By way of the sword Cicero attributes authority, power, right, and superiority upon the Senate and himself in his first oration against Catiline. In doing so Cicero procures a justification for his actions, which he arguably does not have, by claiming association and access to the sword’s inherent properties. The sword is a trope, which through means of metonymy represents military power, authority, and right. This established ideological connection allows Cicero to make assertive and concise arguments with a hidden power he otherwise would not have access to.
The repetition and growth of the symbol of the sword provides a potent source of persuasion in Cicero’s oratory. It affords him a dynamic and complex argument that appears simple and to the point. The sword serves as the deadly authority of the Senate, the political prowess of Cicero’s tongue, and the combined might of these two forces relative to Catiline’s pitiful and incompetent state. Using the sword as a symbol allows Cicero to combine a complex and condemning structure of authority and apply it to himself in a simple manner. This authority based ethos claim is rendered all the more potent by its rhetorical ease of expression.
Cicero begins by thrusting the sword forth in a simile portraying the hidden but deadly power held by the Senate. The Latin reads, “At vero nos vicesimum iam diem patimur hebescere aciem horum auctoritatis. …tamquam in vagina reconditum…” translated, “…the weapon of this council’s sanction… thrust away… like a sword concealed within the scabbard…” (37-40). The Latin term Aciem (Acies), that Cicero uses, refers to both a sharp edge and a military formation. This dual aspect has the effect of granting the sword both the deadly function of a sharpened point and the decisive authority of military might. In a case where the mere legal proceeding of reprimanding Catiline is in question, asserting real and deadly power to the Senate is crucial to Cicero’s cause. So while the sword, or might of the Senate, may appear non-existent to Catiline, because it is sheathed in the scabbard, it decidedly exists. The power of the Senate to do Catiline harm is greater than it appears, and he should be fearful.
The sword’s dynamism builds with its reappearance in association with Cicero’s speaking as consul. He utilizes the idiom of a sharp tongue, “…and as yet I do not stab with the words of my mouth those who ought to have been mercilessly slain with the sword” (75-76). Here one cannot help equating Cicero’s flickering and decisive tongue, to the slash and bitter bite of a sword in battle. The true mastery in Cicero’s employment of the sword is that he actually increases its inherent strength through metaphor. By making his tongue the sword he grants himself military might, but he also ingeniously adds a touch of legal precedence that he has as consul to the sword itself. Rendering the sword and the tongue synonymous makes a verbal condemnation from Cicero as grave as a physical execution. This seemingly simplistic maneuver allows Cicero to create an even more powerful sword; Senate, consul, and military all acting as one against Catiline.
The final effect of the sword against Catiline is a comparative indictment of his character. Cicero places the sword, which has been established as representing Cicero and the Senate, at odds with the dagger – the weapon chosen by Catiline to bring about his evil schemes. “How many times already has that dagger of yours been wrested from your grasp!” (121-122). The multiple attempts point to Catiline’s failures in general, but the image of the dagger itself insinuates his ineptitude. The size, grandeur, and stature of the sword represent military prowess and strengthened legal authority. In contrast, the small, insignificant, and ineffective dagger becomes a weapon that should be treated with embarrassment. The very manliness and therefore worth of Catiline is attacked by the inferiority of the dagger to the almighty sword. This comparison is made both in respect to Catiline’s attempts against the state and to any personal competition he has with Cicero. The superior credibility of the Senate and Cicero in both position and character is made abundantly clear.
The dynamic impact of the sword is that it builds in strength and purpose through Cicero’s oration. By choosing a trope inherently steeped in high regard he expresses a multitude of ideas without having to fully explain them and also adds credibility to claims without having to justify them. The figure allows him to equate senatorial, personal, and military power and authority together in a way that otherwise may have been impossible for him. He then takes this enriched symbol and utilizes it in opposition to Catiline, allowing Cicero to attack Catiline’s character, his plans, his integrity, and his manliness all in one fell swoop. The aspects inherent in the sword, and added to the sword by Cicero’s oration, create a complex argument against Catiline that Cicero expresses with a single figure. Ethos is built through the connection to the sword’s inherent traits and also in opposition to the disreputable character of Catiline. The sharpened point of the sword enforces the eloquence of Cicero’s argument and lends it decisive authority.