Tyrannus, suspicatus sibi venenum datum ab eo medico quem in arce habebat, torsit eum. ille pernegavit. misit ad medicum civitatis. dixit datum illi ab illo venenum, sed se remedium daturum. dedit poculum, quo exhausto statim periit tyrannus. contendunt de praemio.
absit, sanctissimi iudices, ut hanc vos fidem tyrannicidii detrahatis quam et medicus confirmaverit et tyrannus. confingunt nocendi voluntatem postquam sanandi rationem perdiderunt. poenas meas hinc cogitate in quibus nec ira nec natura cessavit. tolerabilis vis est ubi ad consuetudinem mali causa necessitatis emergit. ultio quidem illa, non quaestio. tyrannus venenum non quaesivit; se vindicavit! praemium consequitur qui ausus est et confirmare meum venenum et suum remedium polliceri? o quam facile † regunt persuasiones illecebrae, verumque in contrarium tranferunt! † virus serpebat interius et artus omnes longa poenarum dilatione languebant. veneficium iam tyrannus agnoverat. quia instantem interitum sentiebat, festinans medicum flagitabat. unde venenum tam celeriter praeparasti? dicis forte, “maior mihi dandi veneni fiebat occasio quae ex ipsius voluntate veniebat.” nativum hoc genus timoris est, ut ex sensu priore ad cuncta cautior sollicitudo procedat. nonne iam apud tyrannum cuncta suspecta praesens formido faciebat? medicum tota arce clamabat quasi ego de tyrannicidio non negassem. in arce me nec animus deseruit nec venenum. (Calpurnius Flaccus, Decl. 13)

The Doctor Who Killed a Tyrant

The Law: There is a reward for slaying a tyrant.

The Situation: Suspecting that he had been given poison by a particular doctor whom he kept on call in his castle, a tyrant tortured the man, but he steadfastly denied it. The tyrant sent for the city’s doctor. He told the tyrant that he had been given poison by the other doctor, but that he would administer an antidote. He gave the tyrant a cupful, and, after draining it, he immediately died. They dispute over the reward.

(Speech of the castle doctor)

August members of this tribunal, God forbid that you should impugn this convincing evidence of the tyrannicide which both a doctor and a tyrant have corroborated. They are fabricating the intent to harm him, after they lost the means of curing him. Consider my punishment at this man’s hands, in the course of which neither his rage nor his inborn bent relented. Violence is endurable when the reason of its inevitability emerges to deal with the continued suffering of pain. That was indeed his revenge, not an interrogation. The tyrant did not interrogate me about the poison; no, he vented his vengeance! Does the man who dared both to corroborate my own act of poisoning and to promise his own antidote now aim at the reward? Oh, how easily + the enticements carry within them the capacity to convince and shift the truth into its opposite! + The poisonous brew kept slowly spreading more deeply during the lengthy delay caused by my punishment. At this stage the tyrant became fully aware of the poison. Since he began to realize that death was imminent, pressed for time, he began to clamor for a doctor. By what means did you prepare a poison so quickly? Perhaps you are saying, “I had a more favorable opportunity for administering the poison since it arose from his own free choice.” Well, there exists this naturally occurring type of <fear>, with the result that a more cautious concern would arise from his previous experience in regard to all the circumstances. Didn’t his immediate sense of alarm now begin to render everything as suspicious in the tyrant’s eyes? The tyrant kept shouting for a doctor throughout the entire castle as if I hadn’t denied anything about my attempt on his life. In that castle neither my courage – nor my poison – failed me. (tr. Lewis A. Sussman)