Cicero, On Duties 3.82-83


What ? those who neglect all right and honorable things as long as the acquire power, do they not do the same thing as that person who wished to have as his father-in-law the man by whose boldness he had obtained power.  It seemed useful to him to be most powerful through the enmity of the other.  He did not see how unjust that was to the fatherland, and how base.  And the father-in-law himself used to quote repeatedly in Greek some lines from the The Phoenician Women, which I will say as best I can – inelegantly perhaps, but still so the substance can be understood:

            for if justice must be violated for the sake of ruling

            then it must be violated; practice piety in other things.

Worthy of death was Eteocles [the character speaking the lines] or rather Euripides [who wrote them] because he made an exception of the one thing that was most wicked of all.


Why then do we bother ourselves with tiny things like fraudulent inheritances and sales and purchases?  Here you have someone who longed to be king of the Roman people and master of the whole world, and he accomplished it.  If there is anyone who says that this longing was honorable he is crazy, for he approves the death of laws and liberty and thinks that their foul and hateful oppression is glorious.  But as for anyone who admits that it is not honorable to be king in a state which once was and should be free but still thinks that doing so is useful to the person who can do it, how I would rebuke – or rather, how I would scream at him to try to pull him away from such a mistake.  For by the immortal gods, can the most foul and loathsome murder of one’s fatherland be useful to anyone, even if the man who is guilty of the murder is called “father of the fatherland” by its oppressed citizens. Utility must be guided by honor, and in such a way that though the two different in word they resonate as one in deed.