Home  »  Letters  »  X. To L. Lucceius

Cicero. (106 B.C.–43 B.C.). Letters.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Arpinum (April)

X. To L. Lucceius

I HAVE often tried to say to you personally what I am about to write, but was prevented by a kind of almost clownish bashfulness. Now that I am not in your presence I shall speak out more boldly: a letter does not blush. I am inflamed with an inconceivably ardent desire, and one, as I think, of which I have no reason to be ashamed, that in a history written by you my name should be conspicuous and frequently mentioned with praise. And though you have often shewn me that you meant to do so, yet I hope you will pardon my impatience. For the style of your composition, though I had always entertained the highest expectations of it, has yet surpassed my hopes, and has taken such a hold upon me, or rather has so fired my imagination, that I was eager to have my achievements as quickly as possible put on record in your history. For it is not only the thought of being spoken of by future ages that makes me snatch at what seems a hope of immortality, but it is also the desire of fully enjoying in my lifetime an authoritative expression of your judgment, or a token of your kindness for me, or the charm of your genius. Not, however, that while thus writing I am unaware under what heavy burdens you are labouring in the portion of history you have undertaken, and by this time have begun to write. But because I saw that your history of the Italian and Civil Wars was now all but finished, and because also you told me that you were already embarking upon the remaining portions of your work, I determined not to lose my chance for the want of suggesting to you to consider whether you preferred to weave your account of me into the main context of your history, or whether, as many Greek writers have done—Callisthenes, the Phocian War; Timæus, the war of Pyrrhus; Polybius, that of Numantia; all of whom separated the wars I have named from their main narratives—you would, like them, separate the civil conspiracy from public and external wars. For my part, I do not see that it matters much to my reputation, but it does somewhat concern my impatience, that you should not wait till you come to the proper place, but should at once anticipate the discussion of that question as a whole and the history of that epoch. And at the same time, if your whole thoughts are engaged on one incident and one person, I can see in imagination how much fuller your material will be, and how much more elaborately worked out. I am quite aware, however, what little modesty I display, first, in imposing on you so heavy a burden (for your engagements may well prevent your compliance with my request), and in the second place, in asking you to shew me off to advantage. What if those transactions are not in your judgment so very deserving of commendation? Yet, after all, a man who has once passed the border-line of modesty had better put a bold face on it and be frankly impudent. And so I again and again ask you outright, both to praise those actions of mine in warmer terms than you perhaps feel, and in that respect to neglect the laws of history. I ask you, too, in regard to the personal predilection, on which you wrote in a certain introductory chapter in the most gratifying and explicit terms—and by which you shew that you were as incapable of being diverted as Xenophon’s Hercules by Pleasure—not to go against it, but to yield to your affection for me a little more than truth shall justify. But if I can induce you to undertake this, you will have, I am persuaded, matter worthy of your genius and your wealth of language. For from the beginning of the conspiracy to my return from exile it appears to me that a moderate-sized monograph might be composed, in which you will, on the one hand, be able to utilize your special knowledge of civil disturbances, either in unravelling the causes of the revolution or in proposing remedies for evils, blaming meanwhile what you think deserves denunciation, and establishing the righteousness of what you approve by explaining the principles on which they rest: and on the other hand, if you think it right to be more outspoken (as you generally do), you will bring out the perfidy, intrigues, and treachery of many people towards me. For my vicissitudes will supply you in your composition with much variety, which has in itself a kind of charm, capable of taking a strong hold on the imagination of readers, when you are the writer. For nothing is better fitted to interest a reader than variety of circumstance and vicissitudes of fortune, which, though the reverse of welcome to us in actual experience, will make very pleasant reading: for the untroubled recollection of a past sorrow has a charm of its own. To the rest of the world, indeed, who have had no trouble themselves, and who look upon the misfortunes of others without any suffering of their own, the feeling of pity is itself a source of pleasure. For what man of us is not delighted, though feeling a certain compassion too, with the death-scene of Epaminondas at Mantinea? He, you know, did not allow the dart to be drawn from his body until he had been told, in answer to his question, that his shield was safe, so that in spite of the agony of his wound he died calmly and with glory. Whose interest is not roused and sustained by the banishment and return of Themistocles? Truly the mere chronological record of the annals has very little charm for us—little more than the entries in the fasti: but the doubtful and varied fortunes of a man, frequently of eminent character, involve feelings of wonder, suspense, joy, sorrow, hope, fear: if these fortunes are crowned with a glorious death, the imagination is satisfied with the most fascinating delight which reading can give. Therefore it will be more in accordance with my wishes if you come to the resolution to separate from the main body of your narrative, in which you embrace a continuous history of events, what I may call the drama of my actions and fortunes: for it includes varied acts, and shifting scenes both of policy and circumstance. Nor am I afraid of appearing to lay snares for your favour by flattering suggestions, when I declare that I desire to be complimented and mentioned with praise by you above all other writers. For you are not the man to be ignorant of your own powers, or not to be sure that those who withhold their admiration of you are more to be accounted jealous, than those who praise you flatterers. Nor, again, am I so senseless as to wish to be consecrated to an eternity of fame by one who, in so consecrating me, does not also gain for himself the glory which rightfully belongs to genius. For the famous Alexander himself did not wish to be painted by Apelles, and to have his statue made by Lysippus above all others, merely from personal favour to them, but because he thought that their art would be a glory at once to them and to himself. And, indeed, those artists used to make images of the person known to strangers: but if such had never existed, illustrious men would yet be no less illustrious. The Spartan Agesilaus, who would not allow a portrait of himself to be painted or a statue made, deserves to be quoted as an example quite as much as those who have taken trouble about such representations: for a single pamphlet of Xenophon’s in praise of that king has proved much more effective than all the portraits and statues of them all. And, moreover, it will more redound to my present exultation and the honour of my memory to have found my way into your history, than if I had done so into that of others, in this, that I shall profit not only by the genius of the writer—as Timoleon did by that of Timæus, Themistocles by that of Herodotus—but also by the authority of a man of a most illustrious and well-established character, and one well known and of the first repute for his conduct in the most important and weighty matters of state; so that I shall seem to have gained not only the fame which Alexander on his visit to Sigeum said had been bestowed on Achilles by Homer, but also the weighty testimony of a great and illustrious man. For I like that saying of Hector in Nævius, who not only rejoices that he is “praised,” but adds, “and by one who has himself been praised.” But if I fail to obtain my request from you, which is equivalent to saying, if you are by some means prevented—for I hold it to be out of the question that you would refuse a request of mine—I shall perhaps be forced to do what certain persons have often found fault with, write my own panegyric, a thing, after all, which has a precedent of many illustrious men. But it will not escape your notice that there are the following drawbacks in a composition of that sort: men are bound, when writing of themselves, both to speak with greater reserve of what is praiseworthy, and to omit what calls for blame. Added to which such writing carries less conviction, less weight; many people, in fine, carp at it, and say that the heralds at the public games are more modest, for after having placed garlands on the other recipients and proclaimed their names in a loud voice, when their own turn comes to be presented with a garland before the games break up, they call in the services of another herald, that they may not declare themselves victors with their own voice. I wish to avoid all this, and, if you undertake my cause, I shall avoid it: and, accordingly, I ask you this favour. But why, you may well ask, when you have already often assured me that you intended to record in your book with the utmost minuteness the policy and events of my consulship, do I now make this request to you with such earnestness and in so many words? The reason is to be found in that burning desire, of which I spoke at the beginning of my letter, for something prompt: because I am in a flutter of impatience, both that men should learn what I am from your book, while I am still alive, and that I may myself in my lifetime have the full enjoyment of my little bit of glory. What you intend doing on this subject I should like you to write me word, if not troublesome to you. For if you do undertake the subject, I will put together some notes of all occurrences: but if you put me off to some future time, I will talk the matter over with you. Meanwhile, do not relax your efforts, and thoroughly polish what you have already on the stocks, and—continue to love me.  1