Letter V: ad Atticum 1.16
Rome, May, 61 B.C.
This letter tells the story of the trial of Clodius for sacrilege. Cf. also Intr. 10 and Att. l. 13.3. Knowing the conclusive evidence against Clodius, the indignation of the pontifices, and the determined stand taken by the senate in ordering an inquiry, Atticus is surprised to hear of his acquittal, and has asked for an explanation. Cicero in this letter replies to that inquiry, and explains the condition of things in the commonwealth and his own attitude towards Clodius. For further details of the sacrilege of Clodius, cf. Att. 1.12.3; 1.14.5. On Caesar's attitude during the trial, cf. Suet. Iul. 74 testis citatus, negavit se quicquam comperisse, quamvis et mater Aurelia et soror Julia apud eosdem iudices omnia ex fide rettulissent. On the attitude of Pompey, cf. Att. l. 14. I, 2. The conduct of criminal trials in a Roman court was entrusted to the praetor, his consilium, and the iudices. The praetor passed upon questions of law, in the decision of which he was assisted by the consilium, a body of jurists called in to give legal advice, while questions of fact were relegated to the iudices. A list of several hundred iudices, chosen under the lex Aurelia of 70 B.C.
from the ranks of the senators, knights, and tribuni aerarii (fiscal officials of the tribes; cf. Momm. St. R. III.189-196), was published at the beginning of each year. From this list the iudices for a particular trial were selected by lot. A verdict rendered by a majority of them was valid.
quaeris: Atticus in his letter had asked Cicero two questions: (1) why the trial of Clodius resulted so unexpectedly in an acquittal; (2) why Cicero proved so poor a fighter. Cicero replies to the second question first, the answer extending to the sentence, itaque, si causam, etc., 2, and then to the first one. He applies to this inverted order the phrase ὕστερον πρότερον, Ὁμηρικῶς, because, in the first book of the Odyssey, Odysseus is introduced in the midst of his wanderings, his previous adventures being narrated in subsequent books.
quod [gap in text] factum sit: the subjunctive is used because the reason is urged by Atticus.
senatus auctoritas: cf. Att. 1.14.5 cum decerneretur frequenti senatu, contra pugnante Pisoni, ad pedes omnium singillatim accidente Clodio, ut consules populum cohortarentur ad rogationem accipiendam.
cum [gap in text] uteretur: after the passage in the senate of the resolution given above, Clodius contiones miseras habebat, in quibus Lucullum, Hortensium, C. Pisonem, Messallam consulem contumeliose laedebat; me tantum comperisse omnia criminabatur (Att. 1.14.5). The word comperi Cicero had unfortunately used so often with reference to the movements of the Catilinarian conspirators (cf. in Cat. 1.10 and 3.4) that it had evidently become a byword with his enemies, and was used by Clodius in taunting him; cf. also Fam. 5.5.2.
quas ego, etc.: cf. also proeliatus sum above. Just such extravagant figures drawn from military life as Plautus puts into the mouth of the scheming slave or parasite who has outgeneraled his opponent; cf e.g. Capt. 153, M. G. 815, 1156, and the striking passage 221-227. With such a wariike people as the Romans were, such metaphors were very natural and effective in the language of everyday life. The use of them here harmonizes with the colloquial tone of the entire letter; cf . also Intr. 99.
Pisonem: though consul, and ordered by the senate to further the passage of the law by the comitia, Piso was really acting in the interests of Clodius. Cf. note to senatus auctoritas above.
Curionem: father of the Curio who, as tribune in 50 B.C.
, defended Caesar so brilliantly in the senate. He led the opposition in the senate to the bill of investigation (Att. 1.14.5).
senum: Piso and the elder Curio.
iuventutis: the younger Curio and young men like him.