The World’s Famous Orations.
Rome (218 B.C.–84 A.D.). 1906.
VI. The First Oration Against Mark Antony
The oration then made by Marcus Antonius was an admirable one; his disposition, too, appeared excellent; and lastly, by his means and by his sons’, peace was ratified with the most illustrious of the citizens and everything else was consistent with this beginning. He invited the chief men of the state to those deliberations which he held at his own house concerning the state of the republic; he referred all the most important matters to this order. Nothing was at that time found among the papers of Caius Cæsar except what was already well known to everybody; and he gave answers to every question that was asked of him with the greatest consistency. Were any exiles restored? He said that one was, and only one. Were any immunities granted? He answered, None. He wished us even to adopt the proposition of Servius Sulpicius, that most illustrious man, that no tablet purporting to contain any decree or grant of Cæsar’s should be published after the Ides of March were expired. I pass over many other things, all excellent—for I am hastening to come to a very extraordinary act of virtue of Marcus Antonius. He utterly abolished from the constitution of the republic the dictatorship, which had by this time attained to the authority of regal power. And that measure was not even offered to us for discussion. He brought with him a decree of the senate, ready drawn up, ordering what he chose to have done; and when it had been read, we all submitted to his authority in the matter with the greatest eagerness; and, by another resolution of the senate, we returned him thanks in the most honorable and complimentary language.
A new light, as it were, seemed to be brought over us, now that not only the kingly power which we had endured, but all fear of such power for the future, was taken away from us; and a great pledge appeared to have been given by him to the republic that he did wish the city to be free, when he utterly abolished out of the republic the name of dictator, which had often been a legitimate title, on account of our late recollection of a perpetual dictatorship. A few days afterward the senate was delivered from the danger of bloodshed, and a hook was fixed into that runaway slave who had usurped the name of Caius Marius. And all these things he did in concert with his colleag. Some other things that were done were the acts of Dolabella alone; but, if his colleag had not been absent, would, I believe, have been done by both of them in concert.
I have now explained to you, O conscript fathers, my design in leaving the city. Now I will set before you, also, my intention in returning, which may, perhaps, appear more unaccountable. As I had avoided Brandusium, and the ordinary route into Greece, not without good reason, on the first of August I arrived at Syracuse, because the passage from that city into Greece was said to be a good one. And that city, with which I had so intimate a connection, could not, tho it was very eager to do so, detain me more than one night. I was afraid that my sudden arrival among my friends might cause some suspicion if I remained there at all. But after the winds had driven me, on my departure from Sicily, to Leucopetra, which is a promontory of the Rhegian district, I went up the gulf from that point, with the view of crossing over. And I had not advanced far before I was driven back by a foul wind to the very place which I had just quitted. And as the night was stormy, and as I had lodged that night in the villa of Publius Valerius, my companion and intimate friend, and as I remained all the next day at his house waiting for a fair wind, many of the citizens of the municipality of Rhegium came to me. And of them there were some who had lately arrived from Rome; from them I first heard of the harang of Marcus Antonius, with which I was so much pleased that, after I had read it, I began for the first time to think of returning. And not long afterward the edict of Brutus and Cassius is brought to me; which (perhaps because I love those men, even more for the sake of the republic than of my own friendship for them) appeared to me, indeed, to be full of equity. They added besides (for it is a very common thing for those who are desirous of bringing good news to invent something to make the news which they bring seem more joyful) that parties were coming to an agreement; that the senate was to meet on the first of August; that Antonius having discarded all evil counselors, and having given up the provinces of Gaul, was about to return to submission to the authority of the senate.
But on this I was inflamed with such eagerness to return, that no oars or winds could be fast enough for me; not that I thought that I should not arrive in time, but lest I should be later than I wished in congratulating the republic; and I quickly arrived at Velia, where I saw Brutus; how grieved I was, I can not express. For it seemed to be a discreditable thing for me myself, that I should venture to return into that city from which Brutus was departing, and that I should be willing to live safely in a place where he could not. But he himself was not agitated in the same manner that I was; for, being elevated with the consciousness of his great and glorious exploit, he had no complaints to make of what had befallen him, tho he lamented your fate exceedingly. And it was from him that I first heard what had been the language of Lucius Piso, in the senate of August; who, altho he was but little assisted (for that I heard from Brutus himself) by those who ought to have seconded him, still according to the testimony of Brutus (and what evidence can be more trustworthy?) and to the avowal of every one whom I saw afterward, appeared to me to have gained great credit. I hastened hither, therefore, in order that as those who were present had not seconded him, I might do so; not with the hope of doing any good, for I neither hoped for that, nor did I well see how it was possible; but in order that if anything happened to me (and many things appeared to be threatening me out of the regular course of nature, and even of destiny), I might still leave my speech on this day as a witness to the republic of my everlasting attachment to its interests.
What reason had Marcus Antonius for endeavoring, with such bitter hostility, to force me into the senate yesterday? Was I the only person who was absent? Have you not repeatedly had thinner houses than yesterday? Or was a matter of such importance under discussion, that it was desirable for even sick men to be brought down? Hannibal, I suppose, was at the gates, or there was to be a debate about peace with Pyrrhus, on which occasion it is related that even the great Appius, old and blind as he was, was brought down to the senate house. There was a motion being made about some supplications—a kind of measure when senators are not usually wanting; for they are under the compulsion, not of pledges, but of the influence of those men whose honor is being complimented; and the case is the same when the motion has reference to a triumph. The consuls are so free from anxiety at these times, that it is almost entirely free for a senator to absent himself if he pleases. And as the general custom of our body was well known to me, and as I was hardly recovered from the fatigue of my journey, and was vexed with myself, I sent a man to him, out of regard for my friendship with him, to tell him that I should not be there.
But he, in the hearing of you all, declared that he would come with masons to my house; this was said with too much passion and very intemperately. For what known crime is there such a heavy punishment appointed as that—that any one should venture to say in this assembly that he, with the assistance of a lot of common operatives, would pull down a house which had been built at the public expense in accordance with a vote of the senate? And who ever employed such compulsion as the threat of such an injury as that to a senator? or what severer punishment has ever been imposed for absence than the forfeiture of a pledge, or a fine? But if he had known what opinion I should have delivered on the subject, he would have remitted somewhat of the rigor of his compulsion.
Do you think, O conscript fathers, that I would have voted for the resolution which you adopted against your own wills, of mingling funeral obsequies with supplications? of introducing inexplicable impiety into the republic? of decreeing supplications in honor of a dead man? I say nothing about who the man was. Even had he been that great Lucius Brutus who himself also delivered the republic from kingly power, and who has produced posterity nearly five hundred years after himself of similar virtue, and equal to similar achievements—even then I could not have been induced to join any dead man in a religious observance paid to the immortal gods; so that a supplication should be addressed by public authority to a man who has nowhere a sepulcher at which funeral obsequies may be celebrated.
I, O conscript fathers, should have delivered my opinion, which I could easily have defended against the Roman people, if any heavy misfortune had happened to the republic, such as war, or pestilence, or famine; some of which, indeed, do exist already; and I have my fears lest others are impending. But I pray that the immortal gods may pardon this act, both to the Roman people, which does not approve of it, and to this order, which voted it with great unwillingness. What! may I not speak of the other misfortunes of the republic? At all events it is in my power, and it always will be in my power, to uphold my own dignity and to despise death. Let me have only the power to come into this house, and I will never shrink from the danger of declaring my opinion!
In the first place, then, I declare my opinion that the acts of Cæsar ought to be maintained; not that I approve of them (for who indeed can do that?) but because I think that we ought above all things to have regard to peace and tranquillity. I wish that Antonius himself were present, provided he had no advocates with him. But I suppose he may be allowed to feel unwell, a privilege which he refused to allow me yesterday. He would then explain to me, or rather to you, O conscript fathers, to what extent he himself defended the acts of Cæsar. Are all the acts of Cæsar which may exist in the bits of note-books, and memoranda, and loose papers, produced on his single authority, and indeed not even produced, but only recited, to be ratified? And shall the acts which he caused to be engraved on brass, in which he declared that the edicts and laws passed by the people were valid forever, be considered as of no power? I think, indeed, that there is nothing so well entitled to be called the acts of Cæsar as Cæsar’s laws. Suppose he gave any one a promise, is that to be ratified, even if it were a promise that he himself was unable to perform? As, in fact, he has failed to perform many promises made to many people. And a great many more of those promises have been found since his death, than the number of all the services which he conferred on and did to people during all the years that he was alive would amount to.
What law was ever better, more advantageous, more frequently demanded in the best ages of the republic, than the one which forbade the pretorian provinces to be retained more than a year, and the consular provinces more than two? If this law be abrogated, do you think that the acts of Cæsar are maintained? What! are not all the laws of Cæsar respecting judicial proceedings abrogated by the law which has been proposed concerning the third decury? And are you the defenders of the acts of Cæsar who overturn his laws? Unless, indeed, anything which, for the purpose of recollecting it, he entered in a note-book, is to be counted among his acts, and defended, however unjust or useless it may be; and that which he proposed to the people in the comitia centuriata and carried, is not to be accounted one of the acts of Cæsar. But what is that third decury? The decury of centurions, says he. What! was not the judicature open to that order by the Julian Law, and even before that by the Pompeian and Aurelian Laws? The income of the men, says he, was exactly defined. Certainly, not only in the case of a centurion, but in the case, too, of a Roman knight. Therefore, men of the highest honor and of the greatest bravery, who have acted as centurions, are and have been judges.
I am not asking about those men, says he. Whoever has acted as centurion let him be a judge. But if you were to propose a law, that whoever had served in the cavalry, which is a higher post, should be a judge, you would not be able to induce any one to approve of that; for a man’s fortune and worth ought to be regarded in a judge. I am not asking about those points, says he; I am going to add as judges, common soldiers of the legion of Alaudæ, for our friends say, that that is the only measure by which they can be saved. Oh, what an insulting compliment it is to those men whom you summon to act as judges tho they never expected it! For the effect of the law is to make those men judges in the third decury who do not dare to judge with freedom. And in that how great, O ye immortal gods! is the error of those men who have desired that law. For the meaner the condition of each judge is, the greater will be the severity of judgment with which he will seek to efface the idea of his meanness; and he will strive rather to appear worthy of being classed in the honorable decuries, than to have deservedly ranked in a disreputable one.
Men have been recalled from banishment by a dead man; the freedom of the city has been conferred, not only on individuals, but on entire nations and provinces by a dead man; our revenues have been diminished by the granting of countless exemptions by a dead man. Therefore, do we defend these measures which have been brought from his house on the authority of a single, but, I admit, a very excellent individual; and as for the laws which he, in your presence, read, and declared, and passed—in the passing of which he gloried, and on which he believed that the safety of the republic depended, especially those concerning provinces and concerning judicial proceedings—can we, I say, we who defend the acts of Cæsar, think that those laws deserve to be upset?
And yet, concerning those laws which were proposed, we have, at all events, the power of complaining; but concerning those which are actually passed we have not even had that privilege. For they, without any proposal of them to the people, were passed before they were framed. Men ask, what is the reason why I, or why any one of you, O conscript fathers, should be afraid of bad laws while we have virtuous tribunes of the people? We have men ready to interpose their veto; ready to defend the republic with the sanctions of religion. We ought to be strangers to fear. What do you mean by interposing the veto? says he; what are all these sanctions of religion which you are talking about? Those, forsooth, on which the safety of the republic depends. We are neglecting those things, and thinking them too old-fashioned and foolish.
The forum will be surrounded, every entrance of it will be blocked up; armed men will be placed in garrison, as it were, at many points. What then?—whatever is accomplished by those means will be law. And you will order, I suppose, all those regularly-passed decrees to be engraved on brazen tablets. “The consuls consulted the people in regular form”—(is this the way of consulting the people that we have received from our ancestors?)—“and the people voted it with due regularity.” What people? That which was excluded from the forum? Under what law did they do so? Under that which has been wholly abrogated by violence and arms? But I am saying all this with reference to the future, because it is the part of a friend to point out evils which may be avoided; and if they never ensue, that will be the best refutation of my speech. I am speaking of laws which have been proposed, concerning which you have still full power to decide either way. I am pointing out the defects; away with them! I am denouncing violence and arms; away with them, too!
You and your colleag, O Dolabella, ought not, indeed, to be angry with me for speaking in defense of the republic. Altho I do not think that you yourself will be, I know your willingness to listen to reason. They say that your colleag, in this fortune of his, which he himself thinks so good, but which would seem to me more favorable if (not to use any harsh language) he were to imitate the example set him by the consulship of his grandfathers and of his uncle,—they say that he has been exceedingly offended. And I see what a formidable thing it is to have the same man angry with me and also armed; especially at a time when men can use their swords with such impunity. But I will propose a condition which I myself think reasonable, and which I do not imagine Marcus Antonius will reject. If I have said anything insulting against his way of life or against his morals, I will not object to his being my bitterest enemy. But if I have maintained the same habits that I have already adopted in the republic—that is, if I have spoken my opinions concerning the affairs of the republic with freedom—in the first place, I beg that he will not be angry with me for that; but, in the next place, if I can not obtain my first request, I beg, at least, that he will show his anger only as he legitimately may show it to a fellow citizen.
Let him employ arms, if it is necessary, as he says it is, for his own defense; only let not those arms injure those men who have declared their honest sentiments in the affairs of the republic. Now, what can be more reasonable than this demand? But if, as has been said to me by some of his intimate friends, every speech which is at all contrary to his inclination is violently offensive to him, even if there be no insult in it whatever—then we will bear with the natural disposition of our friend. But those men, at the same time, say to me, “You will not have the same license granted to you who are the adversary of Cæsar as might be claimed by Piso his father-in-law.” And then they warn me of something which I must guard against; and certainly, the excuse which sickness supplies me with, for not coming to the senate, will not be a more valid one than that which is furnished by death.
But, in the name of the immortal gods! for while I look upon you, O Dolabella, who are most dear to me, it is impossible for me to keep silence respecting the error into which you are both falling; for I believe that you, being both men of high birth, entertaining lofty views, have been eager to acquire, not money, as some too credulous people suspect—a thing which has at all times been scorned by every honorable and illustrious man—nor power procured by violence and authority such as never ought to be endured by the Roman people, but the affection of your fellow citizens, and glory. But glory is praise for deeds which have been done, and the fame earned by great services to the republic; which is approved of by the testimony borne in its favor, not only by every virtuous man, but also by the multitude. I would tell you, O Dolabella, what the fruit of good actions is, if I did not see that you have already learned it by experience beyond all other men.
What day can you recollect in your whole life, as ever having beamed on you with a more joyful light than the one on which, having purified the forum, having routed the throng of wicked men, having inflicted due punishment on the ringleaders in wickedness, and having delivered the city from conflagration and from fear of massacre, you returned to your house? What order of society, what class of people, what rank of nobles even was there who did not then show their zeal in praising and congratulating you? Even I, too, because men thought that you had been acting by my advice in those transactions, received the thanks and congratulations of good men in your name. Remember, I pray you, O Dolabella, the unanimity displayed on that day in the theater, when every one, forgetful of the causes on account of which they had been previously offended with you, showed that in consequence of your recent service they had banished all recollection of their former indignation. Could you, O Dolabella—(it is with great concern that I speak)—could you, I say, forfeit this dignity with equanimity?
And you, O Marcus Antonius—(I address myself to you, tho in your absence)—do you not prefer that day on which the senate was assembled in the temple of Tellus, to all those months during which some who differ greatly in opinion from me think that you have been happy? What a noble speech was that of yours about unanimity! From what apprehensions were the veterans, and from what anxiety was the whole state relieved by you on that occasion! when, having laid aside your enmity against him, you on that day first consented that your present colleag should be your colleag, forgetting that the auspices had been announced by yourself as augur of the Roman people; and when your little son was sent by you to the Capitol to be a hostage for peace. On what day was the senate ever more joyful than on that day? or when was the Roman people more delighted? which had never met in greater numbers in any assembly whatever. Then, at last, we did appear to have been really delivered by brave men, because, as they had willed it to be, peace was following liberty. On the next day, on the day after that, on the third day, and on all the following days, you went on without intermission, giving every day, as it were, some fresh present to the republic; but the greatest of all presents was that when you abolished the name of the dictatorship. This was in effect branding the name of the dead Cæsar with everlasting ignominy, and it was your doing—yours I say. For as, on account of the wickedness of one Marcus Manlius, by a resolution of the Manlian family it is unlawful that any patrician should be called Manlius, so you, on account of the hatred excited by one dictator, have utterly abolished the name of dictator.
When you had done these mighty exploits for the safety of the republic, did you repent of your fortune, or of the dignity and renown and glory which you had acquired? Whence then is this sudden change? I can not be induced to suspect that you have been caught by the desire of acquiring money; every one may say what he pleases, but we are not bound to believe such a thing, for I never saw anything sordid or anything mean in you. Altho a man’s intimate friends do sometimes corrupt his natural disposition, still I know your firmness; and I only wish that, as you avoid that fault, you had been able also to escape all suspicion of it.
What I am more afraid of is lest, being ignorant of the true path to glory, you should think it glorious for you to have more power by yourself than all the rest of the people put together, and lest you should prefer being feared by your fellow citizens to being loved by them. And if you do think so, you are ignorant of the road to glory. For a citizen to be dear to his fellow citizens, to deserve well of the republic, to be praised, to be respected, to be loved, is glorious; but to be feared, and to be an object of hatred, is odious, detestable; and moreover, pregnant with weakness and decay. And we see that, even in the play, the very man who said,
I wish, O Antonius, that you could recollect your grandfather, of whom, however, you have repeatedly heard me speak. Do you think that he would have been willing to deserve even immortality, at the price of being feared in consequence of his licentious use of arms? What he considered life, what he considered prosperity, was the being equal to the rest of the citizens in freedom, and chief of them all in worth. Therefore, to say no more of the prosperity of your grandfather, I should prefer that most bitter day of his death to the domination of Lucius Cinna, by whom he was most barbarously slain.
But why should I seek to make an impression on you by my speech? For, if the end of Caius Cæsar can not influence you to prefer being loved to being feared, no speech of any one will do any good or have any influence with you; and those who think him happy are themselves miserable. No one is happy who lives on such terms that he may be put to death not merely with impunity, but even to the great glory of his slayer. Wherefore, change your mind, I entreat you, and look back upon your ancestors, and govern the republic in such a way that your fellow citizens may rejoice that you were born; without which no one can be happy nor illustrious.
And, indeed, you have both of you had many judgments delivered respecting you by the Roman people, by which I am greatly concerned that you are not sufficiently influenced. For what was the meaning of the shouts of the innumerable crowd of citizens collected at the gladiatorial games? or of the verses made by the people? or of the extraordinary applause at the sight of the statue of Pompeius? and at that sight of the two tribunes of the people who are opposed to you? Are these things a feeble indication of the incredible unanimity of the entire Roman people? What more? Did the applause at the games of Apollo, or, I should rather say, testimony and judgment there given by the Roman people, appear to you of small importance? Oh! happy are those men who, tho they themselves were unable to be present on account of the violence of arms, still were present in spirit, and had a place in the breasts and hearts of the Roman people. Unless, perhaps, you think that it was Accius who was applauded on that occasion, and who bore off the palm sixty years after his first appearance, and not Brutus, who was absent from the games which he himself was exhibiting, while at that most splendid spectacle the Roman people showed their zeal in his favor tho he was absent, and soothed their own regret for their deliverer by uninterrupted applause and clamor.
I myself, indeed, am a man who have at all times despised that applause which is bestowed by the vulgar crowd; but at the same time, when it is bestowed by those of the highest, and of the middle, and of the lowest rank, and, in short, by all ranks together, and when those men who were previously accustomed to aim at nothing but the favor of the people kept aloof, I then think that, not mere applause, but a deliberate verdict. If this appears to you unimportant, which is in reality most significant, do you also despise the fact of which you have had experience—namely, that the life of Aulus Hirtius is so dear to the Roman people? For it was sufficient for him to be esteemed by the Roman people as he is; to be popular among his friends, in which respect he surpasses everybody; to be beloved by his own kinsmen, who do love him beyond measure; but in whose case before do we ever recollect such anxiety and such fear being manifested? Certainly in no one’s.
What, then, are we to do? In the name of the immortal gods, can you interpret these facts, and see what is their purport? What do you think that those men think of your lives, to whom the lives of those men who they hope will consult the welfare of the republic are so dear? I have reaped, O conscript fathers, the reward of my return, since I have said enough to bear testimony of my consistency whatever event may befall me, and since I have been kindly and attentively listened to by you. And if I have such opportunities frequently without exposing both myself and you to danger, I shall avail myself of them. If not, as far as I can I shall reserve myself not for myself, but rather for the republic. I have lived long enough for the course of human life, or for my own glory. If any additional life is granted to me, it shall be bestowed not so much on myself as on you and on the republic.