Mythology of the Farmer‑General
Source: Cicero, de
sen 16. Translated by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh. In Two Essays on Old
Age & Friendship. Golden treasury series. London: Macmillan, 1903. Dion.
Hal. RA 10.17. Translated by Earnest Cary. In The
Roman Antiquities of Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Loeb
classical library. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1937.
Cicero: On Old Age 16
I might continue my
list of the delights of country life; but even what I have said I think is
somewhat overlong. However, you must pardon me; for farming is a very favorite
hobby of mine, and old age is naturally rather garrulous—for I would not
be thought to acquit it of all faults.
Well, it was in a life
of this sort that M’. Curius, after celebrating triumphs over the Samnites, the
Sabines, and Pyrrhus, spent his last days. When I look at his villa—for it is
not far from my own—I never can enough admire the man’s own frugality or
the spirit of the age. As Curius was sitting at his hearth the Samnites, who
brought him a large sum of gold, were repulsed by him; for it was not, he said,
a fine thing in his eyes to possess gold, but to rule those who possessed it.
Could such a high spirit fail to make old age pleasant?
But to return to
farmers—not to wander from my own métier. In those days there were
senators, i.e., old men, on their farms. For L. Quinctius Cincinnatus was
actually at the plough when word was brought him that he had been named
Dictator. It was by his order as Dictator, by the
way, that C. Servilius Ahala, the Master of the Horse, seized and put to death
S. Maelius when attempting to obtain royal power. Curius as well as other old men used to
receive their summonses to attend the Senate in their farm-houses, from which
circumstances the summoners were called viatores or “travelers.” Was these
men’s old age an object of pity who found their pleasure in the cultivation of
the land? In my opinion, scarcely any life can be more blessed, not alone from
its utility (for agriculture is beneficial to the whole human race), but also
as much from the mere pleasure of the thing, to which I have already alluded,
and from the rich abundance and supply of all things necessary for the food of
man and for the worship of the gods above. So, as these are objects of desire
to certain people, let us make our peace with pleasure. For the good and
hard—working farmer’s wine—cellar and oil store, as well as his
larder, are always well filled, and his whole farm house is richly furnished.
It abounds in pigs, goats, lambs, fowls, milk, cheese, and honey. Then there is
the garden, which the farmers themselves call their “second flitch.” A zest and
flavor is added to all these by hunting and fowling in spare hours. Need I
mention the greenery of meadows, the rows of trees, the beauty of vineyard and
olive—grove? I will put it briefly: nothing can either furnish
necessaries more richly, or present a fairer spectacle, than
well—cultivated land. And to the enjoyment of that, old age does not
merely present no hindrance—it actually invites and allures to it. For
where else can it better warm itself, either by basking in the sun or by
sitting by the fire, or at the proper time cool itself more wholesomely by the
help of shade or water? Let the young keep their arms then to themselves, their
horses, spears, their foils and ball, their swimming—baths and
running—path. To us old men let them, out of the many forms of sport,
leave dice and counters; but even that as they choose, since old age can be
quite happy without them.
Halicarnassus: RA 10.17
The war with the brigands being thus ended, the
tribunes rekindled the civil strife once more by demanding of the surviving
consul the fulfillment of the promises made to them by Valerius, who perished
in the fighting, with regard to the introduction of the law. But Claudius for a time kept procrastinating, now by
performing lustrations for the city, now by offering sacrifices of thanksgiving
to the gods, and again by entertaining the multitude with games and shows.
When all his excuses
had been exhausted, he finally declared that another consul must be chosen in
place of the deceased; for he said that the acts performed by him all would be
neither legal nor lasting, whereas those performed by two of them would be
legitimate and valid. Having put them off with this pretence, he appointed a
day for the election, when he would nominate his colleague. In the meantime the
leading men of the senate, consulting together in private, agreed among
themselves upon the person to whom they would entrust the magistracy.
And when the day
appointed for the election had come and the herald had called the first class,
the eighteen centuries of knights together with the eighty centuries of foot,
consisting of the wealthiest citizens, entering the appointed place, chose as
consul L. Quinctius Cincinnatus, whose son K. Quinctius the tribunes had
brought to trial for his life and compelled to leave the city. And no other
class being called to vote—for the centuries which had voted were three
more in be than the remaining centuries—the populace departed, regarding
it as a grievous misfortune that a man who hated them was to be possessed of the
consular power. Meanwhile the senate sent men to invite the consul and to
conduct him to the city to assume his magistracy.
It chanced that
Quinctius was just then plowing a piece of land for sowing, he himself following the gaunt oxen that
were breaking up the fallow; he had no tunic on, wore a small loin-cloth and
had a cap upon his head. Upon seeing a crowd of people come into the field he
stopped his plough and for a long time was at a loss to know who they were or
what they wanted of him; then, when some one ran up to him and bade him make
himself more presentable, he went into the cottage and after putting on his
clothes came out to them.
Thereupon the men who
were sent to escort him all greeted him, not by his name, but as consul; and
clothing him with the purple-bordered robe and placing before him the axes and
the other insignia of his magistracy, they asked him to follow them to the
city. And he, pausing for a moment and shedding tears, said only this: “So my
field will go unsown this year, and we shall be indicate danger of having not
enough to live on.” Then he kissed his wife, and charging her to take care of
things at home, went to the city.
I am led to relate
these particulars for no other reason than to let all the world see what kind
of men the leaders of Rome were at that time, that they worked with their own
hands, led frugal lives, did not chafe under honorable poverty, and, far from
aiming at positions of royal power, actually refused them when offered. For it
will be seen that the Romans of to‑day do not bear the least resemblance
to them, but follow the very opposite practices in everything—with the
exception of a very few by whom the dignity of the commonwealth is still
maintained and a resemblance to those men preserved. But enough on this subject.