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The Comparison of Tiberius and Caius Gracchus with Agis and Cleomenes
Translated by John Dryden
Having given an account severally of these persons, it remains only
that we should take a view of them in comparison with one another.
As for the Gracchi, the greatest detractors and their worst enemies
could not but allow that they had a genius to virtue beyond all other
Romans, which was improved also by a generous education. Agis and
Cleomenes may be supposed to have had stronger natural gifts, since,
though they wanted all the advantages of good education, and were
bred up in those very customs, manners, and habits of living which
had for a long time corrupted others, yet they were public examples
of temperance and frugality. Besides, the Gracchi, happening to live
when Rome had her greatest repute for honour and virtuous actions,
might justly have been ashamed, if they had not also left to the next
generation the noble inheritance of the virtues of their ancestors.
Whereas the other two had parents of different morals, and though
they found their country in a sinking condition, and debauched, yet
that did not quench their forward zeal to what was just and honourable.
The integrity of the two Romans, and their superiority to money, was
chiefly remarkable in this: that in office and the administration
of public affairs, they kept themselves from the imputation of unjust
gain; whereas Agis might justly be offended if he had only that mean
commendation given him, that he took nothing wrongfully from any man,
seeing he distributed his own fortunes which, in ready money only,
amounted to the value of six hundred talents, amongst his fellow-citizens.
Extortion would have appeared a crime of a strange nature to him,
who esteemed it a piece of covetousness to possess, though never so
justly gotten, greater riches than his neighbours.
Their political actions, also, and the state revolutions they attempted,
were very different in magnitude. The chief things in general that
the two Romans commonly aimed at, were the settlement of cities and
mending of highways; and, in particular, the boldest design which
Tiberius is famed for, was the recovery of the public lands; and Caius
gained his greatest reputation by the addition, for the exercise of
judiciary powers, of three hundred of the order of knights to the
same number of senators. Whereas the alteration which Agis and Cleomenes
made was in a quite different kind. They did not set about removing
partial evils and curing petty incidents of disease, which would have
been (as Plato says) like cutting off one of the Hydra's heads, the
very means to increase the number; but they instituted a thorough
reformation, such as would free the country from all its grievances,
or rather, to speak more truly, they reversed that former change which
had been the cause of all their calamities, and so restored their
city to its ancient state.
However, this must be confessed in the behalf of the Gracchi, that
their undertakings were always opposed by men of the greatest influence.
On the other side, those things which were first attempted by Agis,
and afterwards consummated by Cleomenes, were supported by the great
and glorious precedent of those ancient laws concerning frugality
and levelling which they had themselves received upon the authority
of Lycurgus, and he had instituted on that of Apollo. It is also further
observable, that from the actions of the Gracchi, Rome received no
additions to her former greatness; whereas, under the conduct of Cleomenes,
Greece presently saw Sparta exert her sovereign power over all Peloponnesus,
and contest the supreme command with the most powerful princes of
the time; success in which would have freed Greece from Illyrian and
Gaulish violence, and placed her once again under the orderly rule
of the sons of Hercules.
From the circumstances of their deaths, also, we may infer some difference
in the quality of their courage. The Gracchi, fighting with their
fellow-citizens, were both slain as they endeavoured to make, their
escape; Agis willingly submitted to his fate, rather than any citizen
should be in danger of his life. Cleomenes, being shamefully and unjustly
treated, made an effort toward revenge, but failing of that, generously
fell by his own hand.
On the other side it must be said, that Agis never did a great action
worthy a commander, being prevented by an untimely death. And as for
those heroic actions of Cleomenes, we may justly compare with them
that of Tiberius, when he was the first who attempted to scale the
walls of Carthage, which was no mean exploit. We may add the peace
which he concluded with the Numantines, by which he saved the lives
of twenty thousand Romans, who otherwise had certainly been cut off.
And Caius, not only at home, but in war in Sardinia, displayed distinguished
courage. So that their early actions were no small argument that afterwards
they might have rivalled the best of the Roman commanders, if they
had not died so young.
In civil life, Agis showed a lack of determination; he let himself
be baffled by the craft of Agesilaus, disappointed the expectations
of the citizens as to the division of the lands, and generally left
all the designs, which he had deliberately formed and publicly announced,
unperformed and unfulfilled through a young man's want of resolution.
Cleomenes, on the other hand, proceeded to effect the revolution with
only too much boldness and violence, and unjustly slew the Ephors
whom he might, by superiority in arms, have gained over to his party,
or else might easily have banished, as he did several others of the
city. For to use the knife, unless in the extremest necessity, is
neither good surgery nor wise policy, but in both cases mere unskillfulness;
and in the latter, unjust as well as unfeeling. Of the Gracchi, neither
the one nor the other was the first to shed the blood of his fellow-citizens;
and Caius is reported to have avoided all manner of resistance, even
when his life was aimed at, showing himself always valiant against
a foreign enemy, but wholly inactive in a sedition. This was the reason
that he went from his own house unarmed, and withdrew when the battle
began, and in all respects showed himself anxious rather not to do
any harm to others, than not to suffer any himself. Even the very
flight of the Gracchi must not be looked upon as an argument of their
mean spirit, but an honourable retreat from endangering of others.
For if they had stayed, they must either have yielded to those who
assailed them, or else have fought them in their own defence.
The greatest crime that can be laid to Tiberius's charge was the deposing
of his fellow tribune, and seeking afterwards a second tribuneship
for himself. As for the death of Antyllius, it is falsely and unjustly
attributed to Caius, for he was slain unknown to him, and much to
his grief. On the contrary, Cleomenes (not to mention the murder of
the Ephors) set all the slaves at liberty, and governed by himself
alone in reality, having a partner only for show; having made choice
of his brother Euclidas, who was one of the same family. He prevailed
upon Archidamus, who was the right heir to the kingdom of the other
line, to venture to return home from Messene; but after his being
slain, by not doing anything to revenge his death, confirmed the suspicion
that he was privy to it himself. Lycurgus, whose example he professed
to imitate, after he had voluntarily settled his kingdom upon Charillus,
his brother's son, fearing lest, if the youth should chance to die
by accident, he might be suspected for it, travelled a long time,
and would not return again to Sparta until Charillus had a son, and
an heir to his kingdom. But we have indeed no other Grecian who is
worthy to be compared with Lycurgus, and it is clear enough that in
the public measures of Cleomenes various acts of considerable audacity
and lawlessness may be found.
Those, therefore, who incline to blame their characters may observe,
that the two Grecians were disturbers even from their youth, lovers
of contest, and aspirants to despotic power; that Tiberius and Caius
by nature had an excessive desire after glory and honours. Beyond
this, their enemies could find nothing to bring against them; but
as soon as the contention began with their adversaries, their heat
and passions would so far prevail beyond their natural temper, that
by them, as by ill winds, they were driven afterwards to all their
rash undertakings. What could be more just and honourable than their
first design, had not the power and the faction of the rich, by endeavouring
to abrogate that law, engaged them both in those fatal quarrels, the
one, for his own preservation, the other, to revenge his brother's
death, who was murdered without any law or justice?
From the account, therefore, which has been given, you yourself may
perceive the difference; which if it were to be pronounced of every
one singly, I should affirm Tiberius to have excelled them all in
virtue; that young Agis had been guilty of the fewest misdeeds; and
that in action and boldness Caius came far short of Cleomenes.
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