The World's Famous Orations/Volume 2/An Exhortation to Conspiracy

Reported by Sallust.

4102178The World's Famous Orations (Volume 2: Rome) — An Exhortation to ConspiracyLucius Sergius Catilina




(63 B.C.)

Born in 108 B.C., died in 62; elected Pretor in 68; Governor of Africa in 67; a candidate for Consul in 66, but disqualified on account of maladministration in Africa; then organized the famous conspiracy slain in battle in 62.

If your courage and fidelity had not been sufficiently proved by me, this favorable opportunity would have occurred to no purpose; mighty hopes, absolute power, would in vain be within our grasp; nor should I, depending on irresolution or ficklemindedness, pursue contingencies instead of certainties. But as I have on many remarkable occasions, experienced your bravery and attachment to me, I have ventured to engage in a most important and glorious enterprise. I am aware, too, that whatever advantages or evils affect you, the same affect me; and to have the same desires and the same aversions, is assuredly a firm bond of friendship.

What I have been meditating you have already heard separately. But my ardor for action is daily more and more excited, when I consider what our future condition of life must be, unless we ourselves assert our claims to liberty. For since the government has fallen under the power and jurisdiction of a few, kings and princes have constantly been their tributaries; nations and states have paid them taxes; but all the rest of us, however brave and worthy, whether noble or plebeian, have been regarded as a mere mob, without interest or authority, and subject to those, to whom, if the state were in a sound condition, we should be a terror. Hence, all influence, power, honor, and wealth, are in their hands, or where they dispose of them; to us they have left only insults, dangers, prosecutions, and poverty. To such indignities, O bravest of men, how long will you submit? Is it not better to die in a glorious attempt, than, after having been the sport of other men's insolence, to resign a wretched and degraded existence with ignominy?

But success (I call gods and men to witness!) is in our own hands. Our years are fresh, our spirit is unbroken; among our oppressors, on the contrary, through age and wealth, a general debility has been produced. We have therefore only to make a beginning; the course of events will accomplish the rest.

Who in the world, indeed, that has the feelings of a man, can endure that they should have a superfluity of riches, to squander in building over seas and leveling mountains, and that means should be wanting to us even for the necessaries of life; that they should join together two houses or more, and that we should not have a hearth to call our own? They, tho they purchase pictures, statues, and embossed plate; tho they pull down new buildings and erect others, and lavish and abuse their wealth in every possible method, yet cannot, with the utmost efforts of caprice, exhaust it. But for us there is poverty at home, debts abroad; our present circumstances are bad, our prospects much worse; and what, in a word, have we left, but a miserable existence?

Will you not, then, awake to action? Behold that liberty, that liberty for which you have so often wished, with wealth, honor, and glory, are set before your eyes. All these prizes fortune offers to the victorious. Let the enterprise itself, then, let the opportunity, let your poverty, your dangers, and the glorious spoils of war, animate you far more than my words. Use me either as your leader or your fellow soldier; neither my heart nor my hand shall be wanting to you. These objects I hope to effect, in concert with you, in the character of consul—unless, indeed, my expectation deceives me, and you prefer to be slaves rather than masters.[2]

  1. Delivered in 63 B.C., in an apartment in his own house. Reported by Sallust. Translated by John S. Watson.
  2. Sallust says that the auditors "surrounded with numberless evils but without any resources or hopes of good," inquired of Catiline what benefits they might expect from taking up arms and that he "promised them abolition of their debts, a proscription of the wealthy citizens, office, sacerdotal dignities, plunder, and all other gratifications which war, and the license of conqueror can afford."

    Another interesting item in Sallust about this speech is the