Early speeches

Making a name. Cicero’s ‘Pro Roscio Amerino.’

The journey so far… Ciceronian locations: Arpinum, Rome, Athens, Ameria. Nola and Asculum: Cicero claims eye witness experiences of the Social War.

1. Paris Lat. 14749 (15th c.) containing Ciceronian orations including Pro Roscio Amerino. Image: Bibliothèque nationale de France.


2. Cicero, Pro Roscio Amerino (6). Translated by D. H. Berry:

And what is that? The property of the father my client, Sextus Roscius, is worth six million sesterces, and it is from the valiant and illustrious Lucius Sulla, whose name I mention with the greatest respect, that a young man, arguably the most powerful man in Rome at the present time, claims to have purchased this property for two thousand sesterces: this man is Lucius Cornelius Chrysogonus! He has a particular request to make of you, gentlemen. Seeing that he has unlawfully seized the extremely valuable and splendid property of another man, and seeing that the life of Sextus Roscius appears to him to stand in the way of and impede his access to that property, he asks that you remove all uneasiness from his mind and release him from all his fears. For as long as Sextus Roscius is unharmed, Chrysogonus does not imagine that he can keep possession of the very large and valuable inheritance of this innocent man; with Roscius condemned and forced into exile, however, he believes that he will be free to squander and fritter away his ill-gotten gains. Chrysogonus therefore requests that you relieve him of this anxiety which worries and torments his mind night and day, and declare yourselves his accomplices in this outrageous theft which he has committed.

3. Cicero, Pro Roscio Amerino (19). Translated by D. H. Berry:

After Sextus Roscius had been killed, the first to bring the news to Ameria was a certain Mallius Glaucia, an impoverished freedman and a dependant and friend of Titus Magnus here. This Glaucia brought the news not to the house of the victim’s son, but to that of his enemy, Titus Capito. Moreover, although the murder had been committed more than an hour after nightfall, Glaucia reached Ameria by dawn: in ten hours during the night he raced across fifty-six [Roman] miles in gigs laid on in relays. And his purpose was not simply to be the first to bring the hoped-for news to the murdered man’s enemy, but to show him the blood of the man he hated while it was still fresh, and present him with the dagger which had been pulled out of the body only a few hours before.

4. Cicero, Pro Roscio Amerino (46-47). Translated by D. H. Berry:

[46] Even if fortune has given you no definite knowledge of who your father is, and has thus deprived you of an understanding of how a father feels towards his children, nature has at least endowed you with your full share of human feeling, and has added a taste for culture, making you no stranger to literature. Let me therefore take an illustration from a play. Do you really think that old man in Caecilius [Statius] thinks less of Eutychus, the son of his who lives in the country, than he does of the other one — Chaerestratus, I think he is called? That he keeps the one with him in the city as a mark of his esteem, but has banished the other one to the country as a punishment? [47] ‘Why are you straying into such absurdities?’ you will ask. As if it would be difficult for me to give you as many names as you like of people – my fellow tribesmen, say, or my neighbors (not to stray too far afield) – who want their favorite sons to become hard-working farmers! It would, however, be a breach of good manners to mention specific individuals by name, when it is not known whether they would be happy for their names to be used in this way. In any case there is no one I could mention who would be more familiar to you than Eutychus, and it certainly makes no difference to my argument whether I use the name of this young man from comedy or that of someone, say, the territory of Veii. In fact I think that poets make up these stories so that we can see our own behavior represented in other people, and be given a realistic depiction of our daily life.

5. Cicero, Pro Roscio Amerino (50-51). Translated by D. H. Berry:

But —  by Hercules! — our ancestors took a very different view about him and others like him, and it was because they did so that, instead of an extremely small and insignificant country, they handed down to us one which is very great and prosperous. For they worked on their own lands tirelessly, rather than greedily seeking after those of others; and by acting in this way they came to acquire land, cities, and foreign peoples, and so enlarged their country, this empire, and the glory of the Roman people. [51] I am not saying this for the purpose of making a comparison with our current investigation. No, the point I want to make is this. In the days of our ancestors, the most remain constantly seated at the helm of the state, nevertheless devoted a certain amount of time and effort to cultivating their land. I therefore believe that one ought to forgive a man who declares himself a countryman, in that he has always lived in the country, especially considering that there is nothing which would have pleased his father more, or would have been more agreeable to himself, or in actual fact, more honorable.

6. Cicero, Pro Roscio Amerino (56-57). Translated by D. H. Berry:

[56] It is beneficial that there should be, in the state, a large number of prosecutors, so that crime may be kept in check by ear. This is, however, only beneficial so long as the prosecutors do not openly make fools of us. A man is innocent, say: he has done nothing, but nevertheless has fallen under suspicion. It is a pitiful situation. All the same, I can forgive, up to a point, the man who brings a charge against him. For because the prosecutor has something to say which gives the impression that there is a case to be answered, we do not view him as amking fools of us in public and knowingly bringing a false accusation… [GEESE ON THE CAPITOL, GUARD DOGS] [57] It is jut the same with prosecutors. Some of you are geese, who only honk, and can do no actual harm, while others are dogs who can bite as well as bark. We can see that you are fed. In return, you should direct your attacks against those who genuinely deserve it: that is what the people want. In cases where it is likely that someone has committed a crime, by all means give your voice to your suspicion by barking: that is also permissible. If, however, you behave in such a way as to prosecute a man for the murder of his father without being able to say why or how he did it, and bark when there are no grounds whatsoever for suspicion, then nobody is actually going to break your legs — but, if you I know these jurymen at all, they will tattoo your forehead with that letter which you prosectors find so hateful that you also detest the Kalends of every month. And they shall do it so indelibly that you will be able to accuse nothing for ever afterwards but your own bad luck.

7. Cicero, Pro Roscio Amerino (154). Translated by D. H. Berry:

Men who are wise, and endowed with the authority and power which you possess, have a particular duty to cure those ills from which our country is particularly suffering. There is no one among you who is not conscious that the Roman people, who used to be thought merciful to their enemies abroad, are currently suffering from cruelty at home. Remove this cruelty from our nation, gentlemen. Do not allow it to continue any longer in this country of ours. It is an evil thing, not only because it has done away with so many citizens in a most dreadful manner, but because it has taken away the feeling of compassion from even the mildest of men, by accustoming them to troubles. For when we are witnessing or hearing of some dreadful event every hour, even those of us who are tender-hearted by nature fine that, through contact with unpleasantness, we lose all sense of humanity.

What Cicero said about the Pro Roscio Amerino later in life:

Cicero, Brutus (312):

Thus my first criminal case, spoken in behalf of Sextus Roscius, won such favourable comment that I was esteemed not incompetent to handle any litigation whatsoever. There followed then in quick succession many other cases which I brought into court, carefully worked out, and, as the saying is, smelling somewhat of the midnight oil (tamquam elucubratas*).

*on lucubratio see James Ker 2004.

Cicero, Orator (107):

What mighty applause greeted the following passage from a speech of my youth on the punishment of parricides, which somewhat later I came to feel was not sufficiently mellowed [= Pro Roscio 72] “What indeed is so common as breath to living creatures, earth to the dead, the sea to those tossed on the waves, the shore to shipwrecked mariners? Such is their life while they are let live that they cannot breathe the free air of heaven; they so die that the earth does not touch their bones; they are so tossed on the billows that they are never washed clean by them; so at last they are cast forth on the shore that, though dead, not even on the rocks can they rest in peace,” etc. All these are the words of a young man who was applauded not so much for maturity of achievement as for promise of success.

Cicero, De Officiis (2.51):

Then, too, briefs for the defence are most likely to bring glory and popularity to the pleader, and all the more so, if ever it falls to him to lend his aid to one who seems to be oppressed and persecuted by the influence of someone in power. This I have done on many other occasions; and once in particular, in my younger days, I defended Sextus Roscius of Ameria against the power of Lucius Sulla when he was acting the tyrant. The speech survives (exstat oratio), as you know.