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Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

CI. To Quadratus

THE PLEASURE and attention with which you read the vindication I published of Helvidius, has greatly raised your curiosity, it seems, to be informed of those particulars relating to that affair, which are not mentioned in the defence; as you were too young to be present yourself at that transaction. When Domitian was assassinated, a glorious opportunity, I thought, offered itself to me of pursuing the guilty, vindicating the injured, and advancing my own reputation. But amidst an infinite variety of the blackest crimes, none appeared to me more atrocious than that a senator, of prætorian dignity, and invested with the sacred character of a judge, should, even in the very senate itself, lay violent hands upon a member of that body, one of consular rank, and who then stood arraigned before him. Besides this general consideration, I also happened to be on terms of particular intimacy with Helvidius, as far as this was possible with one who, through fear of the times, endeavoured to veil the lustre of his fame, and his virtues, in obscurity and retirement. Arria likewise, and her daughter Fannia, who was mother-in-law to Helvidius, were in the number of my friends. But it was not so much private attachments as the honour of the public, a just indignation at the action, and the danger of the example if it should pass unpunished, that animated me upon the occasion. At the first restoration of liberty, every man singled out his own particular enemy (though it must be confessed, those only of a lower rank), and, in the midst of much clamour and confusion, no sooner brought the charge than procured the condemnation. But for myself, I thought it would be more reasonable and more effectual, not to take advantage of the general resentment of the public, but to crush this criminal with the single weight of his own enormous guilt. When therefore the first heat of public indignation began to cool, and declining passion gave way to justice, though I was at that time under great affliction for the loss of my wife, I sent to Anteia, the widow of Helvidius, and desired her to come to me, as my late misfortune prevented me from appearing in public. When she arrived, I said to her, “I am resolved not to suffer the injuries your husband has received, to pass unrevenged; let Arria and Fannia” (who were just returned from exile) “know this; and consider together whether you would care to join with me in the prosecution. Not that I want an associate, but I am not so jealous of my own glory as to refuse to share it with you in this affair.” She accordingly carried this message; and they all agreed to the proposal without the least hesitation. It happened very opportunely that the senate was to meet within three days. It was a general rule with me to consult, in all my affairs, with Corellius, a person of the greatest far-sightedness and wisdom this age has produced. However, in the present case, I relied entirely upon my own discretion, being apprehensive he would not approve of my design, as he was very cautious and deliberate. But though I did not previously take counsel with him (experience having taught me never to do so with a person concerning a question we have already determined, where he has a right to expect that one shall be decided by his judgment), yet I could not forbear acquainting him with my resolution at the time I intended to carry it into execution. The senate being assembled, I came into the house, and begged I might have leave to make a motion; which I did in few words, and with general assent. When I began to touch upon the charge, and point out the person I intended to accuse (though as yet without mentioning him by name), I was attacked on all sides. “Let us know,” exclaims one, “who is the subject of this informal motion?” “Who is it,” asked another, “that is thus accused, without acquainting the house with his name, and his crime?” “Surely,” added a third, “we who have survived the late dangerous times may expect now, at least, to remain in security.” I heard all this with perfect calmness, and without being in the least alarmed. Such is the effect of conscious integrity; and so much difference is there with respect to inspiring confidence or fear, whether the world had only rather one should forbear a certain act, or absolutely condemns it. It would be too tedious to relate all that was advanced, by different parties, upon this occasion. At length the consul said, “You will be at liberty, Secundus, to propose what you think proper when your turn comes to give your opinion upon the order of the day.” I replied, “You must allow me a liberty which you never yet refused to any”; and so sat down: when immediately the house went upon another business. In the meanwhile, one of my consular friends took me aside, and, with great earnestness telling me he thought I had carried on this affair with more boldness than prudence, used every method of reproof and persuasion to prevail with me to desist; adding at the same time that I should certainly, if I persevered, render myself obnoxious to some future prince. “Be it so,” I returned, “should he prove a bad one.” Scarcely had he left me when a second came up: “Whatever,” said he, “are you attempting? Why ever will you ruin yourself? Do you consider the risks you expose yourself to? Why will you presume too much on the present situation of public affairs, when it is so uncertain what turn they may hereafter take? You are attacking a man who is actually at the head of the treasury, and will shortly be consul. Besides, recollect what credit he has, and with what powerful friendships he is supported.” Upon which he named a certain person, who (not without several strong and suspicious rumours) was then at the head of a powerful army in the east. I replied,

  • “‘All I’ve foreseen, and oft in thought revolv’d;
  • and am willing, if fate shall so decree, to suffer in an honest cause, provided I can draw vengeance down upon a most infamous one.” The time for the members to give their opinions was now arrived. Domitius Apollinaris, the consul elect, spoke first; after him Fabricius Vejento, then Fabius Maximinus, Vettius Proculus next (who married my wife’s mother, and who was the colleague of Publicius Certus, the person on whom the debate turned), and last of all Ammius Flaccus. They all defended Certus as if I had named him (though I had not yet so much as once mentioned him), and entered upon his justification as if I had exhibited a specific charge. It is not necessary to repeat in this place what they respectively said, having given it all at length in their words, in the speech above-mentioned. Avidius Quietus and Cornutus Tertullus answered them. The former observed, “that it was extremely unjust not to hear the complaints of those who thought themselves injured, and therefore that Arria and Fannia ought not to be denied the privilege of laying their grievances before the house; and that the point for the consideration of the senate was not the rank of the person, but the merit of the cause.”

    Then Cornutus rose up and acquainted the house, that, as he was appointed guardian to the daughter of Helvidius by the consuls, upon the petition of her mother and her father-in-law, he felt himself compelled to fulfil the duty of his trust. In the execution of which, however, he would endeavour to set some bounds to his indignation by following that great example of moderation which those excellent women had set, who contented themselves with barely informing the senate of the cruelties which Certus committed in order to carry on his infamous adulation; and therefore,” he said, “he would move only that, if a punishment due to a crime so notoriously known should be remitted, Certus might at least be branded with some mark of the displeasure of that august assembly.” Satrius Rutus spoke next, and, meaning to steer a middle course, expressed himself with considerable ambiguity. “I am of opinion,” said he, “that great injustice will be done to Certus if he is not acquitted (for I do not scruple to mention his name, since the friends of Arria and Fannia, as well as his own, have done so too), nor indeed have we any occasion for anxiety upon this account. We who think well of the man shall judge him with the same impartiality as the rest; but if he is innocent, as I hope he is, and shall be glad to find, I think this house may very justly deny the present motion till some charge has been proved against him.” Thus, according to the respective order in which they were called upon, they delivered their several opinions. When it came to my turn, I rose up, and, using same introduction to my speech as I have published in the defence, I replied to them severally. It is surprising with what attention, what clamorous applause I was heard, even by those who just before were loudest against me: such a wonderful change was wrought either by the importance of the affair, the successful progress of the speech, or the resolution of the advocate. After I had finished, Vejento attempted to reply; but the general clamour raised against him not permitting him to go on, “I entreat you, conscript fathers,” said he, “not to oblige me to implore the assistance of the tribunes.” Immediately the tribune Murena cried out, “You have my permission, most illustrious Vejento, to go on.” But still the clamour was renewed. In the interval, the consul ordered the house to divide, and having counted the voices, dismissed the senate, leaving Vejento in the midst, still attempting to speak. He made great complaints of this affront (as he called it), applying the following lines of Homer to himself:

  • “Great perils, father, wait the unequal fight;
  • Those younger champions will thy strength o’ercome.”
  • There was hardly a man in the senate that did not embrace and kiss me, and all strove who should applaud me most, for having, at the cost of private enmities, revived a custom so long disused, of freely consulting the senate upon affairs that concern the honour of the public; in a word, for having wiped off that reproach which was thrown upon it by other orders in the state, “that the senators mutually favoured the members of their own body, while they were very severe in animadverting upon the rest of their fellow-citizens.” All this was transacted in the absence of Certus; who kept out of the way either because he suspected something of this nature was intended to be moved, or (as was alleged in his excuse) that he was really unwell. Cæsar, however, did not refer the examination of this matter to the senate. But I succeeded, nevertheless, in my aim, another person being appointed to succeed Certus in the consulship, while the election of his colleague to that office was confirmed. And thus, the wish with which I concluded my speech, was actually accomplished: “May he be obliged,” said I, “to renounce, under a virtuous prince, that reward he received from an infamous one!” Some time after I recollected, as well as I could, the speech I had made upon this occasion; to which I made several additions. It happened (though indeed it had the appearance of being something more than casual) that a few days after I had published this piece, Certus was taken ill and died. I was told that his imagination was continually haunted with this affair, and kept picturing me ever before his eyes, as a man pursuing him with a drawn sword. Whether there was any truth in this rumour, I will not venture to assert; but, for the sake of example, however, I could wish it might gain credit. And now I have sent you a letter which (considering it is a letter) is as long as the defence you say you have read: but you must thank yourself for not being content with such information as that piece could afford you. Farewell.