FACT CHECK: Did Cicero Issue A ‘Two Thousand Year Old Warning About Trump’?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Editor

A meme shared on Facebook contains a quote allegedly from the ancient Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero about “treason from within.” The image claims he made the remark in 42 B.C.

Verdict: False

Cicero was killed in 43 B.C., one year before he supposedly made this remark. The quote actually originates with the 1965 book “A Pillar of Iron,” where a fictional Cicero says these words.

Fact Check:

The meme calls the quote a “two thousand year old warning” about President Donald Trump, who critics have for years accused of colluding with Russia in the 2016 presidential election.

The full quote, attributed to Cicero, reads as follows: “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. For the traitor appears not a traitor – He speaks in the accents familiar to his victims, and he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation – he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of a city – he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to be feared.”

After a search of Cicero’s works, The Daily Caller News Foundation found no evidence that he ever said or wrote the statement attributed to him in the meme. The meme also dates the quote to 42 B.C. However, Cicero was assassinated by Roman soldiers in 43 B.C., one year before he supposedly said it.

The quote actually originates with the 1965 historical novel “A Pillar of Iron” by Taylor Caldwell. The meme leaves out certain phrases from the quote, failing to put ellipses in spots. The excerpt speaks, for example, of how “an enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and he carries his banners openly against the city.”

The book is based on the life and times of Cicero, but even as Caldwell wrote these words in the voice of the statesman, they were made up nonetheless.

Experts on Cicero told TheDCNF that the language used in the passage is reflective of his rhetoric, particularly around the time of the Catilinarian conspiracy in 63 B.C. The conspiracy was a plot orchestrated by aristocrat Lucius Sergius Catilina to overthrow the Roman Republic that was ultimately foiled by Cicero and others.

Cicero was a renowned orator and contemporary of Julius Caesar. In the year 63 B.C., he served as one of two consuls, akin to the executive heads of the Roman Republic.

The historical Cicero warned that it would be threats domestic, not foreign, that posed the greatest danger to the Republic, saying, “For there is no nation for us to fear,—no king who can make war on the Roman people. All foreign affairs are tranquilized, both by land and sea, by the valor of one man. Domestic war alone remains. The only plots against us are within our own walls,—the danger is within,—the enemy is within. We must war with luxury, with madness, with wickedness. For this war, O citizens, I offer myself as the general. I take on myself the enmity of profligate men.”

During his life, Cicero unsuccessfully tried to stave off the fall of the Roman Republic. His work would later inspire influential philosophers like David Hume, John Locke and Montesquieu.

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Editor
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