Praise. The poetry of prose. Cicero‘s Pro Archia.

1. Burney 159 (f. 54v), 15th c. Italian manuscript containing Ciceronian orations including Pro Archia. Image: British Library.

2. Paris Lat. 7824 (137), 15th c. manuscript containing Ciceronian orations including Pro Archia. Marginalia. Image: Bibliothèque nationale de France.

3. D. H. Berry, ‘Literature and Persuasion in Cicero’s Pro Archia,’ Cicero the Advocate (2004), p312.

‘Pro Archia, then, is genuinely, all of it, an exercise in persuasion. The jury must be persuaded both that Archias is a Roman citizen and that he deserves to be one. From the persuasive point of view, it is the second of these questions that is the more difficult, and therefore the more interesting. Here Cicero was confronted by a marked xenophobic and anti-intellectual prejudice, one with which he and his brother had no sympathy, but which was prevalent among the jury. His method of dealing with this prejudice is to include a lengthy passage on literature which presents Archias and his poetry in terms which the jurors will find unobjectionable, and perhaps even praiseworthy. Consequently this passage, though it might formally be termed digressio, is, like other digressions in Cicero’s speeches, central to the case. It is not a passage that could not be included were it not for the presence of a sympathetic praetor. For centuries it has been seen as a charming encomium of literature, and it would be wrong to deny that it is that. But if Cicero had written a treatise on literature for an educated readership outside the courtroom, we can be certain it would have had little resemblance to the version which was offered to Archias’ jury.’

4. Cicero, Pro Archia (11). Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

But the census does not confirm citizenship; it only indicates that whoever happened to be recorded on it was behaving then as if he were a citizen — and during the times you charge that he did not even think about exercising the rights of a Roman citizen, he made several wills according to our laws, was named as an heir to various Roman citizens and Lucius Lucullus gave his name to the treasury along with others he recommended for rewards. 

5. Cicero, Pro Archia (14). Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

If the teachings of so many people and much reading had not convinced me from my adolescent years that there is nothing finer one can seek in this life than glory and honour, and that to achieve them I should disregard all agonies of the body and all danger of exile and death, I never would have taken so many great risks or exposed myself to the daily attacks of corrupt men on your behalf. Philosophers, the past and all books speak of and are full of paradigma – and all these would be shrouded in darkness if the light of literature did not shine one them! Greek and Latin authors have sculpted many representations of remarkably brave men, not just as a legacy to look at but one to imitate; I keep these always before me as I go about public business; I formed my heart and mind through reading about outstanding men

6. Cicero, Pro Archia (15). Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

Suppose someone asks, “What? Were our great men, the men whose character our records describe, educated in the disciplines you have extolled?” I know what my answer should be, even though one cannot be sure about this in the case of every individual. I admit that there have been many men who have possessed outstanding minds and characters but who have lacked formal education; with these it is almost as if the divine character of their inborn qualities impelled them to become self-controlled and great with no outside help. Let me also add that it is more common that inherent quality without learning produces a reputation for excellence that learning without inherent quality. But I also insist that when systematic training is added to a remarkable and brilliant personality, something splendid and exceptional usually emerges. 

7. Cicero, Pro Archia (18). Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

…I have often seen this man here, although he had not written down a single word, spontaneously reciting many very brilliant improvised verses on subjects we had just been talking about. And then, when he was called back for an encore, he recited again on the same subject but with different words and phrasing. I have seen what he had written with care and thought so applauded that he was praised as people normal praised ancient writers.

8. Cicero, Pro Archia (30). Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

Should we be so small-minded, we who spend our time working for the Republic among the dangers and troubles of public life that, even though up to our final moments we shall have drawn no calm nor leisurely breath, we think everything perishes at the moment we die? Have not many great men taken pains to leave statues and death-masks, images not of their minds but of their bodies? Should we not prefer to leave representations of our character and aims written and polished by the greatest talents? At the very moment I was performing my deeds, I thought I was planting them in the world’s undying memory. Whether this will have no effect on me after death or – as the very wise think – some part of me will then still sense it, the thought and hope of it still delights me at this moment.

9. Mathias Hanses, ‘Cicero Crosses the Color Line: Pro Archia and W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk’ (2018), p5.

‘Du Bois here stresses the relevance of classical learning throughout time and across racial barriers, though perhaps not irrespective of class. In as far as he focuses primarily on the ten per cent he considers educable in a classical manner, and implies that only they have the talent to save the rest of the race, his argument contains obviously elitist and paternalistic elements.’