Rome, 63 B.C. (Plutarch, Life of Cicero 19.3, 20.1-2, 2nd cent. A.D. G)

Plutarch records a story which demonstrates how Cicero had divine support in his prosecution of the Catilinarian conspirators.

(19.3) It was now evening and a crowd had gathered. Cicero came forward and told the citizens what had happened. He was then escorted to the house of a friend and neighbour; his own was occupied by women who were celebrating the secret rites of the goddess whom the Romans call ‘Good’ (Agathe, i.e. in Latin, Bona) and the Greeks the ‘Women’s Goddess’ (Gynaikeia). Sacrifice is offered to this goddess annually in the house of the consul by his wife or mother, in the presence of the Vestal Virgins. Cicero went to his friend’s house, and began to deliberate with himself (since he had only a small entourage with him) how he should deal with the conspirators … (20.1) While he still did not know what to do, a sign was given to the women holding the sacrifice. Although the fire on it seemed to have died out, a large bright flame shot forth from the ash and burnt bark on the altar. The rest of the women were frightened, but the Vestals told Cicero’s wife Terentia to go to her husband as quickly as possible and tell him to do what he had decided to do on behalf of his country, because the goddess had sent a light to him to lead him to salvation and glory. Terentia – who was not meek or fearful by nature, but a particularly ambitious woman, as Cicero himself says, who was inclined to take a share in his political concerns rather than involve him in household affairs[1] – gave him the message and strengthened his determination against the conspirators.


1. Unfortunately Cicero’s own description of Terentia does not survive.