spurious Cicero quote

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Nov 13 16:42:27 UTC 2011

>From CNN yesterday [http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1111/12/ybl.01.html]:

"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 lands should be curtailed, lest Rome fall.'
Sound familiar with the nearly $15 trillion in debt, still giving
nearly $40 billion in foreign aid, will our story end like Rome's? Big
government, big promises. Slow growing economy, can't keep all those

Well, what Cicero is *supposed* to have said is-is  [in the version
at, e.g., http://www.libertyatstake.com/liberty_freedom_free_market_quotes.html]

"The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled.
Public debt should be reduced. The arrogance of officialdom should be
tempered and controlled. The assistance to foreign hands [sic] should
be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to
work, instead of living on public assistance."

Not only did Cicero never say that, the quotation has been nailed as
spurious numerous times, most accessibly, perhaps. by Bonnie
Taylor-Blake at Snopes.com.

As Bonnie observes, what Cicero *actually* didn't say was:

"The budget should be balanced, the treasury should be refilled,
public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be
tempered and controlled, assistance to foreign lands should be
curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. The mobs should be forced to work
and not depend on government for subsistence."

Bonnie cites a 1971 letter from Prof. John H. Collins, of Northern
Illinois U., to the Chicago Tribune, noting that the quote originated,
not with Cicero, but with the right-wing novelist Taylor Caldwell in
her Ciceronian novel, _A Pillar of Iron_ (Doubleday, 1965), p. 483.
(GB unfortunately seems to suppress the all-important passage, which,
acc. to "DIVVUS IVLIVUS" at a Cicero website
appears in indirect discourse: Caldwell's paraphrase of an imaginary
statement she' herself had dreamed up.)

The quote started its climb to fame when it was read into the
_Congressional Record_   April 25, 1968, vol. 114, p. 10635, by
conservative Rep. Otto Passman (D.-La). It was cited in the
_Belleville [Kans.] Telescope_ (Sept. 12, 1968, p. B1) [NewspArch.].

Passman added, "History reveals that public officials heeded not the
warning - therefore, the government collapsed."   (He doesn't mention
that the government collapse, because of a power struggle between the
consuls Caesar and Pompey, didn't have much to do with the things
Cicero didn't warn about.  But maybe he was thinking of the
better-known Fall of Rome over 500 years later.)

But, really, it's the thought that counts.

"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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