Nobody, it seems, likes the attack ads that have become so commonplace in modern election campaigns. But there’s a simple reason why such advertising exists: It works, a fact even the Romans knew 2000 years ago.
A casual study of Rome’s election history reveals an astonishing amount of electoral corruption. While many of the charges were based in fact, the following passage from Quintus notes how hinting at corruption could be used to smear a rival candidate–a rough equivalent to the “negative campaigning” of modern elections. His brother’s fame as the preeminent lawyer in Rome would make such attacks even more intimidating:
Et quoniam in hoc vel maxime est vitiosa civitas–quod largitione interposita virtutis ac dignitatis oblivisci solet–in hoc fac ut te bene noris, id est ut intellegas eum esse te qui iudici ac periculi metum maximum competitoribus adferre possis.
(obliviscor, like its kindred opposite memini, takes objects in the genitive. Noris = noveris; the ut clause is colloquial for “(that) you know yourself well". Eum esse te is literally “(that) he is you", but might be better translated “(that) you are the man"; the subjunctive in the follow-on qui clause is by attraction–typical when the relative depends on an antecedent indirect discourse–but can also be understood as a clause of characteristic).
Note that Quintus isn’t just talking about the damage to popularity brought on by corruption chargess. Even for an honest candidate, the added scrutiny can throws a rival off his game:
Fac ut se abs te custodiri atque observari sciant. Cum diligentiam tuam, cum auctoritatem vimque dicendi, tum profecto equestris ordinis erga te studium pertimescent. Atque haec ita te nolo illis proponere ut videare accusationem iam meditari, sed ut hoc terrore facilius hoc ipsum quod agis consequare.
(The clause se…observari is acc. w. inf. after sciant. Take cum…cum…tum as simple coordinating conjuctions ("then…and…and"); equestris ordinis erga te studium should be considered in full as a direct object of the verb; profecto is adverbial. For the final sentence, try the following English order: Atque nolo te proponere ita haec (acta) illis ut…sed (potius) ut…; videare and consequare are alternate forms of videaris and consequaris)
Quintus closes with a sad but true observation when it comes to political office:
Et plane sic contende omnibus nervis ac facultatibus ut adipiscamur quod petimus.
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