Cicero, Epistulae ad Atticum (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Cic. Att.].
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9.10

CCCLXIV (A IX, 10)

TO ATTICUS (AT ROME) FORMIAE, 18 MARCH

I have nothing to write about: for I have heard no news and I answered all your letters yesterday. But as uneasiness of mind not only deprives me of sleep, but prevents my even keeping awake without extreme pain, I have begun this letter to you—I can't tell what about, and I have no subject to hand—that I may in a manner have a talk with you, the one thing which gives me any repose. I think I have been a fool from the beginning, and the one thing that torments me is that I did not follow Pompey, like any private in the ranks, when, in every part of his policy, he was losing his footing, or rather rushing headlong to ruin. On the 17th of January I could see that he was thoroughly frightened. On that very day I detected his design. From that moment he forfeited my confidence, and never ceased committing one blunder after another. Meanwhile, never a line to me; no thought of anything but flight. Need I say more? As in love affairs men lose all fancy for women who are dirty, stupid, and indelicate, even so, the indecency of his flight and mismanagement put me off from my love for him. For in no respect was he acting in a way to make it proper for me to join his flight. Now love again rises: now my regret for him is more than I can bear: now I can get no good out of books, literature, or philosophy. So earnestly as I gaze across the sea, do I long, like Plato's bird, to fly away. [Note] I am being punished, indeed I am, for my rashness. Yet what did that rashness amount to? What have I done without the most anxious consideration? If his only object had been flight, I could have fled with the utmost pleasure, but

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it was the nature of the war, beyond measure sanguinary and widespread, the future of which men do not yet realize, that I shrank from with horror. What threats to the towns, to individual loyalists personally, to everybody, in fact, who stayed in Rome! How often did I hear" Sulla could do it, why not I?" For myself I was haunted with the reflexions: it was unrighteous of Tarquinius to stir up Porsena and Octavius Mamilius against his country; impious in Coriolanus to seek aid from the Volsci; righteous in Themistocles to prefer death; Hippias, son of Pisistratus, who fell in the battle of Marathon bearing arms against his country, was Criminal. But it may be said that Sulla, Marius, and Cinna had right on their side: rather I should perhaps admit that they had a technical justification; yet what could be more cruel and bloody than their use of victory? It was the nature of the war that I shrank from, and the more so because I saw that even bloodier work was being imagined and prepared. I—whom some called the preserver of this city, some its parent—I to bring against it armies of the Getae, Armenians, and Colchians! I to inflict famine on my fellow citizens, devastation upon Italy! Caesar, to begin with, I reflected was mortal, and in the next place might also come to an end in many ways: but the City and our people I thought ought to be preserved, as far as in us lay, for ever: and, after all, I pleased myself by hoping that some accommodation would be reached rather than the one of these men commit such a crime, or the other such an abomination. The matter is now wholly changed, and so are my feelings. The sun, as you said in one of your letters, seems to me to have disappeared from the universe. As in the case of a sick man one says, "While there is life there is hope," so, as long as Pompey was in Italy, I did not cease to hope. It is the present situation, the present, I say, that has baffled my calculations. And to confess the truth, my age, now after my long day's labour sloping towards an evening of repose, has relaxed my energies by suggesting the charms of family life. But now, however dangerous the experiment of attempting to fly hence, that experiment shall at least be made. I ought, perhaps, to have done so before. But the considerations I have mentioned held me back, and above all things your influence. For when I got to this point in my letter, I

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unrolled the volume of your letters, which I keep under seal and preserve with the greatest care. Now there were in the letter dated by you the 21st of January the following expression: "But let us first see what Gnaeus is about, and in what direction his plans are drifting. Now, if he does abandon Italy, he will be acting certainly improperly, and, in my opinion, unwisely too. But it will be time enough, when he does that, to make a change in our policy." This you write on the fourth day after our quitting the city Next on the 23rd of January: "May our friend Gnaeus only not abandon Italy, as he has unwisely done Rome !" On the same day you write a second letter, in which you answer my application for advice in the plainest terms. This is what you say: "To come to the point on which you ask my opinion If Gnaeus quits Italy, I think you should return to the city: for what limit can there be to such a trip abroad as that?" This is what I could not get over: and I now see that attached to a most humiliating flight, which you euphemistically call a "trip abroad," is an unlimited war. Then follows your prophecy of the 25th of January: "If Pompey remains in Italy, and no terms are come to, I think there will be an unusually long war: but if he abandons Italy, I think that there awaits us in the future a really 'truceless' war." It is in such a war, then, that I am forced to be an abettor-one that is both truceless and with fellow citizens. Again, on the 7th of February, when you had heard more particulars of Pompey's designs, you end a certain letter thus; "For my part, if Pompey quits Italy, I should not advise your doing the same. For you will be running a very great risk and be doing no good to the Republic, to which you may be of some service hereafter if you remain." What patriot or statesman would not such advice, backed by the weight of wisdom and friendship, have moved? Next, on the 11th of February, you again answer my request for advice thus: "You ask me whether I advise flight, or defend delay, and consider it the better course: for the present, indeed, my opinion is that a sudden departure and hurried start would be, both for yourself and Gnaeus useless and dangerous, and I think it better that you should be separate and each on his own watchtower. But, on my honour, I think it disgraceful for us to be thinking of flight!" This

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"disgraceful" measure our friend Gnaeus had contemplated two years ago: for so long a time past has his mind been set on playing the Sulla and indulging in proscriptions. Then, as I think, after you had written to me again in somewhat more general terms, and I had taken certain expressions of yours as advising me to leave Italy, you warmly disavow any such meaning on the 19th of February. "I certainly have not indicated in any letter of mine that, if Gnaeus quits Italy, you should do so with him: or, if I did so express myself, I was, I don't say inconsistent, but mad." In another passage of the same letter you say: "Nothing is left for him but flight, in which I do not think, and never have thought, that you, should share." This whole question again you discuss in greater detail in a letter of the 22nd of February: "If M. Lepidus and L. Volcatius stay, I think you should stay also: with the understanding, however, that, if Pompey survives and makes a stand anywhere, you should leave this inferno, and be more content to be beaten in the contest along with him, than reign with Caesar in the sink of iniquity which will evidently prevail here." You adduce many arguments to support this opinion. Then at the end you say: "What if Lepidus and Volcatius depart? In that case I doubt. So I think you must acquiesce in whatever happens and whatever you have done." If you had felt doubt before, you have now, at any rate, no hesitation, since those two are still in Italy. Again, when the flight had become an accomplished fact, on the 25th of February: "Meanwhile, I feel no doubt you had better remain at Formiae. That will be the most suitable place for waiting to see what turns up." On the 1st of March, when Pompey had been four days at Brundisium: "We shall be able to deliberate then no longer, it is true, with quite free hands, but certainly less fatally committed than if you had taken the great plunge in his company." Then on the 4th of March, though writing briefly, because it was the eve of your attack of ague, you yet use this expression: "I will write at greater length tomorrow; however, speaking generally, I will say this—that I do not repent my advice as to your staying, and though with great anxiety, yet, because I think it involves less evil than your starting would do, I abide by my opinion and rejoice that you have stayed." Moreover,

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when I was now in great pain, and was fearing that I had been guilty of a base act, on the 5th of March you say: "After all, I am not sorry that you are not with Pompey. Hereafter, if it turns out to be necessary, there will be no difficulty: and at whatever time it takes place, it will be welcome to him. But I speak on the understanding that, if Caesar goes on as he has begun, and acts with sincerity, moderation, and wisdom, I shall have thoroughly to reconsider the position, and to look with greater care into what is for our advantage to do." On the 9th of March you say that our friend Peducaeus also approves of my having kept quiet; and his opinion has great weight with me. From these expressions in your letters I console myself with the belief that as yet I have done no wrong. Only pray justify your advice. There is no need to do so as far as I am concerned, but I want others to be in the same boat as myself. If I have done nothing wrong in the past, I will maintain the same blamelessness in the future. Only pray continue your exhortation that direction, and assist me by communicating your thoughts. Nothing has as yet been heard here about Caesar's return. For myself, I have got thus much good by writing this letter: I have read through all yours, and have found repose in that.



Cicero, Epistulae ad Atticum (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Cic. Att.].
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