“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

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

    1. Yup. The Declaration of Independence would have been treason if the signers hadn’t won the war. But since their act of war against their king prospered, none dared call it treason, and therefore it wasn’t treason.


  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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