Text #9679

Editorial comment by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

So, on November 8, Cicero again summoned an emergency session of the senate. He ordered the meeting to be held in the Temple of Jupiter. When Caesar arrived, he noted that the place was crawling with armed men. Catilina arrived and took his place on the bench and other senators moved away from him. Cicero had a problem. He had to explain why the conspiracy to destroy all of Rome and the whole world hadn’t materialized. He further had to get himself out of the problem of Catiline being in custody and there being a legal indictment that would mean a trial with witnesses and evidence. In the following oration, you will see how he goes on and on about the dangerous Catiline while, at the same time urging him, commanding him, badgering him to “begone”. He explains the failure of the conspiracy to his own diligence. He, alone, is all that stands between Rome and destruction because he, alone, is the one who knows everything, has all the spies, has handled so many threats in silence, and he has had to wage this war alone because nobody believes him! What is extremely bizarre is that he declares his purpose to Catiline in this oration: that he should leave the city, assemble with his co-conspirators, so that Cicero can send a legion to destroy them all together. He also brings up the reason he did not immediately execute Catiline: he knew that there might very well be a popular uprising against him if he did! But, of course, he, Cicero, is so noble that he is willing to brave even that for the sake of his beloved Rome! What seems obvious is that Cicero really did fear executing Catiline. He also hoped that he would drive Catiline into a real, reactionary, conspiracy as is obvious from this harangue, this ad hominen attack, this rant full of lies, suggestive obfuscations, and paranoid delusions. I’m quoting in extenso, though I’ve cut out some repetitious circumlocutory rhetorical bridges.

To get things moving on the right tone, Cicero shouted out: “How long will you abuse our patience, Catilina?” Pointing dramatically at the proud, but nearly destroyed man he declaimed:

How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end of that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now? Do not the night guards placed on the Palatine Hill – do not the watches posted throughout the city—does not the alarm of the people, and the union of all good men – does not the precaution taken of assembling the senate in this most defensible place – do not the looks and countenances of this venerable body here present, have any effect upon you? Do you not feel that your plans are detected? Do you not see that your conspiracy is already arrested and rendered powerless by the knowledge which every one here possesses of it? What is there that you did last night, what the night before – where is it that you were – who was there that you summoned to meet you – what design was there which was adopted by you, with which you think that any one of us is unacquainted?

The senate is aware of these things; the consul sees them; and yet this man lives. Lives! aye, he comes even into the senate. He takes a part in the public deliberations; he is watching and marking down and checking off for slaughter every individual among us.…

You ought, O Catiline, long ago to have been led to execution by command of the consul. That destruction which you have been long plotting against us ought to have already fallen on your own head.

What? Did not that most illustrious man, Publius Scipio, the Pontifex Maximus, in his capacity of a private citizen, put to death Tiberius Gracchus, tho but slightly undermining the constitution? And shall we, who are the consuls, tolerate Catiline, openly desirous to destroy the whole world with fire and slaughter?… For we have a resolution of the senate, a formidable and authoritative decree [SCU] against you, O Catiline; the wisdom of the republic is not at fault, nor the dignity of this senatorial body. We, we alone—I say it openly,—we, the consuls, are wanting in our duty.

The senate once passed a decree that Lucius Opimius, the consul, should take care that the republic suffered no injury. Not one night elapsed. There was put to death, on some mere suspicion of disaffection, Caius Gracchus, a man whose family had borne the most unblemished reputation for many generations. There was slain Marcus Fulvius, a man of consular rank, and all his children. By a like decree of the senate the safety of the republic was entrusted to Caius Marius and Lucius Valerius, the consuls. Did not the vengeance of the republic, did not execution overtake Lucius Saturninus, a tribune of the people, and Caius Servilius, the pretor, without the delay of one single day? But we, for these twenty days, have been allowing the edge of the senate’s authority to grow blunt, as it were. For we are in possession of a similar decree of the senate, but we keep it locked up in its parchment—buried, I may say, in the sheath; and according to this decree you ought, O Catiline, to be put to death this instant. …

“With passionate hyperbole, Cicero was giving warning that, armed with the ultimate decree, he would execute without trial men he adjudged subversive; and like subversive-hunters of every age, he was transforming a possible minor police action into a crusade in defense of society against universal cataclysm! “You should be executed,” said Cicero, rendering explicit his intention to repeat the lynchings employed against the Gracchi and Saturninus, “when no one so depraved, so abandoned, so like yourself, can be found who does not admit that this was done justly.” (Cicero was warning that he would equate “sympathizers” with “subversives”.) “The eyes and ears of many shall watch you,” he admonished Catilina, “although you may not know it, as they have done heretofore.” Cicero tells us about his network of spies and agents and it seems certain that he was watching other senators, too. “In this most sacred and dignified council of the whole world,” he noted, “are men who plan for the destruction of all of us, who plan for the destruction of this city and even the destruction of the whole world.” Having induced fear and suspicion into the Senate, Cicero now presented his evidence of the conspiracy to “destroy the whole world”. (Kahn)

What was this earth-shattering evidence?

A camp is pitched in Italy, at the entrance of Etruria, in hostility to the republic; the number of the enemy increases every day; and yet the general of that camp, the leader of those enemies, we see within the walls—aye, and even in the senate—planning every day some internal injury to the republic. If, O Catiline, I should now order you to be arrested, to be put to death, I should, I suppose, have to fear lest all good men should say that I had acted tardily, rather than that any one should affirm that I acted cruelly. But yet this, which ought to have been done long since, I have good reason for not doing as yet; I will put you to death, then, when there shall be not one person possible to be found so wicked, so abandoned, so like yourself, as not to allow that it has been rightly done. As long as one person exists who can dare to defend you, you shall live; but you shall live as you do now, surrounded by my many and trusty guards, so that you shall not be able to stir one finger against the republic; many eyes and ears shall still observe and watch you, as they have hitherto done, tho you shall not perceive them. …

Do you recollect that on the 21st of October I said in the senate that on a certain day, which was to be the 27th of October, C. Manlius, the satellite and servant of your audacity, would be in arms? Was I mistaken, Catiline, not only in so important, so atrocious, so incredible a fact, but, what is much more remarkable, in the very day? I said also in the senate that you had fixed the massacre of the nobles for the 28th of October when many chief men of the senate had left Rome, not so much for the sake of saving themselves as of checking your designs. Can you deny that on that very day you were so hemmed in by my guards and my vigilance that you were unable to stir one finger against the republic….

Listen while I speak of the night before. You shall now see that I watch far more actively for the safety than you do for the destruction of the republic. I say that you came the night before (I will say nothing obscurely) into the Scythedealers’ Street, to the house of Marcus Lecca; that many of your accomplices in the same insanity and wickedness came there, too. Do you dare to deny it? Why are you silent? I will prove it if you do deny it; for I see here in the senate some men who were there with you. …

There are here,—here in our body, gentlemen, in this the most holy and dignified assembly of the whole world, men who meditate my death, and the death of all of us, and the destruction of this city, and of the whole world. I, the consul, see them; I ask them their opinion about the republic, and I do not yet attack, even by words, those who ought to be put to death by the sword. You were, then, O Catiline, at Lecca’s that night; you divided Italy into sections; you settled where every one was to go; you fixed whom you were to leave at Rome, whom you were to take with you; you portioned out the divisions of the city for conflagration; you undertook that you yourself would at once leave the city, and said that there was then only this to delay you,—that I was still alive. Two Roman knights were found to deliver you from this anxiety, and to promise that very night, before daybreak, to slay me in my bed. All this I knew almost before your meeting had broken up. I strengthened and fortified my house with a stronger guard; I refused admittance, when they came, to those whom you sent in the morning to salute me, and of whom I had foretold to many eminent men that they would come to me at that time….

This was the action for which the consul had been preparing the Senate with his warnings of an impending world catastrophe?! He called a special meeting for this? A hokey story about a meeting in a dark room and disappearing assassins at his front door in broad daylight that just somehow got away?

Nobody – not even Caesar – troubled to ask Cicero why he didn’t arrest the wretches if they had showed up at his door. Why didn’t he produce them as witnesses? Why didn’t he produce his confidential informant who told him about this meeting? Did he know about the meeting before, or after the arrival of the assassins? I would suggest that they were the most pusillanimous assassins ever if the maid could divert them from their mission.

As, then, this is the case, O Catiline, continue as you have begun. Leave the city at least; the gates are open; depart. That Manlian camp of yours has been waiting too long for you as its general. And lead forth with you all your friends, or at least as many as you can; purge the city of your presence; you will deliver me from a great fear, when there is a wall between you and me. Among us you can dwell no longer—I will not bear it, I will not permit it, I will not tolerate it….

Wherefore, since I do not yet venture to do that which is the best thing, and which belongs to my office and to the discipline of our ancestors, I will do that which is more merciful if we regard its rigor, and more expedient for the State. For if I order you to be put to death, the rest of the conspirators will still remain in the republic; if, as I have long been exhorting you, you depart, your companions, those worthless dregs of the republic, will be drawn off from the city, too. What is the matter, Catiline? Do you hesitate to do that when I order you which you were already doing of your own accord? The consul orders an enemy to depart from the city. Do you ask me, Are you to go into banishment? I do not order it; but, if you consult me, I advise it….

How often have you endeavored to slay me, both as consul-elect and as actual consul? How many shots of yours, so aimed that they seemed impossible to be escaped, have I avoided by some slight stooping aside, and some dodging, as it were, of my body? You attempt nothing, you execute nothing, you devise nothing that can be kept hid from me at the proper time; and yet you do not cease to attempt and to contrive. …

There has now for many years been no crime committed but by you; no atrocity has taken place without you; you alone unpunished and unquestioned have murdered the citizens, have harassed and plundered the allies; you alone have had power not only to neglect all laws and investigations, but to overthrow and break through them. Your former actions, tho they ought not to have been borne, yet I did bear as well as I could; but now that I should be wholly occupied with fear of you alone, that at every sound I should dread Catiline, that no design should seem possible to be entertained against me which does not proceed from your wickedness, this is no longer endurable. Depart, then, and deliver me from this fear—that, if it be a just one, I may not be destroyed; if an imaginary one, that at least I may at last cease to fear….

What shall I say of your having given yourself into custody? what of your having said, for the sake of avoiding suspicion, that you were willing to dwell in the house of Marcus Lepidus? … but how far can we think that man ought to be from bonds and imprisonment who has already judged himself deserving of being given into custody…

Catilina demanded to know explicitly what Cicero had in mind. “Is it to be exile?” Cicero was silent. Catilina insisted that the Senate take a stand one way or the other. “Refer the matter to the Senate, and if this body votes that I should go into exile, I will obey.”

But Cicero would not be entrapped by Catilina’s inconvenient demand that he implicate himself. Cicero always had more cunning than principle, and his cunning always was that of a precocious six-year-old and ended in ultimate disaster for himself. This time was no different. Remember back at the trial of Rabirius when Cicero was booed for expressing approval of the murder of Saturninus, how he continued to talk to the silent people as though they were in agreement with him? Well, he used a variation on that trick again with Catilina. Instead of calling for a vote on Catilina’s request, he called for a vote on the exiling of the revered elder statesman, Catulus. At an uproar of indignation, Cicero proclaimed in exultation: “In your case, Catilina, when they say nothing, they express their approval; their acquiescence is a decree.” And then he continued on with his ad hominem attacks on the nearly destroyed object of his persecution.

Make a motion, say you, to the senate (for that is what you demand), and if this body votes that you ought to go into banishment, you say that you will obey. I will not make such a motion—it is contrary to my principles, and yet I will let you see what these men think of you. Be gone from the city, O Catiline; deliver the republic from fear; depart into banishment, if that is the word you are waiting for. What now, O Catiline? Do you not perceive, do you not see the silence of these men; they permit it, they say nothing; why wait you for the authority of their words when you see their wishes in their silence?…

I see, if alarmed at my words you bring your mind to go into banishment, what a storm of unpopularity hangs over me, if not at present, while the memory of your wickedness is fresh, at all events hereafter. But it is worth while to incur that, as long as that is but a private misfortune of my own, and is unconnected with the dangers of the republic…

Wherefore, as I have said before, go forth, and if you wish to make me, your enemy as you call me, unpopular, go straight into banishment. I shall scarcely be able to endure all that will be said if you do so; I shall scarcely be able to support my load of unpopularity if you do go into banishment at the command of the consul; but if you wish to serve my credit and reputation, go forth with your ill-omened band of profligates; betake yourself to Manlius, rouse up the abandoned citizens, separate yourself from the good ones, wage war against your country, exult in your impious banditti, so that you may not seem to have been driven out by me and gone to strangers, but to have gone invited to your own friends….

All the toils you have gone through have always pointed to this sort of life; your lying on the ground not merely to lie in wait to gratify your unclean desires, but even to accomplish crimes; your vigilance, not only when plotting against the sleep of husbands, but also against the goods of your murdered victims, have all been preparations for this. Now you have an opportunity of displaying your splendid endurance of hunger, of cold, of want of everything; by which in a short time you will find yourself worn out. All this I effected when I procured your rejection from the consulship, that you should be reduced to make attempts on your country as an exile, instead of being able to distress it as consul, and that that which had been wickedly undertaken by you should be called piracy rather than war….

In truth, if my country, which is far dearer to me than my life—if all Italy—if the whole republic were to address me, “Marcus Tullius, what are you doing? will you permit that man to depart whom you have ascertained to be an enemy? whom you see ready to become the general of the war? whom you know to be expected in the camp of the enemy as their chief, the author of all this wickedness, the head of the conspiracy, the instigator of the slaves and abandoned citizens, so that he shall seem not driven out of the city by you, but let loose by you against the city? Will you not order him to be thrown into prison, to be hurried off to execution, to be put to death with the most prompt severity? What hinders you? Is it the customs of our ancestors? But even private men have often in this republic slain mischievous citizens. Is it the laws which have been passed about the punishment of Roman citizens? But in this city those who have rebelled against the republic have never had the rights of citizens. Do you fear odium with posterity? You are showing fine gratitude to the Roman people which has raised you, a man known only by your own actions, of no ancestral renown, through all the degrees of honor at so early an age to the very highest office, if from fear of unpopularity or of any danger you neglect the safety of your fellow citizens. But if you have a fear of unpopularity, is that arising from the imputation of vigor and boldness, or that arising from that of inactivity and indecision most to be feared? When Italy is laid waste by war, when cities are attacked and houses in flames, do you not think that you will be then consumed by a perfect conflagration of hatred?”….

.I will make this short answer: If, gentlemen, I thought it best that Catiline should be punished with death, I would not have given the space of one hour to this gladiator to live in. If, forsooth, those excellent men and most illustrious cities not only did not pollute themselves, but even glorified themselves by the blood of Saturninus, and the Gracchi, and Flaccus, and many others of old time, surely I had no cause to fear lest for slaying this parricidal murderer of the citizens any unpopularity should accrue to me with posterity. And if it did threaten me to ever so great a degree, yet I have always been of the disposition to think unpopularity earned by virtue and glory not unpopularity…

Next Cicero repeats his warnings about guilt by association. Among the enemies of the republic were those who had “fostered the hopes of Catilina by mild measures and… strengthened the growing conspiracy by not believing in its existence.” (!) In other words, anyone who doubted Cicero now, anyone who insisted on the civil rights of the accused, was also to be suspected of treason!

Tho there are some men in this body who either do not see what threatens, or dissemble what they do see; who have fed the hope of Catiline by mild sentiments, and have strengthened the rising conspiracy by not believing it; influenced by whose authority many, and they not wicked, but only ignorant, if I punished him would say that I had acted cruelly and tyrannically. But I know that if he arrives at the camp of Manlius to which he is going, there will be no one so stupid as not to see that there has been a conspiracy, no one so hardened as not to confess it. But if this man alone were put to death, I know that this disease of the republic would be only checked for a while, not eradicated forever. But if he banishes himself, and takes with him all his friends, and collects at one point all the ruined men from every quarter, then not only will this full-grown plague of the republic be extinguished and eradicated, but also the root and seed of all future evils….

We have now for a long time, gentlemen, lived among these dangers and machinations of conspiracy; but somehow or other, the ripeness of all wickedness, and of this long-standing madness and audacity, has come to a head at the time of my consulship. But if this man alone is removed from this piratical crew, we may appear, perhaps, for a short time relieved from fear and anxiety, but the danger will settle down and lie hid in the veins and bowels of the republic. As it often happens that men afflicted with a severe disease, when they are tortured with heat and fever, if they drink cold water, seem at first to be relieved, but afterward suffer more and more severely; so this disease which is in the republic, if relieved by the punishment of this man, will only get worse and worse, as the rest will be still alive….

Wherefore, O conscript fathers, let the worthless be gone,—let them separate themselves from the good,—let them collect in one place,—let them, as I have often said before, be separated from us by a wall; let them cease to plot against the consul in his own house,—to surround the tribunal of the city pretor,—to besiege the senate-house with swords,—to prepare brands and torches to burn the city; let it, in short, be written on the brow of every citizen, what his sentiments are about the republic. I promise you, this, O conscript fathers, that there shall be so much diligence in us the consuls, so much authority in you, so much virtue in the Roman knights, so much unanimity in all good men that you shall see everything made plain and manifest by the departure of Catiline,—everything checked and punished….

With these omens, O Catiline, be gone to your impious and nefarious war, to the great safety of the republic, to your own misfortune and injury, and to the destruction of those who have joined themselves to you in every wickedness and atrocity. …

Rather a lame ending to the thunderous expostulations he began with, eh? He really needed him to leave because voluntary withdrawal into exile would have suggested his guilt.

One of the big questions that nobody was asking was why in the world anybody would want to assassinate Cicero? Well, okay, I realize that the reader is probably wishing that somebody would shut Cicero’s filthy mouth but that doesn’t answer the current question: why would anyone want to assassinate an almost ex-consul who had basically blown his chance to do anything worthwhile for humanity much less, Rome?

Nobody, obviously. But that very same useless eater Cicero might definitely want to try to convince people that he was the only thing that stood between them and death and destruction, that he was the greatest thing since flush toilets. As I noted above, he had to convince the senate and everyone else and that meant he had to create some kind of evidence. He needed time. And he most definitely needed for Catiline to leave under orders of the senate (more or less) and get him, Cicero, out of that pickle where a court case might be in the offing. Remember, under indictment, Catilina could not be outlawed and had recourse to demanding evidence and witnesses. Cicero had to drive him to leave the protection of the legal case.

I don’t know, I just have a hard time getting into Cicero’s head. He was so childish and petty and yet he had an incredibly cunning computing machine at his disposal, and he used his principle-less brain always and ever in seeking attention and glory for himself. It’s like seeing a very bratty, very imaginative, six-year old playing with a loaded gun. One gets the impression that Caesar was quite conscious of this and was determined to stay as much out of the firing range as possible.


When Caesar had been a child, his own father had been compelled to vote with all the other senators for the outlawing of Marius. For some reason that we do not know, Caesar sat in silence throughout this absurd farce. Cicero, the “new man”, the consul, confident beyond anything (which suggests that there were other elements at work here), intimidated and threatened with guilt by association, the entire senate while he badgered and goaded a haughty patrician sensitive of his dignity and in a desperate situation, to rebellion. Catilina roared: “Since I am brought to bay by my enemies and driven desperate, I will put out my fire by general devastation.”

Caesar had been silent throughout. He had asked no questions that were certainly begging to be asked. He had raised no objections and had even submitted to insinuations by Cicero that he might be involved in Catilina’s plot. The complete subjugation of the entire senate by a “new man”, and this new man’s status even defended against Catilina who had appealed to his fellow senators as one aristocrat to others, strikes me as surpassingly strange. Both sides, the optimates of the old guard and the populares of the reformers, sat silent while Cicero ran roughshod over their constitution.

The only thing I see that offers a possible clue as to how he did this and got away with it are these words:

The eyes and ears of many shall watch you, although you may not know it, as they have done heretofore…

Did Cicero have a spy network? Had he been collecting up all the dirty laundry of the senators and prying into their closets to find skeletons? What came down in that meeting with Crassus and the two mystery nobles, one of whom was probably Caesar? Why, in the name of all good sense, did everybody involved in this whole ridiculous episode, just lay down like rugs and let Cicero walk all over them?

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