The De Re Publica by Cicero was unknown except for the Somniun Scipionis, which survived because of the commentary of Macrobius. To get things clear: texts we have from Latin and Greek are not the authors own handwriting, but copies from 800- 1400 years late, except of course fragments of papyri. In 1819 Cardinal Angelico Mai, studying an old manuscript with a text from Augustine, discovered that a text on the parchment was erased and with some difficulty he found out that it was a lost work from Cicero. Using crude methods to make the text readable, parts have been lost, but the codex had not the complete text any way. Such a codex is called a palimpsest: as parchment was expensive, texts were erased and another text was written on the parchment. May be some day the lost parts of Livy or Tacitus will be discovered under some boring text…
The De Re Publica – as the title already suggests - is a philosophical work loosely modelled after the Plato’s dialogue with the same name. As for its title, to translate as (About) the Republic is a bit misleading as Cicero had clearly a broader concept in mind than we associate with the word republic. Common good, commonwealth, common interest or something like that is more appropriate.
Book 2 of this work is about the history of Rome with a special focus on its institutions. The speaker here is P. Cornelius Scipio and he is telling with what great insight Romulus has chosen the place to found Rome: it is ideally situated and therefore almost destined to become a world power.
It is interesting what Scipio – through the mouth of Cicero – is saying about coastal cities: the people there are corrupted by foreign languages and customs. As examples he takes Carthage and Corinth, being himself the general who destroyed Carthage in 146 BC.
One and a half century after Cicero, Juvenal is complaining in his third satire about all the foreign people, languages and customs at Rome, which make life unbearable there…
After Romulus has beaten king Amulius and subjected Alba Longa, Scipio continues his story:
Cicero, De Re Publica 2.5-7
(5) Qua gloria parta urbem auspicato condere et firmare dicitur primum cogitavisse rem publicam. Urbi autem locum, quod est ei qui diuturnam rem publicam serere conatur diligentissime providendum, incredibili opportunitate delegit. Neque enim ad mare admovit, quod ei fuit illa manu copiisque facillimum, ut in agrum Rutulorum Aboriginumve procederet, aut in ostio Tiberino, quem in locum multis post annis rex Ancus coloniam deduxit, urbem ipse conderet, sed hoc vir excellenti providentia sensit ac vidit, non esse opportunissimos situs maritimos urbibus eis quae ad spem diuturnitatis conderentur atque imperii, primum quod essent urbes maritimae non solum multis periculis oppositae sed etiam caecis. (6) Nam terra continens adventus hostium non modo expectatos sed etiam repentinos multis indiciis et quasi fragore quodam et sonitu ipso ante denuntiat, neque vero quisquam potest hostis advolare terra, quin eum non modo <ad>esse sed etiam quis et unde sit scire possimus. Maritimus vero ille et navalis hostis ante adesse potest quam quisquam venturum esse suspicari queat, nec vero cum venit prae se fert aut qui sit aut unde veniat aut etiam quid velit, denique ne nota quidem ulla, pacatus an hostis sit, discerni ac iudicari potest.
(7) Est autem maritimis urbibus etiam quaedam corruptela ac mutatio morum; admiscentur enim novis sermonibus ac disciplinis, et inportantur non merces solum adventiciae sed etiam mores, ut nihil possit in patriis institutis manere integrum. Iam qui incolunt eas urbes, non haerent in suis sedibus, sed volucri semper spe et cogitatione rapiuntur a domo longius, atque etiam cum manent corpore, animo tamen exulant et vagantur. Nec vero ulla res magis labefactatam diu et Carthaginem et Corinthum pervertit aliquando, quam hic error ac dissipatio civium, quod mercandi cupiditate et navigandi et agrorum et armorum cultum reliquerant.
qua gloria parta: after he (Romulus) gained glory
urbem auspicato condere: to found a city after having consulted the auspices (auspicato : abl abs.)
Urbi autem locum, quod est ei qui diuturnam rem publicam serere conatur diligentissime providendum, incredibili opportunitate delegit = Urbi autem locum, quod est diligentissime providendum ei qui diuturnam rem publicam serere conatur, incredibili opportunitate delegit.
sero sevi satum: to sow, plant (both words come from a common root *seh1 )
conor conatus sum: to try
provideo: to look after, care for
deligo dilegi dilectum: to choose, elect
illa manu copiisque: with that band and resources
ut…aut: either …or
Rutulorum Aboriginumve: the Rutuli had Ardea as capital, 35 km south of Rome at the coast. The Aborigines are probably a completely legendary people.
Ancus: Ancus Marcius (r. 642 BC – 617 BC) fourth king of Rome, who founded the port Ostia.
excellenti providentia: abl. of description
caecis (periculis): not blind (caecus) dangers, but dangers which cannot be seen
terra continens: adjacent land
repentinus: sudden, unexpected
fragor -oris (m.): crash, noise (from frango: to break)
advolare terra: fly on land (advolo is of course a metaphor for describing a quick approach.)
quin eum non modo <ad>esse sed etiam quis et unde sit scire possimus: without that we not only can know that he is present, but also whom he is and from where
ante adesse potest quam = adesse potest antequam
queo quivi quitum: to be able, can
prae se fert: he makes known
nota: a means of recognition, sign
merces adventiciae: foreign goods
sed volucri semper spe et cogitatione rapiuntur a domo longius: but are torn far away from their home by winged (i.e. idle) hope and thought
animo tamen exulant et vagantur: still they are absent and roaming with their mind
Nec vero ulla res magis labefactatam diu et Carthaginem et Corinthum pervertit aliquando: and not has at any time any cause more ruined for a long time Carthage and Corinth so that they were destroyed (labefactatam is a resultative adjective)
dissipation –onis (f.): dispersing
mercor mercatus sum: to traffic
The translation is by Francis Barham, reworked by C.D. Yonge and dates from 1877. Undoubtedly there are more modern translations, but not on internet. So far the idea that everything can be found on internet, as book hating managers of the university library here keep telling….
(There are unfortunately two different numberings and the text copied from The Latin Library differs with the translation.)
III. Having acquired this glory, he conceived the design (as they tell us) of founding a new city and establishing a new state. As respected the site of his new city, a point which requires the greatest foresight in him who would lay the foundation of a durable commonwealth, he chose the most convenient possible position. For he did not advance too near the sea, which he might easily have done with the forces under his command, either by entering the territory of the Rutuli and Aborigines, or by founding his citadel at the mouth of the Tiber, where many years after Ancus Martius established a colony. But Romulus, with admirable genius and foresight, observed and perceived that sites very near the sea are not the most favorable positions for cities which would attain a durable prosperity and dominion. And this, first, because maritime cities are always exposed, not only to many attacks, but to perils they cannot provide against. For the continued land gives notice, by many indications, not only of any regular approaches, but also of any sudden surprises of an enemy, and announces them beforehand by the mere sound. There is no adversary who, on an inland territory, can arrive so swiftly as to prevent our knowing not only his existence, but his character too, and where he comes from. But a maritime and naval enemy can fall upon a town on the sea-coast before any one suspects that he is about to come; and when he does come, nothing exterior indicates who he is, or whence he comes, or what he wishes; nor can it even be determined and distinguished on all occasions whether he is a friend or a foe.
IV. But maritime cities are likewise naturally exposed to corrupt influences, and revolutions of manners. Their civilization is more or less adulterated by new languages and customs, and they import not only foreign merchandise, but foreign fashions, to such a degree that nothing can continue unalloyed in the national institutions. Those who inhabit these maritime towns do not remain in their native place, but are urged afar from their homes by winged hope and speculation. And even when they do not desert their country in person, still their minds are always expatiating and voyaging round the world.
Nor, indeed, was there any cause which more deeply undermined Corinth and Carthage, and at last overthrew them both, than this wandering and dispersion of their citizens, whom the passion of commerce and navigation had induced to abandon the cultivation of their lands and their attention to military pursuits.
The original translation by Barham from 1844 contains an interesting history of the text: