Saturday, 11 January 2014

De Officiius (excerpts), by Cicero

BOOK II. VI.

.... In what state of mind do we fancy Alexander of Pherae lived? We read in history that he dearly loved his wife Thebe; and yet, whenever he went from the banquet-hall to her in her chamber, he used to order a barbarian - one, too, tattooed like a Thracian, as the records state - to go before him with a drawn sword; and he used to send ahead some of his bodyguard to pry into the lady's caskets and to search and see whether some weapon were not concealed in her wardrobe. Unhappy man! To think a barbarian, a branded slave, more faithful than his own wife! Nor was he mistaken. For he was murdered by her own hand, because she suspected him of infidelity...

XVI. There are, in general, two classes of those who give largely: the one class is the lavish, the other the generous. The lavish are those who squander their money on public banquets, doles of meat among the people, gladiatorial shows, magnificent games, and wild-beast fights - vanities of which but a brief recollection will remain, or none at all. The generous, on the other hand, are those who employ their own means to ransom captives from brigands, or who assume their friends' debts or help in providing dowries for their daughters, or assist them in acquiring property or increasing what they have. And so I wonder what Theophrastus could have been thinking about when he wrote his book on "Wealth." It contains much that is fine; but his position is absurd, when he praises at great length the magnificent appointments of the popular games...

.... in the matter of this enormous waste and unlimited expenditure we are not very greatly astonished, and that, too, though by it no extreme need is relieved, no dignity is enhanced, and the very gratification of the populace is but for a brief, passing moment; such pleasure as it is, too, is confined to the most frivolous, and even in these the very memory of their enjoyment dies as soon as the moment of gratification is past." His conclusion, too, is excellent: "This sort of amusement pleases children, silly women, slaves, and the servile free; but a serious-minded man who weighs such matters with sound judgment cannot possibly approve of them." And yet I realize that in our country, even in the good old times, it had become a settled custom to expect magnificent entertainments from the very best men in their yearof aedileship.