Caesar's speech in Sallust's Catiline

"The greater number of those who have expressed their opinions before me have deplored the lot of the commonwealth in finished and noble phrases; they have dwelt upon the horrors of war, the wretched fate of the conquered, the rape of maidens and boys, children torn from their parents' arms, matrons subjected to the will of the victors, temples and homes pillaged, bloodshed and fire; in short arms and corpses everywhere, gore and grief. But, O ye immortal gods! what was the purpose of such speeches? Was it to make you detest the conspiracy? You think that a man who has not been affected by a crime so monstrous and so cruel will be fired by a speech! Nay, not so; no mortal man thinks his own wrongs unimportant; many, indeed, are wont to resent them more than is right. But not all men, Fathers of the Senate, are allowed the same freedom of action. If the humble, who pass their lives in obscurity, commit any offence through anger, it is known to few; their fame and fortune are alike. But the actions of those who hold great power, and pass their lives in a lofty station, are known to all the world. So it comes to pass that in the highest position there is the least freedom of action. There neither partiality nor dislike is in place, and anger least of all; for what in others is called wrath, this in a ruler is termed insolence and cruelty.

 

"For my own part, Fathers of the Senate, I consider no tortures sufficient for the crimes of these men; but most mortals remember only that which happens last, and in the case of godless men forget their guilt and descant upon the punishment they have received, if it is a little more severe than common. I have no doubt that Decimus Silanus, a gallant and brave man, was led by patriotism to say what he did say, and that in a matter of such moment he showed neither favour nor enmity; so well do I know the man's character and moderation. Yet his proposal seems to me, I will not say cruel (for what could be cruel in the case of such men?) but foreign to the customs of our country. For surely, Silanus, it was either fear or the gravity of the offence which impelled you, a consul elect, to favour a novel form of punishment. As regards fear it is needless to speak, especially since, thanks to the precautions of our distinguished consul, we have such strong guards under arms. So far as the penalty is concerned, I can say with truth that amid grief and wretchedness death is a relief from woes, not a punishment; that it puts an end to all mortal ills and leaves no room either for sorrow or for joy.

 

"But, in the name of Heaven! why did you not, Silanus, add the recommendation that they first be scourged? Was it because the Porcian law forbids? Yes, but there are other laws which provide that Roman citizens, even when found guilty, shall not lose their lives, but shall be permitted to go into exile. Was it because it is more grievous to be scourged than to be killed? But what punishment is rigorous or too grievous for men convicted of so great a crime? If, however, it was because scourging is the lighter punishment, what consistency is there in respecting the law in the lesser point when you have disregarded it in the greater? But, you may say, who will complain of a decree which is passed against traitors to their country? Time, I answer, the lapse of years, and Fortune, whose caprice rules the nations. Whatever befalls these prisoners will be well deserved; but you, Fathers of the Senate, are called upon to consider how your action will affect other criminals. All bad precedents have originated in cases which were good; but when the control of the government falls into the hands of men who are incompetent or bad, your new precedent is transferred from those who well deserve and merit such punishment to the undeserving and blameless.

 

"The Lacedaemonians, after they had conquered the Athenians, set over them thirty men to carry on their government. These men began at first by putting to death without a trial the most wicked and generally hated citizens, whereat the people rejoiced greatly and declared that it was well done. But afterwards their licence gradually increased, and the tyrants slew good and bad alike at pleasure and intimidated the rest. Thus the nation was reduced to slavery and had to pay a heavy penalty for its foolish rejoicing. Within our own memory, when the conqueror Sulla ordered the execution of Damasippus and others of that kind, who had become prominent at the expense of the state, who did not commend this action? All declared that those criminal intriguers, who had vexed the country with their civil strife, deserved their fate. 33 But that was the beginning of great bloodshed; for whenever anyone coveted a man's house in town or country, he contrived to have him enrolled among the proscribed. Thus those who had exulted in the death of Damasippus were themselves before long hurried off to execution, and the massacre did not end until Sulla glutted all his followers with riches.

 

"For my own part, I fear nothing of that kind for Marcus Tullius or for our times, but in a great commonwealth there are many different natures. It is possible that at another time, when someone else is consul and is likewise in command of an army, some falsehood may be believed to be true. When the consul, with this precedent before him, shall draw the sword in obedience to the senate's decree, who shall limit or restrain him?

 

"Our ancestors, Fathers of the Senate, were never lacking either in wisdom or courage, and yet pride did not keep them from adopting foreign institutions, provided they were honourable. They took their offensive and defensive weapons from the Samnites, the badges of their magistrates for the most part from the Etruscans. In fine, whatever they found suitable among allies or foes, they put in practice at home with the greatest enthusiasm, preferring to imitate rather than envy the successful. But in that same age, following the usage of Greece, they applied the scourge to citizens and inflicted the supreme penalty upon those found guilty. Afterwards, when the state reached maturity and because of its large population factions prevailed; when the blameless began to be oppressed and other wrongs of that kind were perpetrated: then they devised the Porcian law and other laws, which allowed the condemned the alternative of exile. This seems to me, Fathers of the Senate, a particularly cogent reason why we should not adopt a new policy. Surely there was greater merit and wisdom in those men, who from slight resources created this mighty empire, than in us, who can barely hold what they gloriously won.

 

"Do I then recommend that the prisoners be allowed to depart and swell Catiline's force? By no means! This, rather, is my advice: that their goods be confiscated and that they themselves be kept imprisoned in the strongest of the free towns; further, that no one hereafter shall refer their case to the senate or bring it before the people, under pain of being considered by the senate to have designs against the welfare of the state and the common safety.