The role of Cicero’s rhetoric in his listeners’ fear of Catiline

Cicero was a great roman orator who lived in the last days of the Roman republic. Cicero was a consul, one of the chief rulers of Rome. He had to deal with a conspiracy to take over Rome led by a man named Catiline. The first oration he delivered to Catiline himself, even though it seemed like he was addressing the senate at first. Cicero gave the other orations to the citizens of Rome and the senate about the intentions of Catiline and what they should do about him.

Cicero put fear, distrust, and disgust in the minds of the senate in his first oration. He hinted at several crimes that Catiline had been rumored to commit; including murdering his wife. He spoke of the information his spies and informants brought to him and used their information to put him forth as an enemy of the republic. He spoke of Catiline’s attempt to assassinate him and how he was able to protect himself due to his spies’ information. He told them that Catiline and his conspirators were to burn the city of Rome, massacre the citizens, and divide the land among himself and his associates.

After Catiline left Rome at Cicero’s request, Cicero convinced the people that Catiline was not going away forever. Catiline would be back, he said with an army. He said that if Catiline was victorious then he would be the downfall of the Roman republic. Cicero also said that as long as his conspiracy was alive, the survival of the republic was at risk. He described his conspiracy as the incarnation of evil, and the source of all evil in Rome. The conspiracy was described as a dangerous disease that must be gotten rid of for the people to be safe. Catiline, he said, still had supporters in the city, and that his supporters were even in the senate. He said that the republic would be saved if his conspiracy was removed from Rome. Through his rhetoric, Cicero managed to put fear of Catiline into the hearts of the Roman people.

He did not leave the people in fear, though. He portrayed Catiline’s forces as the dregs of society. He also spoke of all the different groups of people who had joined Catiline. He said that they were ethical rebels and ethical losers. He also identified them as economic failures. He described many of Catiline’s supporters as people run down in debt and wastrels who were irresponsible with their finances. He urged the people not to worry about rich men who were heavily in debt, and hoping that Catiline would cancel their debts, supported him. Others he described as worthless murderers and assassins who delighted in tumult and were happy to support him. However, he said, the gods of Rome would not let them get away with this, but would support Rome in defense against the rebels. In other words, ethics has consequences, and they are not an exception to the rule.

Cicero also convinced the people, without saying it outright, that some of the chief conspirators should be executed. He told the people that they deserved it and he invoked the gods and the citizens of Rome. He also told them the responsibility they had in their hands because what they did would be remembered through the ages.

Cicero was very effective with his words. He persuaded Catiline to leave Rome. He persuaded the people to join him against Catiline by putting fear of him in their minds. The imprisoned conspirators were executed, and as a result many people from Catiline’s army fled in fear. After that, the army under Catiline was easy to defeat.


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