A d F o n t e s

(Latin: "to the sources")

Cicero, Roman Citizenship, and Due Process

Cicero Against Catiline

In my Latin class, we read a lot of Cicero. It is apparently an odd thing because his Latin is often so difficult that he–along with Sallust and Tacitus–is avoided till much later. I’m glad we are because I’m finding I enjoy his writing a lot. It’s the kind of thing that one can’t appreciate in English translation, like literatures of just about any language I’d imagine. I used to suppose that people thought Cicero was “so great” because such people were posturing or because what else would you say about one of the few such texts in Latin preserved (yes, we have a fair amount in Republican Latin, but much less than compared with other periods in history). I was wrong: he really is awesome. Part of it is he’s about the most cocky and insulting author you’ll ever read, but he is incredibly creative with his words. Like Reagan times 100. Its worth reading Latin just to read his orations against Verres and Catiline. Similarly is reading the contemporary poet Catullus just to hear him mock Cicero’s poetry, which was apparently so universally bad that none of it was preserved.

Anyway, in ch.12 of Keller and Russel’s Learn to Read Latin we read In Verres II.2.162, which describes Verres’ causeless beating and crucifying of a Roman citizen from Messana (an Italian town) in Sicily, where Verres was proconsul at the time. The scene depicted is interesting because it illustrates the Roman understanding of what Roman citizenship “means”: no punishment w/o due process of law; due process required of a court at Rome; the worst punishment is exile (social death), not execution (physical death). It was an enormous privilege, and when it was violated was a very big deal.

Fast forwarding a few decades to the Empire: for those interested in New Testament, this helps to illustrate Paul’s appeal to Roman Citizenship in Acts, when he was beaten by Roman soldiers, and why he was allowed to make his trip to Rome to beseech the Emperor. They had done as Verres in the century before and seriously violated Paul’s rights under Roman law, and quite possibly they could have been executed for doing so. And while a Roman citizen, his formal judicatory was that of Rome, not necessarily any local or provincial administration. As such, he was entitled to beseech the Emperor himself to judge his issue: namely grievances with the Jews, for which his dealings with the provincial governor got him nowhere.

One interesting question Paul’s behavior in Acts does raise is why he didn’t make use of his right of appeal earlier, when the governor first ruled against him. I’m not sure why. I’ll have to give it more thought. In any event, here’s Cicero’s speech against Verres to the Senate:

In the middle of the forum of Messana a Roman citizen, O judges, was beaten with rods; while in the mean time no groan was heard, no other expression was heard from that wretched man, amid all his pain, and between the sound of the blows, except these words, “I am a Roman citizen.” He judged that by this very reminder of his citizenship he could avert all blows, and remove all torture from his body. He not only did not succeed in averting by his entreaties the violence of the rods, but as he kept on repeating his entreaties and the assertion of his citizenship, a crossa cross I say–was set up for that suffering man, who had never witnessed such ruin.

June 17, 2007 - Posted by | Bible, Classics


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