Nonfiction > William Jennings Bryan, ed. > The World’s Famous Orations > Vol. II. Rome
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  The World’s Famous Orations.
Rome (218 B.C.–84 A.D.).  1906.
 
On a Corrupt Oligarchy
 
Caius Memmius (d.100 B.C.)
 
(About 110 B.C.)
 
Born in — B.C., died in 100; Tribune of the Plebs in 111; vigorously opposed the oligarchical party during the war with Jugurtha, and by exposing corruption, opened the way to command of the army by Marius; while a candidate for Consul in 100, slain by a mob armed with bludgeons.
 
 
WERE 1 not my zeal for the good of the state, my fellow citizens, superior to every other feeling, there are many considerations which would deter me from appearing in your cause; I allude to the power of the opposite party, your own tameness of spirit, the absence of all justice, and, above all, the fact that integrity is attended with more danger than honor. Indeed, it grieves me to relate, how, during the last fifteen years, you have been a sport to the arrogance of an oligarchy; how dishonorably, and how utterly unavenged, your defenders have perished; and how your spirit has become degenerate by sloth and indolence; for not even now, when your enemies are in your power, will you rouse yourselves to action, but continue still to stand in awe of those to whom you should be a terror.  1
  Yet, notwithstanding this state of things, I feel prompted to make an attack on the power of that faction. That liberty of speech, therefore, which has been left me by my father, I shall assuredly exert against them; but whether I shall use it in vain, or for your advantage, must, my fellow citizens, depend upon yourselves. I do not, however, exhort you, as your ancestors have often done, to rise in arms against injustice. There is at present no need of violence, no need of secession; for your tyrants must work their fall by their own misconduct.  2
  After the murder of Tiberius Gracchus, whom they accused of aspiring to be king, persecutions were instituted against the common people of Rome; and after the slaughter of Caius Gracchus and Marcus Fulvius, many of your order were put to death in prison. But let us leave these proceedings out of the question; let us admit that to restore their rights to the people, was to aspire to sovereignty; let us allow that what cannot be avenged without shedding the blood of citizens, was done with justice. You have seen with silent indignation, however, in past years, the treasury pillaged; you have seen kings, and free people, paying tribute to a small party of Patricians, in whose hands were both the highest honors and the greatest wealth; but to have carried on such proceedings with impunity, they now deem but a small matter; and, at last, your laws and your honor, with every civil and religious obligation, have been sacrificed for the benefit of your enemies. Nor do they, who have done these things, show either shame or contrition, but parade proudly before your faces, displaying their sacerdotal dignities, their consulships, and some of them their triumphs, as if they regarded them as marks of honor, and not as fruits of their dishonesty. Slaves, purchased with money, will not submit to unjust commands from their masters; yet you, my fellow citizens, who are born to empire, tamely endure oppression.  3
  But who are these, that have thus taken the government into their hands? Men of the most abandoned character, of blood-stained hands, of insatiable avarice, of enormous guilt, and of matchless pride; men by whom integrity, reputation, public spirit, and indeed everything, whether honorable or dishonorable, is converted to a means of gain. Some of them make it their defense that they have killed tribunes of the people; others, that they have instituted unjust prosecutions; others, that they have shed your blood; and thus, the more atrocities each has committed, the greater is his security; while your oppressors, whom the same desires, the same aversions, and the same fears, combine in strict union (a union which among good men is friendship, but among the bad confederacy in guilt), have excited in you, through your want of spirit, that terror which they ought to feel for their own crimes.  4
  But if your concern to preserve your liberty were as great as their ardor to increase their power of oppression, the state would not be distracted as it is at present; and the marks of favor which proceed from you, would be conferred, not on the most shameless, but on the most deserving. Your forefathers, in order to assert their rights and establish their authority, twice seceded in arms to Mount Aventine; and will not you exert yourselves, to the utmost of your power, in defense of that liberty which you received from them? Will you not display so much the more spirit in the cause, from the reflection that it is a greater disgrace to lose what has been gained, than not to have gained it at all?  5
  But some will ask me, “What course of conduct, then, would you advise us to pursue?” I would advise you to inflict punishment on those who have sacrificed the interests of their country to the enemy; not, indeed, by arms or any violence (which would be more unbecoming, however, for you to inflict than for them to suffer), but by prosecutions, and by the evidence of Jugurtha himself, who, if he has really surrendered, will doubtless obey your summons; whereas, if he shows contempt for it, you will at once judge what sort of a peace or surrender it is, from which springs impunity to Jugurtha for his crimes, immense wealth to a few men in power, and loss and infamy to the republic.  6
  But perhaps you are not yet weary of the tyranny of these men; perhaps these times please you less than those when kingdoms, provinces, laws, rights the administration of justice, war and peace, and indeed everything civil and religious, was in the hands of an oligarchy; while you—that is, the people of Rome—tho unconquered by foreign enemies, and rulers of all nations around, were content with being allowed to live: for which of you had spirit to throw off your slavery? For myself, indeed, tho I think it most disgraceful to receive an injury without resenting it, yet I could easily allow you to pardon these basest of traitors, because they are your fellow citizens, were it not certain that your indulgence would end in your destruction. For such is their presumption, that to escape punishment for their misdeeds will have but little effect upon them, unless they be deprived, at the same time, of the power of doing mischief; and endless anxiety will remain for you, if you shall have to reflect that you must either be slaves or preserve your liberty by force of arms.  7
  Of mutual trust, or concord, what hope is there? They wish to be lords, you desire to be free; they seek to inflict injury, you to repel it; they treat your allies as enemies, your enemies as allies. With feelings so opposite, can peace or friendship subsist between you? I warn, therefore, and exhort you, not to allow such enormous dishonesty to go unpunished. It is not an embezzlement of the public money that has been committed; nor is it a forcible extortion of money from your allies—offenses which, tho great, are now, from their frequency, considered as nothing; but the authority of the senate, and your own power, have been sacrificed to the bitterest of enemies, and the public interest has been betrayed for money, both at home and abroad; and unless these misdeeds be investigated, and punishment be inflicted on the guilty, what remains for us but to live the slaves of those who committed them? For those who do what they will with impunity are undoubtedly kings.  8
  I do not, however, wish to encourage you, O Romans, to be better satisfied at finding your fellow citizens guilty than innocent, but merely to warn you not to bring ruin on the good, by suffering the bad to escape. It is far better, in any government, to be unmindful of a service than of an injury; for a good man, if neglected, only becomes less active, but a bad man, more daring. Besides, if the crimes of the wicked are suppressed, the state will seldom need extraordinary support from the virtuous.  9
 
Note 1. Delivered to an assembly of the people in Rome. Reported by Sallust. Translated by John S. Watson. [back]
 

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