Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Advice To The Senate From Marcus Tullius Cicero

One of the cooler things about Cicero was that he had the great good fortune to have a slave named Tiro who was the inventor of shorthand. There are a great many surviving word or word transcriptions of the things that Cicero said.

This comes from his first great legal victory. Cicero prosecuted Gaius Verres for crimes he committed while governor of Scicly. Theft of artworks, unlawful dentention and execution of Roman citizens. The crimes were numerous and heinous. The biggest hurdle facing Cicero in his prosecution of Verres was that the ill gotten gains had been used quite liberally as bribes in the case. The jury was composed of Senators and the defense counsels were Hortensius and Metellus Pius who, at the time, were both consul-elect.

Knowing that there was a very limited time for the trial (if it progressed into the new administration there would be no chance at all of a conviction) Cicero rose on the first day of court and said this:

"Gentlemen of the court, at this great political crisis there has been offered to you, not through man's wisdom but almost as the direct gift of heaven, the very thing you most need---a thing that will help more than anything else to mitigate the unpopularity of your Order and the suspicion surrounding these courts. A belief has become established---as harmful to the republic as it is to yourselves---that these courts, with your senators as the jury, will never convict any man, however guilty, if he has sufficient money.

But the character of the many I am prosecuting, is such that you may use him to restore your own good name. Gaius Verres has robbed the Treasury and behaved like a pirate and a destroying pestilence in his province of Sicily. You have only to find this man guilty, and respect in you will be rightly restored. But it you do not---if his immense wealth is sufficient to shatter your honesty---well then, I shall achieve one thing at least. The nation will not believe Verres to be right and me wrong---but they will certainly know all they need to know about a jury of Roman Senators!

Let me tell you of the impudent and insane plan that is now in Verres's mind. It is plain to him that I am approaching this case so well prepared that I shall be able to pin him down as a robber and a criminal, not merely in the hearing of this court but in the eyes of the whole world. But, in spite of this, he holds so low an opinion of the aristocracy, he believes the senatorial courts to be so utterly abandoned and corrupt, that he goes about boasting openly that he has bought the safest date for his trial, that he has bought the jury, and just to be on the safe side, he has also bought the consular election for his two titled friends who have tried to intimidate my witnesses! (at this point the consuls-elect as defense attorneys began to shout and disrupt the proceeding, Cicero wheeled on them and strode over to the defense table)

What? Did you count on my saying nothing of so serious a matter? On my caring for anything except my duty and my honor, when the country and my own reputation are in such danger? Metellus, (Metellus Pius, co-council for the defense, consul-elect, imperator of the 9th and 11th legions, triumphate for Spain, pontifex maximus, brother of the current governor in Sicily) I am amazed at you. To attempt to intimidate witnesses, especially these timorous and calamity-stricken Sicilians, by appealing to their awe of you as consul-elect, and the power of your two brothers---if this is not judicial corruption, I should be glad to know what it is! What would you not do for an innocent kinsman if you abandon duty and honor for an utter rascal who is no kin of yours at all? Because, I tell you this: Verres has been going around saying that you were only made consul because of his exertions, and that by January he will have the two consuls and a president of the court to suit him!
(Again, pandemonium erupted in the court. The defense was going apeshit, the gallery was screaming, Verres was shouting death threats and being physically restrained by the lictors of the court. When order was restored Cicero continued)

So, these are their tactics. Today the court did not start its business until the middle of the afternoon---they are already reckoning that today does not count at all. It is only ten days to the games of Pompeius Magnus. These will occupy fifteen days and will be immediately followed by the Roman Games. So it will not be until after an interval of nearly forty days that they expect to begin their reply. They count on being able then, with the help of long speeches and technical evasions, to prolong the trial until the Games of Victory begin. These games are followed without break by the Plebeian Games, after which there will be very few days, or none at all, on which the court can sit. In this way they reckon that all the impetus of the prosecution will be spent and exhausted, and that the whole case will come up afresh before Marcus Metellus, who is sitting there, on this jury.

So what am I to do? If I spend upon my speech the full time allotted me by law, there is the gravest danger that the man I am prosecuting will slip through my fingers. 'Make your speech shorter' is the obvious answer I was given a few days ago, (by Terentia his wife) and that is good advice. I shall go one better. Gentlemen, I shall make no speech at all!

That is right Hortensius, I am not going to play your game and spend the next ten days in the usual long address. I am not going to let the case drag on till January, when you and Metellus as consuls can use your lictors to drag my witnesses before you and frighten them into silence. I am not going to allow you gentlemen of the jury the luxury of forty days to forget my charges so that you can then lose yourselves and your consciences in the tangled thickets of Hortensius's rhetoric. I am not going to delay the settlement of this case until all these mutitudes who have come to Rome for the census and the games have dispersed to their homes in Italy. I am going to call my witnesses at once, beginning now, and this will be my procedure: I shall read out the individual charge. I shall comment and elaborate upon it. I shall bring forth the witness who supports it and question him, and then you, Hortensius, will have the same opportunity as I for comment and cross-examination,. I shall do all of this and I shall rest my case within the space of ten days.

Today, the eyes of the world are upon us, waiting to see how far the conduct of each man among us will be marked by obedience to his conscience and observance of the law. Even as you will pass your verdict upon the defendant, so the people of Rome will pass their verdict upon yourselves. The case of Verres will determine whether, in a court composed of Senators, the condemnation of a very guilty and very rich man can possibly occur. Because all the world knows that Verres is distinguished by nothing except his monsterous offenses and his immense wealth. Therefore if he is acquitted it will be impossible to imagine any explanation except the most shameful. So I advise you, gentlemen, for your own sakes, to see that this does not occur.

I call my first witness---Sthenius of Thermae."

The day before the guilty verdict was pronounced which would have stripped him of his citizenship and wealth Verres fled Rome for Africa. The final settlement of the things that he left behind barely covered the expenses Cicero incurred undertaking this prosecution. Cicero did, according to the laws of Lucius Cornielius Sulla, assume the Praetorian rank of Verres which assured his being allowed time to speak in the Senate.

I sent a copy of this speech to both John McCain and John Kyl. I don't think they will see the parallels to the situation of our government today that I do, but it doesn't matter. The White House is already talking about dragging the subpoena process along until they are out of office. The Senate, being mostly sheep, will probably let that happen.

Would that we had a Cicero.



Blogger Rez Dog said...

Perhaps we lack a Cicero but we do have citizens like you who remind us of history's lessons.

7:43 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

"those who do not remember the past are doomed to keep voting republican."

(an old bumper sticker from the reagan days)

9:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mostly OT - I just learned this in today's Food section of the Boston Globe (& you may well already know this, MB):

"Cicero" (his family name) comes from the Latin word for chickpeas. One of the classic Italian first courses is a a soup/stew called "Pasta e ceci". There are versions of it from all over Italy.

- oddjob

10:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history."
(an observation at the end of a National Geographic article last autumn about how we were trashing the Earth)

- oddjob

10:25 PM  
Blogger Pogo said...

MB,the parallels will completely escape McCain- I don't know enough about Kyl to say. Is it just me,or is McCain getting wierder and wierder? His neck gets shorter and fatter by the day and he's taken to wearing that shitty republican half smile every time he delivers one of his canned lines without fucking it up. The art of oration the Cicero demonstrated -and I am certain that he delivered his own material without notes and without the need of a staff of writers- does not exist any longer, at least not in any of our politicians. Probably explains why Obama is doing as well as he is- he appears to be speaking off the top of his head, saying things that originate from his heart and intellect. He (gasp), listens to questions and answers them. He's certainly no Cicero, but he does stand apart from the rest of the line reciters. Fuck all the bullshit about his race, smoking, appeal to the ladies, etc. He's got a brain and isn't afraid to use it. Most of the rest have their heads so far up their asses,they can't findtheir brains.(Note, this does not apply to Bill Richardson, but his chances are slim to none).

6:46 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

back then rhetoric was a much studied and valued art form. there were several schools. at this time the "asiatic" school of rhetoric with lots of flowery flourishes, gestures, and movement was in favor. quintus hortensius hortalus was the "dancing master" of this school. cicero studied the main style of the day and then went to rhodes to study with molon who formed the "greek" school of oration. form and shape your words and your arguments. deliver them plainly and logically. cicero not only wrote is own speeches, he ghost wrote for some of the less eloquent politicians of the day like pompey, and at the beginning of his career, caesar. cicero was adamant about appearing and making his delivery without notes, from memory, often seeming to be making it up as he went along, or to be following the lines of expositionary logic along with his audience.

8:24 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

in the foyer of his house, when he was in residence, cicero always kept a big bowl full of chickpeas. on election days his supporters would wear bracelets and necklaces of threaded chickpeas.

8:26 AM  
Blogger John B. said...

Cicero was a great orator and rhetorician, but ultimately he was not able to prevent the Republic from turning into a monarchy. I would hope that any modern Cicero could be more successful in that regard. That said, I would much prefer politicians who talk like Cicero to ones that talk like Bush.

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MB: Excellent post. As a total Roman history geek, I appreciated your analogy and reflections.


3:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a total idiot I appreciate your analogy and reflections as well. Thank you so much for your kind words of late.

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

About the chickpea thing... there is a whole subtext in Greek and Roman texts often missed because the major translations were done in a more repressed era. Cicer means chickpea, and "chickpea" was ancient slang for balls. It is used in Aristophanes, "scratching my chickpea". Public political life in Rome was a men-only affair, and speeches like this are a major reason Cicero, aka M. Tullius of the Cicero family, was not known as "Tullius". People enjoyed the pun of calling him "Mr Balls". Another resonance was that his mother was a vegetable seller, so wearing the legume was a double fuck-you statement to the aristocratic Senators -- check out the common man with the big balls who is beating you at your own game.

6:10 PM  
Blogger Zeno said...

By an amusing coincidence, I just read about this trial in Colleen McCullough's historical novel Fortune's Favorites (one of her series of novels about the collapse of the Roman republic). She presents a number of examples of how the members of the privileged ruling classes would flout both law and tradition in seeking high office and then would promptly use their positions to legitimize their actions after the fact or to immunize their persons from prosecution. By the time the republic collapsed, it was a hollow shell, rotted out from the inside. Our own republic has suffered greatly from the parasites gnawing at its vitals. How ironic that most of them style themselves "Republican".

6:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Barbara, I aside from recognizing names & having a vague idea of the outlines of the history I am almost wholly ignorant of "the classics", so I love learning this information! ;-)

Thank you!

- oddjob

7:00 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

the mcCullough series is a brilliant piece of work. especially if you let it bring you into the real stuff. those guys were amazing back then. i think of the way that pompeius ginned up support for his campaign against the pirates (which made that already rich man very much richer, along with disposing of one of him main rivals for military glory, lucullus) i have the full series and usually end up reading it straight through from time to time. again, don't let that stop you from tearing into the real stuff.

10:36 PM  
Blogger Jim Yeager said...

Oh, that was great.Of course, in this television-saturated age of ours, I strongly doubt you will ever see a Cicero anywhere near the Capital building.

Sending copies of that speech to Kyl and McCain was an exercise in futility, although you were right to do so. Kyl is a mindless GOP choir boy. As for McCain, well...

I actually like the guy a little, even though I usually disagree with him. But I think his age is catching up to him -- he seems to be slipping into dementia. It's not fun to watch, either...

6:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure, this was a great speech, although, keep in mind it was written down and we don't have a recording of it. According to texts written about events that occurred after the death of Cicero, Jesus walked on water.

Anyway, not my point. The point is, while this speech is great in principle, it is mostly rhetoric. According to most accounts, which I agree are ancient writings, (but if we're assuming that the above speech is verbatim, then we must assume that other accounts from the time period are somewhat accurate) Cicero's career was marred by his inability to choose a side and his wavering political stance that seemed to always be in line with the supposed political climate. A picture of John Kerry would go nicely here.

I just wish people could think outside the box and stop labeling everything GOP or Rightwing or Leftist. It seems that no one ever evaluates both sides of the story, they just take something for what it is and fit it into their political theory. One great speech does not a great political leader make.

7:14 AM  
Blogger Pogo said...

Damn, this is just like being back in college in my philosphy classes -taught by a lapsed Baptist minister who was up to his ears in the his study of the Greeks and Romans.

7:35 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

actually the kerry reference isn't accurate because cicero was notoriously timorous when it came down to the military side of things. his very first service was with pomeius strabo (nicknamed carnifax) and were it not for the shepherding of pompius magnus (or as sulla called him "butcher boy") he might have had his entire career ended. you decry the changing of sides and factions, yet, wouldn't a patriot go with the side or faction that was presenting the best option for the nation? or, in many cases, mere survival. also, when referring to attorneys, you serve the client. a mere three years after the verres case cicero defended the governor of gaul against many of the same corruption charges (over taxing, and things like that) at the request of magnus. he also represented, at various times, caesar (when he was being sued for starting an unauthorized war in gaul) and cato (a breach of promise action, cato hated breach of promise so much he was willing to sue himself)

i'm not saying cicero was a huge ass hero, but he was an eloquent and masterful advocate and orator. the fact that you got so bleeding outraged by the implications proved i was on target.

p.s. you can feel free to use your name or a psuedonym any old time that you wish. i don't really care. it just makes it somehow more personal.

8:53 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

yeah mimus, i knew it was futile before i licked the envelope. the kyl people know that i worked hard against him, playing fund raisers for his opponent for free, dipping into my own pocket toward the end of the campaign. my current representative is jeff flake and if it isn't approved by the republican party or published in the book of mormon he doesn't think it's worth talking about. still i persevere. it's as meaningless a gesture as pissing up at the stars to put out their fire, but, it's a gesture nonetheless. (apologies to archibald macliesh)

8:59 AM  

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