Sallust’s Catiline


In response to my saying on Facebook that I was looking for articles on Catiline (because Cicero gave his first Catilinarian oration this weekend in 63 B.C.), Vaughan Jackson wrote:

Well, don’t believe everything Cicero says on Catiline…..Mr. Chickpea was biased and arrogant and conceited and paranoid, as he was not a military man….Read Sallust…..Cataline died fighting in the front lines…a hero.

Sallust wrote:

“Catiline, when he saw his army routed, and himself left with but few supporters, remembering his birth and former dignity, rushed into the thickest of the enemy, where he was slain, fighting to the last.” Conspiracy of Catiline LX

The following passages highlight negative character traits Sallust saw in Catiline. I don’t find this picture more flattering than the one Cicero provides in the 1st Catilinarian where he almost ironically urges Catiline to go into voluntary exile. Ironic because Cicero was the one to go into exile a few years later. This passage is from near the beginning. I haven’t recently read the paragraphs between this and the death scene:

V. Lucius Catiline was a man of noble birth, and of eminent mental and personal endowments; but of a vicious and depraved disposition. His delight, from his youth, had been civil commotions, bloodshed, robbery, and sedition; and in such scenes he had spent his early years. His constitution could endure hunger, want of sleep, and cold, to a degree surpassing belief. His mind was daring, subtle, and versatile, capable of pretending or dissembling whatever he wished. He was covetous of other men’s property, and prodigal of his own. He had abundance of eloquence, though but little wisdom. His insatiable ambition was always pursuing objects extravagant, romantic, and unattainable.

Since the time of Sylla’s dictatorship, a strong desire of seizing the government possessed him, nor did he at all care, provided that he secured power for himself, by what means he might arrive at it. His violent spirit was daily more and more hurried on by the diminution of his patrimony, and by his consciousness of guilt; both which evils he had increased by those practices which I have mentioned above. The corrupt morals of the state, too, which extravagance and selfishness, pernicious and contending vices, rendered thoroughly depraved, furnished him with additional incentives to action.

XV. Catiline, in his youth, had been guilty of many criminal connections, with a virgin of noble birth, with a priestess of Vesta, and of many other offenses of this nature, in defiance alike of law and religion. At last, when he was smitten with a passion for Aurelia Orestilla, in whom no good man, at any time of her life, commended any thing but her beauty, it is confidently believed that because she hesitated to marry him, from the dread of having a grown-up step-son, he cleared the house for their nuptials by putting his son to death. And this crime appears to me to have been the chief cause of hurrying forward the conspiracy. For his guilty mind, at peace with neither gods nor men, found no comfort either waking or sleeping; so effectually did conscience desolate his tortured spirit. His complexion, in consequence, was pale, his eyes haggard, his walk sometimes quick and sometimes slow, and distraction was plainly apparent in every feature and look.

XVI. The young men, whom, as I said before, he had enticed to join him, he initiated, by various methods, in evil practices. From among them he furnished false witnesses, and forgers of signatures; and he taught them all to regard, with equal unconcern, honor, property, and danger. At length, when he had stripped them of all character and shame, he led them to other and greater enormities. If a motive for crime did not readily occur, he incited them, nevertheless, to circumvent and murder inoffensive persons just as if they had injured him; for, lest their hand or heart should grow torpid for want of employment, he chose to be gratuitously wicked and cruel.



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