Nonfiction > Harvard Classics > Pliny the Younger > Letters
Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113).  Letters.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
LVII. To Rufus
I WENT into the Julian 1 court to hear those lawyers to whom, according to the last adjournment, I was to reply. The judges had taken their seats, the decemviri 2 were arrived, the eyes of the audience were fixed upon the counsel, and all was hushed silence and expectation, when a messenger arrived from the prætor, and the Hundred are at once dismissed, and the case postponed: an accident extremely agreeable to me, who am never so well prepared but that I am glad of gaining further time. The occasion of the court’s rising thus abruptly was a short edict of Nepos, the prætor for criminal causes, in which he directed all persons concerned as plaintiffs or defendants in any cause before him to take notice that he designed strictly to put in force the decree of the senate annexed to his edict. Which decree was expressed in the following words: ALL PERSONS WHOSOEVER THAT HAVE ANY LAWSUITS DEPENDING ARE HEREBY REQUIRED AND COMMANDED, BEFORE ANY PROCEEDINGS BE HAD THEREON, TO TAKE AN OATH THAT THEY HAVE NOT GIVEN, PROMISED, OR ENGAGED TO GIVE, ANY FEE OR REWARD TO ANY ADVOCATE, UPON ACCOUNT OF HIS UNDERTAKING THEIR CAUSE. In these terms, and many others equally full and express, the lawyers were prohibited to make their professions venal. However, after the case is decided, they are permitted to accept a gratuity of ten thousand sesterces. 3 The prætor for civil causes, being alarmed at this order of Nepos, gave us this unexpected holiday in order to take time to consider whether he should follow the example. Meanwhile the whole town is talking, and either approving or condemning this edict of Nepos. We have got then at last (say the latter with a sneer) a redresser of abuses. But, pray, was there never a prætor before this man? Who is he then who sets up in this way for a public reformer? Others, on the contrary, say, “He has done perfectly right upon his entry into office; he has paid obedience to the laws; considered the decrees of the senate, repressed most indecent contracts, and will not suffer the most honourable of all professions to be debased into a sordid lucre traffic.” This is what one hears all around one; but which side may prevail, the event will shew. It is the usual method of the world (though a very unequitable rule of estimation) to pronounce an action either right or wrong, according as it is attended with good or ill success; in consequence of which you may hear the very same conduct attributed to zeal or folly, to liberty or licentiousness, upon different several occasions. Farewell.  1
Note 1. A court of justice erected by Julius Cæsar in the forum, and opposite to the basilica Aemilia. [back]
Note 2. The decemviri seem to have been magistrates for the administration of justice, subordinate to the prætors, who (to give the English reader a general notion of their office) may be termed lords chief justices, as the judges here mentioned were something in the nature of our juries. M. [back]
Note 3. About $400. [back]


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