Cicero Pro Caelio (G1)


A Level Latin Prose (Group 1) 2025-26

Cicero, Pro Caelio, 51-58, 61-68

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But since my speech appears to have emerged already from the shallows and passed by the rocks, a very easy remaining course is shown to me. For there are two charges, involving one woman, of the most serious crimes: of gold, which is claimed to have been taken from Clodia, and of poison, which they allege that Caelius procured for the purpose of killing the same Clodia. She took the gold, as you say, in order to give it to the slaves of Lucius Lucceius, through whom the Alexandrian Dio, who was then residing with Lucceius, would be killed. It is a great crime either in plotting against ambassadors or in planning to kill a slave who was a guest of the master’s house.

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And in regard to this charge, I first ask, whether he told Clodia for what purpose he took the gold, or whether he did not. If he did not tell her, why did she hand it over? If he did tell her, she made herself his accomplice in this crime. Did you venture to fetch this gold from your chest, to despoil of her ornaments that Venus of yours, the despoiler of your other lovers, when you knew for how great a crime this gold was wanted – to assassinate an ambassador, to bring on a most virtuous and upright man, Lucius Lucceius, an everlasting stain of guilt ? To an outrage so great your generous heart should never have been privy, that open house of yours should never have lent its aid, that hospitable Venus of yours should never have been an accomplice.

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Balbus had this point in mind; he said that Clodia was not in the secret, and that Caelius told her another story – that he wanted the gold for the expenses of some games. But if he was as intimate with Clodia as you claim that he was, since you harp so much on his profligacy, he would certainly have told her why he wanted the gold; if he was not so intimate, she never gave it. Thus, if Caelius told you the truth, you abandoned woman!, you knowingly gave him the gold to commit a crime; if he did not venture to tell you, you did not give it. Why then need I now oppose this charge with endless arguments? I might say that the character of Caelius was utterly incompatible with so horrible a crime: that it is incredible that it did not occur to a man naturally so clever and of such sound judgment, that the execution of so great a crime should not be entrusted to unknown slaves who belonged to another master. Again, following the custom of other counsel for the defence and my own, I might ask the accuser those usual questions: where did the meeting between Caelius and the slaves of Lucceius take place, what means of access had he to them; if in person, how rash it was; if by proxy, who was it? I might in my speech search every nook and corner where suspicion could lurk; no motive, no place, no opportunity, no accomplice, no hope of carrying out and concealing a crime, no reason for it, not a single trace of so terrible a crime will be discovered.

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But all these points, which are the province of an orator, and which, not because of any talent of my own, but because of my experience and practice in speaking here, might have brought me some advantage, since they would seem to have been already worked up on my own responsibility and submitted as evidence – these I abandon for the sake of brevity, every one of them. For I can produce, gentlemen, a man whom you would readily allow to be associated with you in the sanctity of your oath, Lucius Lucceius, a most virtuous man and a most honourable witness, who, if such an outrage so compromising to his fortune and reputation had been attempted by Caelius, could not have failed to hear of it, could not have treated it with indifference, and could not have allowed it to take place. Could such a man, so high-principled, so scholarly, so cultured, so learned, have disregarded the danger threatening that very friend who was endeared to him through just those very interests? Could he have failed to deal with a crime committed against a guest such as would rouse his stern indignation if he heard of it as committed against a stranger? Would he have been grieved had he found it perpetrated by strangers, and have paid no attention when it was attempted by his own slaves? Would he have denounced such a deed if done in open country or in a public place, and have treated it mildly if planned in the city and at his own home? What he would not have passed over had some rustic been in danger, would he have thought proper to hide, when a plot was afoot against a great scholar, and he himself was a man of learning?

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But why do I detain you longer, gentlemen? He himself has given evidence on oath; observe the solemnity of his sworn statement, carefully attend to every word of his testimony. Read it out [The Deposition of Lucius Lucceius is read out] What more do you expect? Or do you think that the case itself, that truth itself, can find a voice to plead on their own behalf? Here is a justification of innocence, here is a plea submitted by the case itself, here is truth’s only voice. The charge itself is not based upon any ground of suspicion, nor the fact upon any proof; the dealings which are alleged to have taken place show no trace of what was said, nor of where and when; no witness, no accomplice is mentioned. The whole charge arises from a hostile, infamous, merciless, crime-stained, lust-stained house; whereas that house which is said to have been tempted to commit so foul a crime is the home of innocence, of honour, of duty, of piety; and from it you have heard read a statement deposed under a sworn oath, so that the question to be decided is easy to settle – whether you think that an unstable and angry wanton of a woman has forged this charge, or whether a man of sobriety, learning, and restraint has given conscientious evidence.

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So then there remains the charge of poisoning, of which I can neither discover the origin nor unravel the end. For what motive could Caelius have had for wanting to poison this woman? That he might not have to return the gold? But did she ask for its return? To prevent a charge from lying against him? But did anyone accuse him of it? Would, in fact, anyone have mentioned it if Caelius had accused no one? Moreover, you heard Lucius Herennius declare that he would not have said an unfavourable word against Caelius, had he not a second time brought against his friend an action on the same charge of which he had been already acquitted. Is it credible, then, that so great a crime was committed without a motive? And do you not see that an accusation involving an outrageous crime was invented that there might appear to be a motive for committing a second?

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Lastly, in whom did he confide, whom did he have to assist him, who was his partner, his accomplice, to whom did he entrust so great a crime, entrust himself, entrust his own life? To the slaves of this woman? For this has been alleged against him. And was this man, whom you certainly credit with some ability, although your hostile language deprives him of other qualities – was he so great a fool as to entrust all his fortunes to another person’s slaves? But, I ask, what kind of slaves? This very point is most important. Were they slaves whom he knew not as subject to the ordinary conditions of servitude, but as living a life of more licence, liberty, and intimacy with their mistress? For who does not see, gentlemen, or who is ignorant that in a house of that kind, in which the mistress lives the life of a courtesan, in which nothing is done which is fit to be published abroad, in which strange lusts, profligacy, in fact, all unheard-of vices and immoralities, are rife – who does not know that in such a house those slaves are slaves no longer? when all confidence is placed in them, everything is done by their agency, when they play their part with her in her excesses, when secrets are entrusted to them, and when they benefit considerably even from her daily extravagant expenditure. Was Caelius then ignorant of that?

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For if he was so intimate with the woman as you will have it, he knew that those slaves also were on intimate terms with their mistress. But if an association as close as you allege did not exist between the two, how could there have been such close intimacy between him and the slaves? But as to the poison itself, what theory is invented about that? Where was it procured, how was it prepared? In what way, to whom was it handed over, and where? It is said that Caelius had it at home and tried its effect on a slave who had been procured for that very purpose; and that his very speedy death proved to Caelius the efficacy of the poison.

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But nevertheless, it is not said where the poison came from or how it was prepared. They say it was given to Publius Licinius here, a modest and good young man, an acquaintance of Caelius. It was arranged with the servants that they would come to the Senian baths; Licinius would also come there and hand them a box of poison. Here, I first inquire why they were supposed to go to that specific place, and why the servants did not go to Caelius’ house. If that strong custom of Caelius, that deep familiarity with Clodia, still existed, what grounds for suspicion would there be if the woman’s servant had been seen at Caelius’ place? But if there was already animosity present, if the custom had been extinguished, if there had been a separation, then “hence those tears,” indeed, and this is the cause of all these crimes and charges.

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“No,” says the accuser,” after the slaves had revealed to their mistress the whole affair and the villainy of Caelius, this crafty lady ordered them to make every promise to Caelius, but, so that Licinius, when handing over the poison, might be caught in the act, she ordered the Senian Baths to be arranged as a meeting-place, where she might send some friends to hide, and suddenly, when Licinius had arrived and was handing over the poison, they might dart out and seize him. All this, gentlemen, is perfectly easy to refute. For why had she specially fixed on the public baths, where I do not see that there could be any hiding-place for men in their togas? For if they were in the forecourt they would not be hidden; but if they wanted to pack themselves away inside, they could not conveniently do so in their shoes and outdoor dress, and perhaps would not be admitted – unless possibly that lady of influence had bought the favour of the bathman by her usual farthing deal.

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I assure you, I was eagerly waiting to hear the names of those honest gentlemen who were alleged to have witnessed the discovery of this poison in Licinius’ hands; no names, in fact, have yet been mentioned. But I have no doubt that they are extremely respectable persons, in the first place because they are intimates of such a lady; secondly, because they accepted the part of being packed away in the baths, one which she could never have imposed upon them, however influential she might be, had they not been most honourable and worthy persons. But why do I speak of the worthy character of these witnesses? Let me tell you what brave, painstaking fellows they were. “They concealed themselves in the baths.” Remarkable witnesses! “Then they darted out accidentally.” Wonderful self-control! For they pretend that after Licinius had arrived, holding the box in his hand, and was on the point of handing it over, although he had not yet done so – then suddenly these splendid witnesses with no names flew out from their hiding-place, but that Licinius, who had already stretched out his hand to give over the box, drew it back at the sudden onset of these fellows, and took to flight. How great is the power of truth, which when opposed to human ingenuity, cunning and craft, and opposed to all the falsehood and treachery in the world, is easily able to defend itself unaided!

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For example: the whole of this little play, by a poetess of experience who had already composed many comedies – how devoid it is of plot, how utterly it fails to find an ending! For how did it happen that all those fellows (for they must have been many in number, so that Licinius could be easily seized, and that what took place might be attested by many eye-witnesses) allowed Licinius to escape from their hands? How could it have been more difficult to seize him when he drew back to avoid handing over the box, than it would have been if he had handed it over? For they had been posted in readiness to seize Licinius, to catch him in the act, either when he had the poison in his hands, or when he had handed it over. This was the lady’s whole idea, this was the part of those who were asked to carry it out; why you say that “they darted out accidentally,” and too soon, I cannot understand. They had been asked to do this, they had been stationed there just on purpose that the poison, the plot, in fact the crime itself, might be palpably demonstrated.

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Could they have chosen a better time to dart out than after Licinius had arrived, while holding in his hand the box of poison? For when it had been already handed over to the slaves, if the lady’s friends had suddenly left their hiding-place inside the baths, and seized Licinius, he would have been found imploring protection, denying that he had handed over that box to them. And how were they to refute him? Were they to say that they saw him? In the first place, they would be bringing on their own heads a charge of a most serious crime; secondly, they would have to say that they saw what they could not have seen from the place where they had been posted. They therefore showed themselves just at the very moment after Licinius had arrived, when he was getting out the box, stretching forth his hand, handing over the poison. So, then, we have the finale of a mime, not of a proper play; the sort of thing where, when no fit ending can be found, someone escapes from someone’s clutches, off go the clappers, and we get the curtain.

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Why was it, I ask, that when Licinius was faltering, retreating, striving to escape, those warriors under their feminine orders allowed him to give them the slip? Why did they not seize him, why did they not on his own confession, in the sight of so many witnesses, and by the cry of the deed, firmly model a charge of an outrageous crime? Perhaps they were afraid that so many of them could not overpower a single man, they strong and he weak, they alert and he terrified? There is no argument in the facts, no suspicion in the case, no conclusion in the charge that can possibly be discovered. So this case, without any argument, or inference, or those indications by which light is usually thrown upon truth, is left entirely to the witnesses. These witnesses, gentlemen, I now wait for, not only without alarm, but even with some hope of amusement.

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My mind is athrill at the idea of seeing, in the first place, these young dandies, intimate friends of a rich and high-born lady, and, then again, those valiant warriors, posted by their commandress in ambush and in garrison at the Baths. I intend to ask them how or where they concealed themselves; whether it was a bath-tub, or a “Trojan Horse,“ which received and protected so many invincible warriors, waging war for a woman. In truth, I will force them to answer this question, why so many strong men did not either seize him where he stood or overtake him in his flight, a man alone and so weak, as you see; in my opinion they will never disentangle themselves if they come forward into the witness-box. Although at dinner parties they are humorous, witty, sometimes glib over their cups, the idea of a court is one thing, that of a dining-room is another; benches here and couches there have different meanings; to face judges and fellow-revellers is not the same thing; in short, the light of the sun is far different from the light of lamps. And so we will shake out all their pretty ways, all their follies, if they come forward. But let them listen to me: let them busy themselves elsewhere, let them curry favour by other means, let them show themselves off in other ways, let them ingratiate themselves with their lady by their elegant manners, outdo the rest by their extravagance, be always by her side, lie at her feet, be her humble servants; but let them spare the life and fortunes of an innocent man.

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But, the accusers say, these slaves have been manumitted with the approval of her kinsmen, most noble and illustrious persons. At last, then, we have found something which that lady may be said to have done with the approval and with the sanction of those gallant gentlemen, her relatives. But I desire to know what is the drift of that manumission; for it either means that a charge had been concocted against Caelius or that a possibility of examination had been eliminated or that a justification was found for rewarding slaves who shared so many of her secrets. “ But,” I am told, “her kinsmen approved.” Why should they not, since you said that you reported to them facts not brought to you by others, but discovered by you yourself?