The Catiline Conspiracy
Sallust, Cicero and the Catiline Conspiracy
Both the histories of Sallust and the orations of Cicero can be considered literary works, to a degree. The War With Catiline, by Sallust and The First Speech Against Lucius Sergius Catilina, by Cicero, both contain excellent examples of writings from the age of the great Roman Empire. Although both are fantastic pieces depicting a time of tragedy, the Catiline Conspiracy against Rome, and they both think Catiline as evil, the two are also different.
Sallust was an obscure historical writer from the first century BCE. In The War With Catiline, he tells of the conspiracy of Catiline and his plan to bring about civil war in Rome and over power the Senate. Sallust depicts this historical event very fairly and with a seemingly unbiased attitude, although he was not involved in any way with or against the conspirators. It was said that in this period of time things had been going very well, “…Our country had grown great through toil and the practice of justice, when great kings had been vanquished in war, savage tribes and mighty peoples subdued by force of arms, when Carthage, the rival of Rome’s sway, had perished root and branch, and all seas and lands were open…” This time of absolute supremacy gave way to a generation of Romans who were greedy and power hungry. Sallust viewed this as the root of all evils. Henceforth from this generation is the excuse for Catiline and his evils. Sallust makes it obvious that Catiline was a product of the overall corruption of the people, or at least he took advantage of it.
It is incredible to think of the many men who sided with Catiline and took up arms against their own state, their own people, and even at times their own fathers. Catiline, as evil as he might have been, was also a man of genius. For one to poison the minds of so many takes much talent of the mind. Based on greed and jealousy of his loss in the running for consul against Cicero, he alone developed a plan to destroy Rome. Followers of Catiline justified their rebellion and treason by claiming they wanted a change. These men were those who wanted to gain riches by pillaging, and to free themselves of debt through anarchic chaos. Catiline’s biggest mistake might have been that he was all too blatant and outright about his plan. He seemed to have been careless in who overheard his discussions and whom he told. This ultimately led his plans to be discovered. He fled from Rome where he fought in battle until his death.
Sallust recounts the history of the Catiline Conspiracy with much detail concerning who was involved and the specific actions taken by both the conspirators and the Senate. Sallust tells it almost as an exciting story where the good is fighting the evil.
Cicero was a member of the Senate during the time of Catiline’s Conspiracy. His life was many times in danger due to Catiline’s hatred of him. His piece shows a first-hand point of view of the whole situation. Cicero, in The First Speech Against Lucius Sergius Catilina, delivers a speech proposing what actions should be made to stop Catiline.
It is very obvious that Cicero expresses a hatred for Catiline, but surprisingly he does not propose a death sentence for Catiline in fear for his own reputation in the Senate. Though I’m sure it would’ve been retaliation he would have loved to offer as a personal revenge. Cicero then goes on to accuse Catiline of numerous wrongs he has committed to both the citizens and laws of Rome. All the while Cicero made it quite clear to Catiline that not a single person of importance wanted him in Rome. This, I’m sure, was meant to make him feel unsupported in his cause.
Catiline was later told that the Senate wanted him to leave Rome, though he was not exiled. I simply cannot understand why a murderer and traitor of this degree would be given such a light sentence. Cicero gives reason that a sentenced death would lead to a bad feeling from the citizens towards himself. I believe