“Successful And Fortunate Crime Is Called Virtue” And Other Parallels In Literature


Seneca the Younger

While reading Edward Walker’s Historical Discourses (1705), the following sentence he quoted got my attention:

Prosperum ac felix scelus, virtus vocatur.

Walker neglected to provide the source of the quote. However, I am pretty sure that he was referring to the passage from the tragedy Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules) written by Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC-AD 65) in the first century:

rursus prosperum ac felix scelus
virtus vocatur; sontibus parent boni,
ius est in armis, opprimit leges timor.

This can be translated to:

Once again prosperous and successful crime goes by the name of virtue; good men obey the bad, might is right and fear oppresses law.*

This sentiment has several parallels in the literature. Here, I’ll give a couple of examples:



Juvenal (c. 55–c. 138), in his Satires (Satire XIII), noted how some people who were caught doing crimes are punished while those who got away with it are revered:

Ille crucem pretium sceleris tulit, hic diadema.

This translates to:

The same species of wickedness that has brought one man to the gallows, has exalted another to a throne.†


John Harrington

John Harington (1560–1612) gave the following pithy and witty epigram, cited in Letters and Epigrams of Sir John Harrington (1930 edition):

Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.

* Seneca in Ten Volumes, With an English Translation, Vol. 8, 1979
A New and Literal Translation of Juvenal and Persius, Vol. 2, 1829

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My name Edmark M. Law. I work as a freelance writer, mainly writing about science and mathematics. I am an ardent hobbyist. I like to read, solve puzzles, play chess, make origami and play basketball. In addition, I dabble in magic, particularly card magic and other sleight-of-hand type magic. I live in Hong Kong. You can find me on Twitter` and Facebook. My email is edmarklaw@learnfunfacts.com

10 thoughts on ““Successful And Fortunate Crime Is Called Virtue” And Other Parallels In Literature

  1. Jean Rostand, “Thoughts of a Biologist” (1939) wrote “Kill one man, and you are a murderer. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill them all, and you are a god. ”

    Beilby Porteus (1759):

    To sate the lust of power; more horrid still,
    The foulest stain and scandal of our nature
    Became its boast — One Murder made a Villain,
    Millions a Hero. — Princes were privileg’d
    To kill, and numbers sanctified the crime.
    Ah! why will Kings forget that they are Men?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m old enough to remember John Stormer’s book titled None Dare Call It Treason, which, if I recall, was drawnn into the the Goldwater campaign (or perhaps written to support it) back in the 1960s. I’d forgotten about it until you quoted the line here.

    Liked by 1 person

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