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ORATIONS AGAINST CATILINE.
L. SERGIUS CATILINE, against whom these orations were delivered, belonged to a patrician family which had become greatly impoverished. He was, therefore, the heir to a noble name, but to no large estates. Unprincipled and reckless, he early perverted to the basest uses the remarkable powers of body and mind with which he had been endowed by nature. As a zealous partisan of Sulla, he acted a conspicuous part in the bloody proscriptions which followed the triumph of the dictator. Among the victims who perished at his hands was his own brother-in-law Quintus Caecilius.
Catiline held the office of praetor in the year 68 B. C., was governor of Africa in 67, and returned to Rome in 66 to canvass for the consulship, but was compelled to relinquish his suit by an impeachment for maladministration in his province. Burning with rage and unable to brook disappointment, he at once entered into an alliance with Cn. Calpurnius Piso, a young but profligate patrician, and P. Autronius Paetus, who, having been convicted of bribery, was disqualified from entering upon the duties of the consulship to which he had been elected. The plan of the conspirators was to murder the consuls on the first of January, during the ceremonies of inauguration, after which Catiline and Autronius were to seize the consular power, and Piso to take possession of the Spanish provinces. The execution of the plan was, however, subsequently deferred to the fifth of February, when it was
fortunately frustrated by a mistake on the part of Catiline, who gave the signal before his accomplices were ready for action.
In June, 64 B. C., Catiline resumed his revolutionary schemes on a larger scale and with renewed energy. Rome at that time furnished him abundant materials for such a work in the throngs of luxurious spendthrifts, desperate insolvents, and reckless adventurers, who filled her streets. He soon numbered among his accomplices eleven senators, four members of the equestrian order, and several men of position and influence in the provincial towns. Thus strengthened, he boldly presented himself as a candidate for the consulship, but defeat awaited him. Marcus Cicero the orator and Caius Antonius were elected consuls, the former by an overwhelming majority.
This was a severe disappointment for Catiline, but it only rendered him more reckless than ever in his revolutionary designs. He had entered upon a desperate game, and he resolved to hazard every thing, to win or die. He established the headquarters of his movement at Faesulae, in Etruria, under the command of Gaius Manlius, an insolvent and revolutionist, who had served as a centurion under Sulla. He raised money upon his own credit and that of his friends, collected stores of arms at convenient centres in different portions of Italy, and endeavored to enlist in his cause the desperate and abandoned of both sexes and of all ranks. His audacity aimed at nothing less than the overthrow of the government. He proposed to seize all the offices of trust and emolument, to cancel debts, to confiscate the property of the rich, and, in fine, to reenact the bloody scenes of Sulla's proscriptions.
It was at such a crisis, that on the first of January in that memorable year, 63 B. C., Cicero, the accomplished orator and scholar, entered upon the arduous and perilous duties of the consulship. A base and nefarious conspiracy against the government was rapidly consummating its work, a bloody revolution was imminent, and even his own colleague in the consulship, Gaius Antonius, was supposed to be more or less in sympathy with the treasonable movement. But Cicero proved himself equal to the emergency. He secured the passive coöperation of Antonius by offering, at the outset, to transfer to him the rich province of Macedonia at the expiration of his term of office. He, moreover,
opened communication with Quintus Curius, one of the accomplices of Catiline, and, by means of large promises, engaged him to keep the government informed in regard to all the movements of the conspirators. Curius proved a faithful and trustworthy agent.
When the consular election for 62 B. C. approached, Catiline, once more a candidate, determined not to suffer another defeat. He accordingly adopted the bold project of murdering the presiding consul, and, if need be, the rival candidates, and of carrying the election by force of arms. In view of these dangers, the election was deferred until the twenty-first of October, and, afterwards, until the twenty-eighth. On the twenty-first of that month the senate assembled to consider the state of the nation, and at that session Cicero, in the presence of Catiline, exposed the revolutionary designs of the conspirators, whereupon the senate clothed the consuls with dictatorial powers for the safety of the republic. On the twenty-eighth, the comitia met according to appointment; Cicero appeared in the Campus Martius, surrounded by a strong body-guard of armed men. The resolute bearing of the consul and his formidable guard so overawed the conspirators that no disturbance was made. Catiline was again defeated; Decimus Silanus and Lucius Murena were elected consuls for the ensuing year.
In the mean time, civil war had already commenced; Manlius was in arms against the republic. On the night of the fifth of November, Catiline met the most prominent of his partisans at the house of Marcus Laeca. He announced his purpose to join the army at the earliest possible date, assigned to the leaders their several parts in the work of the conspiracy, and urged upon them the importance of taking the life of Cicero. Two of his agents at once promised to call upon the consul the next morning and assassinate him in his own house; but Cicero, forewarned in regard to their purpose, refused to admit them.
On the seventh of November, the senate met, for greater security, in the Temple of Jupiter Stator, which was guarded by Roman knights. Catiline, contrary to the expectation of all, had the effrontery to present himself at the meeting, but no greeting welcomed him to his accustomed place; the seats in his vicinity were instantly vacated; the traitor sat alone, an object of scorn anl contempt. It was then that Cicero, the consul, giving utter
ance to his indignation in a torrent of invective, pronounced his First Oration against Catiline.
The effect was perfectly electrical. Catiline was for the moment paralyzed, but, quickly recovering his self-possession and assuming the tone of injured innocence, he implored the senate not to trust the base slanders which the consul had heaped upon him; he even ventured upon harsh and abusive language against Cicero, but his voice was at once drowned with cries of "Enemy," "Traitor," from the whole assembly. That night he left the city.
On the following day, the eighth of November, Cicero delivered his Second Oration against Catiline before the people in the Forum. His object was to justify the course which he had pursued in relation to the conspiracy, to allay the general excitement, and to intimidate the conspirators who had not yet left the city.
In the mean time, Catiline had repaired to the camp of Manlius, and had assumed the fasces and other insignia of consular power. The senate accordingly declared him an outlaw, ordered new levies of troops, and dispatched able leaders to different parts of the country where danger was apprehended. Cicero was directed to guard the city, and Antonius was appointed to the command of the army destined against Catiline.
According to the plan which Catiline unfolded to his associates before his departure, Cethegus was to assassinate the consul Cicero, the praetor Lentulus was charged with the general management of the affairs of the conspiracy in the capital, Gabinius and Statilius were to fire the city, and, in the midst of the general confusion attendant upon the conflagration, the conspirators were to open communication with Catiline. But, while the execution of the bloody plot was delayed, a deputation from the Allobroges in Gaul, visited Rome to present certain complaints against the provincial government. Lentulus, taking advantage of their disaffection, endeavored to interest them in the conspiracy, but Cicero finally succeeded in securing their coöperation, and, seeing that they could be made very useful to the govern-. ment, encouraged them to continue their negotiations with the conspirators, and obtain from them a written statement of the proposition which they were to make to their people. The experiment was perfectly successful. The required statement, bear
ing the signatures of Lentulus, Cethegus, and Statilius, was readily obtained. The Gallic ambassadors, having finished their work, left Rome on the night of the second of December, accompanied by Titus Volturcius, the bearer of dispatches for Catiline, but they had proceeded only a short distance beyond the city gate when they fell into the hands of an armed force in the employ of the government. Lentulus, Cethegus, Statilius, and Gabinius, were arrested the next morning. Later in the day, the prisoners were all brought before the bar of the senate, then assembled in the Temple of Concord. The evidence of their guilt was overwhelming, and was finally confirmed by their own confessions.
After the adjournment of the senate, Cicero addressed the people on the great events of the day in his Third Oration against Catiline. The indignation against the conspirators became almost ungovernable; execrations were heaped upon Catiline; Cicero was the hero of the hour.
On the fifth of December, the senate met in the Temple of Concord, to decide the fate of the prisoners. D. Junius Silanus, consul-elect, recommended the punishment of death, but C. Julius Caesar, praetor-elect, objected to capital punishment as illegal, and recommended imprisonment for life. It was in the course of this debate that Cicero pronounced his Fourth Oration against Catiline. The sentence of death was decreed by the senate, and executed that very night, under the direction of the consul himself.
In the mean time, Catiline was in Etruria at the head of a formidable force, where, in the ensuing spring, he was defeated in a desperate contest, and fell in the thickest of the fight.