Story of Via Cluenzio                  

              Cicero and Sassia.        


          The most infamous name in all of the history of Larino is a woman named Sassia. You can read what Cicero said of her sixty-six years before the birth of Christ in his spirited defence titled, Pro Cluenzio.Sassia, who must have been uncommonly beautiful, was married to a respected noble of Larinum, Lucio Cluenzio Avito. He was killed in the Social Wars when the Italic tribes were overwhelmed by the Romans. Sassia, now a widow, had two children, a boy named Aulio and a girl named Cluenzia.

        Sassia, who seemed to have trouble controlling her appetites, fell in love with her daughter’s husband. She was so relentless in her pursuit of this much younger man that her daughter divorced him and he was free to actually marry Sassia.  

        The daughter was no match for the rapacious mother


        The son did everything he could to console his distraught sister 

        Later, when her young husband died, Sassia married again, this time to a man named Stazio Albio Oppianico. He took such a dislike to Aulo that Sassia’s son fled in fear of his life.
        When Stazio died, after four years of marriage to Sassia, Aulo was accused of murder by his own mother. He was said to have bribed a slave to give poisoned bread to his stepfather.
        The case attracted the attention of Cicero. Normally he preferred to function as a prosecutor, but in this instance he acted to defend a young man who had been wronged by a vengeful and vindictive mother.


          To this day you can read precisely what Cicero said in the court.

        *Note the number of references to Larinum


Here are Cicero's words exactly as they were written down in 66 BC:

Aulus Cluentius Habitus, this man's father, O judges, was a man by far the most distinguished for valour, for reputation and for nobleness of birth, not only of the municipality of Larinum, of which he was a native, but also of all that district and neighbourhood. When he died, in the consulship of Sulla and Pompeius, he left this son, a boy fifteen years old, and a daughter grown up and of marriageable age, who a short time after her father's death married Aulus Aurius Melinus, her own cousin, a youth of the fairest possible reputation, as was then supposed, among his countrymen, for honour and nobleness. This marriage subsisted with all respectability and all concord; when on a sudden there arose the nefarious lust of an abandoned woman, united not only with infamy but even with impiety. For Sassia, the mother of this Habitus, (for she shall be called his mother by me, just for the name's sake, although she behaves towards him with the hatred and cruelty of an enemy,)--she shall, I say, be called his mother; nor will I even so speak of her wickedness and barbarity as to forget the name to which nature entitles her; (for the more lovable and amiable the name of mother is, the more will you think the extraordinary wickedness of that mother, who for these many years has been wishing her son dead, and who wishes it now more than ever, worthy of all possible hatred.) She, then, the mother of Habitus, being charmed in a most impious matter with love for that young man, Melinus, her own son-in-law, at first restrained her desires as she could, but she did not do that long. Presently, she began to get so furious in her insane passion, she began to be so hurried away by her lust, that neither modesty, nor chastity, nor piety, nor the disgrace to her family, nor the opinion of men, nor the indignation of her son, nor the grief of her daughter, could recall her from her desires. She seduced the mind of the young man, not yet matured by wisdom and reason, with all those temptations with which that early age can be charmed and allured. Her daughter, who was tormented not only with the common indignation which all women feel at injuries of that sort from their husbands, but who also was unable to endure the infamous prostitution of her mother, of which she did not think that she could even complain to any one without committing a sin herself, wished the rest of the world to remain in ignorance of this her terrible misfortune, and wasted away in grief and tears in the arms and on the bosom of Cluentius, her most affectionate brother. However, there is a sudden divorce, which appeared likely to be a consolation for all her misfortunes. Cluentia departs from Melinus; not unwilling to be released from the infliction of such injuries, yet not willing to lose her husband. But then that admirable and illustrious mother of hers began openly to exult with joy, to triumph in her delight, victorious over her daughter, not over her lust. Therefore she did not choose her reputation to be attacked any longer by uncertain suspicions; she orders that genial bed, which two years before she had decked for her daughter on her marriage, to be decked and prepared for herself in the very same house, having driven and forced her daughter out of it. The mother-in-law marries the son-in-law, no one looking favourably on the deed, no one approving it, all foreboding a dismal end to it.


Oh, the incredible wickedness of the woman, and, with the exception of this one single instance, unheard of since the world began! Oh, the unbridled and unrestrained lust! Oh, the extraordinary audacity of her conduct! To think that she did not fear (even if she disregarded the anger of the gods and the scorn of men) that nuptial night and those bridal torches! that she did not dread the threshold of that chamber! nor the bed of her daughter! nor those very walls, the witnesses of the former wedding! She broke down and overthrew everything in her passion and her madness; lust got the better of shame, audacity subdued fear, mad passion conquered reason. Her son was indignant at this common disgrace of his family, of his blood, and of his name. His misery was increased by the daily complaints and incessant weeping of his sister; still he resolved that he ought to do nothing more himself with reference to his grievous injuries and the terrible wickedness of his mother, beyond ceasing to consider her as his mother; lest, if he did continue to behave to her as if she were his mother, he might be thought not only to see, but in his heart to approve of, those things which he could not behold without the greatest anguish of mind.


You have heard what was the origin of the bad feeling between him and his mother; when you know the rest, you will perceive that I feared this with reference to our care; for, I am not ignorant that, whatever sort of woman a mother may be, still in a trial in which her son is concerned, it is scarcely fitting that any mention should be made of the infamy of his mother. I should not, O judges, be fit to conduct any cause, if, when I was employed in warding off danger from a friend, I were to fail to see this which is implanted and deeply rooted in the common feelings of all men, and in their very nature. I am quite aware, that it is right for men not only to be silent about the injuries which they suffer from their parents, but even to bear them with equanimity; but I think that those things which can be borne ought to be borne, that those things which can be buried in silence ought to be buried in silence. [18] Aulus Cluentius has seen no calamity in his whole life, has encountered no peril of death, has feared no evil, which has not been contrived against, and brought to bear upon him, from beginning to end, by his mother. But all these things he would say nothing of at the present moment, and would allow them to be buried, if possible, in oblivion, and if not, at all events in silence as far as he is concerned, but she does these things in such a manner that he is totally unable to be silent about them; for this very trial, this danger in which he now is, this accusation which is brought against him, all the multitude of witnesses which is to appear, has all been provided originally by his mother; is marshalled by his mother at this present time; and is furthered with all her wealth and all her influence. She herself has lately hastened from Larinum to Rome for the sake of destroying this her son. The woman' is at hand, bold, wealthy and cruel. She has provided accusers; she has trained witnesses; she rejoices in the mourning garments and miserable appearance of Cluentius; she longs for his destruction; she would be willing to shed her own blood to the last drop, if she can only see his blood shed first. Unless you have all these circumstances proved to you in the course of this trial, I give you leave to think that she is unjustly brought before the court by me now; but if all these things are made as plain as they are abominable, then you ought to pardon Cluentius for allowing these things to be said by me; and you ought not to pardon me if I were silent under such circumstances
In the first place, remark the audacity of the man. He was anxious to marry Sassia, the mother of Habitus, her whose husband, Aulus Aurius, he had murdered. It is hard to say whether he who wished such a thing was the more impudent, or she who consented was the more heartless.: However, remark the humanity and virtue of both of them. Oppianicus asks, and most earnestly entreats Sassia to marry him. But she does not marvel at his audacity,--does not scorn and reject his impudence, she is not even alarmed at the idea of the house of Oppianicus, red with her husband's blood; but she says that she has a repugnance to this marriage, because he has three sons. Oppianicus, who coveted Sassia's money, thought that he must seek at home for a remedy for that obstacle which was opposed to his marriage. For as he had an infant son by Novia, and as a second son of his, whom he had had by Papia, was being brought up under his mother's eye at Teanum in Apulia, which is about eighteen miles from Larinum, on a sudden, without alleging any reason, he sends for the boy from Teanum, which he had previously never been accustomed to do, except at the time of the public games, or on days of festival. His miserable mother, suspecting no evil, sends him. He pretended to set out himself to Tarentum; and on that very day the boy, though at the eleventh hour he had been seen in public in good health, died before night, and the next day was burnt before daybreak. And common report brought this miserable news to his mother before any one of Oppianicus's household brought her news of it. She, when she had heard at one and the same time, that she was deprived not only of her son, but even of the sad office of celebrating his funeral rites, came instantly, half dead with grief, to Larinum, and there performs funeral obsequies over again for her already buried son. Ten days had not elapsed when his other infant son is also murdered; and then Sassia immediately marries Oppianicus, rejoicing in his mind, and feeling confident of the attainment of his hopes. No wonder she married him, when she saw him so eager to propitiate her, not with ordinary nuptial gifts, but with the deaths of his sons. So that other men are often covetous of money for the sake of their children, but that man thought it more agreeable to lose his children for the sake of money.
The Transcript, which can be read in its entirety, is lengthy. Here, though, is the summation. It may please you to know that the young Aulo was acquitted and his name lives own because of the eloquence and passion of that remarkable orator, Cicero.

But if any misfortune in this trial should overthrow this innocent man, verily, that miserable man, O judges, if indeed (which will be hard for him) he remains alive at all, will complain frequently and bitterly that that poison of Fabricius was ever detected. But if at that time that information had not been given, it would have been to that most unhappy man not poison, but a medicine to relieve him from many distresses; and, lastly, perhaps even his mother would have attended his funeral, and would have feigned to mourn for the death of her son. But now, what will have been gained by his escape then, beyond making his life appear to have been preserved from the snares of death which then surrounded him for greater grief, and beyond depriving him when dead of a place in his father's tomb? He has been long enough, O judges, in misery. He has been years enough struggling with odium. No one has been so hostile to him, except his parent, that we may not think his ill-will satisfied by this time. You who are just to all men, who, the more cruelly any one is attacked, do the more kindly protect him, preserve Aulus Cluentius, restore him uninjured to his municipality. Restore him to his friends, and neighbours, and connections, whose eagerness in his behalf you see. Bind all those men for ever to you and to your children. This business, O judges, is yours; it is worthy of your dignity, it is worthy of your clemency. This is rightly expected of you, to release a most virtuous and innocent man, one dear and beloved by many men, at last from these his misfortunes; so that all men may see that odium and faction may be excited in popular assemblies, but that in courts of justice there is room only for truth.


Earlier mention was made of the layers of history that Larino represents. Here 66 BC collides with the fourth century AD and the modern day as the effigy of San Pardo is carried down Via Cluenzio. Two traditions separated by centuries: both filled with high drama and a type of continuity that has disappeared elsewhere