life after death, modernity, reception

After Cicero.

1. Statues by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828). a) Cicero (1803-1804), a plaster cast of which is now in the Louvre. b) Benjamin Franklin (1778) now in the Met Museum. c) George Washington (completed 1791 or 1792) in the Virginia State Capitol.


Nota Bene! Ancient statues were very often polychrome, i.e. multi-coloured. The neoclassical white ‘purity’ of the above statues is a construct of the era in which these modern statues were produced. Read Prof. Sarah Bond on the topic, and watch this short (6 min) Samantha Bee video featuring Bond and the Lucas bros:

2a. Carl J. Richard, “Cicero and the American Founders”, Brill’s companion to the reception of Cicero (2015), p126:

‘When John Adams went to Paris to help Benjamin Franklin secure the French alliance necessary for the defeat of the British in the Revolutionary War, he brought his sons, John Quincy and Charles, with him. Aboard the ship Adams assisted John Quincy in translating Cicero’s first oration against Catiline, no doubt a nostalgic treat for the statesman. Two years later he insisted that John Quincy continue his study of Cicero’s orations. In 1781, convulsed by the inexplicable fear that John Quincy might be falling behind in his studies at the University of Leyden, he wrote, “I absolutely insist upon it, that you begin upon Demosthenes and Cicero. I will not be put by.”’

2b. Cicero, De Officiis 1.1. Translated by Thomas Habinek 2012. SeeFathers and sons.

To my dear son Marcus: Now that you’ve spent a year listening to Cratippus (in Athens at that!), you must be well stocked with philosophical precepts and guidelines, thanks to the great authority of a teacher and a city that can supply you with theoretical knowledge and practical examples respectively. Still, I’ve always found it helpful to use both Latin and Greek, in philosophy as well as rhetorical exercise, and I’d advise you to do the same to develop equal competence in both languages. To that end, I believe I’ve done our countrymen a real service: those who read Greek in the original — as well as those who don’t — believe that they’ve gained something useful for both public speaking and personal moral deliberation.

3a. Carl J. Richard, “Cicero and the American Founders”, Brill’s companion to the reception of Cicero (2015), p129. See Cicero’s poetry.

‘In 1768 Samuel Adams adopted the pseudonym “Cedant Arma Togae” (let arms yield to the toga) for an essay protesting the British maintenance of a standing army, a phrase immortalized by Cicero, who had insisted on tight civilian control of the Roman army.’

3b. Carl J. Richard, “Cicero and the American Founders”, Brill’s companion to the reception of Cicero (2015), p131.

‘When Adams, one of the greatest orators of his day, rose before the Continental Congress on July 1, 1776, to rebut John Dickinson’s contention that American independence would be premature, the New Englander thought of Cicero. He recorded in his diary: “I began by saying that this was the first time of my Life that I ever wished for the Talents and Eloquence of the ancient Orators of Greece and Rome, for I was very sure that none of them ever had before him a question of more importance to his Country and to the World.”‘

4a. William Cook and James Tatum, “Frederick Douglass and The Columbian Orator,” African American Writers and Classical Tradition (2010), p73:

‘Frederick Douglass’s only work of fiction “The Heroic Slave” supplies an answer that no one who is concerned with rhetoric and its possibilities should miss. It introduces us to a narrator who hears and judges the protagonist not on meeting or seeing him, but simply by hearing him and being won over by his eloquence. For Douglass, in this story at least, mastery of oratory becomes what Cicero and every other preceptor in classical rhetoric hoped to convey: more than a sign of educational achievement, eloquent speech is a mark of superior moral character.”)’

4b. In his youth, Frederick Douglass got his hands on a copy of Caleb Bingham’s (1797) “The Columbian Orator,” containing oratorical exemplars for students to imitate. An 1812 edition from National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Image: wikimedia. You can read the 1807 edition on Google books.

4c. Part of the Table of Contents to Caleb Bingham’s (1807) “The Columbian Orator”:

4d. Excerpt from Cicero’s Catilinarians (1.31-33) in Bingham’s (1807) “The Columbian Orator”:

4e. William Cook and James Tatum, “Frederick Douglass and The Columbian Orator,” African American Writers and Classical Tradition (2010), p61:

‘What is most striking about Douglass’ precocious achievement is that he did not have to immerse himself in classical authors to learn it. While he would have read a few passages from Cicero, Tacitus, and others in translation, he learned classical figures of thought and language entirely through the English of European and American orators who themselves had been trained in Latin and the classics. In the same way that Shakespeare has been credited with a mastery of Plutarch’s Lives through North’s translation — itself a translation of Amyot’s French version of the original Greek — Douglas was able to acquire the essentials of classical rhetorical theory and practice entirely through translation.’

5. Jean-François Janinet after Jean-Guillaume Moitte, “The Catiline Conspiracy” (1792). See Nina Dubin (2016).