Cic. Mur. 23-27

by Tom Gardner

et quoniam mihi videris istam scientiam iuris tamquam filiolam osculari tuam, non patiar te in tanto errore versari ut istud nescio quid quod tanto opere didicisti praeclarum aliquid esse arbitrere. Aliis ego te virtutibus, continentiae, gravitatis, iustitiae, fidei, ceteris omnibus, consulatu et omni honore semper dignissimum iudicavi; quod quidem ius civile didicisti, non dicam operam perdidisti, sed illud dicam, nullam esse in ista disciplina munitam ad consulatum viam. omnes enim artes, quae nobis populi Romani studia concilient , et admirabilem dignitatem et pergratam utilitatem debent habere.

summa dignitas est in eis qui militari laude antecellunt; omnia enim quae sunt in imperio et in statu civitatis ab his defendi et firmari putantur; summa etiam utilitas, si quidem eorum consilio et periculo cum re publica tum etiam nostris rebus perfrui possumus. gravis etiam illa est et plena dignitatis dicendi facultas quae saepe valuit in consule deligendo, posse consilio atque oratione et senatus et populi et eorum qui res iudicant mentis permovere. quaeritur consul qui dicendo non numquam comprimat tribunicios furores, qui concitatum populum flectat, qui largitioni resistat. non mirum, si ob hanc facultatem homines saepe etiam non nobiles consulatum consecuti sunt, praesertim cum haec eadem res plurimas gratias, firmissimas amicitias, maxima studia pariat. quorum in isto vestro artificio, Sulpici, nihil est.

primum dignitas in tam tenui scientia non potest esse; res enim sunt parvae, prope in singulis litteris atque interpunctionibus verborum occupatae. deinde, etiam si quid apud maiores nostros fuit in isto studio admirationis , id enuntiatis vestris mysteriis totum est contemptum et abiectum. posset agi lege necne pauci quondam sciebant; fastos enim volgo non habebant. erant in magna potentia qui consulebantur; a quibus etiam dies tamquam a Chaldaeis petebatur . inventus est scriba quidam, Cn. Flavius, qui cornicum oculos confixerit et singulis diebus ediscendis fastos populo proposuerit et ab ipsis his cautis iuris consultis eorum sapientiam compilarit. itaque irati illi, quod sunt veriti ne dierum ratione pervolgata et cognita sine sua opera lege agi posset, verba quaedam composuerunt ut omnibus in rebus ipsi interessent.

cum hoc fieri bellissime posset: ‘fundus Sabinus meus est.’ ‘immo meus,’ deinde iudicium, noluerunt. ‘Fundus’ inquit ‘qui est in agro qui sabinus vocatur.’ satis verbose; cedo quid postea? ‘eum ego ex iure Quiritium meum esse aio.’ quid tum? ‘inde ibi ego te ex iure manum consertum voco.’ quid huic tam loquaciter litigioso responderet ille unde petebatur non habebat. transit idem iuris consultus tibicinis Latini modo. ‘Vnde tu me’ inquit ‘ex iure manum consertum vocasti, inde ibi ego te revoco.’ praetor interea ne pulchrum se ac beatum putaret atque aliquid ipse sua sponte loqueretur, ei quoque carmen compositum est cum ceteris rebus absurdum tum vero in illo: ‘Suis utrisque superstitibus praesentibus istam viam dico; ite viam.’ praesto aderat sapiens ille qui inire viam doceret. ‘redite viam.’ eodem duce redibant. haec iam tum apud illos barbatos ridicula, credo, videbantur , homines, cum recte atque in loco constitissent, iuberi abire ut, unde abissent, eodem statim redirent. isdem ineptiis fucata sunt illa omnia: ‘Quando te in iure conspicio ‘et haec : ‘anne tu dicas qua ex causa vindicaveris?’ quae dum erant occulta, necessario ab eis qui ea tenebant petebantur; postea vero pervolgata atque in manibus iactata et excussa, inanissima prudentiae reperta sunt, fraudis autem et stultitiae plenissima. nam, cum permulta praeclare legibus essent constituta, ea iure consultorum ingeniis pleraque corrupta ac depravata sunt.

And since you seem to prize your knowledge of the law, as if it were your little daughter, I will not allow you to remain in error, believing that whatever it is you have so thoroughly learnt is at all distinguished. I have always thought you worthy of the consulship, and of all honour, because of your other virtues: temperance, dignity, justice, good faith, and all the others. But as for having learnt civil law: I will not say it is wasted effort, but I will say that in that discipline, no way is made to the consulship. For all arts which can win over the devotion of the Roman people for us should have both an admirable grandeur and a pleasing utility.

The highest dignity is in those who excel in military glory. For they are supposed to defend and secure everything in the empire and constitution of the State. There is also a great utility in them, since it is through their counsel and danger that we can enjoy public things and our private things. The ability to speak well is also impressive and full of dignity, and it has often been effective in consular elections to be able to move, with wisdom and oratory, the minds of the senate and the people and those who decide on matters. They look for a consul who, from time to time, can restrain the madness of the tribunes, who can prevail upon the people when they are agitated, who can resist corruption.

It is unremarkable if men often accede to the consulship, despite not being of noble birth, on account of their abilities—especially when it brings them much gratitude, the strongest friendships, the greatest enthusiasm for him. Of these things, Sulpicius, there is none in your profession!

First of all, there can be no dignity in such a narrow expertise. For they are always small matters, mostly to do with singular letters and punctuation. And then, even if there was some wonder in your discipline, in the time of our ancestors, now it is only disdained and disregarded as your mysteries have been divulged. It used to be that only a few knew whether something could legally be done, because commoners did not have access to court documents. Counsel had a lot of power: even court dates were asked of them, as if from soothsayers. And a certain clerk was found who could trick the wary, Gnaeus Flavius, who displayed court documents for the people to learn by heart each day, and robbed this learning from the most careful lawyers. So they were angry, because they feared that people could act legally without their assistance now that their daily procedures had been publicised and understood, and accordingly they put together a certain form of words so that they would have to be involved in every cause.

Where it could have been done perfectly well with: ‘The Sabine farm is mine.’ ‘No it is mine.’ Then a trial. But they reject this. ‘The farm,’ says he, ‘which lies in the land called Sabine.’ That is wordy enough—so what next? ‘I affirm that it is mine by the law of Roman citizens.’ What then? ‘I then summon thee in an action for possession.’

The man from whom the farm was sought did not know how to reply to somebody so loquaciously litigious. The same lawyer goes across and, like a Latin flautist, he says: ‘Whence thou summoned me by action for possession, thence I resummon thee.’

Meanwhile lest he should think himself fine and fortunate enough to speak of his own accord, a formula is also composed for the Praetor, which is absurd in other respects, and especially: ‘With each of them alive and present, I declare that that is the path; go upon that path.’ And that wise man was there to show them the way back. ‘Return upon that path.’ They returned with the same guide. This would all have seemed ridiculous to full-grown men, I suppose: that men, when they have stood rightly in their place, should be ordered to depart, so that they would turn back and return immediately to the place they had left. Everything was embellished with that same silliness. ‘When I behold thee at law’, and this: ‘But sayest thou whence cometh thy claim of right?’ And so long as all this remained a mystery, people had to seek out those who understood it. But after these things were publicised and spread and investigated, it was found that there was no sense in them, and they were full of frauds and foolishness. For although much is settled admirably by the law, much of it has been distorted and corrupted by clients’ clever lawyers.