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On the Laws

you have always held, that there is nothing better than voting aloud.
But we have to consider whether that is practicable or not.
[] ± µ © ®  µ: But I hope you won™t mind my saying, brother, that
such an attitude both deceives people who are inexperienced and very
frequently damages the commonwealth “ when something is said to be
true and right but not practicable, that is that the people cannot be re-
sisted. The ¬rst line of resistance is ¬rm action, and then it is better to
be overcome by force for a good cause than to give way to a bad one.
Who does not realize that the entire authority of the optimates was
stolen by the ballot law? When the people were free they never wanted
it, but they demanded it when they were beaten down by the oppress-
ive power of leading citizens. And in fact, there are records of harsher
verdicts against very powerful men given by voice than by ballot. For
that reason the powerful should have been deprived of their excessive
desire for balloting in bad causes rather than giving the people a hiding
place in which the written ballot could conceal a ¬‚awed vote while the
respectable citizens were ignorant of each person™s sentiments. There-
fore no respectable citizen has ever been found to propose or support
such a measure.
[µ] There are four ballot laws on the books. The ¬rst one concerns
the election of magistrates; that is the Gabinian law, carried by a low
person of no background. Two years later followed the Cassian law on
trials before the people, carried by Lucius Cassius, a noble, but “ with
apologies to his family “ a man at odds with the respectable citizens and
snatching at every wisp of popular support. The third law, on votes ap-
proving and disapproving legislation, belongs to Carbo, a seditious and
wicked citizen; not even his reversion to respectability could gain him
the protection of respectable citizens. [] There was only one area left
for voice votes, namely treason trials, which even Cassius had speci¬-
cally exempted from his law. Gaius Coelius provided written ballots for
this kind of trial too, and he regretted to the end of his days that in or-
der to do in Gaius Popillius he had done harm to the commonwealth.
Our own grandfather for his entire life resisted with great courage the
attempt of Marcus Gratidius (whose sister, our grandmother, was
his wife) to carry a ballot law in this town. Gratidius, as they say,
stirred up a tempest in a teapot “ something his son Marius later did
in the Aegean Sea. When this was reported to Marcus Scaurus the
The four laws were passed in ±, ±·, ±± or ±°, and ±°·  respectively.

Marius Gratidianus; see biographical notes.

Book 

consul, he said: ˜˜If only, Marcus Cicero, you had chosen to use your
spirit and courage in the Roman commonwealth rather than in your
small town!™™ [·] For that reason, although we are not now reviewing
the laws of the Roman people but are either going back to ones that
have been rejected or writing new ones, I think that you must speak not
about what is practicable under the present political circumstances, but
what is really best. Your beloved Scipio shoulders the blame for the Cas-
sian law, which is reported to have been passed because of his support;
but if you carry a ballot law, you will vouch for it yourself. I do not sup-
port it, nor does our friend Atticus, to judge from his expression.
 © µ : No populist measure has ever pleased me: I hold that the
best commonwealth is that which Cicero here as consul established, one
that is in the control of the best citizens.
[]   µ : I can see that you don™t need a written ballot to reject
my law. But for my own part “ even if Scipio said enough on his own
behalf in my previous bookµ “ I indulge the people in this liberty in
such a way that the respectable citizens both have and use their author-
ity. This is the wording of my ballot law: ˜˜let them be known to the op-
timates, free to the plebs.™™ This law has the function of voiding all
those laws which were passed later, which conceal the ballot in every
way “ that no one should look at it, ask for it, or question the voters.
The law of Marius made the voting passages narrow. [] Most such
laws are against bribery, and I have no objection to that; but if these
laws still could not stop bribery, then let the people have its ballot as a
badge of liberty “ so long as it is shown willingly to the best and most
respectable citizens. The liberty should consist in this, that the people
are given the power of honorably pleasing the respectable citizens. A
moment ago, Quintus, you observed that fewer people are condemned
by the ballot than by voice vote; that is because the people are satis¬ed
to have the right to vote, and so long as they have that, for the rest they
follow people they respect or support. If I set aside votes that are cor-
rupted by wholesale handouts, surely you see that “ if bribery is not in-
volved “ the real issue in voting is what the most respectable citizens
think? Therefore my law gives the appearance of liberty while keeping
the authority of the respectable and eliminating an occasion for dispute.

The opening of the sentence is corrupt, and some words may be missing.
Cf. On the Commonwealth ..

In ±±. The intention was to limit physical access to voters and thus the opportunity for

distributing bribes. Voters ¬led through a passage (literally, a bridge) to record their votes.

On the Laws

[°] The next law concerns those who have the right to conduct busi-
ness before the people or in the senate. Then comes an important and
in my opinion excellent law: ˜˜Let those things which are brought be-
fore the people or the senate be moderate™™ “ that is decent and calm.
The person conducting business directs and shapes not only the minds
and wishes of his hearers, but almost their expressions as well. If . . .
not di¬cult in the senate; a senator is someone who does not take his
ideas from the speaker but who desires to be recognized for himself.·
Senators are ordered to do three things: to be present (because the busi-
ness of the senate gains solemnity from the number of senators
present); to speak in his place, that is when asked his opinion; and to
speak in measure, that is not endlessly. Brevity in giving one™s opinion
deserves great praise, not only in a senator but in a public speaker;
there is never need for a long speech unless either the senate is misbe-
having “ which often happens through bribery “ and no magistrate is
helping out, when it is useful for the day to be wasted, or the topic is so
important that it needs the full resources of an orator either to urge or
to explain the case. Our friend Cato is a master in both these circum-
stances. [±] The addition of ˜˜let him understand the concerns of the
people™™ is because a senator must know the commonwealth. That is a
topic of wide application: military and ¬nancial resources, the allies of
the commonwealth, its friends and tributaries, the laws, agreements,
and treaties governing each one. He must also know procedural matters
and ancestral precedents. You see the type of knowledge, study, and
memory without which no senator can be truly prepared.
[] Then come dealings with the people, in which the ¬rst and most
important provision is ˜˜let there be no violence.™™ There is nothing
more destructive for states, nothing more contrary to right and law, no-
thing less civil and humane, than the use of violence in public a¬airs in
a duly constituted commonwealth. The law ordains obedience to some-
one interposing a veto, and there is nothing more valuable than that: it
is better for a good thing to be blocked than to give way to a bad one.
As to my injunction that ˜˜it is the fault of the person in charge,™™ that
is entirely based on the opinion of Crassus, a very wise man. The senate
accepted his view when it decreed, on the motion of Gaius Claudius the

Part of the sentence is lost, and part is corrupt, although the general sense is clear.
The younger Cato. C. in his correspondence expressed his annoyance at Cato™s behavior
for speaking ˜˜as if he were in Plato™s Republic rather than among the dregs of Romulus™™
(Letters to Atticus .±.).

Book 

consul concerning the sedition of Gnaeus Carbo, that no sedition
could take place against the will of the person in charge of the assem-
bly: he has the opportunity to dissolve the meeting as soon as there is a
veto and the beginning of disturbance. Someone who persists° when
there is no possibility of formal action is looking for violence; and
through this law he loses his means of avoiding punishment.
What follows is: ˜˜Let the citizen who intervenes in evil a¬airs be re-
garded as a savior of the community.™™ [] If he is praised by such an
outstanding statement of the law, who would not eagerly come to the
aid of the commonwealth?±
The next laws are part of our own public customs and laws: ˜˜Let
them observe the auspices; let them obey the public augur.™™ A good au-
gur must remember that he ought to be at hand at the greatest public
crises, that he is the assistant and aide to Jupiter the Best and Greatest
just as those whom he has ordered to be present at the auspices are to
him, that he has speci¬c portions of the sky assigned to him, from
which he can often bring aid to the commonwealth. Then come provi-
sions about the promulgation of laws, about bills that deal with one
thing at a time, about listening to private citizens or magistrates.
[] Then come two magni¬cent laws that are taken from the Twelve
Tables; one eliminates laws concerning single individuals, the other for-
bids action on the status of a citizen except in the greatest assembly.
And since at that time seditious tribunes of the people had not yet been
created and not even imagined, it is remarkable that our ancestors had
so much foresight. They did not want laws to be carried against private
men “ that is the meaning of privilegia “ because there is nothing more
unjust than that, since it is the essence of law to be a decision or order
applying to all. They did not want votes on individuals except in the
centuriate assembly: the distribution of the people by wealth, rank, and
age brings greater wisdom to the ballot than when they are summoned
broadly by tribes. [µ] That makes all the more true the statement in
my case of Lucius Cotta, a man of great talent and wisdom, that there
had been no action at all about me: aside from the fact that that assem-
bly took place with armed slaves, no validity could attach either to the
In  .
 °
Conjectural; the text is corrupt.
Compare On the Commonwealth . on Lucius Junius Brutus.

Twelve Tables, fr. ©,  Crawford. The phrase maximo comitiatu, which C. interprets as

meaning the Comitia Centuriata, probably meant ˜˜the fullest possible gathering.™™ C.™s
views on privilegia are probably tendentious, a¬ected by the law under which he was
exiled in µ.

On the Laws

vote of the tribal assembly on a citizen™s status or to any vote concern-
ing a single individual. And for that reason he said that I had no need of
a law, since no legal action had been taken against me. But both you
and other great men had a di¬erent opinion, namely to demonstrate
what all Italy thought about someone about whom slaves and robbers
claimed to have given an opinion.
[] What follows concerns taking and giving bribes, and since laws
must be given authority not so much by their words as by judicial deci-
sions, the clause is added ˜˜let the penalty be equal to the crime,™™ so
that each person should be a¬ected in the area of his fault: violence
should be sanctioned by loss of civic status, greed by a ¬ne, desire for of-
¬ce by disgrace.
The ¬nal laws are not in e¬ect here but are necessary for the
commonwealth. We have no method of protecting the laws themselves,
and so the laws are what our clerks want them to be: we get them from
scribes, and we have no authenticated public record in the public ar-
chives. The Greeks were more careful about this: they created ˜˜guards
of the laws™™ who watched over not only the texts (that was customary
among our ancestors too) but also men™s actions, and brought them in
line with the laws. [·] This responsibility should be given to the cen-
sors, as we want them to exist in the commonwealth at all times. Be-
fore them too those who are completing their terms of o¬ce should
state and explain their actions in o¬ce, and the censors should give an
opinion about them. This takes place in Greece with publicly assigned
prosecutors; but they cannot be taken seriously unless they are volun-
teers. For that reason it is better for accounts and explanations to be
given before the censors, but the right of prosecution before a court
should be preserved intact.
I have now said enough about the magistrates unless you want some-
thing more.
 ©  µ: Even if we say nothing, doesn™t the subject itself remind
you of what needs to be discussed next?
  µ: I suppose that you mean about the courts, Pomponius; that
is certainly related to the subject of magistrates.
[]  ©  µ: Don™t you think that something needs to be said
about the law of the Roman people, according to your initial plan?
See above, n. . C.™s extension of the role of the censorship is one of the more important

changes he makes to Roman practice, in accord with his discussion in On the
Commonwealth Book .

Book 

  µ : What is it that you look for just now?
 © µ : Me? The subject that I think it most disgraceful for people
involved in public life not to know. Just a moment ago you said that
people get their laws from the scribes, and similarly I notice that most
people holding o¬ce, because of their ignorance of the law, are just as
knowledgeable as their assistants want them to be. For that reason, if
you thought it necessary to speak about the alienation of sacred rites
when you were expounding the laws of religion, so too, now that you
have set up the magistracies in accordance with law, you must explain
the law concerning o¬cial powers.
[]   µ: If I can, I will do it brie¬‚y. Your father™s friend Mar-
cus Iunius wrote extensively to your father about this, and he did so, in
my judgment, with learning and care. Our obligation is to think and
speak about the law of nature independently, but to say about the law
of the Roman people what has been handed down.
 ©µ : That is my belief too, and what you just described is exact-
ly what I am waiting for.

Fragments of On the Laws
±. We should count ourselves lucky, because death will bring us to a
condition that is either better than that in life or at least no worse. If the
soul is active without the body, then its life is divine; and if it has no
sensation, then it is nothing bad. (Lactantius, Inst. .±.)
. Since the sun has descended a little from midday, and this spot is not
yet su¬ciently shaded by these young trees, do you think we should go
down to the Liris and pursue the remainder of the conversation under
the shade of those alders? (Macrobius, Saturnalia µ..; from Book µ)
Placed by Vahlen in the gap after .µ.

Biographical Notes

These notes include all persons named (omitting some mythological ¬g-
ures) in On the Commonwealth and On the Laws; consuls mentioned
purely for dating purposes are not included. Note that the Latin (Cice-
ronian) spelling of Greek names is generally employed. These descrip-
tions are very bare and concentrate on material relevant to the Cicero-
nian texts; further information on most of those named may be found
in the Oxford Classical Dictionary (rd ed., ±).

 © µ , ¬ µ ©µ (±·°“c.). Poet and tragedian and a scholar of gram-
mar and literary history.
 ©¬©µ , ¬µ © µ  (second century). Jurist and commentator on the
Twelve Tables.
 ¬© µ  °  µ   µ ,   µ  (third“second century). Consul in
±, censor in ±; a renowned legal scholar who edited and com-
mented on the Twelve Tables.
 ¬© µ   ©¬ °    ®© ®µ  , ¬µ © µ  (c.±µµ“c.·µ). Grammarian
and etymologist with Stoic leanings; also known as a speechwriter
for others and as one of Cicero™s teachers.
 ¬© µ   µ    , ± µ © ® µ (second century). The son of Scipio
Aemilianus™ sister Aemilia and a participant in On the
Commonwealth. He was a considerable scholar and philosopher, but
although he held the tribunate (at an uncertain date before ±), his
Stoic austerity led to his failure to be elected praetor.
 ©¬©µ  ° µ ¬¬ µ , ¬µ © µ  (d. ±°). The natural father of Scipio
Aemilianus; he defeated King Perseus of Macedonia at the battle of
Pydna as consul for the third time in ±. The only booty he kept

Biographical Notes

for himself was Perseus™ library, which his sons used.
 © ¬© µ    µ µ ,   µ  (±“c.°). Consul in ±±µ, censor in
±°. One of the most in¬‚uential conservative political ¬gures of his
time. Cicero much admired him; Sallust thought him corrupt and
  © ®  (fourth century). Athenian orator and statesman; his oppo-
nent Demosthenes in the speech On the Crown described with vitriol
and much imagination his early career as a bad actor.
¦ ©  ® µ : see   ® ¬©µ 
 ¬ : see   ©¬ © µ
¬  ® ¤    §   (µ“). King of Macedon; conqueror of
the east.
° © µ   ¬ µ , ©  µ (¬rst century). Tribune and supporter of
Cicero in , praetor in µ; supporter of Pompey in the Civil War.
He was defended in court by Cicero and Pompey sometime in the
late µ°s.
µ¬ © µ. Mythical king of Alba Longa; Cicero™s account omits the tra-
ditional story that he ousted his brother Numitor, the rightful king,
and was himself killed by Numitor™s grandchildren, Romulus and
®  §   of  ¬    ®  (c.µ°°“). Lived in Athens and
taught natural philosophy for twenty years until prosecuted for impi-
ety in ·/; he was closely associated with Pericles.
® µ : see   © µ 
® ©   µ  of   ¬  ® (late second century to /·). Head of the
Academy, which he turned away from skepticism to what he called
the ˜˜Old Academy,™™ emphasizing the similarity among Stoic, Peripa-
tetic, and Platonic ethical beliefs. Cicero heard him lecture in
Athens in ·/, and he had close connections with many Romans of
high rank.
° °µ ¬ © µ   µ  ®© ® µ , ¬µ © µ  (d. ±°°). Tribune in ±° and ±°°,
he continued the radical policies of the Gracchi and supported
Marius; the latter as consul took action against him, and despite a
promise of safety, he was stoned to death while imprisoned in the
Senate House.
  µ  of ¬ © in  ©¬ ©© (third century). A scholar and poet, whose
Phaenomena versi¬ed the astronomy of Eudoxus and was phenom-
enally popular; it was translated into Latin by Cicero.
  © ¬ µ  (±/µ“/±). Head of the Academy from c., he was

Biographical Notes

the ¬rst of Plato™s successors to turn the Academy to skepticism.
  © ¤  (c.·“±). Engineer, inventor, mathematician; many of
his works still survive, although his astronomical works are lost. He
was killed in the siege of Syracuse.
    of   ® µ  (¬fth“fourth century). A Pythagorean phil-
osopher and mathematician as well as a general, he had Plato res-
cued from the clutches of Dionysius II of Syracuse in ±.
 ©  of  ©   (third century). Stoic and pupil of Zeno; he espoused
far more rigid ethical views than what subsequently became ortho-
dox Stoicism.
 ©  ¤ µ  (fourth century). Originally from Metapontum in S.
Italy but awarded Athenian citizenship; a renowned actor, he served
as an ambassador for Athens in negotiations with Philip of Mac-
 ©  ° ®  (¬fth“fourth century). Athenian comic poet.
©   ¬ (“). A student of Plato and then founder of the Peri-
patetic school. The vast range of his writings includes scienti¬c and
logical works as well as ethics and politics (along with much else),
but Cicero would have known few of the works now extant, using in-
stead a number of more popular works in dialogue form (now lost),
notably On Justice and The Statesman and his exhortation to the
study of philosophy, Protrepticus.
 ¬ ¬©: see   ° ® ©µ 
 ©¬©µ  ¬ ©® µ ,  µ¬ µ  (third century). Consul in µ and µ,
dictator in , censor in ·; he was one of the military heroes of
the First Punic War.
 ©  µ: see °  ° ® © µ
µ  ¬© µ     , ¬ µ © µ (¬rst century). Consul in µ and censor in
, he supported Cicero against Catiline in  and during his exile
in µ“µ·.
 µ µ: see © µ® ©µ 
  © ¬© µ    ¬ ¬µ  , ¬ µ © µ (d. ±). Consul in µ± and ·; he
defeated the Carthaginians at Panormus in the First Punic War. He
was pontifex maximus from · until his death.
  © ¬© µ    ¬ ¬µ    ¤ ®©  µ , ±µ©® µ  (d. ±±µ). Consul in
±, censor in ±±; he was a political opponent of Scipio Aemilianus
but (aside from what is said at On the Commonwealth ±.±) also hos-
tile to Tiberius Gracchus.
  © ¬© µ    ¬¬ µ ®µ © ¤© µ  , ± µ © ®  µ (second“¬rst

Biographical Notes

century). Consul in ±°, censor in ±°. He went into exile in ±°°
rather than swear an oath to support the agrarian law of Appuleius
Saturninus; he was recalled not long after.

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