Trial Examination, Question 3 (a)
Quid dicis? an bello fugitivorum Siciliam virtute tua liberatam? Magna laus et honesta oratio; sed tamen quo bello? Nos enim, post illud bellum quod M'. Aquilius confecit, sic accepimus, nullum in Sicilia fugitivorum bellum fuisse. 'At in Italia fuit.' Fateor, et magnum quidem ac vehemens. Num igitur ex eo bello partem aliquam laudis appetere conaris? num tibi illius victoriae gloriam cum M. Crasso aut Cn. Pompeio communicatam putas? Non arbitror hoc etiam tuae deesse impudentiae, ut quicquam eius modi dicere audeas. Obstitisti videlicet ne ex Italia transire in Siciliam fugitivorum copiae possent. Ubi, quando, qua ex parte? cum aut ratibus aut navibus conarentur accedere? Nos enim nihil umquam prorsus audivimus, sed illud audivimus, M. Crassi, fortissimi viri, virtute consilioque factum ne ratibus coniunctis freto fugitivi ad Messanam transire possent, a quo illi conatu non tanto opere prohibendi fuissent, si ulla in Sicilia praesidia ad illorum adventum opposita putarentur.
Why is it important for Cicero to discredit Verres’ military career?
Cicero anticipates that Verres’ lawyers, following the precedent of Manius Aquilius, will try to convince the judges to be lenient on Verres because of his military achievements and his services to Rome. By discrediting Verres’ miltary career, and showing that in fact he had achieved nothing as governor of Sicily, Cicero denies them the opportunity of this defense.
Analyse Cicero’s use of language techniques and rhetorical devices to achieve this purpose.
Cicero’s language in this passage helps him to persuade the judges of the case that Verres military achievements in Sicily were ineffectual. To this end he first employs a series of rhetorical questions to establish the line of argument he expects from Verres’ lawyers. These rhetorical questions (quid dicis? … Siciliam virtute tua liberatam? … quo bello?) not only help to introduce Cicero’s theme, but also contain a slightly puzzled tone, as Cicero asks for clarification about what Verres’ achievements actually were, and which war (quo bello) he is actually talking about. This tone of puzzlement effectively sows seeds of doubt as to the genuineness of Verres achievements into the minds of the audience.
Rhetorical questions are also used later in the passage to express Cicero’s disbelief that Verres might actually dare to take some of the credit for something in which he had absolutely no involvement (num… conaris? num… putas?). Cicero seems to be almost outraged that Verres could even think about claiming part of the credit for putting an end to the slave wars led by Spartacus – something which was actually achieved by Crassus and Pompey, two of the most powerful and influential Romans of Cicero’s time. The repetition of num highlights his disbelief and the tricolon of questions in ‘Ubi, quando, qua ex parte?’ also helps Cicero to emphatically drive home his point to the judges that Verres’ military achievements while governor of Sicily were in fact non-existent.
Sarcasm also helps Cicero to achieve this same outcome. At the start of this extract he refers to Verres’ courage (virtute), praise (magna laus) and honour (honesta oratio), but as his speech develops it becomes clear that these qualities, just like Verres’ supposed military achievements, are empty. Cicero’s sarcasm thus serves to show the judges that Verres is the exact opposite of these things – cowardly, despicable and dishonourable. Likewise, Cicero says that Verres obviously prevented the pirates from crossing to Sicily (Obstitisti videlicet). This statement may have more truth to it than Cicero is willing to admit, but his sarcastic presentation of it suggests to the jury that it is obviously and completely false, thus once more helping him to discredit Verres in their eyes.
Lastly Cicero compares Verres to the true heroes of the slave war – Crassus and Pompey. Cicero’s choice of words in describing these men suggests that they are truly virtuous, and that Verres, by comparison, is a shameless imposter. Crassus and Pompey are associated with virtues such as victory (victoriae), glory (gloriam), bravery (fortissimi), courage (virtute) and wisdom (consilio). Verres on the other hand is described as completely shameless (impudentiae, audeas). The repetition of audivimus in nihil umquam… audivimus, sed illud audivimus also provides a contrast between Verres’ version of events and the generally accepted version – the finality of sed illud helping him to effectively and imperiously dismiss Verres’ anticipated defense.