III[3arg] A collection of famous passages from the speeches of Gaius Gracchus, Marcus Cicero and Marcus Cato, and a comparison of them.
GAIUS GRACCHUS is regarded as a powerful and vigorous speaker. No one disputes this. But how can one tolerate the opinion of some, that he was more impressive, more spirited and more fluent than Marcus Tullius? Indeed, I lately read the speech of Gaius Gracchus On the Promulgation of Laws, in which, with all the indignation of which he is master, he complains that Marcus Marius and other distinguished men of the Italian free-towns were unlawfully beaten with rods by magistrates of the Roman people. His words on the subject are as follows: 1 “The consul lately came to Teanum Sidicinum. His wife said that she wished to bathe in the men's baths. Marcus Marius, the quaestor of Sidicinum, was instructed to send away the bathers from the baths. The wife tells her husband that the baths were not given up to her soon enough and that they were not sufficiently clean. Therefore a stake was planted in the forum and Marcus Marius, the most illustrious man of his city, was led to it. His clothing was stripped off, he was whipped with rods. The people of Cales, when they heard of this, passed a decree that no one should think of using the public baths when a Roman magistrate was in town. At Ferentinum, for the [p. 221] same reason, our praetor ordered the quaestors to be arrested; one threw himself from the wall, the other was caught and beaten with rods.” In speaking of such an atrocious action, in so lamentable and distressing a manifestation of public injustice, has he said anything either fluent or brilliant, or in such a way as to arouse tears and pity; is there anything that shows an outpouring of indignation and solemn and impressive remonstrance? Brevity there is, to be sure, grace, and a simple purity of expression, such as we sometimes have in the more refined of the comedies. Gracchus also in another place speaks as follows: 2 “I will give you a single example of the lawlessness of our young men, and of their entire lack of self-control. Within the last few years a young man who had not yet held a magisterial office was sent as an envoy from Asia. He was carried in a litter. A herdsman, one of the peasants of Venusia, met him, and not knowing whom they were bearing, asked in jest if they were carrying a corpse. Upon hearing this, the young man ordered that the litter be set down and that the peasant be beaten to death with the thongs by which it was fastened.” Now these words about so lawless and cruel an outrage do not differ in the least from those of ordinary conversation. But in Marcus Tullius, when in a similar case Roman citizens, innocent men, are beaten with rods contrary to justice and contrary to the laws, or tortured to death, what pity is then aroused! What complaints does he utter! How he brings the whole scene before our eyes! What a mighty surge of indignation and bitterness comes seething forth! By Heaven! when I read those [p. 223] words of Cicero's, my mind is possessed with the sight and sound of blows, cries and lamentation. For example, the words which he speaks about Gaius Verres, which I have quoted so far as my memory went, which was all that I could do at present: 3 “The man himself came into the forum, blazing with wickedness and frenzy. His eyes burned, every feature of his face displayed cruelty. All were waiting to see to what ends he would go, or what he would do, when on a sudden he gave orders that the man be dragged forth, that he be stripped in the middle of the forum and bound, and that rods be brought.” Now, so help me! the mere words “he ordered that he be stripped and bound, and rods brought” arouse such emotion and horror that you do not seem to hear the act described, but to see it acted before your face. But Gracchus plays the part, not of one who complains or implores, but of a mere narrator: “A stake,” he says, “was planted in the forum, his clothing was stripped off, he was beaten with rods.” But Marcus Cicero, finely representing the idea of continued action, says, 4 not “he was beaten,” but “a citizen of Rome was being beaten with rods in the middle of the forum at Messana, while in the meantime no groan, no sound was heard from that wretched man amid his torture and the resounding blows except these words, 'I am a Roman citizen.' By thus calling to mind his citizenship he hoped to avert all their stripes and free his body from torture.” Then Cicero with vigour, spirit and fiery indignation complains of so cruel an outrage and inspires the Romans with hatred and detestation of Verres by these words: 5 “O beloved name of liberty! O [p. 225] eminent justice of our country! O Porcian and Sempronian laws! O authority of the tribunes, earnestly desired and finally restored to the Roman commons! Pray, have all these blessings fallen to this estate, that a Roman citizen, in a province of the Roman people, in a town of our allies, should be bound and flogged in the forum by one who derived the emblems of his power from the favour of the Roman people? What! when fire and hot irons and other tortures were applied, although your victim's bitter lamentation and piteous outcries did not affect you, were you not moved by the tears and loud groans even of the Roman citizens who were then present?” These outrages Marcus Tullius bewailed bitterly and solemnly, in appropriate and eloquent terms. But if anyone has so rustic and so dull an ear that this brilliant and delightful speech and the harmonious arrangement of Cicero's words do not give him pleasure; if he prefers the earlier oration because it is unadorned, concise and unstudied, yet has a certain native charm, and because it has, so to say, a shade and colour of misty antiquity—let such a one, if he has any judgment at all, study the address in a similar case of Marcus Cato, a man of a still earlier time, to whose vigour and flow of language Gracchus could never hope to attain. He will realize, I think, that Cato was not content with the eloquence of his own time, but aspired to do even then what Cicero later accomplished. For in the speech which is entitled On Sham Battles he thus made complaint of Quintus Thermus: 6 “He said that his provisions had not been satisfactorily attended to by the decemvirs. 7 He ordered them to be stripped and scourged. The [p. 227] Bruttiani 8 scourged the decemvirs, many men saw it done. Who could endure such an insult, such tyranny, such slavery? No king has ever dared to act thus; shall such outrages be inflicted upon good men, born of a good family, and of good intentions? Where is the protection of our allies? Where is the honour of our forefathers? To think that you have dared to inflict signal wrongs, blows, lashes, stripes, these pains and tortures, accompanied with disgrace and extreme ignominy, since their fellow citizens and many other men looked on! But amid how great grief, what groans, what tears, what lamentations have I heard that this was done! Even slaves bitterly resent injustice; what feeling do you think that such men, sprung from good families, endowed with high character, had and will have so long as they live?” When Cato said “the Bruttiani scourged them,” lest haply anyone should inquire the meaning of Bruttiani, it is this: When Hannibal the Carthaginian was in Italy with his army, and the Romans had suffered several defeats, the Bruttii were the first people of all Italy to revolt to Hannibal. Angered at this, the Romans, after Hannibal left Italy and the Carthaginians were defeated, by way of ignominious punishment refused to enrol the Bruttii as soldiers or treat them as allies, but commanded them to serve the magistrates when they went to their provinces, and to perform the duties of slaves. Accordingly, they accompanied the magistrates in the capacity of those who are called “floggers” in the plays, and bound or scourged those whom they were ordered. And because they came from the land of the Bruttii, 9 they were called Bruttiani. [p. 229]