Cicero, the Roman Statesman, Called for a Balanced Budget …

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Cicero Called for Balancing the Budget … 2000 years ago

Cicero, the Roman statesman (106BC-43BC) is said to have said the following (you can check here)*:

“The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.” — Cicero , 55 BC


When I googled, I found that this exact sentence has been referenced in over 100 sites/blogs. Clearly, it has hit a chord. While the first lines of Cicero’s quote are very a propos, it is the last line to which I fully subscribe and takes on importance in much of the mature Western World.

I wondered this morning what the original text was, but came up empty on the ‘net. Not much way I am going to remember my O’Level Latin how to cobble together a genuine translation. A friendly online translation service (intertran — the only one I could find for Latin) comes up with the following translation of the English back into Latin:

“budget should exsisto pondera. Publicus debitum should redeo. superbia of persona should exsisto tempero, quod suffragium ut extrarius terra should exsisto velum lest Rome decoctum.”

Don’t you love it. Not too fond of the conditional? I am inclined to use “Fiscus” for the noun budget (my Langenscheidt pocket dictionary didn’t have it). Fiscus postulo exsistere ponderum? Surely, some Latin scholar will jump in and set me right?

Meanwhile, of all the other Cicero quotes I have read, I retained this one: “As an old proverb says ‘Like readily consorts with like.'” I enjoyed this quote, particularly, because I do believe it is true and also because it reminds us of the oral tradition and the importance of proverbs in our culture(s).

And if you feel like swotting up on some more Latin, try this page of useful Latin phrases (except the last section which is a little fantasy).

*Full disclosure: I got this quote via my friend Nicole this morning. Thanks.

AMENDED June 25, 2009

Courtesy of my son’s Latin teacher (thank you Mr S.), I received the following information:

“The only work of Cicero’s which I know to have been published in 55 BC is the De Oratore (usually known as ‘The Ideal Orator’ in English).  But the content sounds more like something from the De Re Publica (‘On The State’), but that was published in 51 BC and is thought to have been begun in 54 BC.  Here is a Latin translation of it, but I’m sure Cicero would have put it a lot more elegantly (I didn’t know what to put for ‘budget’ either, and my dictionary gave ‘fiscus’ for ‘treasury’).



Libranda est pecunia, replendus fiscus, deminuendum aes alienum, continenda et temporanda praefectorum superbia;  necnon auxilium quod aliis patriis detur coartandum est ne Roma perdita fiat.  Necesse est cives ipsos iterum laborare;  e publico subsidio non pendendum est.


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7 thoughts on “Cicero, the Roman Statesman, Called for a Balanced Budget …

  1. Ah, Cicero!

    One of my favorite Cicero quotes from all those years of latin class:

    “A friend, as it were, is a second self.”

    Have a good one! After this election, I hope I’ll have more time for reading–books and blogs!

  2. Thanks Bjorn for your reference. Assuming Professor Collins is right, the quantity of people who have been led to believe that the quote is authentic is astounding. I will check with a classics scholar next time!

  3. It is interesting to me that you are concerned with this subject. Your tag line indicates that you hold an interest in sports. How odd that one who finds sports of value should worry about the fall of the United States. Bread and Circuses? Nes Pa?

    And so I leave you with this comment.

    One of the most destructive forces in modern society is Sports.

    The distraction of the uneducated masses, especially for the males, occurs through the promotion of sports to the preeminent form of endeavor. The youth or young adult does not have the mental capacity to overcome the distractive force of sports. He desires attention and acceptance. Sports as a means to gain acceptance causes him to be distracted from his main function, to learn knowledge of real worth. Instead, he memorizes knowledge related to sports, at the cost of learning proper knowledge.

    This then transfers into a social momentum that carries him into adulthood. As a young adult, more often than not, he fails to continue his education (only 23% of the world’s population obtains a B.A.). The only thing left for him is a job that he most probably does not enjoy. To reduce his suffering he continues along the path most known to him, the one that led him to this point in the first place, sports. He, as an adult, believes that sports provide him happiness. He continues to distract himself with the illusionary goodness while ignoring the thing that he has left, family.

    Moreover, in his uneducated state, he cannot understand the society and its complexities. The world turns and grinds him into dust. Politics preys upon these individuals seeking only to trick them. Also, the free hand that the political powers, who are now owned by special interests i.e. businesses, have allows them to use these uneducated men as pawns in the games of power they play. Bread and Circuses is the catch word.

    A host of problems arise as a direct result of Sports…Death and madness await those who participate. They, the puppets have been skillfully manipulated into selling out themselves and society for 30 pieces of silver and a bucket of chicken…or a tail gate party.

    It is too late to overcome the power and deathgrip sports has upon the world. Now we must all sit back and watch the chaos unfold. Has it yet? Is the world a good place?

    Murder on the rise
    War on the rise
    Famine on the rise
    Ignorance on the rise
    Hate on the rise
    Selfishness on the rise

    Death is the toll people must pay when the piper plays this merry tune.

    Doubt me? Look at the world and you, if you are honest, will agree also that Sports are evil.

    I wrote this my self. Professor Pajak at the University of Texas at Arlington.

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