While exploring the teachers’ site for Ecce Romani I came across a brief presentation comparing the Roman and American senates, which included a very dubious claim:
Senators often stalled a vote using a tactic called the filibuster, in which senators made lengthy speeches to delay legislative action. The filibuster is still used by members of the United States Senate.
Now, it isn’t the notion that Roman senators did such a thing, but the suggestion that they did something called a ‘filibuster.’ I knew, of course, that the Romans had no such word (and you can easily find the etymology of this relatively modern term if you’re interested), but the use of italics (not to mention the wording) suggests that filibuster is a Latin word. Wikipedia and other sources talk in similar terms and leave the same impression, even if no explicit claim is made.
There was no single word for such an act, but there were phrases which Cicero has left to us in several places throughout his speeches and letters:
- diem consumere
- ‘to waste the day’
- diem dicendo eximere
- ‘to take away the day through speaking’
- noctem postulare
- ‘to ask for a night’
The first two are synonymous and correspond to the filibuster, but the third is considered a polite alternative. Imagine a respected senator informing the house that, in his opinion, ‘we should sleep on this.’ If his influence were great enough, the issue might not be raised again.