Seneca, Suasoria 7

Translated by by W.A. Edward (Cambridge, 1928). Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each chapter.   


"Cicero considers whether he should burn his writings as Antony promises him life if he does so"


You will not endure Antony. In a bad nature success is intolerable; nothing inflames evil desire more than the consciousness of prosperous villainy. The effort is too great: you will not put up with him, I tell you, and you will have the desire to goad once more your enemy to kill you. For myself, I am far from being a Cicero, yet I am not only weary but ashamed of my life. Is this not the reason why you prize your genius - that Antony hates it more than he hates you? Ostensibly he grants you life, but his design is to make you as if you had not lived. Antony's conditions are more cruel than the proscription. Your genius is the one thing beyond the reach of the triumvirs' swords. Antony's aim is to secure Cicero's assistance in destroying that part of Cicero which proscription cannot reach. I should now exhort you to hold your life dear, if liberty still had its home in our state, and eloquence its source in liberty, if our necks were not the sport of our countryman's sword : but, as it is, Antony promises you life to convince you that there is nothing better than death. There hangs the announcement of the infamous proscription: all that multitude of praetorians, of consulars, of members of the equestrian order, has perished: none is left save those who can stoop to slavery. I know not, Cicero, whether after all that has happened you still desire to live. Not one person is left to justify that desire. You did right in deciding against death when Caesar of himself made the request that you should live, and imposed no conditions; when the state, though no longer free, had at least fallen into the hands of a benevolent despot. 


 Unless my judgment is at fault, Antony has seen clearly that  Cicero cannot die while the records of his eloquence are safe. The bargain proposed assails the noblest part of your soul before assailing you : lend me your eloquence for a moment; I crave this boon of Cicero before he dies. If Caesar and Pompey had listened to you, they would not have formed their dishonourable alliance, nor have broken it: if they had ever been to hearken to your advice, Pompey would not have abandoned Caesar nor Caesar Pompey. No need to recall your consulate that saved the state, your exile still more honourable than your consulate, your frank challenge to the despotism of Sulla, in the dawn of youth on the threshold of your public life, no need to recall how you tore Antonius from the side of Catiline and restored him to his country. Pardon me, Cicero, if I dwell on these achievements ; perchance after today they will be invoked no more. [3] L   If Cicero is slain he will lie in death with Pompey the father and Pompey the son, Afranius, Petreius, Q. Catulus, and M. Antonius, who deserved a less degenerate successor to his name : if Cicero survives he will live among the Ventidii, the Canidii, and the Saxae: is it so doubtful whether it is better to lie in death with those or live with these? You gain one life, your own, by your bargain ; you inflict a national loss. I know that every price that he fixes is unjust; at Antony's price I do not buy even Cicero's life. If this were his proposal, "You will live, but eyeless, you will live, but crippled" : even if you could have brought yourself to endure other bodily losses, yet you would have excepted your tongue. Have you forgotten that noble utterance of yours, "Death is the natural close of life, no punishment" { pro Milone, 101 } ? Do you alone doubt its truth? But you urge, you think you have persuaded Antony. Rather take your stand firmly on the side of liberty, and add one more crime to your enemy's score: by your death plunge Antony still deeper in guilt.


In order to gain life from Antony does Cicero himself mean to destroy the records of his eloquence? What are you offered  in Antony's proposal? the restoration of Cn. Pompey, and M. Cato, and of the old senate, the only fit audience for Cicero? Many who were about to pay too dear for life, have died through the contempt they inspired ; many at the point of death have been saved by the admiration their courage  extorted, and have found their salvation in this brave willingness to die. As against Antony's proposal hear what the  Roman people have to offer. In return for the burning of your writings Antony offers you a few years of life: if you refuse, the Roman people, in their love, offer you immortality.


What shall we call it if we destroy the eloquence of Cicero to secure the protection of Antony? Is this an act of grace, this penalty inflicted on your genius? If the money-lenders did well in giving him their money, if Brutus and Cassius did well in giving him peace, then let us, Cicero, put our faith in Antony - a madman whose natural inclination to vice finds scope in the licence of the age, who interrupts his amours with actresses to wanton in Roman blood; a bankrupt who pledged the free commonwealth with his creditors, a creature of avarice insatiable, even when gorged with the wealth of two leaders of the state, Caesar and Pompey! Let me use your own words, Cicero, "Does anyone prize a life that Antony can give or take away?" Cicero's safety is not so precious that we should accept Antony as the saviour.


Once the Roman people was brought to such a pass that it had lost all but Jupiter who was himself beleaguered, and Camillus who was in exile : yet nothing in Camillus was nobler than his indignation that Romans should owe their safety to a treaty. A grievous burden is that life which Antony offers even if no price were exacted. Antony, judged an enemy by the state, now judges the state his enemy. In order that Antony's approval of his colleague may be patent to all, Lepidus, ever the abettor of another's madness, the tool of both his colleagues, has become our master.


Antony must not be trusted in anything: surely I speak the truth: of what crime is he not capable who has the heart to slay Cicero, and who shows more cruelty in granting than in refusing life? It is your genius that stirs his wrath: do you think he forgives you that? Do you look for mercy from him in whose soul your words still rankle? Shall oblivion fall on your immortal genius to save your frail and perishable body? I should marvel if there were more cruelty in death than in pardon from Antony. [8] L   Publius Scipio, degenerate scion of his house, by a noble death was restored with the the number of the Scipios. He offers you life with the object of destroying all your immortality. This is the nature of the compact: he spares life and robs you of your genius. At the price of oblivion to your name he offers you a few years of slavery. His design is that you should live on as the silent survivor of your genius. Cicero, it seems, is to listen to Lepidus and Antony, but no one is to hear the voice of Cicero. Will you have the heart to look with your own eyes on the burial of the noblest thing you have? Rather let the records of your genius survive you, to the eternal condemnation of Antony.


As long as the human race endures, as long as literature has its due honour, and eloquence is prized, as long as the fortune of our state stands sure, or its memory survives, your genius will live in the admiration of posterity, and though yourself proscribed in one age you will proscribe Antony to all ages. Believe me, it is only the most worthless part in you which he can spare or take away: the true Cicero, as Antony well knows, only Cicero can proscribe. [9] L   It is not you he is exempting from the proscription : he seeks to save himself from your condemnation. If Antony breaks faith you will die: if he keeps his word you will be a slave. For my part I prefer him to break his word. I beseech you earnestly, M. Tullius, by your own soul, by your noble life of sixty-four years, by your consulate that saved your country, by the memorials of your genius, whose immortality none but you can destroy, by the free state which perishes before you, that you may not think you are leaving to his mercy anything you love, I implore you not to confess before your death such great unwillingness to die.

[10] L   No one to my knowledge argued on the other side in this suasoria: all were anxious about Cicero's books, none about Cicero personally; yet this side is not so bad that if Cicero had actually been offered this condition he would have refused to consider it. And so no one presented this case more convincingly than Silo Pompeius: he did not employ, like  Cestius, the plausible arguments, that this proposal involved a heavier penalty than death itself, and that was why Antony adopted it. He argued that to every man life was short: much more so to an old man: he (Cicero) must think of fame which offered immortality to the great: life should not be ransomed at any cost: the terms were intolerable: nothing was so intolerable as that Cicero should burn with his own hands the records of his genius. He would be wronging the Roman people whose language he had made supreme, so that its eloquence as far surpassed the proud achievements of Greece as did its fortune: he would wrong the human race. If he bought life at such a price he would repent it: he would have to grow old in slavery, and employ his eloquence in extolling Antony and nothing else. He was being infamously treated: he was granted life, but was bereft of genius.

[11] L   Silo Pompeius argued that Antony's proposal was a mockery. It was not an offer but an insult : even if he burned his books Antony would put him to death all the same. Antony was not foolish enough to think that there was any object to be gained in Cicero's burning his books, since his writings were renowned throughout the whole world; that was not Antony's aim : that was within his own power : unless perchance it was believed that the man who had Cicero at his mercy, had not Cicero's writings in his power too : Antony's only object was this, that the great Cicero after his many brave words about despising death should be brought to accept dishonourable terms and then slain. Antony was not promising him life on a condition, but death with dishonour. And so he must now endure with fortitude the fate that he must in any case suffer afterwards with dishonour. The bad taste of Senianus was shown in a remarkable manner in this suasoria too. He used an expression that sprang from affectation of the lowest and most vulgar type, I mean the type that secures its point by the addition or subtraction of a syllable, "What a shameful deed! Shall then Cicero's script perish and Antony's proscript remain?" [12] L   A talented youth named Surdinus who made a tasteful Latin translation of some Greek plays was delivering a declamation on  this subject in the presence of Cestius Pius, the rhetorician. It was his manner to utter pleasing sentiments, but too often their strength was lost in their sweetness. In this suasoria after expressing some pretty sentiments in the form of an oath, he added: "So shall I read thee". Cestius, who was a very satirical fellow, pretended that he had not quite heard, and reproved the accomplished young man as if he had said something improper. "What did you say?  What? So shall I enjoy thee?" Now Cestius cared for no one's talent but his own and went so far as to attack Cicero's, for which he was properly punished. [13] L   M. Tullius, Cicero's son, who had none of his father's ability except his wit, was governor of Asia, and Cestius happened to be dining in his house  Tullius was not gifted with a good memory, and drunkenness was gradually destroying any that he had. From time to time he kept asking the name of the guest who reclined on the lowest couch. He was told several times that it was Cestius, but as often forgot it. Finally the slave to imprint the name more deeply on his memory said to his master when he asked who he was who reclined on the lowest couch, "This is the Cestius who said that your father was not a man of letters". Young Cicero ordered rods to be brought with speed, and Cestius's hide, as it deserved, yielded satisfaction to Cicero. But the younger Cicero was quick to take offence even when filial piety did not demand it. [14] L   Hybreas was a very good speaker and when his son in a case tried by Cicero was making a poor display the latter said: "Do we actually boast that we are better than our sires?" { Homer, Il. 4.405 } In a certain action when Hybreas delivered a whole passage of his father's verbatim, and everybody recognised it, Cicero said : "Come, don't you think that I have learned my father's 'How long, O Catiline, will you abuse our patience?'?" Gargonius, the most charming of simpletons, said in this suasoria two things than which even he never said anything more foolish: one in the exordium ; when he had begun with an oath, which is now a very common practice in the schools, after a flood of words, he said : "So for the first time let him fear Antony with all the power of his soul; so may Cicero either wholly live or wholly die, as I shall never agree to destroy what I shall say today about Cicero's genius". He made the other statement in quoting examples of men who  had died gallantly: "Juba and Petreius rushed together inflicting mutual wounds and lent death to one another".

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