The World's Famous Orations/Volume 2/The First Oration Against Verres

4102169The World's Famous Orations (Volume 2: Rome) — The First Oration Against VerresCicero




(70 B.C.)

Born in 106 B.C., died in 43; served in the Social War in 89; Questor in Sicily in 75; Edile in 69; Pretor in 66; Consul during the Catiline conspiracy; banished in 53; Proconsul of Cilicia in 51–50; with the Pompeians in 49; proscribed by the Second Triumvirate, and slain in 43; of his orations fifty-seven have been preserved.

That which was above all things to be desired, O judges, and which above all things was calculated to have the greatest influence toward allaying the unpopularity of your order, and putting an end to the discredit into which your judicial decisions have fallen, appears to have been thrown in your way, and given to you not by any human contrivance, but almost by the interposition of the gods, at a most important crisis of the republic. For an opinion has now become established, pernicious to us, and pernicious to the republic, which has been the common talk of every one, not only at Rome, but among foreign nations also,—that in the courts of law as they exist at present, no wealthy man, however guilty he may be, can possibly be convicted.

Now at this time of peril to your order and to your tribunal, when men are ready to attempt by harangues, and by the proposal of new laws, to increase the existing unpopularity of the senate, Caius Verres is brought to trial as a criminal—a man condemned in the opinion of every one by his life and actions, but acquitted by the enormousness of his wealth according to his own hope and boast. I, O judges, have undertaken this cause as prosecutor with the greatest good wishes and expectation on the part of the Roman people, not in order to increase the unpopularity of the senate, but to relieve it from the discredit which I share with it. For I have brought before you a man, by acting justly in whose case you have an opportunity of retrieving the lost credit of your judicial proceedings, of regaining your credit with the Roman people, and of giving satisfaction to foreign nations; a man, the embezzler of the public funds, the petty tyrant of Asia and Pamphvlia, the robber who deprived the city of its rights, the disgrace and ruin of the province of Sicily. And if you come to a decision about this man with severity and a due regard to your oaths, that authority which ought to remain in you will cling to you still; but if that man's vast riches shall break down the sanctity and honesty of the courts of justice, at least I shall achieve this, that it shall be plain that it was rather honest judgment that was wanting to the republic, than a criminal to the judges or an accuser to the criminal.

I, indeed, that I may confess to you the truth about myself, O judges, tho many snares were laid for me by Cains Verres, both by land and sea, which I partly avoided by my own vigilance, and partly warded oft’ by the zeal and kindness of my friends, yet I never seemed to be incurring so much danger, and I never was in such a state of great apprehension, as I am now in this very court of law. Nor does the expectation which people have formed of my conduct of this prosecution, nor this concourse of so vast a multitude as is here assembled, influence me (tho indeed I am greatly agitated by these circumstances) so much as his nefarious plots which he is endeavoring to lay at one and the same time against me, against you, against Marcus Glabrio, the pretor, and against the allies, against foreign nations, against the senate, and even against the very name of senator; whose favorite saying it is that they have got to fear who have stolen only as much as is enough for themselves, but that he has stolen so much that it may easily be plenty for many; that nothing is so holy that it can not be corrupted, or so strongly fortified that it can not be stormed by money. But if he were as secret in acting as he is audacious in attempting, perhaps in some particular he might some time or other have escaped our notice.

But it happens very fortunately that to his incredible audacity there is joined a most unexampled folly. For as he was unconcealed in committing his robberies of money, so in his hope of corrupting the judges he has made his intentions and endeavors visible to every one. He says that only once in his life has he felt fear, at the time when he was first impeached as a criminal by me; because he was only lately arrived from his province, and was branded with unpopularity and infamy, not modern but ancient and of long standing; and, besides that, the time was unlucky, being very ill-suited for corrupting the judges. Therefore, when I had demanded a very short time to prosecute my inquiries in Sicily, he found a man to ask for two days less to make investigations in Achaia; not with any real intention of doing the same with his diligence and industry, that I have accomplished by my labor, and daily and nightly investigations. For the Achaean inquisitor never even arrived at Brundusium. I in fifty days so traveled over the whole of Sicily that I examined into the records and injuries of all the tribes and of all private individuals, so that it was easily visible to every one, that he had been seeking out a man not really for the purpose of bringing the defendant whom he accused to trial, but merely to occupy the time which ought to belong to me.

Now that most audacious and most senseless man thinks this. He is aware that I am come into court so thoroughly prepared and armed, that I shall fix all his thefts and crimes not only in your ears, but in the very eyes of all men. He sees that many senators are witnesses of his audacity; he sees that many Roman knights are so, too, and many citizens, and many of the allies besides to whom he has done unmistakable injuries. He sees also that very numerous and very important deputations have come here at the same time from most friendly cities, armed writh the public authority and evidence collected by their states.

In truth, what genius is there so powerful, what faculty of speaking, what eloquence so mighty, as to be in any particular able to defend the life of that man convicted as it is of so many vices and crimes, and long since condemned by the inclinations and private sentiments of every one. And, to say nothing of the stains and disgraces of his youth, what other remarkable event is there in his questorship, that first step to honor, except that Cnæus Carbo was robbed by his questor of the public money? that the consul was plundered and betrayed? his army deserted? his province abandoned? the holy nature and obligations imposed on him by lot violated?—whose lieutenancy was the ruin of all Asia and Pamphylia, in which provinces he plundered many houses, very many cities, all the shrines and temples; when he renewed and repeated against Cnæus Dolabella his ancient wicked tricks when he had been questor, and did not only in his danger desert, but even attack and betray the man to whom he had been lieutenant, and proquestor, and whom he had brought into odium by his crimes; whose city pretorship was the destruction of the sacred temples and the public works, and, as to his legal decisions, was the adjudging and awarding of property contrary to all established rules and precedents. But now he has established great and numerous monuments and proofs of all his vices in the province of Sicily, which he for three years so harassed and ruined that it can by no possibility be restored to its former condition, and appears scarcely able to be at all recovered after a long series of years, and a long succession of virtuous pretors. While this man was pretor the Sicilians enjoyed neither their own laws, nor the decrees of our senate, nor the common rights of every nation. Every one in Sicily has only so much left as either escaped the notice or was disregarded by the satiety of that most avaricious and licentious man.

No legal decision for three years was given on any other ground but his will; no property was so secure to any man, even if it had descended to him from his father and grandfather, but he was deprived of it at his command; enormous sums of money were exacted from the property of the cultivators of the soil by a new and nefarious system. The most faithful of the allies were classed in the number of enemies. Roman citizens were tortured and put to death like slaves; the greatest criminals were acquitted in the courts of justice through bribery; the most upright and honorable men, being prosecuted while absent, were condemned and banished without being heard in their own defense; the most fortified harbors, the greatest and strongest cities, were laid open to pirates and robbers; the sailors and soldiers of the Sicilians, our own allies and friends, died of hnnger; the best built fleets on the most important stationswere lost and destroyed, to the great disgrace of the Roman people. This same man while pretor plundered and stripped those most ancient monuments, some erected by wealthy monarchs and intended by them as ornaments for their cities; some, too, the work of our own generals, which they either gave or restored as conquerors to the different states in Sicily. And he did this not only in the case of public statues and ornaments, but he also plundered all the temples consecrated in the deepest religious feelings of the people. He did not leave, in short, one god to the Sicilians which appeared to him to be made in a tolei'able workmanlike manner, and with any of the skill of the ancients.

I am prevented by actual shame from speaking of his nefarious licentiousness as shown in rapes and other such enormities; and I am unwilling also to increase the distress of those men who have been unable to preserve their children and their wives unpolluted by his wanton lust. But, you will say, these things were done by him in such a manner as not to be notorious to all men. I think there is no man who has heard his name who cannot also relate wicked actions of his; so that I ought rather to be afraid of being thought to omit many of his crimes, than to invent any charges against him. And indeed I do not think that this multitude which has collected to listen to me wishes so much to learn of me what the facts of the ease are, as to go over it with me, refreshing its recollection of what it knows already.

And as this is the case, that senseless and profligate man attempts to combat me in another manner. He does not seek to oppose the eloquence of any one else to me; he does not rely on the popularity, or influence, or authority of any one. He pretends that he trusts to these things; but I see what he is really aiming at (and indeed he is not acting with any concealment). He sets before me empty titles of nobility—that is to say, the names of arrogant men, who do not hinder me so much by being noble, as assist me by being notorious; he pretends to rely on their protection, when he has in reality been contriving something else this long time. What hope he now has, and what he is endeavoring to do, I will now briefly explain to you, O judges.

But first of all, remark, I beg you, how the matter has been aranged by him from the beginning. When he first returned from the province, he endeavored to get rid of this prosecution by corrupting the judges at a great expense; and this object he continued to keep in view till the conclusion of the appointment of the judges. After the judges were appointed, because in drawing lots for them the fortune of the Roman people had defeated his hopes, and in the rejecting some my diligence had defeated his impudence, the whole attempt at bribery was abandoned. The affair was going on admirably; lists of your names and of the whole tribunal were in every one’s hands. It did not seem possible to mark the votes of these men with any distinguishing mark or color or spot of dirt; and that fellow, from having been brisk and in high spirits, became on a sudden so downcast and humbled, that he seemed to be condemned not only by the Roman people but even by himself. But lo! all of a sudden, within these few days, since the consular comitia have taken place, he has gone back to his original plan with more money, and the same plots are now laid against your reputation and against the fortunes of every one, by the instrumentality of the same people; which fact at first, O judges, was pointed out by me by a very slight hint and indication; but afterward, when my suspicions were once aroused, I arrived at the knowledge of all the most secret counsels of that party without any mistake.

For as Hortensius, the consul-elect, was being attended home again from the Campus by a great concourse and multitude of people, Caius Curio fell in with that multitude by chance,—a man whom I wish to name by way of honor rather than disparagement. I will tell you what if he had been unwilling to have it mentioned, he would not have spoken of in so large an assembly so openly and undisguisedly; which, however, shall be mentioned by me deliberately and cautiously, that it may be seen that I pay due regard to our friendship and to his dignity. He sees Verres in the crowd by the arch of Fabius[2]; he speaks to the man, and with a loud voice congratulates him on his victory. He does not say a word to Hortensius himself, who had been made consul, or to his friends and relations who were present attending on him; but he stops to speak to this man, embraces him, and bids him cast off all anxiety. "I give you notice," said he, "that you have been acquitted by this day's comitia." And as many most honorable men heard this, it is immediately reported to me the first thing. To some it appeared scandalous, to others, again, ridiculous—ridiculous to those who thought that this cause depended on the credibility of the witnesses, on the importance of the charges, and on the power of the judges, and not on the consular comitia; scandalous to those who looked deeper, and who thought that this congratulation had reference to the corruption of the judge.

In truth, they argued in this manner—the most honorable men spoke to one another and to me in this manner—that there were now manifestly and undeniably no courts of justice at all. The very criminal who the day before thought that he was already condemned, is acquitted now that his defender has been made consul. What are we to think then? Will it avail nothing that all Sicily, all the Sicilians, that all the merchants who have business in that country, that all public and private documents are now at Rome? Nothing, if the consul-elect wills it otherwise. What! will not the judges be influenced by the accusation, by the evidence, by the universal opinion of the Roman people? No. Everything will be governed by the power and authority of one man.

In the meantime my comitia began to be held; of which that fellow thought himself the master, as he had been of all the other comitia this year. He began to run about, that influential man, with his son, a youth of engaging and popular manners, among the tribes. The son began to address and to call on all the friends of his father—that is to say, all his agents—for bribery; and when this was noticed and perceived, the Roman people took care with the most earnest good will that I should not be deprived of my honor through the money of that man, whose riches had not been able to make me violate my good faith. After that I was released from the great anxiety about my canvass, I began, with a mind much more unoccupied and much more at ease, to think of nothing and to do nothing exexcept what related to this trial. I find, O judges, these plans formed and begun to be put in execution by them, to protract the matter, whatever steps it might be necessary to take in order to do so, so that the cause might be pleaded before Marcus Metellus as pretor. That by doing so they would have these advantages: firstly, that Marcus Metellus was most friendly to them; secondly, that not only would Hortensius be consul, but Quintus Metellus also; and listen while I show you how great a friend he is to them. For he gave him a token of his goodwill of such a sort, that he seemed to be giving it as a return for the suffrages of the tribes which he had secured to him. Did you think that I would say nothing of such serious matters as these? and that, at a crisis of such danger to the republic and my own character, I would consult anything rather than my duty and my dignity? The other consul-elect sent for the Sicilians; some came, because Lucius Metellus was pretor in Sicily. To them he speaks in this manner: that he is the consul; that one of his brothers has Sicily for a province; that the other is to be judge in all prosecutions for extortion; and that care had been taken in many ways that there should be no possibility of Verres being injured. I ask you, Metellus, what is corrupting the course of justice, if this is not,—to seek to frighten witnesses, and especially Sicilians, timid and oppressed men, not only by your own vate influence, but by their fear of the consul, and by the power of two pretors? What could you do for an innocent man or for a relation, when for the sake of a most guilty man, entirely unconnected with you, you depart from your duty and your dignity, and allow what he is constantly saying to appear true to any one who is not acquainted with you? For they said that Verres said, that you had not been made consul by destiny, as the rest of your family had been, but by his assistance. Two consuls, therefore, and the judge are to be such because of his will. We shall not only, says he, avoid having a man too scrupulous in investigating, too subservient to the opinion of the people, Marcus Glabrio, but we shall have this advantage also: Marcus Cæsonius is the judge, the colleag of your accuser, a man of tried and proved experience in the decision of actions. It will never do for us to have such a man as that on the bench, which we are endeavoring to corrupt by some means or other; for before, when he was one of the judges on the tribunal of which Junius was president, he was not only very indignant at that shameful transaction, but he even betrayed and denounced it.

But as for what I had begun to say—namely, that the contest is between you and me, this is it—I, when I had undertaken this cause at the request of the Sicilians, and had thought it a very honorable and glorious thing for me that they were willing to make experiment of my integrity and diligence, who already knew by experience my innocence and temperance: then, when I had undertaken this business, I proposed to myself some greater action also by which the Roman people should be able to see my good will toward the republic. For that seemed to me to be by no means worthy of my industry and efforts, for that man to be brought to trial by me who had been already condemned by the judgment of all men, unless that intolerable influence of yours, and that grasping nature which you have displayed for some years in many trials, were interposed also in the ease of that desperate man. But now, since all this dominion and sovereignty of yours over the courts of justice delights you so much, and since there are some men who are neither ashamed of their licentiousness and their infamy, nor weary of it, and who, as if on purpose, seem to wish to encounter hatred and unpopularity from the Roman people, I profess that I have undertaken this,—a great burden perhaps, and one dangerous to myself, but still worthy of my applying myself to it with all the vigor of my age, and all diligence.

And since the whole order of the senate is weighed down by the discredit brought on it by the wickedness and audacity of a few, and is overwhelmed by the infamy of the tribunals, I profess myself an enemy to this race of men, an accuser worthy of their hatred, a persevering, a bitter adversary. I arrogate this to myself, I claim this for myself, and I will carry out this enmity in my magistracy, and from that post in which the Roman people has willed that from the next first of January I shall act in concert with it in matters concerning the republic, and concerning wicked men. I promise the Roman people that this shall be the most honorable and the fairest employment of my edileship. I warn, I forewarn, I give notice beforehand to those men who are wont either to put money down, to undertake for others, to receive money, or to promise money, or to act as agents in bribery, or as go-betweens in corrupting the seat of judgment, and who have promised their influence or their impudence in aid of such a business, in this trial to keep their hands and inclinations from this nefarious wickedness.

And what do you suppose will be my thoughts, if I find in this very trial any violation of the laws committed in any similar manner? especially when I can prove by many witnesses that Caius Verres often said in Sicily, in the hearing of many persons, "that he had a powerful friend, in confidence with whom he was plundering the province; and that he was not seeking money for himself alone, but that he had so distributed the three years of his Sicilian pretorship, that he should say he did exceedingly well, if he appropriated the gains of one year to the augmentation of his own property, those of the second year to his patrons and defenders, and reserved the whole of the third year, the most productive and gainful of all, for the judges."

From which it came into my mind to say that which, when I had said lately before Marcus Glabrio at the time of striking the list of judges, I perceived the Roman people greatly moved by that I thought that foreign nations would send ambassadors to the Roman people to procure the abrogation of the law, and of all trials, about extortion; for if there were no trials, they think that each man would only plunder them of as much as he would think sufficient for himself and his children; but now, because there are trials of that sort, every one carries off as much as it will take to satisfy himself, his patrons, his advocates, the pretor, and the judges; and that this is an enormous sum; that they may be able to satisfy the cupidity of one most avaricious man, but are quite unable to incur the expense of his most guilty victory over the laws. O trials worthy of being recorded! O splendid reputation of our order! when the allies of the Roman people are unwilling that trials for extortion should take place, which were instituted by our ancestors for the sake of the allies. Would that man ever have had a favorable hope of his own safety, if he had not conceived in his mind a bad opinion of you? on which account, he ought, if possible, to be still more hated by you than he is by the Roman people, because he considers you like himself in avarice and wickedness and perjury.

And I beg you, in the name of the immortal gods, O judges, think of and guard against this; I warn you, I give notice to you, of what I am well assured, that this most seasonable opportunity has been given to you by the favor of the gods, for the purpose of delivering your whole order from hatred, from unpopularity, from infamy, and from disgrace. There is no severity believed to exist in the tribunals, nor any scruples with regard to religion; in short, there are not believed to be any tribunals at all. Therefore we are despised and scorned by the Roman people; we are branded with a heavy and now long standing infamy. Nor, in fact, is there any other reason for which the Roman people has with so much earnestness sought the restoration of the tribunician power: but when it was demanding that in words, it seemed to be asking for that, but in reality it was asking for tribunals which it could trust.

But now men are on the watch-towers; they observe how every one of you behaves himself in respecting religion and observing the laws. They see that, ever since the passing of the law for restoring the power of the tribunes, only one senator, and he, too, a very insignificant one, has been condemned. And tho they do not blame this, yet they have nothing which they can very much commend. For there is no credit in being upright in a case where there is no one who is either able or who endeavors to corrupt one. This is a trial in which you will be deciding about the defendant, the Roman people about you;—by the example of what happens to this man it will be determined whether, when senators are the judges, a very guilty and a very rich man can be condemned.

On which account, in the first place, I beg this of the immortal gods, which I seem to myself to have hopes of,—too that in this trial no one may be found to be wicked except he who has long since been found to be such; secondly, if there are many wicked men, I promise this to you, O judges, I promise this to the Roman people, that my life shall fail rather than my vigor and perseverance in prosecuting their iniquity. But that iniquity, which, if it should be committed, I promise to prosecute severely, with however much trouble and danger to myself, and whatever enmities I may bring on myself by so doing, you, O Marcus Glabrio, can guard against ever taking place by your wisdom, and authority, and diligence. Do you undertake the cause of the tribunals. Do you undertake the cause of impartiality, of integrity, of good faith and religion. Do you undertake the cause of the senate, that, being proved worthy by its conduct in this trial, it may come into favor and popularity with the Roman people. Think who you are and in what a situation you are placed; what you ought to give the Roman people and what you ought to repay to your ancestors. Let the recollection of the Acilian Law passed by your father occur to your mind, owing to which law the Roman people has had this advantage of most admirable decisions and very strict judges in cases of extortion.

I am resolved not to permit the pretor or the judges to be changed in this cause. I will not permit the matter to be delayed till the lictors of the consuls can go and summon the Sicilians, whom the servants of the consuls-elect did not influence before, when by an unprecedented course of proceeding they sent for them all; I will not permit those miserable men, formerly the allies and friends of the Roman people, now their slaves and supplicants, to lose not only their rights and fortunes by their tyranny, but to be deprived of even the power of bewailing their condition; I will not, I say, when the cause has been summed up by me, permit them after a delay of forty days has intervened, then at last to reply to me when my accusation has already fallen into oblivion through lapse of time; I will not permit the decision to be given when this crowd collected from all Italy has departed from Rome, which has assembled from all quarters at the same time on account of the comitia, of the games, and of the census.

The reward of the credit gained by your decision, or the danger arising from the unpopularity which will accrue to you if you decide unjustly, I think ought to belong to you; the labor and anxiety to me; the knowledge of what is done and the recollection of what has been said by every one, to all. I will adopt this course, not an unprecedented one, but one that has been adopted before, by those who are now the chief men of our state,—the course, I mean, of at once producing the witnesses.

What you will find novel, O judges, is this, that I will so marshal my witnesses as to unfold the whole of my accusation; that when I have established it by examining my witnesses, by arguments, and by my speech, then I shall show the agreement of the evidence with my accusation: so that there shall be no difference between the established mode of prosecuting, and this new one, except that, according to the established mode, when everything has been said which is to be said, then the witnesses are produced; here they shall be produced as each count is brought forward, so that the other side shall have the same opportunity of examining them, of arguing and making speeches on their evidence. If there be any one who prefers an uninterrupted speech and the old mode of conducting a prosecution without any break, he shall have it in some other trial. But for this time let him understand that what we do is done by us on compulsion (for we only do it with the design of opposing the artifice of the opposite party by our prudence). This will be the first part of the prosecution. We say that Caius Verres has not only done many licentious acts, many cruel ones, toward Roman citizens, and toward some of the allies, many wicked acts against both gods and men; but especially that he has taken away four hundred thousand sesterces out of Sicily contrary to the laws. We will make this so plain to you by witnesses, by private documents, and by public records, that you shall decide that, even if we had abundant space and leisure days for making a long speech without any inconvenience, still there was no need at all of a long speech in this matter.

  1. Delivered in Rome in 70 B.C. Translated by Charles Duke Yonge. Abridged. The only one of Cicero's six orations against Verres that was actually delivered. Verres, as governor of Sicily, had plundered that island of its art treasures and other property.
  2. This arch, as explained in a note to Mr. Yonge's translation, had been erected to commemorate the victory obtained by Fabius over the Allobroges; and it was erected in the Via Sacra, as Cicero mentions in his speech Pro Plancio.