Cicero : In Catilinam, 4

This speech was delivered against L. Sergius Catilina, in December 63 B.C.

The translation is by H.E.D. Blakiston (1894). Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each section. Click on ** to go to the translator's footnotes.

    ← Previous speech (In Catilinam 3)

[1.] L   [1] I perceive, conscript fathers, that the faces and the eyes of all present are turned towards me : I perceive that you are anxious not only as to the danger to yourselves and the country, but even, supposing that danger to be averted, as to the personal danger to me. Pleasant indeed to me in the midst of misfortunes, and gratifying in the midst of sorrow, is this exhibition of your good-will ; but, by the love of heaven, cast that good-will aside, forget my safety, and think only of yourselves and your children. I, having accepted the consulship, as I did, with the implied condition of bearing to the end all indignities, all forms of grief and anguish, will bear all not only bravely but even cheerfully, if only my labours may win honour and safety for you and for the people of Rome. [2] Yes, I am the consul, conscript fathers, for whom neither the Forum, in which all justice is centred, nor the Campus, which is hallowed by the auspices of the consular elections, nor the Senate-house, which is the asylum of the world, nor the home, which is the universal sanctuary, nor the bed which is dedicated to rest, no, nor even this honoured seat of office, has ever been free from peril of death and from secret treason. I have held my peace as to much, I have patiently endured much, I have conceded much, I have remedied much with a certain amount of suffering to myself, though the reason for alarm was yours. At the present moment, if it was the will of heaven that the crowning work of my consulship should be the preservation of you and the Roman people from a most cruel massacre, of your wives and children and the Vestal Virgins from a most grievous persecution, of the temples and shrines of the gods and this most fair fatherland of us all from the most hideous flames, of the whole of Italy from war and devastation, let me even now confront whatever terrors fortune has in store for me alone. Yes, if P. Lentulus was misled by soothsayers to imagine that the name he bears was ordained by fate to effect the ruin of the state, why am I not to rejoice that my consulship has proved to be, as it were, ordained by fate to preserve the safety of the Roman people? [2.] L   [3] Therefore, conscript fathers, take thought for yourselves, provide for your fatherland, preserve yourselves, your wives, your children, and your properties, defend the name and existence of the Roman people : cease to consider me or to think of my interests. For in the first place I am bound to hope that all the guardian deities of this city will reward me in proportion to my merits : secondly, even if anything happens to me, I shall die contented and prepared ; for no form of death can be a disgrace to a brave man, a premature end for one who has been consul, or a source of grief to one who is wise. Yet am I not a man so iron-hearted as not to be affected by the grief of my most dear and loving brother present here, nor by the tears of all these friends whom you see seated around me. Nor can I prevent my thoughts being often recalled to my own home by my despondent wife and my terrified daughter and my infant son (whom I think the state is cherishing as a sort of pledge for my loyalty as consul), or by my son-in-law who stands within my view awaiting anxiously the result of this day. Yes, I am affected by all those thoughts ; but my anxious wish is that they all should be preserved with you, even if any violence strikes me down, rather than that we and they should perish together in the general ruin of our country.

[4] Therefore, conscript fathers, strain every nerve for the preservation of the state, look in every quarter for the storms, which will burst upon you, if you do not see them in time. It is no Ti. Gracchus, who is brought to bay before the tribunal of your rigorous justice, for an attempt to be elected to a second tribunate, no C. Gracchus for an effort to rouse the land-party, no L. Saturninus for the murder of a C. Memmius. No, you have seized men who have remained behind at Rome to burn down the city, to massacre you all, and to welcome Catilina ; you have seized their letters, their seals, their autographs : in short, you have the confessions of every one of them. They are appealing to the Allobroges, they are raising the slave population, they are sending for Catilina ; in short they have formed the design that by the murder of us all no single man shall be left even to weep for the name of the Roman people and to lament the downfall of this great empire.

[3.] L   [5] All these facts have been reported by the informers,, confessed by the accused, adjudged true by you in many judicial decisions, in the first instance in that you thanked me in extraordinary terms and passed a resolution that the conspiracy of these abandoned men was detected by my energy and care, secondly in that you compelled P. Lentulus to resign the praetorship, thirdly in that you voted that he and the rest whom you adjudged implicated, should be committed to custody, and especially in that you passed a resolution for a public thanksgiving on my account, an honour never before conferred on a person acting in a civil capacity, and lastly in that only yesterday you rewarded munificently the envoys of the Allobroges and Titus Volturcius. All these facts tend to show, that the persons then committed to custody by name have been without any hesitation declared guilty by your verdict.

[6] But I have determined to consult you, conscript fathers, without reference to the past, as to your judgment on the facts and your decision as to the punishment. By way of preface, I will say no more than what I must say as consul. I saw long ago that great recklessness was rife in this state, that some new agitation was proceeding, and that some mischief was brewing ; but I never imagined that Roman citizens were engaged in a conspiracy so vast and so destructive as this. At the present moment, whatever the matter is, in whatever direction your feelings and sentiments incline, you must come to a decision before sunset. You see how serious an affair has been brought to your notice ; if you think that only a few men are implicated in it, you are gravely mistaken. The seeds of this evil have been carried further than you think; the contagion has not only spread through Italy, but it has crossed the Alps and has already infected many of the provinces in its insidious progress. It cannot possibly be stamped out by suspense of judgment and procrastination ; however you decide to deal with it, you must take repressive measures without delay.

[4.] L   [7] I see that as yet there are only two motions, one of that D. Silanus, who proposes that men who have tried to destroy so much, shall be punished by death, the other, that of C. Caesar, who omits the punishment of death, but includes in his proposal the severities of all other forms of punishment. Both the proposers deal with the culprits with the utmost rigour, as their own high positions and the magnitude of the interests at stake demand. The former is of opinion that men who have attempted to deprive us all of life, to destroy this empire, and to blot out the name of the Roman people, ought not to enjoy for a single second the privilege of life and the breath which we all share ; and he bears in mind that this particular punishment has often been resorted to at Rome in dealing with disloyal citizens. The latter understands that death has not been ordained by the immortal gods as a method of punishment, but is either an inevitable consequence of natural existence, or a peaceful release from labours and afflictions; thus the wise have never faced death with reluctance and the brave have often met it gladly ; but imprisonment and especially perpetual imprisonment has certainly been devised as the exceptional penalty for abominable crimes. He therefore proposes to distribute them among the municipal towns for custody, an arrangement which seems to involve some unfairness, if you mean to make it compulsory on the towns, and some difficulty, if you ask their consent : still let his resolution be passed, if you choose. [8] I will give my attention to the matter ; and I expect I shall discover people who will think them selves bound by their high position not to refuse to do what you determine to be best for the general safety. He adds a provision inflicting a severe penalty on the town, if any of the prisoners escape : by this he secures that their imprisonment shall be extremely close and such as these abandoned criminals deserve. He provides that no one shall be able by a vote of the senate or of the people to remit any part of the punishment of the condemned men : so he deprives them even of hope, generally a man's only consolation in affliction. Besides this he proposes the confiscation of their property ; he leaves these abominable men nothing but their lives : if he had taken their lives, he would at one stroke have delivered them from many mental and physical pains, and in fact from all penalties for their crimes. Thus that there might be something to terrorise the wicked during their lives, our ancestors taught that there were ordained for the impious certain material punishments in the lower world, clearly because they understood that if these were abolished, death by itself need excite no apprehension.

[5.] L   [9] At this moment, conscript fathers, I see well which way my own interest lies. If you adopt the proposal of C. Caesar, then since he has adopted that course in political life which is considered popular, perhaps as he is the originator and advocate of the motion, I shall have less reason to fear an outburst of popular resentment. If you adopt the alternative proposal, possibly I shall bring upon myself a larger amount of embarrassment. But in any case let the chances of danger to me be entirely neglected in comparison with the advantages to the state. We have then from Caesar, as his high position and the distinction of his family required, a motion which is a sort of guarantee of the lasting nature of his patriotism. He has realised the difference between the irresponsibility of demagogues and a real devotion to the true welfare of the people. [10] I see that of those gentlemen who are anxious to be considered "popular", a certain person ** is absent, afraid presumably of having to vote for the capital punishment of Roman citizens. Yet the day before yesterday this person helped to commit Roman citizens to custody and voted a thanksgiving in my honour, and yesterday joined in bestowing the highest rewards on the informers. By this time no one can hesitate to pronounce what opinion has been formed about the facts and merits of the whole case by a man who voted for thus confining the accused, congratulating the investigator, and rewarding the informer. C. Caesar, however, is aware that the Sempronian law was enacted for the benefit of Roman citizens only ; that a man who is an open enemy of the state, cannot really be a citizen ; in short, that the man who carried the Sempronian law was himself by the orders of the people punished for treason to the state. Moreover he certainly does not think that this Lentulus, however extravagant in his bribes, having entertained so cruel and barbarous a design for the ruin of the Roman people and the destruction of this city, can possibly be called a popular leader. Accordingly this mildest and most merciful of men does not hesitate to consign P. Lentulus to perpetual chains and darkness, and prohibits strictly any action in the future, by which any one may advertise himself by remitting part of the punishment and be hereafter popular to the ruin of the Roman people. He even adds to the penalties the confiscation of the property of the accused, that every mental and physical pang may be aggravated by want and beggary.

[6.] L   [11] Therefore, if you decide on this course, you will provide me when I address the people with a companion who is a popular favourite : if, on the contrary, you prefer to adopt the motion of Silanus, you will have no trouble in freeing me from the odious imputation of barbarity, and I shall maintain that it was by far the more lenient alternative. Although, conscript fathers, in punishing a crime so inhuman, is there any possibility of barbarity ? My opinion is determined by my own feelings : for I protest, as I hope to enjoy with you the benefits of the preservation of the state, that the sternness of my action in this case is not inspired by any harshness of temper, who can be more merciful than I am? no, but by a quite exceptionally humane and merciful state of mind. For I think I see before my eyes this city, the light of the world and the refuge of all nations, sinking into one sudden conflagration ; my imagination pictures in a dead and buried city wretched heaps of unburied citizens ; yes, I am always seeing the frenzied look of Cethegus as he revels in your slaughter ! [12] But when I contemplate the idea of Lentulus reigning as king, as he confessed that he had been led to hope by the oracles, when I imagine that Gabinius is acting as his grand-vizier, and that Catilina has arrived with his army, then I am dismayed by the lamentations of matrons, the hurried flight of girls and boys, and the persecution of the Vestal Virgins ; and so, because such outrages seem to me grievously pitiable and to be pitied, I show myself severe and strenuous in dealing with those who intended to commit them. In fact, I ask whether a father, who finds his children killed by a slave, his wife murdered, and his house burnt, and does not wreak the bitterest vengeance on that slave, is considered mild and merciful rather than most unnatural and barbarous ? I confess that to me he would seem unfeeling and iron-hearted, in not assuaging his own pain and anguish by causing pain and anguish to the guilty person. So it is with us : if in dealing with these men who intended to butcher us and our wives and children, who tried to raze to the ground the homes of every single one of us and this city, which is the seat of all government, who worked with the object of establishing the tribe of the Allobroges on the ruins of this town and on the ashes of our demolished empire, if we act with the greatest severity, we shall still be accounted merciful ; but if we choose to be too easy-going, then we must submit to be thought most utterly heartless in thus ignoring the ruin of our country and our fellow-citizens. [13] Or perhaps some people thought the gallant and patriotic L. Caesar too heartless the day before yesterday, when he said that his noble sister's husband, who was present and listening to his speech, ought to be deprived of his life, stating that his own grandfather ** was executed by the order of the then consul and his uncle, a mere lad, sent with a message by his father, was put to death in prison. And had they done any thing like this ? Had they entered into any plot to destroy the state ? No ! There was only a disposition to make some sort of distribution then prevalent at Rome, and a certain amount of competition between parties. And yet at that time the illustrious grandfather of this very Lentulus armed and pursued Gracchus ! That Lentulus even received a severe wound on that occasion in his efforts to preserve from harm the highest interests of the state : this Lentulus calls in the Gauls to destroy the foundations of the Roman state, raises the slave population, summons Catilina, assigns the task of butchering us to Cethegus, and that of killing the rest of the citizens to Gabinius, the work of setting the city on fire to Cassius, and that of devastating and pillaging the whole of Italy to Catilina. You must be very much alarmed, I should think, of being thought to have come to a decision too severe in dealing with a crime so brutal and abominable as this ! No, there is much more reason to fear that the mitigation of the penalty will be considered a cruelty to our country, than that severity in punishing them will be taken as an excess of harshness towards these vindictive foes.

[7.] L   [14] But, conscript fathers, there are things coming to my ears which I cannot ignore. Expressions, which are brought to me, are being used recklessly by persons who seem to be afraid of my not having sufficient strength at my command to carry out the instructions upon which you may determine to-day. On the contrary, conscript fathers, every precaution has been taken, every preparation and every arrangement made, not only with the utmost carefulness and diligence on my part, but also by the much more ardent desire of the Roman people to retain the supreme executive power unimpaired and to preserve the fortunes of all. All the members of all the privileged orders are present, all citizens, in short, of all ages : the Forum is full, the temples round the Forum are full, all the approaches of this temple and of this place are crowded. This is the only known instance since the foundation of the city of a cause in which all men are absolutely unanimous, excepting only those who, seeing that they were bound to perish, preferred to perish in the universal ruin rather than alone. [15] These men indeed I willingly except and exclude from what I say ; and I think that they should be classed not as bad citizens merely, but as vindictive foes. But all the rest, great heavens ! in what crowds, with what enthusiasm, with what noble energy they unite in their desire to promote the general safety and honour ! Why should I here mention specially the Roman knights ? They concede to you indeed the chief place in rank and deliberative power, but they still claim to vie with you in patriotism. After an alienation of many years standing from this noble house they have been recalled to relations of union and harmony ; and now the circumstances of this day and of this affair ally them closely to you. And if this alliance, cemented by the events of my consulship, is maintained by us as a permanent political union, then I assure you that no purely internal and civil mischief will ever hereafter affect any department of our public life. I see that the gallant order of the tribuni aerarii has come down animated by equal ardour for the defence of the state : and similarly I see that all the public clerks, though, as it happens, to-day would have taken most of them to the Treasury, have been diverted from their anticipations as to their assignments to the far higher thought of the public welfare. [16] The whole mass of freeborn citizens is present, not excluding the poorest classes : for who indeed is there to whom these temples, the sight of the city, the possession of freedom, in short the light of the sun and the soil of his fatherland, are not more than dear, are not a source of joy and delight? [8.] L   It is worthwhile, conscript fathers, to mark the enthusiasm even of the freedmen, who having by their merits won the privilege of citizenship here, deem this their native land, which certain men born therein, ay, and born in the highest positions, have deemed not their native land but a hostile city. But why do I recount to you these individuals and classes, who have been aroused to defend the safety of their country by the thought of their private properties, their common political welfare, in short, their liberty, to all men the most precious of possessions ? There is no single slave, at least no one serving under any endurable form of slavery, who does not shudder at the violence of these citizens, who does desire this existing system to stand, who does not con tribute all the sympathy he dares and can bestow to support the general safety. [17] So if any of you chance to be disturbed by the rumour which has been circulated, that one of Lentulus's vile agents is running round among the small shopkeepers, and expecting that the support of the needy and inexperienced can be had at a price, it is true that the experiment has been begun and tried ; but no persons have as yet been discovered so afflicted by fortune or ruined by their own bad habits, as not to desire the safety of the place of their workman's bench and their trade and daily livelihood, their sleeping-room and snug bed, the preservation in short of the peaceable routine of their lives. No ! a very large majority of the shopkeepers, I must rather say, the whole of the shopkeeping class, is profoundly attached to peace and order. For every means of trade, every industry and source of profit, is supported by the presence of large numbers of citizens and is kept up by peace and order : and if the profit generally diminishes when the shops have to be shut, to what was it likely to fall, if they were burnt ?

[18] Under these circumstances, conscript fathers, you will not be left without the open support of the Roman people ; do you look to it that the Roman people may not think themselves left without yours. [9.] L   You have a consul who has been preserved from very many perils and secret treacheries, yes, from the very jaws of death, not for the prolongation of his own life but for the promotion of your welfare. All the privileged orders are united in heart and mind and voice for the preservation of the commonwealth. The native land of all of us, beset by the firebrands and swords of an infamous conspiracy, extends to you her suppliant hands ; to you she commits herself, to you the lives of all her citizens, to you the citadel and the Capitol, to you the altars of the Penates, to you the eternal fire of Vesta burning yonder, to you the temples and shrines of all the gods, to you the walls and buildings of the city. On the fate moreover of your own lives, of the souls of your wives and children, of the properties of all, of your homes and your hearths, you have yourselves to decide this very day. [19] You have a leader who remembers you and has forgotten himself, an advantage you cannot always secure. You have all classes, all individuals, the whole people of Rome, to-day for the first time in a political question, absolutely unanimous. Reflect by what exertions this empire was established, by what energy our freedom was built up, by what special favour of heaven our fortunes have been augmented and accumulated, and how nearly a single night has destroyed all. To-day we must provide that hereafter no such design can ever be carried out, or even formed, by any Roman citizen ; and all this I have said not to kindle your enthusiasm, which almost outstrips mine, but that my voice, which is bound to be the leading voice in the state, may not be thought to have wearied in the discharge of my duty as consul.

[10.] L   [20] Now, however, before I turn to the question, I will say a few words about myself. I see that I personally have drawn upon myself the wrath of a host of enemies as great as the whole gang of these conspirators, and that you can see is large indeed ; but I am of opinion that that band is discredited and weak and despicable. But if ever that gang is excited by the criminal recklessness of any individual till it is too strong for your authority and that of the state, still I shall never, conscript fathers, repent of my actions and my policy. Death indeed, with which they perhaps threaten me, is the ultimate lot of all ; but no one has yet obtained in life a position so honourable as that to which your resolutions have elevated me. In all former cases you have voted thanks for the good government, to me alone have you voted thanks for the preservation of the state. [21] Let the great Scipio be ever famous, whose brave and wise policy compelled Hannibal to return to Africa and abandon Italy. Let the second Africanus, who destroyed the two cities most dangerous to this empire, Carthage and Numantia, be honoured with extraordinary renown. Let the famous Paulus be deemed a man of mark, whose triumphal procession was made illustrious by the captive Perses, once the most powerful and most noble of kings. Let Marius have undying honour, who twice delivered Italy from invasion and from fear of slavery. Let Pompeius rank before them all, whose great deeds and merits are limited only by the same tracts and boundaries as those of the sun's course. Surely among these glorious memories our fame will find some place, unless perhaps it is greater to throw open provinces to our advance than to provide that even those who are absent may still have some home to which to return in triumph. [22] However in one way the conquerors of external foes are in a better position than the conquerors of internal enemies, because foreign enemies are either crushed and reduced to slavery, or are made friends and think themselves bound to gratitude by the favour ; but those members of the community who have been led astray by some insanity and once begun to be enemies of their country, you can never, after repelling their efforts to ruin the state, subjugate them by force or conciliate them by kindness. So I recognise that I have engaged myself in an endless war with abandoned citizens ; but by the help of you and of all loyal men and by the remembrance of the past dangers (which I am sure will ever remain deeply rooted not only in this people which has been preserved from them, but even in the common talk and memory of all nations), I trust that that enmity can easily be averted from me and mine. Nor will there assuredly ever be found a force strong enough to break asunder and shatter the close alliance between you and the Roman knights and the perfect unanimity which exists among all loyal citizens.

[11.] L   [23] Under these circumstances, conscript fathers, in the place of the military command, the army, and the province, which I have given up, for the triumph and the other outward signs of honour which I have spurned in order to act as the guardian of the city's welfare and of yours, for the attachment of provinces to me as their patron and protector, which nevertheless my work here in the city preserves as indefatigably as it earns, for all these things, I say, and in return for my extraordinary devotion to you, and for my watchfulness for the preservation of the state, which is before your eyes, I demand nothing at your hands but that you should remember this crisis and the whole of my consulship : so long as that remains rooted in your minds, I shall regard my self securely fortified against all assaults. But if my hopes are destined to be falsified and defeated by disloyal violence, I commend to you my infant son, who will surely find protection enough not only to secure his safety but even to advance him to honour, if you but remember that he is the son of the man who has preserved all that you hold dear, alone and at his own risk. [24] Wherefore come to a decision with care, as you have determined to do, and with courage, as to the supreme welfare of yourselves and of the Roman people, as to your wives and children, as to your altars and hearths, your sanctuaries and temples, the buildings and homes of the whole city, as to your sovereignty and your liberty, the safety of Italy, the whole commonwealth of Rome. You have a consul who will not hesitate to obey your instructions, and who is able to uphold your decisions as long as he lives and to take upon himself the entire responsibility.


1.   Probably Q. Metellus Nepos, tribune in 62 B.C., is referred to.

2.   M. Fulvius Flaccus, who with his sons was killed by L. Opimius at the same time as C. Gracchus ; see Cat. I. 4.

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