Catiline's War, 50–54

Sallust  translated by J. C. Rolfe

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50While all this was going on in the senate, and rewards were being voted to the envoys of the Allobroges and to Titus Volturcius, when their information had been verified, the freedmen of Lentulus and a few of his dependants were scouring the streets and trying to rouse the artisans and slaves to rescue him, while others were seeking out the leaders of bands who were wont to cause public disturbances for hire. 2Cethegus, also, was sending messengers to his slaves and freedmen, a picked and trained body of men, entreating them to take a bold step, get their band together, and force their way to him with arms.

3When the consul learned of these designs, stationing guards as the time and circumstances demanded and convoking the senate, he put the question what should be done with the men who had been delivered into custody, the senate having shortly before this in a full meeting resolved that they were guilty of treason to their country. 4On the present occasion Decimus Junius Silanus, who was consul-elect, and hence the first to be called upon for his opinion regarding those who were held in custody, as well as about Lucius Cassius, Publius Furius, Publius Umbrenus, and Titus Annius in case they should be caught, had recommended that they be put to death; later, profoundly influenced by the speech of Gaius Caesar, he said that, when a division was called for, he would give his vote for the proposal of Tiberius Nero, who had advised merely that the guards be increased and the question reopened. 5But Caesar, when his turn came and the consul asked him for his opinion, spoke in the following terms:

51“Fathers of the Senate, all men who deliberate upon difficult questions ought to be free from hatred and friendship, anger and pity. 2When these feelings stand in the way the mind cannot easily discern the truth, and no mortal man has ever served at the same time his passions and his best interests. 3When you apply your intellect, it prevails; if passion possesses you, it holds sway, and the mind is impotent. 4I might mention many occasions, Fathers of the Senate, when kings and peoples under the influence of wrath or pity have made errors of judgment; but I prefer to remind you of times when our forefathers, resisting the dictates of passion, have acted justly and in order. 5In the Macedonian war, which we waged with king Perses, the great and glorious community of the Rhodians, which owed its growth to the support of the Roman people, was unfaithful to us and hostile. But after the war was over and the question of the Rhodians was under discussion, our ancestors let them go unpunished for fear that someone might say that the wealth of the Rhodians, rather than resentment for the wrong they had done, had led to the declaration of war. 6So, too, in all the Punic wars, although the Carthaginians both in time of peace and in the course of truces had often done many abominable deeds, the Romans never retaliated when they had the opportunity, but they inquired rather what conduct would be consistent with their dignity than how far the law would allow them to go in taking vengeance on their enemies. 7You likewise, Fathers of the Senate, must beware of letting the guilt of Publius Lentulus and the rest have more weight with you than your own dignity, and of taking more thought for your anger than for your good name. 8If a punishment commensurate with their crimes can be found, I favour a departure from precedent; but if the enormity of their guilt surpasses all men’s imagination, I should advise limiting ourselves to such penalties as the law has established.

9“The greater number of those who have expressed their opinions before me have deplored the lot of the commonwealth in finished and noble phrases; they have dwelt upon the horrors of war, the wretched fate of the conquered, the rape of maidens and boys, children torn from their parents’ arms, matrons subjected to the will of the victors, temples and homes pillaged, bloodshed and fire; in short, arms and corpses everywhere, gore and grief. 10But, O ye immortal gods! what was the purpose of such speeches? Was it to make you detest the conspiracy? You think that a man who has not been affected by a crime so monstrous and so cruel will be fired by a speech! 11Nay, not so; no mortal man thinks his own wrongs unimportant; many, indeed, are wont to resent them more than is right. 12But not all men, Fathers of the Senate, are allowed the same freedom of action. If the humble, who pass their lives in obscurity, commit any offence through anger, it is known to few; their fame and fortune are alike. But the actions of those who hold great power, and pass their lives in a lofty station, are known to all the world. 13So it comes to pass that in the highest position there is the least freedom of action. 14There neither partiality nor dislike is in place, and anger least of all; for what in others is called wrath, this in a ruler is termed insolence and cruelty.

15“For my own part, Fathers of the Senate, I consider no tortures sufficient for the crimes of these men; but most mortals remember only that which happens last, and in the case of godless men forget their guilt and descant upon the punishment they have received, if it is a little more severe than common. 16I have no doubt that Decimus Silanus, a gallant and brave man, was led by patriotism to say what he did say, and that in a matter of such moment he showed neither favour nor enmity; so well do I know the man’s character and moderation. 17Yet his proposal seems to me, I will not say cruel (for what could be cruel in the case of such men?) but foreign to the customs of our country. 18For surely, Silanus, it was either fear or the gravity of the offence which impelled you, a consul elect, to favour a novel form of punishment. 19As regards fear it is needless to speak, especially since, thanks to the precautions of our distinguished consul, we have such strong guards under arms. 20So far as the penalty is concerned, I can say with truth that amid grief and wretchedness death is a relief from woes, not a punishment; that it puts an end to all mortal ills and leaves no room either for sorrow or for joy.

21“But, by the immortal gods! why did you not, Silanus, add the recommendation that they first be scourged? 22Was it because the Porcian law forbids? Yes, but there are other laws too which provide that Roman citizens, even when found guilty, shall not lose their lives, but shall be permitted to go into exile. 23Was it because it is more grievous to be scourged than to be killed? But what punishment is rigorous or too grievous for men convicted of so great a crime? 24If, however, it was because scourging is the lighter punishment, what consistency is there in respecting the law in the lesser point when you have disregarded it in the greater? 25But, you may say, who will complain of a decree which is passed against traitors to their country? Time, I answer, the lapse of years, and Fortune, whose caprice rules the nations. 26Whatever befalls these prisoners will be well deserved; but you, Fathers of the Senate, are called upon to consider how your action will affect other criminals. 27All bad precedents have originated in cases which were good; but when the control of the government falls into the hands of men who are incompetent or bad, your new precedent is transferred from those who well deserve and merit such punishment to the undeserving and blameless.

28“The Lacedaemonians, after they had conquered the Athenians, set over them thirty men to carry on their government. 29These men began at first by putting to death without a trial the most wicked and generally hated citizens, whereat the people rejoiced greatly and declared that it was well done. 30But afterwards their licence gradually increased, and the tyrants slew good and bad alike at pleasure and intimidated the rest. 31Thus the nation was reduced to slavery and had to pay a heavy penalty for its foolish rejoicing. 32Within our own memory, when the conqueror Sulla ordered the execution of Damasippus and others of that kind, who had become prominent at the expense of the state, who did not commend his action? All declared that those criminal intriguers, who had vexed the country with their civil strife, deserved their fate. 33But that was the beginning of great bloodshed; for whenever anyone coveted a man’s house in town or country, or at last even his goods or his garment, he contrived to have him enrolled among the proscribed. 34Thus those who had exulted in the death of Damasippus were themselves before long hurried off to execution, and the massacre did not end until Sulla glutted all his followers with riches.

35“For my own part, I fear nothing of that kind for Marcus Tullius or for our times, but in a great commonwealth there are many different natures. 36It is possible that at another time, when someone else is consul and is likewise in command of an army, some falsehood may be believed to be true. When the consul, with this precedent before him, shall draw the sword in obedience to the senate’s decree, who shall limit or restrain him?

37“Our ancestors, Fathers of the Senate, were never lacking either in wisdom or courage, and yet pride did not keep them from adopting foreign institutions, provided they were honourable. 38They took their offensive and defensive weapons from the Samnites, the badges of their magistrates for the most part from the Etruscans. In fine, whatever they found suitable among allies or foes, they put in practice at home with the greatest enthusiasm, preferring to imitate rather than envy the successful. 39But in that same age, following the usage of Greece, they applied the scourge to citizens and inflicted the supreme penalty upon those found guilty. 40Afterwards, when the state reached maturity and because of its large population factions prevailed; when the blameless began to be oppressed and other wrongs of that kind were perpetrated: then they devised the Porcian law and other laws, which allowed the condemned the alternative of exile. 41This seems to me, Fathers of the Senate, a particularly cogent reason why we should not adopt a new policy. 42Surely there was greater merit and wisdom in those men, who from slight resources created this mighty empire, than in us, who can barely hold what they gloriously won.

43“Do I then recommend that the prisoners be allowed to depart and swell Catiline’s forces? By no means! This, rather, is my advice: that their goods be confiscated and that they themselves be kept imprisoned in the strongest of the free towns; further, that no one hereafter shall refer their case to the senate or bring it before the people, under pain of being considered by the senate to have designs against the welfare of the state and the common safety.”

52After Caesar had finished speaking, the rest briefly expressed their adherence to one or another of the various proposals. But Marcus Porcius Cato, when called upon for his opinion, spoke to the following purport:

2“My feelings are very different, Fathers of the Senate, when I turn my mind to the plot and the danger we are in, and when I reflect upon the recommendations of some of our number. 3The speakers appear to me to have dwelt upon the punishment of these men who have plotted warfare upon their country, parents, altars, and hearths; but the situation warns us rather to take precautions against them than to argue about what we are to do with them. 4For in the case of other offences you may proceed against them after they have been committed; with this, unless you take measures to forestall it, in vain will you appeal to the laws when once it has been consummated. Once a city has been taken nothing is left to the vanquished.

5“Nay, in the name of the immortal gods I call upon you, who have always valued your houses, villas, statues, and paintings more highly than your country; if you wish to retain the treasures to which you cling, of whatsoever kind they may be, if you even wish to provide peace for the enjoyment of your pleasures, wake up at last and lay hold of the reins of the state. 6Here is no question of revenues or the wrongs of our allies; our lives and liberties are at stake. 7Oftentimes, Fathers of the Senate, I have spoken at great length before this body; I have often deplored the extravagance and greed of our citizens, and in that way I have made many men my enemies. 8I, who had never granted to myself or to my impulses indulgence for any transgression, could not readily condone misdeeds prompted by another’s passion. 9But although you were wont to give little weight to my words, yet the state was unshaken; its prosperity made good your neglect.

10“Now, however, the question before us is not whether our morals are good or bad, nor how great or glorious the empire of the Roman people is, but whether all that we have, however we regard it, is to be ours, or with ourselves is to belong to the enemy. 11At this point (save the mark!) someone hints at gentleness and long-suffering! But in very truth we have long since lost the true names for things. It is precisely because squandering the goods of others is called generosity, and recklessness in wrong doing is called courage, that the republic is reduced to extremities. 12Let these men by all means, since such is the fashion of the time, be liberal at the expense of our allies, let them be merciful to plunderers of the treasury; but let them not be prodigal of our blood, and in sparing a few scoundrels bring ruin upon all good men.

13“In fine and finished phrases did Gaius Caesar a moment ago before this body speak of life and death, regarding as false, I presume, the tales which are told of the Lower World, where they say that the wicked take a different path from the good, and dwell in regions that are gloomy, desolate, unsightly, and full of fears. 14Therefore he recommended that the goods of the prisoners be confiscated, and that they themselves be imprisoned in the free towns, doubtless through fear that if they remained in Rome the adherents of the plot or a hired mob would rescue them by force. 15As if, indeed, there were base and criminal men only in our city and not all over Italy, or as if audacity had not greatest strength where the power to resist it is weakest! 16Therefore, this advice is utterly futile if Caesar fears danger from the conspirators; but if amid such general fear he alone has none, I have the more reason to fear for you and for myself. 17Be assured, then, that when you decide the fate of Publius Lentulus and the rest, you will at the same time be passing judgment on Catiline’s army and all the conspirators. 18The more vigorous your action, the less will be their courage; but if they detect the slightest weakness on your part, they will all be here immediately, filled with reckless daring. 19Do not suppose that it was by arms that our forefathers raised our country from obscurity to greatness. 20If that were so, we should have a much fairer state than theirs, since we have a greater number of citizens and allies than they possessed, to say nothing of arms and horses. 21But there were other qualities which made them great, which we do not possess at all: efficiency at home, a just rule abroad, in counsel an independent spirit free from guilt or passion. 22In place of these we have extravagance and greed, public poverty and private opulence. We extol wealth and foster idleness. We make no distinction between good men and bad, and ambition appropriates all the prizes of merit. 23And no wonder! When each of you schemes for his own private interests, when you are slaves to pleasure in your homes and to money or influence here, the natural result is an attack upon the defenceless republic.

24“But I let that pass. Citizens of the highest rank have conspired to fire their native city, they stir up to war the Gauls, bitterest enemies of the Roman people. The leader of the enemy with his army is upon us. 25Do you even now hesitate and doubtfully ask yourselves what is to be done with foemen taken within your walls? 26Have compassion upon them, I conjure you (they are but young men, led astray by ambition), and even let them go, taking their arms with them! 27Of a truth, if they should resort to war, that gentleness and long-suffering of yours would result in suffering. 28No doubt the situation is a terrible one, you say, but you are not afraid of it. Nay, but you do fear it exceedingly, though from slothfulness and weakness of spirit you hesitate, waiting one for the other, doubtless trusting to the immortal gods, who have often saved our country in moments of extreme danger. 29Not by vows nor womanish entreaties is the help of the gods secured; it is always through watchfulness, vigorous action, and wisdom in counsel that success comes. When you abandon yourself to cowardice and baseness, it is vain to call upon the gods; they are offended and hostile.

30“In the days of our forefathers Aulus Manlius Torquatus, while warring with the Gauls, ordered the execution of his own son, because he had fought against the enemy contrary to orders, 31and the gallant young man paid the penalty for too great valour with his life. 32Do you hesitate what punishment to inflict upon the most ruthless traitors? No doubt their past lives have been such as to palliate this crime! 33By all means spare Lentulus because of his rank, if he ever spared his own chastity, his good name, or anyone, god or man. Pardon the youth of Cethegus, if this is not the second time that he has made war upon his country. 34And what shall I say of Gabinius, Statilius, and Caeparius, who would never have formed such designs against the republic if they had ever respected anything?

35“Finally, Fathers of the Senate, if (Heaven help us!) there were any room for error I should be quite willing to let you learn wisdom by experience, since you scorn my advice. But as it is, we are beset on every side. Catiline with his army is at our throats; other foes are within our walls, aye, in the very heart of Rome. Neither preparations nor plans can be kept secret; therefore the more need of haste. 36This, then, is my recommendation: whereas our country has been subjected to the greatest peril through the abominable plot of wicked citizens, and whereas they have been proven guilty by the testimony of Titus Volturcius and the envoys of the Allobroges, and have confessed that they have planned murder, arson, and other fearful and cruel crimes against their fellow citizens and their country, let those who have confessed be treated as though they had been caught red-handed in capital offences, and be punished after the manner of our forefathers.”

53As soon as Cato had taken his seat, all the ex-consuls, as well as a great part of the other senators, praised his proposal and lauded his courage to the skies, while they taxed one another with timorousness. Cato was hailed as great and noble, and a decree of the senate was passed in accordance with his recommendation.

2For my own part, as I read and heard of the many illustrious deeds of the Roman people at home and abroad, on land and sea, it chanced that I was seized by a strong desire of finding out what quality in particular had been the foundation of so great exploits. 3I knew that often with a handful of men they had encountered great armies of the enemy; I was aware that with small resources they had waged wars with mighty kings; also that they had often experienced the cruelty of Fortune; that the Romans had been surpassed by the Greeks in eloquence and by the Gauls in warlike glory. 4After long reflection I became convinced that it had all been accomplished by the eminent merit of a few citizens; that it was due to them that poverty had triumphed over riches, and a few over a multitude. 5But after the state had become demoralized by extravagance and sloth, it was the commonwealth in its turn that was enabled by its greatness to sustain the shortcomings of its generals and magistrates, and for a long time, as when a mother is exhausted by child-bearing, no one at all was produced at Rome who was great in merit. 6But within my own memory there have appeared two men of towering merit, though of diverse character, Marcus Cato and Gaius Caesar. As regards these men, since the occasion has presented itself, it is not my intention to pass them by in silence, or fail to give, to the best of my ability, an account of their disposition and character.

54In birth then, in years and in eloquence, they were about equal; in greatness of soul they were evenly matched, and likewise in renown, although the renown of each was different. 2Caesar was held great because of his benefactions and lavish generosity, Cato for the uprightness of his life. 3The former became famous for his gentleness and compassion, the austerity of the latter had brought him prestige. Caesar gained glory by giving, helping, and forgiving; Cato by never stooping to bribery. One was a refuge for the unfortunate, the other a scourge for the wicked. The good nature of the one was applauded, the steadfastness of the other. 4Finally, Caesar had schooled himself to work hard and sleep little, to devote himself to the welfare of his friends and neglect his own, to refuse nothing which was worth the giving. He longed for great power, an army, a new war to give scope for his brilliant merit. 5Cato, on the contrary, cultivated self-control, propriety, but above all austerity. 6He did not vie with the rich in riches nor in intrigue with the intriguer, but with the active in good works, with the self-restrained in moderation, with the blameless in integrity. He preferred to be, rather than to seem, virtuous;hence the less he sought fame, the more it pursued him.

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