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How to Win an Election – Familiar Advice from Ancient Rome

Cicero Denounces Catiline (1888) – This Cesare Meccari painting depicts M. Cicero as he accuses Catiline of a coup against Rome in 63 BCE. Cicero takes this action after receiving the essay “Commentariolum Petitionis” from his brother, Q. Cicero, in the previous year.


Last year, in light of the impending presidential election, the students in my Latin 3A class translated an essay entitled Commentariolum Petitionis, loosely translated as “A Little Handbook of Electioneering.”  The essay was written by Quintus Tullius Cicero in 65-64 BC for his brother, the more famous Marcus Tullius Cicero, on the eve of his campaign for the consulship of Rome (in 64 B.C.E.).

After translating and discussing the text, the boys reduced their work into an abridged, bulleted translation designed to capture Quintus’ most salient points for you.  What follows is the fruit of their labors.  You may be surprised to learn just how little has changed in 2080 years!  ~ Dr. Davis

  1. For a candidate, a friend is anyone who shows you goodwill.
  2. Win uncommitted voters to your side by doing them favors.
  3. Hope will guarantee votes in an election.  As for those whom you have inspired with hope — a zealous and devoted group — you must make them believe that you will always be there to help them.  
  4. Adapt your message to fit the particular circumstances of each person.
  5. Nothing impresses an average voter more than having a candidate remember him, so work every day to recall names and faces.
  6. It will help your campaign tremendously to have the enthusiasm and energy of young people on your side to canvass voters, gain supporters, and spread news.
  7. Recognize the difference between the useful and useless men in any organization.  It will save you from investing your time and resources with people who will be of little help to you.
  8. Pay special attention to businessmen and wealthy citizens.
  9. Voters will judge you on what sort of crowd you draw.
  10. If you make people believe that you trust them as friends, you will increase the chances that they will reciprocate the trust.
  11. You desperately need to learn the art of flattery  – a disgraceful thing in normal life but essential when you are running for office. A candidate must be a chameleon, adapting to each person he meets, changing his expression and speech as necessary.
  12. Promise everything to anyone, unless some clear obligation prevents you.  But only live up to those promises that benefit you.  
  13. Stick to generalities and tell each constituency what it wants to hear.
  14. As regards the masses, be sure to put on a good show.
  15. Remind them of what scoundrels your opponents are and smear them at every opportunity with the crimes, sexual scandals, and corruption they have brought on themselves.
  16. You don’t have to actually bring your opponents to trial on corruption charges, just let them know you are willing to do so. Fear is more useful than actual litigation.

By Patrick Connor, Ryan Goldstein, Luke Jordan, John Markis, Spenser Nuzzo, David Paine, Arnav Prasad, Ishaan Prasad, Jeffrey Price, Brendan Rocha, Henry Vettel.

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