Cicero’s Case Against Verres

Many of Cicero’s points are cleverly structured so as to provide the most convincing attack on Verres, for example when he discusses Verres’ behaviour in Aspendos he begins by describing how “nullum te Aspendi signum…reliquisse” (You have left no statue in Aspendos) which gives his audience a vague impression of Verres and his thieving habits that is not easy to take seriously on its own, since it is such a great claim. However he then develops this by referring to specific examples of what Verres has stolen – the statue of the cithara player and the gold in Diana’s shrine in Perge – which, since they are more detailed and therefore more plausible than Cicero’s claim that Verres seized every statue in Aspendos, add weight to his original accusation, since they confirm his reputation as a thief and blacken his character, especially since stealing from Diana’s shrine required what Cicero describes as “tanta audacia” (outrageous boldness), implying that since Verres was daring enough to steal from a goddess, he was daring enough to have emptied Aspendos of statues. Therefore, Cicero structures his speech well to turn what could have been a weak point that came across as a hyperbolic claim into a convincing, well-supported attack on Verres.

Cicero’s case is also convincing because of the proof he offers of the existence of Verres’ copious amounts of statues – he refers to the time when Verres’ possessions decorated the forum, and to the many eyewitnesses that confirm this, as both “populo Romano” (the Roman people) and “legati ex Asia atque Achaia plurimi” (very many legates from Asia and Achaea) saw Verres’ display of statues – and, more importantly, he also proves that Verres’ had not bought a single one of his statues by examining his accounts (from when he kept them); these accounts are so incriminating for Verres that Cicero is able to challenge him to “Vnum ostende in tabulis aut tuis aut patris tui emptum esse” (show that, in your accounts or in your father’s accounts, you have bought one). Therefore, Cicero offers evidence of both the multitude of Verres’ statues and the fact that he hasn’t bought them, thereby directly implying that he must have plundered them; this part of his case is objectively solid and would suffice in a modern law court. Cicero’s mocking tone – for example his sarcastic comment that Verres was “quidem in Achaiam, Asiam, Pamphyliam sumptu publico…mercator signorum…missus est” (of course sent to Achaea, to Asia, to Pamphylia at public expense as a merchant of statues), which comes a response to Verres’ claim that he did pay for his statues, and his description of how Verres stopped keeping his accounts as “ridiculum” (ridiculous) – is an underlying factor that further discredits Verres and augments Cicero’s case.

However, the part of Cicero’s speech that completely fails to convince me is when he discusses Verres’ stay in Lampsacus. Although Cicero’s description of Philodamus’ treatment at Rubrius’ hands is undeniably terrible – “aqua ferventi…perfunditur” (drenched with boiling water) is a disgraceful way for a host to be treated by his guest – he only manages to vaguely imply that Verres himself was present at the banquet, and when the speech is closely read, Cicero’s whole argument seems weak; it becomes clear that Verres didn’t personally do anything to harm Philodamus, and everything that Cicero claims to attempt to imply that he was responsible for what happened – ordering for Rubrius to be lodged with Philodamus in order to “viam munire ad stuprum” (pave the road to rape) – are completely unsupported. When one considers that the whole occurrence could have been caused by a cultural misunderstanding – Rubrius expecting more extravagant entertainment than what Philodamus had provided and calling in his daughter to make up for this – that got out of hand due to Rubrius’ hot-headedness and what they had been drinking, Cicero’s argument seems especially weak. The only parts of it that are reasonably effective are his allegations that Verres insisted on a journey that was “mages ad quaestum suum quam ad rei publicae tempus” (more to his own advantage tham for the advantage of the Republic), that he may have had “indomitas cupiditates atque effrenatas” (untamed and unbridled lusts) and that his companions were “nequissimis turpissimisque hominibus” (the most worthless and most shameful men). All these points are completely tangential to the case, which concerns Verres’ thefts, and the last one is rather unsurprising, since Cicero has already blackened Verres’ character at every opportunity, so it loses some of its impact. This part of the speech is anything but convincing.

The other flaw in the speech is that it could easily be considered over-extravagant. A great example of this is when Cicero condemns Verres for treating allied cities worse than generals treated enemy cities, since he would have carried off their ‘signa atque ornamenta’ (statues and ornaments) not to ‘tuam domum’ (your house) but to ‘Roman in publicam’ (to Rome, to public places). This a perfectly good point, but its impact is somewhat lessened by the immense extent to which Cicero supports it; he uses no less than five (detailed) examples of famous generals to prove that the spoils of enemy cities were indeed (on the most part) used for the benefit of the Roman people, a fact which his audience would have most likely been familiar with. However, Cicero also feels compelled to offer a ‘recens exemplum’ (recent example) of a victorious general – Publius Servilius – just to remove any concerns that his audience might have of the first five general’s behaviour being something from the past. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with the support that he gives his original point, it is so extensive that it starts to feel tangential and makes this part of his argument come across as bloated.

Stylistically, Cicero’s case is well-constructed and convincing. For example, he uses superlatives such as ‘prenissimum’ (very full) and totalising expressions like ‘omnia’ (everything) and ‘nullum’ (none) throughout his speech to add great emphasis to his points. He uses epanalepsis throughout the speech as well, repeating ‘externae nationae’ (foreign nations) and ‘sociorum et amicorum’ (friends and allies) to continuously attack Verres by reminding his audience of the damage that he caused to Rome’s alliances. He often addresses Verres as ‘te’ (you), and refers to him as ‘ille’ (that man) to make his speech seem direct and accusatory, making it easy to be convinced by its confident tone. This is occasionally coupled with polyptoton (for example ‘tu…tuis…tuorum’) to make the speech even more direct. Therefore, Cicero’s speech is stylistically written so as to be both engaging and convincing, since these fine touches support the argument as a whole.

Overall, Cicero’s case against Verres is a convincing attack; he completely succeeds in blackening his character and generally discrediting him, so that it is very easy to believe that he would have been guilty of the charges of his actions in Sicily. It is a pity that the Lamapsacus section is so weak in comparison to the rest of the speech, since it makes Cicero seem slightly desperate to throw as many accusations as possible at Verres, which is unnecessary and could have been easily avoided. It is unreasonable to criticise Cicero’s speech as one would if it had been read out in a modern court, since he wrote it in order to win his case in a Roman court; if he had been asked to prosecute Verres in a court today, then his speech would have been written very differently, but as he wrote his speech so as to make it as successful as possible – by the criteria of his time – it is hard not to overlook its flaws and applaud him.

Leave a Comment