Cicero : Post Reditum ad Populum

This speech was delivered in an assembly of the people after Cicero's return from exile, in 57 B.C.

The translation is by by N.H. Watts (1928). 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] Fellow-Citizens: On the day when I vowed to sacrifice myself and my fortunes in the cause of your safety, tranquillity, and union, I prayed of Jupiter Best and Greatest, and of the other immortal gods, that if ever I had placed considerations of my own interest before those of your welfare, I might be visited with eternal retribution, which I should deliberately have brought upon myself; but that if my earlier achievements had had the preservation of the community as their object, and if your welfare also had been the motive that led me to submit to the unhappy necessity of retirement, they should make me, and not the state at large and its patriotic citizens, the exclusive mark of the long-pent-up hatred conceived by wicked and unscrupulous men against the republic and its loyal adherents; and that, had this been my spirit towards you and your children, a day might come when you, when our conscript fathers, and the whole of Italy, might be moved by the recollection of me to compassion and regretful desire. And now I rejoice exceedingly that I have been held to the conditions of my sacrifice ** by the will of the immortal gods, the testimony of the senate, the united voice of Italy, the admission of my opponents, and your own marvellous and imperishable expressions of goodwill [2] For, fellow-citizens, although there is nothing for which a man should so earnestly pray as for the even tenor of an uninterrupted prosperity with no hidden reefs to mar his calm passage through life, yet, had I experienced nothing but an unruffled tranquillity, I should have missed the incredible and well-nigh superhuman transports of delight which your kindness now permits me to enjoy. Of all nature's gifts to the human race, what is sweeter to a man than his children? Mine, indeed, by reason not only of my natural tenderness, but also of their excellence of disposition, are dearer to me than my life; yet my original acceptance of the responsibilities they brought to me was attended with less joy than their present restoration to me. [3] No man ever had a dearer possession than I have in my brother ; I was less sensible of this when I enjoyed that possession than when I was deprived of it, and than I have been since you restored me to him and him to me. Every man takes pleasure in his private possessions ; but the recovery of the remnant of my fortunes to-day brings me more delight than 1 had in the secure enjoyment of them. Friends, companions, neighbours, and dependants, and the delights of high days and holidays, - the loss of all these has taught me a truer appreciation of them than their use. [4] Again, though office, reputation, position, rank, and promotions bestowed by you have always been accounted by me the brightest of ornaments, yet in their renewed effulgence they seem more radiant than had their light been never dimmed. And what of our country herself? Heaven knows that words can scarce express the love and joy which she inspires! How beauteous is Italy, how renowned are her cities, how fair her landscapes, her fields, and her crops! How splendid is her metropolis, how enlightened her citizens, how majestic her commonwealth, and how great the dignity of you her children! In time past I yielded to none in my enjoyment of all these; but as good health is sweeter to those who have recovered from grievous sickness than to those who have never known physical infirmity, so these are all more keenly appreciated in their loss than in their continued enjoyment.

[2.] L   [5] Why, then, do I speak of them at this length ? It is that you may be able to realise that there has never existed anyone so eloquent, or endowed with so superhuman and miraculous a gift of expression, as to have the power, I will not say of heightening or rhetorically embellishing, but even of presenting a satisfactory catalogue of the great and manifold benefits which you have conferred upon my brother, my children, and myself. As a babe, it was to my parents, in the course of nature, that I owed my being; but now it is to you that I owe my veritable birth as a consular. When those parents gave to me a brother, it was all unknown what manner of man that brother was destined to be ; the brother whom you have restored to me is a brother who has been tested and found sterling with a loyalty that passes belief. In those days I took in charge a republic which was all but lost ; it is through you that I have regained a republic which, in the universal judgement, on one occasion owed its preservation to the efforts of a single man. The immortal gods gave me children; you have given them back to me. There is much besides for which I have prayed heaven, and which heaven has bestowed upon me; but had it not been for your goodwill I should now be denuded of all heaven's gifts. Finally, the distinctions at your disposal, which I had won severally and progressively, I now, of your generosity, hold in the mass; so that the early debt I owe to my parents, to the immortal gods, and to your own selves, is no greater than the sum total of the debt I owe to-day to the Roman people at large.

[6] For apart from the fact that the extent of your generosity to me is itself so great that my oratorical powers are not equal to dealing with it, so striking is the expression of goodwill conveyed by your warm interest in me that I feel that not merely have you averted disaster from me, but have actually added to my reputation. [3.] L   For my restoration was not interceded for, as was that of the noble Publius Popilius, ** by young sons and many relatives and kinsmen by marriage besides, nor, as was that of Quintus Metellus, ** by a son whose years did not detract from the respect he inspired, by the influential Lucius Diadematus, an ex-consul, by the ex-censor Gaius Metellus, by the children of all these, by Quintus Metellus Nepos, who was at that time a candidate for the consulship, or by bearers of the names of Lucullus, Servilius, and Scipio, nephews of the man for whom they pleaded ; for large numbers who bore the name of Metellus, or who were children of ladies of that family, appealed to you and to your fathers for the restoration of Quintus Metellus. Though his own supreme merits and magnificent achievements had not sufficient weight, still the affection of his son, the prayers of his kinsfolk, the dishevelled robes of his young, and the tears of his elder, adherents, availed to move the Roman people. [7] After these renowned ex-consuls of old time, the third instance, before myself, of an ex-consul who, though standing on a pinnacle of fame, submitted to a totally undeserved calamity, is Gaius Marius. The circumstances of his case, however, are entirely different ; his recall was not the result of intercession, but upon the departure of certain citizens ** he recalled himself with the aid of armed forces. I, on the other hand, was bereft of my kinsfolk ; I had no influential connexions, no menace of armed rising to back my cause; and it was only the divine and unparalleled influence wielded by my son-in-law Gaius Piso, and his lofty qualities, together with the assiduous tears and sorrowful guise of my heart-broken and affectionate brother, that interceded to you for me. [8] There was but one - my brother - whose stricken aspect could arrest your gaze, and whose tears could reawaken wistful recollections of myself. He had made up his mind, fellow-citizens, to share my fortunes, should you refuse to restore me to himself; and so deep was his love towards me, that he said he could not bear the thought of separation from me, not merely in our earthly dwelling, but even in the tomb. When I was in your midst, the senate with twenty thousand more of my fellow-creatures put on mourning for me; but, when I was far away, you saw but one man whose disarray expressed his grief for me. He alone of all who could appear before the public eye showed himself a son in dutifulness a father in tenderness, and in love the true brother that he always was. For the weeds and dejection of my unhappy wife, the inconsolable sorrow of my sweet daughter, and the yearning and infantile tears of my little son were lost upon you by reason of journeys that they were compelled to make, or concealed from your gaze to a great extent by darkness or by the walls of their dwelling. [4.] L   This makes your services to me all the greater, in that you have restored me out of consideration, not for the large numbers of my relatives, but for my very self.

[9] But while I was unable to produce my relatives, or to reap the benefit of their appeals against my downfall, yet at the same time - and indeed it was no more than a man of my qualities had a right to be assured of - the number of those who assisted, promoted, or urged my restoration was so great, that, in respect of the prestige and backing I gained thereby, I held a considerable advantage over all the historical characters I have named. The cases of the renowned and gallant Publius Popilius, of that high-born and resolute citizen Quintus Metellus, and of Gaius Marius, the protector of the state and of your empire, were never discussed in the senate.

[10] It was by bills of the tribunes, and by no pronouncement of the senate, that the two first were recalled ; while the restoration of Marius, so far from being due to the senate, was only rendered possible by the prostration of that body. Nor was it the memory of his achievements that prevailed to procure the return of Gaius Marius, but rather arms and an army ; but the senate always demanded that the memory of mine should prevail, and at the first opportunity enabled me, by its authoritative pronouncement in full concourse, to reap the benefit thereof. The restoration of the men I have just mentioned was supported by no demonstration on the part of the colonies and the corporate towns; but I was thrice recalled to my country by the resolutions of an united Italy. Their return was rendered possible by the murder of their opponents and by an extensive massacre of their fellow-citizens ; mine coincided with the tenure of provincial governorships by those who had banished me, and with the consulship of an opponent, ** who was an upright and humane gentleman, and was effected by the motion of the other consul ** ; while that enemy ** of mine who had lent his voice to the foes of the state to work my downfall lived indeed, in the sense that breath was yet in his body but in truth he had been removed to a lower depth than all the dead. [5.] L   [11] That gallant consul, Lucius Opimius, never urged the senate or the people to interest themselves in the case of Publius Popilius ; nor was this done for Quintus Metellus, I will not say by Gaius Marius, who was his opponent, but even by Marius' successor, the eloquent Marcus Antonius, and Aulus Albinus his colleague. But in my case the consuls of the year previous to my return were constantly appealed to to promote a measure that should effect it. They, however, feared the imputation of favouritism, since one was connected with me by marriage, while I had taken up the other's brief in a capital charge ; tied hand and foot by the compact they had entered into with regard to the provinces, they endured for the whole of that year the protests of the senate, the distress of patriots, and the grief of Italy. But on the first day of January, when the widowed republic had appealed for succour as to its legal protector to the new consul, Publius Lentulus, the parent and divine restorer of my life, my fortunes, my remembrance, and my name, had no sooner made the customary religious proposal ** than he carried out his conviction that all other human measures should be postponed to one dealing with myself. [12] And on that very day the business would have been executed, had not the tribune of the plebs, ** whom, as quaestor, I had in my consulship honoured with extraordinary kindness, demanded a single night for deliberation, though the whole senatorial body and many eminent men begged him to withdraw his veto, and though his father-in-law, the excellent Gnaeus Oppius, prostrated himself in tears at his feet ; and this respite for deliberation he devoted, not, as many thought, to repaying, but, as has since been demonstrated, to increasing, the bribes he had received. From this date discussion in the senate was exclusively confined to this topic; progress was obstructed by various methods, but when the senate had given a clear expression of their feelings the matter was laid before you in January. [13] Herein lay all the difference between my opponents and myself. I had realised that men were openly being enrolled and told off to their companies at the tribunal of Aurelius ** ; I realised that Catiline's veteran bands had been reconstituted with a view to bloodshed ; I saw that members of the party of which I was held to be the leading figure were deserting, if not betraying, my cause, either from envy of me or fears for themselves ; the two consuls had been bought over by promises of provinces, and had laid their powers at the disposal of the enemies of the republic, seeing that their lack of resources, their greed, and their lust could only be sated if they gave me up in fetters to foes bred in the state's own household; the senate and the knights of Rome were forbidden by peremptory edicts to weep for me and to appeal to you with their robes of office laid aside ; all compacts with regard to the provinces, all private engagements, all renewals of interrupted friendship, were being sealed by my blood; all patriots were expressing their readiness to perish either for me or with me ; but I, in spite of all this, refused to win my safety by an armed encounter, thinking that both my victory and my defeat would be calamitous to the republic. [14] My opponents, on the other hand, while my case was under discussion in January, butchered their fellow-citizens, and thought it their duty to bar the way for my return with rivers of blood. [6.] L   The result was, that such was the condition of the state during the period of my absence, that you thought yourselves called upon to restore me, and, by so doing, the state as well. But in a state where the senate was ineffective, crime everywhere unpunished, justice at a standstill, and armed violence at large in the forum, at a time when private persons found protection not in the laws but in the walls of their houses, when tribunes of the plebs were wounded in full view of you all, when swords and torches were carried to the houses of the magistrates, when the fasces of the consul were broken, and the temples of the immortal gods set on fire, I could not but hold the republic to be non-existent. I thought, therefore, that, with the republic banished, there could be no place for me in this city, and yet I did not doubt that, if she were restored, she herself would bring me back with her. [15] Or, having ascertained, as I had, that the consul for the forthcoming year would undoubtedly be Publius Lentulus, who, as curule aedile, had in the very midst of the state's most hazardous crisis when I was consul been the sharer in all my counsels and the companion of all my perils, had I any ground for doubt that he would bring me back to health by applying a consul's remedies to a frame stricken by wounds that a consul had dealt? Led by him, and with his humane and upright colleague at first neutral and later assisting, the remaining magistrates almost to a man came forward as the champions of my cause. In their number, Titus Annius and Publius Sestius, ** gentlemen of great magnanimity, uprightness, influence, and helpful resource, behaved towards me with extraordinary kindness and amazing unselfishness ; and on the motion of Publius Lentulus, who was seconded by his colleague, a full senate, with but one dissentient voice and none raised in opposition, dwelt upon my merits in terms of the highest possible compliment, and recommended my cause to you, to the corporate towns, and to the colonies. [16] So it came about that, bereft of my kinsfolk, and with no influential connexions, I was constantly interceded for by consuls, praetors, tribunes of the plebs, senate, all Italy, and by all whom you had honoured with our distinguished bounties and offices; with Lentulus at their head they came before you, and not merely urged upon you the necessity of preserving me, but appeared to confirm, to attest, and to extol my actions.

[7.] L   In the forefront of your appellants and suppliants was Gnaeus Pompeius, a man who has had, has, and will have, no rival in virtue, sagacity, and renown; he gave to me all that he had given to the state at large, what no other has ever given to a private friend, - safety, security, dignity. His speech, as I have been told, was under three heads: first, he demonstrated to you that it had been by my measures that the republic had been preserved, showed that my cause stood or fell with the welfare of all, and urged you to uphold the authority of the senate, the constitution of the commonwealth, and the fortunes of a meritorious citizen ; secondly, he asserted in his peroration that the senate, the Roman knights, and the whole of Italy were appealing to you for me; and, finally, he closed by not merely asking, but even imploring, your interest on my behalf. [17] To him, fellow-citizens, I owe a debt such as it is scarce lawful for one human being to owe to another. It was his advice, Lentulus' opinions, and the senate's authority that induced you to restore me to the position which your kindness had once permitted me to occupy, by the vote of the same Centuries ** which had promoted me to that position. At the same time and in the same place you heard the same statements made by our greatest men, by persons of high renown and influence, by leaders of public life, and by all of consular and praetorian rank, so that it was a fact substantiated by universal testimony that the preservation of the republic was due solely to myself. Consequently, when Publius Servilius, a gentleman of lofty character and a citizen of high distinction, said that by my efforts the republic had been handed down unimpaired to the uninterrupted administration of her future magistrates, all succeeding speakers echoed his sentiments. Moreover you heard at the same time the illustrious Lucius Gellius give not only his considered opinion, but also his evidence. He had almost positive proof that his fleet ** had been tampered with to his own great danger, and he asserted at one of your mass meetings that if I had not been consul at the time when I was, the republic would have been utterly destroyed.

[8.] L   [18] Behold me then, fellow-citizens, restored to myself, to my own, and to the republic, by witnesses so manifold, by this exercise of the senate's authority, by so striking an agreement of Italy, and so zealous a co-operation of true men, with Publius Lentulus as my advocate, with all the other magistrates in agreement with him, with Gnaeus Pompeius to intercede for me, with all mankind to give me their countenance, and, finally, with the immortal gods to manifest their approval of my restoration by plentiful supplies and by the low prices of corn. I will make to you the richest promise which it is in my power to fulfil: first, that the dutiful devotion displayed towards the immortal gods by the greatest models of piety shall always mark my dealings with the Roman people, and that in my judgement your majesty shall be as venerable and as inviolable throughout all my life as that of the immortal gods ; and secondly; that, since I have been restored to citizenship by the state herself, the state shall on no occasion find me to fail in my duty to her. [19] But if anyone thinks that my sentiments have changed, or that my resolution has been weakened, or that my spirit has been broken, he is grievously in error. Violence and injustice and criminal fury have snatched from me, carried off, and squandered all that was separable from myself; but that of which a brave man can never be deprived remains and will remain inviolate for ever. I saw that bravest of men, my fellow-townsman, Gaius Marius, - for he, like myself, was doomed by some irresistible fatality to wage war not only against those who had conceived the ambition of exterminating society, but also with destiny itself, - I saw him, I say, in spite of his extreme old age, not shattered in spirit by reason of his appalling catastrophe, but rather re-animated by a fresh access of courage. [20] I myself heard him say that then he had indeed been unhappy, when he was deprived of his country, which he had freed from a state of siege, when he heard that his property was occupied and plundered by his enemies, when he saw his young son involved in the same calamity with himself, when his person and his life were saved from drowning in the marshes by the folk of Minturnae, ** who compassionately hastened to his rescue, and when he crossed to Africa in a small boat, there to throw himself, a defenceless suppliant, upon the mercy of those to whom he had once given kingdoms; but that, when he had won back his ancient position, he would never be so poor-spirited as to resign the steadfastness of mind, which he had never lost, when what he had really lost had been restored to him. But herein lies the contrast between him and me: he took vengeance upon his enemies by that wherein lay his chief power, by force of arms; whereas I shall achieve this end by the power of speech, a weapon with which I am more familiar ; his method finds its proper exercise in time of war and feud, mine in time of peace and tranquillity. [21] He, however, incensed as he was, had no thought save to take vengeance upon his foes; while I shall bestow even upon my friends only such consideration as the public weal shall allow.

[9.] L   Finally, fellow-citizens, my assailants may be comprehensively divided into four classes. There are, first, those who have become my bitter enemies owing to their hatred of the republic, because its preservation by me was contrary to their wishes ; there are, secondly, those who outrageously betrayed me by assuming the mask of friendship ; third comes the class of those who were envious of my credit and reputation, which they were prevented by their own lack of energy from attaining; while the fourth consists of those who, though their position constituted them the guardians of the republic, bartered away my prosperity, the security of the community, and the prestige of the empire which was committed to their care. This being so, the requital I shall exact for their several crimes shall be accommodated to the provocation I have received from each class ; unpatriotic citizens I shall punish by a wise administration of the state ; my treacherous friends by crediting nothing and suspecting everything; the envious by a devotion to glory and virtue ; and the traffickers in provinces by recalling them home, and holding them responsible for their provincial government. [22.] L   Nevertheless, fellow-citizens, I set greater store by showing my gratitude to you, to whom I am so deeply indebted, than by visiting upon my enemies requital for the cruel wrong I have suffered at their hands. And indeed it is an easier matter to avenge a wrong than to repay a kindness ; for the reason that there is less labour involved in rising superior to the wicked than in attaining to the same level with the good ; and furthermore, one is not so strictly bound in duty to requite disservice as to recompense service. [23] Animosity can be assuaged by personal appeal, or it can be renounced in consideration of public crises or the common welfare ; hindrances to the exaction of revenge may bid us stifle it, or it may be abated by lapse of years ; but duty forbids that any entreaty should induce us to ignore our benefactors, nor can any circumstances compel us to postpone our gratitude to political exigencies ; to allege impediments is no palliation of neglect, nor must the recollection of benefits be made contingent upon times or opportunities. Lastly, the man who is backward to pursue vengeance does but exercise his manifest right to act at his own discretion; but reluctance to repay services so distinguished as those which you have conferred upon me is visited with condign censure, entailing, as it does, the reproach, not only of ingratitude, in itself a serious charge, but also that of impiety. Moreover, the rendering of a moral obligation stands on an altogether different footing from the payment of a debt in money. ** He who keeps his money does not discharge his debt, he who pays his debt loses his money ; but he who repays a favour keeps it, and he who keeps it repays it by the very act of keeping.

[10.] L   [24] This being so, I will cherish the recollection of your kindness by a goodwill that shall be eternal ; and the record of that kindness shall endure not merely for so long as I breathe the breath of life, but even when life shall have failed me. And in the repayment of your favours I promise for my part, and shall ever be found true to my promise, that in the pursuit of my public policy I shall not be found lacking in earnestness, nor in courage in the protection of the state from the perils that threaten it, nor in loyalty in the honest expression of my convictions, nor in freedom in the frustration, for the public good, of private designs, nor in energy in the endurance of toil, nor in grateful goodwill in endeavouring to increase your general happiness. [25] This ideal, fellow-citizens, shall be indelibly imprinted upon my heart, that I may be judged, not only by you, who are endowed in my thoughts with the power and sanctity of the immortal gods, but also by your descendants and by all nations, as fully worthy of a place in that community which expressed by its vote the unanimous conviction that, had it not won me back to itself, it could not possibly have retained its own proud position.


1.(↑)   The Scholiast explains "devotionis convictus" as one who has had his prayer answered, and is therefore bound to fulfil what he promised, in that event, to do.

2.(↑)   Consul, 132; presided over court of inquiry which condemned the adherents of Tib. Gracchus; exiled by C. Gracchus, 123; recalled after his death, 121; P. and Q. Metellus are C.'s stock parallels to his own case. See In senatu, Chap. XV. ; Pro Cluentio, Chap. XXXV.

3.(↑)   See Pro Plancio, Chap. XXVIII. with note.

4.(↑)   Sulla and his adherents.

5.(↑)   Q. Metellus Nepos.

6.(↑)   Lentulus,

7.(↑)   Probably Clodius,

8.(↑)   The first official act of the consuls was to announce

9.(↑)   Clodius.

10.(↑)   A stone edifice south-east of the Forum, surrounded by steps which made it a convenient place for mass meetings ; see De domo, Chap. XXI.

11.(↑)   See In senatu, Chap. VIII. with note.

12.(↑)   i.e. the Comitia centuriata, which had voted for Cic.'s recall.

13.(↑)   G. was naval legate of Pompey in war against pirates ; Manutius says that 'classis' refers to the class of which he was 'custos' (see In senatu, Chap. VII. with note.) in the Comitia.

14.(↑)   See Pro Plancio, Chap. X. with note.

15.(↑)   See Pro Plancio, Chap. XXVIII. with note.

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