(Late) Weekend Reading: The opening of Cicero’s Pro Roscio Amerino, According to Stephen Saylors Roman Blood. I would pay serious money for a Saylor translation of the whole thing, with stage directions and audience catcalls. Just saying:
Cicero stepped forward to the podium, cleared his throat and coughed. A wave of skepticism ran through the crowd. A botched opening was a bad sign. At the accuser’s bench Gaius Erucius made a great show of smacking his lips and staring up at the sky.
Cicero cleared his throat and began again. His voice was unsteady and slightly hoarse:
Judges of the court: You must be wondering why, of all the distinguished citizens and eminent orators seated about you, it is I who have risen to address you….
“Indeed,” Erucius muttered under his breath. There was scattered laughter from the crowd. Cicero pressed on:
Certainly I cannot be compared to them in age or ability or authority. Certainly they believe, no less than I, that an unjust charge concocted by utmost villainy has been leveled at an innocent man and must be repelled. Thus they show themselves here in visible fulfillment of their duty to the truth, but they remain silent—due to the inclement conditions of the day.
Here he raised his hand as if to catch a raindrop from the clear blue sky—and at the same time seemed to be gesturing toward the equestrian statue of Sulla. Among the judges there was an uneasy shuffling of chairs. Erucius, who was inspecting his fingernails, did not see. Cicero cleared his throat again. His voice returned, stronger and louder than before. The quavering vanished:
Am I so much bolder than these silent men? Or more devoted to justice? I think not. Or so very eager to hear my own voice in the Forum, and to be praised for speaking out? No, not if a better orator could earn that praise by speaking better words. What, then, has impelled me, rather than a more important man, to undertake the defense of Sextus Roscius of Ameria?
The reason is this: If any one of these fine orators had risen to speak in this court, and uttered words of a political nature—inevitable in a case such as this—then he would undoubtedly find people reading much more into his words than was actually there. Rumors would begin. Suspicions would be aroused. Such is the stature of these established men that nothing they say goes unremarked, and no implication in their speeches goes undebated.
I, on the other hand, can say everything that demands to be said in this case, without fear of adverse attention or untoward controversy. That is because I have not yet begun a public career; no one knows me. If I should speak out of turn, if I should let slip some embarrassing indiscretion, no one will even notice, or if they do, they will pardon the lapse on the grounds of my youth and inexperience—though I use the word pardon rather loosely, since actual pardons and the free judicial inquiry they require have of late been abolished by the state.
There was more rustling of chairs. Erucius looked up from his nails, wrinkled his nose, and gazed into the middle distance, as if he had just discerned an alarming plume of smoke on the air.
So you see, I was not singled out and chosen because I was the most gifted orator.
Cicero smiled to ask the crowd’s indulgence.
No, I was simply the person left over when all others had stepped aside. I was the man who could plead with the least danger. No one can say that I was chosen so that Sextus Roscius would have the best possible defense. I was chosen simply so that he would have any defense at all.
You may ask: What is this fear and terror that drives away the best of the advocates and leaves Sextus Roscius with only a rank beginner to defend his very life? To hear Erucius speak, you would never guess there was any peril at all, since he has deliberately avoided naming his true employer or mentioning that secret person’s vicious motives for bringing my client to trial.
What person? What motives? Let me explain.
The estate of the late, murdered Sextus Roscius—which by any ordinary course of events should now be the property of his son and heir—embraces farms and properties exceeding six million sesterces in value. Six million sesterces! That is a considerable fortune, amassed over a long and productive lifetime. Yet this entire estate was purchased by a certain young man, presumably at public auction, for the astonishing sum of two thousand sesterces.
Quite a bargain!
The thrifty young buyer was Lucius Cornelius Chrysogonus—I see the very mention of his name causes a stir in this place, and why not? He is an exceptionally powerful man.
The alleged seller of this property, representing the interests of the state, was the valiant and illustrious Lucius Sulla, whose name I mention with all due respect.
At this point a soft hissing filled the square like a rain of mist on hot stones, as men turned to one another and whispered behind their hands. Capito clutched at Glaucia’s shoulder and croaked into his ear. All about me nobles in the gallery crossed their arms and exchanged grim glances. Two elderly Metelli on my right nodded knowingly to each other. Gaius Erucius, whose plump jowls had abruptly turned scarlet at the mention of Chrysogonus, gripped a young slave by the neck, spat an order at him, and sent him fleeing from the square.
Let me be frank. It is Chrysogonus who has engineered these charges against my client. With no legal justification whatsoever, Chrysogonus has seized the property of an innocent man. Unable to enjoy his stolen goods to the fullest, since their rightful owner still lives and breathes, he asks you, the judges of this court, to alleviate his anxiety by doing away with my client. Only then can he squander the fortunes of the late Sextus Roscius with all the carefree dissipation he aspires to.
Does this seem right to you, Judges? Is it decent? Is it just? In opposition let me put forward my own demands, which I think you will find more modest and more reasonable:
First: Let this villain Chrysogonus be satisfied with seizing our wealth and property. Let him refrain from demanding our lifeblood as well!...