Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
III. To Voconius Romanus
DID you ever meet with a more abject and mean-spirited creature than Marcus Regulus since the death of Domitian, during whose reign his conduct was no less infamous, though more concealed, than under Nero’s? He began to be afraid I was angry with him, and his apprehensions were perfectly correct; I was angry. He had not only done his best to increase the peril of the position in which Rusticus Arulenus stood, but had exulted in his death; insomuch that he actually recited and published a libel upon his memory, in which he styles him “The Stoics’ Ape”: adding, “stigmated with the Vitellian scar.” You recognize Regulus’ eloquent strain! He fell with such fury upon the character of Herennius Senecio that Metius Carus said to him, one day, “What business have you with my dead? Did I ever interfere in the affair of Crassus or Camerinus?” Victims, you know, to Regulus, in Nero’s time. For these reasons he imagined I was highly exasperated, and so at the recitation of his last piece, I got no invitation. Besides, he had not forgotten, it seems, with what deadly purpose he had once attacked me in the Court of the Hundred. Rusticus had desired me to act as counsel for Arionilla, Timon’s wife: Regulus was engaged against me. In one part of the case I was strongly insisting upon a particular judgment given by Metius Modestus, an excellent man, at that time in banishment by Domitian’s order. Now then for Regulus, “Pray,” says he, “what is your opinion of Modestus?” You see what a risk I should have run had I answered that I had a high opinion of him, how I should have disgraced myself on the other hand if I had replied that I had a bad opinion of him. But some guardian power, I am persuaded, must have stood by me to assist me in this emergency. “I will tell you my opinion,” I said, “If that is a matter to be brought before the court,” “I ask you,” he repeated, “what is your opinion of Modestus?” I replied that it was customary to examine witnesses to the character of an accused man, not to the character of one on whom sentence had already been passed. He pressed me a third time. “I do not now enquire,” said he, “your opinion of Modestus in general, I only ask your opinion of his loyalty.” “Since you will have my opinion then,” I rejoined, “I think it illegal even to ask a question concerning a person who stands convicted.” He sat down at this, completely silenced; and I received applause and congratulation on all sides, that without injuring my reputation by an advantageous, perhaps, though ungenerous answer, I had not entangled myself in the toils of so insidious a catch-question. Thoroughly frightened upon this then, he first seizes upon Cæcilius Celer, next he goes and begs of Fabius Justus, that they would use their joint interest to bring about a reconciliation between us. And lest this should not be sufficient, he sets off to Spurinna as well; to whom he came in the humblest way (for he is the most abject creature alive, where he has anything to be afraid of) and says to him, “Do, I entreat of you, call on Pliny to-morrow morning, certainly in the morning, no later (for I cannot endure this anxiety of mind longer), and endeavour by any means in your power to soften his resentment.” I was already up, the next day, when a message arrived from Spurinna, “I am coming to call on you.” I sent back word, “Nay, I will wait upon you;” however, both of us setting out to pay this visit, we met under Livia’s portico. He acquainted me with the commission he had received from Regulus, and interceded for him as became so worthy a man in behalf of one so totally dissimilar, without greatly pressing the thing. “I will leave it to you,” was my reply, “to consider what answer to return Regulus; you ought not to be deceived by me. I am waiting for Mauricus’ return” (for he had not yet come back out of exile), “so that I cannot give you any definite answer either way, as I mean to be guided entirely by his decision, for he ought to be my leader here, and I simply to do as he says.” Well, a few days after this, Regulus met me as I was at the prætor’s; he kept close to me there and begged a word in private, when he said he was afraid I deeply resented an expression he had once made use of in his reply to Satrius and myself, before the Court of the Hundred, to this effect: “Satrius Rufus, who does not endeavour to rival Cicero, and who is content with the eloquence of our own day.” I answered, now I perceived indeed, upon his own confession, that he had meant it ill-naturedly; otherwise it might have passed for a compliment. “For I am free to own,” I said, “that I do endeavour to rival Cicero, and am not content with the eloquence of our own day. For I consider it very height of folly not to copy the best models of every kind. But how happens it that you, who have so good a recollection of what passed upon this occasion, should have forgotten that other, when you asked me my opinion of the loyalty of Modestus?” Pale as he always is, he turned simply pallid at this, and stammered out, “I did not intend to hurt you when I asked this question, but Modestus.” Observe the vindictive cruelty of the fellow, who made no concealment of his willingness to injure a banished man. But the reason he alleged in justification of his conduct is pleasant. Modestus, he explained, in a letter of his, which was read to Domitian, had used the following expression: “Regulus, the biggest rascal that walks upon two feet”: and what Modestus had written was the simple truth, beyond all manner of controversy. Here, about, our conversation came to an end, for I did not wish to proceed further, being desirous to keep matters open until Mauricus returns. It is no easy matter, I am well aware of that, to destroy Regulus; he is rich, and at the head of a party; courted by many, feared by more: a passion that will sometimes prevail even beyond friendship itself. But, after all, ties of this sort are not so strong but they may be loosened; for a bad man’s credit is as shifty as himself. However (to repeat), I am waiting until Mauricus comes back. He is a man of sound judgment and great sagacity, formed upon long experience, and who, from his observations of the past, well knows how to judge of the future. I shall talk the matter over with him, and consider myself justified either in pursuing or dropping this affair, as he shall advise. Meanwhile I thought I owed this account to our mutual friendship, which gives you an undoubted right to know about not only all my actions but all my plans as well. Farewell.