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 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