The Life and Times of the Real Catiline


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I've had two requests for information on the real Catiline. It hurt me not to be able to help, so here we go. This should get your term papers started anyway.


Executive Summary

This is for Dilbert's pointy-haired boss (it has taken me a full year to figure out how to work that URL into this page).

The first conspiracy may not have taken place; it was a whispered rumor with no clear reaction from the public or the politicians.


A Word of Caution

Catiline is often presented to young students as though he were Judas Iscariot's younger and more wicked brother. Unfortunately, the historian has always to remember that the victors get to write history, and documents presenting the losers' side are frequently suppressed. Accusations leveled against Catiline were (and still are) political commonplaces, and should not be taken at face value. Sallust's description of Catiline is written with breathless indignation, but I can recall exploits by recent American, British, French, Italian and Greek politicians which sound very much like Catiline's adventures. Just pay attention to the news during an election year, and you'll see what I mean. Roman politics in this period shared much of the flavor of Chicago in the '20s. Cicero and his supporters gave as good as they got, and were often tried for the same things as Catiline (remember the Pro Milone?).

Catiline clearly enjoyed support in various corners of the Senate, and not simply among the profligate. Even Julius Caesar was sufficiently sympathetic to Catiline's agenda that he had to talk fast to dissociate himself from Catiline when talk in the Senate turned to accusations of conspiracy. Cicero himself had backed Catiline for some time, and the claims made by Cicero in the Senate came very late, after years of support. Catiline was also generally acquitted of the charges against him. These facts are of great importance in controlling the slanders thrown by Cicero and by subsequent ancient historians.

The exact nature of the rebellion is not at all clear to me from the primary sources, though Sallust's simplistic interpretation that it was to recover Catiline's squandered wealth may not be more than a convenient cover for Cicero's own actions.


Ancient Sources

This is where you go for the facts about Catiline.

Sallust is the primary source, and a "good read." Plutarch's Cicero gives a pretty detailed analysis of the conspiracy, and well complements Sallust. Appian's work is basically a distillation of Sallust. Cicero offers several very helpful slices of life at the crisis of the conspiracy in the Catilinarians, and a good deal of personal reflection on the crisis in the other works. Suetonius gives some interesting little details not found elsewhere. Catiline is also mentioned in some inscriptions.

Sallust On Catiline

C.C. 5:

L. Catilina, nobili genere natus, fuit magna ui et animi et corporis, sed ingenio malo prauoque; huic ab adulescentia bella intestina, caedes, rapinae, discordia ciuilis grata fuere, ibique iuuentutem suam exercuit. Corpus patiens inediae, algoris, uigiliae supra quam quoiquam credibile est, animus audax, subdolus, varius, quoius rei lubet simulator ac dissimulator, alieni adpetens, sui profusus, ardens in cupiditatibus; satis eloquentiae, sapientiae parum. Uastus animus inmoderata incredibilia nimis alta semper cupiebat. Hunc post dominationem L. Sullae lubido maxuma inuaserat rei publicae capiundae; neque id quibus modis adsequeretur, dum sibi regnum pararet, quicquam pensi habebat. Agitabatur magis magisque in dies animus ferox, inopia rei familiaris et conscientia scelerum, quae utraque iis artibus auxerat, quas supra memoraui. Incitabant praeterea conrupti ciuitatis mores, quos pessuma ac diuorsa inter se mala, luxuria atque auaritia, uexabant.

Res ipsa hortari uidetur, quoniam de moribus ciuitatis tempus admonuit, supra repetere ac paucis instituta maiorum domi militiaeque, quo modo rem publicam habuerint quantamque reliquerint, ut paulatim inmutata ex pulcherruma atque optuma pessuma ac flagitiosissuma facta sit, disserere.

C.C. 15 (this is the juicy part you're all looking for, especially that bit about "contrary to the laws of man and God"):

Iam primum adulescens Catilina multa nefanda stupra fecerat, cum uirgine nobili, cum sacerdote Uestae, alia huiusce modi contra ius fasque. Postremo captus amore Aureliae Orestillae, quoius praeter formam nihil umquam bonus laudauit, quod ea nubere illi dubitabat timens priuignum adulta aetate, pro certo creditus necato filio uacuam domum scelestis nuptiis fecisse. Quae quidem res mihi in primis uidetur causa fuisse facinus maturandi. Namque animus inpurus, dis hominibusque infestus, neque uigiliis neque quietibus sedari poterat: ita conscientia mentem excitam uastabat. Igitur colos exanguis, foedi oculi, citus modo, modo tardus incessus: prorsus in facie uoltuque uecordia inerat.

C.C. 60f:

Sed ubi omnibus rebus exploratis Petreius tuba signum dat, cohortis paulatim incedere iubet; idem facit hostium exercitus. Postquam eo uentum est, unde a ferentariis proelium conmitti posset, maxumo clamore cum infestis signis concurrunt; pila omittunt, gladiis res geritur, Ueterani pristinae uirtutis memores comminus acriter instare, illi haud timidi resistunt: maxuma ui certatus. Interea Catilina cum expeditis in prima acie uorsari, laborantibus succurrere, integros pro sauciis arcessere, omnia prouidere, multum ipse pugnare, saepe hostem ferire: strenui militis et boni imperatoris officia simul exequebatus. Petreius ubi uidet Catilinam, contra ac ratus erat, magna ui tendere, cohortem praetoriam in medios hostis inducit eosque perturbatos atque alios alibi resistentis interficit. Deinde utrimque ex lateribus ceteros adgreditur. Manlius et Faesulanus in primis pugnantes cadunt. Catilina postquam fusas copias seque cum paucis relicuom uidet, memor generis atque pristinae suae dignitatis in confertissumos hostis incurrit ibique pugnans confoditur.

Sed confecto proelio, tum uero cerneres, quanta audacia quantaque animi uis fuisset in exercitu Catilinae. Nam fere quem quisque uiuos pugnando locum ceperat, eum amissa anima corpore tegebat. Pauci autem, quos medios cohors praetoria disiecerat, paulo diuorsius, alis alibi stantes, sed omnes tamen aduorsis uolneribus conciderant. Catilina uiro longe a suis inter hostium cadauera repertus est, paululum etiam spirans ferociamque animi, quam habuerat uiuos, in uoltu retinens. Postremo ex omni copia neque in proelio neque in fuga quisquam ciuis ingenuos captus est: ita cuncti suae hostiumque uitae iuxta pepercerant. Neque tamen exercitus populi Romani laetam aut incruentam uictoriam adeptus erat. Nam strenuissumus quisque aut occiderat in proelio aut grauiter uolneratus discesserat. Multi autem, qui e castris uisundi aut spoliandi gratia processerant, uoluentes hostilia cadauera amicum alii, pars hospitem aut cognatum reperiebant; fuere item qui inimicos suos cognoscerent. Ita uarie per omnem exercitum laetitia, maeror, luctus atque gaudia agitabantur.


Modern Sources

The "little classicists" are advised to get into the habit of consulting all the primary (ancient) sources first, even if only in translation. Get them at a library or bookstore (I just picked up nearly all of those listed above for about $50 US). Most translations will have pretty thoughtful introductions covering such issues as synopsis of the history, ancient sources for the ancient work, reliability of the ancient historian, social and historical context of the conspiracy, etc.

Check the entries in the best encyclopedias you can find, such as Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Americana, World Book Encyclopedia, Brockhaus, Enciclopedia Universale, and so on. English-enabled students may also check the Oxford Classical Dictionary and the applicable volumes of The Cambridge Ancient History. The German-enabled can look in the Kleine Pauly-Wissowa Realencyclopaedie. The French-enabled can read La Conjuration de Catilina by Gaston Boissier.

Finally, the truly ambitious can thumb through Gnomon to find the latest bibliography being produced by the "big classicists." These ladies and gentlemen have spent long years mulling over the issues and the data, and their judgements are important.

Good luck on your term papers.


Carcer

from William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (New York, Harper, 1874)

...

CARCER (Roman). A carcer or prison was first built at Rome by Ancus Marcius, overhanging the Forum.[Liv. i. 33] This was enlarged by Servius Tullius, who added to it a souterrain or dungeon, called from him the Tullianum. Sallust [C.C. 55] describes this as being twelve feet under ground, walled on each side, and arched over with stonework. For a long time this was the only prison at Rome,[Juv. Sat. iii 312] being in fact, the "Tower," or state prison of the city, which was sometimes doubly guarded in times of alarm, and was the chief object of attack in many conspiracies.[Liv. xxvi 27, xxxii 26] Varro [De Ling. Lat. iv 32] tells us that the Tullianum was also named "Lautumiae," from some quarries in the neighborhood; or, as others think, in allusion to the "Lautumiae" of Syracuse, a prison cut out of the solid rock. In later times the whole building was called the "Mamertine." Close to it were the Scalae Gemoniae, or steps, down which the bodies of those who had been executed were thrown into the Forum, to be exposed to the gaze of the Roman populace.[Cramer, Anc. Italy i 430] There were, however, other prisons besides this, though, as we might expect, the words of Roman historians generally refer to this alone. One of these was built by Appius Claudius, the decemvir, and in it he was himself put to death.[Liv. iii 57, Pliny H. N. vii 36]

The carcer of which we are treating was chiefly used as a place of confinement for persons under accusation, till the time of trial; and also as a place of execution, to which purpose the Tullianum was specially devoted. Thus Sallust [l.c.] tells us that Lentulus, an accomplice of Catiline, was strangled there. Livy also [xxix 22] speaks of a conspirator being delegatus in Tullianum, which in another passage [xxxiv 44] is otherwise expressed by the words in inferorem demissus carcerem, necatusque.

The same part of the prison was also called "robur," if we may judge from the words of Festus: "Robur in carcere dicitur is locus, quo praecipitatur maleficorum genus." This identity is farther shown by the use made of it; for it is spoken of as a place of execution in the following passages: "In robore et tenebris exspirare."[Liv. xxxviii 59, Sallust l.c.] "Robur et saxum (sc. Tarpeium) minitari."[Tac. Ann. iv 29] So also we read of the "catenae -- et Italum robur."[Hor. Carm. II xiii 18]


Other Web Pages

See also the listings under Sallust on the Literature page.


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