Quod si te adducemus ut hoc suscipias, erit, ut mihi persuadeo, materies digna facultate et copia tua. a principio enim coniurationis usque ad reditum nostrum videtur mihi modicum quoddam corpus confici posse, in quo et illa poteris uti civilium commutationum scientia vel in explicandis causis rerum novarum vel in remediis incommodorum, cum et reprehendes ea, quae vituperanda duces, et, quae placebunt, exponendis rationibus comprobabis, et, si liberius, ut consuesti, agendum putabis, multorum in nos perfidiam, insidias, proditionem notabis. multam etiam casus nostri varietatem tibi in scribendo suppeditabunt plenam cuiusdam voluptatis, quae vehementer animos hominum in legendo tuo scripto retinere possit. nihil est enim aptius ad delectationem lectoris quam temporum varietates fortunaeque vicissitudines: quae etsi nobis optabiles in experiendo non fuerunt, in legendo tamen erunt iucundae, habet enim praeteriti doloris secura recordatio delectationem; ceteris vero nulla perfunctis propria molestia, casus autem alienos sine ullo dolore intuentibus etiam ipsa misericordia est iucunda. quem enim nostrum ille moriens apud Mantineam Epaminondas non cum quadam miseratione delectat? qui tum denique sibi evelli iubet spiculum, posteaquam ei percontanti dictum est clipeum esse salvum, ut etiam in vulneris dolore aequo animo cum laude moreretur. cuius studium in legendo non erectum Themistocli fuga interituque retinetur? etenim ordo ipse annalium mediocriter nos retinet quasi enumeratione fastorum: at viri saepe excellentis ancipites variique casus habent admirationem exspectationem, laetitiam molestiam, spem timorem; si vero exitu notabili concluduntur, expletur animus iucundissima lectionis voluptate. quo mihi acciderit optatius, si in hac sententia fueris, ut a continentibus tuis scriptis, in quibus perpetuam rerum gestarum historiam complecteris, secernas hanc quasi fabulam rerum eventorumque nostrorum; habet enim varios actus multasque mutationes et consiliorum et temporum. ac non vereor, ne assentatiuncula quadam aucupari tuam gratiam videar, cum hoc demonstrem, me a te potissimum ornari celebrarique velle; neque enim tu is es, qui, qui sis, nescias et qui non eos magis, qui te non admirentur, invidos quam eos, qui laudent, assentatores arbitrere, neque autem ego sum ita demens, ut me sempiternae gloriae per eum commendari velim, qui non ipse quoque in me commendando propriam ingenii gloriam consequatur. neque enim Alexander ille gratiae causa ab Apelle potissimum pingi et a Lysippo fingi volebat, sed quod illorum artem cum ipsis, tum etiam sibi gloriae fore putabat. atque illi artifices corporis simulacra ignotis nota faciebant, quae vel si nulla sint, nihilo sint tamen obscuriores clari viri. nec minus est Spartiates Agesilaus mihi perhibendus, qui neque pictam neque fictam imaginem suam passus est esse, quam qui in eo genere laborarunt; unus enim Xenophontis libellus in eo rege laudando facile omnes imagines omnium statuasque superavit.
(Cicero, Ep. ad Fam. 22(=5.12).4-7)
If I prevail upon you to undertake the task, I persuade myself that the material will be worthy of your ready and skilful pen. I fancy a work of moderate length could be made up, from the beginning of the plot down to my return from exile. In it you will also be able to make use of your special knowledge of political changes, in explaining the origins of the revolutionary movement and suggesting remedies for things awry. You will blame what you judge deserving of reproof and give reasons for commending what you approve; and if, according to your usual practice, you think proper to deal pretty freely, you will hold up to censure the perfidy, artifice, and betrayal of which many were guilty towards me. Moreover, my experiences will give plenty of variety to your narrative, full of a certain kind of delectation to enthrall the minds of those who read, when you are the writer. Nothing tends more to the reader’s enjoyment than varieties of circumstance and vicissitudes of fortune. For myself, though far from desirable in the living, they will be pleasant in the reading; for there is something agreeable in the secure recollection of bygone unhappiness. For others, who went through no personal distress and painlessly survey misfortunes not their own, even the emotion of pity is enjoyable. Which of us is not affected pleasurably, along with a sentiment of compassion, at the story of the dying Epaminondas on the field of Mantinea, ordering the javelin to be plucked from his body only after he had been told in answer to his question that his shield was safe, so that even in the agony of his wound he could meet an honourable death with mind at ease? Whose sympathies are not aroused and held as he reads of Themistocles’ flight and death? The actual chronological record of events exercises no very powerful fascination upon us; it is like the recital of an almanac. But in the doubtful and various fortunes of an outstanding individual we often find surprise and suspense, joy and distress, hope and fear; and if they are rounded off by a notable conclusion, our minds as we read are filled with the liveliest gratification. So I shall be especially delighted if you find it best to set my story apart from the main stream of your work, in which you embrace events in their historical sequence—this drama, one may call it, of what I did and experienced; for it contains various ‘acts,’ and many changes of plan and circumstance. Nor am I apprehensive of appearing to angle for your favour with the bait of a little flattery when I declare that you of all others are the writer by whom I desire my praises to be sung. After all, you are not ignorant of your own worth; a man like you knows better than to see sycophancy in admiration rather than jealousy in its absence. Nor am I myself so foolish as to ask any author to immortalize my name in glory but one who in so doing will gain glory for his own genius. Alexander the Great did not ask Apelles to paint his portrait and Lysippus to sculpt his statue in order to curry favour with these artists, but because he believed the work would redound to his own fame as well as theirs. Those artists, however, only made a physical likeness known to people unacquainted with the original; and even in default of such memorials famous men would lose none of their celebrity. Agesilaus of Sparta, who would not allow representations of himself in paintings or sculpture, is no less pertinent to my case (?) than those who took pains over the matter. Xenophon’s own little volume in eulogy of that king has achieved far more than all the portraits and statues under the sun. (tr. David Roy Shackleton-Bailey)