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C.D. Yonge translation

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Book II chapters 15-22

XV. These arguments then which can be transferred to many causes, we call common topics. For a common topic either contains some amplification of a well understood thing, --as if any one were desirous to show that a man who has murdered his father is worthy of the very extremity of punishment; and this topic is not to be used except when the cause has been proved and is being summed up;--or of a doubtful matter which has some probable arguments which can be produced on the other side of the question also; as a man may say that it is right to put confidence in suspicions, and, on the contrary, that it is not right to put confidence in suspicions. And a portion of the common topics is employed in indignation or in complaint, concerning which we have spoken already. A part is used in urging any probable reason on either side.

But an oration is chiefly distinguished and made plain by a sparing introduction of common topics, and by giving the hearers actual information by some topics, and by confirming previously used arguments in the same way. For it is allowable to say something common when any topic peculiar to the cause is introduced with care; and when the mind of the hearer is refreshed so as to be inclined to attend to what follows, or is reawakened by everything which has been already said. For all the embellishments of elocution, in which there is a great deal both of sweetness and gravity, and all things, too, which have any dignity in the invention of words or sentences, are bestowed upon common topics.

Wherefore there are not as many common topics for orators as there are for lawyers. For they cannot be handled with elegance and weight, as their nature requires, except by those who have acquired a great flow of words and ideas by constant practice. And this is enough for us to say in a general way concerning the entire class of common topics.

XVI. Now we will proceed to explain what common topics are usually available in a conjectural statement of a case. As for instance:-- that it is proper to place confidence in suspicions; or that it is not proper: that it is proper to believe witnesses; or that it is not proper: that it is proper to believe examinations; or that it is not proper: that it is proper to pay attention to the previous course of a man's life; or that it is not proper: that it is quite natural that a man who has done so and so should have committed this crime also; or that it is not natural: that it is especially necessary to consider the motive; or that it is not necessary. And all these common topics, and any others which arise out of any argument peculiar to the cause in hand, may be turned either way.

But there is one certain topic for an accuser by which he exaggerates the atrocity of an action; and there is another by which he says that it is not necessary to pity the miserable. That, too, is a topic for an advocate for the defence by which the false accusations of the accusers are shown up with indignation; and that by which pity is endeavoured to be excited by complaints. These and all other common topics are derived from the same rules from which the other systems of arguments proceed; but those are handled in a more delicate, and acute, and subtle manner; and these with more gravity, and more embellishment, and with carefully selected words and ideas. For in them the object is, that that which is stated may appear to be true. In these, although it is desirable to preserve the appearance of truth, still the main object is to give importance to the statement. Now let us pass on to another statement of the case.

XVII. When there is a dispute as to the name of a thing, because the meaning of a name is to be defined by words, it is called a definitive statement. By way of giving an example of this, the following case may be adduced. Caius Flaminius, who as consul met with great disasters in the second Punic war, when he was tribune of the people, proposed, in a very seditious manner, an agrarian law to the people, against the consent of the senate, and altogether against the will of all the nobles. While he was holding an assembly of the people, his own father dragged him from the temple. He is impeached of treason. The charge is--"You attacked the majesty of the people in dragging down a tribune of the people from the temple." The denial is--"I did not attack the majesty of the people." The question is--" Whether he attacked the majesty of the people or not." The argument is--"I only used the power which I legitimately had over my own son." The denial of this argument is--But a man who, by the power belonging to him as a father, that is to say, as a private individual, attacks the power of a tribune of the people, that is to say, the power of the people itself, attacks the majesty of the people." The question for the judges is-- "Whether a man attacks the majesty of the people who uses his power as a father in opposition to the power of a tribune." And all the arguments must be brought to bear on this question.

And, that no one may suppose by any chance that we are not aware that some other statement of the case may perhaps be applicable to this cause, we are taking that portion only for which we are going to give rules. But when all parts have been explained in this book, any one, if he will only attend diligently, will see every sort of statement in every sort of cause, and all their parts, and all the discussions which are incidental to them. For we shall mention them all.

The first topic then for an accuser is a short and plain definition, and one in accordance with the general opinion of men, of that name, the meaning of which is the subject of inquiry. In this manner: - "To attack the majesty of the people is to detract from the dignity, or the rank, or the power of the people, or of those men to whom the people has given power." This definition being thus briefly set forth in words, must be confirmed by many assertions and reasons. and must be shown to be such as you have described it. Afterwards it will be desirable to add to the definition which you have given, the action of the man who is accused, and to add it too with reference to the character which you have proved it to have. Take for instance--"to attack the majesty of the people." You must show that the adversary does attack the majesty of the people, and you must confirm this whole topic by a common topic, by which the atrocity or indignity of the fact, and the whole guilt of it, and also our indignation at it, may be increased.

After that it will be desirable to invalidate the definition of the adversaries; but that will be invalidated if it be proved to be false. This proof must be deduced from the belief of men concerning it, when we consider in what manner and under what circumstances men are accustomed to use that expression in their ordinary writing or talking. It will also be invalidated if the proof of that description be shown to be discreditable or useless, and if it be shown what disadvantages will ensue if that position be once admitted. And it will be derived from the divisions of honour and usefulness, concerning which we will give rules when we lay down a system of deliberations. And if we compare the definition given by our adversaries with our own definition, and prove our own to be true, and honourable, and useful, and theirs to be entirely different. But we shall seek out things like them in an affair of either greater, or less, or equal importance, from which our description will be proved.

XVIII. Now, if there be more matters to be defined,--as for instance, if we inquire whether he is a thief or a sacrilegious person who has stolen sacred vessels from a private house,-- we shall have to employ many definitions; and then the whole cause will have to be dealt with on a similar principle. But it is a common topic to dwell on the wickedness of that man who endeavours to wrest to his own purposes not only the effect of things, but also the meaning of words, in order both to do as he pleases, and to call what he does by whatever name he likes.

Then the first topic to be used by an advocate for the defence, is also a brief and plain definition of a name, adopted in accordance with the opinion of men. In this way:--To diminish the majesty of the people is to usurp some of the public powers when you are not invested with any office. And then the confirmation of this definition is derived from similar instances and similar principles. Afterwards comes the separation of one's own action from that definition. Then comes the common topic by which the expediency or honesty of the action is increased.

Then comes the reprehension of the definition of the opposite party, which is also derived from all the same topics as those which we have prescribed to the accuser. And afterwards other arguments will be adduced besides the common topic. But that will be a common topic for the advocate of the defence to use, by which he will express indignation that the accuser not only alters facts in order to bring him into danger, but that he attempts also to alter words. For those common topics which are assumed either for the purpose of demonstrating the falsehood of the accusations of the prosecutor, or for exciting pity, or for expressing indignation at an action, or for the purpose of deterring people from showing pity, are derived from the magnitude of the danger, not from the nature of the cause. Wherefore they are incidental not to every cause, but to every description of cause. We have made mention of them in speaking of the conjectural statement of a case; but we shall use induction when the cause requires.

XIX. But when the pleading appears to require some translation, or to need any alteration, either because he is not pleading who ought to do so, or he is not pleading with the man he ought, or before the men whom he ought to have for hearers, or in accordance with the proper law, or under liability to the proper punishment, or in reference to the proper accusation, or at the proper time, it is then called a transferable statement of the case. We should require many examples of this if we were to inquire into every sort of translation, but because the principle on which the rules proceed is similar, we have no need of a superfluity of instances. And in our usual practice it happens from many causes that such translations occur but seldom. For many actions are prevented by the exceptions allowed by the praetors; and we have the civil law established in such a way that that man is sure to lose his cause who does not conduct it as he ought. So that those actions greatly depend on the state of the law. For there the exceptions are demanded, and an opportunity is allowed of conducting the cause in some manner, and every formula of private actions is arranged. But in actual trials, they occur less frequently, and yet, if they ever do occur at all, they are such that by themselves they have less strength, but they are confirmed by the assumption of some other statement in addition to them. As in a certain trial which took place: "When a certain person had been prosecuted for poisoning, and, because he was also accused of parricide, the trial was ordered to proceed out of its regular order, when in the accusation some charges were corroborated by witnesses and arguments, but the parricide was barely mentioned; it was proper for the advocate for the defence to dwell much and long on this circumstance; as, nothing whatever was proved respecting the death of the accused person's parent, and therefore that it was a scandalous thing to inflict that punishment on him which is inflicted on parricides; but that that must inevitably be the case if he were convicted; since that it is added as one of the counts of the indictment, and since it is on that account that the trial has been ordered to be taken out of its regular order. Therefore if it is not right that that punishment should be inflicted on the criminal, it is also not right that he should be convicted, since that punishment must inevitably follow a conviction." Here the advocate for the defence, by bringing the commutation of the punishment into his speech, according to the transferable class of topics, will invalidate the whole accusation. But he will also confirm the alteration by a conjectural statement of the case when employed in defending his client on the other charges.

XX. But we may give an example of translation in a cause, in this way:--When certain armed men had come for the purpose of committing violence, and armed men were also prepared on the other side; and when one of the armed men with his sword cut off the hand of a certain Roman knight who resisted his violence; the man whose hand had been cut off brings an action for the injury. The man against whom the action is brought pleads a demurrer before the praetor, without there being any prejudice to a man on trial for his life. The man who brings the action demands a trial on the simple fact; the man against whom the action is brought says that a demurrer ought to be added. The question is--"Shall the demurrer be allowed or not?" The reason is-- "No, for it is not desirable in an action for damages that there should be any prejudged decision of a crime, such as is the subject of inquiry when assassins are on their trial." The arguments intended to invalidate this reason are--"The injuries are such that it is a shame that a decision should not be come to as early as possible." The thing to be decided is--"Whether the atrocity of the injuries is a sufficient reason why, while that point is before the tribunal, a previous decision should be given concerning some greater crime, concerning which a tribunal is prepared." And this is the example. But in every cause the question ought to be put to both parties, by whom, and by whose agency, and how, and when it is desirable that the action should be brought, or the decision given; or what ought to be decided concerning that matter.

That ought to be assumed from the divisions of the law, concerning which we must speak hereafter; and we then ought to argue as to what is usually done in similar cases, and to consider whether, in this instance, out of wickedness, one course is really adopted and another pretended; or whether the tribunal has been appointed and the action allowed to proceed through folly or necessity, because it could not be done in any other manner, or owing to an opportunity which offered for acting in such a manner; or whether it has been done rightly without any interruption of any sort. But it is a common topic to urge against the man who seeks to avail himself of a demurrer to an action, that he is fleeing from a decision and from punishment, because he has no confidence in the justice of his cause. And that, owing to the demurrer, everything will be in confusion, if matters are not conducted and brought into court as they ought to be; that is to say, if it is either pleaded against a man it ought not, or with an improper penalty, or with an improper charge, or at an improper time; and this principle applies to any confusion of every sort of tribunal. Those three statements of cases then, which are not susceptible of any decisions, must be treated in this manner. At present let us consider the question and its divisions on general principles.

XXI. When the fact and the name of the action in question is agreed upon, and when there is no dispute as to the character of the action to be commenced; then the effect, and the nature, and the character of the business is inquired into. We have already said, that there appear to be two divisions of this; one which relates to facts, and one which relates to law. It is like this: "A certain person made a minor his heir; but the minor died before he had come into the property, which was under the care of guardians. A dispute has arisen concerning the inheritance which came to the minor, between those who are the reversionary heirs of the father of the minor,--the possession belongs to the reversionary heirs." The first statement is that of the next of kin-- "That money, concerning which he, whose next of kin we are, said nothing in his will, belongs to us." The reply is--"No; it belongs to us who are the reversionary heirs according to the will of his father." The thing to be inquired into is--To whom does it rightfully belong? The argument is--"For the father made a will for himself and for his son as long as the latter was a minor; wherefore it is quite clear that the things which belonged to the son are now ours, according to the will of the father." The argument to upset this is--"Aye, the father made his own will, and appointed you as reversionary heir, not to his son, but himself. Wherefore, nothing except what belonged to him himself can be yours by his will." The point to be determined is, whether any one can make a will to affect the property of his son who is a minor; or, whether the reversionary heirs of the father of the family himself, are not the heirs of his son also as long as he is a minor." And it is not foreign to the subject, (in order that I may not, on the one hand, omit to mention it, or, on the other, keep continually repeating it,) to mention a thing here which has a bearing on many questions. There are causes which have many reasons, though the grounds of the cause are simple; and that is the case when what has been done, or what is being defended, may appear right or natural on many different accounts; as in this very cause. For this further reason may be suggested by the heirs--"For there cannot be more heirs than one of one property, for causes quite dissimilar; nor has it ever happened, that one man was heir by will, and another by law, of the same property." This, again, is what will be replied, in order to invalidate this--"It is not one property only; because one part of it was the adventitious property of the minor, whose heir no one had been appointed by will at that time, in the case of anything happening to the minor; and with respect to the other portion of the property, the inclination of the father, even after he was dead, had the greatest weight, and that, now that the minor is dead, gives the property to his own heirs."

The question to be decided is, "Whether it was one property?" And then, if they employ this argument by way of invalidating the other, "That there can be many heirs of one property for quite dissimilar causes," the question to be decided arises out of that argument; namely, "Whether there can be more heirs than one, of different classes and character, to one property?"

XXII. Therefore, in one statement of the case, it has been understood how there are more reasons than one; more topics than one to invalidate such reasons; and besides that, more questions than one for the decision of the judge. Now let us look to the rules for this class of question. We must consider in what the rights of each party, or of all the parties (if there are many parties to the suit), consist. The beginning, then, appears derived from nature; but some things seem to have become adopted in practice for some consideration of expediency which is either more or less evident to us. But afterwards things which were approved of, or which seemed useful, either through habit, or because of their truth, appeared to have been confirmed by laws; and some things seem to be a law of nature, which it is not any vague opinion, but a sort of innate instinct that implants in us; as religion, piety, revenge for injuries, gratitude, attention to superiors, and truth. They call religion, that which is conversant with the fear of, and ceremonious observance paid to the gods; they call that piety, which warns us to fulfil our duties towards our country, our parents, or others connected with us by ties of blood; gratitude is that which retains a recollection of honours and benefits conferred on one, and acts of friendship done to one, and which shows itself by a requital of good offices; revenge for injuries is that by which we repel violence and insult from ourselves and from those who ought to be dear to us, by defending or avenging ourselves, and by means of which we punish offences; attention to superiors, they call the feeling under the influence of which we feel reverence for and pay respect to those who excel us in wisdom or honour or in any dignity; truth, they style that habit by which we take care that nothing has been or shall be done in any other manner than what we state. And the laws of nature themselves are less inquired into in a controversy of this sort, because they have no particular connexion with the civil law of which we are speaking, and also, because they are somewhat remote from ordinary understandings. Still it is often desirable to introduce them for the purpose of some comparison, or with a view to add dignity to the discussion.

But the laws of habit are considered to be those which, without any written law, antiquity has sanctioned by the common consent of all men. And with reference to this habit there are some laws which are now quite fixed by their antiquity. Of which sort there are many other laws also, and among them far the greatest part of those laws which the praetors are in the habit of including in their edicts. But some kinds of law have already been established by certain custom: such as those relating to covenants, equity, formal decisions. A covenant is that which is agreed upon between two parties, because it is considered to be so just that it is said to be enforced by justice; equity is that which is equal to all men; a formal decision is that by which something has been established by the declared opinion of some person or persons authorized to pronounce one. As for regular laws, they can only be ascertained from the laws. It is desirable, then, by trying over every part of the law, to take notice of and to extract from these portions of the law whatever shall appear to arise out of the case itself, or out of a similar one, or out of one of greater or less importance. But since, as has been already said, there are two kinds of common topics, one of which contains the amplification of a doubtful matter, and the other of a certain one, we must consider what the case itself suggests, and what can be and ought to be amplified by a common topic. For certain topics to suit every possible case cannot be laid down; and perhaps in most of them it will be necessary at times to rely on the authority of the lawyers, and at times to speak against it. But we must consider, in this case and in all cases, whether the case itself suggests any common topics besides those which we have mentioned.

Now let us consider the juridical kind of inquiry, and its different divisions.


Cicero, tr. C.D. Yonge

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