Cicero, Pro Caelio

LCL 447: 514-515

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Pro Caelio

veneni, § 30). Then comes in sections 59–60 a skilful but malicious digression on the untimely death of Clodia’s husband, Q. Metellus Celer (consul 60 b.c.), whom she was suspected of having poisoned. In a quick transition from gravity to clever frivolity Cicero, in sections 61–69, dwells on the details of Caelius’ alleged attempt to poison Clodia. According to the prosecution, poison was given to a certain P. Licinius to be handed over to Clodia’s slaves. But Clodia’s slaves informed their mistress, who herself arranged a meeting that took place at the Senian Baths, so that Licinius could be caught actually handing over the poison. But Licinius was allowed to escape! No wonder Clodia manumitted her slaves! Since the detail is so circumstantial, this episode cannot have been entirely fictitious. Something must have happened at the Senian Baths which became the talk of Rome. The obscenissima fabula (§ 69) may well be the key to the mystery. Cicero’s treatment of this episode is an outstanding example of his oratorical versatility and subtlety. The jury would be too entertained to give critical attention to an amusing but bewildering story.

Cicero’s peroratio follows in sections 70–80. To have indicted Caelius under the lex de vi is monstrous treatment of a youth of such a creditable past and of such high promise. “Acquit him, and while earning the gratitude of his unhappy old father, you will also be serving the State.” The detailed statement given in sections 72–77 of Caelius’ public career, supplementing that of his earliest years (§§ 9–12), shows that Cicero felt it to be essential to present Caelius to the jury in a most favourable light.

Among Cicero’s private orations the Pro Caelio


Pro Caelio

takes a very high, if not, as some scholars have held, the highest place, as an expression of his gifts of eloquence, audacity and brilliance. Invaluable as a social document, the speech also shows Cicero steering a course through dangerous waters with unerring skill. Just as the offence of maiestas populi Romani (high treason) was in the late Republic a weapon frequently used by politicians engaged in party struggles, so also was the lex de vi twisted into the service of those who sought to drive personal rivals or enemies from society. It may have been made clear that the prosecution’s case was based on something more than allegation and insinuation. But it was where Cicero’s case was on least firm ground that his tactics were most skilful: gravitas where appropriate, bold wit to entertain the jurors at awkward moments where their critical attention might have been fatal to Caelius. No wonder that on the very day (5 April) following this resounding triumph over Clodia an elated Cicero was displaying no less audacity in another place, but with less happy results: his proposal in the Senate for an attack on what he called the stronghold of the Triumvirate, the lex Iulia de agro Campano.a

V. The Later Career of Caelius

There is some reason to believe that Caelius was never quaestor, but that he became a senator by virtue of his curule aedileship or even of his tribunate.b In 52, when he was tribune, he vigorously championed the cause of Milo,c especially during the

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.marcus_tullius_cicero-pro_caelio.1958