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17. [44]

Now, in the first place, shall decemvirs give a decision about the inheritance of the Roman people, when you require centumvirs to judge in the case of private inheritances? In the next place, who is to plead the cause of the Roman people? Where is the cause to be tried? Who are those decemvirs whom we think likely to adjudge the kingdom of Alexandria to Ptolemy for nothing? But, if Alexandria was the object, why did not they at this time proceed by the same course which they adopted in the consulship of Lucius Cotta and Lucius Torquatus? Why did they not proceed openly, as they did before? Why did they not act as they did when they before sought that country, in a straightforward and open manner? Did they, who, when they had a fair wind, could not hold their course straight on to the kingdom they coveted, think that they could reach Alexandria amid foul mists and darkness? 1 [45] Just revolve these things in your minds. . . . . Foreign nations can scarcely endure our lieutenants, though they are men of but slight authority, when they go on free lieutenancies, on account of some private business. For the name of power is a hard one to bear, and is dreaded even in ever so inconsiderable a person; because, when they have once left Rome they conduct their proceedings not in their own name, but in yours. What do you suppose will happen, when those decemvirs wander all over the world with their supreme power, and their faces, and their chosen band of surveyors? What do you suppose will be the feelings, what the alarm, what the actual danger of those unhappy nations? [46] Is there any terror in absolute power? they will endure it;—is there any expense entailed by the arrival of such men? they will bear it;—are any presents exacted from them? they will not refuse them. But what a business is that, O Romans, when a decemvir, who either has come to some city after being expected, as a guest, or unexpectedly, as a master, pronounces that very place to which he has come, that identical hospitable house in which he is received, to be the public property of the Roman people? How great will be the misery of the people if he says that it is so! How great will be his own private gain, if he says that it is not! And the same men who desire all this, are accustomed sometimes to complain that every land and every sea has been put under the power of Cnaeus Pompeius. But are these two cases, the one, of many things being entrusted to a man, the other, of everything being sacrificed to him, at all similar? Is there any resemblance between a man's being appointed as chief manager of a business requiring toil and labour, and a man's having the chief share in booty and gain allotted to him? in a man's being sent to deliver allies, and a man's being sent to oppress them? Lastly, if there be airy extraordinary honour in question, does it make no difference whether the Roman people confers that honour on any one it chooses, or whether he impudently filches it from the Roman people by an underhand trick of law?


1 This sentence and the succeeding one are considered very corrupt, and there is a great variety of readings proposed; for qui Etesiis some read quietis iis; for directo, decreto. Unaque is quite unintelligible.

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