Marcus Tullius Cicero? Taylor Caldwell? Otto E. Passman? Apocryphal?
Dear 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.
- 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 ↩
- 1965, A Pillar of Iron by Taylor Caldwell, Quote Page 483, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1965, A Pillar of Iron by Taylor Caldwell, Quote Page xiv, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩