A senator’s speech

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Cicero was an ancient cultivator of rhetoric in Ancient Rome. He was an active master of rhetoric within the years 106 BC and 43 BC, when he was assassinated. In approx. 63 BC, Cicero gave a speech in the Senate, in order to try to persuade a man named Catiline to leave the city of Rome. Catiline was a senator who was supposedly a power-monger and a traitorous threat to Rome.

The speech is a brilliant example of persuasion and a great example of how although Cicero could not say for sure what he did, he was seriously good at persuasive speaking.

The first and biggest problem that appears when studying the text is that Cicero gives NO evidence for any of his implied (and serious) accusations. He accuses Catiline of treason; killing his wife; causing all crime in the city; ill character; and never gives a shred of evidence.

If the speech had not been given in the Senate but in a court trial, then Catiline could easily have refuted all these accusations based upon lack of evidence. But because Cicero’s speech was not presented within the confines of a judicial system, he did not have to present evidence. He merely had to use his strong powers of persuasion in order to influence and convince the Senate that Catiline was the scumbag that Cicero said he was.

He portrayed himself as having been a victim of Catiline’s crimes, and assured the Senate that he had been patient and restrained in dealing with the wayward Catiline. He implied that he himself held purely honorable intentions.

He brought to mind measuring rods to help his case that were of sentimental value to the Senate – the gods, the Republic, and Roman tradition. In doing so he was “getting inside their heads” to subconsciously and emotionally influence them to his line of thinking by identifying with them.


The speech was not based upon convincing Catiline to leave by using logic. He used persuasion and emotional rhetoric. (This is similar to a sect of ancient philosophers who practiced persuasion and manipulated reason to the point where they could logically prove something, even if it wasn’t actually true.) Cicero proved nothing, yet he accomplished his goal – he got Catiline to leave.

There was really nothing Catiline could have said to protect himself– not because of a lack of things to say, but because Catiline was unable to interrupt him. It was a speech presented to the Senate, not a legal proceeding. At that point, Catiline would have been embarrassed and publicly shamed. To rebuild whatever reputation he had left would take eons. In defeat, he gave in and left, and I don’t blame him. If you are not affluent in rhetoric, you simply cannot beat the master.