Catiline's War, 17–28

Sallust  translated by J. C. Rolfe

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17Accordingly, towards the first of June in the consulate of Lucius Caesar and Gaius Figulus, he addressed his followers at first one by one, encouraging some and sounding others. He pointed out his own resources, the unprepared condition of the state, the great prizes of conspiracy. 2When he had such information as he desired, he assembled all those who were most desperate and most reckless. 3There were present from the senatorial order Publius Lentulus Sura, Publius Autronius, Lucius Cassius Longinus, Gaius Cethegus, Publius and Servius Sulla, sons of Servius, Lucius Vargunteius, Quintus Annius, Marcus Porcius Laeca, Lucius Bestia, Quintus Curius; 4also of the equestrian order, Marcus Fulvius Nobilior, Lucius Statilius, Publius Gabinius Capito, Gaius Cornelius; besides these there were many men from the colonies and free towns who were of noble rank at home. 5There were, moreover, several nobles who had a somewhat more secret connection with the plot, men who were prompted rather by the hope of power than by want or any other exigency. 6The greater part of the young men also, in particular those of high position, were favourable to Catiline’s project; for although in quiet times they had the means of living elegantly or luxuriously, they preferred uncertainty to certainty, war to peace. 7There were also at that time some who believed that Marcus Licinius Crassus was not wholly ignorant of the plot; that because his enemy Gaius Pompeius was in command of a large army, he was willing to see anyone’s influence grow in opposition to the power of his rival, fully believing meanwhile that if the conspirators should be successful, he would easily be the leading man among them.

18Now, even before that time a few men had conspired against the government, and among them was Catiline; 2of that affair I shall give as true an account as I am able.

In the consulship of Lucius Tullus and Manius Lepidus, the consuls elect, Publius Autronius and Publius Sulla, were arraigned under the law against bribery and paid the penalties. 3A little later Catiline was charged with extortion and prevented from standing for the consulship, because he had been unable to announce his candidacy within the prescribed number of days. 4There was at that same time a young noble called Gnaeus Piso, a man of the utmost recklessness, poor, and given to intrigue, who was being goaded on by need of funds and an evil character to overthrow the government. 5He revealed his plans to Catiline and Autronius; they in concert with him began, about the fifth of December, to make preparations to murder the consuls Lucius Cotta and Lucius Torquatus in the Capitol on the first of January; they then proposed that they themselves should seize the fasces and dispatch Piso with an army to take possession of the two Spanish provinces. 6Upon the discovery of their plot they postponed their murderous design until the fifth of February. 7At that time they plotted the destruction not merely of the consuls but of many of the senators, 8and had Catiline not been over-hasty in giving the signal to his accomplices in front of the senate-house, on that day the most dreadful crime since the founding of the city of Rome would have been perpetrated. But because the armed conspirators had not yet assembled in sufficient numbers, the affair came to naught.

19Piso was afterwards, through the efforts of Crassus, who knew him to be a deadly enemy of Gnaeus Pompeius, sent to Hither Spain with praetorian powers, although he was only a quaestor. 2The senate, however, had been quite willing to give him the province, wishing to remove the shameless fellow to a distance from the seat of government; moreover, many of the aristocracy thought they had in him a safeguard against Pompey, whose power was even then becoming formidable. 3Now this Piso was slain, while marching through his province, by the Spanish cavalry under his command. 4Some say that the barbarians could not endure his rule, unjust, insolent, and cruel; 5others, that the horsemen, who were old and devoted retainers of Pompey, attacked Piso at his instigation. The latter point out that the Spaniards had never before committed such a crime, but had tolerated many cruel rulers in former days. We shall not attempt to decide this question, and enough has been said about the first conspiracy.

20When Catiline saw before him the men whom I mentioned a short time ago, although he had often had long conferences with them individually, he thought that it would be well to address and encourage the entire body. Accordingly, withdrawing to a private room of the house and excluding all witnesses, he made the following speech:

2“If I had not already tested your courage and loyalty, in vain would a great opportunity have presented itself; high hopes and power would have been placed in my hands to no purpose, 3nor would I with the aid of cowards or inconstant hearts grasp at uncertainty in place of certainty. But because I have learned in many and great emergencies that you are brave and faithful to me, my mind has had the courage to set on foot a mighty and glorious enterprise, and also because I perceive that you and I hold the same view of what is good and evil; 4for agreement in likes and dislikes—this, and this only, is what constitutes true friendship. 5As for the designs which I have formed, they have already been explained to you all individually. 6But my resolution is fired more and more every day, when I consider under what conditions we shall live if we do not take steps to emancipate ourselves. 7For ever since the state fell under the jurisdiction and sway of a few powerful men, it is always to them that kings and potentates are tributary and peoples and nations pay taxes. All the rest of us, good and bad, nobles and commons alike, have made up the mob, without influence, without weight, and subservient to those to whom in a free state we should be an object of fear. 8Because of this, all influence, power, rank, and wealth are in their hands, or wherever they wish them to be; to us they have left danger, defeat, prosecutions, and poverty. 9How long, pray, will you endure this, brave hearts? Is it not better to die valiantly, than ignominiously to lose our wretched and dishonoured lives after being the sport of others’ insolence? 10Assuredly (I swear it by the faith of gods and men!) victory is within our grasp. We are in the prime of life, we are stout of heart; to them, on the contrary, years and riches have brought utter dotage. We need only to strike; the rest will take care of itself. 11Pray, what man with the spirit of a man can endure that our tyrants should abound in riches, to squander in building upon the sea and in levelling mountains, while we lack the means to buy the bare necessities of life? That they should join their palaces by twos or even more, while we have nowhere a hearthstone? 12They amass paintings, statuary and chased vases, tear down new structures and erect others, in short misuse and torment their wealth in every way; yet, with the utmost extravagance, they cannot get the upper hand of their riches. 13But we have destitution at home, debt without, present misery and a still more hopeless future; in short, what have we left, save only the wretched breath of life? 14Awake then! Lo, here, here before your eyes, is the freedom for which you have often longed, and with it riches, honour, and glory; Fortune offers all these things as prizes to the victors. 15The undertaking itself, the opportunity, the dangers, your need, the splendid spoils of war, speak louder than any words of mine. 16Use me either as your leader or as a soldier in the ranks; my soul and my body shall be at your service. 17These very schemes I hope to help you carry out as your consul, unless haply I delude myself and you are content to be slaves rather than to rule.”

21When these words fell upon the ears of men who had misfortune of every kind in excess, but neither means nor any honourable hope, although disorder alone seemed to them an ample reward, yet many of them called upon him to explain the conditions under which war would be waged, what the prizes of victory would be, and what resources or prospects they would have and in what quarter. 2Thereupon Catiline promised abolition of debts, the proscription of the rich, offices, priesthoods, plunder, and all the other spoils that war and the license of victors can offer. 3He added that Piso was in Hither Spain, Publius Sittius of Nuceria in Mauretania with an army, both of whom were partners in his plot; that Gaius Antonius was a candidate for the consulship, and, he hoped, would be his colleague, a man who was an intimate friend of his and was beset by every sort of necessity; consul with him, he would launch his undertaking. 4Thereupon he heaped maledictions upon all good citizens, lauded each of his own followers by name; he reminded one of his poverty, another of his ambition, several of their danger or disgrace, many of the victory of Sulla, which they had found a source of booty. 5When he saw that their spirits were all aflame, he dismissed the meeting, urging them to have his candidacy at heart.

22It was said at the time that when Catiline, after finishing his address, compelled the participants in his crime to take an oath, he passed around bowls of human blood mixed with wine; 2that when after an imprecation upon traitors all had tasted it, as is usual in solemn rites, he disclosed his project; and his end in so doing was, they say, that they might be more faithful to one another because they shared the guilty knowledge of so dreadful a deed. 3Others thought that these and many other details were invented by men who believed that the hostility which afterwards arose against Cicero would be moderated by exaggerating the guilt of the conspirators whom he had put to death. For my own part I have too little evidence for pronouncing upon a matter of such weight.

23Now one of the members of the conspiracy was Quintus Curius, a man of no mean birth but guilty of many shameful crimes, whom the censors had expelled from the senate because of his immorality. 2This man was as untrustworthy as he was reckless; he could neither keep secret what he had heard nor conceal even his own misdeeds; he was utterly regardless of what he did or said. 3He had an intrigue of long standing with Fulvia, a woman of quality, and when he began to lose her favour because poverty compelled him to be less lavish, he suddenly fell to boasting, began to promise her seas and mountains, and sometimes to threaten his mistress with the steel if she did not bow to his will; in brief, to show much greater assurance than before. 4But Fulvia, when she learned the cause of her lover’s overbearing conduct, had no thought of concealing such a peril to her country, but without mentioning the name of her informant she told a number of people what she had heard of Catiline’s conspiracy from various sources.

5It was this discovery in particular which aroused a general desire to confer the consulate upon Marcus Tullius Cicero; 6for before that most of the nobles were consumed with jealousy and thought the office in a way prostituted if a “new man,” however excellent, should obtain it. But when danger came, jealousy and pride fell into the background.

24Accordingly, when the elections had been held Marcus Tullius and Gaius Antonius were proclaimed consuls, and this at first filled the conspirators with consternation. 2And yet Catiline’s frenzy did not abate. On the contrary, he increased his activity every day, made collections of arms at strategic points in Italy, and borrowed money on his own credit or that of his friends, sending it to Faesulae to a certain Manlius, who afterwards was the first to take the field. 3At that time Catiline is said to have gained the support of many men of all conditions and even of some women; the latter at first had met their enormous expenses by prostitution, but later, when their time of life had set a limit to their traffic but not to their extravagance, had contracted a huge debt. 4Through their help Catiline believed that he could tempt the city slaves to his side and set fire to Rome; and then either attach the women’s husbands to his cause or make away with them.

25Now among these women was Sempronia, who had often committed many crimes of masculine daring. 2In birth and beauty, in her husband also and children, she was abundantly favoured by fortune; well read in the literature of Greece and Rome, able to play the lyre and dance more skilfully than an honest woman need, and having many other accomplishments which minister to voluptuousness. 3But there was nothing which she held so cheap as modesty and chastity; you could not easily say whether she was less sparing of her money or her honour; her desires were so ardent that she sought men more often than she was sought by them. 4Even before the time of the conspiracy she had often broken her word, repudiated her debts, been privy to murder; poverty and extravagance combined had driven her headlong. 5Nevertheless, she was a woman of no mean endowments; she could write verses, bandy jests, and use language which was modest, or tender, or wanton; in fine, she possessed a high degree of wit and of charm.

26After making these preparations Catiline nevertheless became a candidate for the consulship of the following year, hoping that if he should be elected he could easily do whatever he wished with Antonius. In the meantime he was not idle, but kept laying plots of all kinds against Cicero, 2who, however, did not lack the craft and address to escape them. 3For immediately after the beginning of his consulate, by dint of many promises made through Fulvia, Cicero had induced Quintus Curius, the man whom I mentioned a little while ago, to reveal Catiline’s designs to him. 4Furthermore, he had persuaded his colleague Antonius, by agreeing to make over his province to him, not to entertain schemes hostile to the public weal, and he also had surrounded himself secretly with a bodyguard of friends and dependents.

5When the day of the elections came and neither Catiline’s suit nor the plots which he had made against the consuls in the Campus Martius were successful, he resolved to take the field and dare the uttermost, since his covert attempts had resulted in disappointment and disgrace. 27He therefore dispatched Gaius Manlius to Faesulae and the adjacent part of Etruria, a certain Septimius of Camerinum to the Picene district, and Gaius Julius to Apulia; others too to other places, wherever he thought that each would be serviceable to his project. 2Meanwhile he himself was busy at Rome with many attempts at once, laying traps for the consul, planning fires, posting armed men in commanding places. He went armed himself, bade others do the same, conjured them to be always alert and ready, kept on the move night and day, took no rest yet succumbed neither to wakefulness nor fatigue. 3Finally, when his manifold attempts met with no success, again in the dead of night he summoned the ringleaders of the conspiracy to the house of Marcus Porcius Laeca. 4There, after reproaching them bitterly for their inaction, he stated that he had sent Manlius on ahead to the force which he had prepared for war, and also other men to other important points to commence hostilities, explaining that he himself was eager to go to the front if he could first make away with Cicero, who was a serious obstacle to his plans.

28Upon this the rest were terrified and hesitated; but Gaius Cornelius, a Roman knight, offered his services and was joined by Lucius Vargunteius, a senator. These two men determined that very night, a little later, to get access to Cicero, accompanied by a band of armed men, as if for a ceremonial call and taking him by surprise to murder the defenceless consul in his own house. 2When Curius learned of the great danger which threatened the consul, he hastened to report to Cicero through Fulvia the trap which was being set for him. 3Hence the would-be assassins were refused admission and proved to have undertaken this awful crime to no purpose.

4Meanwhile Manlius in Etruria was working upon the populace, who were already ripe for revolution because of penury and resentment at their wrongs; for during Sulla’s supremacy they had lost their lands and all their property. He also approached brigands of various nationalities, who were numerous in that part of the country, and some members of Sulla’s colonies who had been stripped by prodigal and luxurious living of the last of their great booty.

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