Cicero,   On the Republic

-   Book 3

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.

Book 2  

{ Cicero prefaces the second day's discussion with an introduction of considerable length, of which sections 3-7 form a part. St Augustine (De Civ. Dei II, 21) has given us a brief outline of the discussion itself. Philus is prevailed upon to undertake the defence of the thesis that the government cannot be carried on without injustice (sections 8-28). Laelius then takes up the defence of justice, maintaining that nothing is so harmful to a State as injustice, and that a State cannot be preserved without justice (sections 32-41). Scipio then resumes his discourse, and argues that his commonwealth as previously defined cannot be said to exist at all except where the government is just (sections 42-48). ** }  

{ A page or more is lost at the beginning of the book. According to St Augustine (Contra Iulianum Pelag. IV, 12, 60), the book begins with some reflections on man's weakness at birth, and how it is overcome by the divine spirit planted within him. }   

{2.} [3] L   . . . and by vehicles [to remedy] his slowness of motion . . . and [reason] likewise, when it found men uttering unformed and confused sounds with unpractised voices, separated these sounds into distinct classes, imprinting names upon things just as distinguishing marks are sometimes placed upon them, thus uniting the race of men, solitary before, by the pleasant bond of communication by speech. Reason also marked and represented all the sounds of the voice, which seemed innumerable, by a few characters which it invented, so that conversation could be carried on with persons at a distance, and indications of our desires and records of past events could be set down. To this art was added that of numbers, which is not only necessary for human life but also unique in being unchangeable and eternal in itself. And acquaintance with this art first encouraged men to look up at the sky and to gaze, no longer idly, upon the motions of the stars, and by the numbering of nights and days . . . **    

{ About three pages are lost. The account of the development of civilization is concluded in what follows, with the rise of philosophy and the art of statesmanship as its climax. }    

{3.} [4] . . . whose thoughts rose to an even higher plane, and they were able to achieve, by action or reflection, things worthy of the gift they had received, as I have said, from the gods. Wherefore let us admit that those who discuss the principles of living are great men, which is indeed the truth; let us recognize them as learned, and as teachers of truth and virtue, if only we do not forget that another science is by no means to be scorned, whether it was discovered by men who had had actual experience with various kinds of States, or was developed through the quiet study of these same learned men - I mean the art of government and the training of peoples, which, in men of ability and good character, calls into being, as it has very often done in the past, an almost incredible and divine virtue. [5] L   But if anyone has believed, as these men do who are carrying on the discussion recorded in the present treatise, that learning and a richer knowledge should be added to those faculties which the mind possesses by nature and has acquired by experience in public affairs, then everyone ought to consider a man who combines these attainments superior to all others. For what can be more admirable than the union of experience in the management of great affairs with the study and mastery of those other arts ? Or who can be considered closer to the ideal than Publius Scipio, Gaius Laelius, and Lucius Philus, who, for fear of omitting something that might be necessary to the complete excellence of eminent men, added the foreign learning which originated with Socrates to the traditional customs of their own country and their ancestors ? [6] Therefore those who have had the desire and ability to attain both these objects - who, that is, have perfected themselves by acquiring learning as well as by the observance of their ancestral customs, deserve from every point of view, in my opinion, the highest honour. But if only one of these two paths to wisdom can be chosen, even though a quiet life devoted to the study of the noblest arts will seem happier to some, surely the life of a statesman is more deserving of praise and more conducive to fame; by such a life the greatest men win honour; as for example, Manius Curius,    
    Whom none could overcome with sword or gold, **    

or . . .   

{ About two pages appear to be lost. }    

{4.} [7] L   [We must admit that both these types of learning] deserved the name of wisdom, yet the difference between these two classes of men has consisted in the fact that one nourished Nature's first gifts to man by admonition and instruction, while the other did so by institutions and laws. Indeed, our own country alone has produced many men, who, if they have not been "wise," since that name is so carefully restricted, ** have surely deserved the highest praise, since they have fostered the precepts and the discoveries of the wise. And if we consider how many praiseworthy commonwealths exist now and have existed in the past, and remember that the establishment of a State which is stable enough to endure for ages requires by far the highest intellectual powers that nature can produce, what a multitude of great geniuses there must have been, even if we suppose that every such State possessed only one! But if we survey the nations of Italy; the Latins, Sabines, Volscians, Samnites, or Etruscans, if we examine Magna Graecia; ** and then if [we consider] the Assyrians, the Persians, the Punic peoples, if . . . these . . .    

{ About four pages are lost. At the end of the gap we find that the dialogue has been resumed, and that Philus has evidently just been asked to defend the cause of injustice. }    

{5.} [8] Philus. It is indeed an excellent cause that you are handing over to me, when you request me to undertake the defence of wickedness !    

Laelius. I suppose you have great reason to fear that, if you repeat the usual arguments against justice, you may be thought also to approve them, when you are yourself an almost incomparable example of our old-fashioned probity and honour, and when we are quite familiar with your habit of arguing on the other side, because you think that it is the easiest means of reaching the truth !   

Philus. Very well, then, I will humour you and cover myself with mud with a full realization of what I am doing. For just as those who seek gold do not hesitate to do this, so we who seek Justice, which is much more valuable than all the gold in the world, surely ought not to shrink from any hardship And I wish, just as I am going to present another's argument, that I could also make use of another's tongue ! For Lucius Furius Philus must now report what the Greek Carneades, who was accustomed . . . whatever suited him ... in words . . .   

{ About thirty lines appear to be lost, of which the three short fragments which follow are perhaps part. Lactantius (Inst. Div. V, 14, 3-5 ; Epitom. 55, 5-8 ) tells us that the disputation of Carneades, as quoted by Philus, began with a review of the arguments of Plato and Aristotle in favour of justice and then turned to a refutation of them. }    

[9] L   . . . [do not] reply [to me but] to Carneades, whose way it is frequently to make the best causes appear ridiculous by his talent for sophistry .    

{7.} [11] L   . . . justice looks out of doors and is completely prominent and conspicuous . . .   

. . . a virtue which, beyond all others, is entirely devoted and applied to the advantage of others . . .  

{8.} [12] Philus. . . . should both discover and preserve . . . but the other ** filled four very large volumes with a treatise on justice itself. For I expected nothing great or remarkable from Chrysippus, who has his own peculiar method of discussion, examining everything on the basis of the meaning of words rather than by the weighing of facts. It was appropriate for those heroes to raise up this fallen virtue (which, where it really exists, is the most generous and liberal of them all, loving as it does all others more than itself, and existing for others' advantage rather than its own), and to seat it upon that divine throne not far from Wisdom herself. [13] L   Nor indeed did they lack the desire to exalt it (for what other reason had they for writing ? What was their purpose if not this ? ), nor the ability, in which they surpassed all others ; but the weakness of their case defeated both their enthusiasm and their eloquence. For the justice which we are investigating is a product of government, not of nature at all, for if it were natural, then, like heat and cold, or bitter and sweet, justice and injustice would be the same thing to all men.    

{9.} [14] But in actual fact, if one could visit many diverse nations and cities and examine them, travelling about in Pacuvius' famous "chariot of winged snakes" ** he would see first of all that in Egypt, famed as ever changeless, which preserves written records of the events of countless ages, a bull, which the Egyptians call Apis, is deemed a god, and many other monsters and animals of every sort are held sacred as divine. Then, too, he would see in Greece, just as with us Romans, magnificent shrines, adorned with sacred statues in human form , a custom which the Persians considered wicked. And in fact Xerxes is said to have ordered the Athenian temples to be burned for the sole reason that he thought it sacrilege to keep the gods whose home is the whole universe shut up within walls. ** [15] L   But later Philip, who planned an attack on the Persians, and Alexander, who actually made one, gave as their excuse for war the desire to avenge the temples of Greece, which the Greeks had thought it proper never to rebuild, so that posterity might have ever before its eyes a monument of Persian impiety. ** How many peoples, such as the Taurians ** on the shores of the Euxine, the Egyptian king Busiris, ** the Gauls, ** and the Carthaginians, ** have believed human sacrifice both pious and most pleasing to the immortal gods ! Indeed, men's principles of life are so different that the Cretans and Aetolians ** consider piracy and brigandage honourable, and the Spartans used to claim as their own all the territory they could touch with their spears. ** The Athenians also used actually to take public oaths ** that all lands which produced olives or grain were then own. The Gauls ** think it disgraceful to grow grain by manual labour ; and consequently they go forth armed and reap other men's fields. [16] We ourselves, indeed, the most just of men, who forbid the races beyond the Alps to plant the olive or the vine, so that our own olive groves and vineyards may be the more valuable, are said to act with prudence in doing so, but not with justice , so that you can easily understand that wisdom and equity do not agree. Indeed, Lycurgus, famed as the author of excellent laws and a most equitable system of justice, provided that the lands of the rich should be cultivated by the poor as if the latter were slaves.    

{10.} [17] L   But if I wished to describe the conceptions of justice, and the principles, customs, and habits which have existed, I could show you, not merely differences in all the different nations, but that there have been a thousand changes in a single city, even in our own, in regard to these things. For example, our friend Manilius here, being an interpreter of the law, would give you different advice about the rights of women in regard to legacies and inheritances from that which he used to give in his youth, before the passage of the Voconian law. ** In fact that law, passed for men's advantage, is full of injustice to women For why should a woman not have money of her own? Why may a Vestal Virgin have an heir, while her mother may not? Why, on the other hand, if it was necessary to limit the amount of property a woman could own, should the daughter of Publius Crassus, if she were her father's only child, be permitted by law to have a hundred million sesterces, while mine is not even allowed three million ? . . .    

{ About fifteen lines appear to be lost. }     

{11.} [18] . . . [if the supreme God] had provided laws for us, then all men would obey the same laws, and the same men would not have different laws at different times. But, I ask, if it is the duty of a just and good man to obey the laws, what laws is he to obey? All the different laws that exist? But virtue does not allow inconsistency, nor does nature permit variation ; and laws are imposed upon us by fear of punishment, not by our sense of justice. Therefore there is no such thing as natural justice, and from this it follows that neither are men just by nature. ** Or will they tell us that, though laws vary, good men naturally follow what is truly just, not what is thought to be so ? For, they say, it is the duty of a good and just man to give everyone that which is his due. ** [19] L   Well then, first of all, what is it, if anything, that we are to grant to dumb animals as their due ? For it is not men of mediocre talents, but those who are eminent and learned , such as Pythagoras and Empedocles, who declare that the same principles of justice apply to all living creatures, and insist that inevitable penalties threaten those who injure an animal. It is a crime, therefore, to harm a brute beast, and this crime . . . who wishes . . .   

{ A passage of considerable, but uncertain, length is lost Some information as to its contents is supplied by Lactantius (Inst. Div. V, 16, 2-4 , VI, 9, 2-4 , and VI. 6 19 and 23) and Tertullian ( Apolog. 25, p. 164 Oehl.). The outlines of the argument appear to have been as follows:     The variety of laws in different States proves that these codes must be based on utility, which differs in different places, not on justice. Changes in the laws of a single State prove the same thing. There is no natural justice or law, but men as well as all other living creatures are governed naturally by utility. There is therefore no such thing as justice, or, if it exists, it is the height of folly, inasmuch as it leads us to injure ourselves to the advantage of others. The best proof of this is found in history, particularly in that of Rome. She has won her empire by injustice both to gods and men ; a policy of justice would make her again what she was originally, a miserable poverty-stricken village. What is commonly called justice in States is nothing but an agreement for mutual self-restraint, which is a result of weakness, and is based on nothing whatever but utility. Rulers of all sorts rule for their own advantage solely, not in the interest of the governed. }    

{13.} [23] L   Philus. . . . for all who have the power of life and death over a people are tyrants, but they prefer to be called kings, the title given to Jupiter the Best. But when a certain number of men, by means of riches or noble birth or some other advantage, hold a commonwealth in their power, that is a ruling faction, but the rulers are called aristocrats. But if the people hold the supreme power and everything is administered according to their desires, that is called liberty, but is really licence. But when there is mutual fear, man fearing man and class fearing class, when, because no one is confident in his own strength, a sort of bargain is made between the common people and the powerful ; this results in that mixed form of government which Scipio has been recommending ; and thus, not nature or desire, but weakness, is the mother of justice. For we must choose one of three things - to do injustice and not to suffer it, or both to do it and to suffer it, or else neither to do it nor to suffer it. The happiest choice is to do it with impunity, if you can ; the second best is neither to do it nor to suffer it; and the worst fate of all is to engage in the everlasting struggle of doing and suffering injustice. Thus he who first . . . to accomplish that . . .    

{ A passage of considerable length is lost, of which the following fragment may be a part. }    

{14.} [24] . . . for when he was asked what wickedness drove him to harass the sea with his one pirate galley, he replied, "The same wickedness that drives you to harass the whole world." **    

{15.} Philus. . . . Wisdom urges us to increase our resources, to multiply our wealth, to extend our boundaries , for what is the meaning of those words of praise inscribed on the monuments of our greatest generals, "He extended the boundaries of the empire," ** except that an addition was made out of the territory of others ? Wisdom urges us also to rule over as many subjects as possible, to enjoy pleasures, to become rich, to be rulers and masters ; justice, on the other hand, instructs us to spare all men, to consider the interests of the whole human race, to give everyone his due, and not to touch sacred or public property, or that which belongs to others. What, then, is the result if you obey wisdom ? Wealth, power, riches, public office, military commands, and royal authority, whether we are speaking of individuals or of nations But, as we are discussing the State at present, what is done by a State is more important for our purpose, and, since the same facts in reference to justice are applicable in both cases, I think it better to discuss the wisdom of a people. Not to mention others, did our own people, whose record Africanus traced from the beginning in yesterday's discussion, and whose empire now embraces the whole world, [grow] from the smallest [to the greatest] through justice or through wisdom ? . . .   

{ Thirty lines or more are lost. }   

[25] L   Philus. . . . except the Arcadians and Athenians, who, I suppose, feared that this provision dictated by justice might at some time be put into effect, and therefore invented the story that they had sprung from the earth, as field-mice come out of ploughed ground. **   

{16.} [26] To such arguments as these the following are usually the replies first given by those who are not unskilful in disputation, and whose discussions of this subject have all the greater weight because, in the search for the good man, whom we require to be open and frank, they do not themselves use crafty and rascally tricks of argument - these men ** say first of all that a wise man is not good because goodness and justice of or in themselves give him pleasure, but because the life of a good man is free from fear, anxiety, worry, and danger, while on the other hand the minds of the wicked are always troubled by one thing or another, and trial and punishment always stand before their eyes. They add, on the other hand, that no advantage or reward won by injustice is great enough to offset constant fear, or the ever-present thought that some punishment is near, or is threatening . . . losses . . .    

{ About one page appears to be lost. }    

{17.} [27] L   Philus. . . . Suppose there are two men, one a pattern of virtue, fairness, justice, and honour, and the other an example of extreme wickedness and audacity ; and suppose a nation is so mistaken as to believe the good man a wicked, treacherous criminal, and the wicked man on the other hand a model of probity and honour. Then let us imagine that, in accordance with this opinion, held by all his fellow-citizens, the good man is harassed, attacked, and arrested, blinded, sentenced, bound, branded, banished, and reduced to beggary, and finally is also most justly deemed by all men to be most miserable. Then let the wicked man, on the contrary, be praised, courted, and universally loved; let him receive all sorts of public offices, military commands, wealth and riches from every source ; and finally, let him have the universal reputation of being the best man in the world and most worthy of all the favours of fortune. Now I ask you, who could be so insane as to doubt which of the two he would prefer to be? **

{18.} [28] The same thing is true of States as of persons ; no people would be so foolish as not to prefer to be unjust masters rather than just slaves. I do not need to go far for an example : during my consulship, with you as my advisers, I had under consideration the treaty with Numantia. Who was not aware that Quintus Pompeius had made a treaty and that Mancinus was in the same situation ? But the latter, an excellent man, went so far as to favour the bill which I proposed in accordance with a resolution of the senate, while the former defended himself with energy. If we are seeking modesty, probity, and honour, these qualities belong to Mancinus , but if we look for reason, wisdom, and prudence, then Pompeius is superior. **    

{ The rest of Philus' report of the defence of injustice made by Carneades is lost, but we are given some idea of its contents by Lactantius (Inst. Div. V, 16,5-13) Toward the end he seems to have turned to men's personal relations for further proofs that justice is equivalent to folly, and to have given, among others, the following illustrations :     If a man knows of serious faults in something he has for sale and reveals them to a prospective purchaser, he is a just man but a fool , if he conceals them, he is unjust, but wise ! Similarly if there is a shipwreck, and two men are clutching a plank which can support only one, what is the stronger of the two to do ? If he lets go, he will be a just man and he will drown ! If he is wise, he will be unjust and send the other man to his death.     Only the following fragments (sections 32-41) of the reply of Laelius remain, but some further information about its contents can be obtained from Cicero's own references to it in other works. See De Fin. 18, 59 ; Ep. ad Att. X, 4, 4 ; VII, 2, 4. }   

{21.} [32] . . . I should not hesitate, Laelius, if I did not think that our friends here desired exactly what l am eager for myself, namely, that you should take some part in our discussion, especially since you told us yesterday that you would talk at even too great length. But that indeed is impossible ; we all beg you not to fail us. . . .    

Laelius. . . . But he ** certainly ought not to have our young men as his audience. For if he really believes what he says, he is a villain; but if not, as I prefer to think, what he says is at any rate pernicious . . .   

{22.} [33] L   . . . True law is right reason in agreement with nature , it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions. And it does not lay its commands or prohibitions upon good men in vain, though neither have any effect on the wicked. It is a sin to try to alter this law, nor is it allowable to attempt to repeal any part of it, and it is impossible to abolish it entirely. We cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people, and we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it. And there will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and ruler, that is, God, over us all, for he is the author of this law, its promulgator, and its enforcing judge. Whoever is disobedient is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature, and by reason of this very fact he will suffer the worst penalties, even if he escapes what is commonly considered punishment. . . .   

{23.} [34] . .. a war is never undertaken by the ideal State, except in defence of its honour or its safety. . . .    

. . . But private citizens often escape those punishments which even the most stupid can feel - poverty, exile, imprisonment and stripes - by taking refuge in a swift death. But in the case of a State, death itself is a punishment, though it seems to offer individuals an escape from punishment; for a State ought to be so firmly founded that it will live for ever. Hence death is not natural for a State as it is for a human being, for whom death is not only necessary, but frequently even desirable. On the other hand, there is some similarity, if we may compare small things with great, between the overthrow, destruction, and extinction of a State, and the decay and dissolution of the whole universe.    

[35] L   . . . Those wars are unjust which are undertaken without provocation. For only a war waged for revenge or defence can actually be just. . . .  

. . . No war is considered just unless it has been proclaimed and declared, or unless reparation has first been demanded. . . .    

. . . But our people by defending their allies have gained dominion over the whole world . . .    

{ The following fragments, as St Augustine explains ( De Civ. Dei XIX , 21), are part of the argument for the justice of slavery and imperialism, in which it is maintained that certain nations and individuals are naturally fitted for and benefited by subjection to others.  ** }    

{25.} [37] L   . . . Do we not observe that dominion has been granted by Nature to everything that is best, to the great advantage of what is weak ? For why else does God rule over man, the mind over the body, and reason over lust and anger and the other evil elements of the mind ? . . .  

. . . But we must distinguish different kinds of domination and subjection. For the mind is said to rule over the body, and also over lust ; but it rules over the body as a king governs his subjects, or a father his children, whereas it rules over lust as a master rules his slaves, restraining it and breaking its power. So kings, commanders, magistrates, senators, and popular assemblies govern citizens as the mind governs the body; but the master's restraint of his slaves is like the restraint exercised by the best part of the mind, the reason, over its own evil and weak elements, such as the lustful desires, anger, and the other disquieting emotions. . . .    

. . . the parts of the body are ruled like sons on account of their ready obedience, but the evil parts of the mind are restrained with a stricter curb, like slaves . . .   

. . . For there is a kind of unjust slavery, when those who are capable of governing themselves are under the domination of another; but when such men are slaves . . .    

{27.} [39] L   . . . In which I agree that an anxious and hazardous justice is not appropriate to a wise man . . .  

{28.} [40] . . . Virtue clearly desires honour, and has no other reward . . . yet though she receives it gladly, she does not exact it rigorously What riches, what power, what kingdoms can you offer such a man ? For he thinks these things are human, but deems his own possessions divine. . . . But if universal ingratitude, or the envy of many, or the hostility of the powerful, deprive virtue of its proper rewards, yet it is soothed by many consolations, and firmly upheld by its own excellence. . . .  

. . . Their bodies were not taken up to heaven, for Nature would not allow that which comes from the earth to be removed from earth. ** . . .   

. . . The bravest men never . . . of bravery, energy, endurance. . . .    

. . . Fabricius, I suppose, felt the lack of the wealth of Pyrrhus, and Curius of the riches of the Samnites ! ** . . .     

. . . Our glorious Cato, when he went out to his farm in the Sabine country, as we have heard him say, often visited the hearth of this man, sitting in whose home he had declined the gifts of the Samnites, once his enemies, but then under his protection . . .  

{29.} [41] L   . . . Asia . . . Tiberius Gracchus . . .he kept faith with his fellow-citizens, but violated the treaty lights of our allies and the Latins. If this habit of lawlessness begins to spiead and changes our rule from one of justice to one of force, so that those who up to the present have obeyed us willingly are held faithful by fear alone, then, though our own generation has perhaps been vigilant enough to be safe, yet I am anxious for our descendants, and for the permanent stability of our commonwealth, which might live on for ever if the principles and customs of our ancestors were maintained.   

{30.} [42] After these words from Laelius, all expressed their great pleasure in his remarks; but Scipio, whose delight went beyond that of the rest, was almost carried away with enthusiasm.    

Scipio. Laelius, you have often defended cases so eloquently that I believed that neither our colleague Servius Galba, whom you, during his lifetime, always considered unrivalled, nor even any of the Attic orators [could equal] you either in charm ? . . .   

{ About four pages are lost, the two following fragments may perhaps be from this passage. }    

. . . that his lack of two qualities, self-confidence and vocal powers, prevented him from speaking to the people or in the forum . . . **  

. . . the bull roared with the groans of imprisoned men . . . **    

{31.} [43] L   Scipio. . . . to bring back. . . . Therefore how could that be called "the property of the people," which is what "commonwealth" means ? For all were oppressed by the cruelty of one, and there was no bond of justice whatever, nor any agreement of partnership amongst those gathered together, though that is part of the definition of a people. And the same was true of Syracuse : that famous city, which Timaeus calls both the largest of the Greek towns and the most beautiful city in the world, with its admirable citadel, its harbours, whose waters penetrated to the very heart of the town and to the foundations of its buildings, its broad streets, its porticoes, temples, and walls, could not be a commonwealth in spite of all these things while Dionysius was its ruler, for nothing belonged to the people, and the people itself was the property of one man. Therefore, wherever a tyrant rules, we ought not to say that we have a bad form of commonwealth, as I said yesterday, but, as logic now demonstrates, that we really have no commonwealth at all.    

{32.} [44] Laelius. Excellently said, and now I understand the purport of your remarks.   

Scipio. You understand, then, that not even a State which is entirely in the control of a faction can truly be called a commonwealth ?    

Laelius. That is indeed my opinion.    

Scipio. And you are absolutely right , for where was there any "property of the Athenian people," when, after the great Peloponnesian War, the notorious Thirty most unjustly governed their city ? ** Did the ancient glory of that State, the transcendent beauty of its buildings, its theatre, its gymnasiums, its porticoes, its famous Propylaea, its citadel, the exquisite works of Phidias, or the splendid Piraeus, make it a commonwealth ?    

Laelius. By no means, since nothing was the "property of the people."    

Scipio. What of the period when the decemvirs ** ruled Rome without being subject to appeal, in that third year of their power, when liberty had lost all her legal bulwarks ?    

Laelius. There was no "property of the people" ; indeed the people rose in revolt to recover their property.    

{33.} [45] L   Scipio. I come now to the third form of government, in regard to which we may appear to be in difficulty. For when everything is said to be administered by the people, and to be in the people's power ; when the multitude inflicts punishment on whomsoever it will, when it seizes, plunders, retains, and wastes whatever it will, can you deny, Laelius, that we have a commonwealth then, when everything belongs to the people, and we have defined a commonwealth as the "property of a people" ?    

Laelius. There is no government to which I should more quickly deny the title of commonwealth than one in which everything is subject to the power of the multitude. For as we have decided that there was no commonwealth at Syracuse or at Agrigentum or at Athens when those cities were ruled by tyrants, or here at Rome when the decemvirs were in power, I cannot see how the name of commonwealth would be any more applicable to the despotism of the multitude. For in the first place a people exists only when the individuals who form it are held together by a partnership in justice, according to your excellent definition, Scipio. But such a gathering as you have mentioned is just as surely a tyrant as if it were a single person, and an even more cruel tyrant, because there can be nothing more horrible than that monster which falsely assumes the name and appearance of a people. Nor indeed is it right, when the property of the insane is entrusted by law to their relatives in the male line, because [they are unable to manage it properly themselves, that an insane multitude should be left in uncontrolled possession of the "property of the people." ] . . .   

{ About three pages are lost. }    

{34.} [46] . . . [And indeed many of the arguments] cited to prove that a kingdom is a commonwealth, "the property of a people," could be applied [with equal justice to an aristocratic government.]    

Mummius. And with even greater justice, for a king is more like a master, because he is a single individual, while nothing could be more advantageous for a State than to be ruled by a select number of good men. Nevertheless I prefer even a kingship to a free popular government, for that third possibility is the worst of all governments.    

{35.} [47] L   Scipio. I am aware, Spurius, that you are always opposed to the power of the people ; and, though that power might be borne with less resentment than you are accustomed to show, I agree with you that none of these three constitutions deserves less approbation But I cannot assent to your statement that aristocratic government is superior to kingship ; for if wisdom rules the State, what difference does it make whether that wisdom is the possession of one person or of several ? But we are being misled in our present argument by certain deceptive terms , for when we speak of "the best men" nothing can possibly seem preferable; for what can be deemed better than the best ? But when we mention a king we immediately think of an unjust king , ** yet at present we are not referring to unjust kings at all in our consideration of the kingship itself. Therefore, if you will only imagine that the king we are referring to is Romulus or Pompilius or Tullus, perhaps you will not think so unfavourably of that form of government    

[48] Mummius. What praise do you reserve, then, for popular government ?    

Scipio. What of Rhodes, Spurius, which we visited together ? Does that seem to you no commonwealth at all ?   

Mummius. I certainly consider it a commonwealth, and one by no means deserving of our scorn .   

Scipio. You are quite right. But, you may remember, all the people were senators and common citizens alternately, and they had a regular system of rotation in accordance with which they acted as senators for certain months of the year, and as private citizens during certain other months. They received payment for attending meetings in both capacities, and, both in the theatre and the senate-house, the same men decided capital cases and those of every other sort. The senate possessed as much power and influence as the multitude. . .    

{ The rest of the book is lost. The length of the missing passage is unknown.


[fr.1]  There is therefore a certain restless element in individuals which is exalted by pleasure and broken by tribulation.    

[fr.2]  . . . they see what they think they will do. **    

[fr.3]  The Phoenicians with their traffic in merchandise were the first to introduce into Greece greed, luxurious living, and insatiable desires of all sorts.    

[fr.4]  . . . the notorious Sardanapalus, far more ugly in his vices than in his name . . .    

[fr.5]  . . . unless someone wished to use the whole of Mount Athos as a monument. For what Athos or Olympus is so great . . . ?  

Book 4



(1)   Compare the discussion of justice and injustice in Plato, Republic I, II, and IV. 

(2)   Compare Lucretius' account of the rise of civilization (De Rerum Natura V ; in regard to the invention of speech, see especially lines 1028 ff ). 

(3)   Probably from Ennius, Annales XII. 

(4)   i.e . by and to the philosophers. 

(5)   i.e., the Greek cities of Southern Italy (sometimes including those of Sicily). 

(6)   Plato and Aristotle are evidently referred to. Aristotle's lost work on Justice, in four books, is mentioned by Diogenes Laertius (V, 1, 9, 22). 

(7)   The play from which these words are quoted is unknown. Compare Cicero, De Invent. I, 27. 

(8)   Compare Cicero, De Leg. II, 26 ; De Nat Deor. I, 115. See also Herodotus I, 131 and VIII, 109.

(9)   Compare Pausanias X, 35, 2. But such an intention is probably a later invention ; otherwise it would be difficult to explain Pericles' resolution that all these temples be restored (Plutarch, Pericles 17).

(10)   Compare Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris , and Herodotus IV, 103. 

(11)   Son of Poseidon , killed by Hercules. 

(12)   See Caesar, Gallic War VI, 16. 

(13)   See, for example, Diodor. Sicul. V, 31-32 ; XIX, 14. 

(14)   In regard to the Aetolians compare Thucyd I, 5. The Cretans allied themselves with the Cilician pirates against the Romans. 

(15)   This saying is credited to Antalcidas (Plutarch, Apoph. Lac. VI, p 819 ; Quaest. Rom. VII, p. 83) 

(16)   Part of the oath of the Ephebes (Plutarch, Alcibiades 15, 8).

(17)   Compare Diodor. Sicul. V, 32, 4. 

(18)   Women's rights of inheritance were limited by the Voconian Law in 169 B.C. (or 174). 

(19)   An allusion to the well-known controversy as to whether Justice is founded on Nature {phusis) or Law {nomos). 

(20)   For this definition of Justice, see Plato, Republic 1, 331 ff. 

(21)   The reference is to Alexander the Great. St. Augustine ( De Civ. Dei IV 4, 25) tells the story of Alexander and the pirate, which he probably took from Cicero.

(22)   Compare Nepos, Hamilcar 2, 5 ; Livy XXXVI, 1, 3.

(23)   See Pausanias II, 14, 4, V, 1, 1. These two peoples alone, if their claim to be autochthonous was recognized, could retain with a show of justice the territory they occupied. 

(24)   The Epicureans, who advocated justice as an aid to happiness. 

(25)   Compare Plato, Republic II, 361-362. 

(26)   Philus was consul in 136 B.C. For this incident see Cicero, De Officiis III, 109. 

(27)   Probably the reference is to Carneades.

(28)   Compare Aristotle, Politics I, 1254 A-B. 

(29)   Cicero is referring to the deification of Hercules and Romulus (St. Augustine, De Civ. Dei XXII , 4). 

(30)   The incorruptibility of Roman magistrates of the past is here alluded to. 

(31)   Isocrates, or possibly Laelius. See Cicero, De Oratore II. 10 , III, 28. 

(32)   The reference is to the famous bull of Phalaris, tyrant of Acragas, Sicily, in the early sixth century. 

(33)   See Book I, 44. 

(34)   See Book II, 61. 

(35)   The Romans had a traditional hatred of the title king (rex), somewhat as Americans have. 

(36)   The first part of this fragment is meaningless in its present form. 

Book 4

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