[Thatcher Introduction]: Marcus Tullius Cicero was the
eldest son of an equestrian, though not noble, family. He was born 105 B.C. and was
beheaded by Antony's soldiers in 43 B.C. The path open for political honors to a "new
man" [i.e., no one of whose family had held a magistracy in Rome] was through the
law, and at twenty-six, after a thorough Greek and Latin education, Cicero pleaded his
first case. The next year he successfully defended Publius Sextus Roscius against the
favorite of Sulla, the dictator, and thought it best, during the rest of Sulla's
dictatorship, to travel for his education and his health. At thirty-two he was elected
quaestor to Sicily, and because of his integrity while holding this magistracy, was soon
afterwards chosen by the Sicilians to prosecute their former governor Verres for
extortion. Cicero was curule aedile in 69 B.C., praetor urbanus in 66 B.C. In this year he
supported Pompey for the eastern command, and the two never quite ceased to be friends.
Cicero was consul in 63 B.C., and put down the conspiracy of Catiline.
Sulla's constitution had been gradually changing since his death, and Cicero slowly
came to side with the optimates as against the populares and to try to carry the
equestrians with him. He might have been a member of the "First Triumvirate" but
perhaps preferred the existing institutions to such high-handed measures. In 58 B.C. he
was exiled through the efforts of the demagogue Publius Clodius, but was recalled the next
year. When civil war broke out between Caesar and Pompey, Cicero tried to side with
neither, but at length joined Pompey's army in Epirus. After the defeat of the latter at
Pharsalus, Cicero, whom sickness had kept from the battle, returned to Italy and sought
pardon of Caesar. When Caesar was assassinated four years later, Cicero saw visions of the
old republican government revived once more, and delivered his fierce philippics against
Antony; but upon the coalition of Octavius and Antony, was proscribed by Antony and killed
by the latter's soldiers.
On the Republic.
35. Then Laelius said: But you have not told us, Scipio, which of these three
forms of government you yourself most approve.
Scipio: You are right to shape your question, which of the three I most approve,
for there is not one of them which I approve at all by itself, since, as I told you, I
prefer that government which is mixed and composed of all these forms, to any one of them
taken separately. But if I must confine myself to one of the particular forms simply and
exclusively, I must confess I prefer the royal one, and praise that as the first and best.
In this, which I here choose to call the primitive form of government, I find the title of
father attached to that of king, to express that he watches over the citizens as over his
children, and endeavors rather to preserve them in freedom than reduce them to slavery. So
that it is more advantageous for those who are insignificant in property and capacity to
be supported by the care of one excellent and eminently powerful man. The nobles here
present themselves, who profess that they can do all this in much better style; for they
say that there is much more wisdom in many than in one, and at least as much faith and
equity. And, last of all, come the people, who cry with a loud voice, that they will
render obedience neither to the one nor to the few; that even to brute beasts nothing is
so dear as liberty; and that all men who serve either kings or nobles are deprived of it.
Thus, the kings attract us by affection, the nobles by talent, the people by liberty; and
in the comparison it is hard to choose the best.
Laelius: I think so, too, but yet it is impossible to dispatch the other
branches of the question, if you leave this primary point undetermined.
36. Scipio: We must, then, I suppose, imitate Aratus, who, when he
prepared himself to treat of great things, thought himself in duty bound to begin with
Laelius: Why Jupiter? And what is there in this discussion which resembles that
Scipio: Why, it serves to teach us that we cannot better commence our
investigations than by invoking him whom, with one voice, both learned and unlearned extol
as the universal king of all gods and men.
Laelius: How so?
Scipio: Do you, then, believe in nothing which is not before your eyes? Whether
these ideas have been established by the chiefs of states for the benefit of society, that
there might be believed to exist one Universal Monarch in heaven, at whose nod (as Homer
expresses it) all Olympus trembles, and that he might be accounted both king and father of
all creatures; for there is great authority, and there are many witnesses, if you choose
to call all many, who attest that all nations have unanimously recognized, by the decrees
of their chiefs, that nothing is better than a king, since they think that all the gods
are governed by the divine power of one sovereign; or if we suspect that this opinion
rests on the error of the ignorant, and should be classed among the fables, let us listen
to those universal testimonies of erudite men, who have, as it were, seen with their eyes
those things to the knowledge of which we can hardly attain by report.
Laelius: What men do you mean?
Scipio: Those who, by the investigation of nature, have arrived at the opinion
that the whole universe [is animated] by a single Mind. . . . [Text missing].
37. Scipio: But if you please, my Laelius, I will bring forward
evidences, which are neither too ancient, nor in any respect barbarous.
Laelius: Those are what I want.
Scipio: You are aware, that it is now not four centuries since this city of ours
has been without kings.
Laelius: You are correct, it is less than four centuries.
Scipio: Well, then, what are four centuries in the age of a state or city; is it
a long time ?
Laelius: It hardly amounts to the age of maturity.
Scipio: You say truly, and yet not four centuries have elapsed since there was a
king in Rome.
Laelius: And he was a proud king.
Scipio: But who was his predecessor?
Laelius: He was an admirably just one; and, indeed, we must bestow the same
praise on all his predecessors, as far back as Romulus, who reigned about six centuries
Scipio: Even he, then, is not very ancient.
Laelius: No, he reigned when Greece was already becoming old.
Scipio: Agreed. Was Romulus, then, think you, king of a barbarous people?
Laelius: Why, as to that, if we are to follow the example of the Greeks, who say
that all people are either Greeks or barbarians, I am afraid that we must confess that he
was a king of barbarians; but if this name belong rather to manners than to languages,
then I believe the Greeks were just as barbarous as the Romans.
Scipio: But with respect to the present question, we do not so much need to
inquire into the nation as into the disposition. For if intelligent men, at a period so
little remote, desired the governing of kings, you will confess that I am producing
authorities that are neither antiquated, rude, nor insignificant.
38. Laelius: I see, Scipio, that you are very sufficiently provided with
authorities; but with me, as with every fair judge, authorities are worth less than
Scipio: Then, Laelius, you shall yourself make use of an argument derived from
your own senses.
Laelius: What senses do you mean ?
Scipio: The feelings which you experience when at any time you happen to feel
angry at anyone.
Laelius: That happens rather oftener than I could wish.
Scipio: Well, then, when you are angry, do you permit your anger to triumph over
Laelius: No, by Hercules! I imitate the famous Archytas of Tarentum, who, when
he came to his villa, and found all its arrangements were contrary to his orders, said to
his steward "Ah! you unlucky scoundrel, I would flog you to death, if it were not
that I am in a rage with you."
Scipio: Capital. Archytas, then, regarded unreasonable anger as a kind of
sedition and rebellion of nature, which he sought to appease by reflection. And so, if we
examine avarice, the ambition of power or glory, or the lusts of concupiscence and
licentiousness, we shall find a certain conscience in the mind of man, which, like a king,
sways by the force of counsel all the inferior faculties and propensities; and this, in
truth, is the noblest portion of our nature; for when conscience reigns, it allows no
resting place to lust, violence, or temerity.
Laelius: You have spoken the truth.
Scipio: Well, then, does a mind thus governed and regulated meet your
Laelius: More than anything on earth.
Scipio: Then you would not approve that the evil passions, which are
innumerable, should expel conscience, and that lusts and animal propensities should assume
an ascendancy over us?
Laelius: For my part, I can conceive nothing more wretched than a mind thus
degraded, or a man animated by a soul so licentious.
Scipio: You desire, then, that all the facilities of the mind should submit to a
ruling power, and that conscience should reign over them all?
Laelius: Certainly, that is my wish.
Scipio: How, then, can you doubt what opinion to form on the subject of the
commonwealth? in which, if the state is thrown into many hands, it is very plain that
there will be no presiding authority; for if power be not united, it soon comes to
39. Laelius: But what difference is there, I should like to know, between
the one and the many, if justice exists equally in many?
Scipio: Since I see, my Laelius, that the authorities I have adduced have no
great influence on you, I must continue to employ yourself as my witness in proof of what
I am saying.
Laelius: In what way are you going to make me again support your argument?
Scipio: Why thus. I recollect when we were lately at Formiae that you told your
servants repeatedly to obey the orders of not more than one master only.
Laelius: To be sure, those of my steward.
Scipio: What do you at home? do you commit your affairs to the hands of many
Laelius: No, I trust them to myself alone.
Scipio: Well, in your whole establishment, is there any other master but
Laelius: Not one.
Scipio: Then I think you must grant me that as respects the state, the
government of single individuals, provided they are just, is superior to any other.
Laelius: You have conducted me to this conclusion, and I entertain very nearly
40. Scipio: You would still further agree with me, my Laelius, if,
omitting the common comparisons, that one pilot is better fitted to steer a ship, and a
physician to treat an invalid, provided they be competent men in their respective
professions, than many could be, I should come at once to more illustrious examples.
Laelius: What examples do you mean?
Scipio: Do you observe that it was the cruelty and pride of one single Tarquin
only, that made the title of king unpopular among the Romans ?
Laelius: Yes, I acknowledge that.
Scipio: You are also aware of this fact, on which I think I shall debate in the
course of the coming discussion, that after the expulsion of King Tarquin, the people were
transported by a wonderful excess of liberty. Then, innocent men were driven into
banishment; then the estates of many individuals were pillaged, consulships were made
annual, public authorities were overawed by mobs, popular appeals took place in all cases
imaginable; then secessions of the lower orders ensued; and lastly, those proceedings
which tended to place all powers in the hands of the populace.
Laelius: I must confess this all too true.
Scipio: All these things now happened during periods of peace and tranquility,
for licence is wont to prevail when there is too little to fear, as in a calm voyage, or a
trifling disease. But as we observe the voyager and invalid implore the aid of some
competent director, as soon as the sea grows stormy and the disease alarming! so our
nation in peace and security commands, threatens, resists, appeals from, and insults its
magistrates, but in war obeys them as strictly as kings; for public safety is after all
rather more valuable than popular licence. And in the most serious wars, our countrymen
have even chosen the entire command to be deposited in the hands of some single chief,
without a colleague; the very name of which magistrate indicates the absolute character of
his power. For though he is evidently called dictator because he is appointed, yet do we
still observe him, my Laelius, in our sacred books entitled Magister Populi, the
master of the people.
Laelius: This is certainly the case.
Scipio: Our ancestors, therefore, acted wisely.