I[1arg] That Asinius Gallus and Largius Licinus criticized a saying of Cicero's in the speech which he delivered For Marcus Caelius; and what may be said with truth and propriety in defence of that saying, in reply to those most foolish critics.
JUST as there have been monsters of men who expressed impious and false opinions about the immortal gods, so there have been some so extravagant and so ignorant that they have dared to say that Marcus Cicero spoke without correctness, propriety, or consideration; among these are Asinius Gallus and Largius Licinus, and the latter's book even bears the outrageous title of The Scourge of Cicero. Now the other things that they have censured are certainly not worth hearing or mentioning; but let us consider the value of this stricture of theirs, in which particularly they are, in their own opinion, very keen critics of language. Marcus Cicero in his speech For Marcus Caelius 1 writes as follows: “As to the charge made against his chastity and published by all his accusers, not in the form of actual charges, but of gossip and calumnies, Marcus Caelius will never take that so much to heart, as to repent that he was not born ugly.” They think that Cicero has not used the proper word in saying paeniteat, or “repent,” and they go so far as to add that it is almost absurd; “for,” they say, [p. 199] “we regularly use paenitere when things which we ourselves have done, or which have been done in accordance with our wish and design, later begin to displease us and we change our opinion about them.” But that no one correctly says that he “repents being born” or “repents being mortal,” or “because he feels pain from any chance injury or wound inflicted upon his body”; for in such cases there is no design or choice on our part, but such things happen to us against our will by some necessity or force of nature. “In the same way,” they continue, “it was not a matter of choice with Marcus Caelius with what person he was born; yet he says that ' he did not repent this,' as if there were in that circumstance ground for a feeling of repentance.” This is in fact, as they say, the force of that word, and paenitere is strictly used of none but voluntary acts, although our forefathers used that same word also in a different sense and connected paenitere with the words paene (almost) and paenuria (want). But that is another question, and will be spoken of in another place. 2 But with regard to the point at issue, giving to paenitere this same meaning which is commonly recognized, what Marcus Cicero said is not only not foolish, but in the highest degree elegant and witty. For since the adversaries and detractors of Marcus Caelius, inasmuch as he was of handsome person, made use of his appearance and figure to throw doubt upon his chastity, therefore Cicero, making sport of such an absurd charge as to impute to him as a fault the good looks which nature had given him, has deliberately adopted that very same false charge of which he is making fun, saying: “Marcus Caelius is not sorry [p. 201] for not having been born ugly”; so that by the very fact of speaking thus he might reproach his accusers and wittily show that they were doing an absurd thing in making Caelius' handsome person an accusation against him, just as if the person with which he was born depended upon his own volition.