E&M has revealed the ties between ancient Rome and contemporary Europe – so what would be more topical than studying like an ancient Roman? But not just any ancient Roman. Forget those eking out a pale, shadowy existence on our contemporary menu cards: the boring Caesar Salads, the cheap Neri d’Avola, not to mention the infamous Marcus Tullius Chick-pea paste. Face the one that’s worse than all the rest put together: Lucius Sergius Catiline.

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Lucius Sergius Catiline, pondering which iniquity to commit next. | Picture: Detail of Maccari’s fresco in Palazzo Madama, Rome, Public Domain

If you study like Catiline, you will have all the talent that is needed for a great career. You will be a gifted orator, capable of out-talking even the most highly praised speakers of your time, and of all times. You will have powerful supporters. You will grasp your daring goal in your hands more than once. And you will manage to spoil it, each time, completely. If you study like Catiline, you will be the most ambitious loser. This study career takes place some 60 years before the birth of Christ.

Family ties

It always helps to be descended from a noble and respected family lineage – in Catiline’s case those were the Sergians. Even though this may have been a bonus for him, he managed to gamble it all away. And yet Catiline’s family relationships were been remarkably intense, and in this he was far ahead of his time. In the very caput orbis in which – nowadays, Napolitane consule so to speak – a certain Silvius Bungabunganius Berlusconius is in all seriousness sued for entertaining tender bonds of love with an underage princess of Carthago (or whatever Carthago may have come to today), Catiline raped his brother’s virgin daughter, who afterwards was not a virgin daughter anymore. He was gentleman enough to kill his brother in time. And being the man of law and order he was, he inscribed the late brother afterwards on a black-list of political enemies to be killed.

Those young years of Lucius Sergius Catiline were the rough times of the dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who practically had everybody he considered opposition eliminated. Nepotism was far from young Catiline. Working his way through Sulla’s killing lists, he slaughtered his wife’s brother Marcus Marius Gratidianus, and, quite symmetrically, his sister’s husband Quintus Caecilius.

Career

Catiline was a capable one. Whilst any political careerist of his time was expected to indulge in the bloody exploitation of the Roman provinces as a fixed-term local governor (pro praetore), Catiline excelled by being just that tiny bit more exploitative than his colleagues (in the province of Africa, thus antedating many of his European heirs to come). It can be assumed that he was not untalented as a military leader, but he did not come to make this his core qualification.

He ran for consul four times. He failed four times. Some pedant had brought a case against him, for abuse of authority. The latter was pending for years, and hindered his two subsequent candidatures, while the third time he was defeated by rhetoric agitation of the abominable chick-pea guy, who became consul instead of him and would torture generations of Latin learners thousands of years later on, under the name of Cicero. Catiline ran again, and lost again. From this election campaign dates the noteworthy quote that if someone wanted to set fire to his existence, Catiline was prepared to extinguish the fire by tearing the entire (Senate) building down.

And he was to keep his word. While time was running out for a fifth candidature, Catiline’s ally Gaius Manlius started recruiting troops in the provinces of Etruria and Gallia Citerior. The plan involved starting fires in different places in Rome, creating the appropriate chaos for a coup d’etat (along with murdering Cicero and his supporters).

Women

Women cannot be lacking for those studying like Catiline. And yet these women will come to grief. Catiline’s start in Roman politics was damaged when he was sued for having an illicit sexual relationship with a Vestal virgin, who after that was not a virgin anymore. Contemporary Rome – Napolitane Berlusconioque consule – would obviously discard the idea as absurd, or deem the opposite plausible, but in the ancient capital, breaking the chastity of a Vestal virgin, a priest of the Goddess Vesta, would be directly and devastatingly connected to the political well-being of the entire Republic. Thus it was only the recommendation of mighty patrons that saved Catiline from severe punishment. It is not known whether the Vestal virgin, who then was not a virgin anymore, was buried alive, as was the traditional treatment for those cases, but for sure, Catiline would not have been concerned about that.

One may assume that he might have learnt his lesson, but he had not. After all, though, he can be excused for the last woman to break his neck. This was a Lady of the beautiful name Fulvia, the beloved of Catiline’s colleague and co-conspiritor Quintus Curius – at least Quintus Curius laboured under this illusion. For Quintus Curius’ friend was in fact Marcus Tullius Cicero’s friend, and kept him briefed about the ongoing conspiracy. Consequently, the plot blew up, and Cicero proclaimed the senatus consultium ultimum, a sort of emergency legislation. It was becoming a tight squeeze for Catiline.

All in

What does such a man do when he finds himself accused of high treason? He frankly shows up in the Senate that is about to sue him, holds an inflammatory speech, shoots his prosecutors’ arguments to pieces, and magnanimously offers to undergo voluntary surveillance, to de facto imprison himself. What does such a man do in prison? He invites his fellow conspirators for a meeting at his home, parties with them and organises their morning visit to Cicero to slaughter him. What does such a man do, when he has finally failed, when his comrade-in-arms have been put straight before an emergency squad and extinguished, and he is left alone?

He attacks two armies that have come to encircle him, fights until the last man and kills a considerable number of his executioners before falling himself.

A final piece of advice from E&M

This is what such a man as Catiline does. Europe is not yet ready for a man like Catiline. Do not study like Catiline.

Cover photo: Cicero Denounces Catiline, Cesare Maccari, Public Domain

  • Christian Diemer is from Rottweil in South Germany. Having studied musicology, arts management, and composition in Weimar, he is now writing from Berlin and obscure spots in East Europe, where he is currently working on his PhD thesis about traditional music in Ukraine.

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