153. Murder trials (speeches) by Cicero, (c.80-43 BC)

153. Murder trials (speeches) by Cicero, (c.80-43 BC)

Plot:  Speeches for the defense made by Cicero in the Roman courts, defending accusations of murder. The Penguin edition is translated by Michael Grant (ISBN 9780140442885)

My thoughts: Cicero, even at the beginning of his career as a public speaker, gives such strong voice to his arguments. Although we don’t get to hear the prosecution’s argument directly in each case; Cicero takes each argument and tears them apart quite convincingly. There is also a lot of documented evidence for the nature of Roman political life and legal practice in his speeches.

The first case, In defence of Sextus Roscius, (80 BC), the young Cicero successfully defends a man whose father has been murdered by the very men who are prosecuting him in order to retain the extensive estates owned by the dead man, put on sale after the victim is posthumously put on the proscribed list of state enemies. Cicero paints the villains, a father and son related to the victim and both gladiators, and their highly placed conspirator, as ruthless assassins and opportunists who are not satisfied with their ill-gotten possessions, that they must secure their position by having the innocent and genuine owner of lands worth six million sesterii, condemned and executed.

The second trial (66 BC) has Cicero, now a praetor, defending Aulus Cluentius Habitus, against the charge of killing his stepfather Oppianicus. Most of Cicero’s speech is actually directed against the prejudice which his client carries from a famous earlier case where Oppianicus supposedly hired men to poison Cluentius, and after they were caught and found guilty, Oppianicus’ subsequent trial as the instigator of the plot became notorious for attempts to bribe the judges. Cicero convincingly swings the argument to suggest that only Oppianicus himself could have the means or motive to offer bribes. (It was later suggested that Cicero deliberately and knowingly misled the judges throughout this case.) He then paints such a repulsive picture of the defendant’s mother Sassia who Cicero insists is behind the whole plot to have her son Cluentius discredited and executed, that would easily match the worst excesses of any Greek tragedy.

The third trial presented is the defense of Gaius Rabirius, accused of executing a political radical and rebel Saturninus and his followers, thirty seven years after the fact, is just as much a defense of the state’s ability to act outside the law in times of emergency – such as internment without trial, as it is the defense of one man. Still a topical issue today, perhaps most recently with Guantanamo Bay. In this hearing, Cicero comes against Julius Caesar as one of the judges, and their relationship over the years is chequered to say the least.

The last case is presented, not in a court, but in private in Julius Caesar’s own home, defending King Deiotarus on a charge of plotting to assassinate Caesar himself. Cicero flatters Caesar to the heavens, and as always diverts suspicion of the alleged crime, painting it instead as a vindictive accusation against an innocent defendant by a despicable prosecutor and relative.

A disturbing aspect to these trials is the ability of the defendant to call his slaves as witnesses, where it was normal practice to torture them sufficiently before questioning to ensure they would tell the truth.

Favourite lines/passages:

There are crackingly good lines on almost every page. Here are a few from the first case:

“I would rather be crushed by the weight of the duty I am trying to perform than be accused of disloyalty or irresolution..”          page 36

“On the other hand you have my client, whom they have left with no possession in the world except utter ruin”               page 37

“Nature itself cries out against any suspicions of such horror”       page 62

Personal rating: 5/10

Kimmy’s rating : O tempora, O mores!  (How times have changed, and customs with them!)
Also in that year:
Since 150 BC:

Rome’s influence continues to grow as they indulge simultaneously in a Third Punic War against Carthage (149-146 BC) and a fourth Macedonian war (149-148 BC), razing the former and absorbing the latter as a province. They also control most of Greece and Spain, and create provinces in Africa and Gaul. Internally the Romans put down several slave uprisings, the third led by Spartacus, and establish a silk trade with China.

In the last years of the Roman Republic, Gaius Julius Caesar, Marcus Grassus and Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey) form a triumvirate rulership in 60 BC. More on this later.

In other news, the Nazca culture is developing in Peru.

Next :  More Cicero. This time his Political Speeches.

 

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