid memorials. Ever will the report of all living men ennoble his dignity, steadfastness, and honour, and his pre-eminent care and prudence in the safeguarding of the State. Nor will there be unrecorded an admirable and marvellous and almost god-like knowledge in the interpretation of the laws, and the development of the principles of equity. All men of every age who in this community have understood jurisprudence, were they brought into one place, would not be comparable with Servius Sulpicius. For he was no greater as a master of jurisprudence than of justice ; [11] and thus he always referred provisions derived from statutes and from the civil law to a standard of lenient interpretation and equity ; nor did he seek to set actions on foot rather than to do away with controversy. Therefore he requires not this memorial of a statue : he has other greater ones. For this statue will be a witness to his honourable death, those will recall his glorious life; so that this monument will rather be one to the gratitude of the Senate than to the celebrity of the man.

[12] It will appear, too, that in honouring the father we have been much influenced by the affectionate devotion of the son, for although, broken down by grief, he is not present, you ought to be in the same mind as if he were present. But he is so overcome that no one ever felt more grief for an only son's death than he shows for a father's. And indeed it is also a matter, I think, that concerns the reputation of the son of Servius Sulpicius that he should be seen to have secured for his father his due honour. And yet no brighter monument could Servius Sulpicius have left than the likeness of his own character, his virtues, steadfastness, affection, and genius - than that son, whose grief can be alleviated by this honour as by no consolation besides.

[6.] L   [13] To me, as I recall the many conversations I had with Servius Sulpicius in the course of our friendship, it seems that a bronze statue, and one on foot, will, if there be any consciousness in death, be more pleasing to him than a gilt and equestrian one, such as was first set up for Lucius Sulla; for Servius had a wonderful liking for the moderation of our ancestors and censured the indulgence of the present age. As if, therefore, I were consulting him as to his wish, I propose, following as it were his authority and wishes, a bronze statue on foot, which indeed, as being a memorial of honour, will lessen and assuage the great grief and regret of all citizens. [14] And this proposal of mine, conscript fathers, is necessarily endorsed by the proposal of Publius Servilius, whose opinion has been that a public funeral should be decreed to Servius Sulpicius, but not a statue. For if the death of an ambassador without bloodshed and violence call for no honour, why does he propose the honour of a public funeral, the greatest honour that can be paid to a dead man? But if he grant to Servius Sulpicius what was not given to Cnaeus Octavius, ** why does he disagree that what was given to him should also be given to Sulpicius? Our ancestors indeed decreed statues to many, public funerals to few. But statues perish by weather, violence, and age; of sepulchres the sanctity is in the very soil, ** which cannot be moved or obliterated by violence; and so, while other things come to an end, sepulchres become more sanctified by age.

[15] Therefore let him also, to whom no tribute can be paid that is undeserved, be dignified by this proposed honour; let us show our gratitude in honouring the death of the man to whom we can now pay no other tribute of gratitude. Let there be also branded with shame the accursed audacity of Marcus Antonius, now waging a wicked war; for if these honours are conferred on Servius Sulpicius, the record of the embassy that has been repudiated and rejected by Antonius will remain everlasting.

[7.] L   For these reasons I propose as follows : "Whereas Servius Sulpicius Rufus, the son of Quintus, of the Lemonian tribe, in a most difficult crisis of the State, although suffering from a serious and dangerous malady, preferred the authority of the Senate and the safety of the State to his own life, and struggled with the violence and severity of his malady in order to reach the camp of Marcus Antonius whither the Senate had sent him, and when he had very nearly reached the camp, lost his life overcome by the violence of his malady at a most serious crisis of the State, and his death has been in accordance with a life passed in the greatest purity and honour, in which Servius Sulpicius was, both in a private station and in office, often of great service to the State; [16] and whereas so good a man met with death while ambassador in the service of the State; it is the pleasure of the Senate that, by the vote of their body, a bronze statue ** on foot be erected to Servius Sulpicius on the rostra, and that round that statue there be a space of five feet on all sides reserved for his children and descendants to view the games and gladiatorial shows, because he has met his death in the service of the State, and that the reason thereof be inscribed upon the pedestal; and that Caius Pansa and Aulus Hirtius, the consuls, one or both, do, if it seem good to them, order the city quaestors to let out the construction of the pedestal and statue, and their erection on the rostra, ** and do see that the contract-price be appropriated and paid to the contractor. And whereas the Senate has ere now shown its authority in the public funerals of, and distinction conferred on, brave men, it is the Senate's pleasure that Sulpicius on the day of his funeral be carried out with the most ample ceremony. [17] And whereas Servius Sulpicius Rufus, the son of Quintus, of the Lemonian tribe, has deserved so well of the State that he ought to be honoured with these distinctions, the Senate decrees, and considers it in the interests of the State, that the curule aediles suspend their edict applying to funerals ** as regards the funeral of Servius Sulpicius Rufus, the son of Quintus, of the Lemonian tribe; and that Caius Pansa, the consul, assign for the burial a space of thirty feet in all directions in the Campus Esquilinus, or in such place as seems good to him, to receive the body of Servius Sulpicius; and that this burial-place be also for his children and descendants with the soundest title conferred by the State for a burial-place."


1.   S. Sulpicius Rufus, one of the most celebrated orators and jurists of antiquity. See the Intr. to this speech. Cic. (ad Brut. 41) speaks of his profound knowledge of the Jus Civile and Jus Naturale; of his clearness of expression and of definition; and of his high moral character.

2.   C. forgets what he had said about them in ch. 10 of the preceding speech.

3.   Fidenae, a Roman colony, had revolted to Tolumnius. The four ambassadors sent from Rome to enquire into the matter were put to death by the men of Fidenae "by command of Tolumnius" : Livy 4. 17. This was in 434 B.c.,

4.   Consul 165 B.C. He was sent in 162 B.C. to Antiochus Eupator, king of Syria, the grandson of Antiochus the Great, to enforce obedience by the king to a treaty made with the grandfather.

5.   See note on § 4.

6.   As having been consecrated by rites and ceremonies. Cic. says (De Legg. 2. 22): "Nec tamen eorum ante sepulchrum est quam justa facta, et corpus incensum est." Until these rites were performed a corpse was merely 'situs', not 'sepultus'. Those rites expressed a belief (cf. Cic. Tusc. i. 12) that death was not annihilation, but "as it were a migration of life, which remained in the earth."

7.   This statue was still standing in the time of Pomponius the jurist (temp. Hadrian, second century A. D.).

8.   The rostra was a raised platform facing the Forum at the foot of the Capitoline hill, from which speeches to the people used to be made. This platform was decorated with the ships' beaks (hence the name) captured from Antium in the Latin War of 340-338 B.C.

9.   Regulating the expenses.

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