Excerpt of Imperium by Robert Harris
(Page 2 of 4)
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"Here," replied Lucius. "In the tablinum. But I must warn you, they do not want to testify."
Cicero hurried through to find two formidable men of middle age --
"the perfect witnesses from my point of view," as Cicero afterwards
described them, "prosperous, respectable, sober, and above all -- not
Sicilian." As Lucius had predicted, they were reluctant to get
involved. They were businessmen, with no desire to make powerful
enemies, and did not relish the prospect of taking starring roles in
Cicero's great anti-aristocratic production in the Roman Forum. But he
wore them down, for they were not fools, either, and could see that in
the ledger of profit and loss, they stood to gain most by aligning
themselves with the side that was winning. "Do you remember what Pompey
said to Sulla, when the old man tried to deny him a triumph on his
twenty-sixth birthday?" asked Cicero. "He told me over dinner the other
night: 'More people worship a rising than a setting sun.'" This potent
combination of name-dropping and appeals to patriotism and
self-interest at last brought them around, and by the time they went in
to dinner with Cicero and his family they had pledged their support.
"I knew if I had them in your company for a few moments," whispered Lucius, "they would do whatever you wanted."
I had expected Cicero to put them on the witness stand the very next
day, but he was too smart for that. "A show must always end with a
climax," he said. He was ratcheting up the level of outrage with each
new piece of evidence, having moved on through judicial corruption,
extortion, and straightforward robbery to cruel and unusual punishment.
On the eighth day of the trial, he dealt with the testimony of two
Sicilian naval captains, Phalacrus of Centuripae and Onasus of Segesta,
who described how they and their men had escaped floggings and
executions by bribing Verres's freedman Timarchides (present in court,
I am glad to say, to experience his humiliation personally). Worse: the
families of those who had not been able to raise sufficient funds to
secure the release of their relatives had been told they would still
have to pay a bribe to the official executioner, Sextius, or he would
deliberately make a mess of the beheadings. "Think of that unbearable
burden of pain," declaimed Cicero, "of the anguish that racked those
unhappy parents, thus compelled to purchase for their children by
bribery not life but a speedy death!" I could see the senators on the
jury shaking their heads at this and muttering to one another, and each
time Glabrio invited Hortensius to cross-examine the witnesses, and
Hortensius simply responded yet again, "No questions," they groaned.
Their position was becoming intolerable, and that night the first
rumors reached us that Verres had already packed up the contents of his
house and was preparing to flee into exile.
Such was the state of affairs on the ninth day, when we brought
Annius and Numitorius into court. If anything, the crowd in the Forum
was bigger than ever, for there were now only two days left until
Pompey's great games. Verres came late and obviously drunk. He stumbled
as he climbed the steps of the temple up to the tribunal, and
Hortensius had to steady him as the crowd roared with laughter. As he
passed Cicero's place, he flashed him a shattered, red-eyed look of
fear and rage -- the hunted, cornered look of an animal: the Boar at
bay. Cicero got straight down to business and called as his first
witness Annius, who described how he had been inspecting a cargo down
at the harbor in Syracuse one morning when a friend had come running to
tell him that their business associate, Herennius, was in chains in the
forum and pleading for his life.
"So what did you do?"
"Naturally, I went at once."
"And what was the scene?"
"There were perhaps a hundred people crying out that Herennius was a
Roman citizen and could not be executed without a proper trial."
Copyright © 2006 by Robert Harris