A. Clue'ntius Ha'bitus
2. Son of the foregoing and his wife Sassia, was also a native of Larinum, born about B. C. 103. (Pro Cluent.
5.) In B. C. 74, being at Rome, he accused his own stepfather, Statius Albius Oppianicus, of having attempted to procure his death by poison.
The cause was heard before a certain C. Junius during a period when a strong feeling prevailed with regard to the venality of the criminal judices, who were at that epoch selected from the senate exclusively. Shortly before the trial, a report was spread abroad, and gained general credit, that bribery had been extensively practised by those interested in the result. Accordingly, when a verdict of guilty was pronounced by a very small majority, including several individuals of notoriously bad character, when it became known that one of the concilium had been irregularly introduced, and had voted against the defendant without hearing the evidence, and when, above all, it was ascertained beyond a doubt that one of the most infamous of the judices who had condemned Oppianicus had actually received a large sum of money for distribution among his fellows, the belief became universal that Cluentius had by the foulest practices obtained the conviction of an innocent man. Indignation being thus strongly excited, it was exhibited most unequivocally. No opportunity was allowed to pass of inflicting condign punishment on the obnoxious judices. Junius, the judex quaestionis, a man rising rapidly to eminence, was forced by the popular clamour to retire from public life; Cluentius and many others of those concerned were disgraced by the censors, and the Judicium Junianum
or Albianum Judicium
became a by-word for a corrupt and unrighteous judgment, no one being more ready to take advantage of the outcry than Cicero himself, when insisting, at the trial of Verres, on the necessity of obliterating the foul stain which had thus sullied the reputation of the Roman courts. (In Verr.
act. 1.10, 13-61, pro Caecin.
10; Pseudo-Ascon. in Verr.
act. i. p. 141; Schol. Gronov. p. 395, ed. Orelli.)
Eight years after these events, in B. C. 66, Cluentius was himself accused by young Oppianicus, son of Statius Albius who had died in the interval, of three distinct acts of poisoning, two of which, it was alleged, had proved successful.
The attack was conducted by T. Accius Pisaurensis; the defence was undertaken by Cicero, at that time praetor in the Pro Cluentio
It is perfectly clear, from the whole tenor of the remarkable speech delivered upon this occasion, from the small space devoted to the refutation of the above charges, and from the meagre and defective evidence by which they were supported, that comparatively little importance was attached to them by the prosecutor, that they were merely employed as a plausible pretext for bringing Cluentius before a Roman court, and that his enemies grounded their hopes of success almost entirely upon the prejudice which was known to exist in men's minds on account of the Judicium Junianum,
--a prejudice which had already proved the ruin of many others when arraigned of various offences. Hence it would appear that the chief object kept in view by Accius in his opening address was to refresh the memories of his hearers, to recall to their recollections all the circumstances connected with the previous trial, and the punishments which had been inflicted on the guilty judices. Consequently, the greater portion of the reply is devoted to the same topics; the principal aim of Cicero was to undeceive his audience with regard to the real state of the facts, to draw a vivid picture of the life and crimes of the elder Oppianicus and Sassia, proving them to be monsters of guilt, and thus to remove the "invetrata invidia" which had taken such deep root against his client. Following the example of his antagonist, he divides the subject into two heads: 1. The invidia
or prejudice which prevailed. 2. The crimen
or specific offences libelled; but while five-sixths of the pleading are devoted to removing the former, the latter is dismissed shortly and contemptuously as almost unworthy of notice.
A critical analysis of the whole will be found in the well-known lectures of Blair upon rhetoric and belleslettres, who has selected the oration as an excellent example of managing at the bar a complex and intricate cause with order, elegance, and force. And certainly nothing can be more admirable than the distinct and lucid exposition by which we are made acquainted with all the details of a most involved and perplexing story, the steady precision with which we are guided through a frightful and entangled labyrinth of domestic crime, and the apparently plain straightforward simplicity with which every circumstance is brought to bear upon the exculpation of the impeached. We are told (Quint. Inst. 2.17.21
), that Cicero having procured an acquittal by his eloquence, boasted that he had spread a mist before the judices; but so artfully are all the parts connected and combined, that it is very difficult, in the absence of the evidence, to discover the suspicious and weak points of the narrative.
In one place only do we detect a sophism in the reasoning, which may involve important consequences.
It is freely confessed that bribery had been extensively employed at the trial of Oppianicus; it is admitted with ostentatious candour that this bribery must have been the work either of Cluentius or of Oppianicus; it is fully proved that the latter had tampered with Staienus, who had undertaken to suborn a majority of those associated with him; and then the conclusion is triumphantly drawn, that since Oppianicus was guilty, Cluentius must have been innocent.
But another contingency is carefully kept out of view, amnely, that both may have been guilty of the attempt, although one only was successful; and that this was really the truth appears not only probable in itself, but had been broadly asserted by Cicero himself a few years before. (In Verr.
Act. 1.13.) Indeed, one great difficulty under which he laboured throughout arose from the sentiments which he had formerly expressed with so little reserve; and Accius did not fail to twit him with this inconsistency, while great ingenuity is displayed in his struggles to escape from the dilemma. Taken as a whole, the speech for Cluentius must be considered as one of Cicero's highest efforts. (Comp. Quint. Inst. 11.1.61