"O Tempora! O Mores!"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Lucius Sergius Catiline (c. 108–62 B.C.) decided to enter public life in Rome, despite his reputation among the gilded youths of the city for excesses and debauchery. He conspired in 63 B.C. to win the office of Consul by murdering some of the competitors. Because the signal was given prematurely, the scheme failed. After having run unsuccessfully against Cicero in 63 B.C., Catiline announced his candidacy for the 62 B.C. elections, which he hoped to win by seizing the government and cancelling debts. Rumor again spread that while Manlius was advancing with his army on Rome, Catiline would murder the leading senators. Amid the terror in the city at the violence of the plans, Cicero called a meeting of the Senate in the Temple of Jupiter Stator, where the members would be safer than in the Senate House. Here in his "First Oration Against Catiline," he denounced the man in a series of dramatic questions, including some known even to those who have never studied Latin: "O tempora! O mores!" That night Catiline left the city. Cicero continued the attack by more oratory that resulted in a vote for the death sentence of the conspirators who had remained in Rome. Few denunciations of any man are more violent than the beginning of this one, called in Latin "In Catilinam." However, it did not result in any Senate action against Catiline, who fled the city and raised an army to control Rome by force. His army was defeated early in 62 B.C. by Antonius, and Catiline perished bravely with his troops.

In heaven's name, Catiline, how long will you abuse our patience? How long will that madness of yours mock us? To what limit will your unbridled audacity vaunt itself? Is it nothing to you that the Palatine has its garrison by night, nothing to you that the city is full of patrols, nothing that the populace is in a panic, nothing that all honest men have joined forces, nothing that the senate is convened in this stronghold, is it nothing to see the look on all these faces? Do you not know that your plans are disclosed? Do you not see that your conspiracy is bound hand and foot by the knowledge of all these men? Who of us do you think is ignorant of what you did last night, what you did the night before, where you were, whom you called together, what plans you took? O what times! O what customs! The senate knows these things, the consul sees them. Yet this man lives. Lives, did I say? Nay, more, he walks into the senate, he takes part in the public counsel. He singles out and marks with his glance each one of us for murder.