S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
Marcus Tullius Cicero
[Born at Arpinum, Jan. 3, 106 B.C.; began his career as an advocate at the age of twenty-five; finished his education at Athens; elected consul, 64; crushed the conspiracy of Catiline; exiled by the hostility of Clodius, 58; returned, 57; joined Pompey against Cæsar, but submitted to the latter, and produced in retirement his works on philosophy and rhetoric; applauded the assassination of Cæsar; denounced Antony, by whose soldiers he was killed, after being proscribed by the Triumvirate, Dec. 7, 43 B.C.]
In his sixth oration against Verres, Cicero described the outrages upon the person committed by the cruel and rapacious governor of Sicily, and dwelt particularly upon the case of Publius Gavius, who was beaten with rods in the forum of Messina: while in the mean time no groan was heard, no cry amid all his pain and between the sound of the blows, except the words, I am a Roman citizen! Lord Palmerston made a celebrated application of this phrase in a debate in the House of Commons, June 25, 1850, on a vote of confidence in Lord John Russells administration, especially in reference to Greece. At the close of a five-hours speech the foreign secretary, whose conduct was particularly under discussion, defended the protection given to British subjects abroad, and challenged the verdict of the House on the question whether, as the Roman in days of old held himself free from indignity when he could say Civis Romanus sum, so also a British subject, in whatever land he may be, shall feel confident that the watchful eye and strong arm of England will protect him against injustice and wrong.
How long, I pray you, Catiline, will you abuse our patience?
The opening of the first oration against Catiline, Nov. 8, 64 B.C., in the Senate, which Catiline entered after full proof of his treason was in Ciceros hands. The Latin form is as familiar as the English: Quousque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra? Another shorter expression, referring to the corruption of the age in which so extensive a conspiracy could be matured, O tempora, O mores! is equally well known. Hardly less so is the beginning of the second oration against Catiline, where the orator indicates by different but nearly synonymous words the manner of the conspirators escape from Rome: Abiit, excessit, evasit, erupit (He is gone, he has retreated, he has escaped, he has broken forth).
A part of the line Cedant arma togæ, concedat laurea linguæ which Cicero introduced, either in whole or in part, in the oration against Piso, 55 B.C., and the Second Philippic, 44. It occurs in a poem, most probably De Suo Consulatu, and provoked the ridicule of the wits and critics. He clung to it, however, says Forsyth, with true parental fondness for a deformed offspring, calling it in De Officiis a capital line, which I hear is attacked by the wicked and the envious.Life. Antony, in reply to the attacks of Ciceros philippics, quoted the line against him, while charging the great orator with murder, conspiracy, and assassination.
Another saying which has become proverbial occurs in the oration for Milo, IV., 52 B.C.: Laws are silent amid the clash of arms (Silent leges inter arma). On the trial of Milo for killing the notorious Clodius, the court-house was surrounded by soldiers collected by the friends of the murdered man; and Cicero, disturbed by their presence and the uproar of the mob, made but a feeble defence. The speech which has come down to us was composed after the trial, in which Milo was condemned. Acknowledging its receipt in Marseilles, where he was living in exile, Milo considered himself fortunate that so convincing a speech was not actually delivered, else I should not now be enjoying the delicious mullets of this place.
When Julius Cæsar entered the Roman treasury, after crossing the Rubicon, he was opposed by the tribune Metellus, whom he threatened to run through with his sword, telling him it was much more trouble to say it than to do it. Arms and laws, he added, do not nourish together.
Marius granted the freedom of the city to a thousand Camerians, who had distinguished themselves by their behavior in the wars. He replied to the objection that it was contrary to law, The law speaks too softly to be heard amid the din of arms.PLUTARCH: Life..
The expression cum dignitate otium, as it is correctly written (idleness with dignity), occurs in the oration for Sestius, 56 B.C. It is also found in the Familiar Letters, and in the treatise De Oratore. To a man who found him digging potatoes in his garden, Lord Erskine said, This is what you call otium cum diggin-a-tater! The younger Pliny used in a letter the phrase, illud jucundum nil agere, for a translation of which we need go no farther than to the Italian, dolce far niente.
That day seemed like immortality (immortalitatis instar).
In the oration against Piso, 55 B.C., Cicero spoke thus of the enthusiasm with which his return from exile was hailed, September, 57, when Plutarch reports him to have said, Italy brought me on her shoulders to Rome. In a letter during this time, to his wife, Cicero said, It is not my crimes, but my virtue, which has crushed me.
The sentence from which errare est humanum is derived occurs in the First Philippic, 44 B.C., Cujusvis hominis est errare! nullius nisi insipientis in errore perseverare (Any man may err! only a fool persists in his error).
Pope adds the Christian counterpart, to forgive divine.Essay on Criticism,II. 325.
Quoted from Lucius Cassius in the Second Philippic, and in the orations for Milo and Roscius.
Forsyth says, These two words have perhaps been oftener misapplied than any in the Latin language. They are constantly translated, or used in the sense of, What good is it? To what end does it serve? Their real meaning is, Who gains by it? To whom is it an advantage? and the origin of the expression was this: When Lucius Cassius, who is said to have been a man of stern severity, sat as quæstor judicii in a trial for murder, he used to advise the judices [our jurymen] to inquire, when there was a doubt as to the guilty party, who had a motive for the crime, who would gain by the death; in other words, cui bono fuerit? This maxim passed into a proverb, as also the expression Cassiani judices.Life of Cicero, II. 292, note.
Plutarch says that those who complain that Cicero spoke thus of the Athenian orator, in one of his epistles, forget the many great encomiums he bestowed on him in other parts of his works, besides calling his orations against Antony philippics, in imitation of Demosthenes, who gave that name to his speeches against the king of Macedon.
Horace uses a similar locution to that of Cicero:
Indignor quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus,
Verum operi longo fas est obrepere somnum.
(I, too, take it ill when good Homer nods; but sleep may be allowed to creep over an author in a long work.)De Arte Poet., 359.
The same poet uses an appropriate figure in a comparison to Apollo:
Neque semper arcum
(Apollo does not always bend his bow.)Odes, II. 10, 19.
In the oration for Rabirius, Usus magister est optimus. Frequent forms of the saying occur in Latin authors: Rerum omnium magister usus.CÆSAR: Bell. Civ., 2, 8. Usus magister egregius.PLINY: Letters, 1, 20.
Quem penes arbitrium est et jus et norma loquendi.
(Custom, before which lies the decision, the law, and the rule of speaking.)HORACE: De Arte Poet., 71.
From the idea of the mastership acquired by custom, may have been derived the Latin maxim, usus tyrannus (custom is a tyrant); and the legal maxim, Common custom is common law.
In the Fifth Philippic, Cicero calls money the sinews of war; and, in the oration for the Manilian Law, considers revenues the sinews of the State (vectigalia nervos rei publicæ). Diogenes Laërtius refers the phrase, which occurs in Plato (Republic) and Plutarch (Cleomenes), to the philosopher Bion. Æschines, in his oration against Ctesiphon (which called forth the Oration on the Crown), reproached Demosthenes with employing this among other newly invented phrases. The Emperor Henry V. (10811125) introduced it into Germany, showing a Polish ambassador his treasure, which he called nervus rerum agendarum. Champollion and Macchiavelli naturalized the expression in French and Italian; the latter denying that money is the sinews of war. Rabelais is of the opposite opinion: Les nerfs des batailles sont les pécunes.Gargantua, I. 46. Montecuculi, the Imperialist rival of Turenne and Condé, quotes in his memoirs the saying of some one not named, that war demands three things,money, money, money! (zum Kriegführen sind drierlei Dinge nöting: Geld, Geld, Geld!) Zincgref (Apothegmata) supplies the author in the Imperialist field-marshal Lazarus von Schwendi.
He must fall either by the hand of his enemies, or by himself; for he is his own worst enemy.
Of Julius Cæsar, B.C. 50; at a time when the Dictator had made himself unpopular in Rome, where, says Forsyth, the people seem to have hissed him in the theatre, and his plunder of the treasury had disabused mens minds of the idea of his wealth. Cicero said he did not believe his reign would last six months, and hoped he should live to see his fall.
After Pharsalia, Cæsar restored the statues of Pompey, which had been thrown down. Cicero, a partisan of the defeated general, said, that by erecting Pompeys statues Cæsar has secured his own.PLUTARCH: Apothegms. Marcus Marcellus had also been an adherent of Pompey, but was pardoned by Cæsar after an oration of Ciceros, which has come down to us, and which is really a eulogy of the man the orator had always opposed. In it Cicero says to Marcellus, Wherever you are, remember that you are equally within the power of the conqueror.
After the death of Cæsar, which he applauded, Cicero said, We have killed the king, but the kingdom is with us still. He probably referred to Antony, who succeeded to Cæsars place in the affections of the populace, and of whom Cicero wrote to Cassius: Oh that you had invited me to the feast of the Ides of March! then there would have been no remains (reliquiarum nihil fuisset).FORSYTH: Life.
To a senator whose father was a tailor. Like our saying, To hit the nail on the head. Many a man, says Goethe, strikes with his hammer here and there on the wall, and thinks he hits every time the nail on the head (Mancher klopft mit dem Hammer an der Wand herum, und glaubt er treffe jedesmal den Nagel auf den Kopf).Kunst und Alterthum, III. 1, 1821.
Cicero was the wit of his time. Thus, being told of a man who had ploughed up the ground in which his father was buried, he remarked, That is certainly cultivating his memory (Hoc est vere colere monumentum).
Seeing his son-in-law Dolabella, who was of short stature, with a long sword at his side, he asked, Who has tied that little fellow to his sword?FORSYTH: Life.
Crassus reproached Cicero with accusing him from the rostrum, when but a few days before he had praised him: the orator replied, I did that by way of experiment, to see what I could do with a bad subject. At another time Crassus wished to correct his own remark, that none of his ancestors had lived more than threescore years, and wondered how he could have said it. Cicero dryly suggested, You knew that such an assertion would be very agreeable to the people of Rome.
One Octavius, who was an African, said that he could not hear Cicero, who was speaking: That is somewhat strange, replied the orator, since you are not without a hole in your ear. This was a mark of slavery among some nations.PLUTARCH: Life.
Faustus, Sullas son, had wasted his estate, and was obliged to put up bills for the sale of it. Cicero observed, I like these bills much better than his fathers.Ibid. The pun refers to Sullas bills of proscription issued against citizens during his dictatorship.
Hortensius, the counsel for Verres, in answer to Ciceros insinuation, said that he did not know how to solve riddles: That is strange, replied the accuser of the Sicilian governor, when you have a sphinx in your house. Verres had unlawfully presented Hortensius with a statue of the sphinx, from the spoils of his province. The sphinx of mythology was a monster which sat upon a rock, and proposed the following riddle to every Theban who passed by: A being with four feet has two feet and three feet, and only one voice; but its feet vary; and when it has most it is weakest. dipus solved the riddle by saying it was man, whereupon the sphinx killed herself.
Laberius, a Roman knight, was looking for a seat in the theatre; and Cicero said to him, I would receive you here if I had room; to which he replied, referring to the orators political vacillation, I am surprised that you have not room, as you generally sit on two stools.
When Fitz-Greene Halleck wrote in his spirited poem, Marco Bozzaris, Strike, for your altars and your fires! he translated an expression of Cicero, Pro aris et focis, in the oration for Roscius, chap. v.; first used by Tiberius Gracchus.
Having made an attempt to escape by sea from the proscription of Antony and Octavius, he found the wind contrary, and the sea rough: he therefore returned, saying, Let me die in my fatherland, which I have so often saved. As his attendants set down the litter near his Formian villa, Cicero exclaimed to the soldiers, as he drew back the curtains, and stretched forth his head, Here, veterans, if you think it rightstrike!FORSYTH: Life.