Category Archives: Marcus Tullius Cicero

The Budget Should Be Balanced; The Treasury Should Be Refilled

Marcus Tullius Cicero? Taylor Caldwell? Otto E. Passman? Apocryphal?
pillariron02Dear Quote Investigator: In 2011 a host on the cable channel CNN said this: 1

Is America still the land of opportunity, or is it Rome before the fall? You decide. Cicero is believed to have said something like this in 55 B.C. “The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and assistance to foreign hands should be curtailed, lest Rome fall.”

I have seen a popular longer version of this quote on multiple websites:

The budget should be balanced, the treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.

Yet, I have never seen a precise reference to the oration by Marcus Tullius Cicero containing the remark. Is this an authentic quotation?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Cicero spoke or wrote these words. Pivotal citations revealing the most likely origin of the statement were located by top researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake. In 1965 the best-selling author Taylor Caldwell published the book “A Pillar of Iron” with a subtitle on the cover stating “A novel about Cicero and the Rome he tried to save”. A fictionalized version of the historical figure Cicero was the primary character in the novel.

A passage in “A Pillar of Iron” depicted the thoughts of the character Cicero while he was conversing with a man named Antonius. Note that Caldwell’s Cicero did not actually speak the following words in the novel: 2

Cicero found himself frequently confounded by Antonius. Antonius heartily agreed with him that the budget should be balanced, that the Treasury should be refilled, that public debt should be reduced, that the arrogance of the generals should be tempered and controlled, that assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt, that the mobs should be forced to work and not depend on government for subsistence, and that prudence and frugality should be put into practice as soon as possible.

But when Cicero produced facts and figures how all these things must and should be accomplished by austerity and discipline and commonsense, Antonius became troubled.

In the foreword to the book Caldwell described the extensive research she performed while preparing to write the story: 3

… I translated many hundreds of letters to-and-from Cicero and his editor and publisher, Atticus, myself in the Vatican Library in April 1947, and many more from Cicero to his brother, wife, son, daughter, Caesar, Pompey, and other people, in 1962 while again in Rome, and in Greece.

Caldwell also stated that some of the excerpts from letters in the book were based directly on translations of historical documents:

As few footnotes as possible have been used, but in every place where it is written, “Cicero wrote—Atticus wrote—etc.,” the letters are authentic and can be found in many histories in libraries almost everywhere.

Nevertheless, the passage given above about the Roman budget reflected the inner views of the character Cicero as imagined by Caldwell. The words were not part of a letter or a speech.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 2011 November 12 at 9:30 ET, Transcript for CNN cable channel broadcast, Program name: Your Bottom Line, Host of program: Christine Romans, (Excerpt spoken by Christine Romans), (Accessed CNN transcripts at transcripts.cnn.com on May 14, 2013) link
  2. 1965, A Pillar of Iron by Taylor Caldwell, Quote Page 483, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1965, A Pillar of Iron by Taylor Caldwell, Quote Page xiv, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)

Ancient Tablet: The World is Speedily Coming to an End. Everyone Wants to Write a Book

Ancient Assyrian tablet maker? Egyptian  priest? George T. W. Patrick? George S. Godard? Frederick C. Ferry? Cicero? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The world was supposed to end in 2012 according to many individuals. But the entity assigned the task may have been too busy destroying other worlds. The Smithsonian website posted an article titled: “Ten Notable Apocalypses That (Obviously) Didn’t Happen” which mentioned the following: 1

An Assyrian clay tablet dating to around 2800 B.C. bears the inscription: “Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.”

However, the reference work “Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations” published by the Library of Congress suggested that this story was spurious. 2 Could you examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: This popular tale of a tablet listing eerily familiar societal criticisms has been in circulation for more than one-hundred years, and many versions of the supposed inscription have been described. The earliest instance known to QI of this prototypical claim was printed in the August 1908 issue of a periodical for bicyclists called “Bassett’s Scrap Book”. A short item contrasted the modern age to ancient times and presented a variation of the epigraph: 3

The “good old times” seemed as bad to the “good-old-timers” as the present times seem to the modern man, as shown by the following translation on an inscription on a tablet in the Imperial Museum at Constantinople, Turkey:—

Naram Sin, 5000 B.C.
We have fallen upon evil times, the world has waxed old and wicked. Politics are very corrupt. Children are no longer respectful to their elders. Each man wants to make himself conspicuous and write a book.

There are multiple points of similarity with the version given on the Smithsonian website, but this does not end with the ominous claim that “the end of the world is evidently approaching.”

Also in 1908 the same story was printed in two medical journals: “The Cincinnati Lancet-Clinic” 4 and “The Medical Fortnightly” 5 together with a newspaper: “Lexington Herald” of Lexington, Kentucky. 6

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 2009 November 12, Smithsonian Magazine Website, “Ten Notable Apocalypses That (Obviously) Didn’t Happen” by Mark Strauss. (Accessed at Smithsonian.com on October 21 2012) link
  2. 1993, Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service, Edited by Suzy Platt, Quotation Number 456, Page 91, Barnes & Noble Publishing, New York. (Google Books preview) (link to 1989 edition at bartleby.com)
  3. 1908 August, Bassett’s Scrap Book: Scraps of History, Fact and Humor: Official Organ League of American Wheelmen, Volume 6, Number 6, Quote Page 84, League of American Wheelmen, Boston, Massachusetts. (Internet Archive) link
  4. 1908 August 22, The Cincinnati Lancet-Clinic: A Weekly Journal of Medicine and Surgery,  [Freestanding short article titled “7,000 Years Ago”], Page 235, Column 2, Published by Lancet-Clinic Publishing Co., Cincinnati, Ohio. (Google Books full view. Thanks to “Julie L.” who located this citation and shared her discovery on the blog “Making Light” of editor Nielsen Hayden)  link
  5. 1908 September 25, The Medical Fortnightly, Byron Robinson’s Note Book, Quote Page 466, Column 2, Fortnightly Press Co., St. Louis, Missouri. (Google Books full view. Thanks to John Mark Ockerbloom who located this document and shared his discovery on the blog “Making Light”) link
  6. 1908 September 18, Lexington Herald, The Ragged Edge by Splanchnic, Page 4, Column 3, Lexington, Kentucky. (GenealogyBank)

If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter

Blaise Pascal? John Locke? Benjamin Franklin? Henry David Thoreau? Cicero? Woodrow Wilson?

Dear Quote Investigator: I was planning to end a letter with the following remark:

If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.

But the number of different people credited with this comment is so numerous that an explanatory appendix would have been required, and the letter was already too long. Here is a partial list of attributions I have seen: Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Voltaire, Blaise Pascal, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Winston Churchill, Pliny the Younger, Cato, Cicero, Bill Clinton, and Benjamin Franklin. Did anybody in this group really say it?

Quote Investigator: Some of the attributions you have listed are spurious, but several are supported by solid evidence. The first known instance in the English language was a sentence translated from a text written by the French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal. The French statement appeared in a letter in a collection called “Lettres Provinciales” in the year 1657: 1 2 3

Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.

Here is one possible modern day translation of Pascal’s statement. Note that the term “this” refers to the letter itself.

I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.

An English translation was created in 1658 and published in London. Here is an excerpt from that early rendition of the letter: 4

My Letters were not wont to come so close one in the neck of another, nor yet to be so large. The short time I have had hath been the cause of both. I had not made this longer than the rest, but that I had not the leisure to make it shorter then it is.

Pascal’s notion was quite memorable, and it was discussed in a French book about language. That work was translated and published in London in 1676 as “The Art of Speaking”: 5

These Inventions require much wit, and application; and therefore it was, that Mons. Pascal (an Author very famous for his felicity in comprising much in few words) excused himself wittily for the extravagant length of one of his Letters, by saying, he had not time to make it shorter.

In 1688 a religious controversialist named George Tullie included a version of the witticism in an essay he wrote about the celibacy of the clergy: 6

The Reader will I doubt too soon discover that so large an interval of time was not spent in writing this discourse; the very length of it will convince him, that the writer had not time enough to make a shorter.

Below are listed several variations of the expression as used by well known, lesser known, and unknown individuals. The philosopher John Locke, the statesman Benjamin Franklin, the transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, and the President Woodrow Wilson all presented statements matching this theme and the details are provided.

Mark Twain who is often connected to this saying did not use it according to the best available research, but one of his tangentially related quotations is given later for your entertainment.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: Blaise Pascal, Page 583, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  2. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Page 119-120, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. Oxford Dictionary of Quotations edited by Elizabeth Knowles, Section: Blaise Pascal, Oxford Reference Online, Oxford University Press. (Accessed March 27, 2012)
  4. 1658, Les Provinciales, or, The Mystery of Jesuitisme by Blaise Pascal, [Translated into English], Second Edition Corrected, Page 292, Letter 16: Postscript, [Letter addressed to Reverend Fathers from Blaise Pascal], Printed for Richard Royston, London. (Google Books full view) link
  5. 1676, The Art of Speaking, Written in French by Messieurs Du Port Royal: In Pursuance of a former Treatise, Intitled, The Art of Thinking, Rendred into English, Page 8, Printed by W. Godbid, London. (Google Books full view) link
  6. 1688, An Answer to a Discourse Concerning the Celibacy of the Clergy by George Tullie, Preface, [Page 2 of Preface; unnumbered], Oxford, Printed at the Theater for Richard Chiswell, London. (Google Books full view) link