blame

Blame. Cicero’s In Pisonem.

1. Paris Lat. 7788, 15th c. manuscript containing Ciceronian orations including In Pisonem. Image: Bibliothèque nationale de France.

2. Cicero, In Pisonem (1). Translated by N. H. Watts.

[SOME OF THE BEGINNING IS MISSING]…Do you begin to see, monster, do you begin to realize how men loathe your impudence? No one complains that some Syrian or other, some member of newly-made slaves, has become consul. We were not deceived by your slavish complexion, your hairy cheeks, and your discoloured teeth; it was your eyes, eyebrows, forehead, in a word your whole countenance, which is a kind of dumb interpreter of the mind, which pushed your fellow-men into delusion; this it was which tricked, betrayed, inveigled those who were unacquainted with you.

3. Cicero, In Pisonem (51-52). Translated by N. H. Watts.

Why should I tell of my arrival at this place and at that, how the inhabitants flocked out of their towns to greet me, how fathers of families with their wives and children gathered from their countrysides, and how everywhere on my arrival and return those days were kept like solemn festivals of the immortal gods? [52] That single day of my restoration to my country was to me a sort of immortality, when I saw the senate and the entire people of Rome gathered outside the city, and when Rome herself seemed to dislodge herself from her fixed abode and go forth to embrace her saviour. And her reception of me was such that not only all men and women of all classes, ages, and ranks of society, of every circumstance and every position, but even the very walls, buildings, and temples of the city seemed to show their joy.

4. Cicero, In Pisonem (73). Translated by N. H. Watts.

I should like to know, please, what fault you have to find with the line, “Arms to the gown must yield.” “You assert,” rejoins Piso, “that the greatest general will yield to the gown.” What, you ass! must I begin to teach you your letters? For that I shall need not words but a cudgel. When I said “gown” I did not mean the gown I am wearing at this moment, nor, when I said “arms,” did I mean the shield or sword of any particular general; but, since the gown is the symbol of peace and repose, and arms that of unrest and war, I did but speak after the fashion of poets, intending to convey the meaning that war and unrest would yield to peace and repose.

5. John Dugan, “How to make (and break) a Cicero, Epideixis, Textuality, and Self-fashioning in the Pro Archia, and In Pisonem,” Classical Antiquity (2001), p37.

‘A letter written in 55, Cicero’s private solicitation for an ornate laudatory historical monograph from Lucceius (Fam. 5.12), parallels his negotiations with Archias and makes clear what literary “polish” should provide, namely, a version of events that smoothes away traces of unflattering incidents from the author’s narrative. Cicero makes this request, moreover, after the disgrace of his exile, and so this letter manifests the Pro Archia’s tactics within the very different political circumstances that Cicero confronts in the In Pisonem. In that speech, invective inverts the self-fashioning strategies used in the Pro Archia in order to debunk Piso’s image, and to recuperate Cicero’s own prestige at the expense of Piso’s. The In Pisonem has the same long-range cultural ambitions as the Pro Archia, but without the previous speech’s hopes for tangible short-term success. Faced with his inability to cause Piso real political damage commensurate to that which he claims to have suffered at Piso’s hands, Cicero crafts an ornately polished caricature of Piso designed to achieve canonical durability.’ 

6. John Dugan, “How to make (and break) a Cicero, Epideixis, Textuality, and Self-fashioning in the Pro Archia, and In Pisonem,” Classical Antiquity (2001), p51.

‘By metaphorically co-opting a representational mode within the nobiles’ exclusive domain, Cicero employs a subversive strategy that makes a liability into an asset. In Sallust’s account, Marius, the other Arpinate novus homo, questions the integrity of the imagines as a sign system that re ects true nobility and claims that his “imagines” are the war trophies and the scars that he received in battle. Likewise, Cicero claims that his self-presentation through literary imagines exploits a mimetic capacity that is greater than that of the aristocrats’ imagines, while he also emphasizes the formative role played by artistic “polish” in literary representation. Cicero’s program is more innovative and culturally ambitious than Marius’, whose critique of the nobiles’ image-system is based on his prowess in the traditionally valued realm of warfare. Cicero, in contrast, implicitly critiques the standard Roman notion of virtus by extending it beyond soldiering and even politics and into the realms of rhetoric, literature, and the aesthetic.’

7. Cicero, In Pisonem (99). Translated by N. H. Watts.

‘Never have I thirsted for your blood; never have I invoked against you that final execution of law and judgement which may visit the just and the unjust alike. But to see you abject, despised, scorned by your fellows, a thing that despairs of itself and lives abandoned by itself, that peers into every corner and quakes at every whisper, that lives mistrustful of itself, without voice, liberty or authority, stripped of its consular pride, a shivering, trembling, fawning wretch—this have I desired to see you; and my desire has been gratified.’

8a. Isabel Köster, “Feasting Centaurs and Destructive Consuls in Cicero’s In Pisonem,” Illinois Classical Studies (2014), p73.

‘The close correspondence between Piso and a Centaur makes Cicero’s brief remark a memorable insult. Now that the orator’s audience has been introduced to the idea that the consul is in fact like a mythological beast, we are primed for further explorations of this theme. The comparison in Pis. 22 is not an isolated insult, but instead can provide a lens through which we can view the rest of the invective. Though there are no more explicit references to Centaurs in the remainder of the speech, Piso’s biography continues to show similarities to his mythological counterpart, which in turn stresses the danger that he continues to pose to Roman and, especially later in the speech, Greek society.’

8b. Pirithous and Hippodamia receive centaurs at the wedding. Fresco from Pompeii (House of Gavius Rufus VII, 2, 16). Naples Inv. No. 9044. Image: wikimedia.

9. Isabel Köster, “Feasting Centaurs and Destructive Consuls in Cicero’s In Pisonem,” Illinois Classical Studies (2014), pp75-76.

‘Piso is not only someone who destroys whatever cultural achievement he encounters, he also is always marked as a foreigner. This becomes especially clear when at Pis. 20, he is described as barbarus Epicurus, a “foreign Epicurus.” [p76] The phrase is odd: after all Piso is a Roman and Epicurus a Greek. Cicero’s remark, however, reverses the situation: Epicurus is the native standard, and Piso, by contrast, is the foreign element. He is marked as an outsider to both Greek and Roman society, and the long description of his effects on Greece’s physical landscape and philosophical achievements that follows the banquet in Pis. 22 repeatedly emphasizes that he is a barbarian, or worse, an animal. The half-man, half-human Centaur is therefore the ideal analogy for him: it picks up on his status as a social outsider and also on his animal-like behavior. Moreover, for someone who styles himself as a devotee of Greek learning and culture, there is no more fitting mythological counterpart than a creature who, when one allows it to participate in Greek social rituals, causes widespread destruction.’

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