" Greek nobles whose descent was traced to Cecrops or Eurysthenes or to the great Ionian and Minyan houses "
These are all legendary or semi-mythical characters that Greek nobility might claim to be descended from, in much the same way that families like the Julii in Rome claimed to be descended from legendary Roman heroes. Cecrops
was a mythical king of ancient Athens, who judged the contest for the patronage of the city between the goddess Athena and the god Poseidon. Eurysthenes
was a great-great-great-grandson of Heracles (Hercules) and the founder of a dynasty of Spartan kings. The Ionians
were one of the tribes (along with the Dorians, Achaeans and Aeolians) that the Greeks of the Homeric Age were divided into; the “great Ionian houses” were the houses of the heroes of Homeric legends. The Minyans
were one of the mythical indigenous peoples of ancient Greece, older even than the Homeric heroes. The Greeks began to colonise Sicily in the 8th
century BC, the most important colony being the city of Syracuse.
" Phoenicians whose ancestors had been priests of Tyrian Melcarth, or claimed kindred with the Zidonian Iah "
Iah was a god of ancient Egypt, and Melcarth
a protector god perhaps originally of Tyre, who was spread around the Mediterranean and protected the Phoenician areas of Sicily. These gods came to Sicily with the Phoenician colonists, who established cities on the west side of the island, the Greeks on the east. Later, they would clash in the Greek Punic Wars.
" at this great political crisis, there has been offered to you, not through man’s wisdom but almost as the direct gift of heaven, the very thing you most need "
Many of the words uttered by Cicero in his various speeches throughout the book are actually taken from the real speeches of Cicero. These real speeches can offer a fascinating (and very wordy – Cicero certainly enjoyed talking!) accompaniment to the world and characters of Imperium. For example, here is how the real Cicero opened this speech:
“at this grave crisis in the history of our country, you have been offered a particularly desirable gift, a gift almost too opportune to be of human origin: it almost seems heaven-sent. For you have been given a unique chance to make your Senatorial Order less unpopular, and to set right the damaged reputation of these courts.”
(Cicero, Against Verres 1, trans. Michael Grant (1971) Cicero: Selected Works. Penguin Classics)
Some of Cicero’s orations can be found online, including his prosecution speech against Verres. Read it here.
" I am going to call my witnesses at once "
This was not an illegal move, but also did not follow the customary process of a Roman trial, which was as follows:
1) Long speech from the prosecution
2) Long speech from the defence
3) (speeches by juniors may have followed)
4) Witnesses and evidence
5) Second part of trial introduced by more long speeches from prosecution and defence!
Cicero skipped the first speech of the defence by going straight to the witnesses, stopping Hortensius from drawing out the trial indefinitely.