Nonfiction > Harvard Classics > Cicero > Letters
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Cicero. (106 B.C.–43 B.C.).  Letters.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
XXIII. To L. Papirius Pætus (At Naples)
 
Tusculum (July)
 
 
I WAS charmed with your letter, in which, first of all, what I loved was the tenderness which prompted you to write, in alarm lest Silius should by his news have caused me any anxiety. About this news, not only had you written to me before—in fact twice, one letter being a duplicate of the other—shewing me clearly that you were upset, but I also had answered you in full detail, in order that I might, as far as such a business and such a crisis admitted, free you from your anxiety, or at any rate alleviate it. But since you shew in your last also how anxious you are about that matter—make up your mind to this, my dear Pætus: that whatever could possibly be accomplished by art—for it is not enough nowadays to contend with mere prudence, a sort of system must be elaborated—however, whatever could be done or effected towards winning and securing the good will of those men I have done, and not, I think, in vain. For I receive such attentions, such politenesses from all Cæsar’s favourites as make me believe myself beloved by them. For, though genuine love is not easily distinguished from feigned, unless some crisis occurs of a kind to test faithful affection by its danger, as gold in the fire, there are other indications of a general nature. But I only employ one proof to convince me that I am loved from the heart and in sincerity—namely, that my fortune and theirs is of such a kind as to preclude any motive on their part for pretending. In regard, again, to the man who now possesses all power, I see no reason for my being alarmed: except the fact that, once depart from law, everything is uncertain; and that nothing can be guaranteed as to the future which depends on another man’s will, not to say caprice. Be that as it may, personally his feelings have in no respect been wounded by me. For in that particular point I have exhibited the greatest self-control. For, as in old times I used to reckon that to speak without reserve was a privilege of mine, since to my exertions the existence of liberty in the state was owing, so, now that that is lost, I think it is my duty to say nothing calculated to offend either his wishes or those of his favourites. But if I want to avoid the credit of certain keen or witty epigrams, I must entirely abjure a reputation for genius, which I would not refuse to do, if I could. But after all Cæsar himself has a very keen critical faculty, and, just as your cousin Servius—whom I consider to have been a most accomplished man of letters—had no difficulty in saying: “This verse is not Plautus’, this is—” because he had acquired a sensitive ear by dint of classifying the various styles of poets and habitual reading, so I am told that Cæsar, having now completed his volumes of bons mots, if anything is brought to him as mine, which is not so, habitually rejects it. This he now does all the more, because his intimates are in my company almost every day. Now in the course of our discursive talk many remarks are let fall, which perhaps at the time of my making them seem to them wanting neither in literary flavour nor in piquancy. These are conveyed to him along with the other news of the day: for so he himself directed. Thus it comes about that if he is told of anything besides about me, he considers that he ought not to listen to it. Wherefore I have no need of your Oenomaus, though your quotation of Accius’ verses was very much on the spot. But what is this jealousy, or what have I now of which anyone can be jealous? But suppose the worst. I find that the philosophers, who alone in my view grasp the true nature of virtue, hold that the wise man does not pledge himself against anything except doing wrong; and of this I consider myself clear in two ways, first in that my views were almost absolutely correct; and second because, when I found that we had not sufficient material force to maintain them, I was against a trial of strength with the stronger party. Therefore, so far as the duty of a good citizen is concerned, I am certainly not open to reproach. What remains is that I should not say or do anything foolish or rash against the men in power: that too, I think, is the part of the wise man. As to the rest—what this or that man may say that I said, or the light in which he views it, or the amount of good faith with which those who continually seek me out and pay me attention may be acting—for these things I cannot be responsible. The result is that I console myself with the consciousness of my uprightness in the past and my moderation in the present, and apply that simile of Accius’ not to jealousy, but to fortune, which I hold—as being inconstant and frail—ought to be beaten back by a strong and manly soul, as a wave is by a rock. For, considering that Greek history is full of examples of how the wisest men endured tyrannies either at Athens or Syracuse, when, though their countries were enslaved, they themselves in a certain sense remained free—am I to believe that I cannot so maintain my position as not to hurt anyone’s feelings and yet not blast my own character?  1
  I now come to your jests, since as an afterpiece to Accius’ Oenomaus, you have brought on the stage, not, as was his wont, an Atellan play, but, according to the present fashion, a mime. What’s all this about a pilot-fish, a denarius, and a dish of salt fish and cheese? In my old easy-going days I put up with that sort of thing: but times are changed. Hirtius and Dolabella are my pupils in rhetoric, but my masters in the art of dining. For I think you must have heard, if you really get all news, that their practice is to declaim at my house, and mine to dine at theirs. Now it is no use your making an affidavit of insolvency to me: for when you had some property, petty profits used to keep you a little too close to business; but as things are now, seeing that you are losing money so cheerfully, all you have to do, when entertaining me, is to regard yourself as accepting a “composition”; and even that loss is less annoying when it comes from a friend than from a debtor. Yet, after all, I don’t require dinners superfluous in quantity: only let what there is be first-rate in quality and recherché. I remember you used to tell me stories of Phamea’s dinner. Let yours be earlier, but in other respects like that. But if you persist in bringing me back to a dinner like your mother’s, I should put up with that also. For I should like to see the man who had the face to put on the table for me what you describe, or even a polypus-looking as red as Iupiter Miniatus. Believe me, you won’t dare. Before I arrive the fame of my new magnificence will reach you: and you will be awestruck at it. Yet it is no use building any hope on your hors d’œuvre. I have quite abolished that: for in old times I found my appetite spoilt by your olives and Lucanian sausages. But why all this talk? Let me only get to you. By all means—for I wish to wipe away all fear from your heart—go back to your old cheese-and-sardine dish. The only expense I shall cause you will be that you will have to have the bath heated. All the rest according to my regular habits. What I have just been saying was all a joke.  2
  As to Selicius’ villa, you have managed the business carefully and written most wittily. So I think I won’t buy. For there is enough salt and not enough savour.  3
 

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