|Do not fly Iberia
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Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb
Book III Chapter 54: Against luxury (cont.)[AD 22]
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I [Note 1] am not unaware that people at entertainments and social gatherings condemn all this and demand some restriction. But if a law were to be passed and a penalty imposed, those very same persons will cry out that the State is revolutionised, that ruin is plotted against all our most brilliant fashion, that not a citizen is safe from incrimination. Yet as even bodily disorders of long standing and growth can be checked only by sharp and painful treatment, so the fever of a diseased mind, itself polluted and a pollution to others, can be quenched only by remedies as strong as the passions which inflame it. Of the many laws devised by our ancestors, of the many passed by the Divine Augustus, the first have been forgotten, while his (all the more to our disgrace) have become obsolete through contempt, and this has made luxury bolder than ever. The truth is, that when one craves something not yet forbidden, there is a fear that it may be forbidden; but when people once transgress prohibitions with impunity, there is no longer any fear or any shame. Why then in old times was economy in the ascendant? Because every one practised self-control; because we were all members of one city. Nor even afterwards had we the same temptations, while our dominion was confined to Italy. Victories over the foreigner taught us how to waste the substance of others; victories over ourselves, how to squander our own. What a paltry matter is this of which the aediles are reminding us! What a mere trifle if you look at everything else! No one represents to the Senate that Italy requires supplies from abroad, and that the very existence of the people of Rome is daily at the mercy of uncertain waves and storms. And unless masters, slaves, and estates have the resources of the provinces as their mainstay, our shrubberies, forsooth, and our country houses will have to support us. Such, senators, are the anxieties which the prince has to sustain, and the neglect of them will be utter ruin to the State. The cure for other evils must be sought in our own hearts. Let us be led to amendment, the poor by constraint, the rich by satiety. Or if any of our officials give promise of such energy and strictness as can stem the corruption, I praise the man, and I confess that I am relieved of a portion of my burdens. But if they wish to denounce vice, and when they have gained credit for so doing they arouse resentments and leave them to me, be assured, senators, that I too am by no means eager to incur enmities, and though for the public good I encounter formidable and often unjust enmities, yet I have a right to decline such as are unmeaning and purposeless and will be of use neither to myself nor to you.
Note 1: I = Tiberius