Who’s the Real Criminal?!
This essay will focus on the figure of the criminal in Cicero’s First Oration Against Verres which was Cicero’s prosecution against Verres. Verres was a man who had a reputation that was not so desirable in the eyes of the people. He was on trial for committing several crimes, yet the system that was supposed to convict him has yet to do so and Cicero, determined to bring on the decision of justice, decides to use a different strategy of truth telling to appeal to a ruling that favors justice. The object of cicero in this oration is to expose Verres in a way that he feels is necessary in order to bring justice using a system that has been unjust. Essentially, the obvious figure of the criminal is assumed to be Verres, but Cicero plays with the idea that the criminal may perhaps be the Judicial system itself. Webster defines the word criminal as a personal who has committed an illegal act. We also define criminals as law breakers or wrong doers, however in stanza one of the text, we realize that this standard rule for criminals does not apply to wealthy criminals who can pay their way out of troubling situations.
“THAT 1 which was above all things to be desired, O judges, and which above all things was calculated to have the greatest influence toward allaying the unpopularity of your order, and putting an end to the discredit into which your judicial decisions have fallen, appears to have been thrown in your way, and given to you not by any human contrivance, but almost by the interposition of the gods, at a most important crisis of the republic”. The opening stanza in this oration sets the tone for the entire prosecution. This puts the idea of integrity on trial by stating the bias in the court and suggesting that is was no coincidence in the fact that the time had come to put an “end to the discredit into which your judicial decisions have fallen”. Cicero plays on the idea that this trial did not come about by “any human contrivance”, but asserts the idea that the trial is an interposition of the gods” which makes the ideas he is about to present during the trial, more credible. Anything produced by the highest power in the world, God, is worthy of consideration. The latter part of stanza one plays on reputation. “For an opinion has now become established, pernicious to us, and pernicious to the republic, which has been the common talk of everyone, not only at Rome, but among foreign nations also,—that in the courts of law as they exist at present, no wealthy man, however guilty he may be, can possibly be convicted”. This was important for me because I can see where Cicero was strategic in making reference to the fact that this unfavorable reputation of the courts was a common opinion shared throughout Rome as well as other foreign nations. This was the moment within the oration that the figure of the criminal became attached to the actual court of law itself rather than the actual criminal himself. To put an entire system on trial was brilliant in creating this realistic contrast between the criminal and the system that is supposed to bring justice.
“Now at this time of peril to your order and to your tribunal, when men are ready to attempt by harangues, and by the proposal of new laws, to increase the existing unpopularity of the senate, Caius Verres is brought to trial as a criminal—a man condemned in the opinion of every one by his life and actions, but acquitted by the enormousness of his wealth according to his own hope and boast. I, O judges, have undertaken this cause as prosecutor with the greatest good wishes and expectation on the part of the Roman people, not in order to increase the unpopularity of the senate, but to relieve it from the discredit which I share with it”. Cicero continues with the idea that Caius Verres has already been condemned in the eyes of everybody based on the life he lives and his actions, yet he is acquitted by the court based on the fact that he is a very wealth man. Cicero re-affirms that his end result is to “relieve” the courts from its discrediting reputation it has earned through unfair practice of law.
“For I have brought before you a man, by acting justly in whose case you have an opportunity of retrieving the lost credit of your judicial proceedings, of regaining your credit with the Roman people, and of giving satisfaction to foreign nations; a man, the embezzler of the public funds, the petty tyrant of Asia and Pamphylia, the robber who deprived the city of its rights, the disgrace and ruin of the province of Sicily”. Embezzler of public funds, robber who deprived an entire city, an overall disgrace of Sicily is how Verres is described in this stanza. This passage focuses on the acts he has committed that labels him a criminal. Notice that the language used to express him as a criminal has a lot to do with his lack of care for the people of Sicily and the fact that he does not have the best interest of the people at hand. His disloyalty and disinterest in the state and the people make him a criminal. In stanza 2, Cicero concludes with “And if you come to a decision about this man with severity and a due regard to your oaths, that authority which ought to remain in you will cling to you still; but if that man’s vast riches shall break down the sanctity and honesty of the courts of justice, at least I shall achieve this, that it shall be plain that it was rather honest judgment that was wanting to the republic, than a criminal to the judges or an accuser to the criminal”. The figurative use of the criminal in this stanza is open to be attached to whoever commits the crime of allowing a man's riches to break down the sanctity of the courts of justice. It is clear that Cicero is setting up his argument to be fail proof by exposing the aspects of the judicial system that questions its lawfulness. By questioning the lawfulness of the process, the system is now at jeopardy of being the criminal. In stanza 14, Cicero exclaims, “I ask you, Metellus, what is corrupting the course of justice, if this is not,—to seek to frighten witnesses, and especially Sicilians, timid and oppressed men, not only by your own private influence, but by their fear of the consul, and by the power of two pretors? What could you do for an innocent man or for a relation, when for the sake of a most guilty man, entirely unconnected with you, you depart from your duty and your dignity, and allow what he is constantly saying to appear true to anyone who is not acquainted with you? For they said that Verres said, that you had not been made consul by destiny, as the rest of your family had been, but by his assistance. Two consuls, therefore, and the judge are to be such because of his will”. The specific language in this stanza that is pertinent to my claim is “what could you do for an innocent man...depart from your duty and dignity...not acquainted with you”. This now questions the power and civil duty that the courts are supposed to carry out and compromises the credibility of the court by departing from their duty of dignity with certain wealthy criminals at risk of being convicted.
Stanza 20 states clearly, “ This is a trial in which you will be deciding about the defendant, the Roman people about you;-by the example of what happens to this man it will be determined whether, when senators are the judges, a very guilty and a very rich man can be condemned”. Overall, this oration used the figure of the criminal to shine light on the legal criminal, better known as the judicial system. I find this ironic and masterful at the same time. Cicero uses the figure of the criminal to set up the prosecution in a way that opens a possibility that this criminal was untouchable from the very start, due to the unlawful activity that occurs within the system. The system now becomes the unlawful criminal if the courts don't do the right thing and convict Verres.