At last, how long will you abuse our patience, Cicero?1 You would have me gather up these gems of yours from your Catilinarians and strew them across every leaf of my book, a reminder to Romans, lest they forget, of your unsurpassed virtus? Never fear, you old windbag. They are in no danger of forgetting, no need to sound the alarm this time around; you cram your virtus so far down the people’s throats, it’s clear your dignity’s so far sunk that obsequious palinode of yours is now a work of genius by comparison.2
I cannot say I was surprised by your disingenuous plea for publication. I had suspected for some time that a letter would arrive here in Africa Nova, scribbled with your idle sentiment and puffed up with palaver.3 No doubt you’d heard that during my newfound leisure I’ve endeavored to begin a series of monographs on this country’s history, and your jowls began to wobble with desire for memorializing. No, this did not surprise me a bit. Rather, it was the litany of unabashed flummeries, a base truckling that bordered on the obscene that shocked me. I expected a façade of reserve at the least. I wonder, do you show your new wife the letters you sent me? It’s all too much; I blush for you at the audacia of your request, and worse still, its conscientia scelerum.4
Me memorialize you? In all these years do you not know that the love I harbor for you is as scant as your love for me? Have you already forgotten the passion with which I publicly attacked your Milo less than a decade ago?5 Old fires scarcely cease smoldering, though constancy like that is perhaps incomprehensible to a turncoat like yourself.
I must say, however, had I not been so offended by your letter, I might have considered your life to be of some historical import. I appreciated your sentiments about the nature of history, how it should not be concerned with the tedious enumeration of chronology so much as noble men and worthy deeds.6 What’s more, they fascinate me, those men who possess that certain innate quality—an inexpressible potential for greatness—and squander it through ambition. How like the very nature of Rome herself: born noble, sunken into squalor and rabblement. I believe men like these shall and must hold a premiere place in my works and who knows, Cicero, you might have been one of them. Yet your ingenio malo pravoque seems to have gotten the better of you.7
As it stands then, I assure you that when readers pore over my history of Catiline’s conspiracy for years to come, your name will be the most lackluster on the page.8 Certainly I cannot omit you from the work entirely; such an omission would be a sin against history and, worse, would draw more attention than if your name were included at all, and that is certainly more than you deserve. But rare will be the young student who deigns even to memorize your name. Know, that when I will call you Ciceronis optumo consuli, I say it especially for you, with a grin on my brotherly face.9 And how I will enjoy putting those famous words, your insipid incipit, in the mouth of Catiline himself.10 I even believe he might ensnare the admiration of the stray reader, this bold Catiline of mine, a man of undeniable qualities. Caesar and Cato too, these will be the real subjects of my praise, the only two noble men of Rome.11 I will not be able to avoid overlooking you in this respect, just as you could not help overlooking me in your recent catalogue of the greatest speakers of Rome.12 Memory is a slippery thing; but of course, that’s why we write histories.
O fortunatam Romam, spared a history of Rome stuffed to the brim with Cicero!13 Let some other nursling historiographer guzzle up your flattery. I will not be the author of your opus oratoriummaxime.14 Lay aside your crass tyranny; author your own life this once, rather than pander to your superiors.
But already I begin to regret this minor opus. My entire household here, of course, sends its distanced greetings. Terentia, what a delightful woman, is well. I enjoy her company more every day.15
1 C.S. Kraus & A.J. Woodman, Latin Historians (Oxford University Press, 1997) 18. Refers to the beginning line of Cicero’s first speech against Catiline.
2 Kraus & Woodman 19. Sallust focuses on the significance of virtus in Roman history in his Bellum Catilinae.
3 Gian Biagio Conte, Latin Literature (JHU Press, 1999) 234.
4 Kraus & Woodman 20. These are terms Sallust uses to describe Catiline in his Bellum Catilinae. I like to imagine him calling Cicero these names now and ironically calling Catiline them later.
5 J.C. Rolfe, Sallust (Harvard University Press, 1995) x.