Greetings from Cicero to his dear Atticus

   Being sent by Rome to Sicily to exercise my duties as quaestor has parted me from you my dear friend and this is a very cruel separation for me. I want to try to forget that for a moment by giving you an account of what has been happening to me these days in my new residence at Syracuse; I think the account will be of interest to you and might inspire in you some salutary reflections.
   You know of my admiration for genius and that upon my arrival in a country I like to see the places there that were frequented by some great man. It will not surprise you then when I tell you that on my installation in this beautiful province of Sicily, I conceived a passionate desire to go and visit the tomb of Archimedes. It would be a great joy to find myself in the presence of that illustrious scholar who held in check the forces of the republic for three years, having no other resources than those of his remarkable genius. You know moreover my line of conduct as regards the subjects or the provincials that I am charged with administrating. I consider it as a duty, so far as I can, to make them love Rome and its government. That, in my opinion, is the best means of rendering this almost universal domination more pleasant for the vanquished and consequently more lasting for the victors. My scheme would reconcile these politics with my personal aspirations and I considered it would provide no small pleasure to the Sicilians by honouring their greatest countryman, who was also their best citizen and their greatest defender. Imagine my surprise when after asking the way to the tomb from several Syracusians, that they were completely ignorant of it. But I did not let myself be discouraged; excited by the very difficulty of the quest, I resolved that I would rediscover this forgotten monument. I took with me the principal inhabitants of the country and we set off to a part of the town where it was their custom to bury their dead; it was a difficult journey. The tombstones were overgrown with brambles and almost all of them overturned; the obliterated inscriptions were no help in our quest. Just as I was examining these ruins closely I noticed a small pillar on which were carved a sphere and a cylinder. Delighted at this discovery and quite certain that it was the monument to Archimedes I approached it with emotion and managed to decipher the two verses that I knew had been set on it. You can well imagine that I did not leave the tomb in that sorry state. But while having it repaired with the greatest care, I was very mindful not to change any of its simplicity. I added nothing to the modest yet eloquent symbol that I had uncovered.
   However despite the satisfaction of having fulfilled this pious duty on behalf of such a great man's mortal remains, I was left with some very sad thoughts on this adventure and I felt painfully moved when I thought of the profound oblivion in which Archimedes had been left by these citizens: "Is this then", I said to myself, "one of the consequences of servitude. And is it not the subjection to which these people have been reduced that makes them lose all memory of their glories and abandon the cult of their geniuses; when men have no care over their interests, when they no longer know liberty, does not the nobility of their name change to the point of making them forget what is most dear to them and what makes them great." And making an involuntary return to Rome, and not without sadness, I told myself that every fresh conquest that serves to increase our dominion is at a cost to humanity of several thousand members that make it up. In any case there are those men, degraded beings who no longer care about the religion that is the most sacred of all, the religion of patriotism. Behold, my dear Atticus, such were my thoughts, I would be very interested to hear yours on the subject, they must be the same; but what matter! It is by examining more deeply the laws that govern human nature that we find our consolation for life, its bitterness and its failings.
   Adieu.

School composition c. 1884. BNF NAF 16611.

 


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