Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
LXXV. To Macrinus
A VERY singular and remarkable accident has happened in the affair of Varenus, the result of which is yet doubtful. The Bithynians, it is said, have dropped their prosecution of him, being convinced at last that it was rashly undertaken. A deputy from that province is arrived, who has brought with him a decree of their assembly; copies of which he has delivered to Cæsar, and to several of the leading men in Rome, and also to us, the advocates for Varenus. Magnus, nevertheless, whom I mentioned in my last letter to you, persists in his charge, to support which he is incessantly teasing the worthy Nigrinus. This excellent person was counsel for him in his former petition to the consuls, that Varenus might be compelled to produce his accounts. Upon this occasion, as I attended Varenus merely as a friend, I determined to be silent. I thought it highly imprudent for me, as I was appointed his counsel by the senate, to attempt to defend him as an accused person, when it was his business to insist that there was actually no charge subsisting against him. However, when Nigrinus had finished his speech, the consuls turning their eyes upon me, I rose up, and “When you shall hear,” I said, “what the real deputies from the province have to object against the motion of Nigrinus, you will see that my silence was not without just reason.” Upon this Nigrinus asked me, “To whom are these deputies sent?” I replied, “To me among others; I have the decree of the province in my hands.” He returned, “That is a point which, though it may be clear to you, I am not so well satisfied of.” To this I answered, “Though it may not be so evident to you, who are concerned to support the accusation, it may be perfectly clear to me, who am on the more favourable side.” Then Polyænus, the deputy from the province, acquainted the senate with the reasons for superseding the prosecution, but desired it might be without prejudice to Cæsar’s determination. Magnus answered him; Polyænus replied; as for myself I only now and then threw in a word, observing in general a complete silence. For I have learned that upon some occasions it is as much an orator’s business to be silent as to speak, and I remember, in some criminal cases, to have done even more service to my clients by a discreet silence than I could have expected from the most carefully prepared speech. To enter into the subject of eloquence is indeed very foreign to the purpose of my letter, yet allow me to give you one instance in proof of my last observation. A certain lady, having lost her son, suspected that his freedmen, whom he had appointed coheirs with her, were guilty of forging the will and poisoning him. Accordingly she charged them with the fact before the emperor, who directed Julianus Suburanus to try the cause. I was counsel for the defendants, and the case being exceedingly remarkable, and the counsel engaged on both sides of eminent ability, it drew together a very numerous audience. The issue was, the servants being put to the torture, my clients were acquitted. But the mother applied a second time to the emperor, pretending she had discovered some new evidence. Suburanus was therefore directed to hear the cause, and see if she could produce any fresh proofs. Julius Africanus was counsel for the mother, a young man of good parts, but slender experience. He is grandson to the famous orator of that name, of whom it is reported that Passienus Crispus, hearing him one day plead, archly said, “Very fine, I must confess, very fine; but is all this fine speaking to the purpose?” Julius Africanus, I say, having made a long harangue, and exhausted the portion of time allotted to him, said, “I beg you, Suburanus, to allow me to add one word more.” When he had concluded, and the eyes of the whole assembly had been fixed a considerable time upon me, I rose up. “I would have answered Africanus,” said I, “if he had added that one word he begged leave to do, in which I doubt not he would have told us all that we had not heard before.” I do not remember to have gained so much applause by any speech that I ever made as I did in this instance by making none. Thus the little that I had hitherto said for Varenus was received with the same general approbation. The consuls, agreeably to the request of Polyænus, reserved the whole affair for the determination of the emperor, whose resolution I impatiently wait for; as that will decide whether I may be entirely secure and easy with respect to Varenus, or must again renew all my trouble and anxiety upon his account. Farewell.