De Republica (On the Republic)
M. Tullius Cicero
35. Then Laelius said: But you have not told us, Scipio, which of
these three forms of government you yourself most approve.
Scipio: You are right to shape your question, which of the
three I most approve, for there is not one of them which I approve at all by
itself, since, as I told you, I prefer that government which is mixed and
composed of all these forms, to any one of them taken separately. But if I must
confine myself to one of the particular forms simply and exclusively, I must
confess I prefer the royal one, and praise that as the first and best. In this,
which I here choose to call the primitive form of government, I find the title
of father attached to that of king, to express that he watches over the
citizens as over his children, and endeavors rather to preserve them in freedom
than reduce them to slavery. So that it is more advantageous for those who are
insignificant in property and capacity to be supported by the care of one
excellent and eminently powerful man. The nobles here present themselves, who
profess that they can do all this in much better style; for they say that there
is much more wisdom in many than in one, and at least as much faith and equity.
And, last of all, come the people, who cry with a loud voice, that they will
render obedience neither to the one nor to the few; that even to brute beasts
nothing is so dear as liberty; and that all men who serve either kings or
nobles are deprived of it. Thus, the kings attract us by affection, the nobles
by talent, the people by liberty; and in the comparison it is hard to choose
Laelius: I think so, too, but yet it is impossible to dispatch
the other branches of the question, if you leave this primary point
36. Scipio: We must, then, I suppose, imitate Aratus,
who, when he prepared himself to treat of great things, thought himself in duty
bound to begin with Jupiter.
Laelius: Why Jupiter? And what is there in this discussion
which resembles that poem?
Scipio: Why, it serves to teach us that we cannot better
commence our investigations than by invoking him whom, with one voice, both
learned and unlearned extol as the universal king of all gods and men.
Laelius: How so?
Scipio: Do you, then, believe in nothing which is not before
your eyes? Whether these ideas have been established by the chiefs of states
for the benefit of society, that there might be believed to exist one Universal
Monarch in heaven, at whose nod (as Homer expresses it) all Olympus trembles,
and that he might be accounted both king and father of all creatures; for there
is great authority, and there are many witnesses, if you choose to call all
many, who attest that all nations have unanimously recognized, by the decrees
of their chiefs, that nothing is better than a king, since they think that all
the gods are governed by the divine power of one sovereign; or if we suspect
that this opinion rests on the error of the ignorant, and should be classed
among the fables, let us listen to those universal testimonies of erudite men,
who have, as it were, seen with their eyes those things to the knowledge of
which we can hardly attain by report.
Laelius: What men do you mean?
Scipio: Those who, by the investigation of nature, have arrived
at the opinion that the whole universe [is animated] by a single Mind. . . .
37. Scipio: But if you please, my Laelius, I will bring
forward evidences, which are neither too ancient, nor in any respect barbarous.
Laelius: Those are what I want.
Scipio: You are aware, that it is now not four centuries since
this city of ours has been without kings.
Laelius: You are correct, it is less than four centuries.
Scipio: Well, then, what are four centuries in the age of a
state or city; is it a long time?
Laelius: It hardly amounts to the age of maturity.
Scipio: You say truly, and yet not four centuries have elapsed
since there was a king in Rome.
Laelius: And he was a proud king.
Scipio: But who was his predecessor?
Laelius: He was an admirably just one; and, indeed, we must
bestow the same praise on all his predecessors, as far back as Romulus, who
reigned about six centuries ago.
Scipio: Even he, then, is not very ancient.
Laelius: No, he reigned when Greece was already becoming old.
Scipio: Agreed. Was Romulus, then, think you, king of a
Laelius: Why, as to that, if we are to follow the example of
the Greeks, who say that all people are either Greeks or barbarians, I am
afraid that we must confess that he was a king of barbarians; but if this name
belong rather to manners than to languages, then I believe the Greeks were just
as barbarous as the Romans.
Scipio: But with respect to the present question, we do not so
much need to inquire into the nation as into the disposition. For if
intelligent men, at a period so little remote, desired the governing of kings,
you will confess that I am producing authorities that are neither antiquated,
rude, nor insignificant.
38. Laelius: I see, Scipio, that you are very
sufficiently provided with authorities; but with me, as with every fair judge,
authorities are worth less than arguments.
Scipio: Then, Laelius, you shall yourself make use of an
argument derived from your own senses.
Laelius: What senses do you mean?
Scipio: The feelings which you experience when at any time you
happen to feel angry at anyone.
Laelius: That happens rather oftener than I could wish.
Scipio: Well, then, when you are angry, do you permit your
anger to triumph over your judgment?
Laelius: No, by Hercules! I imitate the famous Archytas of
Tarentum, who, when he came to his villa, and found all its arrangements were
contrary to his orders, said to his steward "Ah! you unlucky scoundrel, I
would flog you to death, if it were not that I am in a rage with you."
Scipio: Capital. Archytas, then, regarded unreasonable anger as
a kind of sedition and rebellion of nature, which he sought to appease by
reflection. And so, if we examine avarice, the ambition of power or glory, or
the lusts of concupiscence and licentiousness, we shall find a certain
conscience in the mind of man, which, like a king, sways by the force of
counsel all the inferior faculties and propensities; and this, in truth, is the
noblest portion of our nature; for when conscience reigns, it allows no resting
place to lust, violence, or temerity.
Laelius: You have spoken the truth.
Scipio: Well, then, does a mind thus governed and regulated
meet your approbation?
Laelius: More than anything on earth.
Scipio: Then you would not approve that the evil passions,
which are innumerable, should expel conscience, and that lusts and animal
propensities should assume an ascendancy over us?
Laelius: For my part, I can conceive nothing more wretched than
a mind thus degraded, or a man animated by a soul so licentious.
Scipio: You desire, then, that all the facilities of the mind
should submit to a ruling power, and that conscience should reign over them
Laelius: Certainly, that is my wish.
Scipio: How, then, can you doubt what opinion to form on the
subject of the commonwealth? in which, if the state is thrown into many hands,
it is very plain that there will be no presiding authority; for if power be not
united, it soon comes to nothing.
39. Laelius: But what difference is there, I should like
to know, between the one and the many, if justice exists equally in many?
Scipio: Since I see, my Laelius, that the authorities I have
adduced have no great influence on you, I must continue to employ yourself as
my witness in proof of what I am saying.
Laelius: In what way are you going to make me again support
Scipio: Why thus. I recollect when we were lately at Formiae
that you told your servants repeatedly to obey the orders of not more than one
Laelius: To be sure, those of my steward.
Scipio: What do you at home? do you commit your affairs to the
hands of many persons?
Laelius: No, I trust them to myself alone.
Scipio: Well, in your whole establishment, is there any other
master but yourself?
Laelius: Not one.
Scipio: Then I think you must grant me that as respects the
state, the government of single individuals, provided they are just, is
superior to any other.
Laelius: You have conducted me to this conclusion, and I
entertain very nearly that opinion.
40. Scipio: You would still further agree with me, my
Laelius, if, omitting the common comparisons, that one pilot is better fitted
to steer a ship, and a physician to treat an invalid, provided they be
competent men in their respective professions, than many could be, I should
come at once to more illustrious examples.
Laelius: What examples do you mean?
Scipio: Do you observe that it was the cruelty and pride of one
single Tarquin only, that made the title of king unpopular among the Romans?
Laelius: Yes, I acknowledge that.
Scipio: You are also aware of this fact, on which I think I
shall debate in the course of the coming discussion, that after the expulsion
of King Tarquin, the people were transported by a wonderful excess of liberty.
Then, innocent men were driven into banishment; then the estates of many
individuals were pillaged, consulships were made annual, public authorities
were overawed by mobs, popular appeals took place in all cases imaginable; then
secessions of the lower orders ensued; and lastly, those proceedings which
tended to place all powers in the hands of the populace.
Laelius: I must confess this all too true.
Scipio: All these things now happened during periods of peace
and tranquility, for licence is wont to prevail when there is too little to
fear, as in a calm voyage, or a trifling disease. But as we observe the voyager
and invalid implore the aid of some competent director, as soon as the sea
grows stormy and the disease alarming! so our nation in peace and security
commands, threatens, resists, appeals from, and insults its magistrates, but in
war obeys them as strictly as kings; for public safety is after all rather more
valuable than popular licence. And in the most serious wars, our countrymen
have even chosen the entire command to be deposited in the hands of some single
chief, without a colleague; the very name of which magistrate indicates the
absolute character of his power. For though he is evidently called dictator
because he is appointed, yet do we still observe him, my Laelius, in our sacred
books entitled Magister Populi, the master of the people.
Laelius: This is certainly the case.
Scipio: Our ancestors, therefore, acted wisely.
From: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., The Library of Original Sources
(Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman
World, pp. 216-241.
Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof.
Arkenberg has modernized the text.
Further modified and enhanced by
Jon Roland of the
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