"[I]t may be, as is often the case in controversies, that there are more words on one side but more truth on the other."
If you visited yesterday's post, then you have some sense of what rhymesters do for amusement; yet it may be about more than wanting to use a couple of spanking new (to me) words: it also serves as a help in processing information. What did Disraeli say about, if you want to really learn a subject, write a book about it? (I have that in anecdote form from Joseph Epstein, not first hand.)
I continue to look at Cicero's Letters to Atticus, translated by D.R. Shackleton Bailey. I wish I had the bilingual, annotated editions; but those lie beyond the reach of my purse—so I am following along with Shackleton Bailey's book about Cicero. For the reader just breaking ground with Rome, it might be the best place to start. For me, the parallel course entails a lot of repetition, as the biography is heavy on excerpts, embedded within explanatory context, though I like best the letters complete. Cicero contemplates the threat presented by Julius Caesar:
I am one of those who hold it more expedient to concede his demands than to join battle. It is late in time for us to resist a force which we have been building up against ourselves for ten years. (Formiae, Mid-December 50)
[T]he root of all these things is one and the same. We should have stood up to him when he was weak, and that would have been easy. Now we have to deal with eleven legions, all the cavalry he may want, the Gauls beyond Po, the city populace, all these Tribunes, our demoralized youth, and a leader strong in prestige and hardihood. We must either fight him or allow his candidature as by law authorized. “Better fight than be a slave,” you say. For what? Proscription if you’re beaten and if you win slavery just the same? What am I going to do then? What stray cattle do when they follow droves of their own species. As an ox follows the herd, so I shall follow the honest men or whoever may be called such, even if they plunge. The best course in the straits to which we are reduced I see clearly enough. For nobody can be sure what will happen once the fight is on, but everybody can assume that if the honest men are beaten Caesar will be no more merciful than Cinna in the slaughter of leading men and no more temperate than Sulla in plundering the rich. (Formiae, 19 (?) December 50)
Cicero seems to withhold nothing; I say seems, because there are telltale hints and even frank admissions that he has left something out, possibly because of the sensitivity of the information. His vacillation (or "tergiversation") is rather spelled out in this uncut letter from February 49:
Troubled as I am by matters of the gravest and saddest consequence and lacking the opportunity of consulting with you in person, I still want the benefit of your advice. The whole question at issue is this: if Pompey leaves Italy, as I suspect he will, what to you think I ought to do? It may help you to advise me if I set out briefly the points which occur to my mind in favor or either course.
Besides the signal obligations to Pompey under which I lie in the matter of my restoration and my personal friendship with him, the public cause itself leads me to feel that my course and my fortunes should be linked with his. There is a further point. If I stay and desert that company of right-minded and illustrious Romans, I must needs fall into the hands of one man. That man, it is true, lets it appear in many ways that he is my friend, and, as you know, I set myself long ago to make him such because of my premonition of the storm that was brewing, but two things are to be considered: first, how far he is to be trusted, second, no matter how definitely his amity is assured, whether it is the part of a brave man and a patriot to remain in a city in which he has held the highest offices and commands, has done great things, and been invested with an exalted priestly function, in a reduced status and in prospect of danger along perhaps with some discredit (?) should Pompey ever restore the constitution. So much on one side.
Now look at what can be said on the other. Our friend Pompey’s proceedings have throughout been destitute alike of wisdom and of courage; and, I may add, contrary throughout to my advice and influence. I say nothing of ancient history--his building up and aggrandizing and arming Caesar against the state, his backing the violent and unconstitutional passage of Caesar’s laws, his addition of Transalpine Gaul to Caesar’s command, his marriage to Caesar’s daughter, his appearance as Augur at P. Claudius’ adoption, his greater concern for my restoration than for the prevention of my banishment, his prolongation of Caesar’s tenure, his consistent support during Caesar’s absence, his pressure (even during his third Consulship, after he had taken up the role of champion of the constitution) on the ten Tribunes to propose their law enabling Caesar to stand in absentia, a privilege which he confirmed after a fashion by a law of his own, his opposition to Consul M. Marcellus when he tried to fix the Kalends of March as the term of Caesar’s command in Gaul—to say nothing of all this, what could be more undignified or more disorderly than his withdrawal from the capital or rather this disgraceful flight in which we are now involved? Would not any peace terms have been preferable to the abandonment of the mother city? The terms were bad I grant, but was anything worse than this?
You say he will restore the constitution. When? What provision is there for implementing such hopes? Picenum has been lost, the road to the capital left open, its entire wealth, public and private, handed over to the enemy. To cap all, there is no organization, no power, no rallying-point for would-be defenders of the constitution. Apulia was selected, the most sparsely populated area in Italy and the most remote from the onset of this war, apparently in despair as a coastal region convenient for flight. I declined (?) Capua, not that I shirked the post, but I did not want to be a leader without a force (?) in a cause which aroused no passion either in any order or, overtly, among private individuals, and in which the feelings of honest men, though not wholly inactive, were as usual far from keen, whereas the populace and the lower orders sympathized, as I myself observed, with the other side and many were eager for revolution. I told Pompey to his face that I would undertake nothing without troops and money. Accordingly I have had nothing whatever to do, because I saw from the start that flight pure and simple was intended. If I now follow it, what is to be my route? I cannot go with Pompey. When I set out to join him I learned that Caesar’s whereabouts made it unsafe for me to go to Luceria. I must take ship by the Western Sea to an uncertain destination in the depths of winter. Then again, am I to go with my brother or without him with my son, or how? Either way will involve the greatest embarrassment and distress of mind. And imagine Caesar’s fury against me and my possessions when I am away. It will be more bitter than in other cases because he will perhaps reckon that an attack on me will bring him a measure of popularity. Then look at the awkwardness of taking these shackles of mine, I mean these laurelled fasces, overseas. And what place will be safe for us, even supposing we have calm seas, until we reach Pompey?—and we know neither route nor destination.
Supposing on the other hand I stay behind and find a place in Caesar’s party, I shall be doing what L. Philippus and L. Flaccus and Q. Mucius did during Cinna’s regime—however it turned out for the last named. And yet Mucius used to say that he saw his fate would be what it actually was but preferred it to marching in arms against the walls of his native city. Thrasybulus chose otherwise and perhaps better. Still there is something to be said for Mucius’ line and point of view, something too for Philippus’—trimming one’s sails when necessary, but taking one’s opportunity when it comes. But there too these same fasces get in my way. Supposing Caesar is friendly to me, which is not certain, but suppose it: he will offer me my Triumph. To refuse may be dangerous, to accept will damage me with the honest men. “A difficult, an insoluble problem”, you may say. Yet solved it has to be. What alternative is there? And in case you think I am more inclined towards staying because I have argued at greater length that way, it may be, as is often the case in controversies, that there are more words on one side but more truth on the other. Therefore, as a man calmly weighing in his mind a matter of the greatest importance, I ask your advice. I have a ship in readiness at Caieta and another at Brundisium.
But lo and behold! As I write this very letter at night in my lodge at Cales, here come messengers and a letter to announce that Caesar is before Corfinium and Domitius inside the town, with a powerful army eager for battle. I don’t believe that Gnaeus [Pompey] will crown all by leaving Domitius in the lurch—though he had sent Scipio with two cohorts to Brundisium and written to the Consuls that he wished one of them to take the legion raised by Faustus to Sicily. But it will be a disgraceful thing to desert Domitius when he is begging for help. There is a hope of sorts, not much so far as I am concerned but strongly held hereabouts, that Afranius has engaged and beaten Trebonius in the Pyrenees, further that your friend Fabius has changed sides with * cohorts; and the long and short of it is that Afranius is on his way here with a large force. If that is true perhaps there will be no evacuation of Italy after all. As for me, since Caesar’s movements are uncertain—it is thought he may march either on Capua or on Luceria—I have sent Lepta to Pompey with a letter. I myself am returning to Formiae to avoid falling into a trap.
I desired you to know this. I have written in a more composed frame of mind than when last I wrote, not intruding any opinion of my own but seeking yours. (Cales, night of 18-19 February 49)
But do you see what sort of man this is into whose hands the state has fallen, how clever, alert, well prepared? I verily believe that if he takes no lives and touches no man’s property those who dreaded him most will become his warmest admirers. Both town and country people talk to me a great deal. They really think of nothing except their fields and their bits of farms and investments. And look at how the tables are turned! They fear the man they used to trust and love the man they used to dread. I cannot think without distress of the blunders and faults on our side which have led to this result. My forecast of what impends I have already given you and I am now waiting to hear from you. (Formiae, 1 March 49)
I wrote a letter to you meaning to dispatch it on the 12th, but the man to whom I had meant to give it did not go. That same day, Fleet-foot, as Salvius called him, arrived with a most substantial letter from you, which put back a soupçon of life into me—it would be too much to say that it set me up again. But you have certainly achieved the essential. Believe me, I no longer aim at finding a happy outcome. I realize that we shall never have a free state in the life-time of those two or of one singly. So I have no longer any hope of a quiet life for myself and I am ready to swallow every bitter pill. My one fear was of doing, or shall I say of having already done, something dishonourable. (Formiae, 13 March 49)
While I shall probably not turn to Cicero's Letters to His Friends next, Caesar's Civil War beckons. Some years ago I read his Conquest of Gaul, but found myself rather out of my league in understanding all the history. This time I should be better prepared. (Still, I am only halfway with the Letters to Atticus, and it may yet require the help of Fateful wind to carry me all the way through—reading that I was engaged in last year at this time got aborted what with holidays and work and all of the whatnots that present themselves.)