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A DIALOGUE BETWEEN SYLLA AND EUCRATES. - Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, Complete Works, vol. 3 (Grandeur and Declension of the Roman Empire; A Dialogue between Sylla and Eucrates; Persian Letters) 
The Complete Works of M. de Montesquieu (London: T. Evans, 1777), 4 vols. Vol. 3.
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A DIALOGUE BETWEEN SYLLA AND EUCRATES.
SOME days after Sylla had resigned the dictatorship, I was told the reputation I had among the philosophers made him desirous of seeing me. He was at his house on the Tiber, enjoying the first peaceful moments he had ever known. On coming before him, I felt nothing of that confusion which the presence of great men generally occasions in us. And when we were alone, Syila, said I to him, you have then voluntarily reduced yourself to that middle condition of life, which to most men is an affliction. You have resigned that command which your glory and your virtues gave you over all men. Fortune seems to be vexed, that she could not raise you to higher honours.
Eucrates, said he, if the eyes of the whole universe are no longer fixed on me, it is the fault of human things, which have their prescribed limits, and not owing to me. I imagined I had fulfilled my destiny, when I no longer had great things to achieve. I was not made for governing in quiet an enslaved people. I love to obtain victories, to found or overturn states, make alliances, punish usurpers: but as to the little subordinate branches of government, wherein middling geniuses shew themselves to so much advantage, the slow execution of the laws, the discipline of a tame militia, my soul could not employ itself in them.
It is very singular, said I, that you should have mixed so much delicacy with your ambition. We have seen many great men unaffected with the vain pomp and splendor which wait on rulers; but there have been very few insensible of the pleasure of governing, and of having that respect, which is due only to the laws, paid to their humour.
And I, Eucrates was never less satisfied, than when I saw myself absolute master in Rome; when I looked round me, and found neither rival nor enemy. I thought it would be one day said, that I had only chastised slaves. Would you, said I to myself, have no more men in your country capable of being affected with your glory? And since you establish despotism, do not you clearly see, that no prince can come after you so cowardly and despicable, whom flattery will not equal to you, and adorn with your name, your titles, and even your virtues?
My Lord, you have quite changed the idea I had formed of your conduct. I thought you had ambition, but not a love of glory: I saw very well that you had a high spirit, but I did not suspect that you had a great soul: your whole life seemed to discover you to be one preyed on by lust of power, and who, full of the most destructive passions chearfully loaded himself with the shame, the remorse, and even the meanness attached to despotism. For, after all, you sacrificed every thing to your power; you were feared by all the Romans; you discharged, without pity, the functions of the most terrible magistracy that ever subsisted. The senate looked with dread on a defender so relentless. Some one said to you, Sylla, how much Roman blood will you shed; do you want to command bare walls? You then published those tables by which the life and death of every citizen were determined.
And it is the shedding so much blood that has enabled me to do the greatest action of my whole life. Had I ruled the Romans with gentleness, what wonder, that weariness, disgust or caprice should make me resign the government? But I laid down the dictatorship at a time when every one thought I entirely owed my safety to my being invested with it. I appeared before the Romans a citizen in the midst of my citizens, and had the boldness to say to them, I am ready to give account of all the blood which I have shed for the republic; I will answer all who shall come to demand of me their fathers, their sons, or their brothers. Every Roman was silent before me.
This great action which you speak of, appears to me very imprudent. The astonishment, indeed, into which you had just thrown the Romans, was of service to you: but how could you dare to talk of vindicating yourself, and taking for judges persons who had so much to revenge on you? supposing your actions had been only severities while you were in power, they became frightful crimes the moment you were out of power.
Do you call crimes, said he, what saved the republic? Would you have had me quietly see senators betray the senate, for that people, who, imagining that liberty ought to be as extreme as slavery can be, wanted to abolish all authority? The people, kept under by the laws and the weight of the senate, have always endeavoured to overturn both. But he who is so ambitious as to serve them against the senate and the laws, has always ambition enough to become their master. It is thus we have seen an end put to so many republics of Greece and Italy.
To prevent a like evil the senate hath always been obliged to employ this untractable people in war. It has been forced, against its inclination, to ravage the earth, and reduce so many nations, whose subjection is a burden to us. At present, when the universe can furnish no more enemies against us, what would be the fate of the republic? And, without me, would the senate have been able to prevent the people, in their blind fury for liberty, from delivering themselves up to Marius, or to the first tyrant who should have given them hopes of independence?
The gods, who have given to most men a cowardly ambition, have attached to Liberty almost as many evils as to Slavery. But whatever may be the price of this noble liberty, the gods must be paid it.
The sea swallows up vessels, and lays under water whole countries; yet it is useful to man.
Posterity will decide of what Rome has not as yet ventured to examine: it will find, perhaps, that I have not shed blood enough, and that all the partizans of Marius have not been proscribed.
I must own, Sylla, you astonish me; How! was it to serve your country, that you spilled so much blood? and had you no attachment but to her?
Eucrates, said he to me, I had never that predominant love for my country, of which we find so many examples in the first ages of the republic: and I love Coriolanus, who carried fire and sword to the very walls of his ungrateful city, and made every citizen repent the affront which every citizen had given him, as much as I do him who drove the Gauls from the capitol. I never piqued myself on being the slave, or the worshipper of a society of my equals: and this so much boasted love is a passion too popular for such a high spirit as mine. All my actions proceeded from reflexion, and principally from the contempt which I entertained for men. You may judge by the manner in which I treated the only great people in the world, how high my contempt was of all others.
I thought that while I was on the earth, I ought to be free. Had I been born among Barbarians, I should have sought to usurp the throne less to obtain command than to avoid obedience. Born in a republic, I have acquired the glory of a conqueror, in seeking only that of a free man.
When I entered Rome with my troops, I breathed neither rage nor revenge. I passed sentence without hatred, but also without pity, on astonished Romans. You were free, said I; and you want to live slaves. No. Die; and you will have the advantage of dying citizens of a free city.
To deprive of its liberty a city of which I was a citizen, I looked on as the greatest of crimes. I punished that crime; and was little concerned whether I should be the good or the evil genius of the Republic. However, the government of our ancestors has been re-established; the people have expiated all the indignities they put on the nobles; fear has suspended animosities, and Rome never enjoyed such perfect tranquility.
This it was which determined me to all the bloody tragedies you have seen. Had I lived in those happy days of the Republic, when the citizens, quiet in their houses, presented to the Gods a free soul, you would have seen me pass my whole life in this retreat, which has cost me so much blood and toil.
My lord, said I to him, it is well for mankind, that Heaven has been sparing in the number of such men as you. Born for a middling station, we are over-powered by sublime geniuses. One man’s being raised above humanity, costs all the rest too dear.
You looked on the ambition of heroes as a common passion; and made no account of any but a reasoning ambition. The insatiable desire of ruling, which you found in the hearts of some citizens, made you resolve to be an extraordinary man: love of liberty determined you to be terrible and cruel. Who would have thought, that a heroism founded on principle would be more destructive than a heroism founded on fury and impetuosity? The Roman people, you say, beheld you unarmed, and made no attempt on your life. You have escaped one danger; a greater may await you. A grand offender may one day take advantage of your moderation, and confound you in the crowd of a subjected people.
I have acquired a name, said he, which suffices for my safety and the safety of the Roman people. That name prevents all attempts; there is no ambition which does not stand in awe of it. Sylla lives; and his genius is more powerful than that of all the Romans. Sylla is surrounded by Chæronea, Orchomenus, and Signion: Sylla hath given every family in Rome a terrible example within itself: Every Roman will have me always before him, and even in his sleep I shall appear to him covered with blood; he will imagine he sees the fatal tables, and reads his name at the head of the proscribed. My laws are murmured at in secret; they can never be effaced but by floods of Roman blood. Am not I in the midst of Rome? You will still find with me the javelin I had at Orchomenus, and the buckler I wore on the walls of Athens. Because I have no lictors, am I the less Sylla? I have the senate, justice, and the laws for me; my genius, fortune, and glory are for the senate.
I own, said I, that when a person has once made any one tremble, he almost always retains something of the advantage he had over him.
Undoubtedly, said he, I struck men with astonishment, and that was a great deal. Review in your mind the story of my life: you will see that I have drawn all from that principle; and that it has been the soul of all my actions. Call to mind my quarrel with Marius: I was stung with indignation to see a man of no name, proud of the meanness of his birth, attempt to pull down the first families in Rome, and confound them with Plebeians; and at this time I bore all the weight of a great soul. I was young, and I resolved to put myself in a condition to call Marius to account for his insults. For this end, I fought him with his own weapons, that is to say, by victories over the enemies of the Republic.
When I was forced, by the caprice of chance, to leave Rome, I pursued the same plan: I went to make war on Mithridates; and laboured to destroy Marius by vanquishing the enemy of Marius. While I left that Roman to enjoy his power over the populace, I multiplied his mortifications, and forced him to go every day to the Capitol to return thanks to the Gods for successes which drove him to destraction. I waged a war of reputation against him, a hundred times more cruel than what my legions made on the Barbarian king. Every word I spoke shewed my daringness, and my most inconsiderable actions, always full of haughtiness, were fatal presages for Marius. At last Mithridates sued for peace; the terms were reasonable; and had Rome been in quiet, and my fortune not still wavering, I would have accepted them. But the bad state of my affairs obliged me to make the terms still harder. I demanded that he should destroy the fleet, and restore to the kings his neighbours the territories he had taken from them. I leave to you, said I, the kingdom of your ancestors; to you, who ought to thank me that I leave you the hand with which you signed an order for the execution of 100,000 Romans in one day. Mithridates was struck motionless, and Marius trembled in the midst of Rome.
This boldness, which was of such service to me against Mithridates, against Marius, against his son, against Thelisinus, against the people, which supported my dictatorship, also protected my life the day I resigned the dictatorship; and that day insures my liberty for ever.
My lord, said I, Marius reasoned in the same manner, when, covered with the blood of his enemies and of the Romans, he gave proofs of that boldness which you have punished. You have, it is true, a few more victories, and greater excesses on your side. But, in assuming the dictatorship, you set an example of the crime which you punished. This is the example which will be followed, and not that of your moderation which will only be admitted.
When the Gods suffered Sylla with impunity to make himself Dictator at Rome, they proscribed Liberty from it for ever. They must work too many miracles now to root out of the heart of every Roman leader the ambition of reigning. You have taught them, that there is a much surer way to arrive at despotism, and to maintain it without danger. You have divulged the fatal secret, and removed what alone makes good citizens in a republic too rich and too great, to despair of being able to oppress it.
He changed colour, and was silent for a moment. I am only afraid, said he, with emotion, of one man, in whom I think I see many Marius’s. Chance, or perhaps a more powerful destiny, made me spare him. My eyes are ever on him, I study his soul, where he hides deep purposes. But if he dares to form the design of commanding men whom I have made my equals, I swear by the Gods, I will punish his insolence.