Saturday, October 17, 2009

O Clementiam

O clementiam populi Romani seu potius patientiam miram ac singularem! Civem Romanum securi esse percussum M. Annius, eques Romanus, dicit, taces: archipiratam negat, fateris. Fit gemitus omnium et clamor, cum tamen a praesenti supplicio tuo continuit populus Romanus se et repressit et salutis suae rationem iudicum severitati reservavit. Quid? sciebas tibi crimini datum iri? quam ob rem sciebas, quam ob rem etiam suspicabare? Inimicum habebas neminem; si haberes, tamen non ita vixeras ut metum iudici propositum habere deberes.
(In Verrem V.74)

Explain the irony present in the final sentence of this extract (Inimicum habebas… habere deberes).

The irony in this sentence comes from the contradiction between Cicero’s words and what his audience knows to be the truth about Verres. Firstly Cicero states that Verres had no enemies (inimicum… neminem), something which both he and his audience know is plainly untrue. Secondly Cicero sarcastically suggests that even if he did have enemies his lifestyle was beyond reproach (ita vixeras), and gave him no need to fear a lawsuit (metum iudici propositum). Again this is obviously untrue – Cicero’s case is in fact based around the licentiousness of Verres’ lifestyle, which provided him with enough evidence to present a damning portrait of Verres’ character.

What contrast does Cicero make here between the virtue of the Roman people and the vice of Verres?

There is a strong contrast in this passage between the virtue of the Roman people and the vice of Verres. Cicero is describing a scene from the Actio Prima (the first part of his prosecution of Verres) and presents the Roman judges as behaving virtuously. They are shocked and outraged by Verres’ admissions (gemitus… et clamor), yet show mercy and patience (clementiampatientiam). This behaviour shows us two important virtues – firstly a concern for justice which is offended by Verres’ behaviour, and secondly self-control and respect for the law. This latter virtue is shown by their remarkable (singularem) restraint in not immediately calling for Verres’ execution, but instead trusting to the courts to see justice done.

Verres on the other hand is depicted as showing a callous disregard towards the law. Cicero recalls two accusations against Verres – that he executed a Roman citizen (civem Romanum securi esse percussum), and that he failed to execute an enemy of the state (archipiratam negat) – and in each case Verres’ reaction shows his vice.

In the first place, Cicero implies that Verres’ silence (taces) indicates a cold-hearted arrogance. Confronted by such a serious crime, he neither denies the accusation, nor shows any sense of remorse, in contrast to the judges who were clearly, and rightly in Cicero’s view, moved, as we have already seen. On the other hand his confession (fateris) of the second crime shows not only his guilt but his ignorance of having done anything wrong – so skewed is his sense morality. Whereas the seriousness of Verres’ actions is clear to the judges, as we see in their reactions, Verres himself, in Cicero’s eyes, is so depraved that he is unable to tell what is right and what is wrong.

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