:::: MENU ::::

Great Speeches of Mankind: “Against Catiline”


Great Speeches of Mankind: “Against Catiline”

Cicero Denounces Catiline, fresco by Cesare Maccari


By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB


This is the first of a series of articles about great speeches by classical orators. This first article deals with one of the greatest lawyers of mankind, Marcus Tullius Cicero, the famous Roman orator, writer, philosopher and statesman. In this short essay, I will demonstrate how Cicero’s speeches can be turned into effective and exciting homework for Latin students.

Cicero: the Greatest Lawyer of Rome?

Cicero was born on 3 January 106 BC. His family was from the town of Arpinum, about 70 miles southeast of Rome. The name Cicero means “chickpea” and was first given to an ancestor of his who had a wart on the tip of his nose that looked like a chickpea. Cicero studied literature, philosophy and law.

He first gained fame as a lawyer after defending Sextus Roscius of Ameria against a charge of parricide. His defense of Roscius was based on turning the accusation of murder back on one of Roscius’ accusers, his relation Titus Roscius Magnus, and another relation, Titus Roscius Capito. Sextus Roscius was acquitted thanks to Cicero and his remarkable skills as an orator.

In Catilinam: Cicero Exposes a Conspiracy

Cicero’s most important case was probably one in which he acted as prosecutor. Most Latin students have probably already heard of Cicero’s eloquent speech against Catiline, a Roman senator who started a conspiracy to launch a coup d’etat.

The teacher, though, should keep in mind that this isn’t an assignment for beginners. In other articles of mine I’ve recommended many different texts for beginners, but Cicero’s style is anything but simple! Before students try to read Cicero, they should familiarize themselves with the swoops and lines of his argument, focusing on the question words (nonne, num, an, quid), connectives (ut, et, atque), personal pronouns (tu, ego) and, in particular, the words he uses to build his case (si, aut, non). Doing so will make the identification of relative clauses, asides and subclauses much easier. I also advise students to read the piece out loud, the way Cicero would have done it two thousand years ago!

Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra? quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? quem ad finem sese effrenata iactabit audacia? Nihilne te nocturnum praesidium Palati, nihil urbis vigiliae, nihil timor populi, nihil concursus bonorum omnium, nihil hic munitissimus habendi senatus locus, nihil horum ora voltusque moverunt? Patere tua consilia non sentis, constrictam iam horum omnium scientia teneri coniurationem tuam non vides? Quid proxima, quid superiore nocte egeris, ubi fueris, quos convocaveris, quid consilii ceperis, quem nostrum ignorare arbitraris?

“When, O Catiline, do you mean to cease abusing our patience? How long is that
madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end of that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now? Do not the nightly guards placed on the Palatine Hill—do not the watches posted throughout the city—does not the alarm of the people, and the union of all good men—does not the precaution taken of assembling the senate in this most defensible place—do not the looks and countenances of this venerable body here present, have any effect upon you? Do you not feel that your plans are detected? Do you not see that your conspiracy is already arrested and rendered powerless by the knowledge which everyone here possesses of it? What is there that you did last night, what the night before—where is it that you were—who was there that you summoned to meet you—what design was there which was adopted by you, with which you think that any one of us is unacquainted?” (Translation by Albert Clark)


Reading Cicero fluently and with true understanding should be a goal of all Latin students. Students who master Cicero have, in doing this, mastered the entire Latin language.


Latin Language Teacher Resources

Click on the links below to browse our Latin teaching downloads. These include Latin Visual Vocab Sheets, Latin Preposition Diagrams, Ablative and Dative Use Lists, and Declension and Conjugation Charts.

Grey Fox Archives
Carmenta Latin Teacher Downloads


André Bastos Gurgel
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.

Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.



Comments are closed.