Seneca: De Clementia ("On Mercy") |
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Latin Text

Seneca: De Clementia (“On Mercy”)


Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4 B.C. – 65 A.D.), sometimes known as Seneca the Younger, was born in Corduba in Spain, but came to Rome as a very young child and resided there with his father, Seneca the Elder (54 B.C. – 39 A.D.), a well-known writer and orator. In 41 A.D. he was exiled to Corsica by the Emperor Claudius, because of an alleged affair he had with Claudius’ niece, Julia Livilla, but in 49 he was allowed to return to Rome at the instigation of Claudius’ new wife, Agrippina, Julia Livilla’s sister, and he became tutor to her son Nero, who was Claudius’ designated successor. When Claudius died in very suspicious circumstances in 54, Nero duly became emperor at the very young age of sixteen, and Seneca, together with his close friend and ally, the Praetorian Prefect, Sextus Afranius Burrus, became his main political adviser. For the first five years of Nero’s reign, the advice of these two men helped to  ensure a period of relatively stable and tranquil government, but after Nero’s murder of his mother Agrippina in 59, which Seneca had accepted with some considerable reluctance and was afterwards forced to justify, his influence began to wane, particularly after the death of Burrus in 62. Seneca then sought to retire from court, but Nero rejected such requests in 62 and 64. However, in 65 Seneca was caught up in the wake of the failed conspiracy of Piso, and an increasingly paranoid Nero ordered him to commit suicide. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to do so, he succeeded in suffocating himself in a hot bath. Also executed in the aftermath of this conspiracy was Seneca’s nephew, the poet Lucan, author of “Pharsalia”.

Seneca was a versatile writer of Stoic philosophical works, letters and tragic plays. “De Clementia” (“On Mercy”), the work which Sabidius has translated below, was one of twelve moral essays or dialogues that he wrote. It was written in 55-56, and addressed to the young emperor Nero himself, in order to demonstrate the importance of clemency as a necessary virtue in an emperor. But it was actually written shortly after Nero’s murder of his own half-brother Britannicus in 55, and another motive for its writing may have been to reassure the Roman public that this murder was the end, not the beginning, of bloodshed; and, although it does flatter the youthful Nero, and his apparently merciful nature, excessively, its main intention is to set out the correct Stoic path of virtue for a ruler. Nevertheless, a very considerable irony was to follow the compilation of this work: Nero was eventually to become a monstrous tyrant, who murdered at whim and without mercy whomever he liked, for instance the Christians, whom he allegedly sought to scapegoat for the disastrous Great Fire of Rome in 64, and his victims also included his mother, two wives and all living members of the Julio-Claudian family, so that, when he committed suicide in 68, there was no one left to succeed him. Poor Seneca! Can any advice, however well-intentioned, ever have been so flagrantly rejected by its recipient?

After his death, Seneca was to enjoy a great reputation as a writer and dramatist throughout the remaining classical period, the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance. However, despite the renown of his well-described Stoic beliefs, as set out in his moral essays and in his famous “Epistulae morales ad Lucilium”, a collection of 124 letters written in 64, the last year of his life, his reputation as a philosopher has always been vitiated, both during his lifetime as well as subsequently, by the enormous wealth which he acquired during his time with Nero, much of it based on making loans at very high rates of interest. The apparent hypocrisy which this wealth creation involved inevitably called into question the sincerity of his Stoic convictions, and he was subject to criticism by the historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio.

As a piece of work to translate, Sabidius has found “De Clementia” reasonably straightforward. The arguments are usually set out in very accessible vocabulary, although sometimes, when abstract moral or mental qualities are involved, Seneca’s precise meaning can become a little obscure. It is mostly highly readable, as well as persuasive, although at times the points are made in unnecessarily exaggerated language, and perhaps the content is somewhat repetitive. However, as is the case with so many of Seneca’s essays and letters, this work would have been a gold-mine for any Latin writer looking for a suitable quotation on the subject in question.

The text for this translation has come from the edition of “L. Annaeus Seneca: volume 1”, edited by John W. Basore (Heineman), 1928, and available on the Perseus’ website. Another text of “De Clementia” is also available on line: see “Original texts of Seneca’s works at ‘The Latin Library.’ “



Chapter 1. (1) I have arranged, Nero Caesar, to write on the subject of mercy, in order that I may, in some way, perform the function of a mirror, and (so) show you to yourself as you are about to attain the greatest pleasure of (them) all. For, although the real enjoyment of good deeds lies in the doing (of them), and there is no fitting reward for virtues beyond (the virtues) themselves, (still) it is a pleasure to visit and examine a good conscience, (and) then to cast one’s eyes upon the vast mass (of mankind), quarrelsome, factious, (and) headstrong (as they are), (and) ready to exult alike on their own ruin and (that of) others, if they should break the yoke (of your government), and thus to commune with oneself: (2) “Have I, of all mortals, been approved and chosen to act on the earth in place of the gods? (I am) the arbiter of life and death for its peoples; what lot and position (in life) each man has is placed in my hands; from my lips fortune proclaims what (gift) should be bestowed on each mortal; from my utterances people and cities find reasons for rejoicing; no place prospers at all without my good-will and favour; all these thousands of swords, which my peace has restrained, would be drawn at my nod; it is my right to declare which tribes shall be utterly exterminated, which shall be transported (elsewhere), which shall be given their liberty and which shall be deprived (of it), which kings shall become slaves and the heads of which should be crowned, which cities shall be destroyed and which (ones) shall rise. (3) Amid this very great abundance of powers, neither anger, nor youthful impulse, nor the rashness and obstinacy of men, which has often exhausted the patience of even the most tranquil of minds, has impelled me to (hand out) unjust punishments, nor (has) that dread pride in power which shows itself by (inspiring) terror, but which is so common among great sovereigns. The sword is hidden, nay it is sheathed, in my presence; I (am) sparing, to the greatest degree, of the blood of even the lowest (of my subjects); no one with the name of a man, to whom (all) other (things) are lacking, is not in favour with me. (4) Sternness I keep hidden, but mercy (I have) at hand; I keep watch on myself in such a way as though I am about to render an account to those laws, which I have brought out of neglect and darkness into the light (of day). I have been moved (to pity) by  the fresh youth (of one), (and) by the extreme (old age) of another; one (man) I have condoned due to his high rank, (and) another due to his lowly (estate); whenever I could find no excuse for mercy, I have spared myself. Today, I am ready to give (an account) of the human race to the immortal gods, if they should require such a reckoning from me.”

(5) This, Caesar, you can boldly proclaim, that all these (things) which have come into your trust and protection are kept safe, (and) that they have suffered no loss through you, either through violence or in secret. You have coveted a reputation (that is) most rare, and which has been acquired by no other emperor until now, (that of) innocence (of any wrong-doing). That extraordinary goodness of yours does not damage your work, nor does it meet with ungrateful or spiteful evaluators. Gratitude is given to you in return; no one man was ever so dear to another man as you are to the people of Rome, (you being) its great and lasting blessing. (6) But you have imposed a huge burden upon yourself; no one now talks of the deified Augustus or the early years of Tiberius Caesar, or is looking for a model which he would wish you to copy, other than yourself; your principate is thought to (provide) our (standard) taste. This would have been difficult, if that goodness had not been natural to you, but (merely) adopted for a time. For no one can wear a mask for long, and false (impressions) quickly lapse back into one’s own character; whatever truth underlies such (things), grows, so to speak, from solid ground, (and the passage of) time itself turns (it) into something bigger and better.

(7) The Roman people faced a great hazard, when it was (still) uncertain in what (direction) that noble nature of yours would take itself; now the prayers of the community are assured; for there is no danger that forgetfulness of yourself should take you by surprise. Too much prosperity makes (men) greedy, nor are our desires ever so moderate that they cease at the point when there has been success; (this) creates stepping(-stones) from great to (even) greater (successes), and, once they have gained unexpected (things), they embrace the most perverse of hopes; yet now, this confession is extorted from all your citizens, both that they are happy, and this as well, that nothing can be added to their blessings, except that they should be continuous. (8) Many (circumstances) force them to (make) this admission, and nothing less hasty than this is (likely to be said) among men: (there is) a security deep (and) abounding, (and) justice (has been) placed above all wrong; the most welcome form of government is to be seen by the eyes (of men), from which nothing is lacking to (provide) the highest degree of liberty, except the power of (self-)destruction. (9) Above all, however, admiration of your (quality of) mercy, extends from the highest to the lowest (of your subjects); for each man experiences or expects a larger or smaller (measure) of other blessings in proportion to his luck, (but) from your mercy they all expect the same; nor is there any man whose own innocence is so greatly satisfying, that he does not rejoice that your mercy remains in view, ready (to accommodate) human errors.

Chapter 2. (1) Yet I know that there are some who think that all the worst (men) are sustained by mercy, since it is superfluous, unless (it comes) after some crime (has occurred), and (since) alone of all the virtues it has no function among the innocent. But, first of all, just as (there is) a use for medicine among the sick, (yet) it is also held in honour among the healthy, so, (in the case of) mercy, though (it is those who are) worthy of punishment (who) invoke (it), the innocent also cherish (it). Then, this (virtue) has a place even in the person of the guiltless, because sometimes misfortune takes the place of guilt; and mercy not only succours innocence, but often virtue, since indeed in the circumstance of the times certain (actions) which can be praised happen to incur punishment. Add (to that) that there is a large part of mankind that could be returned to innocence if (only) there were a remission of punishment. (2) Nevertheless, to pardon ought not (to become too) common; for when the distinction between the bad and the good is removed, disorder follows and (there is) an eruption of the vices; therefore a moderate approach should be applied, which is capable of distinguishing curable characters from hopeless (ones). Neither should we have indiscriminate and general mercy, nor (should it be) exclusive; for (it is) as cruel to pardon everyone as to pardon nobody. We ought to maintain a middle course; but, since the perfect mean is difficult (to achieve), whatever the more reasonable (course) should be, let the emphasis be placed on the side of humanity.

Chapter 3. (1) But these (matters) will be better discussed in their own place. I shall now divide this whole subject into three parts. The first will be about emancipation; the second will show the nature and disposition of mercy: for, since there are certain vices which seek to resemble virtues, they cannot be separated unless you stamp marks upon (them) by which they can be distinguished; in the third place, we shall inquire how the mind may be induced to (practise) this virtue, how it may strengthen it and by habit make (it) its own.

(2) It is necessary to agree that none other of all the virtues befits a man more (than) mercy, since none is more humane, not only among us who wish that man should appear (as) a social creature begotten for the common good, but also among those who give man over to pleasure, and whose words and deeds all tend towards their own advantage; for, if (a man) seeks quiet and repose, he has found this virtue (suited) to his own nature, which loves peace and stays the hand. (3) Yet, of all (men), mercy becomes no one more than a king or prince. For it is the case that great strength has grace and fame (only) if it has the power to do good; for it is the power of a pestilence that has the strength to (do) harm. That (man’s) greatness is only secure and well-established, whom everyone knows is as much on their (side) as (he is) their superior; and his watchful care of each one of them, and of all of them, they experience on a daily basis, and upon his approach they do not flee, as if some monster or deadly beast had sprung forward from its lair, but they flock to (him) eagerly as if towards a bright and beneficent star. In his (defence, they are) quite prepared to throw themselves before the swords of assassins, and to offer their bodies on his behalf, if his path to safety is strewn with human carnage, (and) they protect his sleep by nightly vigils, and, (while) offering up their own bodies, they surround and defend (him), and expose themselves to the dangers that he faces.

(4) It is not without (good) reason that (there is) this accord of peoples and cities in thus protecting and loving their kings and of sacrificing themselves and their (property), whenever the safety of their ruler should require (it); nor is it self-depreciation or madness that so many thousands are put to the sword for the sake of one person, and (when), by so many deaths, they save the life of one (man), (who is) sometimes old and feeble.

(5) Just as the whole body is a servant of the mind, and, though the former is so much larger and more showy, (and) the latter remains hidden (and) insubstantial, and unaware of where its habitation lies, yet the hands, the feet, (and) the eyes do its business, the outer skin protects it, at its bidding we lie (still) or run restlessly to  and fro; when it commands, if it is an avaricious master, we scour the sea for the sake of gain; if (it is) ambitious, we put our hands into the flames at once (i.e. like Mucius Scaevola) or willingly jump into the ground (i.e. like Curtius); so the vast throng surrounding (the life) of one man is directed by his spirit, is guided by his intellect, and would crush and shatter itself through its own strength, if it were not sustained by his counsel.

Chapter 4. (1) So (men) love their own safety, when they lead ten legions at a time into battle on behalf of one man, when they rush to the forefront and expose their breasts to wounds, lest the standards of their emperor should be turned back. For he is the bond through which the republic holds together, he (is) the breath of life, which all those so many thousands draw, (and) they would be) nothing but a burden to themselves and the prey (of others), if that (great) mind of empire should be withdrawn.

                         If their king is safe, (they (i.e. bees) are) all of one mind;                                                                             When he is lost, they break their troth.

(2) Such a disaster would be the end of the Roman peace, (and) it would drive the fortune of so great a people into ruin; this people shall be free from that danger so long as it knows (how) to endure the reins, but, if ever it should break them, or if they are shattered by some accident, (then) this unity and this fabric of the mightiest empire will dissolve into many parts, and the end of this city’s dominance will occur at the same time as (the end) of her obedience will have happened. (3) Therefore, it is not surprising that princes and kings, and the guardians of the constitution, whatever different name they have, should be beloved, even beyond the private (circle) of their relatives; for, if, to right-thinking men, (the interests) of the state are preferable to their own, (then) it follows that he too is dearer on whom the state itself converges. For, in the past, Caesar (i.e. Julius Caesar) so clothed himself with (the powers) of the state, that neither could be separated without the downfall of both; for he had the need for power, and it (had the need) for a head.

Chapter 5. (1) My discourse appears to have departed rather far from its purpose, but, by Hercules, it is pressing on the very matter. But if, as it is so far established, you are the soul of your state, (and) it (is) your body, you (will) see, I think, how necessary mercy is; for you spare yourself, when you spare another. So, even unruly citizens should be spared just like weak limbs, and, if ever there is a need for blood-letting, the hand must be controlled, lest it cuts deeper than may be necessary.  (2) So, as I was saying, mercy is indeed for all men in accordance with nature, but is especially befitting in rulers, inasmuch as in their case it has more which it could save, and inasmuch as it appears amid a greater (scale of) opportunities. For the cruelty of an individual can do little harm! The ferocity of princes is war. (3) Now, although in the case of the virtues there is a harmony between them, and none of them is better or nobler than another, yet a certain (virtue) is more suited to some people. Great-heartedness becomes any human-being, even him, below whom there is nothing at all; for what (can be) greater or braver than to beat back ill-fortune? Yet, this great-heartedness has a freer place amid (the circumstances of) good fortune, and is seen to better (effect) on the judges’ bench than on the floor (of the court).

(4) Into whatever house she will have entered, mercy will render it happy and peaceful, but in the palace (she is) the more wonderful, in that (she is) rarer. For what is (more) remarkable than that he, whose anger nothing can withstand, with whose sentence, too heavy (though it be), those who are to perish are in agreement, whom no one will venture to gainsay, no, not (even) if he is violently incensed, nor will he intercede with prayer, should lay his hand upon himself and apply his power in a better and a calmer (manner), as he reflects in this (way): “Anyone can kill contrary to the law, (but) no one but I can save”? (5) A great mind befits a lofty position (in life), which, unless it has raised itself up to and (even) above  that (level), it too drags that (position) down to the ground. Yet, it is the mark of a lofty mind to be calm and tranquil, and to look down upon wrongs and insults from a lofty height. It is (the characteristic) of a woman to rage in anger, and doubtless of wild beasts, but yet (it is) not (the characteristic) of the most noble (of these) to bite into and worry their prostrate (victims). Elephants and lions pass by (those) which they have struck down; persistence is (the mark) of the ignoble beast. (6) Cruel and inexorable anger does not befit a king, for he does not rise much above the (victim of his anger), with whom he puts himself on an equal footing by getting angry; but, if he grants life, if he gives position (to those) who have endangered, and deserve to lose, (them), he does what none but a man of mighty power may (do); for life may be taken even from (someone) above (us) in station, (but) it can never be granted, save to one who is inferior (to us). (7) To save life is the mark of an exalted status, which ought never to be more respected than when it happens to have the same power as the gods, by whose beneficence we, both good and bad, are brought forward into the light. Therefore, let a prince, appropriating to himself the spirit of the gods, look with pleasure upon some of his citizens because they are useful and good, and leave the others to make up the roll; let him rejoice at the existence of the former, and endure (that of) the latter.

Chapter 6. (1) In this city, in which the crowd that streams unceasingly through its widest roads is broken up, whenever anything gets in its way, because its course, like (that) of a rapid torrent, is checked, in which the stalls of three theatres are required at the same time, (and) in which is consumed whatever is cultivated in every land, consider how great would be the desolation and waste, if nothing were left (in it), but what a strict judge would release. (2) How few of the magistrates are there, who should not be condemned under the very law, by which they operate? How few accusers are free from blame? And I feel sure that no one is more reluctant to grant a pardon than (he) who has constantly had reason to seek it. (3) We have all sinned, some with regard to serious (matters), others in relation to trivial (things), some from a deliberate decision, others by chance impulse or (because they were) led astray by the wickedness of others; some (of us) have not stood strongly enough by our good resolutions, and have lost our innocence, (though) unwillingly and (while seeking) to retain (them); not only have we done wrong, but we shall continue to do wrong right up to the very end of our lives. (4) Even if anyone has now so thoroughly cleansed his mind, that nothing can confound or betray him any more, yet he has (only) reached this (state of) innocence by sinning.

Chapter 7. (1) Since I have made mention of the gods, I shall do well to establish this (as) the standard for a prince, to which he should (seek to) model himself, so that he should wish himself to be to his citizens as (he would wish) the gods (to be) to himself. Is it expedient, then, to have deities (that are) merciless towards our sins and errors, is it expedient (to have them) as extreme enemies right up to (the point of) our destruction? And what king will be safe, whose soothsayers do not gather up the limbs (of their victims)? (2) But if the gods (are) easily appeased and just, (and) do not instantly pursue with thunderbolts the shortcomings of the mighty, how much more just is it for a man, who has been put in authority over men, to exercise that power in a spirit of mildness, and to consider whether the condition of the world is more pleasing and more lovely to the eye, (when) the day (is) fine and clear, or when everything is shaken by frequent thunder-claps, and (when) lightning flashes on this side and that! And yet the appearance of a peaceful and constitutional sovereignty is no different from that of a clear and shining sky. (3) A reign (that is) cruel is troubled and overcast with gloom, (and,) among (those) who tremble and are terrified at a sudden noise, not even he who throws everything into disorder (remains) unshaken. In the case of private individuals, (who are) stubbornly (seeking) to avenge themselves, one is more easily pardoned; for they may have been injured, and their resentment may spring from this injustice; besides they are afraid (to be) despised, and not to make requital for their injuries seems (like) weakness, not clemency; but he, for whom vengeance is straightforward, if he overlooks it, gets certain praise for his restraint. (4) For (those) placed in a lowly station there is more freedom to use force, to go to law, to rush into a brawl, and to indulge their rage; blows are of little (matter) between equals; (but) for a king, even loud cries and intemperate language are not in accord with his majesty.

Chapter 8. (1) You think (it is) a serious (matter) for kings to be deprived of the right of (free) speech, which (even) the lowliest (of men) possesses. “That,” you say, “is servitude, not sovereignty.” What? Do you not realise that the (sovereignty) is ours, (and) the servitude yours? (Very) different is the position of those who hide in a crowd which they do not leave, whose very virtues struggle for a long time to show themselves, and (whose) vices are held in obscurity; (but) rumour intercepts your deeds and words, and therefore no one should take more care of what reputation they have than (those) who, whatever they may deserve, are sure to have a great (one). (2) How many (things there are which) you may not (do), (but) which we, thanks to you, can (do)! I can walk alone without fear in any part of the city I choose, although no companion accompanies (me), there is no one at my house, (and) no sword at my side; you must live armed in the peace you (maintain). You cannot escape from your lot; it besets you, and, whenever you come down (from the heights), it pursues (you) with great ceremony. (3) It is the condition of supreme greatness, that it cannot become less (great); but this is a requirement which you share with the gods. For heaven holds them fast too, and it is no more possible for them to come down than (it is) safe for you (to do so); you are fastened to your (lofty) pinnacle. (4) Few (people) notice our movements, we may come out and retire, and change our dress without the knowledge of the public; (but) you are no more able to hide (yourself) than the sun. A great light surrounds you; the eyes of everyone are turned towards it. Do you think you are going out? (Nay,) you are rising. (5) You cannot speak without (all) the nations that are everywhere (throughout the world) overhearing your voice; you cannot get angry without everything starting to tremble, because (you can) strike no one without shaking whatever would be around (him). Just as thunderbolts fall, (while only) endangering a few, but terrifying everyone, so the punishments (inflicted) by the great potentates terrify more widely than they injure, (and) not without (good) reason; for, with regard to the one who can do everything, (men) do not think so much of what he has done, but of what he may do. (6) Now add (to this) that private men, because they have shown endurance with regard to the wrongs (that they have already) received, (are) more exposed to receiving (others); (yet) the safety of kings is more surely (founded) on mildness, because repeated punishment, (while) it crushes the hatred of a few, provokes (the hatred) of all. (7) The inclination to vent one’s rage before (others) should be less strong than what has provoked it; otherwise, just as trees (that have been) trimmed sprout forth again with a multitude of branches, and many kinds of plants are cut back, so that they may grow more densely, so, by their removal, the cruelty of a king increases the number of his enemies; for the parents and children of those who have been killed, and their relatives and friends as well, take the place of every single one (of them).

Chapter 9. (1) By an example (drawn) from your family, I wish to remind you how true this is. The deified Augustus was a mild prince, if one should begin to judge him from the (time) of his principate; but he wielded his sword, when he shared the government of the republic (with others). When he was of the age that you are now, having passed his eighteenth year, he had already buried daggers in the bosom of his friends, he had already stealthily aimed (a blow) at the side of the consul Mark Antony, (and) he had already been a partner in the proscription. (2) But, when he had passed his fortieth year, and was staying in Gaul, the information was brought to him that Lucius Cinna (n.b. his actual name was Gnaeus Cornelius Luci filius Cinna Magnus), a man of dull intellect, was concocting a plot against him; he was told both where and when, and how he meant to attack (him); one of his accomplices gave away (the information). (3) He planned to protect himself from him, and ordered that a meeting of his friends should be called. He spent a restless night, when he reflected that a young man of noble birth, harmless if this (one act were) disregarded, (and who was) the grandson of Gnaeus Pompey, must be condemned; he, to whom Mark Antony had dictated the edict of proscription over dinner, could not now (bear) to kill one man. (4) Groaning repeatedly, he let out voices of a variable (nature) and (which) were in conflict one with another: “What then? Shall I allow my assassin to walk about untroubled while I am racked with fear? So, shall he not pay the penalty who has plotted not (just) to slay but (actually) to immolate, at a time when peace has been secured on land and sea, that life (which has been) sought in vain amid so many civil wars (and has remained) unharmed during so many naval and infantry battles?” – for he had resolved to attack him while he was sacrificing. (5) (Then) again, (after a period of) silence (had) intervened, he began to express in a much louder voice indignation at himself (rather) than at Cinna: “Why do you live, if it is to the advantage of so many that you should die? What end will there be to these executions? What (end) to this bloodshed? I am a figure exposed to young men of noble birth, upon which they can sharpen the edges of their swords; my life is not worth having, if so many (lives) must be lost, so that I do not die.” (6) At last his wife Livia interrupted him and said: “Will you take a woman’s advice? Do what physicians usually (do), who, when their usual remedies do not work, try the opposite (ones). So far you have achieved nothing by severity; Lepidus (i.e. Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, eldest son of the triumvir, executed in 30 B.C. after a conspiracy) followed Salvidienus, (i.e. Quintus Salvidienus Rufus, betrayed by Mark Antony and executed for treachery in 40 B.C.), Murena (i.e. Aulus Terentius Varro Murena, consul 23 B.C. and adoptive brother of Maecenas’ wife Terentia, executed in 22 B.C. without trial after apparent involvement in the conspiracy led by Caepio) Lepidus, Caepio (i.e. the writer Fannius Caepio, executed in 22 B.C. after hatching a conspiracy against Augustus) Murena, (and) Egnatius (i.e. Egnatius Rufus, an abortive candidate for the consulship, he was executed in 19 B.C.; his popularity with the mob arose from his founding a private fire brigade when he had been aedile some years earlier) Caepio, to say nothing of the others, of whose daring one is greatly ashamed. Try now how mercy will work for you; pardon Lucius Cinna. He has been caught; he cannot now harm you, (but) he can do your reputation much good.” (7) Glad that he had found (someone) to support his (point of view), he thanked his wife, then immediately told the friends, whom he had asked to (give him) advice, that they were no longer needed, and summoned Cinna only to (join) him, and, when he had sent everyone else from the room, (and) had ordered a second chair to be put down for Cinna, he said: “The first (thing) I ask of you (is) this, that you do not interrupt me while I am speaking, and that you do not cry out in the middle of my address; time will be given to you to speak freely (in reply). (8)  Although I found you, Cinna, in my enemy’s camp, not only made but born (as) my (deadly) foe, I saved (your life) and allowed you (to keep) the whole of your father’s estate. Today, you are so fortunate and so rich that your conquerors are envious (of you), whom they have conquered. When you were a candidate for the priesthood, I gave (it to you), by-passing several (others), whose parents served with me (in the wars); (but now,) although I have deserved so well of you, you have determined to kill me.” (9) When, at these words, he exclaimed that such madness was totally absent from his (mind), he said: “You do not keep your promise, Cinna; it was agreed (between us) that you would not interrupt (me). I repeat, you are preparing to kill me”; (to this) he added (the name of) the place, (the names of) his accomplices, the date, the plan of the ambush, and (the one) to whom the dagger had been entrusted. (10) And, when he saw that (his eyes were) fixed (upon the ground), (and that he was) silent, not on account of their compact, but on account of his conscience, he said: “With what intention are you doing this? (Is it) so that you yourself may be emperor? By Hercules, things must be in a bad way with regard to the Roman people, if nothing but me prevents you from ruling (over them). You cannot even defend your own house; (just) recently you have been defeated in a private lawsuit by the influence of a freedman; so you can find no easier task than to rally (your friends) against Caesar. Now tell me, if I alone am blocking your hopes, will Paullus (i.e. this is probably Paullus Aemilius Lepidus, consul 34 B.C.) and Fabius Maximus (i.e. Paullus Fabius Maximus, consul 11 B.C.), and the Cossi (i.e. one of whom was Cossus Cornelius Lentulus, consul 1 B.C.), and the Servilii (i.e. one of whom was Servilius Vatia, the son of Publius Servilus Vatia Isauricus, consul 48 and 41) and all that great band of noblemen, who bear no empty names but those which add distinction to the portraits of their ancestors, (will they) endure (your rule)?”

(11) So that I do not occupy a great part of my book by repeating the whole of his address – for it is agreed that he spoke for more than two hours, (during which) he prolonged the punishment, which was the only (one) he intended to inflict – (at last) he said: “Cinna, I grant you your life for the second time; the first time (you were) an enemy, now (you are) a plotter and a parricide. From this day forth, let there be the beginning of a friendship between us; let us contend (to see which one of us is acting) in better faith, whether it is I in granting you your life, or you in owing (it to me).” (12) Later (i.e. in 5 A.D.), he conferred the consulship (upon him) of his own accord, (though) he complained that he had not offered himself as a candidate. He regarded (him as) his most loyal and trustworthy (adherent), and he became his sole heir. No further plots were (ever) made against (him) by anyone.

Chapter 10. (1) Your great-great-grandfather (i.e. Augustus) pardoned the vanquished; for, if he had not pardoned (them), over whom would he have ruled? He recruited Sallustius (i.e. Gaius Sallustius Crispus, the grand-nephew of the historian), and the Cocceii (i.e. Gaius Cocceius Balbus, consul suffectus 39 B.C. and Marcus Cocceius Nerva, consul suffectus 36 B.C.), and the Dellii (i.e. one of whom was the general Quintus Dellius, who later became a historian), and the whole retinue of his inner circle from the camp of his opponents; now he owed a Domitius (i.e. Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, consul 32 B.C. and the grandfather of the Emperor Nero), a Messala (i.e. Marcus Valerius Messala Corvinus, consul 31 B.C.), an Asinius (i.e. Gaius Asinius Pollio, consul 40 B.C. and a famous letter writer) a Cicero (i.e Marcus Tullius Cicero, consul suffectus 30 B.C. and son of the famous writer and politician), and whatever was the flower of the state to his clemency. How long was Lepidus (i.e. the triumvir Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, consul 46 and 42 B.C.) himself allowed to die! For many years he suffered (him) to retain the ornaments of a ruler, and he did not permit the office of chief priest to be transferred to himself until after his death (n.b. this occurred in 12 B.C.); for he preferred it to be called an honour (rather) than a spoil. (2) This mercifulness (of his) brought him safety and security; it (also) made (him) popular and beloved, (and,) although he had placed his hand on the necks of the Roman people, he had not yet humbled (them); and today this gives him a reputation which is scarcely available to rulers (while they are) living. (3) We acknowledge that Augustus was a good emperor, (and) well worthy of his father’s name (i.e. that of Caesar), for no other reason than because he avenged without cruelty even the personal insults which are usually more painful to princes than injuries, because he smiled at the abusive comments (directed) at him, (and,) because he was so far from putting to death all those whom he had convicted of adultery with his daughter that, when they had been banished, he gave (them) passports, by means of which they were (able to travel) more safely. (4) When you know that there are many who will be angry on your behalf, and will (seek to) gain your favour by (taking) the blood of another, it is (indeed) to pardon (when) you not only grant (them) their safety, but you (also) provide (it as well).

Chapter 11. (1) Such was Augustus (when he was) an old man, or when he was already on the verge of old age; (but) in his youth he was hot-headed, he burned with rage, (and) he did many (things) on which he looked back with reluctance. No one will venture to compare the mildness of the deified Augustus with yours, even if it should bring his more than ripe old age into competition with your youthful years; yes, he was gentle and merciful, but only after the sea at Actium had been stained with Roman blood, (i.e. in 31 B.C.) and only after both his own and his enemy’s fleet had been wrecked of Sicily (i.e. in 36 B.C.), and only after the holocaust of Perusia (i.e. in 41-40 B.C.) and the proscriptions (i.e. authorised by the Second Triumvirate in 43 B.C.). (2) But actually I do not call weariness of cruelty mercy; true mercy, Caesar, is something which you display, which has not arisen from regretting your cruelty, but which has never shed the blood of your citizens; in (your position of) unlimited power this is the truest (form of) mental self-control and all-embracing love of the human race, nor (is it) corrupted by any (sense of) greed, or rashness of the intellect, or by the examples of any former princes into testing by experiment what one may (do) to one’s fellow-citizens, but (rather) to blunt the edge of one’s power. (3) Caesar, you have given (us) a state unstained with blood, and this too, as you, with your great heart, have boasted that you have never shed a single drop of human blood in the whole (wide) world, (and) this is the more significant and more remarkable because the sword has never been entrusted to anyone at an earlier (age).

(4) So mercy makes (princes) not only more honest but safer, and is the ornament of rulers and, at the same time, its surest (means of) safety. For what is the reason why kings have gown old and have bequeathed their thrones to their children and grandchildren, (while) the power of tyrants is (considered to be) deadly and short(-lived)? What is the difference between a tyrant and a king – for the outward appearance of their circumstances and their power is equal – except that tyrants are cruel to (indulge) their pleasure, (whereas) kings (are cruel) only for a reason and through necessity?

Chapter 12. (1) “What then? (do you say). “Are not kings also used to putting (men) to death?” But (only) whenever the good of the state persuades (them) that it should be done; (whereas) cruelty is pleasurable to tyrants. But a tyrant differs from a king in deeds, not in name; for while the elder Dionysius (i.e. c. 432-367 B.C., tyrant of Syracuse) may justly and deservedly be preferred to many kings, what keeps Lucius Sulla (i.e. Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix, consul 88 and 80, dictator 82-79) from being called a tyrant, (for only) a death of foes brought an end to his killing? (2) Although he abdicated from his dictatorship and returned to (wearing) the clothes (of a private citizen), yet what tyrant ever drank human blood so greedily as he, who ordered seven thousand Roman citizens to be butchered, and (who,) as he sat nearby in the temple of Bellona, and heard the cries of so many thousands groaning beneath the sword, said to the terror-stricken senate, “Let us pay attention to our (business), Conscript Fathers; a very few mutinous (men) are being put to death on my orders”? (3) By (saying) this, he did not lie; to Sulla they seemed a few. But (we shall say more) about Sulla presently, when we shall ask how we should show anger to our enemies, particularly if our fellow-citizens have been severed from the same community (as ourselves) and have gone over to the name of our enemies; meanwhile, as I was saying, (it is) mercy that makes the distinction between a king and a tyrant as great (as) it is, though both are no less fortified with arms; but the one has arms, which he uses to safeguard peace, (while) the other (uses them) to suppress great hatred by great terror, and yet the very hands, to which he has entrusted himself, he cannot view without concern. (4) He is forced by conflicting (passions) into conflicting (courses); for, since he is hated because he is feared, he wishes to be feared because he is hated, and (as he is) unaware of how great a frenzy can arise when hatred has grown beyond limit, he employs that odious verse which has consigned (so) many to their fall: Let them hate (me), if only they fear (me too).

For fear in moderation contains (men’s) passions, but (a fear that is) constant and sharp, and brings desperation, arouses the inactive to boldness, and urges (them) to try everything. (5) In the same way, a string of feathers may keep wild beasts confined; but let a horseman fall upon the same (creatures) from behind with javelins, they will try to escape through the very same (things) which they had shunned, and they will trample their fear under foot. The very boldest courage is (that) which utter desperation creates. Fear should leave some (sense of) security, and hold out much more hope than dangers; for otherwise, when peaceful (men) have fears that are equal (to those of the active), then will a man delight to run into perils and to end his life as if (it were) another’s.

Chapter 13. (1) A peaceable and tranquil king (finds) that his guards are trustworthy, as he employs them for public safety, and the soldier – for he sees that he is giving his service for the security of the state – (is) proud (and) willing to undergo every hardship, as the guardian of the father (of his country); but (even) his own retinue are bound to dislike the (tyrant who is) harsh and bloodthirsty. (2) No one can keep servants (who have) good will and loyalty, when he uses (them) for (the purpose of) torture, like the rack and the blades of a razor, in readiness for death, (and) to whom he flings men as if they were wild beasts; like all defendants at the bar, (no man is) more wretched and more anxious than (the man) who fears (both) men and gods (as) witnesses and avengers of his crimes, (but) has reached the point where he cannot change his conduct. For, among other (things), cruelty has the dreadful (outcome) that a man must continue down the same path, and that he cannot retrace his steps and open up (a way) to better (things), for crimes must be protected by (further) crimes. But who can be more unhappy than he who is actually compelled to be wicked? (3) O wretched man, greatly to be pitied, at least by himself! For it would be a sin to pity him who has used his power for murder and plunder, who has made himself suspect in all his (dealings), both at home and abroad, who resorts to arms because he fears arms, who trusts neither the loyalty of friends nor the affection of his children; (and he) who, when he has surveyed both what he has done and what he is about to do, has laid bare his conscience, full (as it is) of crimes and tortures, often fears to die, (but) more often prays (to do so), (being even) more hateful to himself than (he is) to his servants. (4) On the other hand, he who has a concern for his entire (country), who guards all (of it) more or less (carefully), (who is) inclined to mild (measures), even when it is to his advantage to punish, and shows how reluctant (he is) to turn his hands to harsh remedies, (5) in whose mind there are no hostile or savage (feelings), (but) who exerts his authority calmly and in a beneficial manner, and desires that his officials should be approved of by his countrymen, who thinks his happiness (is) complete if he can share his good fortune with the public, (who is) affable in speech, easy to approach and to gain access to, lovable in his countenance, (a feature) that earns him great popularity with his people, (who is) disposed (to grant all) reasonable requests, nor (is he) harsh even when (they are) unreasonable, (such a prince) is beloved, protected and worshipped by the whole of his community. (6) Men talk of him in private in the same way that (they talk of him) in public. (Under him,) they are eager to bring up sons, and the childlessness, (once) considered necessary due to public ills, is (now) relaxed; no one doubts that he will deserve well of his children, to whom he has revealed so (happy) an age. Such a prince, protected by his own beneficence, needs no bodyguards, and he wears arms (only) for the sake of display.

Chapter 14. (1) What then is his duty? (It is) the (duty) of good parents, who are sometimes accustomed to scold their children in a good-natured manner, sometimes (to rebuke them) with threats, (and) sometimes even to admonish them with lashes. No sane man disinherits his son after his first offence, (does he)? Nor does he resort to (so) decisive a sentence (as this), unless many grievous wrongs have exhausted his patience, (or) unless what he fears is greater than what he condemns; (but) before (doing this) he tries many (things) by which he may (be able to) reclaim the character (of his son), hesitant (as he is), though still inclined (to be) in a more evil place; (but,) as soon as (the situation) is hopeless, he tries extreme (measures). (Yet) no one resorts to exacting such punishments, unless he has used up (all possible) remedies. (2) That which a father must do (is) also (the duty) of a prince, whom, induced by no empty flattery, we call “The Father of our Country.” Now, other surnames are given in honour; (some men) we have called ” The Great,” and “The Fortunate,” and “The August,” and we have accumulated whatever titles we could, attributing ostentatious greatness to them by this (means); but we have called (someone) “The Father of our Country” so that he may know that the power of a father has been given to him, (a power,) which is of the mildest (kind), and which has regard for his children and which puts his own (interests) after theirs. (3) A father (would be) slow to cut off (one of) his own limbs; yes, and when he has severed (it), he would long to restore (it), and, in cutting (it) off he would hesitate and lament greatly and for a long time; for he who (condemns) quickly, is close to being willing to condemn; (and he) who (punishes) too much, is close to punishing unjustly.

Chapter 15. (1) Within my own memory, the people stabbed a Roman knight (called) Tricho in the forum with their writing-pens, because he had killed his son with lashes; (even) the authority of Augustus Caesar could scarcely save him from the furious hands of both fathers and sons. (2) (On the other hand,) no one failed to admire Tarius, who, having detected his son in a plot of parricide, found him guilty after investigating the case, because (he was) satisfied with exile, and a luxurious exile (at that) as he detained the parricide at Marseilles and provided him with the same annual (allowance) that he was accustomed to give (him, when he was still) innocent; this generosity had the result that, in a city where an advocate is never lacking (even) in he case of villains, no one doubted that the accused had been justly condemned, since the father had been able to condemn him, (even though) he could not hate him.

(3) Through this very example, I will show (you the case of) the good prince, whom you may compare with the good father. When he was about to begin the investigation of his son, Tarius invited Caesar Augustus to (attend) the trial; he came to the hearth of a private citizen, sat beside (him), (and) was a part of another man’s (family) council; nor did he say: “Nay, let him rather come to my house”; for if he had done (that), the inquiry would have been Caesar’s, not the father’s. (4) When the case had been heard, and everything had been scrutinised, both the (things) which the young man had said on his own behalf, and the (things) which were alleged (against him), he begged that each man might write down his own verdict, lest everything should happen which would be (in line) with Caesar’s (decision); then, before the tablets were opened, he solemnly swore that he would not accept any hereditary bequest from Tarius, (who was) a rich man. (5) Some one might say: “(He must have) a petty mind to fear that it might be thought that he would be minded towards the condemnation of the son in the hope of his inheriting an estate.” I think otherwise; any one of us ought to have sufficient trust in his own good conscience to defend himself against malign conjectures, but princes are bound to give much (attention) even to a rumour. (So,) he solemnly swore that he would not accept an inheritance. (6) Indeed on the very same day, Tarius lost a second heir, but Caesar redeemed the independence of his verdict, and, after he proved that his severity was disinterested –  for a prince should always have regard (for this) – , he said that he should be banished to whatever (place) seemed right to his father. (7) He did not sentence (him) to the leather sack, nor to serpents, nor to prison, being mindful not (of him) on whom he was passing sentence, but (of him) with whom he was (sitting) in judgement; he said that a father ought to be satisfied with the mildest kind of punishment with regard to a very young son (who had been) pushed into (committing) this crime, in which he had behaved (so) timidly that he was not very far from (being) innocent (of it); (nevertheless,) he ought to be removed from the city and from his father’s sight.

Chapter 16. (1) How worthy (was the man,) whom fathers asked to (share) their counsels! How worthy (was the man,) whom they designated as co-heir with their innocent children! This (is) the (sort of) clemency (that) befits a prince; wherever he should go, he should make everything more malleable.

No one should be so despicable to a king that he should not notice that he is dying; whatever (he may be), he is a part of the realm. (2) With regard to great forms of power, let us seek an example from lesser (ones). There is not (only) one kind of power; a prince exercises power over his citizens, a father over his children, a teacher over his students, a tribune or centurion over his soldiers. (3) Would he not be thought the worst (kind of) father who controls his children with constant lashes for even the most trivial reasons? Yet, which teacher of liberal studies (is) the worthier, (he) who flays the bodies of his pupils, if their memory does not hold up, or if their nimble eyes do not stick (to the lines) while they are reading, or (he) who prefers to improve and instruct (them) by warnings and by (giving them a sense of) shame? (4) Give (me) a harsh tribune or a centurion: he will cause deserters, who may yet be pardoned. (4) For do you think that it is just for a man to be ruled more severely and harshly than we rule dumb animals? Yet, a master skilled in taming (horses) does not terrify a horse by frequent blows; for it will become fearful and stubborn, if you do not soothe (it) with the caressing touch (of your hand). (5) The hunter acts in the same way, whenever he teaches young whelps to follow tracks and when he uses (those who are) already trained to rouse wild beasts and pursue (them): he does not often threaten them – for he would break their spirit (if he did) and whatever nature they have would be impaired by an unworthy fear – , nor does he give (them) licence to roam and wander around in all directions. You may also apply these (things) to (those who are) driving the more sluggish beasts of burden, which, although they were born to (meet with) ill-treatment and miseries, may (yet) be compelled by excessive cruelty to refuse the yoke.

Chapter 17. (1) No creature is more difficult (to manage), none needs to be handled with greater skill than a man, and none should be treated more sparingly (than he). For what is more foolish than that we should blush to vent our anger on beasts of burden and dogs, (and) yet (allow) a man to be held in the worst of circumstances under (another) man? We are cured of diseases and are not angered (by them); yet, this too is a disease of the mind; it requires gentle treatment and a healer (who is) in no way hostile to (the one who is) sick. (2) It is (the sign) of a bad doctor to despair of effecting a cure; he to whom the health of all (men) is entrusted ought to act in the same way with regard to those whose minds are weakened, nor (to be) quick to give up hope or to pronounce that the symptoms are fatal; he should wrestle with vices, (and) put a stop (to them), he should reproach some for their malady and he should deceive others by a tender (mode of) treatment, and he will cure them more quickly and more thoroughly, if the remedies should escape their notice; (in the same way,) a prince should take care not only of (his people’s) welfare, but also that their scars (should be) honourable. (3) A king derives no glory from cruel punishments – for who can doubt that he has the power (to inflict them)? – , but, on the other hand, much good (will come to him), if he can keep his power in check, if can save many from the wrath of others, (and) assign no one to his own.

Chapter 18. (1) It is creditable to command slaves in a moderate fashion. Even in the case of a human possession one ought to consider, not how much he can suffer without impunity, but how much the natural (principle) of equity and goodness, which requires (you) to act sparingly even towards prisoners of war and (those whom have) procured for a price, permits you (to inflict). How much more justly does it require (you) to treat (them) as decent freeborn men, (and) not as chattels, but as those whom you surpass in station, and (whose) protection, not their servitude, has been entrusted to you. (2) Slaves are allowed to seek refuge at the statue (of a god); although the laws allow everything (to be done) with regard to a slave, (yet) with regard to a human being, there is something which the common right of (all) living creatures refuses to allow.

(3) Just as cruel masters are pointed at (with scorn) in all (parts of) the city, and are hated and loathed, so too is the injustice of kings exposed more widely, and their infamy and the hatred (they incur) are handed down through the ages; yet, how much better it would have been not to have been born than to be numbered among (those who have been) born to harm the public.

Chapter 19. (1) By whatever means or by whatever right he has been put in charge of other (men), no one can imagine anything that is more becoming to a sovereign than clemency,  We shall, of course, confess it to be the more beautiful and the more admirable, the greater the power under which it is displayed, and this ought not to be harmful, if it is joined to nature’s law. (2) For nature (herself) has devised (the idea of) a king, (something) which you may learn about from other animals, and, (especially,) from bees; their king (n.b. the ancients did not realise that bees have a queen not a king) has the most spacious cell and (it is situated) in a central and very safe spot; moreover, he (himself) is free from work (and is) the superintendent of the work of the others, and, if they lose their king, they all scatter, and they never tolerate more than one, and they discover the (one which is) better through a fight; furthermore, the appearance of the king is striking and different from (that of) the others, both in size and in splendour. (3) However, his most remarkable distinction (is) this: (while) bees are very irascible and, in relation to the size of their bodies, the most pugnacious (of creatures), and they leave their stings in their wounds, the king, himself, is without a sting; nature did not want him to be cruel, or to seek a revenge that would be very costly, and has taken away his weapon and left his anger unarmed.

This is a mighty model for great kings; for it is her custom to busy herself in small (matters) and to provide the smallest examples of great things. (4) We should not be ashamed to take lessons from such small creatures, since the mind of man ought to be more restrained as it can do such great harm. Would that the same law were (applied) to man, and that his anger was destroyed together with its weapon, and that he could not do harm more often than once, nor wreak his  hatreds through the strength of others! For his rage would readily grow tired, if he could (only) satisfy it through himself, and if he could (only) give vent to his violence at the risk of death. (5) But not even now is this a safe course for a man; for he must fear as much as he wishes to be feared, and he must watch every man’s hands, and, even at a time when he is not being pursued, he must consider that he is under attack, and he cannot have a single moment free from fear. Could anyone endure to live such a life, when, (being) harmless to others, and, for this (reason), fearless, he can manage the beneficial right of power to the joy of all? For it is an error, if anyone thinks that the king is safe in a place where nothing is safe from the king; security must be exchanged for reciprocal security. (6) There is no need (for him) to erect lofty citadels on high, nor to secure steep hills against ascent, nor to cut away mountains, nor to protect himself with multiple walls and towers: (it is) well known that mercy will keep a king safe. His one impregnable defence is the love of his citizens.

(7) What is more glorious than to live a life which all (men) hope (will be a long one), and for which they all voice their prayers when no one is watching (them)? (And) to excite not men’s hopes but their fears, if one’s health falters a little? (And) when no one should have anything so precious that he would not be willing to exchange it for his chieftain’s safety? (8) O (let) nothing happen to him, as he would also owe (it) to himself to live (a long life); to that extent he has shown by constant proofs of his goodness, that the state does not belong to him, but (that he belongs) to the state. Who would dare to plot any danger to such (a man as him), under whose (sway) justice, peace, chastity, security, (and) honour (all) flourish, (and) under whom the state abounds in an opulent store of good (things)? Nor should he look upon his ruler with any other emotion than, if the immortal gods would vouchsafe (us) the power to behold (them), we should gaze at (them, while) venerating and worshipping (them). (9) Now what? Does he not keep a place very close to those (very beings), who behaves in accordance with the nature of the gods, (and who is) obliging and generous, and uses his power for the better? It is right to aspire to be like him and to imitate him, so that you may be thought (to be) the greatest as well as the best (of mankind).

Chapter 20. (1) A prince usually inflicts punishment for (one of) two reasons, either to assert his own rights or (those of) another. With regard to this situation, I shall first discuss (the one) which concerns himself, for it is more difficult to be restrained when taking revenge is the result of anguish rather than when (it is used to deliver) a warning. (2) At this point it is superfluous to warn (him) not to believe (too) readily, but to examine the truth (with care), to favour innocence, and to appear to understand that (what has been) done (is) no less the business of the one who is on trial as (it is that) of the judge; now we are encouraging (him) to keep his feelings under control, (even) when he has been clearly injured, and to remit any punishment, if he can (do so) in safety, (and,) if not, to act with temperance, and to be much more understanding with regard to his own injuries than with regard to (those done) to others. (3) For just as the magnanimous (man) is not (the one) who is free with another’s (belongings), but he who deprives himself of what he gives to someone else, so I shall not call (him) merciful (who looks) good-naturedly upon another’s misfortune, but him who, (even) when he is harassed by stings of his own, does not become restive, but who understands that it is magnanimous to endure injuries (even) in (the midst of) supreme power, and that nothing is more glorious than a prince who has received an injury without avenging (it).

Chapter 21. (1)  Revenge usually achieves two purposes: it either brings compensation to the (person) who has received the wrong, or (it provides him with) security for the future. The wealth of a prince is too great for him to need compensation, and his power is too evident for him to seek a reputation for strength by harming another. I am talking of a situation, when (he is) attacked and injured by his inferiors; for if he sees that (those) whom he once regarded (as) his equals, (are now) beneath him, he is sufficiently avenged. A slave, and a serpent, and an arrow may kill a king; yet no one can save (a man), unless he is greater than the one whom he saved. (2) So, (he who has) the power of giving and taking away life ought to (use) that great gift of the gods in a thoughtful manner. (This is so,) especially (when) he has obtained his superiority over those whom he knows (were) once equal to him, (and he has) acquired the knowledge that he has discharged his revenge and accomplished all that was enough for genuine punishment; for he must have (already) have lost his life who owes (it to someone else), and, whoever (has been) cast down from on high (and lies) at the feet of his enemy, and has awaited the verdict of another concerning his life and his throne, increases (both) the glory of his saviour and (that) of his own reputation more if he lives and (remains) unhurt, than if he is removed from the the eyes (of men). For he remains a constant testimony (to the prowess) of another; (whereas) in a triumph he would have passed quickly (out of sight). (3) But, if it has also been possible safely to leave his throne in his possession, and to restore (him) to the place from which he has fallen, his fame will grow with increasing greatness, as he was content to take from a conquered king nothing but his glory. This is to triumph even over his own victories, and to prove that he had found nothing in the possession of the vanquished that was worthy of a victor. (4) (When dealing) with his fellow-citizens, and the unknown, and (those who are) of a lowly status, you should treat them in a more moderate manner, as it is less (of a problem) to crush them. Some you would gladly spare, and in the case of some you would be reluctant to vindicate yourself, just as, in the case of little insects which defile you when you crush (them), it is necessary to withdraw you hands; but, with regard to those who (are) on the community’s lips, (both those who) have been saved or punished, you should take advantage of the opportunity for a notable (act of) mercy.

Chapter 22. (1) Let us (now) pass on to the injuries (done) to others, in avenging which the law has pursued these three (ends), (things) which a prince also ought to aim at: (these are) either that it improves him, whom it punishes, or that his punishment may make other (men) better, or that, when bad (man) are removed (from the scene), the rest may live more securely. You will improve the (men) themselves more readily by a slight punishment; for he, to whom something is left untouched, will live more carefully. No one is protective of a ruined reputation; it is now a kind of impunity to have no opportunity left for punishment. (2) Moreover, (to be) sparing of punishments will better correct the morals of the community; for a multitude of sinners creates a habit of sinning, and (a habit) that a host of condemnations makes it easier (to adopt) is thought (to be) less shameful, and the severity which provides the greatest remedy loses its authority through frequent repetition. (3) A prince will establish a good (standard of) morals for his state, and he will wash away vices, if (only) he is patient in (dealing) with them – not as if he should seem to approve (of them) but as if he should come to punishing (them) with reluctance and with great (personal) suffering. The very mercifulness of a sovereign creates a dread of sinning; a punishment which is decreed by a mild man seems much heavier (than it is).

Chapter 23. (1) Moreover, you will discover that the sins which are frequently punished (are the ones which) are frequently committed. Your father (i.e. Claudius) sewed up more men in a sack (i.e. a leather bag designed to hold liquids) within a five-year period than we understand to have been sewn up in all (previous) centuries. Children were much less ready to commit the ultimate offence (i.e. parricide), when this crime was without its (own special) law. For, in their very great wisdom, men of the highest (distinction), and most experienced in the nature of things, preferred to pass over this crime as if (it were) unbelievable, and (were) regarded (as) beyond anyone’s audacity, (rather) than, while punishing (it), to show that it could be done; so, parricides began with a law, and the punishment pointed out (the fact of) the deed to their children; and, in truth, filial piety was (now) in a bad place, after we saw (that) sacks (were used) more often than crosses (i.e. the instruments upon which most criminals were executed by crucifixion). (2) In a state in which men are rarely punished, a common understanding of innocence is created, and it is encouraged as a public benefit. A state, which thinks itself to be innocent, will be; it will be all the more angry with those who deviate from the common (sense of) restraint, if it sees that they are (but) a few. It is dangerous, believe me, to show a state how evil so many (men) are.

Chapter 24. (1) A proposal was once put forward by the senate that their dress should distinguish slaves from free men; it then became apparent how great a danger would threaten (us) if our slaves had begun to count our numbers. Be assured that you should be afraid of the same (thing happening) if no one is pardoned; it will quickly become apparent how far the inferior element of the community would outnumber (us). Numerous executions are no less shameful to a prince than numerous funerals (are) to a physician; one who governs more mildly is better obeyed. (2) The mind of a man is obstinate by nature, and it struggles against hostility and hardship, and it follows more readily than it is led; and, as well-bred and high-spirited horses are better managed by a loose rein, so voluntary integrity pursues mercy under its own impulse, and the state thinks that what it keeps safe (is) worthwhile. So, by these means more good is accomplished.

Chapter 25. (1) Cruelty is not at all a vice of man, and (is) so unworthy of his gentle spirit; it is the madness of a wild beast to delight in blood and wounds, and to cast off the man and turn (oneself) into  a creature of the woods. For what is the difference, I ask you, Alexander, (whether) you throw Lysimachus (n.b. he was one of Alexander the Great’s bodyguards and is reputed to have been sentenced to death for some offence by being shut up in a chamber with a lion; however, he killed the lion with his own hands and afterwards became a great favourite of Alexander, becoming in due course one of his successor kings) to a lion, or (whether) you yourself tear (him) to pieces with your teeth? That mouth is yours (and) yours (is) its savagery. O how much rather you would have wished that those claws could be yours, (and) that those gaping jaws of yours should be capable of devouring men! We do not expect of you that that hand of yours, the sure murderer of your closest friends, should be of any benefit to anyone, (or) that your proud spirit, that insatiable (source of) evil to (all) nations, should be satisfied (with anything) short of blood and slaughter; it is now called mercy when the butcher who must (undertake) the killing of your friend is chosen from among men. (2) It is for this reason that cruelty should be (considered) so very abominable, because firstly it goes well beyond the usual limits, then those of humanity, (and) it searches for new (kinds of) punishment, it summons ingenuity (into play) to invent new devices, through which suffering can be varied and prolonged, (and) it delights in the afflictions of mankind; then, the dread disease of the mind reaches the furthest (point of) insanity, when cruelty has turned into a (source of) pleasure, and to kill a man has now become a joy. (3) Loathing, hatred, poisons, (and) the sword follows at the heels of such a man; he is assailed by as many perils as the many (men) to whom he himself is a peril, and sometimes he is beset by the plots of private individuals, (and) at other times even by a public uprising. For the trivial destruction of a private individual does not move whole cities, (but that) which begins to cause widespread rage and affects everyone is shot at from all directions. (4) Tiny snakes go unnoticed, nor are they publicly hunted; (but) when one of them exceeds its usual size and grows into a monster, (and,) when it poisons fountains with its spittle, and, if it breathes, it scorches and ruins (everything) wherever it slithers, it is assailed by catapults. Petty evils can cheat and evade (us), but we take action against the big (ones). (5) So, one sick (person) does not even disturb his household; but when it is apparent from frequent deaths that there is a plague, there is an outcry and a flight from the community, and our fists are shaken at the very gods themselves. (If) a fire is seen beneath some single roof, the family and their neighbours hurl water (on it); but a vast conflagration, which has already destroyed many houses, leads to the ruin of a large (part) of the city.

Chapter 26. (1) The hands of slaves have (sometimes) avenged the cruelty of private individuals, even under the certain risk of crucifixion; nations and peoples have sought the destruction of tyrants, both those who have experienced their wickedness and those whom it threatened. Sometimes their own guardsmen have risen against them, and have practised upon them their own treachery, and disloyalty, and brutality, and whatever else they may have learned from them. For what can anyone expect from him, whom he has taught to be evil? For (a man’s) wickedness is not to be seen for a long time, nor does it offend for as long as it is bid. (2) But suppose cruelty can be (exercised) in safety, what sort of kingdom would this be? Just like the shape of captured cities and the frightful scenes of public panic. Everywhere (there is) sadness, alarm, (and) disorder; their very pleasures are the source of dread; they cannot attend banquets in safety, where they must carefully guard their tongues, even in their cups, nor (go to) public performances, at which the material for an accusation and a lawsuit (against them) is sought. Although great outlays are apparent from the wealth of royalty and from the famous names of the artists, yet what delights can games bring (when you are) in prison?

(3) Good god, what a wretched (thing) it is to kill, to rage, to delight at the sound of chains, and to cut off the heads of one’s fellow-citizens, (and,) wherever one goes, to shed much blood and terrify (everyone) and cause them to flee from one’s sight? What else (than this) would life be (like), if lions and bears were our masters, (and) if power over us were to be given to serpents and each of the most harmful creatures? (4) (Even) these (animals), devoid of reason (as they are) and condemned by us of the crime of savagery, spare their own (kind), and likeness provides (a source of) safety even among wild beasts; (but) the fury (of tyrants) is not withheld even from their own kin, but strangers and friends are treated alike, and the more they indulge their passion, the more violent (it becomes). Then he proceeds from the slaughter of individuals to the ruin of nations, and he thinks (it is a sign) of his power to set fire to roofs, (and) to drive a plough over (the sites of) ancient cities; and he considers that to order one or two (people) to be put to death (is) too small (a show of) imperial (might); unless a herd of poor wretches are stood beneath the blade at the same time, he thinks his cruelty has been checked.

(5) True happiness (lies) in giving safety to many (people) and in calling (them) back to life from the very (verge of) death, and by earning the civic (crown) by (showing) mercy. No ornament is more worthy than the eminence of a prince or more beautiful than that crown for saving (the lives) of fellow-citizens; not the hostile weapons torn from the vanquished, nor chariots stained with the blood of barbarians, nor the spoils acquired in war. This power which saves in crowds and all together is godlike; but to kill (so) many and (to do so) indiscriminately, is the power of fire and ruin.


Chapter 1. (1) A single utterance of yours, Nero Caesar, has especially led me, to write on the subject of mercy, and, when it was said, I remember that I heard (it) not without admiration, and then that I told (it) to others, (as it was) a noble saying, (showing) your great mind and your great gentleness, which, (while) it was not composed or prepared for others’ ears, suddenly burst out (from you), and it brought out into the open your kind-heartedness, as you chafed against your lot. (2) Your prefect Burrus (i.e. Sextus Afranius Burrus, A.D 1-62, Prefect of the Praetorian Guard), a distinguished man, and born (to serve such) a prince as you, was about to order the execution of two brigands, (and) was pressing you to write down who (they were) and the grounds on which you wished (them) to be executed, (and) he was insisting. When he reluctantly produced the document and handed (it) to you, (who was also) reluctant, you exclaimed: “I wish I had never learned my letters!” (3) O worthy saying which all nations should hear, (those) who inhabit the Roman empire, and (those) who dwell on its borders, uncertain of their liberty, and (those) who, through their strength or their courage, rise up against it! O saying which should have been spoken at a meeting of all mankind, whose words (all) princes and kings should swear (to honour)! O saying worthy of the universal innocence of the human race, to whom that ancient (golden) age should be restored! (4) Now we really ought to agree to (love) righteousness and goodness and to drive away the desire for (the belongings) of others, from which arises every evil of the heart, that piety and uprightness should rise again together with honour and temperance, and that vice, having misused its long reign, should give way at last to an age of happiness and purity.

Chapter 2. (1) We like to hope and trust, Caesar, that, to a great extent, this will happen. Let that mildness of your heart be gradually transmitted and spread throughout the whole body of the empire, and that all (parts of it) will be shaped in your likeness. Good health (comes) from the head: as a result, all (things) are lively and alert, or drooping with weariness, according as to whether their animating spirit has life or is withering away. There will be citizens, there will be allies (who are) worthy of this goodness, and upright morals will be restored to the whole world; everywhere your hands will be spared. (2) Allow me to linger (a little) longer on this (saying of yours), not so that (it is) flattering to your ears – for this is not my custom; I would prefer to offend by (telling) the truth than to curry favour by flattery -; what then is (my reason for doing so)? Besides wishing that you should be as familiar as possible with your own good deeds and remarks, so that what is now a natural impulse may become a (matter of considered) judgment, I am reflecting upon this in my (mind) that many great, but dreadful, sayings have entered into human life and have become publicly famous, such as this (one): “Let them hate (me), so long as they fear (me),” which is like that Greek verse, in which a man bids the earth be engulfed in fires after he is dead (i.e. έμοῦ θανόντος γαῖα μιχθήτω πνρί, see the Greek Anthology 704), and others of this type. (3) But, I know not how, (men of) talent, when dealing with a savage and hateful theme, have orally expressed violent and aggressive thoughts in a more propitious (manner); never yet have I heard from good and gentle (lips) such a spirited voice. What then is (my conclusion)? (It is) that on rare occasions, (and) with great reluctance, and with much hesitation, you must sometimes write the kind of thing, which has led you to hate your letters, but (you should do so), as you do (now), with great hesitation and with many postponements.

Chapter 3. (1) But lest perhaps the plausible name of mercy should sometimes deceive us and lead (us) into the opposite (direction), let us see what mercy is, and what is its nature, and what limits it has.

Mercy is the restraining of the mind when it has the power to avenge, or the lenience of a man of high rank when fixing the punishment of a man of inferior status. Lest one definition may not cover the (whole) subject, and, so to speak, the case (for it) is lost, it is safer to propose more (than one); and so it can also be called an inclination of the mind towards lenience in exacting punishment. (2) The following definition may meet with objections, however closely it comes to the truth, if we should say that mercy is the moderation that remits something from a punishment that is deserved and due: the objection will be made that no virtue (ever) gives any man less than his due. And yet all (men) understand that mercy is something that stops short of the (penalty) which could be justly inflicted.

Chapter 4. (1) (Those who are) ignorant think that its opposite (is) severity; but no virtue is opposite to a virtue. What then is the opposite of mercy? (It is) cruelty, which is nothing other than harshness of mind in exacting punishments. “But,” (you say, “there are) some (who) do not exact punishments, yet are cruel, such as (those) who kill men (who are) unknown (to them), and not for the purpose of gain, but for the sake of killing, and not content with killing, they torture (them), such as that Busiris (i.e. a king of Egypt who used to sacrifice strangers, and was killed by Hercules) and Procrustes (i.e. an Attic highwayman, who tortured his victims on a bed, and who was killed by Theseus) and those pirates who flog their captives and (then) place (them) alive in a fire.” (2) This, indeed, (is) cruelty, but it does not aim at vengeance – for there has been no injury – nor is anger aroused by any sin – for no crime preceded (it) – , it falls outside our definition; for our definition comprised a lack of mental restraint when exacting punishments. We may say that this is not cruelty, but a ferocity that finds pleasure in torture; (or) we may call (it) madness: for there are many kinds of this, and there is nothing more surely (related to madness) than (that) which leads to the slaughter and mangling of human beings. (3) I shall therefore call those (persons) cruel, who do have a reason for punishing, (but who) have no (sense of) moderation, like Phalaris (i.e. the tyrant of Acragas on the south coast of Sicily in the middle of the sixth century B.C. who was renowned for his excessive cruelty), who is said to have tortured men, even (though they were) not innocent, but (to have done so) in an inhuman and incredible manner. We can avoid sophistry and define (things) in such a way that cruelty is an inclination of the mind towards harshness. This (quality) mercy repels, and bids (it) stand far away from it; (but) with strictness it is in harmony.

(4) It is pertinent to our subject to ask at this point what pity is; for very many (people) commend it as a virtue, and call a man good (who is) full of pity. (But) this too is a mental defect. For both of these (qualities) (i.e. cruelty and pity) are built around strictness and around mercy, and we ought to avoid them; for on the pretext of strictness we fall into cruelty, (and) on the pretext of mercy (we fall) into pity. In the latter (case) one can err with less risk, but the error of departing from the truth is equal (in both cases).

Chapter 5. (1)  Therefore, just as religion honours the gods, (while) superstition violates (them), so all good men will show mercy and gentleness, but will avoid pity; for it is the failing of a weak mind that it succumbs to the sight of others’ misfortunes. So it is most commonly found among all the worst (people); there are old women and girls, who are moved by the tears of the most wicked (criminals), (and) who, if they could, would break open their prison. Pity does not see the cause (of something), but (merely) the misfortune (that follows); mercy takes account of reason.

(2) I know that the school of the Stoics is unpopular among the ill-informed, as being excessively harsh and not all likely to give good counsel to princes and kings; the criticism is made of it that it denies the wise man (the right) to show pity, (and) denies (him the right) to pardon. These (stipulations), if taken by themselves, are (indeed) odious; for they appear to leave no hope of (repairing) human errors, but all wrongs lead to punishment. (3) But, if this is (the case), what wisdom can it be that bids (us) forget human (feeling) and exclude (ourselves) from mutual assistance, that surest haven (of refuge) against misfortune? But no school (of philosophy) is more benign and more gentle, nor more loving of mankind and more concerned to promote the common good, (seeing) that it sets out to be of service and of help, not to itself only, but to consult the interests of each and all of us. (4) Pity is a sickness of the mind, brought about by the sight of other men’s miseries, or the sadness (which arises) from other men’s misfortunes, which it believes have been inflicted undeservedly; but no sorrow befalls the wise man; his mind is serene, and nothing can happen which will disturb it. And nothing befits a man more than a great mind; but a great (mind) and a sorrowful (one) cannot be the same. (5) Sorrow blunts (men’s) minds, dissipates and hampers (them); this cannot happen to the wise man, even in his greatest misfortunes, but he will beat back every rage of fortune and crush it beforehand; he will always preserve the same calm, unshaken appearance, (something) which he could not do, if he were susceptible to sorrow.

Chapter 6. (1) Add (to this) that the wise (man) also has foresight, (and) has a plan in readiness; yet nothing clear and pure ever comes from a disturbed (source). Sorrow is unfit to discern courses of action, to devise useful expedients, to avoid dangers, or to weigh just (causes); so, (the wise man) will not feel pity, because this does not happen unless he has a mental affliction. (2) He will do gladly and with an exalted spirit all those (things), which (those) who feel pity are wont to do; he will dry another’s tears, (but) he will not add (his own); he will give his hand to the shipwrecked (mariner), (he will offer) hospitality to the exile, (and) alms to the needy, not in that offensive (manner), in which the greater part of those who wish to appear full of pity (would act), (when) he throws down (his alms) and scorns (those) whom he assists, and fears to be touched by them, but as a man would give a man from the common (stock); he will restore a son amid a mother’s tears, and he will order (a prisoner’s) chains to be loosed, and he will bury the body even of a criminal, but he will do these (things) with a tranquil mind and with a countenance (all) of his own. (3) So, the wise (man) will not pity (people) but will succour (them) and be of service to (them), seeing that he was born to (bring) help to all and to serve the welfare of the public, from (the stock) of which he will give everyone a share. He will even entrust a due measure of his bounty to those disastrous (persons) who deserve to be censured and corrected; but he will much more willingly come to the assistance of the distressed and (those) struggling with misfortune. Whenever he can, he will obstruct (the stroke) of fortune; for how will he make better use of his resources and his strength than to restore what chance has overthrown? Nor indeed will he avert his countenance or his sympathy because of some man’s dry or ragged skin, and because he is supporting his aged body with a staff; but he will do good to all (those) who deserve (it), and, like the gods, he will look graciously upon (all those) who are in trouble.

(4) Pity is akin to misery; for it is (partly) composed of it and (partly) derived from it. You know that eyes are weak if they themselves become suffused at (the sight of) another’s bleariness, just as it is not merriment but a disease, by god, always to laugh when (others) are laughing, and (it is) also (a disease) to open one’s jaws whenever all others are yawning; pity is a defect in the minds (of those) who are excessively disturbed by suffering, and, if anyone requires this from a wise (man), it is very similar to requiring lamentation and groans (from him) at the funerals of strangers.

Chapter 7. (1) “But,” (some may ask,) “why should he not pardon?” Well then, let us now also decide what a pardon is, and we shall know that it ought not to be granted by a wise (man). A pardon is the remission of a deserved punishment. Those, of whom this (question) has been asked, give the reason at some length why a wise (man) ought not to grant this; so I shall speak briefly, as though I am (expressing) the opinion of another: “Pardon is given to someone who ought to be punished; but a wise man does nothing which he ought not to do, (and) he omits (to do) nothing which he ought (to do), and so he does not condone a punishment which he ought to exact. (2) But he will bestow upon you in a more honourable way that which you wish to attain from a pardon, for the wise (man) will show forbearance, will be considerate, and will put (things) right; he will do the same (thing) that (he would do), if he were to pardon, and yet he will not pardon, since (he) who does pardon, admits that he has neglected (to do) something which ought to have been done. One man he will only admonish with words, and he will not inflict a punishment if he considers that his age will permit his reform; another man, who is clearly struggling under the odium of crime, he will order to be acquitted, because he was deceived, or because he lapsed on account of (drinking) wine; he lets his enemies go unharmed, sometimes even having praised (them), if they were summoned to war for honourable reasons, such as to maintain their loyalty, or a treaty, or their liberty. (3) All these (actions) are not works of pardon but of mercy. Mercy has the freedom of decision; it does not make judgments on the basis of some (legal) formula, but in accordance with what is fair and good; it may absolve a man, and assess damages at whatever (rate) it wishes. It does none of these (things), as though it were doing less than is just, but as though that which it has decided is the most just (decision); but to pardon is to fail to punish someone whom you judge (to be) worthy of punishment; pardon is the remission of a punishment which is due. Mercy performs The first (duty) that mercy performs (is) this, that it declares that (those) whom it lets off ought not to have suffered anything else; it is more comprehensive, and more honourable, than a pardon.”

(4) As my opinion indicates, this is a disagreement about words, but there is agreement about the matter (at issue). The wise (man) will remit many (punishments), (and) he will preserve many (who are) not at all sound, but (who are) of a curable character. He will be like good farmers, who cultivate not only the trees that are straight; but they also attach stakes to those which are crooked for some reason; others they trim, in order that their branches do not restrict their height, they fertilise some (that are) weak due to poor soil, (and,) to some (that are) suffering from the shade of others, they expose the sky. (5) (The wise man) will see that (a man’s) character can be managed by some treatment, that the (things that are) crooked can be turned into (something) straight ….. (? unfinished.)

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