"Gaius Verres, a man of noble birth, but
notorious for his crimes and exactions in the civil war and in the offices he had held
since, was city praetor (praetor urbanus) B.C. 74. At the close of his term of
office, he went, in accordance with the law, as propraetor, to govern the province of
Sicily. By reason of the disturbed condition of Italy, from the revolt of Spartacus, he
was not relieved at the end of a year, as the law required, but continued two years longer
in the government of the province, when he was succeeded by Lucius Caecilius Metellus.
During these three years he was guilty of the most abominable oppressions and exactions;
and the Sicilians, as soon as they were relieved of his presence, brought suit against him
in the court of Repetundae (that for the trial of cases of extortion), then
presided over by the praetor Manius Acilius Glabrio. To conduct the prosecution they had
recourse to Cicero, who already stood high among Roman advocates, and who was personally
known and trusted by the Sicilians on account of his honorable administration of the
quaestorship in their island in B.C. 77. Cicero willingly took charge of the case, the
more so as the counsel for Verres was Hortensius, the leading lawyer of the time, against
whom he was eager to measure his strength.
Although the cruelty and rapacity of Verres were notorious, yet his relations to the Roman nobility insured him of strong support: not only Hortensius, but Curio, a man of excellent reputation, with members of the eminent families of Scipio and Metellus, stood firmly by him. The only hope of Verres lay in preventing a fair and speedy trial. First he tried to obtain a prosecutor who should be in collusion with him, and would not push him too hard. For this purpose one Caecilius was put forward, an insignificant person, but a native of Sicily. Cicero's first speech in the case (In. Q. Caecilium) was therefore a preliminary argument before the praetor Glabrio in person, to show that he, rather than Caecilius, should be allowed to conduct the case. This was not hard to do, and he set out at once for Sicily to collect evidence, for which purpose he was allowed one hundred and ten days.
To consume time the opposition had planned to bring before the same court a trumped-up action against another provincial governor which should have precedence over the trial of Verres. To this end they had procured for the prosecutor in the rival suit an allowance of one hundred and eight days for collecting evidence in Achaia--or two days less than the time which Cicero was expected to need. This intrigue was foiled by Cicero's industry and skill. He used not quite half of the time allowed him, arriving in Rome, with ample evidence, not only before the prosecutor in the rival case was ready, but even before the latter had left Italy on his pretended tour of investigation. The trial of Verres was now fixed for Aug. 5, B.C. 70 (consulship of Pompey and Crassus).
Meantime (in the latter part of July) the elections were held for the next year. As was the custom in Rome, these occurred several months before the newly elected magistrates were to enter upon their offices. The successful candidates, under the title of designati, enjoyed a dignity almost equal to that of the actual magistrates, although with no real power. In these elections Cicero was designated aedile; but his rival Hortensius was chosen consul, with Quintus Metellus Creticus, Verres' fast friend, as his colleague. More than this, Marcus Metellus, brother of Quintus, was chosen praetor, and the lot fell to him to preside the next year in the court of Repetundae. If now the trial could be put over till the next year, when Hortensius and the two Metelli would be in the three most influential positions in the State, Verres felt quite sure of getting clear. Neither did it seem as if this would be very hard to bring about; for the last six months of the Roman year were so full of festivals and other days on which the court could not sit, that the case would be liable to constant interruptions and delays. The postponement would have disappointed Cicero sorely, for, by good luck in drawing the names, and sagacity in challenging, he had a jury that he could trust, and he was not willing to run the risk of a change.
Under these circumstances Cicero made the second speech of the Verrine group--that which is now known as the Actio Prima. In this oration he declared his intention of departing from the usual course of procedure in order to push the trial through before the New Year. It was customary for the prosecutor, after opening the case (as in the present speech), to present his proofs and arguments in a long connected oration (or a series of orations); there followed a reply from the defendant's counsel, and then the witnesses were introduced. Cicero, omitting the long statement just described, proceeded to bring forward his witnesses immediately. Since the only hope of the defence lay in putting off the trial, Cicero's promptitude was decisive: Hortensius soon threw up his case, and Verres went into exile, with a name forever associated with extortion and misgovernment. Full restitution of the plunder was, however, not obtained: a compromise was made, by which a less sum was paid in satisfaction of the claims. The five speeches known as the "Accusation" propter (Actio Secunda) were never delivered, but were written out and published in order to put on record the facts with Cicero had gathered with so much pains, and to give a specimen of his powers in the way of forensic composition."
--from "Introduction to In C. Verrem Actio Prima", Select Orations and Letters of Cicero, ed. J.B. Greenough, G.L. Kittredge, Ginn & Co.: Boston, 1902.
|In C. Verrem Actio Prima:||Latin Text||The source of this text is Select Orations and Letters of Cicero, ed. J.B. Greenough, G.L. Kittredge, Ginn and Company: Boston, 1902.|