“It becomes all men, O conscript fathers, who consult on doubtful affairs to be free from hatred, friendship, anger, and pity. The mind does not easily foresee the truth when these things stand in the way. Nor has any man living obeyed his passion and his interest together. When you have strung your mind then it is powerful. If passion possesses the mind, it rules, the mind has no power. I could bring a long list, O conscript fathers, of kings and nations who being excited by anger or pity have consulted badly. But I prefer to recount those things which our ancestors contrary to the passion of their minds have done rightly and orderly. In the Macedonian war which we waged with king Perses, the state of the Rhodians, great and magnificent, which had increased by the support of the Roman people, proved treacherous and hostile to us. But when the war being concluded, consultation was held concerning the Rhodians, our ancestors for fear any one should say that the war was undertaken rather for the sake of their riches than their insolence, let them off unpunished.
“Also in all the Carthaginian wars, when that people had constantly both in peace and during truces committed many wicked actions, our ancestors never did the same even though they might; and sought rather what was worthy of themselves than what might have been fairly practised against them. This also is to be provided by us, O conscript fathers, that the crime of Publius Lentulus and the rest many not have more weight with you than your dignity, and that you may not consult your anger more than your good name. For if a punishment equal to their crime can be found, I approve of this strange advice. But if the magnitude of the crime surpasses the invention of all, I think we must use those punishments which are provided by the laws. Most of those who have given their opinions before me, have elegantly and nobly bewailed the calamity of the state, and have enumerated what the cruelties of war are, and the things which happen to the conquered—that the virgins and boys are ravished, children torn from the embraces of their mothers, all which things are allowed the conquerors; the temples and houses are spoiled, slaughter and burning take place, and lastly all things are filled with blood and grief. But by the immortal gods, to what did that speech tend? Words forsooth will inflame him whom so great and so dreadful a crime did not move. It is not so. And to no man do his own injuries appear little. Many esteem them more than they ought. But different persons have different liberty, O conscript fathers. They who of humble birth pass their life in obscurity, if they commit any error through passion but few know it, their fame and their fortune are equal. They who possessed of great power pass their life in public, all men know their deeds. Thus in the greatest fortune there is the least licence allowed. Neither is party feeling nor hatred, and least of all anger becoming. That which with others is called anger, is in a high station called pride and cruelty. I for my part indeed am of this opinion, that all tortures are less than their crimes. But most men remember what is most recent, and in the case of villains, forgetting their crime, they talk only of their punishment, if that has been a little too severe. I know for certain, that Decius Silanus, a brave and zealous man, has spoken what he has from zeal for the state, and that he in a matter of so much importance neither feels favour or ill will. Such I know to be the disposition and such the moderation of the man. But his opinion appears to me not cruel indeed (for what can be cruel against such men?) but not agreeable to our state. For certainly either your fear or their injustice has induced you, Silanus, consul elect, to vote for a new kind of punishment. As to your fear it is superfluous to speak, especially since by the diligence of that most illustrious man, the consul, there are so many guards under arms. And as to the punishment, we may say indeed what is the truth; that in a state of mourning and misery, death is a deliverance from troubles, not a punishment; that puts an end to all human evils, beyond it there is room for neither sorrow nor joy. But by the immortal gods, why did you not add this to your opinion, that they should first be punished with stripes? Was it because the Porcian law forbids it? But other laws also command, not that life should be taken away from condemned citizens, but that exile should be allowed them. Is it because it is more grievous to be scourged than put to death? But what can be too bitter or severe against men convicted of so great a crime? But if it was because scourging is a lesser punishment, how comes it that you regard the law in a matter of less moment, when you have neglected it in a greater? But indeed who will find fault with what shall be determined upon against the unnatural murderers of the state? Time, the day, and fortune, whose good pleasure rules the nations. Whatever shall turn out will happen to them deservedly. But do you, conscript fathers, consider well what you resolve upon against others. All bad examples had their rise from good beginnings. But when power comes into the hands of ignorant or indifferent men, the new precedent is transferred from the worthy and proper to unworthy and improper men.
“The Lacedæmonians, when they had conquered the Athenians, set over them thirty men to manage the state. These at first began to kill uncondemned every worst man, and whoever was hated by all. With this the people were delighted, and said it was done rightly. Afterwards, when their license by degrees grew, they began to put to death just as they pleased the good and bad promiscuously, and struck the rest with fear. Thus the state being overwhelmed by slavery, suffered a dreadful punishment for their silly rejoicing.
“In our memory when the conqueror Sulla commanded Damasippus and others of that stamp, who had raised themselves by the ruin of their country, to be put to death, who did not praise his conduct? They said that wicked and factious men who had excited the republic by their seditions were deservedly put to death. But that circumstance was the beginning of great slaughter. For just as any man desired a man’s house or villa, and at last any piece of plate or garment, he did his best that he might be in the number of the proscribed. Thus they, to whom Damasippus’ death was a cause of joy, were soon after themselves hurried away to death; nor was there any end of this butchery, until Sulla glutted all his followers with riches. And yet I apprehend nothing like this in Marcus Tullius nor at this time. But in a mighty state there are many and various dispositions. At another time and by another consul, in whose hands there may be also an army, something false may be believed as true. And when upon this precedent, by a decree of the senate, the consul shall have drawn his sword, who shall fix bounds to him or who shall overrule him? Our ancestors, O conscript fathers, never wanted either counsel or courage. Nor did pride prevent them from copying the customs of others, provided they were valuable. Arms and military weapons they borrowed from the Samnites, and most of the ornaments of their magistrates from the Tuscans. In fine, whatever in any place either amongst their allies or their enemies appeared useful, that they followed up at home with the greatest zeal. But at that same time, imitating the custom of Greece they used to punish their citizens with stripes, and punish capitally the condemned. But when the state grew up and factions prevailed in a numerous people, the innocent were circumvented, and other things of this kind began to be done; then the Porcian law and other laws were provided, by which exile was allowed to the condemned.
“I then consider this as an especially substantial reason why we should not adopt any new plan. Forsooth there was greater virtue and wisdom in those who from so small resources produced so vast an empire, than in us who can scarcely keep what was well provided to our hands. Is it then my opinion that they should be discharged, and that the army of Catiline should be increased? By no means. But this is my opinion, that their property be confiscated, and they themselves kept in chains in the different boroughs, which are most powerful in their resources; and that no one should ever make a motion concerning them to the senate, nor intercede with the people. And if anyone acts differently, that the senate decree, that such a person intends to act against the state and the safety of all.”