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but my qusestorship." And he goes on to tell his
audience how he was undeceived.

"The people of Sicily had devised for me unpre-
cedented honours. So I left the island in a state of
great elation, thinking that the Eoman people would at
once offer me everything without my seeking. But when
I was leaving my province, and on my road home, I
happened to land at Puteoli just at the time when a good
many of our most fashionable people are accustomed
to resort to that neighbourhood. I very nearly collapsed,
gentlemen, when a man asked me what day I had left
Eome, and whether there was any news stirring ? When
I made answer that I was returning from my province
* Oh ! yes, to be sure,' said he ; ' Africa, I believe ? '
' No,' said I to him, considerably annoyed and dis-
gusted; 'from Sicily.' Then somebody else, with the
air of a man who knew all about it, said to him
' "What ! don't you know that he was Quaestor at Syra-
cuse ? ' [It was at Lilybaeum quite a different district. ]
No need to make a long story of it ; I swallowed my
indignation, and made as though I, like the rest, had
come there for the waters. But I am not sure,
gentlemen, whether that scene did not do me more
good than if everybody then and there had publicly


congratulated me. For after I had thus found out that
the people of Rome have somewhat deaf ears, but very
keen and sharp eyes, I left off cogitating what people
would hear about me; I took care that thenceforth
they should see me before them every day : I lived in
their sight, I stuck close to the Forum ; the porter at
my gate refused no man admittance my very sleep was
never allowed to be a plea against an audience." *

Did we not say that Cicero was modern, not
ancient 1 ? Have we not here the original of that
Cambridge senior wrangler, who, happening to enter
a London theatre at the same moment with the king,
bowed all round with a gratified embarrassment, think-
ing that the audience rose and cheered at him ?

It was while he held the office of ^dile that he made
his first appearance as public prosecutor, and brought
to justice the most important criminal of the day.
Verres, late Praetor in Sicily, was charged with high
crimes and misdemeanours in his government. The
grand scale of his offences, and the absorbing interest
of the trial, have led to his case being quoted as an
obvious parallel to that of Warren Hastings, though
with much injustice to the latter, so far as it may seem
to imply any comparison of moral character. This
Verres, the corrupt son of a corrupt father, had during
his three years' rule heaped on the unhappy province
every evil which tyranny and rapacity could inflict.
He had found it prosperous and contented : he left
it exhausted and smarting under its wrongs. He met
his impeachment now with considerable confidence.
* Defence of Plancius, c. 26, 27.


The gains of his first year of office were sufficient,
he said, for himself ; the second had been for his
friends; the third produced more than enough to bribe
a jury.

The trials at Rome took place in the Forum the
open space, of nearly five acres, lying between the
Capitoline and Palatine hills. It was the city mar-
ket-place, but it was also the place where the popula-
tion assembled for any public meeting, political
or other where the idle citizen strolled to meet
his friends and hear the gossip of the day, and
where the man of business made his appointments.
Courts for the administration of justice magnificent
halls, called basilicce had by this time been erected
on the north and south sides, and in these the ordinary
trials took place ; but for state trials the open Forum
was itself the court. One end of the wide area was
raised on a somewhat higher level a kind of dais
on a large scale and was separated from the rest by
the Rostra;* a sort of stage from which the orators
spoke. It was here that the trials were held. A
temporary tribunal for the presiding officer, with ac-
commodation for counsel, witnesses, and jury, was
erected in the open air; and the scene may perhaps
best be pictured by imagining the principal square
in some large town fitted up with open hustings on a
large scale for an old-fashioned county election, by no
means omitting the intense popular excitement and
mob violence appropriate to such occasions. Temples
of the gods and other public buildings overlooked the
area, and the steps of these, on any occasion of great

A. c. vol. ix. B


excitement, would be crowded by those who were
anxious to see at least, if they could not hear.

Verres, as a state criminal, would be tried before a
special commission, and by a jury composed at this
time entirely from the senatorial order, chosen by lot
(with a limited right of challenge reserved to both
parties) from a panel made out every year by the praetor.
This magistrate, who was a kind of minister of justice,
usually presided on such occasions, occupying the curule
chair, which was one of the well-known privileges of
high office at Rome. But his office was rather that of
the modern chairman who keeps order at a public
meeting than that of a judge. Judge, in our sense of
the word, there was none ; the jury were the judges
both of law and fact. They were, in short, the recog-
nised assessors of the praetor, in whose hands the
administration of justice was supposed to lie. The
law, too, was of a highly flexible character, and the
appeals of the advocates were rather to the passions
and feelings of the jurors than to the legal points of
the case. Cicero himself attached comparatively little
weight to this branch of his profession ; " Busy as
I am," he says in one of his speeches, " I could make
myself lawyer enough in three days." The jurors gave
each their vote by ballot, ' guilty,' ' not guilty,' or (as
in the Scotch courts) ' not proven,' and the majority
carried the verdict.

But such trials as that of Verres were much more
like an impeachment before the House of Commons
than a calm judicial inquiry. The men who would
have to try a defendant of his class would be, in very


few cases, honest and impartial weighers of the evi-
dence. Their large number (varying from fifty to
seventy) weakened the sense of individual responsibi-
lity, and laid them more open to the appeal of the
advocates to their political passions. Most of them
would come into court prejudiced in some degree by
the interests of party ; many would be hot partisans.
Cicero, in his treatise on 'Oratory,' explains clearly
for the pleader's guidance the nature of the tribunals
to which he had to appeal. " Men are influenced in
their verdicts much more by prejudice or favour, or
greed of gain, or anger, or indignation, or pleasure, or
hope or fear, or by misapprehension, or by some excite-
ment of their feelings, than either by the facts of the
case, or by established precedents, or by any rules or
principles whatever either of law or equity."

Verres was supported by some of the most powerful
families at Eome. Peculation on the part of governors
of provinces had become almost a recognised principle :
many of those who held offices of state either had done,
or were waiting their turn to do, much the same as the
present defendant ; and every effort had been made by
his friends either to put off the trial indefinitely, or to
turn it into a sham by procuring the appointment of a
private friend and creature of his own as public prosecu-
tor. On the other hand, the Sicilian families, whom he
had wronged and outraged, had their share of influence
also at Eome, and there was a growing impatience of the
insolence and rapacity of the old governing houses,
of whose worst qualities the ex-governor of Sicily was
a fair type. There were many reasons which would


lead Cicero to take up such a cause energetically. It
was a great opening for him in what we may call his
profession : his former connection with the government
of Sicily gave him a personal interest in the cause of
the province ; and, above all, the prosecution of a state
offender of such importance was a lift at once into the
foremost ranks of political life. He spared no pains to
get up his case thoroughly. He went all over the
island collecting evidence ; and his old popularity there
did him good service in the work.

There was, indeed, evidence enough against the late
governor. The reckless gratification of his avarice and
his passions had seldom satisfied him, without the addi-
tion of some bitter insult -to the sufferers. But there
was even a more atrocious feature in the case, of which
Cicero did not fail to make good use in his appeal to
a Roman jury. Many of the unhappy victims had
the Roman franchise. The torture of an unfortunate
Sicilian might be turned into a jest by a clever advo-
cate for the defence, and regarded by a philosophic
jury with less than the cold compassion with which we
regard the sufferings of the lower animals ; but " to
scourge a man that was a Roman and uncondemned,"
even in the far-off province of Judea, was a thought
which, a century later, made the officers of the great
Empire, at its pitch of power, tremble before a wan-
dering teacher who bore the despised name of Chris-
tian. No one can possibly tell the tale so well as
Cicero himself; and the passage from his speech for
the prosecution is an admirable specimen both of his
power of pathetic narrative and scathing denunciation.


" How shall I speak of Publius Gavius, a citizen of
Consa ? "With what powers of voice, with what force of
language, with what sufficient indignation of soul, can
I tell the tale? Indignation, at least, will not fail
me : the more must I strive that in this my pleading
the other requisites may be made to meet the gravity
of the subject, the intensity of my feeling. For the
accusation is such that, when it was first laid before
me, I did not think to make use of it ; though I knew
it to be perfectly true, I did not think it would be
credible. How shall I now proceed? when I have
already been speaking for so many hours on one sub-
ject his atrocious cruelty; when I have exhausted
upon other points well-nigh all the powers of language
such as alone is suited to that man's crimes ; when I
have taken no precaution to secure your attention by
any variety in my charges against him, in what
fashion can I now speak on a charge of this import-
ance ? I think there is one way one course, and only
one, left for me to take. I will place the facts before
you ; and they have in themselves such weight, that
110 eloquence I will not say of mine, for I have none
but of any man's, is needed to excite your feelings.

" This Gavius of Consa, of whom I speak, had been
among the crowds of Roman citizens who had been
thrown into prison under that man. Somehow he had
made his escape out of the Quarries,* and had got to

* This was one of the state prisons at Syracuse, so called,
said to have been constructed by the tyrant Dionysius. They
were the quarries from' which the stone was dug for building the
city, and had been converted to their present purpose. . Cicero,


Messana ; and when he saw Italy and the towers of
Ehegium now so close to him, and out of the horror
and shadow of death felt himself breathe with a new
life as he scented once more the fresh air of liberty and
the laws, he began to talk at Messana, and to complain
that he, a Roman citizen, had been put in irons
that he was going straight to Rome that he would be
ready there for Verres on his arrival.

"The wretched man little knew that he might as well
have talked in this fashion in the governor's palace before
his very face, as at Messana. For, as I told you before,
this city he had selected for himself as the accomplice
in his crimes, the receiver of his stolen goods, the con-
fidant of all his wickedness. So Gavius is brought
at once before the city magistrates; and, as it so
chanced, on that very day Verres himself came to
Messana. The case is reported to him ; that there is a
certain Roman citizen who complained of having been
put into the Quarries at Syracuse ; that as he was just
going on board ship, and was uttering threats really
too atrocious against Verres, they had detained him,
and kept him in custody, that the governor himself
might decide about him as should seem to him good.
Verres thanks the gentlemen, and extols their goodwill
and zeal for his interests. He himself, burning with
rage and malice, comes down to the court. His eyes

who no doubt had seen the one in question, describes it as sunk
to an immense depth in the solid rock. There was no roof ; and
the unhappy prisoners were exposed there "to the sun by day,
and to the rain and frosts by night. " In these places the survi-
vors of the unfortunate Athenian expedition against Syracuse
were confined, and died in great numbers.


flashed fire ; cruelty was written on every line of his face.
All present watched anxiously to see to what lengths
he meant to go, or what steps he would take ; when
suddenly he ordered the prisoner to be dragged forth,
and to be stripped and bound in the open forum, and
the rods to be got ready at once. The unhappy man
cried out that he was a Roman citizen that he had
the municipal franchise of Consa that he had served
in a campaign with Lucius Pretius, a distinguished
Eonian knight, now engaged in business at Panormus,
from whom Verres might ascertain the truth of his
statement. Then that man replies that he has dis-
covered that he, Gavius, has been sent into Sicily as a
spy by the ringleaders of the runaway slaves ; of which
charge there was neither witness nor trace of any kind,
or even suspicion in any man's mind. Then he ordered
the man to be scourged severely all over his body.
Yes a Roman citizen was cut to pieces with rods in
the open forum at Messana, gentlemen ; and as the
punishment went on, no word, no groan of the wretched
man, in all his anguish, was heard amid the sound of
the lashes, but this cry, ' I am a Roman citizen !' By
such protest of citizenship he thought he could at least
save himself from anything like blows could escape
the indignity of personal torture. But not only did
he fail in thus deprecating the insult of the lash, but
when he redoubled his entreaties and his appeal to
the name of Rome, a cross yes, I say, a cross was
ordered for that most unfortunate and ill-fated man,
who had never yet beheld such an abuse of a governor's


" name of liberty, sweet to our ears ! rights of
citizenship, in which we glory ! laws of Porcius and
Sempronius ! O privilege of the tribune, long and sorely
regretted, and at last restored to the people of Rome !
Has it all come to this, that a Roman citizen in a province
of the Roman people in a federal town is to be bound
and beaten with rods in the forum by a man who only
holds those rods and axes those awful emblems by
grace of that same people of Rome? What shall I
say of the fact that fire, and red-hot plates, and
other tortures were applied? Even if his agonised en-
treaties and pitiable cries did not check you, were
you not moved by the tears and groans which burst
from the Roman citizens who were present at the
scene? Did you dare to drag to the cross any man
who claimed to be a citizen of Rome ? I did not in-
tend, gentlemen, in my former pleading, to press this
case so strongly I did not indeed ; for you saw your-
selves how the public feeling was already embittered
against the defendant by indignation, and hate, and
dread of a common peril."

He then proceeds to prove by witnesses the facts of
the case and the falsehood of the charge against Gavius
of having been a spy. " However," he goes on to say,
addressing himself now to Verres, " we will grant, if
you please, that your suspicions on this point, if false,
were honestly entertained."

" You did not know who the man was ; you sus-
pected him of being a spy. I do not ask the
grounds of your suspicion. I impeach you on your
own evidence. He .said he was a Roman citizen.


Had you yourself, Verres, been seized and led out
to execution, in Persia, say, or in the farthest In-
dies, what other cry or protest could you raise but
that you were a Roman citizen? And if you, a
stranger there among strangers, in the hands of bar-
barians, amongst men who dwell in the farthest and
remotest regions of the earth, would have found pro-
tection in the name of your city, known and renowned
in every nation under heaven, could the victim whom
you were dragging to the cross, be he who he might
and you did not know who he was when he declared
he was a citizen of Rome, could he obtain from you, a
Eoman magistrate, by the mere mention and claim of
citizenship, not only no reprieve, but not even a brief
respite from death ]

" Men of neither rank nor wealth, of humble birth
and station, sail the seas ; they touch at some spot
they never saw before, where they are neither per-
sonally known to those whom they visit, nor can always
find any to vouch for their nationality. But in this
single fact of their citizenship they feel they shall be
safe, not only with our own governors, who are held in
check by the terror of the laws and of public opinion
not only among those who share that citizenship of
Home, and who are united with them by community of
language, of laws, and of many things besides but go
where they may, this, they think, will be their safe-
guard. Take away this confidence, destroy this safe-
guard for our Roman citizens once establish the prin-
ciple that there is no protection in the words, * I am a
citizen of Rome ' that praetor or other magistrate may


with impunity sentence to what punishment he will a
man who says he is a Roman citizen, merely because
somebody does not know it for a fact ; and at once, by
admitting such a defence, you are shutting up against
our Roman citizens all our provinces, all foreign states,
despotic or independent all the whole world, in short,
which has ever lain open to our national enterprise
beyond all."

He turns again to Verres.

"But why talk of Gavius? as though it were
Gavius on whom you were wreaking a private ven-
geance, instead of rather waging war against the
very name and rights of Roman citizenship. You
showed yourself an enemy, I say, not to the indivi-
dual man, but to the common cause of liberty. For
what meant it that, when the authorities of Mes-
sana, according to their usual custom, would have
erected the cross behind their city on the Pompeian
road, you ordered it to be set up on the side that looked
toward the Strait ? Nay, and added this which you
cannot deny, which you said openly in the hearing of
all that you chose that spot for this reason, that as
he had called himself a Roman citizen, he might be
able, from his cross of punishment, to see in the dis-
tance his country and his home ! And so, gentlemen,
that cross was the only one, since Messana was a city,
that was ever erected on that spot. A point which
commanded a view of Italy was chosen by the defend-
ant for the express reason that the dying sufferer, in
his last agony and torment, might see how the rights of
the slave and the freeman were separated by that


narrow streak of sea; that Italy might look upon a
son of hers suffering the capital penalty reserved for
slaves alone.

" It is a crime to put a citizen of Rome in bonds ;
it is an atrocity to scourge him ; to put him to death
is well-nigh parricide ; what shall I say it is to crucify
him ? Language has no word by which I may desig-
nate such an enormity. Yet with all this yon man
was not content. ' Let him look,' said he, ' towards
his country ; let him die in full sight of freedom and
the laws.' It was not Gavius ; it was not a single
victim, unknown to fame, a mere individual Eoman
citizen ; it was the common cause of liberty, the com-
mon rights of citizenship, which you there outraged
and put to a shameful death."

But in order to judge of the thrilling effect of such
passages upon a Eoman jury, they must be read in the
grand periods of the oration itself, to which no trans-
lation into a language so different in idiom and rhythm
as English is from Latin can possibly do justice.
The fruitless appeal made by the unhappy citizen to
the outraged majesty of Rome, and the indignant de-
mand for vengeance which the great orator founds
upon it proclaiming the recognised principle that, in
every quarter of the world, the humblest wanderer who
could say he was a Roman citizen should find protec-
tion in the name will be always remembered as hav-
ing supplied Lord Palmerston with one of his most
telling illustrations. But this great speech of Cicero's
perhaps the most magnificent piece of declamation
in any language though written and preserved to us,


was never spoken. The whole of the pleadings in the
case, which extend to some length, were composed for
the occasion, no doubt, in substance, and we have to
thank Cicero for publishing them afterwards in full.
But Verres only waited to hear the brief opening speech
of his prosecutor ; he did not dare to challenge a
verdict, but allowing judgment to go by default, with-
drew to Marseilles soon after the trial opened. He
lived there, undisturbed in the enjoyment of his
plunder, long enough to see the fall and assassination
of his great accuser, but only (as it is said) to share his
fate soon afterwards as one of the victims of Antony's
proscription. Of his guilt there can be no question ;
his fear to face a court in which he had many friends
is sufficient presumptive evidence of it ; but we must
hesitate in assuming the deepness of its dye from the
terrible invectives of Cicero. No sensible person will
form an opinion upon the real merits of a case, even in
an English court of justice now, entirely from the
speech of the counsel for the prosecution. And if we
were to go back a century or two, to the state trials of
those days, we know that to form our estimate of a
prisoner's guilt from such data only would be doing
him a gross injustice. We have only to remember the
exclamation of Warren Hastings himself, whose trial,
as has been said, has so many points of resemblance
with that of Verres, when Burke sat down after the
torrent of eloquence which he had hurled against the
accused in his opening speech for the prosecution ; "I
thought myself for the moment," said Hastings, " the
guiltiest man in England."


The result of this trial was to raise Cicero at once to
the leadership if so modern an expression may be
used of the Eoman bar. Up to this time the position
had been held by Hortensius, the counsel for Verres,
whom Cicero himself calls " the king of the courts."
He was eight years the senior of Cicero in age, and
many more professionally, for he is said to have made
his first public speech at nineteen. He had the ad-
vantage of the most extraordinary memory, a musical
voice, and a rich flow of language : but Cicero more
than implies that he was not above bribing a jury. It
was not more disgraceful in those days than bribing a
voter in our own. The two men were very unlike in
one respect ; Hortensius was a fop and an exquisite
(he is said to have brought an action against a colleague
for disarranging the folds of his gown), while Cicero's
vanity was quite of another kind. After Verres's trial,
the two advocates were frequently engaged together in
the same cause and on the same side : but Hortensius
seems quietly to have abdicated his forensic sovereignty
before the rising fame of his younger rival. They
became, ostensibly at least, personal friends. What
jealousy there was between them, strange to say, seems
always to have been on the side of Cicero, who could
not be convinced of the friendly feeling which, on
Hortensius's part, there seems no reason to doubt.
After his rival's death, however, Cicero did full justice
to his merits and his eloquence, and even inscribed to
his memory a treatise on ' Glory,' which has been lost.



THERE was no check as yet in Cicero's career. It had
been a steady cotirse of fame and success, honestly
earned and well deserved ; and it was soon to culmin-
ate in that great civil triumph which earned for him
the proud title of Pater Patrice the Father of his
Country. It was a phrase which the orator himself had

Online LibraryW. Lucas (William Lucas) CollinsCicero → online text (page 2 of 24)