On Clemency, Book I, V

My argument seems to have wandered somewhat far from the subject, but, by Hercules, it really is very much to the point.

For if, as we may infer from what has been said, you are the soul of the State, and the State is your body, you will perceive, I imagine, how necessary clemency is; for when you appear to spare another, you are really sparing yourself.

You ought therefore to spare even blameworthy citizens, just as you spare weakly limbs; and when bloodletting becomes necessary, you must hold your hand, lest you should cut deeper than you need.

Clemency therefore, as I said before, naturally befits all mankind, but more especially rulers, because in their case there is more for it to save, and it is displayed upon a greater scale.

Cruelty in a private man can do but very little harm; but the ferocity of princes is war.

Although there is a harmony between all the virtues, and no one is better or more honourable than another, yet some virtues befit some persons better than others.

Magnanimity befits all mortal men, even the humblest of all; for what can be greater or braver than to resist ill fortune?

Yet this virtue of magnanimity occupies a wider room in prosperity, and shows to greater advantage on the judgment seat than on the floor of the court.

On the other hand, clemency renders every house into which it is admitted happy and peaceful; but though it is more rare, it is on that account even more admirable in a palace.

What can be more remarkable than that he whose anger might be indulged without fear of the consequences, whose decision, even though a harsh one, would be approved even by those who were to suffer by it, whom no one can interrupt, and of whom indeed, should he become violently enraged, no one would dare to beg for mercy, should apply a check to himself and use his power in a better and calmer spirit, reflecting: “Anyone may break the law to kill a man, no one but I can break it to save him”?

A great position requires a great mind, for unless the mind raises itself to and even above the level of its station, it will degrade its station and draw it down to the earth; now it is the property of a great mind to be calm and tranquil and to look down upon outrages and insults with contempt.

It is a womanish thing to rage with passion; it is the part of wild beasts, and that, too, not of the most noble ones, to bite and worry the fallen.

Elephants and lions pass by those whom they have struck down; inveteracy is the quality of ignoble animals.

Fierce and implacable rage does not befit a king, because he does not preserve his superiority over the man to whose level he descends by indulging in rage; but if he grants their lives and honours to those who are in jeopardy and who deserve to lose them, he does what can only be done by an absolute ruler; for life may be torn away even from those who are above us in station, but can never be granted save to those who are below us.

To save men’s lives is the privilege of the loftiest station, which never deserves admiration so much as when it is able to act like the gods, by whose kindness good and bad men alike are brought into the world.

Thus a prince, imitating the mind of a god, ought to look with pleasure on some of his countrymen because they are useful and good men, while he ought to allow others to remain to fill up the roll; he ought to be pleased with the existence of the former, and to endure that of the latter.