Julius Caesar’s Speech To The Senate In “The Conspiracy Of Catiline” (Podcast)

This podcast is a reading and commentary on the speech of Julius Caesar found in Sallust’s “Conspiracy of Catiline.” Caesar’s address to the senate made important points about the value of precedent, leniency, and how abuses of power can follow from seemingly good intentions.

Brought to you by Fortress of the Mind Publications.  This podcast is available in a variety of formats, including Soundcloud, iTunes, Google Play, and You Tube.

My new annotated and illustrated translation of Sallust’s Conspiracy of Catiline and War of Jugurtha can be found here.

2 thoughts on “Julius Caesar’s Speech To The Senate In “The Conspiracy Of Catiline” (Podcast)

  1. As one who is so deep into the Latinity of Sallust’s presentation of Caesar’s speech, among the speeches of other noted figures here, what is your take on 1) the proximity of Sallust’s reenactment of Caesar’s speech to one that might have actually been delivered by Caesar before the Senate? Having read and translated, I can only presume, works produced by Caesar, such as his Commentaries on the Gallic war or the Civil war, do you sense any similarity? In other words, was Sallust writing to best represent the argument or to best represent Caesar? And 2) Sallust’s delivery smacked of deep erudition and circumspection; do you you think Caesar would have sounded as erudite to a Roman audience? Ever since hearing about the question of whether Hitler’s public speeches would have “rung false” to the ears of English audience if they had been delivered in English or if the German language lent itself to the persuasiveness of Hitler’s rhetoric, I’ve wondered whether Caesar’s Latin speeches or writing would have sounded as impressive given in English, without having passed through the filter of translation. Sometimes, in the the process of close reading that translation necessarily involves, the art of a speech is brought to the fore, but, when heard only in one tongue, the art and logically of a speech is hidden, especially when delivered by a particularly eloquent speaker.
    Exceptional work here, Quintus.


    • J:
      Great questions and comments here. First let me say a bit about speeches in the works of ancient historians. It was a long-held tradition in classical historiography (going back to Herodotus and Thucydides) for the historian to insert imaginary speeches into their narratives. This was considered accepted practice; Thucydides makes no bones about it, and openly says that he is not reproducing the speaker’s exact words. He says that he is writing what his speaker “probably said, or should have said” on the occasion. We have to accept this as just the way things were. It is unlikely that Pericles’s famous oration on Athenian democracy (in Thucydides) was anything close to what he actually said on the occasion.

      This practice of using hypothetical speeches was the norm for a long time in historical writing. It was used even into the Middle Ages. To our jaundiced modern sensibilities, it is easy to criticize this practice. But it was considered an acceptable way of letting readers know the motivations and thoughts of the characters in the story. It was almost–in a way–like having a “Greek chorus” to describe the action.
      So, such speeches say more about the writer of the history than they do about anything else. They were also opportunities to for highly educated and trained rhetoricians like Sallust to show their mastery of oratory.

      I for one love this tradition. Once we accept that ancient historians were operating under some different customs and rules than we do today, we can enjoy their writings for their own merits.

      Having said all this, I am confident that ancient historians did try to reproduce as accurately as they could (in the age before television, radio, internet, and mass media) the words that figures said. Remember that men in those days had far, far better memories than we do now, with our short attention spans. People could hear large volumes of words and recall most of them, and might then transcribe them later. I have read that audience members in Shakespeare’s day did this very thing. In fact, there was a lot of “piracy” of plays done by people who would go to a play, take it all in, remember 80 or 90 percent of the words, and then write them down later to sell “pirated” editions.

      So we cannot be too sure that historians like Sallust or Thucydides were just putting their own words in their characters’ mouths. It seems that they got the gist of what was said, with perhaps some embellishments. Sallust greatly admired Caesar and I’m sure he made a conscious effort to get it all right. In addition, he probably had access to written senatorial records and transcripts that are no longer available to us. We know that shorthand scribes were widely used in Roman times by men who could afford them. My final thought is that Sallust captured the gist of what was said by Caesar, Cato, and Marius, but that he also put his own distinctive Sallustian stamp on such speeches.

      And the result, you must agree, is fantastic.


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