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Catiline

Catiline

 

CatilineThe name of Catiline has become a common epithet for a conspirator and traitor. He owes this bad eminence to the genius of Cicero, who exposed his conspiracy with such matchless eloquence that he compelled even some distinguished citizens, who were implicated in the plot, to join in denouncing the baffled leader and in driving him to ruin. Modern poets have dramatized him as a desperate villain, a human fiend. "I think," said Cicero, "there never was in the world a monster compounded by nature of such diverse, contrary and conflicting tempers, qualities and propensities. Yet his power of dissimulation enabled him so to veil his vices as to render him still more formidable. He was, therefore, able to deceive the good, to intimidate the weak, and to inspire new boldness into his most depraved associates.

 

Lucius Sergius Catilina was born of a patrician family in 108 B.C. In the civil war between Sulla and Marius. Catiline was an active partisan of the former, under whom he served as quaestor. Whell Sulla triumphed and the friends of Marius were proscribed, Catilina embraced the opportunity to gratify his evil propensities, and found delight in murder and robbery. His brother-in-law was one of the victims of his cruelty, and he is charged with having murdered his first wife and son in order to marry his second wife, Aurelia. At an early age his fortune was ruined by his prodigality and excesses. The bribes which he paid to judges to get immunity for his crimes were enormous. Yet such was the corruption of the whole body-politic that his complicated infamy formed no sensible obstruction to his regular official promotion. In 68 B.C. he was elected praetor, and in the next year was governor of the province of Africa. In the year 66 he presented himself as a candidate for the consulship, and, having been defeated, he formed a plot to assassinate the consuls Cotta and Tarquatus, whose competitors had been convicted of bribery. The plot failed, because one of the conspirators omitted to give a signal at the appointed time.

 

In the next year Catiline entered the lists against Cicero as a candidate for the consulship. But Cicero, though a new mall," that is, one in whose family none had yet held office, was successful. Catiline, being defeated, organized a band of ruffians, assassins and desperate men, with whom were also associated many patricians and Senators. With this formidable following, Catiline again canvassed for the consulship, but was again defeated in October, 63. This repulse rendered him furious, and he prepared for the speedy execution of his plot, which now included the burning of the city and the massacre of the consuls and friends of order. An army, composed of Sulla's veterans and other partisans of Catiline, was assembled in Etruria. Two of the conspirators attempted to kill Cicero at his house, but failed, for the secret had been revealed to Cicero by Fulvia, the mistress of one of the conspirators.

 

The Senate by a decree now invested the Consuls with the power of dictators. In this perilous crisis Cicero acted with consummate energy and prudence. On the 8th of November, when Catiline ventured to enter the Senate, Cicero denounced him in a powerful and inimitable oration. The conspirator, whose friends had already shrunk from him, rose to reply; but his voice was drowned by cries of "Traitor," "Parricide." In spite of his unmatched audacity he was compelled to withdraw. Leaving Rome in the ensuing night, he joined his rebel army in Etruria. He still had confidence that when he approached Rome at the head of the dreaded veterans, accustomed to the atrocities of the civil war, his friends would resume their courage, and his opponents would be overcome with terror. But Cicero continued his activity in Rome, and was fortunately able to lay before the Senate legal evidence of the treason meditated. Ambassadors from the Gallic tribe of the Allobroges testified that Lentulus and other conspirators had sought to enlist their services against the Commonwealth. Lentulus and the others accused were speedily arrested, and Cicero submitted the question of their punishment to the Senate. Cato, in strong terms, and Cicero less vehemently, urged the death penalty. Caesar, in a remarkable speech, advised perpetual imprisonment The Senate decreed death, and the sentence was speedily executed.

 

This act effectually destroyed Catiline's hopes If a revolt in the city. His army, diminished by desertion, was hemmed in by those of Metellus and Antonius. In Febrnary, 62, he hazarded a battle with those of the latter, then commanded by Petreius. Though Catiline displayed military skill and dauntless bravery, he was defeated and killed with 3,000 of his followers. His body was found far in advance of his own ranks, amid a heap of the enemy whom he had slain. The contemporary authors to whom we are indebted for accounts of Catiline are Cicero and Sallust, both bitterly opposed to him. it has been thought, therefore, by some, that their statements of his character and conspiracy are exaggerated. But there is sufficient evidence from other sources to confirm their probability on all disputed points and to justify the verdict of history on the Roman traitor.

 

CAESAR ON THE PUNISHMENT OF THE CONSPIRATORS.

 

In all debates, Conscript Fathers, when the matter under deliberation is in its nature doubtful, it is the duty of every Senator to bring to the question a mind free from animosity and friendship, from anger and compassion. When those emotions prevail, the understanding is clouded, and truth is scarcely perceived. To be passionate and just at the same time, is not in the power of man. Reason, when unbiased, and left to act with freedom, answers all our purposes: when passion gains the ascendant, reason is fatigued, and judgment lends no assistance.

 

In the case now before us, let it be our wisdom, Conscript Fathers, not to suffer the crimes of Lentulus and his accomplices to hurry you beyond the bounds of moderation. lndignation may operate on your minds, but a due sense of your own dignity, I trust, will preponderate. My opinion is this: if you know of any pains and penalties ad equate to the guilt of the conspirators, pronounce your judgment; I have no objection. If you think death a sufficient punishment, I concur with Silanus, but if the guilt of the prisoners exceeds all forms of vindictive justice, we should rest contented with the laws known to the constitution.

 

The Senators who have gone before me have exhausted the colors of rhetoric, and in a pathetic style have painted forth the miseries of their country. They have displayed the horrors of war, and the wretched condition of the vanquished; the young of both sexes suffering violation; children torn from the mother's arms virtuous matrons exposed to the brutal passions of the conqueror; the houses of citizens, and the temples of the gods pillaged without distinction the city made a theater of blood and honor in a word, desolation and massacre in every quarter.

 

But why, immortal gods! why all that waste of eloquence? Was it to inflame our passions? to kindle indignation? to excite a detestation of rebellion? If the guilt of these men is not of itself sufficient to fire us with resentment, is it in the power of words to do it? I answer, No resentment is implanted in our hearts by the hand of nature; every man is sensible of injury and oppression; many are apt to feel too intensely. But we know, Conscript Fathers, that resentment does not operate alike in all the ranks of life: he who dwells in obscurity may commit an act of violence but the consequence is confined to a small circle. The fame of the offender, like his fortune, makes no noise in the world. It is otherwise with those who figure in exalted stations the eyes of man· kind are upon them; and the wrong they do is considered as an abuse of power. Moderation is the virtue of superior rank. In that preeminence no apology is allowed for the injustice that proceeds from partiality, from anger, aversion, or animosity. The injury committed in the lower classes of life is called the impulse of sudden passion in the higher stations, it takes the Dame of pride and cruelty.

 

I am willing, Conscript Fathers, to admit that the keenest torments are in no proportion to the guilt of the conspirators. But let it be remembered that in all cases of punishment it is the catastrophe that makes the deepest impression on the minds of the people. Is the criminal treated with severity? his crimes are forgotten, and his sufferings become the general topic. What has been proposed to you by Decius Silanus, sprung, I am persuaded, from his patriot zeal I know the character of the man; integrity and honor are the principles that direct his conduct. Neither partiality, nor private resentment, can govern his opinion. But what he has proposed, appears to me, I will not say cruel for in the case of such malefactors, what can be cruel , but I am free to declare that it is contrary to the laws established by our ancestors.

 

With regard to capital punishment, it is a truth well known, that to the man who lives in distress and anguish of heart, death is not an evil; it is a release from pain and misery it puts an end to the calamities of life and after the dissolution of the body, all is peace; neither care nor joy ell then intrude. But tell me, Silanus, in the name of the immortal gods rask you; why did you not add, that, before the mortal stroke, the prisoners should suffer pain and torment under the scourge of the executioner? Those penalties, you will say, are forbidden by the Porcian law and have we not laws, in express terms, declaring that the life of a Roman citizen shall remain inviolable, and that banishment is the only sentence that can be enforced? Shall it be said that the lictor's rod is worse than death? be it so; and what can be too severe in the case of men convicted of the most horrible crimes? If, on the other band, stripes and lashes arc the slightest punishment, with what color of reason are we to respect a prohibitory law on a point of no importance, and yet violate it in a mutter of the greatest moment?

 

It may be said, who will object to a decree against the enemies of their country? The answer is obvious time may engender discontent; a future day may condemn the proceeding; unforeseen events, and even chance, that with wild caprice perplexes human affairs, May give us reason to repent. The punishment of traitors, however severe, cannot be more than their flagitious deeds deserve; but it behooves us, Conscript Fathers, to weigh well the consequences before we proceed to judgment. Acts of state, that sprung from policy, and were perhaps expedient on the spur of the occasion, have grown into precedents often found to be of evil tendency. The administration may fall into the hands of ignorance and incapacity and in that case, the measure, which at first was just and proper, becomes by misapplication to other men and other times the rule of bad policy and injustice.

 

It must be admitted that, in times like the present, when Marcus Tullius Cicero conducts the administration, scenes of that tragic nature are not to be apprehended. But in a large populous city, when the minds of men are ever in agitation, a variety of jarring opinions must prevail. At a future day, and under another consul, who may have an army at his back, falsehood may appear in the garb of truth, and gain universal credit. In such a juncture, should the consul, encouraged by our example, and armed with power by the decree of the Senate, think proper to unsheath the sword, who shall stop him in his career? who will be able to appease his vengeance?

 

Our ancestors, Conscript Fathers, never wanted wisdom or courage; nor were they ever so elate with pride, as to be above imitating the wholesome institutions of other nations. They borrowed the make of their arms, and the use of them, from the Samnites from the Etruscans they adopted the robes and ensigns of the magistracy and in short, whatever they saw proper and useful among their allies, and even their enemies, that they were sure to transplant for their own ad~ vantage. They wished to improve by good example, and they were above the mean passion of envy.

 

In that early period, and with that generous disposition, they looked towards Greece, and from that nation imported the custom of punishing some offenses by the lictor's rod, and in capital cases they pronounced judgment of death. In process of time, when the State rose to power and grandeur, and the people, as will always be the case in prodigious multitudes, were divided into contending factions, innocent men were often oppressed, and grievances increased and multiplied; it was then that the Porcian law, and others of a similar nature, repealed the power of inflicting capital punishment, and left to the condemned the privilege of going into exile. By these examples and this train of reasoning, I am led to this conclusion. Consult your own dignity, Conscript Fathers and beware of innovation. I believe I may assume without fear of being contradicted, that the eminent men of a former day, who from small beginnings raised this mighty Empire, possessed a larger portion of wisdom and virtue than has fallen to the lot of their descendants. What our ancestors obtained with glory, we of the present day find too much for our decayed abilities; we sink under the weight.

 

But you will say, What is the scope of this long argument? Shall the conspirators be discharged, and suffered to strengthen Catiline's army? Far from it, my advice is this let their estate and effects be confiscated; detain their persons in separate prisons, and for that purpose choose the strongest of the municipal towns; declare, by a positive law, that no motion in their favor shall be brought forward in the Senate, and that no appeal shall be made to the people. Add to your decree, that whoever shall presume to espouse the cause of the guilty, shall be deemed an enemy to the Commonwealth.From SALLUT'S CATILINE.

 

Catiline

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