blame, late speeches, oratory

The point of no return. Cicero’s ‘Philippics.’

1. Copy of J. R. King (1878), The Philippic Orations of M. Tullius Cicero from BU Mugar Library. Annotated readers from May 1893 to April 1979.

2a. Modern depictions of Mark Antony:

2b. Silver denarius of Mark Antony, 32 BCE (RRC 543/1). Left: Antony; Armenian tiara behind portrait as an allusion to his conquests in the East. Right: Cleopatra with diadem, in front of the bust, a ship’s bow as an allusion to her war fleet. Image: CRRO. Sources on Cleopatra from CL 206.

3. Cicero, Philippics (1.14-15). Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011).

I feel great anguish that men who have enjoyed the greatest benefits the Roman people can grant did not support the leadership of Lucius Piso in his noble proposal. Did the Roman people elect us to the consulship so that, having been granted so high a position, we should consider the Republic as nothing? Not only did no ex-consul verbally support Piso, no one supported him even by a look. [15] For pity’s sake, what is this voluntary slavery? I admit you had to do something; I do not require that those who speak from the ex-consuls’ bench do as I am doing. Those whose silence I forgive are a different case from those I ask to speak out; I feel sorrow that the Roman people are beginning to think those men suspect, not because they were afraid to live up to their position (which itself would be shameful) but because they all did so for different and individual reasons. This is why I am expressing the immense gratitude I feel to Piso, a man who thought not about what he could do for the Republic, but what he personally ought to do.

4. Cicero, Philippics (1.38). Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011).

Members of the Senate, since I have reaped the rewards of my return, whatever misfortune I may encounter, I have said words which stand as testimony of my steadfastness and you have heard them with attentive kindness. And if the power to speak out frequently falls to my lot, without danger to you or me, I shall use it. If not, to the best of my ability, I shall hold myself in reserve for the Republic rather than for myself. It is enough for me that I have lived long enough for a decent lifespan and to achieve my own fame; if any extra time is granted, it will not have been granted so much to me as to you and the Republic.

5. Cicero, Philippics (2.7). Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011).

Why, the man even read out a letter, which he said that I sent to him, being completely unaware of civilized behaviour and ignorant of how people deal with each other. What man who was even marginally familiar with the way decent men behave ever made public and openly read out letters sent to him by a friend because there was now some quarrel between them?

6. Cicero, Philippics (2.10). Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011).

And even if he is in no sense a consul, either inhis life-style, his governing of the Republic or the way he was elected, I am without debate an ex-consul.

7. Cicero, Philippics (2.20). Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011). See See Cicero’s poetry.

And, dear gods, you even wished to be witty at one point, something which does not suit you. In this you should accept a certain amount of blame, for you could have acquired some wit from your mime-actress wife. ‘Let weapons yield to the toga.’ And? Surely they yielded then! But later the toga yielded to your weapons. Let us ask, therefore, whether it was better if weapons of criminals yielded to the freedom of the Roman people or our freedom to your weapons? But I shall not respond more to you about my poetry; I shall only say briefly that you do not understand it, or any literature at all. I have never failed the Republic or my friends, but in every genre of the writings I completed in odd scraps of time, I have worked so that what I wrote in hours while others slept would bring some praise to Rome and be something of use to our youth. But this is not the moment for that subject; let us look at more important subjects.

8. Cicero, Philippics (2.28-29). Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011).

Recall how that sharp man proved me guilty. ‘Right after Caesar was killed,’ he said, ‘Brutus, as he held high his bloody dagger cried out the name of Cicero and congratulated him that freedom had been restored.’ Why me in particular? Because I was in on it? Perhaps he named me because, having achieved something very like my past achievements, he wanted me in particular to witness that he had rivalled my fame. But you, since you are the stupidest man alive, do not understand that if (as you allege) it is an offence to have wished for Caesar’s killing, it is also an offence to have rejoiced at Caesar’s death. For what is the difference between someone who suggests something and someone who applauds it? What does it matter whether I wanted it done or am delighted that it was done? Is there anyone, with the exception of those who were happy that he was our king, who did not want it done or disapproved that it was done? Everyone is at fault then. Indeed, all decent men, as far as they could, killed Caesar; some may have lacked a plan, other courage, and still others the opportunity, but no one lacked the desire.

9a. Cicero, Philippics (2.63), cf. 2.50, 2.75, 84, 104; Fam. 12.2.1, 12.25.4. Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011).

But let me say no more about the activities of his more mature depravity; let me speak, rather, about the most excessive example of his lack of respect. That throat of yours, those lungs of yours, the whole body of yours with its gladiators’ strength, sucked down so much wine at Stud’s [Hippias’] wedding that you had to vomit it up in the sight of the Roman people the next day. What a revolting thing not just to see, but to hear about! If this had happened to you at a feast right in the middle of those famous giant drinks of yours, who would not have thought it disgusting? In a gathering of the Roman people, as he was dealing with public business, the master of the horse – for whom it would be disgusting even to belch – he filled his lap and the whole platform, vomiting wine mixed with chunks of putrid food! But he admits this himself, along with his other sins – so let us come to his more splendid activities.

9b. Plutarch, Life of Mark Antony (9.3-4). Translated by Thomas Browne (1920).

This course naturally made him odious to the multitude, and to men of worth and uprightness he was not acceptable because of his life in general, as Cicero says, nay, he was hated by them. They loathed his ill-timed drunkenness, his heavy expenditures, his debauches with women, his spending the days in sleep or in wandering about with crazed and aching head, the nights in revelry or at shows, or in attendance at the nuptial feasts of mimes and jesters. We are told, at any rate, that he once feasted at the nuptials of Hippias the mime, drank all night, and then, early in the morning, when the people summoned him to the forum, came before them still surfeited with food and vomited into his toga, which one of his friends held at his service.

10. Cicero, Philippics (2.116-117). Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011).

What sort of life is it fearing your own followers day and night, unless you have men bound to you by greater favors than the men Caesar had bound to him—and some of them killed him? Or is it that you are to be compared to him somehow? That man had brilliance, calculation, memory, literary ability, carefulness, thoughtfulness, precision. He was successful in a war, which, although it was disastrous to the Republic, was still great; for many years he aimed to rule and he achieved what he had planned with great effort and great risks. He softened up the ignorant masses with games, buildings, gifts and feasts. He bound his followers to himself with rewards, his opponents with the appearance of clemency. Why go on? He brought to a free state acceptance of slavery, partly through fear, partly through familiarity. Although I can compare you to him in your lust for power, you cannot be compared to him in anything else.

11. Cicero, Philippics (2.119). Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011).

I would also freely offer up my person if my death would immediately bring back freedom to our state, so that the anguish of the Roman people would give birth to what it has been carrying within for along time. For, if almost twenty years ago I denied, in this very temple, that death could be premature for a man who had held the consulship, how much more truly will I deny it is premature for an old man. embers of the Senate, I should desire death after the political offices I have attained and the deeds I have done. I long for these two things only: one, that as I die i shall leave behind a free Roman people (there is nothing greater that the immortal gods can give to me); second that everyone will get his just rewards for his treatment of the Republic.


Theatricality. Cicero’s ‘Pro Caelio.’

1. Paris Lat. 7794, 9th c. manuscript containing Ciceronian orations including Pro CaelioImage: Bibliothèque nationale de France.

2a. Catullus, poem 49. Translated by Peter Green (2005):

Sweetest-spoken of Romulus’ descendants,
past or present, Marcus Tullius, and all who
may yet follow in the distant future —
warmest thanks to you herewith from Catullus,
who’s the worst of all poets, by as much the
worst of all living poets, as yourself are
best of all courtroom lawyers for your clients.

2b. Catullus, poem 58. Translated by Peter Green (2005):

Caelius, Lesbia — our dear Lesbia, that one,
that Lesbia whom alone Catullus worshipped
more than himself, far more than all his kinsfolk —
now on backstreet corners and down alleys
jacks off Remus’s generous descendants.

3. Cicero, Pro Caelio (6). Translated by D. H. Berry (2000):

But slander is one thing, prosecution another. Prosecution requires a basis for a charge, and then to determine the facts, to identify the person responsible, to prove the case by argument, and back it up with evidence. Slander, on the other hand, has no object except to insult. If its character is coarse, it is termed abuse, but if sophisticated, it is termed wit.

4. Cicero, Pro Caelio (30). Translated by D. H. Berry (2000):

I shall not venture, therefore, to reply to your criticisms as I ought. For I could ask you to make an exception for the young, and beg your pardon. But, as I say, I shall not do this: I shall not take refuge in my client’s youth, and I give up the rights to which anyone would be entitled. All I ask is that, whatever general disapproval there may currently be concerning young men’s debts, dissipation, and licentious behaviour– and I know that on this subject there is considerable disapproval — my client should not be made to suffer for other people’s misdemeanours, or for the vices of youth and of the age in which we live

5. Cicero, Pro Caelio (37). Translated by D. H. Berry (2000):

I come to you now, Caelius: it is your turn; and I am going to assume a father’s authority and strictness. But I am unsure which particular father I ought to choose—the harsh, overbearing one in Caecilius: ‘Now at last my mind is ablaze, now my heart is heaped with anger,’ or perhaps this one:
‘What am I to say? What am I to wish for? By doing such disgraceful deeds, you make all my wishes vain’ —intolerable! A father like that would say, ‘Why did you go to live so near to that prostitute? Why did you not flee the moment you became aware of her allurements? Why have you got to know a woman who is a stranger to us? Scatter and squander for all I care! If you run out of money, it’ll be you that suffers; I have enough to see me through the years I have left.’…But to a mild and lenient father—the sort who would say, ‘he has broken open a door: it can be repaired; he has torn someone’s clothes: they can be mended’—Caelius’ case is an extremely easy one to make. For what charge could there possible be that he would not find it easy to defend himself against? I am not at this point saying anything against that woman.

6a. Matthew Leigh, “The Pro Caelio and Comedy,” Classical Philology (2004), p304:

‘More specifically, it will be apparent to all that Clodia Metelli is in no technical sense a meretrix. Rather, she is the child of one of the most distinguished aristocratic families in Rome and the widow of Q. Metellus Celer, consul of 60 B.C.E. To confess to or even, as Wilfried Stroh would have it, invent this affair, is therefore a calculated risk on the part of the defense, and depends on the assumption that the revelation will do far more damage to the reputation of Clodia than it does to that of Caelius. In particular, to call Clodia a meretrix is to associate her with a group technically forbidden to give evidence in court; to suggest that Caelius has been the lover of a widow does not technically expose him to legal censure, but such a statement would be far more damaging to his reputation were that widow not also understood to live like a courtesan.’

6b. Matthew Leigh, “The Pro Caelio and Comedy,” Classical Philology (2004), p322:

‘Is it, in short, possible that not just the characters of drama but also the speakers operating in the forum were accustomed to rehearse and deliver formal rhetorical loci even at this early point in the development of Roman culture?’

6c. Matthew Leigh, “The Pro Caelio and Comedy,” Classical Philology (2004), p326:

‘There is, I recognize, a serious risk inherent in the interpretative strategy adopted hitherto in this study: to speak of Cicero’s attempt fundamentally to alter the jury’s perspective on a trial de vi by redimensioning it as a comedy may leave the impression of a greater formal separation between comedy and rhetoric than can truly be said to have held. For acting and oratory are indeed cognate activities in Greek and Roman culture, and this comes across in many different ways: the grand and passionate style is equated with tragedy; the uninflated and humorous style with comedy; comic authors study humor in oratory; noted orators write for the stage; the actors Roscius and Aesopus take as strong an interest in the great orators as the orators take in them.’

7. Cicero, Pro Caelio (79). Translated by D. H. Berry (2000):

But when you have set the picture of this young man in front of you, place before your eyes also the picture of his old and unhappy father here; he totally depends on this his only son, he places all his hopes on him, and he is afraid for him alone. This old man is a suppliant before your compassion, a slave before your power, and a beggar not so much before your feet as before your instincts and your sensibilities. Recall the memories you have of your parents or the delight you take in your children and raise this man up, so that in assuaging another person’s grief you may indulge your own filial duty or else your own fatherly love.


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.’