“The Verrine Orations I” by Cicero

Verrine Orations

Cicero, The Professor and the Artist

Cicero’s writings need little or no introduction. His erudition, eloquence and fluid writing style give the readers instant familiarity with the historical and political background of his times. His defense and prosecution speeches are like lectures given in court. Cicero the Professor teaches the jury and his opponents the meaning of justice and propriety, and demonstrates how to execute justice, by arguments of moral principles, precedent and custom, and proper interpretation of the law.

Cicero the Artist, on the other hand, delivers his speeches as if he were painting a masterpiece, a vivid picture of another man’s whole life in the minds of his hearers. There are contrast of light and darkness (e.g., stories of heroes and villains), ascending and descending gradation (e.g., levels of acceptable behavior), anticlimaxes and climaxes (e.g., twists and turns in the unfolding of events, and the exhilarating finale).

Qualifications for a Prosecutor

“First, a prosecutor must possess a particularly upright and blameless personal character; nothing could be more intolerable than that a man whose own conduct will not stand criticism should proceed to criticize the conduct of someone else.”

“In the next place, a prosecutor must show firmness and honesty.” IOW, there cannot be “conflict of interest”.

Thirdly, he must have some experience as a speaker, some training either in the principles or in the practice of the law-courts and the law.

“It has probably never occurred to you what it means to bear on your shoulders the whole weight of a criminal trial. You must set forth in detail the whole history of another man’s life. You must not only make it clear to the understanding of the court; you must draw the picture so vividly that the whole of the audience can see it with their own eyes.

Recollect yourself. Think of what you are, and of what you are fit for. This is a formidable task and very painful undertaking, which involves the cause of our allies and the welfare of our province, the rights of our own nation, and the authority of our law and our courts of law. These are not light or simple matters to take upon you: have you the powers of voice and memory, have you the intelligence and the ability to sustain such a burden?

Do you think yourself able to charge him with all these [crimes], arranging and distinguishing them properly, according to the times and places at which they respectively occurred…– make all his acts of lust and impiety and cruelty excite as much pain, and as much indignation, in those who are told of them here, as they excited in those who underwent them there? … You have to mention everything, establish every fact, expound everything in full. You have not merely to state your case; you have to develop it with impressive wealth of detail. If you wish to achieve any sort of success, you must not only make people listen to you: you must make them listen with pleasure, with eagerness.

Even had you the advantage of great natural gifts; had you from boyhood received the best teaching and enjoyed an elaborate and thorough education;… Even so, with a case of such magnitude, a case that has aroused such wide public interest, it would be hard to find the industry to master it, the memory to remember it, the eloquence to set it forth, and the strength of voice and body to carry it through.”


There may be those who detest the memory of Carbo [the victim]: but what such persons have now to consider is not the fate they desired should befall him, but the danger to themselves in a similar case. .. For that nature which has wrought a thing like this cannot rest content with this single wickedness; it must for ever be busy with some such piece of unscrupulous treachery.

(proceed to “The Verrine Orations II”)



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