Cicero : In Catilinam, 3

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 2)

[1.] L   [1] Your country, citizens of Rome, and the lives of you all, your goods and estates, your wives and children, yes, and this abode and seat of an empire most renowned, this most fortunate and beautiful of cities, you see to-day, by the great affection of the immortal gods for you, and through the toils, the policy, and the perils of myself, rescued from fire and sword, snatched from the jaws of a horrible fate, and given back to you safe and sound. [2] And if a man is wont to regard the day of his preservation from destruction as not less happy and memorable than his birth day itself, because preservation from danger is a certain cause of joy, while the lot to which we are born is far from certain in character, and because we have no sensible experience of being born, whereas preservation is attended by a sense of pleasure, surely then, just as we have deified as a benefactor and hero the illustrious founder of this city, so you and your posterity ought ever to hold in high honour the man who has on this occasion saved from destruction the city then founded and since augmented. For we have quenched the fires all but kindled in every quarter to wrap in flames the whole city, the temples and shrines, the houses and city walls ; and our self-same hands have struck down the swords unsheathed against the state, and have torn their sharp blades from your throats. [3] But since all these things have been brought to light, made public, and fully investigated before the senate by my efforts, I will now briefly display the facts to you, men of Rome, that you, who are still uninformed and expectant, may understand how important they are and by what methods they have been traced out and pieced together.

To commence, then : when Catilina a few days since broke out of the city, seeing that he had left behind at Rome the associates in his crime, the furious leaders in this abominable campaign, I was always on the alert, and I took precautions, men of Rome, to secure our preservation in the midst of this widespread and secret treason. [2.] L   For at the moment when I was driving Catilina out of the city I am not alarmed by the unpopular phrase, since there is more reason to fear unpopularity for having let him leave the city alive but on that particular occasion when I was wishing him to be expelled, I was under the impression that the rest of his gang would go with him or else that any who stayed behind would be weak and feeble without him. [4] So personally, when I saw that the men whom I knew to be inflamed with the most dangerous recklessness and criminality, were still among us and had remained at Rome, I devoted every moment by night and by day to the task of seeing and ascertaining clearly what they were doing and intending to do ; so that, since my warnings were listened to with less attention than they deserved, by reason of the incredible enormity of their crime, I might myself get so comprehensive a grasp of the whole affair as to make you at last, seeing the wicked scheme with your own eyes, take some thought for your own preservation. And so when I discovered that the envoys of the Allobroges had been approached by P. Lentulus on the question of exciting a war on the other side of the Alps and a rising in Cisalpine Gaul, that they had been sent to their countrymen in Gaul and asked to deliver a letter to Catilina on their way, that T. Volturcius had been appointed to travel with them, and that he too had been entrusted with a letter to Catilina, I thought it offered me a fair opportunity of securing a thing which was most difficult to secure and had always been the subject of my prayers, I mean, the complete detection of the whole affair not only by me myself, but also by the senate and by you. [5] Accordingly I summoned yesterday to my house those most gallant and patriotic praetors, L. Flaccus and C. Pomptinus ; I laid the facts before them, and explained what I thought ought to be done. They with the excellence and distinction which is characteristic of all their political principles, undertook the affair without any objections or delays ; towards evening they went secretly to the Mulvian Bridge, and there posted themselves in the nearest houses, in such a way as to be one on either side of the Tiber and the bridge. To the same spot the praetors had also without exciting any suspicions conducted a large party of gallant men, and I had sent a still larger number of picked young men from the country-town of Reate (men to whose aid I constantly appeal in political affairs), armed with swords to protect the party. [6] Meanwhile nearly three hours after midnight, as the envoys of the Allobroges, accompanied by Volturcius and attended by a large suite, were beginning to cross the Mulvian Bridge, a sudden attack was made on them ; both they and our men drew their swords. The real object of the affair was known only to the praetors, and was not imparted to any one else. [3.] L   Then Pomptinus and Flaccus intervened and put an end to the affray : all the letters in the possession of the party were given up to the praetors with their seals intact. . The envoys themselves were arrested and brought back to my house just before it was light. I at once summoned to my presence, before he had time to suspect anything, the prime contriver of all these horrible crimes, Gabinius Cimber : next I sent in the same way for L. Statilius and after him for C. Cethegus. The last to arrive was Lentulus, I presume because he had sat up over his letter unusually late the previous night.

[7] The most eminent and distinguished persons in Rome, who on hearing the news had resorted to me in the morning in large numbers, being of opinion that I ought to open the letters before submitting them to the senate, that it might not be thought, supposing there to be nothing in them, that I had caused such an alarming panic in Rome for nothing, I said that in a matter involving public danger I could not consent to anything short of submitting the whole affair without prejudice to the assembly in charge of public affairs. In fact, citizens of Rome, I thought that, even if what had been reported to me should not be found in the letters, I had no right in matters of such peril to the public safety to be afraid of being accused of overcautiousness. So, as you have seen, I hastily convened a full meeting of the senate. [8] Meanwhile, on the suggestion of the Allobroges, I at once sent a praetor, the gallant C. Sulpicius, to seize any weapons that might be found in Cethegus's house : and he did seize there a very large quantity of daggers and swords.

[4.] L   When the senate met, I brought forward Volturcius without the Gauls ; at the direction of the senate I promised him full security ; I advised him to disclose fearlessly all he knew. Then having been reassured with some difficulty after his great alarm, he said that he had Lentulus's orders in a letter to Catilina, to the effect that he was to resort to the aid of slaves, and to march on Rome with an army as soon as possible ; the scheme being this, that when they had fired the city in every part, according to a plan assigning each man his district, and had effected an indiscriminate massacre, Catilina might be ready there to intercept the fugitives and join forces with those commanding within the walls. [9] The Gauls were then brought in, and said that they had been sworn to secrecy and had received from Lentulus, Cethegus, and Statilius a letter addressed to their tribe, and that the directions given to them by those three men and by L. Cassius were that they should send cavalry to Italy as soon as possible ; they would themselves have plenty of infantry. They said that Lentulus had assured them that he was the third Cornelius designated in the Sibylline oracles and the prophecies of ancient seers as destined by fate to receive the sovereignty and rule of Rome ; and that Cinna and Sulla had preceded him in that position. ** They said that Lentulus had also told them that this year was fated to witness the destruction of this city and empire, being the tenth year after the acquittal of the Virgins and the twentieth after the great fire on the Capitol. [10] They said also that there had been a difference of opinion between Cethegus and the rest on one point, Lentulus and others thinking that the massacre should be commenced and the city fired on the feast of Saturn, ** and Cethegus considering that date too remote.

[5.] L   Not to make a long story of it, men of Rome, we ordered the missives said to have been consigned to them by each of the accused to be produced. First we showed Cethegus his seal ; he acknowledged it. We cut the string ; we read the contents. It was an autograph letter to the senate and people of the Allobroges, assuring them that the writer would do what he had promised their envoys ; and begging them likewise to do what their envoys had engaged to do for him. Then Cethegus, who a few moments previously had had the assurance to make some sort of answer with reference to the swords and daggers seized at his house and had explained that he was a collector of fine pieces of wrought-iron, at the reading of the letter was suddenly struck dumb and completely confounded by his consciousness of guilt. Statilius was brought in ; he acknowledged his seal and his hand writing. His letter was read, and the terms were almost identical : he confessed. Then I showed Lentulus his despatch and inquired whether he acknowledged the seal. He assented. "Yes," I said, "the seal is well known ; it is the effigy of your illustrious grandfather, who was singularly attached to his country and his fellow-citizens. The mute reproach of that face ought to have been enough to call you back from a crime so heinous." [11] His letter to the senate and people of the Allobroges was read, and was to the same effect : I gave him the opportunity of making any statement he chose. At first he declined to say anything ; but some time afterwards, when the whole of the information had been stated in detail and taken down, he rose and asked the Gauls what connexion there was between himself and them, and why they had come to his house; and he put the same questions to Volturcius. When they replied briefly and consistently, and told him who had introduced them and how often they had come to his house, and asked him whether he had really said nothing to them about the Sibylline oracles, Lentulus, suddenly driven out of his senses by his crime, gave us a striking illustration of the power of conscience. Though he could have denied that particular charge, he suddenly contrary to all expectation admitted it. So completely was he deserted not only by his well-known ability and unfailing readiness in speech, but even by his irresistible effrontery and impudence, owing to the terror inspired in him by this open exposure of his crime.

[12] Volturcius however suddenly ordered the letter which he said Lentulus had given him for Catilina to be produced and opened ; and Lentulus though exceedingly agitated by its production, acknowledged his seal and autograph. This letter bore no names, but ran thus : "The bearer of this letter will tell you who I am. See that you play the man, and reflect how far you have gone already. Consider if there is anything which you have yet to do, and take care to secure all possible assistance, even in the lowest quarters." Gabinius was next brought in ; and though at first he began to answer impudently, he finished by not denying any of the allegations made by the Gauls. [13] And in my opinion, men of Rome, though most positive inferences and indications of guilt were to be derived from the letters, seals, hand writings, and in fact the actual admissions of each of the accused, still there were others even more certain to be drawn from their blushes, their looks, their expressions, and their silence. For they remained obstinately mute, and fixed their eyes on the ground, or sometimes cast furtive glances at one another, so guiltily that they looked more like men giving in formation against themselves than like men having information given against them by others.

[6.] L   When the information had been given in detail and taken down, I asked the senate what step should be taken to protect the most important interests of the state. The leading men expressed their sentiments with great decision and courage, and their ideas were adopted by the senate without any difference of opinion ; and since the resolution carried has not yet been written out, I will repeat to you from memory, citizens of Rome, the tenor of the senate's decision. [14] First the resolution conveys the thanks of the house in the fullest terms to me, for having delivered the state from the most serious dangers by my energy, prudence, and foresight. Secondly a well-earned tribute of praise is bestowed on the praetors L. Flaccus and C. Pomptinus, for rendering me brave and trusty assistance, and a share of the praise is also offered to my gallant colleague, for having ceased to consult on any private or public matter the persons incriminated in this conspiracy. Next it was formally resolved that P. Lentulus, as soon as he should have resigned his praetorship, should be committed to custody ; similarly that C. Cethegus, L. Statilius, and P. Gabinius (they were all present), should be committed to custody ; and the same course was decided on in the case of L. Cassius who had claimed the honourable function of setting fire to the city, in the case of M. Ceparius who was mentioned in the information as charged with the duty of sounding the shepherds of Apulia, in the case of P. Furius who is one of the settlers planted by L. Sulla at Faesulae, in the case of Q. Annius Chilo who together with Furius was always employed in the negotiations with the Allobroges, in the case of P. Umbrenus a freedman who was known to have introduced the Gauls to Gabinius in the first instance. Thus, so lenient was the temper of the senate, men of Rome, that it thought that out of this vast conspiracy, out of this enormous number of enemies belonging to our own community, the state could be saved by the punishment of nine desperate men and the minds of the rest restored to sanity.

[15] Lastly a solemn thanksgiving to the immortal gods for their exceptional favour was voted on my account, an honour which has never before been granted to any civil magistrate since the foundation of Rome : and the terms of the resolution were that I had delivered the city from conflagration, the citizens from massacre, and Italy from war. And if this thanksgiving be compared with those held on previous occasions, there is this difference between them, that all others were granted in recognition of the good government and this alone for the preservation of the state. Then the first thing which had to be done, was done and got out of the way : P. Lentulus, although as a consequence of the information which had been made public, of his own admissions, and of the decision of the senate, he had forfeited not only the privileges of a praetor but also the rights of a citizen, was allowed to resign his magistracy voluntarily, that, as the famous C. Marius had felt no religious scruples in putting to death a praetor, C. Glaucia, whom the senate had not dealt with by name, so we might not be impeded by any such scruples in punishing P. Lentulus, now only a private citizen.

[7.] L   [16] And now, men of Rome, since you have seized and secured with a firm grasp the abominable leaders in this most wicked and dangerous war, you are bound to believe that all the forces of Catilina were defeated, that all his hopes and all his resources collapsed, when these dangers which threatened the city were averted. Yes, when I was ejecting him from the city, I foresaw this result clearly, men of Rome ; I foresaw that, if Catilina were removed, I need not be terrified by the drowsiness of P. Lentulus or the corpulence of L. Cassius or the headstrong rashness of C. Cethegus. Catilina was the one man in the whole number really formidable, and he only so long as he was confined within the walls of Rome. Catilina knew everything and penetrated everywhere : he had the power and the audacity requisite for appealing, for tempting, and for working on men's feelings. He had the brain to contrive any wicked scheme, and his brain was well served by his hands and tongue. He had already selected and distributed particular individuals to carry out particular parts of his scheme ; but he was not under the delusion that a thing was carried out when he had merely given the order for it. There was nothing which he did not superintend and supervise himself, nothing on which he did not bestow personal vigilance and labour ; and he was well able to endure cold, hunger, and thirst. [17] A man like this, a man so determined, so audacious, so well-prepared, so shrewd, a criminal so alert, so careful in his wicked work, if I had not forced him to exchange his secret treason in our midst for the open command of his banditti, I will say what I think, men of Rome, if I had not done this, I should not easily have averted from you the crushing weight of the impending disaster. Catilina certainly would not have allowed us a respite until the feast of Saturn ; he would not have given the state notice so long before the day of his exile and doom, nor would he have made the mistake of allowing his seal and autograph letter to be seized and used as proofs of his flagrant guilt. As it is, in his absence all these slips have been made, with the result that no case of theft in a private house has ever been detected so plainly, as this vast conspiracy in the sphere of politics has been detected and arrested in time. But if Catilina had remained in the city up to this day, then, though it is true that, as long as he was here, I intercepted and baffled all his designs, still we should have had, to say the very least, a deadly struggle with him ; nor should we ever, while he was our foe in Rome, have delivered the state from dangers so serious with peace, with order, and with silence so profound.

[8.] L   [18] However, all these arrangements, citizens of Rome, have been made by me under such conditions as to suggest that they have been executed and ordered with the consent and by the wisdom of the immortal gods : and as we may draw this inference from the fact that the direction of matters so important by wisdom merely human appears almost an impossibility, so I may aver that the gods so graciously at this crisis vouchsafed us their help and assistance, that we could almost see them with our eyes. For to pass over other signs, such as the meteors seen by night in the west and the fiery appearance of the sky, to say nothing of thunderbolts and earthquakes, to omit all the other portents which occurred in my consulship so frequently as to be evident intimations from the immortal gods of what is happening now, this occurrence at least, which I am about to relate to you, must not be passed over or left unnoticed. [19] You remember of course that in the consulship of Cotta and Torquatus {65 B.C.} several objects in the Capitol were struck by lightning, at the time when the images of the gods were dislodged, and the statues of ancient heroes thrown down, and brazen tablets inscribed with the laws melted. Even Romulus, the founder of this city, was struck, that is, the gilded statue which you remember on the Capitol, representing him as an unweaned infant trying to suck the she-wolf's udders. ** And when on that occasion the seers from every part of Etruria met together, they reported that massacres and conflagrations, and the overthrow of laws, and civil and intestine warfare, and the fall of the whole city and empire, were near at hand, unless the immortal gods were pacified in every possible way and used their divine authority, so to speak, to modify the decrees of destiny. [20] Accordingly, in obedience to their caution, games were then celebrated for ten days, and nothing was omitted which was likely to pacify the gods; and the seers also instructed us to make a larger statue of Jupiter and erect it in a high position and turn it towards the East in the direction opposite to its former aspect. And they said that they were hopeful that if the statue, as you now see it, looked towards the rising sun and the Forum and Senate-house, then those schemes which had been secretly formed against the welfare of the city and empire would be brought to light, so as to be manifest to the senate and people of Rome. So the consuls of the year made a contract for its erection, but the work was executed so slowly, that it was not erected under the consuls of last year, nor in my consulship until this very day.

[9.] L   [21] Now who can be so obstinately blind to truth, so headstrong, so deluded, as to deny all these facts which are before our eyes, and particularly the great fact that this city is under the direct guidance and authority of the immortal gods ? In fact, since this answer was returned, that massacres and conflagrations and the destruction of the state were being actively arranged, and all this by your fellow-countrymen, you have actually seen for yourselves that ideas which at the time seemed to some persons incredible on account of the magnitude of the crimes, have been not only conceived by citizens of abominable character, but even seriously entertained. Again, is not the following so striking an interposition as to be clearly due to the deliberate assent of Jupiter the most supreme, I mean the fact that the statue was being set up at the very moment when early this morning the conspirators and the informers against them were being brought through the Forum by my orders to the Temple of Concord ? And precisely when it was erected, facing towards you and the senate, you saw all the schemes that had been framed against the public welfare, brought to light and exposed. [22] Thus even greater hatred and even severer punishment is merited by these men who have tried to bring desolating and unhallowed flames not only upon your homes and houses, but also upon the temples and shrines of the gods. If I said that the resistance to them came from me, I should be taking too much upon myself and be deemed presumptuous. No, Jupiter, Jupiter himself, has resisted them ; Jupiter has willed the preservation of the Capitol, of these temples, of the whole city, of all of you. Only under the guidance of the immortal gods did I entertain this determination and this purpose, men of Rome, and arrive at these important sources of information. Yes, Lentulus and our other internal enemies would surely never have been so insane as to intrust interests so important to strangers and foreigners, if the immortal gods had not deprived their violent minds of all reasoning faculties. What ? do you think that it was not due to divine interposition, that these Gauls, members of a community barely pacified, the only tribe left which seems able and not disinclined to make war upon the Roman people, disregarded the chance of independence and the offer of enormous benefits voluntarily made to them by these patricians, and put your welfare above their own advantage ? particularly when they could have secured their victory over us not by fighting but by simply holding their tongues.

[10.] L   [23] So, citizens of Rome, since a public thanksgiving has been voted to be held at all the sacred couches, keep the festal days with your wives and children. Many honours justly deserved have often ere now been paid to the immortal gods, but surely none more justly due to them than these. For you have been rescued from a most barbarous and heartrending destruction, and rescued without bloodshed, without slaughter, without an army, without a prolonged struggle ; by civil weapons, and with me in my civil capacity as your only leader and general, you have won the day. [24] Yes, recall to memory, men of Rome, all our internal dissensions, not only those of which you have heard, but those which you yourselves remember and have seen. L. Sulla crushed P. Sulpicius ; C. Marius, the protector of this city, and many gallant men, Sulla partly drove out of Rome and partly put to death. Cn. Octavius when consul ejected his colleague from the city by force of arms ; all this place was heaped high with the bodies and ran red with the blood of citizens. Cinna acting with Marius afterwards got the upper hand ; his victory, which involved the death of men of the greatest renown, extinguished the most brilliant ornaments of our community. Sulla after wards took vengeance for these barbarities : I need not say what havoc his reprisals wrought among the citizens and what ruin they brought upon the state. M. Lepidus quarrelled with the illustrious and gallant Q. Catulus : the country had to mourn less for his death than for the other deaths that it involved. [25] Yet all these former dissensions were such as tended not to the destruction of Rome but to some change in the form of government : the men I have mentioned did not desire to destroy all government, but merely to secure the principal part in whatever government there was ; they did not wish that this city should be burnt down but that they should be powerful in her. In this war, the greatest and most barbarous within the memory of man, a war such as no uncivilised government has ever carried on with its own subjects, a war in which Lentulus, Catilina, Cethegus, and Cassius, deliberately adopted the principle that all persons, whose safety would be secured by the safety of the city, should be reckoned as enemies, in this war, I say, men of Rome, I have conducted myself so as to preserve the safety of all of you, and though your enemies had imagined that only so many of the citizens would survive as should have escaped the indiscriminate massacre, and only so much of the city, as could not have been reached by the flames, I have kept both the city and the citizens absolutely untouched and unharmed.

[11.] L   [26] For these important services, citizens of Rome, I do not require from you any reward of merit, any outward sign of honour, any memorial of my renown, except the eternal remembrance of this day. In your hearts and there alone I desire that all my triumphs, all my honourable distinctions, all the memorials of my glory, all the outward signs of my fame, may be laid up and stored. No material reward can please me, nothing that is lifeless and mute, nothing in short that men less worthy can obtain. By your remembrance, men of Rome, our deeds will be kept fresh, in the phrases of ordinary life they will be perpetuated, in the records of literature they will reach maturity and lasting strength. I understand that the same period, never to end I hope, will now witness the prolonged welfare of the city and the prolonged remembrance of my consulship ; and I know that at the same moment two citizens appeared in Rome, ** the one destined to extend the bounds of your empire not to the ends of the earth but to the limits of the sky, the other to preserve from destruction the seat and centre of that same extended empire.

[12.] L   [27] But since the fate of the services which I have rendered, is very different from the fortune of those who have had the charge of foreign wars, in that I have to live with those whom I have vanquished and subdued, while they left their enemies behind them either slain or completely crushed, it is your duty, citizens of Rome, if it is right that others profit by their deeds, to take precautions that I may not some day be a loser by mine. I took precautions that the wicked and abominable designs of violent men might be no injury to you : it is yours to take precautions that they may not injure me. However, men of Rome, to me myself no injury can now be done by them. There is a strong defence to be found in the favour of the good citizens, and this I have secured for ever ; there is a strong authority in the state, and this will always silently defend me ; there is great strength in the voice of conscience, and those who disregard its warn ing, when they wish to assail me, will betray themselves. [28] There is moreover in us, men of Rome, a spirit that will not allow us to submit to violence from any man, but on the contrary will make us always anticipate attack by challenging all bad men. But if these foes that are of our own household, foiled in their assault on you, direct their whole violence against me alone, you will have to consider, men of Rome, what fate you wish to be hereafter the reward of those who for your welfare have exposed themselves to unpopularity and perils of every kind. For me personally what is there which can now increase the good to be derived from life, especially as I see no higher step to which I care to mount either in the distinctions which you confer or in the fame that virtue brings ? [29] I will assuredly, men of Rome, devote myself to the task of preserving and keeping bright in private life the work which I have done as consul, so that if any unpopular ity has been incurred by my efforts to preserve the state, it may recoil on those who excite it, and redound only to my honour. In short, I will so behave in public life as to bear in mind always what I have done, and to prove that my success should be ascribed to my own efforts and not to accident. Do you, citizens of Rome, since it is now evening, worship Jupiter, the great protector of this city and of you, and disperse to your own homes ; and though the danger is now averted, still keep watch and ward as carefully as on the former night. I will provide that you may not be obliged to watch much longer, and that you may be able to remain in perpetual tranquillity.

Following speech (In Catilinam 4)


1.   L. Cornelius Cinna and L. Cornelius Sulla.

2.   The great slave holiday, at this time Dec. igth.

3.   This is possibly the bronze wolf now in the Capitoline Museum,

4.   Cn. Pompeius Magnus and Cicero himself were both born in 106 B.C.

Following speech (In Catilinam 4)

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