all men who would eclipse the other animals must struggle with perfection. or else shuffle through life in silence, like cattle, which nature set prostrate & servile to their bellies. all our power is nested in the mind & the body. the mind we use to rule. the body more to serve. the one we share with the gods. the other with the beasts. so it seems right to me to seek glory through intellect not force. &, since the life we are granted is short, to extend the memory of our lives far into the future. for the glory of riches & beauty is fleeting & fragile, VIRTUE is held to be illustrious & eternal.
but for a long time there was a great dispute among mortals as to whether military success arose from the strength of bodies or the VIRTUE of the mind. for starting requires planning. & once you have a plan it must be carried out. thus each, deficient in itself, needs the help of the other. in the beginning, kings—this was history’s first name for a sovereign—were opposed in this great dispute. some relied on intellect, some on strength. envy did not yet rule men’s lives. each was satisfied with his own lot. but after cyrus & the spartans & athenians began to conquer nations & cities. to consider lust for domination a justification for war. to find the greatest glory in the largest empire. only then, after hostile experimentation, was it discovered that in war intellect routed.
but if the VIRTUE of the mind of kings & generals thrived in peace as it did in war, human life would be so pleasantly tranquil. you wouldn’t today see one thing borne into another & everything transfigured & everything mixed up. for power is easily held with the same means by which it was acquired. but when sloth overtakes hard work, & lust & pride moderation & fairness, then fortune is transfigured along with mores. power is always transferred to the best men from the lesser.
whatever men accomplish—e.g. in farming sailing building—is indebted to VIRTUE. but many mortals, servile to stomach & sleep, unlearned & uncultured, shuffle through life like tourists. whose bodies are for pleasure, their soul a burden. their lives & deaths weigh equally little on me, since silence surrounds each. he alone seems to me to really live & breathe life who, absorbed by some pursuit, seeks the glory of a noteworthy (mis)deed or tectonic good will. but in such a richly varied universe nature sets different people on different paths.
it is a noble thing to act well for the republic. still, it is by no means meaningless to speak well for the republic. one can become famous in peace or in war. of those who have acted & those who have written down the acts of others, many are praised. even if the glories that follow the author of deeds & their actor are not equal, nevertheless it seems particularly difficult to write history. first, because deeds must be matched by words. then, because when you criticize, people think you do this out of resentment & jealousy. &, when you recount the great VIRTUE & glory of good men, the deeds that your audience think they could do they accept. everything else they think is fabricated.
when a boy, i, like most, was propelled by a zeal for politics. there i was, bounded by hazards. for instead of modesty instead of restraint instead of VIRTUE, hubris extravagance & greed bloomed around me. even though my mind, unschooled in the ways of evil, spurned these things, nevertheless my tender age, wedged between such vices, was choked by ambition. & though i rejected the evil mores of those around me, no less did i fall victim to that same lust for honor, that same infamy & resentment that tormented my peers.
eventually my mind found shelter from all those miseries & dangers. & i decided to keep myself at a distance from politics for the rest of my life. but it was not my plan to grind away my days into a leisured nothingness. nor to spend my life farming or hunting: slavish occupations. but returning to those studies from which wicked ambition had led me astray, i resolved to write down, piece by piece, the history of the roman people. at least write down the pieces that seemed worthy of memory. all the better for me to do it, since my mind was free of hope of fear of partisanship. so here i will briefly unleash, as truthfully as i am able, myself on catiline’s conspiracy. for that (mis)deed i consider particularly worthy of memory because of the originality of its wickedness & danger. but i must say a few things about the mores of the man in question before i begin the narrative.
lucius catiline, of noble birth, had great strength of both body & mind. but his character was evil & crooked. as a pubescent boy he pleasured himself ogling civil wars slaughters extortion political strife. he spent his whole youth this way. there he was, a body unreasonably tolerant of hunger of thirst of sleep deprivation. a mind fierce cunning technicolor. could resemble & dissemble whatever he wanted. grasping at what was not his, he poured out his own property. as if others’ intestines. burning with lusts. some eloquence—not enough wisdom. his desert mind was always lusting after the unbounded the unbelievable the not quite reachable the antipode. after lucius sulla’s dictatorship an inescapable desire to take over the republic seized catiline. he did not care how, as long as he was assembling a throne. his wild mind was prodded more & more each day by his family’s poverty & his guilty conscience. each of which was exacerbated by the aforementioned qualities. he was also spurred on by the state’s corrupt mores—mores that had been unhinged by the worst & most contradictory pair of vices, extravagance & greed. the subject seems to demand, since the mores of the state have been mentioned, that we go back further in time & briefly discuss the policies of our ancestors at home & abroad, how they governed the republic, how powerful they left it, how gradually it was transformed from the most noble & best to the worst & most depraved.
fortune rules over everything. it extols & obscures. out of love for itself, not truth. the triumphs of the athenians, in my estimation, were fine enough, but a little less great than is imagined. only because they produced so many writers of such genius are the athenians’ deeds celebrated throughout the world as the greatest in history. an actor’s VIRTUE is only as great as illustrious intellects extol it in writing. but the roman people never had such a wealth of writers, because its wisest men became leaders. none exercised his intellect without his body. the best men preferred acting to speaking. preferred their own deeds to be praised by others—to themselves recounting the deeds of others.
but when the republic had developed its economy & laws, when great kings had been subdued, & wild nations & unruly peoples put down by force, carthage, the rival to roman power, was eradicated to death. all the seas & lands were lying open. & fortune began to rave & rage & fuck up everything. whoever had easily tolerated hardship, danger, capricious & adverse conditions—to them, leisure & riches, desirable in other circumstances, became a misery & a burden. but lusts, first for money, then for power, swelled. they were as if the begetter of all evils.
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greed overthrew integrity honesty & the other noble principles. & in their stead installed hubris, cruelty, to slight the gods, to see a price tag on everything. ambition made many mortals fraudulent. imprisoning one thing in their heart, prodding another to dance on their tongue. judging friendships & enmities not for themselves but for their convenience. keeping their clothes clean instead of their conscience. these customs at first grew little by little & still were occasionally punished. later, when the contagion had invaded like a plague, the state was transfigured, & a government, the most just, the best, was rendered cruel & unbearable.
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but at first ambition more than greed tormented men’s minds. ambition, although a vice, was nearer to VIRTUE. for the good man & the lazy equally long for glory honor power. but the former lumbers up the true path. the other, because he lacks character, strives with treachery & deceit. greed aims at money, which a wise man never truly longed for. greed, as if imbued with an evil potion, emasculates the body & the virile mind, it is forever infinite insatiable, not plenty nor poverty contains it. but after lucius sulla violently seized the republic & from great beginnings brought about evil ends, everyone stole, everyone plundered, one craved this house, they craved his fields, the victors showed no restraint. sickening cruel (mis)deeds they committed against the citizens.
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also sulla treated the army he had led in persia luxuriously & liberally, in order to earn their favor, contrary to the custom of our ancestors. sunny & sumptuous pleasure-domes easily softened the once-brave minds of reclining soldiers. it was there first that an army of the roman people really got a taste for fucking drinking gazing in wonder at painted statues at ornate tables at embossed vases, stealing such treasures from public places & private, plundering temples, defiling all things sacred & profane. those soldiers, after they achieved victory, left nothing behind for the vanquished. success exhausts the minds of wise men. so much less can the corrupt qualify victory.
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after wealth became a source of honor & glory authority power followed, VIRTUE grew flaccid. poverty came to be thought shameful, innocence insidious. extravagance greed & hubris, sprung from wealth, ambushed the youth. valuing their own things little, they craved others’, stole, squandered, hadn’t a second for shame for chastity for distinctions between divine & human, no scruples or moderation.
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is it hopeless to try to seal this all in memory? no man would believe it, not unless he’d been there. mountains overturned by private citizens? the same ones who’d had the seas paved over? they made a game of their wealth. what they could have managed honorably they raced to squander basely. after seeing the mansions & villas built to the size of cities, it is worth remembering the temples our ancestors, devoutest of mortals, built. those men decorated shrines with their piety, their homes with glory. & they stole nothing from the conquered but their power to harm. these new men on the contrary, these laziest of men, so wickedly took everything even from their allies, which the bravest men, when they were victors, had left behind. as if abuse were power’s only use.
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but promiscuity gluttony & other such refinements had no less reach than extravagance & greed. men assumed the role of women, women put a price on their chastity, the world was explored to stock kitchens. they slept to dream, never to rest, no longer waited to feel hunger or thirst or cold or fatigue, but alluded to them in their excess. all of which incited the youth, when their families’ wealth was exhausted, to (mis)deeds. their minds, imbued with evil proclivities, could not easily be unbound from their lusts. thus all the more extravagantly were they given over to getting & spending.
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in so great & corrupt a state catiline did the easiest thing for him to do. surrounded himself in riots of perverts & (mis)deed—as if they were body guards. everyone: the shameless the adulterous the glutton. who disemboweled their birthrights with their hands with their stomachs with their cocks. who kindled great debts buying back their own perverted (mis)deeds. everywhere: murderers blasphemers the convicted & merely indicted. nourished by hand & tongue, by perjury & roman blood. everyone who was moved by perversity by poverty by guilt. these were the intimate associates of catiline….