What times! What crisis! What drama!
A masterpiece of oratory! A fine specimen of human being!
[Volume X of Loeb Classical Library’s 28-volume series]
These orations by Cicero, especially “In Catilinam” and “Pro Murena”, showcase his exceptional skills as a lawyer and supreme orator, political foresight and vision as an eminent statesmen, erudition in law, politics, history and philosophy, and, above all, his “masterful urbanity” as a fine specimen of human being.
“In Catilinam” (Against Catiline) is the crowning achievement of Cicero’s political career. In discovering the Catilinarian Conspiracy, exposing and suppressing the conspirators, and safeguarding the Roman Republic, he demonstrated outstanding ability as a statesman, and shrewdness in military stratagems characteristic of a general, though he was a civilian.
Cicero addresses Catiline directly in his first oration in the Senate, “You are not the man, Catiline, ever to be recalled from disgrace by shame, or from danger by fear, or from madness by reason.” If it had been at all possible to recall a lust-crazed man with words, Cicero would have done it. His portrayal of Catiline as a destroyer of the Republic and the people, and a monster feared and shunned by all honorable citizens, is reminiscent of the self-loathing speech of Oedipus, the patricide and plague of Thebes, in Sophocles’ play.
When defending his decision not to execute Catiline but let him leave Rome instead, “Let the wicked depart”, Cicero follows Socrates’ example in “Crito“, and converses with the personified “State”, and thereby proclaims that he makes his decision with a clear conscience and for the best interest of the State (cf. 18th of “Thirty-Six Stratagems“).
Some, including the translator of this book, criticized Cicero for self-aggrandizement. Their words would have carried more weight if they had been statesmen themselves, lived through the tumultuous times with honor and distinction and died with courage and dignity as Cicero did.
In “Pro Sulla”, Cicero defends a man, whom he personally dislikes, from a sense of obligation and his compassionate nature, as well as political circumstances. In the process, he schools, nay squelches, the prosecutor who hurls personal insult at himself.
“Do not, then, repeat the reproach that I am a foreigner, if you do not want to be refuted more conclusively; nor that I am a tyrant, if you do not want to make yourself more ridiculous. You may of course think it tyrannical to live in such a way that you are in bondage to no man nor even to any passion; to make light of all excesses; to need neither gold, nor silver, nor any other possession; to give your opinion freely in the Senate; to consult the people’s interests more than their wishes; to yield to no man; to resist many. If you think that this is tyrannical, then I admit that I am a tyrant; but if my despotic power, my tyranny, if some overbearing or arrogant utterance angers you, why do you not produce this rather than a prejudicial phrase and abusive slander?”