Some Brief Comments Upon Cicero’s Style

After reading two works of Cicero’s, In Defense of Caelius and First Speech Against Catiline, I come away ambivalent about the great orator. He’s got the gift of gab to be sure, but he can also be a bit of a windbag. Cicero was unusual for his time in that he was a self-made man from relatively low birth who rose to the highest offices of the land. But apparently, that made him a bit full of himself, as evidenced by such statements, as “if anything were to happen to me, it would be a terrible disaster for our country” [Catiline speech].

Due to whatever weirdness permeating the politics of Cicero’s day, he winds up addressing Catiline, whose plots against the State have been exposed, in the Senate chamber, where the other Senators appear dumbfounded as to how to treat the traitor in their midst, and so, not knowing how to act, they act no way at all toward Catiline, shunning him.

The gist of Cicero’s first speech denouncing Catiline comes down to Cicero’s contention that the Senate’s silence is most definitely NOT consent, and that instead, Catiline should receive the silently delivered message loud and clear — that he has no friends left in Rome, and that if he has any decency or wisdom, he should flee the city.

The other work of Cicero’s, In Defense of Caelius, takes place not in the Senate chamber, but at a trial, one at which Cicero is acting as the defense attorney for a young friend of his, Caelius. The criminal trials of Ancient Rome were very different from what would today be considered a just trial. Cicero actually spends much of his time obviously hoping to entertain the jurists, telling them good stories, scoring a few bon mots. He also unabashedly attempts to degrade the characters of others involved in the case in order to deflect blame from his client, the defendant. Most everything that Cicero says would probably be considered inadmissible in a modern trial. For one thing, Cicero gives a lengthy lesson describing how a society must be tolerant of young people, like his poor client, who, yes, are guilty of too much tomfoolery in their youth, but who will, eventually, grow out of it, and become upstanding men in the community once their wisdom gains ground on their passions.

Says Cicero… “And finally, when he has heeded the call of pleasure and devoted a moderate amount of time to the empty desires of youth, he should turn at last to his duties at home, to his work in the courts, and to public life. In this way he will show that satiety has caused him to reject, and experience to despise, those things which Reason, at an earlier time, had not enabled him to disdain.”

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