Cicero's Second Speech Against Catiline

Penguin Classics edition, translation and comments by Michael Grant

Even if Cicero had really hoped for Catilina's arrest, his "voluntary" departure for the rebel camp at Faesulae on the very night following the First Speech gave the orator plausible and real grounds for self- justification in this second speech, pronounced on the next day (9 November) before the wider and less knowledgeable audience of the Assembly, convened in the Roman Forum. The written version of the speech retains much of the verve and vividness of its original delivery, and the account that it gave of the conspiracy clearly exercised a profoundly persuasive effect. The portrait of Catilina is an exaggerated set piece of abuse in the grand satanic style, displaying the bogey-man who was the projection of every property-owner's bad dreams; but the analysis of his backers is an acute and fascinating contribution to contemporary history. Yet Cicero, in spite of his desire to emphasize the importance of the conspiracy, finds it desirable, at this juncture, to underestimate the range of supporters avail- able to Catilina (for example, he says nothing of his success with society ladies), since the orator wanted to stress their disreputable character. And there is little to be learnt, except by reading between the lines, about the appalling social and economic evils which made many besides outcasts feel restive at the harsh and unimaginative rule of the traditional governmental class: the class whose failures and weaknesses, revolted against by a series of powerful generals, were soon to bring down the Republic which Cicero was so proud of having served during this consulship of 63.


Delivered to the People

At long last, citizens, Lucius Catilina, blazing with insolence, breathing forth blasts of every audacious rascality, outrageously plotting to overthrow his country, menacing yourselves and our city with fire and sword, has been expelled from Rome by our action, or allowed to leave, or bidden farewell as he took his departure. Gone, retired, run away, broken out express it how you will. At all events, this unnatural monster will no longer enjoy the shelter of our walls while scheming to hurl them to the ground.

And we, for our part, have indisputably vanquished the supreme initiator of this civil war. No longer will that dagger of his be brandished within an inch of us. Whether on the Campus Martius, or in the Forum, or within the Senate House, or inside our own homes, we can throw off our tormenting fears. When Catilina was driven from the city he lost his point of vantage. Now we shall be carrying on a regular war against a national enemy, and no one shall get in our way. By flushing the man out of his secret hiding-place into open brigandage, we have unmistakably brought about his destruction. It was a brilliant success.

He had hoped to take with him a sword dripping with blood. But this he did not do. For he departed without depriving us of our lives; we had wrested the sword from his hands! He has left behind him the citizens of Rome, alive and safe, and the city itself still undestroyed. This, believe me, distresses him deeply. Romans, he is prostrated. He knows he is a ruined outcast - and we may be sure that he often turns his gaze back upon this city and laments that it was snatched from his jaws. And Rome has corresponding reason to rejoice, because it has brought up and spewed forth this pestilential object from its system.

Yet I fully expected to be attacked and censured - with truly right-minded severity - for the selfsame thing upon which I am now triumphantly congratulating myself: namely, because I decided to send this deadly enemy away rather than place him under arrest. The answer, however, is, gentlemen, that the blame does not lie with me, but rather with the circumstances. It is indeed true that Lucius Catilina should long ago have been put to death by the solemn supreme penalty. The custom of our ancestors, the sternness incumbent upon my office, and the interests of our nation, alike demanded this of me. But there were quite a number of people, you know, who did not believe what I was telling them. There were men who were actually prepared to speak up for Catilina - people too stupid to see what the situation was, or even malevolent enough to become his supporters. If I had believed that his removal would free you from all danger, I should long ago have eliminated Lucius Catilina, at the risk of my own popularity or even of my life.

But it became clear to me that even you yourselves were not unanimous in approving this course of action, and that, if I had put him to the death he deserved, the consequent outcry against myself would have made it impossible to go on and tackle his accomplices. That being so, I instead arranged matters so that you would be able to see the enemy undisguised and fight him in the open. And you will appreciate how little danger I now see in Catilina, once he has gone away from the city, when I tell you I am actually sorry that so few of his associates accompanied him when he left. It would have been far better if he had taken all his forces with him. Certainly, he took Tongilius, whose lover he had been since the creature was a mere boy, and he took Publicius and Minucius. But their unpaid bills at eating-houses could scarcely overthrow the constitution; whereas think of all the debt-ridden, aristocratic heroes he has left behind to make trouble here.

In comparison with the legions in Gaul this side of the Alps, and the troops raised by Quintus Metellus in Picenum and the parts of Gaul on the near bank of the Po,(1) in addition to the forces we are mobilizing every day, I regard Catilina's soldiery as beneath contempt. It is a mere rabble of elderly down-and-outs, rustic debauchees, bankrupt country bumpkins, and characters who find it less trouble to forfeit their bail than to desert from Catilina's ranks. Men of this type will collapse if I show them the praetor's edict, not to speak of a line of troops. But these creatures whom I see hovering about the Forum and lounging around outside the Senate House and even walking into the Senate, individuals glistening with scent and glittering with purple, I do wish he had taken them to be his warriors too! For if they stay here, mark my words, we shall need to be more anxious about these deserters from his army than about the actual army itself. And they are the more to be feared because they realize - though this does not seem to bother them - that I am aware of all their inmost thoughts. For I know who has been allotted Apulia, and Etruria, and the Picenum country, and Gaul our side of the Po, and who on the other hand has claimed for himself the metropolitan part of the plot with its plans for massacre and conflagration. These men realize perfectly well that full reports of their machinations of two nights ago came into my hands. After all, I revealed them in the Senate yesterday. When I did so, Catilina himself took fright and fled. So what are his accomplices waiting for? If they cherish hopes that my earlier leniency will last for ever, they are profoundly mistaken.

What I have been aiming at, I have now finally achieved: namely, that it may be clear to every one of you that a conspiracy has been openly formed against the state - unless, indeed, there are still people who refuse to see that men who share Catilina's character will inevitably share his political views as well. There is no place, now, for mercy. Rigorous sternness is what the situation demands. And yet one thing I will grant even at this late stage. They can still get out! Let them vanish from the scene; let them not allow poor Catilina to pine away because he misses them so much. I will show them the route - he went by the Via Aurelia, and if they choose to hurry they will catch him up by evening. What happiness for Rome if it really could succeed in eliminating all this load of waste! Even after the purge of Catilina and no one else, heaven knows, the city is beginning to look relieved and revived already.

For imagine every type of criminality and wickedness that you can think of; he has been behind them all. In the whole of Italy there is not one single poisoner, gladiator, robber, assassin, parricide, will-forger, cheat, glutton, wastrel, adulterer, prostitute, corrupter of youth, or youth who has been corrupted, indeed any nasty individual of any kind whatever, who would not be obliged to admit he has been Catilina's intimate. Whenever, all through these years, there has been a murder, the murderer has been he. Not one single act of filthy lechery has been committed without him being its guiding spirit. For no one has ever had such a talent for seducing young men. He himself became the lover of a number of them, in the most repulsive fashion; and he disgustingly allowed others to make love to himself. The incentives he offered varied from the mere satisfaction of lust to the murder of their parents, a path along which he not only encouraged these youths but personally lent a hand. With astonishing speed he collected around him a great crowd of ruffians, from the country as well as the city. Neither in Rome nor in any other corner of Italy was there a single debtor whom he failed to enlist in this incredible league of crime.

And note well the diversity of his interests, the wide range of his activities. If a training-school for gladiators contains an inmate with criminal inclinations, be sure he will claim he is Catilina's close friend. Or, take any light-weight actor of lowish principles; he is certain to declare they have been going around together. Here was a man whose endurance of cold and hunger and thirst and sleepless nights was the product of his sexual enormities and evil deeds. These degenerate outcasts declared him a brave man. He had, it is true, the qualities that make for physical energy anal moral strength. But, instead, he dissipated them in orgies of sex and violence.

If his accomplices go where he has gone, if these infamous swarms of desperate men depart from Rome, how happy we shall be, how fortunate our country, how enthusiastic the compliments about my consulship! For theirs are no ordinary dissipations; their scandals have passed every limit of humanity and tolerance. All they think of is assassination and arson and loot. They have squandered their inheritances, mortgaged their properties. Their money has long since run out, and recently credit has begun to fail them too. And yet the filthy tastes they indulged when there were funds to spare are still very much in evidence. Now, if during their drinking and gambling bouts they merely caroused and whored, they would be hopeless enough cases, it is true, yet they could be put up with all the same. But what is unbearable is that these spiritless, stupid, drunken, somnolent brutes should be plotting to cut down citizens who are pre-eminent for their courage and wisdom and sobriety and energy. For as these individuals recline at their banquets and embrace their harlots, dazed by wine and stuffed by food, garlanded with wreathes and smothered with scents and riddled with every sort of lewdness, the vomit which issues from their mouths consists of talk about massacring every loyal citizen and burning the city to the ground.

I believe they are doomed. I am convinced that the punishment long since due to their iniquity and vileness and lust is by no means far away. Indeed, it may already be right on top of them. If my consulship succeeds in getting rid of these men whom it has found no means to cure, it will have extended the life of our state not just by some trivial duration but by the space of many centuries. There is no foreign nation which need cause us alarm, no monarch capable of making war on Rome. On land and sea, one single valiant man(2) has brought universal peace. What a contrast to this civil war in our midst! Here, set deep inside the country, are conspiracy, danger and a deadly foe. Degeneracy, madness and evil are the enemies we have to fight. In this war, Romans, it is I who offer myself as your commander. The hostility of these criminals I take upon myself. What can be healed I will somehow contrive to heal, and what must be cut away I shall not allow to spread and involve our country in mortal peril. And so let these creatures remove themselves. Or let them, instead, be at peace. If, on the other hand, they remain in the city and persist in this purpose of theirs, then they must expect the retaliation they deserve.

It is being said, citizens, that I am the man who has driven Catilina out into exile. Now the people I should like to drive out, if this could be done by word of mouth alone, are precisely those who make this sort of allegation. I suppose you will tell me that the retiring, bashful Catilina was too sensitive to endure an utterance by the consul - when he was ordered to go into exile, he straight away did just exactly what he was told!

Consider what happened yesterday. After I had almost been murdered in my own home, I convened a meeting of the Senate at the temple of Jupiter the Stayer, and gave its members a comprehensive report. When Catilina entered, not one single Senator spoke to him, or offered a greeting. Without. exception they regarded him, not merely as a debauchee, but as a public enemy of peculiarly dangerous character. Why, the leading Senators actually left that whole area of seats where he had taken his place entirely empty and deserted! Then I - this tough consul whose pronouncements drive citizens into exile -asked Catilina whether he had been at the meeting in Marcus Laeca's house the previous night or not. But he, his impudence momentarily quelled by awareness of guilt, remained silent. Then I went on to reveal the rest of the story. I disclosed what he had done that night, what he plotted for the following night, how he had designed the entire operations of the war. And then, seeing he was evidently trapped and at a loss, I asked what was delaying his departure for the destination he had long since proposed for himself: since, to my certain knowledge, weapons, ceremonial rods and axes, trumpets and military standards had already been sent on - as well as the silver eagle which he had cherished in that shrine of profanity within his home. How could I be driving into exile the man who I knew perfectly well had already launched out into war? You cannot surely suppose that Manlius, the centurion who has pitched his camp in the territory of Faesulae, was declaring war upon the Roman people on his own account. You are not going to tell me that the idea of Manlius' people waiting for Catilina to arrive and take over the command is a fiction and that the banished citizen is really off to Massilia,(3) and not to the camp at all.

It is indeed a grim task, not only to govern the country, but even merely to ensure its survival. For suppose that Lucius Catilina, feeling hemmed in and disabled by all the measures and endeavours for which I have been responsible at such great personal risk, suddenly takes fright, reverses his intentions, deserts his friends, gives up his plans to start a war and abandons his nefarious martial projects in favour of flight and exile. If that happens, not everyone will applaud me for taking his insolent weapons away from him, dazing and terrifying him by my vigilance, frustrating him in all his hopes and schemes. Some people will say instead that here is an unconvicted, guiltless citizen who has been driven into banishment by a threatening, violent consul. If, that is to say, he behaves as I am suggesting, there will be men ready to treat him not as a criminal at all but actually as a martyr, and myself not as a consul who is doing his duty but as a tyrant of the cruellest kind.

And yet, gentlemen, I am perfectly prepared to endure this storm of unjustified, undeserved hatred if only the menace of a horrifying and iniquitous war can be averted from all of you. Let it, therefore, by all means be said that I have driven him into exile - if only that is where he goes. But, believe me, he will do nothing of the sort. No desire to spare myself hostility will ever be enough to make me actually hope you will be told that Lucius Catilina is commanding an enemy force and marching from place to place under arms. Yet in three days that is exactly what you will have heard - and I am much more afraid that in time to come I shall be detested for letting him go rather than for expelling him from Rome. And as for the people who, now that he has departed, complain he was driven out, whatever would they have said if he had been put to death instead?

In any case the persons who keep lamenting that Catilina is on his way to Massilia are showing a sympathy that is distinctly misplaced. It is true that they do not desire him to go to Massilia. What they want, out of their goodwill towards him, is that he should join Manlius. But this is the strangest way to show their generous feelings for the man: though he himself, admittedly, even if he had never contemplated his present evil projects at all, is precisely the sort of person who would rather die an outlaw's violent death than live in banishment. Indeed, for Catilina, everything has gone exactly according to his desires and designs - except only that I was still alive when he withdrew from Rome. As for ourselves, instead of complaining that he has gone into exile, we can only wish he would!

But it is wrong to speak at such length about one single public enemy - an enemy who is self-confessed, and causes me no alarm because the wall I have always wanted to have between us is now there. Something must also be said about the conspirators who are concealing their intentions and staying on with us in Rome. If at all possible, I do not want to punish these offenders. I want, instead, to reconcile them with their own selves and hearts, and with our country; and I see no reason why this should not be done, if they are willing to listen to what I have to say. I will show you, gentlemen, the various types of men from whom their ranks are filled. And then I will apply to each in turn such therapeutic treatment as my advice and persuasion are capable of providing.

The first class consists of those who have large debts but even larger property, from both of which they are so inseparable that nothing can tear them loose. These men have an air of respectability, for they are wealthy, but their ambitions and intentions are scandalous. Let me speak to them and ask them this: since you are so abundantly endowed with lands and residences and silver plate and every sort of material goods, what holds you back from selling some of your property to make yourselves solvent again? What are you waiting for? War? But surely you cannot imagine that amid the general devastation those possessions of yours will be in any way sacrosanct. Or are you hoping for a general list of cancelled debts? Anyone who expects that from Catilina is going to be disappointed. Certainly - and this will emerge from a beneficial measure I myself have in mind - there are going to be lists. But they will be lists of goods up for auction; for that is the only way in which these property-owners can ever pay back what they owe. If they had been willing to act in this way earlier instead of stupidly struggling to pay the interest on their debts out of the produce of their estates, we should now find them better and more prosperous citizens. But this is the least formidable among the various categories of people involved, because they can be induced to change their attitudes - or even if they remain impenitent, they are more likely to assail the government with petitions than with force of arms.

The second class is composed of men who are again heavily in debt, but who expect to come into power. For they propose to seize control of the state. They believe that when the country is in a chaotic situation they will be able to win the official posts which they despair of gaining under peaceful conditions. However, in the hope of making them give up the idea of ever achieving such a purpose, I suggest that they (and for that matter all the rest as well) should be made aware of certain plain facts. First of all, they should know that I myself am on guard: the interests of our country are in my watchful care. And in the second place it should be clear to them that there is a magnificent spirit, a total unanimity, among our loyal citizens -they are exceedingly numerous, and they dispose of a substantial body of troops. And finally, the immortal gods, by their active presences, will give succour to this invincible people, this glorious realm, this most beautiful of cities, against all such abominable intentions. Besides, even if, despite all, these madmen achieved what they are after, they need entertain no hopes that amid the ashes of Rome and the blood of its citizens, for which they have such a perverted and infamous longing, the consuls or dictators or even kings would be themselves. For surely they must see that they would be compelled to surrender these objects of their desire to some runaway slave or gladiator instead.

The third class of Catilina's followers comprises men who are already showing the effects of age but still remain vigorous from constant physical exercise. In this category is the fellow Manlius from whom Catilina is just taking over. These are the settlers from the towns colonized by Sulla. I am well aware that most of the people who live in such foundations are worthy and gallant citizens. But they do, all the same, also include a certain number of individuals whose sudden, unexpected riches have plunged them into immoderately expensive habits. While they are treating themselves to wealthy men's building programmes and taking pleasure in their choice estates and vast slave-households and elaborate dinner-parties, they have borrowed such a lot of money that the only way to achieve solvency again would be to raise Sulla from the dead. They have also excited a number of insignificant, poverty-stricken countryfolk to share their optimistic belief that loot will again be forthcoming as in times gone by. I classify these rustics, like the colonists, in the category of plunderers or robbers. But I give them this warning. They must get rid of their insane ideas of proscriptions and dictatorships. The misery of the times when such things were among us is so indelibly branded on the memory of our country that I truly believe neither the human race nor even the beasts of the field would tolerate their horrors again today.

The fourth class is varied, mixed and tempestuous: the men who went under long ago, who never get their heads above water, whose laziness, incompetence and extravagance combine to send them reeling beneath their perpetual debts. Wearied by bankruptcy summonses and court cases and compulsory auctions, large numbers of these individuals are reported to be converging on that camp from city and rural areas alike. I reckon that such people are not eager soldiers at all; they are nothing but indolent defaulters. If they cannot keep themselves going, the best thing would be for them to collapse as promptly as possible, and with so little noise that the incident is kept quite private from their fellow-citizens and even from their nearest neighbours. For I cannot see why, if they are unable to live decently, they should also have this passion for a shameful death. Why should they think it less painful to die in a large company than by themselves?

The fifth class includes the people who have murdered their parents, and assassins in general, and vile characters of every kind. Of my detaching these from Catilina there can be no question, because they have not the slightest desire to be prised apart from him. Let them perish in their villainous enterprises, say I, since they are far too numerous for any prison(4) to be large enough to hold them.

The last class ranks lowest not only in numbers but in its way of life. This is Catilina's special treasure, his picked elect, formed from his own beloved cronies and bosom friends. You can see them about, lovely young men with elegantly combed hair, either beardless or bearded to excess, wearing tunics that reach down to the wrists and ankles, and togas which look more like veils. Their entire interest in life and all the alertness they can muster are squandered on parties that last all night long. In these gangs are to be found every gambler, adulterer, debauchee and sensualist who exists. These soft and pretty boys are experts at making love and having love made to them, and they know how to dance and sing; but they have also learnt to wave daggers about and sprinkle poisons. Unless they depart from this city, unless they die (and this remains true even if Catilina himself should die), you can rest assured that this hotbed of future Catilinas will continue to fester in our midst.

Yet what are these wretched characters after? I cannot believe that they are really proposing to bring their fancy women into the camp. Yet how on earth will they be able to get on without them, especially on nights like this? How will they manage to endure the Apennines and all that frost and snow? Or perhaps they imagine that their habit of dancing naked at parties will give them useful experience for enduring winter conditions? Catilina's praetorian guard of pansies is certainly going to add to the terrors of the war.

Now as for you, citizens, you must counter these remarkable troops of his with your own defences and armies. Against the shagged and damaged gladiator himself you can pit your consuls and commanders. In opposition to his enervated gang of outcast wrecks you are able to marshal the flower and strength of all Italy. The tangled upland lairs where Catilina lurks will be dealt with as they deserve by the cities that are your colonies and municipalities.(5) There is no need for me to compare all your resources and war materials and garrisons with the shabby penury of a gangster, or to list all the things that we possess and he does not - the Senate, the order of knights, the people of Rome, the city, the treasury, the revenue from taxation, the whole land of Italy, all the provinces of the empire and every one of our allies.

Indeed, even if we leave all these assets aside and limit ourselves to contrasting the merits of the rival causes, their hopeless inferiority again becomes utterly clear. Our cause is respectable, theirs disreputable; ours decent, theirs obscene; ours trustworthy, theirs fraudulent; ours patriotic, theirs traitorous; ours determined, theirs hysterical; ours honourable, theirs infamous; ours a model of self-restraint, theirs given up wholly to lechery. On one side of the confrontation are justice, moderation, courage, wisdom and all that is good: on the other the contestants are injustice, over-indulgence, cowardice, recklessness and everything that is bad. Prosperity fights against destitution, right against wrong, sanity against madness, fairest hope against bottomless despair. In a conflict and battle of this kind, even if the hearts of human beings may flag, surely the immortal gods themselves would ordain that this mass of hideous vices must fall before such an array of immeasurably glorious virtues.

Nevertheless, gentlemen, take my advice and set watchmen and guards to protect your houses. To ensure that the city itself shall have safe protection, I have taken all the necessary steps - without involving you in any upheaval or inconvenience. I have notified all your colonial towns and municipalities about Catilina's nocturnal break-out, and they will have no difficulty in defending their walls and their territories. The gladiators, too, whom he expected to have as his firmest supporters (and indeed they have more spirit than some of the patricians) will be kept under control by my authority. When I foresaw what has now happened I sent Quintus Metellus to Picenum and Gaul this side of the Po, and he will either strike Catilina down or at least forestall every one of his movements and manoeuvres. All the other arrangements that need to be planned, expedited and pursued I shall refer to the Senate, which as you see is being convened.

To the men who have stayed behind in Rome or, rather, who have been left here by Catilina with the intention of wiping out the city and every single individual among you, I offer and reiterate this warning: for although they have become enemies, they were, after all, born Roman citizens. If anyone has felt I have shown excessive leniency up to now, I was holding back precisely for this - I was waiting for what lay hidden to burst out into the open and be revealed. As for the future, it is impossible for me to forget that Rome is my country and that I am the consul of all you people who are assembled here - with whom I will live, if you live, or die on your behalf! At the gates there are no sentries, on the road I have set no ambush. If there are those who desire to take their leave, I can connive at it. But if, on the other hand, there is a single move inside Rome itself, if I detect any move against our government or even the first beginnings or attempts at such a move, its instigator will have good reason to discover that this city of ours is not lacking in vigilant consuls, reliable officials, a courageous Senate, all the weapons that are needed and the prison which our forefathers appointed as a place where the gravest convicted crimes receive their due.

And all such measures will be taken, citizens, in such a way that these mighty issues be settled with the least possible disturbance. The dangers will be dispelled without dramatic alarms. The most formidable and horrifying civil war in human memory will be disposed of under the sole and single leadership and command of myself - wearing the clothes of peace. Indeed, if it can be done, gentlemen, I will so arrange matters within the city that not one single man, however vile he may be, shall pay the penalty his wrongdoing deserves. And if, all the same, an open revolutionary outbreak - menacing our country with annihilation -makes it inevitable that I should modify this merciful spirit, there is nevertheless one thing which I shall continue to promise: though it almost seems beyond hope when so far-reaching and hazardous a war is concerned. That is to say, even if such circumstances arise, I still propose to ensure that not one loyal citizen shall lose his life, and that the penalties imposed shall fall on the very smallest number of people compatible with the salvation of you all.

This assurance, Romans, comes from no wisdom of my own, and indeed from no merely human processes of reasoning. No, it is derived rather from a number of manifest intimations received from the gods themselves. It is they who have directed me to formulate the hope and purpose which guide my actions. In bygone times they were wont to protect us, from afar, against our foreign enemies, who were also far away. But here and now, it is their own temples they are defending, and the dwellings of Rome itself. Their divine power and aid are with us; they are here by our side. From these heavenly beings comes the ordinance that has made our city more beautiful, more splendid and more powerful than any other upon earth. Wherefore, citizens, it is your bounden duty to pray and implore and beseech the gods that this city of ours, which has vanquished all the hosts of our foreign foes on land and sea, should be defended from this outrageous conspiracy plotted by Roman citizens of the most loathsome character.

1. Cispadane Gaul approximately corresponded with the present Emilia.

2. The reference is to Pompeius.

3. According to Sallust, Catilina had written to various friends saying he was leaving for Massilia.

4. At this time Rome only had one prison, with two cells, of which the lower, the Tullianum, was used for the execution of death-sentences.

5. At this period all self-governing Italian boroughs were called municipia, other than the "colonies" to which settlers had been sent at various epochs.