9th July 2014
Yesterday evening I read Cicero’s oration ‘Pro Murena’ (For Murena). This was a speech in defence of Lucius Murena, accused of having, in BC63, gained election as consul by bribery. It was the custom of losing candidates, in the hope of supplanting the winners, to prosecute those rivals after the event. Of the two elected consuls, Sulpicius, the plaintiff, actually a good friend of the great orator, picked on Murena. Following Cicero’s successful plea, the accuser had to wait another twelve years to hold office.
Delivered cogently, with both humour and seriousness, this piece reads as freshly and fluently as if it had been written today. Also focussing on the interests of national security, Cicero paces his argument well and stakes his own reputation on his closing commendation.
The next in The Folio Society’s selection of Cicero’s Orations, which I went on to read, is ‘Pro Caelio’ (For Caelius). Possibly because the jurors, on account of the nature of the case, had been forced to forgo a public holiday, the advocate set out to entertain them. The fury of a woman scorned, it was Cicero’s contention, was behind the charges laid against his client. He stated that they had been brought ‘to gratify the whim of a licentious woman’, Caelius’s ex-lover. It seems to have been the practice in Roman courts to deprecate the characters of the protagonists. Cicero therefore defends his client’s reputation, and slays that of Clodia, the lady in question, saying very little about the actual charges of violence he was meant to refute. This is skilfully done, often indirectly, and with innuendo. He makes the woman out to have led the young man astray. The tone is light-hearted, with free use of irony, wit, and satire. It did the trick.
Gangs roamed the streets of ancient Rome at the behest of wealthy men. Two of these were Milo, and Clodius whom Cicero hated. In ‘Pro Milano’.which I read this morning, the author defended Milo, charged with Clodius’s murder. This is how it came about: From other, independent sources, it is clear that the two gangs mat by accident on the Appian Way. They fought. Clodius seems to have been victorious, but was soon afterwards murdered by his enemy, and dumped in the street. There was speculation in the city that one had laid a trap for the other. Cicero’s false case rested on Clodius having set the snare, and Milo simply defending himself. This time the jurors did not buy it. Despite a brilliant speech, full of the orator’s customary eloquent techniques, they found the defendant guilty. Clodius was twice assassinated. Once in reality by Milo, and later, figuratively, in court, by Cicero.
Mouths were agape in Le Code Bar this lunchtime, not poised over plates, but trained on the TV. It was not the flavoursome noodle soup; the crisp calamari in batter; the succulent pork kebabs, rice, and ratatouille; nor the gorgeous creme brûlée; but the aftermath of Brazil’s defeat by Germany, 7-1, in the World Cup semi-final, that grasped their attention.
As I watched the Sigoules sunset, I reflected on my friends Majid in London, and Saufiene in Acquitaine, both observing Ramadan, and now able to break their fast.