Deprecatio

An Introduction to Deprecatio

Deprecatio is a kind of argument, and a sub-division of concessioOpens in new window which according to CiceroOpens in new window, prevails “when the accused both confesses that he has given offence and yet implores to be forgiven.”

Cicero immediately cautions thereafter: “this type of defense can occur only very rarely.” And adds that: “This type of defense can hardly be recommended because once the offense is conceded it is difficult to demand a pardon from the one whose duty is to punish offenses.

Deprecatio as a means of defense, is considered a “last resort,” on this note, a fourth-century student of Quintilian, states: “If one has exhausted all other means of defense, there remains the ‘deprecatio,’ when, confessing to having acted both badly and willingly, we are left with nothing but our prayers” — (Gaius Julius Victor 3.8.35 – 36, K. Halm ed.).

Important Hint! 

The plea for mercy, which is in no sense a method of defense, should be used very rarely, and only before judges who are not limited to some precise form of verdict” — (Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 5.13.4 – 5). In this case, one only confesses if one had lost heart, and exhausted all other means of defense, and there were no more alternative one could make. One should also show that one has learned from one’s error – a move that might suggest a change of heart on the part of the offender.

Further Readings:
Cicero's Caesarian Speeches: A Stylistic Commentary | By Marcus Tullius Cicero —DeprecatioOpens in new window
Before Forgiveness: The Origins of a Moral Idea | By David Konstan —DeprecatioOpens in new window
Holly Montague, “Advocacy and Politics: The Paradox of Cicero’s Pro Ligario,”
American Journal of Philology 113 (1992):559 – 574.