By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB
Throughout history there have been a handful of speeches that have been remembered and elevated to the status of great works of oratory. Some of the most well-known include the Gettysburg Address, Charlie Chaplin’s speech in the movie “The Great Dictator” and Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream…” speech. Today I’m going to be focussing on a speech that dating from the Roman invasion of England, delivered by Calgacus, chieftain of the Caledonian Confederacy who fought the Roman army of Gnaeus Julius Agricola at the Battle of Mons Graupius in northern Scotland in AD 83 or 84.
Tacitus: the Main Source
Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and historian for the Roman Empire. Although he didn’t write during the so-called “golden age” of Latin literature, he is still widely read. In fact, Tacitus is considered one of the greatest Roman historians. He is known for the brevity and compactness of his Latin prose. It’s worth mentioning that while Tacitus’ greatest works are in the field of history, he was also interested in the art of oratory (Dialogus de oratoribus) and even wrote a colorful description of the German peoples who fought against the Romans.
The Speech of Calgacus
Calgacus’ speech is found in Tacitus’ De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae. Some scholars believe Tacitus made up both Calgacus and his speech, but there is also a distinct possibility that he heard the speech from reliable sources, such as prisoners of war, spies or traitors. Although Tacitus’ style is very simple in this passage, it is not recommended reading for beginners. It’s worth mentioning that the famous quote “ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant” is from the last lines of this speech.
Quotiens causas belli et necessitatem nostram intueor, magnus mihi animus est hodiernum diem consensumque vestrum initium libertatis toti Britanniae fore: nam et universi coistis et servitutis expertes, et nullae ultra terrae ac ne mare quidem securum inminente nobis classe Romana. Ita proelium atque arma, quae fortibus honesta, eadem etiam ignavis tutissima sunt.
Whenever I consider the origin of this war and the necessities of our position, I have a sure confidence that this day, and this union of yours, will be the beginning of freedom to the whole of Britain. To all of us, slavery is a thing unknown; there are no lands beyond us, and even the sea is not safe, menaced as we are by a Roman fleet. And thus in war and battle, in which the brave find glory, even the coward will find safety.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.
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