"How did you all know that Herennius was a Roman? Was he not a banker from Spain?"
"Many of us knew him personally. Although he had business in Spain,
he had been born to a Roman family in Syracuse and had grown up in the
"And what was Verres's response to your pleas?"
"He ordered Herennius to be beheaded immediately."
There was a groan of horror around the court.
"And who dealt the fatal blow?"
"The public executioner, Sextius."
"And did he make a clean job of it?"
"I am afraid he did not, no."
"Clearly," said Cicero, turning to the jury, "he had not paid Verres and his gang of thieves a large enough bribe."
For most of the trial, Verres had sat slumped in his chair, but on
this morning, fired by drink, he jumped up and began shouting that he
had never taken any such bribe. Hortensius had to pull him down. Cicero
ignored him and went on calmly questioning his witness.
"This is an extraordinary situation, is it not? A hundred of you
vouch for the identity of this Roman citizen, yet Verres does not even
wait an hour to establish the truth of who he is. How do you account
"I can account for it easily, senator. Herennius was a passenger on
a ship from Spain that was impounded with all its cargo by Verres's
agents. He was sent to the Stone Quarries, along with everyone else on
board, then dragged out to be publicly executed as a pirate. What
Verres did not realize was that Herennius was not from Spain at all. He
was known to the Roman community in Syracuse and would be recognized.
But by the time Verres discovered his mistake, Herennius could not be
allowed to go free, because he knew too much about what the governor
was up to."
"Forgive me, I do not understand," said Cicero, playing the
innocent. "Why would Verres want to execute an innocent passenger on a
cargo ship as a pirate?"
"He needed to show a sufficient number of executions."
"Because he was being paid bribes to let the real pirates go free."
Verres was on his feet again shouting that it was a lie, and this
time Cicero took a few paces toward him. "A lie, you monster? A lie?
Then why in your own prison records does it state that Herennius was
released? And why do they further state that the notorious pirate
captain Heracleo was executed, when no one on the island ever saw him
die? I shall tell you why -- because you, the Roman governor,
responsible for the safety of the seas, were all the while taking
bribes from the very pirates themselves!"
"Cicero, the great lawyer, who thinks himself so clever!" said
Verres bitterly, his words slurred by drink. "Who thinks he knows
everything! Well, here is something you do not know. I have Heracleo in
my private custody, here in my house in Rome, and he can tell you all
himself that it is a lie!"
Amazing now, to reflect that a man could blurt out something so
foolish, but the facts are there -- they are in the record -- and amid
the pandemonium in court, Cicero could be heard demanding of Glabrio
that the famous pirate be fetched from Verres's house by the lictors
and placed in proper official custody, "for the public safety." Then,
while that was being done, he called as his second witness of the day
Gaius Numitorius. Privately I thought that Cicero was rushing it too
much: that he could have milked the admission about Heracleo for more.
But the great advocate had sensed that the moment of the kill had
arrived, and for months, ever since we had first landed in Sicily, he
had known exactly the blade he wished to use. Numitorius swore an oath
to tell the truth and took the stand, and Cicero quickly led him
through his testimony to establish the essential facts about Publius
Gavius: that he was a merchant traveling on a ship from Spain; that his
ship had been impounded and the passengers all taken to the Stone
Quarries, from which Gavius had somehow managed to escape; that he had
made his way to Messana to take a ship to the mainland, had been
apprehended as he went aboard, and had been handed over to Verres when
he visited the town. The silence of the listening multitudes was
Kenn Nesbitt is new Children's Poet Laureate(Jun 12 2013) Kenn Nesbitt has been named the new Children's Poet Laureate: Consultant in Children's Poetry to the Poetry Foundation, which noted that the two-year position...