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IN interpreting, evaluating and weighing the obligations which the philosophers call καθήκοντα, or “duties,” the question is often asked, when some task has been assigned to you and exactly what was to be done has been defined, whether you ought to do anything contrary to instructions, if by so doing [p. 67] it might seem that the outcome would be more successful and more advantageous to the one who imposed the task upon you. It is a difficult question which has been answered both ways by wise men. For several have taken a position on the one side and expressed the decided belief that when a matter has once for all been determined, after due deliberation, by the one whose business and right are concerned, nothing should be done contrary to his order, even if some unlooked for occurrence should promise a better way of accomplishing the end in view; for fear that, if the expectation were not realized, the offender would be liable to blame and inexorable punishment for his insubordination. If, on the other hand, the affair chanced to result more favourably, thanks would indeed be due the gods, but nevertheless a precedent would seem to have been established, which might ruin well-laid plans by weakening the binding force of a command. Others have thought that the disadvantages to be feared, in case the order was not strictly obeyed, should carefully be weighed in advance against the advantage looped for, and if the former were comparatively light and trivial, while on the contrary a greater and more substantial advantage was confidently to be expected, then they judged that one might go counter to instructions, to avoid losing a providential opportunity for successful action; and they did not believe that a precedent for disobedience was to be feared, provided always that considerations of such a kind could be urged. But they thought that particular regard should be paid to the temperament and disposition of the person whose business and command were involved: he must not be stern, [p. 69] hard, autocratic and implacable, as in the case of the orders of a Postumius and a Manlius. 1 For if an account must be rendered to such a commander, they recommended that nothing be done contrary to the letter of his order.

I think that this question of obedience to commands of such a nature will be more clearly defined, if I add the example set by Publius Crassus Mucianus, a distinguished and eminent man. This Crassus is said by Sempronius Asellio 2 and several other writers of Roman history to have had the five greatest and chiefest of blessings; for he was very rich, of the highest birth, exceedingly eloquent, most learned in the law, and chief pontiff. When he, in his consulship, was in command in 3 the province of Asia, and was making preparations to beset and assault Leucae, he needed a long, stout beam from which to make a battering-ram, to breach the walls of that city. Accordingly, he wrote to the chief engineer of the people of Mylatta, 4 allies and friends of the Romans, to have the larger of two masts which he had seen in their city sent him. Then the chief engineer on learning the purpose for which Crassus wanted the mast, did not send him the larger, as had been ordered, but the smaller, which he thought was more suitable, and better adapted for [p. 71] making a ram, besides being easier to transport. Crassus ordered him to be summoned, asked why he had not sent the mast which had been ordered, and ignoring the excuses and reasons which the man urged, caused him to be stripped and soundly beaten with rods; for he thought that all the authority of a commander was weakened and made of no effect, if one might reply to orders which he received, not with due obedience, but with an unsolicited plan of his own.

1 Titus Manlius Torquatus had his own son executed for disobedience to his father's command; see ix. 13. 29. A similar story is told of Postumius; see xvii. 21. 17; cf. Otto, Sprichw. p. 209.

2 Fr. 8, Peter.

3 In the year of his consulship (131 B.C.) he was sent with an army against Aristonicus, who laid claim to the kingdom of Pergamum, which Attalus III had bequeathed to the Romans.

4 The text seems hopelessly corrupt. We perhaps have a fusion of ἐπάρχων ἀρχιτεκτόνων (Dittenberger3, 804. 5) and its equivalent magister( == praefectus) fabrumt. With ἀρχιτέκτονα (Hertz), the meaning would be “'builder.” With matgistrumn (Hosius), “the chief magistrate,” or perhaps “a ship-captain” (sc. navis). For the town, Bergk proposed Mytilene; Hosius, Myrina. The MSS. suggest Mylasa (Mylassa, Mylatta).

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