10. What shall we say if the zeal of the witnesses is in partnership, as it were, with the prosecutor? shall they still be considered witnesses? What then, is become of that expectation which ought to have a place in courts of justice? For formerly, when a prosecutor had said anything with bitterness and vehemence, and when the counsel for the defence had made a supplicatory and submissive reply, the third step expected was the appearance of the witnesses who either spoke without any partisanship at all, or else they in some degree concealed their desires. But what is the case here?  They are sitting with the prosecutor; they rise up from the prosecutor's bench; they use no concealment; they feel no apprehension. Do I complain of where they sit? They come with him from his house, if they trip at one word, they will have no place to return to. Can any one be a witness, when the prosecutor can examine him without any anxiety and have not the slightest fear of his giving him any answer which he is unwilling to hear? Where, then, is the oratorical skill, which formerly used to be looked for either in the prosecutor or in the counsel for the defence? “He examined the witness cleverly; he came up to him cunningly; he scolded him; he led him where he pleased; he convicted him and made him dumb.”  Why need you ask a man questions, Laelius, who, even before you have pronounced the words “I ask you,” will pour out more assertions than you enjoined him before you left home? And why should I, the counsel for the defence, ask him questions, since the course to be taken with respect to witnesses is either to invalidate their testimony or to impeach their characters? But by what discussion can I refute the evidence of men who say “We gave,” and no more? Am I then to make a speech against the man, when my speech can find no room for argument? What can I say against an utter stranger? I must then be content with complaining and lamenting, as I have been some time doing, the general iniquity of the whole prosecution, and, in the first place, the whole class of witnesses; for that nation is the witness which is the least scrupulous of all in giving evidence. I come nearer;—I say that that is not evidence which you yourself call decrees; but that it is only the grumbling of needy men, and a sort of random movement of a miserable Greek assembly. I will come in still further,—he who has done it is not present; he who is said to have paid the money is not brought hither; no private letters are produced; the public documents have been retained in the power of the prosecutors. The main point of my argument concerns the witnesses. These men are living with our enemies, they come into court with our adversaries, they are dwelling in the same house with our prosecutors.  Do you think that this is an examination and an inquiry into the truth, or an endeavour to fix a stain, and bring ruin upon innocence? for there are many things of such a sort, O judges, that even if they deserve to be neglected, as far as the individual whom they more immediately affect is concerned, are still to be dreaded, because of the state of facts of which they betoken the existence, and because of the precedents which they afford.
This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
THE SPEECH OF M. T. CICERO IN DEFENCE OF LUCIUS FLACCUS.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.