From Sallust's "War with Jugurtha"
I. Mankind unreasonably complain of their nature, that, being weak and
short-lived, it is governed by chance rather than intellectual power;
for, on the contrary, you will find, upon reflection, that there is
nothing more noble or excellent, and that to nature is wanting rather
human industry than ability or time.
The ruler and director of the life of man is the mind, which, when it
pursues glory in the path of true merit, is sufficiently powerful,
efficient, and worthy of honor, and needs no assistance from
fortune, who can neither bestow integrity, industry, or other good
qualities, nor can take them away. But if the mind, ensnared by
corrupt passions, abandons itself to indolence and sensuality, when
it has indulged for a season in pernicious gratifications, and when
bodily strength, time, and mental vigor, have been wasted in sloth,
the infirmity of nature is accused, and those who are themselves in
fault impute their delinquency to circumstances.
If man, however, had as much regard for worthy objects, as he has
spirit in the pursuit of what is useless, unprofitable, and even
perilous, he would not be governed by circumstances more than he would
govern them, and would attain to a point of greatness, at which,
instead of being mortal, he would be immortalized by glory.
II. As man is composed of mind and body, so, of all our concerns and
pursuits, some partake the nature of the body, and some that of the
mind. Thus beauty of person, eminent wealth, corporeal strength, and
all other things of this kind, speedily pass away; but the illustrious
achievements of the mind are, like the mind itself, immortal.
Of the advantages of person and fortune, as there is a beginning,
there is also an end; they all rise and fall, increase and decay.
But the mind, incorruptible and eternal, the ruler of the human race,
actuates and has power over all things, yet is itself free from
The depravity of those, therefore, is the more surprising, who,
devoted to corporeal gratifications, spend their lives in luxury and
indolence, but suffer the mind, than which nothing is better or
greater in man, to languish in neglect and inactivity; especially when
there are so many and various mental employments by which the highest
renown may be attained.
III. Of these occupations, however, civil and military offices, and
all administration of public affairs, seem to me at the present time,
by no means to be desired; for neither is honor conferred on merit,
nor are those, who have gained power by unlawful means, the more
secure or respected for it. To rule our country or subjects by
force, though we may have the ability, and may correct what is wrong,
is yet an ungrateful undertaking; especially as all changes in the
state lead to bloodshed, exile, and other evils of discord; while
to struggle in ineffectual attempts, and to gain nothing, by wearisome
exertions, but public hatred, is the extreme of madness; unless when a
base and pernicious spirit, perchance, may prompt a man to sacrifice
his honor and liberty to the power of a party.
IV. Among other employments which are pursued by the intellect, the
recording of past events is of pre-eminent utility; but of its merits
I may, I think, be silent, since many have spoken of them, and since,
if I were to praise my own occupation, I might be considered as
presumptuously praising myself. I believe, too, that there will be
some, who, because I have resolved to live unconnected with political
affairs, will apply to my arduous and useful labors the name of
idleness; especially those who think it an important pursuit to court
the people, and gain popularity by entertainments. But if such persons
will consider at what periods I obtained office, what sort of men
were then unable to obtain it, and what description of persons have
subsequently entered the senate, they will think, assuredly, that
I have altered my sentiments rather from prudence than from indolence,
and that more good will arise to the state from my retirement, than
from the busy efforts of others.
I have often heard that Quintus Maximus, Publius Scipio, and
many other illustrious men of our country, were accustomed to observe,
that, when they looked on the images of their ancestors, they felt
their minds irresistibly excited to the pursuit of honor. Not,
certainly, that the wax, or the shape, had any such influence;
but, as they called to mind their forefathers' achievements, such a
flame was kindled in the breasts of those eminent persons, as could
not be extinguished till their own merit had equaled the fame and
glory of their ancestors.
But, in the present state of manners, who is there, on the contrary,
that does not rather emulate his forefathers in riches and extravagance,
than in virtue and labor? Even men of humble birth, who formerly
used to surpass the nobility in merit, pursue power and honor rather
by intrigue and dishonesty, than by honorable qualifications; as if
the praetorship, consulate, and all other offices of the kind, were
noble and dignified in themselves, and not to be estimated according
to the worth of those who fill them.
But, in expressing my concern and regret at the manners of the state,
I have proceeded with too great freedom, and at too great length. I
now return to my subject.
I'm Ancient History