I wanted to explore the political rhetoric employed in the ancient Roman Republic. The Ancient Romans were known for their intense politicking, political intrigue, and speechmaking. The ability to give a strong, convincing, rhetorically-powerful oration was a very significant skill in the Republic, and propelled many a man, including the born-to-obscurity Marcus Tullius Cicero, to positions of supreme authority. As a student of Roman history and an admirer of the genius of Cicero, I was curious to explore what themes and elements were present in such oration.
As such, for my document to analyze I chose Cicero’s “First Oration Against Lucius Sergius Catilina,” a speech given during Cicero’s Consulship in 63 BCE. The purpose of the speech was to condemn Lucius Sergius Catilina, a Roman aristocrat who, it had been discovered, was plotting a conspiracy to kill members of the Senate and overthrow the Republic. In the speech, Cicero lays out his charges against Catiline and implores him to go into exile. He further describes to his fellow Senators the dangers that Catiline and his conspiracy pose, and tries to portray Catiline as an immoral, disloyal enemy to the Roman state.
I chose this document for a number of reasons. First, I am particularly interested in the “Catilinarian conspiracy” as both an event of political intrigue and a harbinger of the collapse that was soon to befall the Republic. Considering that Cicero was the leader of Rome at the time, I was interested in analyzing his words and thoughts on the particular event. Second, this speech is often cited as one of Cicero’s most impressive rhetorical performances and writings, and he himself would point to his handling of the conspiracy as the highpoint of his career. Knowing this and wanting to analyze Cicero, I figured that using this speech as my document was the most preferable choice. Finally, this particular speech is perhaps the epitome of Roman political rhetoric. All in one speech, Cicero condemns an opponent, boasts about his own talents, implores the Senate to action, decries the Senate for inaction, narrates a conspiracy, and describes its downfall.
Recognizing this, I felt as though this would be the best document to choose if I wanted to achieve validity in my analysis of Roman political rhetoric. As previously mentioned, Cicero presents a number of themes in his speech and use them for multiple political purposes. Being familiar with other political writings of the Republican era, I know that this was the norm for Roman political oration. To achieve success, a Roman orator could not simply present and harp on a single theme or subject. Rather, they had to present a multitude of themes, draw from historical precedents to prove a point, and address fellow Senators directly and indirectly. Such approach can vividly be seen in Cicero’s writing. Furthermore, the particular themes he employs and which I searched for in my analysis were the norm for Roman rhetoric. As Rome was a society highly concerned with morals and Roman ‘values,’ Cicero’s heavy use of the theme of morality was broadly representative of Roman oration and politics. Finally, this particular speech has been regarded by Cicero’s contemporaries and historians alike as one of the best speeches of the Republican period. As such, I would have to believe it would therefore be a very valid document to analyze to study the broader topic of Roman political rhetoric.
The “unit of coding “which I used for this analysis was, at its smallest level, individual words. Individual words could indicate or convey a theme, especially in a rhetorical piece such as this where individual words are strategically used for rhetorical effect. However, it was often necessary to look at the individual words in the broader context of the sentence in which they were located. As such, my coding was sometimes limited to a single word, but at times encompassed entire sentences. There were also instances in which I found multiple themes present in a single sentence. For my “unit of context,” I assumed that Cicero was fully aware of the situation going on and was fully cognizant of the rhetoric and themes he employed in his speech. As Cicero was the highest elected official in Rome, the prosecutor of Catiline, and the most highly-trained and respected rhetorician of his time, I do not doubt that the themes for which I searched were deliberately placed into his speech for rhetorical and political effect.
I searched for four major themes during my coding of the document: “protection of the state,” “danger to the state,” “pro-Roman values,” and “anti-Roman values.” For “protection of the state,” I searched for statements which were indicative of protecting the state, defending it from harm, or otherwise diverting some form of danger to the Roman people. I further analyzed a sub-theme by searching for whether those statements referred to its subject as being the one conducting that protection, or as being the one who the protection was conducted against. An example of a statement indicating “protection of the state conducted by” is Cicero saying “No single thing you [Catiline] do, nothing you attempt or even contemplate, escapes my [Cicero’s] notice.” An example of a statement indicating “protection conducted against” is “… the financial ruin into which you [Catiline] will be plunged upon the thirteenth of this month.” For “danger to the state,” I searched for statements which were indicative of some sort of danger or threat to the Roman state or people. I further analyzed to whom or what these statements referred. An example of such a statement is “you [Catiline] were illegally carrying arms. You had got together a group determined to strike down the leading men of the state…” For an analysis of “pro-Roman values,” I searched for statements which reflected values of honor, morality, integrity, dignity, and loyalty… values established in Ancient Rome as being virtuous. An example of such a statement is “… here among ourselves, in this most solemn and dignified of all the world’s assemblies.” For “anti-Roman values,” I searched for statements indicating the antithesis of these values. An example of this is “Are there to be no limits to this audacious, uncontrollable swaggering?”
I selected these themes deductively; I knew that Roman orators would frequently talk about morality and values, and I knew that the context of this particular speech was to condemn Catiline. To measure these themes, I counted each individual statement (be it a word or a sentence) which indicated the theme as a single data-point. Doing so allowed me to, upon the completion of my coding, quantitatively compare my data, which then enabled me to conduct a qualitative analysis of the implications of such comparisons.
To conduct the test-retest process, I would code a portion of the document for half an hour, spend two hours doing some other activity, and then return to the portion I had previously coded. I would make necessary changes, corrections, or additions, and then move on to the next portion of the document. I would also return to the portion of the document I had worked after a day had passed, so as to retest the document after a longer period of time had elapsed. I did this process numerous times over a span of 4 days. I found that I generally produced the same coding results, with the most major variations in my coding being how much of a sentence I thought incorporated a theme. As I found myself consistently determining that a sentence had a particular theme in it during my various re-tests, I felt that my coding scheme did not require any significant tweaking. However, I did find during my test-retest process that I could go into further depth with my themes than a simple binary analysis. This is how I came about the idea of determining to whom/what various statements referred, rather than simply searching for the presence of the statement. As I conducted further re-tests, I began incorporating this deeper thematic analysis into my approach, and again found that I was consistent in the process while including them.
2 days after I had completed my coding and the test-retest process, I returned to my document to conduct the post-test coding consistency check. I randomly chose and opened a page of the book in which my document was located and re-coded that page. As was the case during my test-retest process, I found that I was largely consistent in my coding. The most major variation was that I included a few couple extra sentences in my post-test coding than I had during the actual coding itself, which indicated to me that I was perhaps not as rigorous in my coding initially as I could have been. Yet I determined that this was not a significant issue, and as such did not feel a need to repeat my coding. As a final check, I conducted one further post-test coding consistency check the day following the last. I was satisfied with the results of this final check, and concluded that my coding was consistent and therefore complete.
For the purposes of reporting my findings, I will dedicate a paragraph to analyzing each separate theme and sub-theme. However, to provide the context for these observations, what follows are some broad findings: Cicero utilized significantly rhetoric involving “anti-Roman values” than he did “pro-Roman values.” There were 60 instances of “anti-Roman values” being used, compared to only 28 instances of pro-Roman values. Considering that there are a total of 88 instances of values being discussed, however, it is clear that the discussion of morality and honor was an important part of Roman political rhetoric. When it came to the theme of danger to and protection to the state, Cicero provides a roughly equivalent amount of statements. There are 64 instances of a statement indicating “protection of the state,” compared to 60 instances of a statement indicating “danger to the state.”
For the theme of “pro-Roman values,” Cicero refers exclusively to himself, the Senate, and the Roman people. At no point do these themes refer to Catiline or his co-conspirators. This theme generally manifested itself in single, descriptive words; Cicero would, for example, call his fellow Senators “honorable” or “just,” or describe the actions of past Romans as “brave.” It occasionally manifested itself in sentences which indicated some sort of virtue. For example, at one point Cicero says that his actions are a result of him being “moved by pity.”
There is much significance to the presence of this theme in the context of Cicero’s speech. By presenting himself and his fellow Senators as virtuous and as upholding Roman values, he is drawing a stark contrast between their actions and the actions of Catiline, whom he is condemning. This contrast, in turn, helps develop the Senate’s ill-will toward Catiline. Additionally, recognizing that morality and the upholding of values was a very important part of an individual’s honor and repute in Ancient Rome, Cicero desires to make himself and the Senate be portrayed as “true” Romans while denying Catiline the same. Doing so builds Cicero’s prestige, and in turn helps buoy his political power and ability to enforce punishment against Catiline. Simultaneously it pushes Catiline into disrepute and making him more susceptible to the wrath, and punishment, of the honor-conscious Roman people.
There are 60 instances of Cicero using “anti-Roman” themes in his speech, a significantly larger number than the amount of “pro-Roman” themes. 56 of these statements refer to Catiline or his co-conspirators, while 4 refer to Cicero himself or his fellow Senators. As was the case for “pro-Roman values,” this theme most frequently presented itself in single, descriptive words. Again, there were instances in which it was presented as entire sentence which lamented or described the anti-Roman character of Catiline’s or his co-conspirators actions and character. For example, at one point Cicero says, referring to Catiline, that “you know your own crimes well enough to understand that the universal hatred which men feel for you is justified,” demonstrating the significance of honor and values to the Roman people.
As previously mentioned, the significance of this theme in my chosen topic is that it demonstrates how values were an important part of the Roman mindset. While upholding Roman values won an individual prestige and support, disregarding or going against those values earned an individual disrepute and punishment. Cicero employs statements indicative of anti-Roman values significantly more frequently than those indicative of pro-Roman values because the purpose of this speech was to condemn Catiline, not to boast about his own honor. Cicero needed to portray Catiline in a bad light if he wanted the Senate to punish him, and he does that in the best way he can given the context of his society – by condemning Catiline’s character. Meanwhile, there are a select few instances where he calls his own character into question. These instances were Cicero lamenting the fact that he and the Senate had not acted sooner against Catiline; at one point, he says “I tell you frankly, it is we, the consuls, who are not doing our duty.” Yet rather than trying to disrepute himself, Cicero does this in an attempt to make the Senate move more quickly to action; after all, the consuls not “doing their duty,” and therefore not upholding the Roman value of duty, had allowed the conspiracy to progress to the point it had. This suggests that Roman orators were willing to call their own character into question in their rhetoric if they felt it would serve some political purpose beneficial to their interests.
There were 64 instances of Cicero using statements that indicate some “protection of the state.” Of these, 41 were statements indicating a protection “conducted by” some individual. These statements were often sentences indicating some distinct action taken against Catiline and his conspiracy, or some form of acknowledging and recognizing the conspiracy’s existence. For example, Cicero saying is “well aware” of Catiline’s actions and intentions indicated that he would be able to prepare for and defend against it. There are 23 instances of statements with this theme referring to protection being “conducted against” an individual. In these instances, Cicero is telling Catiline that his hope for the conspiracy’s success should be abandoned.
The implication of this theme is that Roman orators, when describing a danger to and protection of the state, needed to both address their own actions and address the actions taken against the danger. By demonstrating what he was doing to protect the state, Cicero was both earning himself more renown for his competence and reassuring the Senators of the security of their state. This explains why the bulk of the statements conveying this theme were “protection conducted by” statements. However, with Catiline in the Senate during this speech, Cicero was also given the opportunity to convince Catiline that all hope was lost. As such, the various statements indicating “protection inflicted against” were largely referred directly against Catiline.
There are 60 instances of a statement indicating some “danger to the state.” Of these, 40 refer directly to the actions of Catiline, 11 refer to the actions of his co-conspirators, 2 refer to historical actions for the use of analogy, and 7 refer to no individual or action in particular but are used for rhetorical flourish. As is the case with the statements referring to “protection of the state,” these statements were largely presented as sentences describing an individual’s dangerous actions. In the case of the use of this theme for rhetorical effect, Cicero makes statements such as “… Italy is to be ravaged by war, when cities are assaulted and houses gutted by fire.” The use of such rhetoric indicates that Roman orators needed to create a sense of danger or fear in their audience, so as to make their point and calls for action all the more pertinent and important.
By addressing both Catiline and his co-conspirators, Cicero is condemning all participants in the conspiracy, not just the leader of it. Doing so will allow him to direct ire and, in turn, punishment against all involved, not just against Catiline. There is also significance in the 2 statements used as historical analogy. In them, Cicero addresses past dangers to the state, and then follows by demonstrating how those dangers were dealt with. For example, he talks about the killing of “Tiberius Gracchus, although his threat to the national security was only on a limited scale.” The Ancient Romans had great reverence for the traditions and honorable individuals of the past, as they did with their own ancestors. By using historical analogy, then, Cicero is exploiting this reverence for the past for his own political purposes in the present. He is demonstrating to his fellow Senators how the virtuous and honorable Romans of the past, who had kept the state from danger, had acted, and therefore implicitly calls on the Senators of the present to act in the same manner.
 Cicero, “Against Lucius Sergius Catilina,” I,ii,8
 Cicero, I,v,13
 Cicero, I,v,14
 Cicero, I,iv,8
 See graph 1A in appendix
 See graph 2A in appendix
 Cicero, I,I,3
 See graph 1B in appendix
 Cicero, vi, 17
 Cicero, I,i,3
 See graph 2C in appendix
 Cicero, I, ix, 22
 See Graph 2B appendix
 Cicero, I,xi,28
 Cicero, I,I,3
Image 1 – Cesare Maccari, Cicero Denounces Catiline. Not only do I think this is a beautiful fresco, I believe it amply demonstrates the nature of Cicero’s speech. Catiline, sitting isolated and dejected, is the clear target of Cicero and the Senate’s suspicion and wrath, and this paper’s thematic analysis reveals as much.
Graph 1A – The number of Cicero’s statements representing “pro-Roman values” compared to the number representing “anti-Roman values.” All 28 “pro-Roman values” statements refer to the actions or characteristics of Cicero, the Senate, or the Roman people, while none refer to the actions or characteristics of Catiline or his co-conspirators. For a comparison of how many “anti-Roman values” statements refer to Cicero, the Senate, and the Roman people against the number that refer to Catiline and his co-conspirators, see graph 1B.
Graph 1B – A comparison of the number of Cicero’s statements that represent “anti-Roman values” and refer to the actions or characteristics of himself, the Senate, or the Roman people against the number that refer to the actions or characteristics of Catiline or his co-conspirators.
Graph 2A – A comparison of the number of Cicero’s statements that refer to some “danger to the (Roman) state” against the number of statements that refer to some act or method of “protecting the (Roman) state.” For a comparison of to whom/what the statements about acts “endangering” the state refer, see graph 2B. For a comparison of the number of statements about “protecting the state” that refer to protection “inflicted against” a subject or protection “conducted by” a subject, see graph 2C.
Graph 2B – A comparison of to whom/what Cicero’s “danger to the state” statements refer. The statements refer either to Catiline’s actions directly, to the actions of his co-conspirators, or to the actions of historical individuals for the use of analogy. They can also refer to no individual in particular, but rather refer to broader or more abstract dangers so as to be used as a rhetorical device.
Graph 2C – A comparison of the number of Cicero’s statements that refer to some act or method of protecting the state conducted by the subject of the statement against the number of statements that refer to an act or method of protection inflicted against the subject of the statement.