Against Catiline is more than an attack on one Roman senator; it is a political power play, an attack on the populares faction of the Roman Republic, of which Catiline was a part of and Cicero, being a member of the optimate faction, was opposed. In this paper, I will examine the metaphor of the Roman Republic as a human body and how Cicero uses it to call for not only Catiline’s exile, but also the exile of all the members of the populares faction.
In section 28 of the First Oration Against Catiline, Cicero declares: “if this man alone is removed from this piratical crew, we may appear, perhaps, for a short time relieved from fear and anxiety, but the danger will settle down and lie hid in the veins and bowels of the republic. As it often happens that men afflicted with a severe disease, when they are tortured with heat and fever, if they drink cold water, seem at first to be relieved, but afterward suffer more and more severely; so this disease which is in the republic, if relieved by the punishment of this man, will only get worse and worse, as the rest will be still alive”. Through metaphor, the republic is compared to the human body, a body which can be sickened by disease. Cicero states that the cause of the current disease is not only Catiline, but also his friends and followers, the members of the populares faction. The exile of Catiline alone will not be enough to cure the disease; all of the members of the populares faction must be expelled from the city to rescue it from its affliction.
The metaphor of the republic as a human body is particularly effective at both affirming the optimate vision of a Senatorial republic and pushing for the expulsion of the populares. First, the metaphor of the human body in this usage creates a clear dichotomy: the body is either alive or it is dead. By equating the current, traditional republic as the living body, Cicero equates a populist republic, led by a demagogue, as the result of the “disease” of the populares faction, a dead republic. Next, by stating that the remaining members of the populares faction upon the expulsion of Catiline will hide in the “bowels” of the republic, Cicero evokes a sensation of disgust by labelling the populares faction as the filthy inhabitants of the most unpleasant portion of the body of the republic.
The metaphor then uses the juxtaposition of temperatures for rhetorical effect. The statement, “tortured with heat and fever” has a dual purpose. First, the symptoms of disease mentioned in this statement create a sense of urgency; the affliction is extremely serious and must be cured at once. Second, Cicero meant to evoke the sense of the fiery, populist movement of the populares in his choice of “heat” and “fever” as opposed to the cold, conservative Senatorial republic; it is the populares faction that is the cause of these symptoms. Cicero then states that the temporary cure of a “cold water” will not cure the disease and ultimately result in the death of the body, the death of the republic. The contrast of temperatures between the two factions, hot for the populist, populares faction and cold for the conservative, optimate faction generates a crucial subtext in the argument: since the murder of Tiberius Gracchus, populist movements supporting demagogues had been growing stronger and stronger in Rome. Solving only the current problem would not change a political landscape where a populist, military strongman seizing power had become relatively common. The only complete cure for the dying, diseased body of the republic would be for the total expulsion of the populares faction.
In conclusion, Cicero’s metaphor of equating the Roman Republic to the human body portrays Catiline and the populares faction as a disease that must be expelled to be cured. This metaphor stands centrally within a political power play in which Cicero, a member of the optimate faction, attempts to destroy the populares opposition. Unfortunately the Caesarian, populares vision ultimately prevailed, resulting in the death of the Roman Republic and the birth of Imperial Rome.