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).

Conceptualizing Space, Consular year

Imagining Ciceronian Rome.

1a. Ann Vasaly, Representations (1993), p40:

‘In August of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., began a now-famous oration with the following words: “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. . . . But one hundred years later, the Negro is still not free.” The evocation of Abraham Lincoln was obvious to all present: in the diction of the opening phrase, in the allusion to the statue in the Lincoln Memorial, and in the explicit reference to the Emancipation Proclamation. If, two thousand years hence, we had no text of the Gettysburg Address, or were unsure where King stood when he spoke, or did not realize that the monument housed a huge statue of Lincoln, the rhetorical impact of the words might well be obscure. The phrase “five score years ago” would appear to be an inexplicable archaism, and the idea of the “symbolic shadow” of a “great American” might never be connected with the fact that King spoke in the actual shadow cast by the massive representation of the Great Emancipator.

The distance we are removed in time and place has obscured many of the associations that must have been immediately available to Cicero’s audience.’

1b. The climax of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington demonstration on Aug. 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C. Gelatin silver print,  Bob Adelman. Image: Smithsonian.

1c. The statue of Lincoln looks on Dr. King’s oration. Image: PBS.

2a. Relief of the Tomb of the Haterii (early 2nd c. CE), might depict the the Temple of Jupiter Stator (far right). Image: Musei Vaticani.

2b. Digital reconstruction of Roman Forum c. 100 BCE. View from south east. Image: digitales forum romanum.

2c. A more traditional map of the of the Roman Forum. Image:

3. Ann Vasaly, Representations (1993), p69:

‘We now take up a question more important to our purposes than any involving the physical aspects of the Rostra-Comitium—namely, What was the meaning of this place for Cicero’s audience? To answer this question we must discuss some of the separate strains that contributed to the perception of this complex space; but, in so doing, it should be kept in mind that a Roman of Cicero’s day would not have been accustomed to thinking in terms of discrete divisions between, for instance, the “political,” the “historical,” and the “religious.” As has often been pointed out, these concepts—which we are accustomed to rationalize into distinct aspects of experience—were overlapping and interwoven in the Roman consciousness.’

4. Ann Vasaly, Representations (1993), p85:

‘The orator, in fact, emphatically and explicitly refuses credit for saving the city, declaring that if he himself were to claim that he had foiled the conspiracy, he ought not to be endured. Pointing to the statue on the Capitol, he declares, ille, ille Iuppiter restitit; ille Capitolium, ille haec templa, ille cunctam urbem, ille vos omnis salvos esse voluit (22). In the passage the demonstrative ille is repeated twice at the beginning of the second sentence and six times in all. Over and over again Cicero demands that the audience direct their attention to the monument that has been rhetorically transformed into evidence of the protection of Jupiter for Rome and the relationship between the god and his people. The result of that relationship has been the manifestation of the conspiracy, which Cicero now asserts has occurred by divine, not human, will. It has been Jupiter, not Cicero, who has protected “the Capitol, these temples, and the whole city” (22).’

5. Ann Vasaly, Representations (1993), p34:

‘In one of the last speeches he delivered, the Pro rege Deiotaro, Cicero spoke of the oratorical inspiration he drew from such places of shared symbolic meaning. The oration was delivered in camera in 44 B.C. before Caesar, who had arrogated to himself as dictator all judicial power. In the speech Cicero complains of the difficulty of speaking within a private house, isolated from the people and scenes that had inspired him in the past (5). He then imagines the oration he would be capable of if he were allowed to speak in the Forum: “If only, Gaius Caesar, I were defending this case in the Forum, with you looking on and judging, what excitement I would draw from the assembled throng of the Roman people! . . . I would look on the Senate house; I would gaze upon the Forum; finally, I would call on heaven itself” (6).

The passage is strangely moving. In rhetorical terms it can be classed as a predictable ingredient in the successful prooemium: the plea for goodwill and sympathy based on the persona of the orator himself. And yet it reads not so much as an appeal as a reminiscence. Cicero reminds Caesar—the other great public speaker of the age—of the oratorical power he had wielded in the past and complains that the changes the dictator has wrought have denied him two important sources of rhetorical effectiveness: first, the interaction between the orator and a vast popular audience, and, second, the setting in which that interaction took place. The passage illustrates Cicero’s realization that great oratory, like great drama, demands both an audience and a stage.’

6. Ann Vasaly, Representations (1993), pp84-85:

‘The intent to erect the statue, then, is presented by Cicero as an appeal to the gods, and the erection of the statue in itself could neither guarantee nor prove that the city was divinely protected. But in the chronological coincidence of the carrying through of this intention and the revelation of the conspiracy the statue takes on a new significance. Cicero asks whether it was not obvious that all had occurred by the will of Jupiter Optimus Maximus when it happened that the conspirators and witnesses had been led through the Forum to the Temple of Concord, where they disclosed the details of the conspiracy, at precisely the same time that the new statue of Jupiter had been set up overlooking the Forum and the Curia (21). The fact that Jupiter had caused the conspiracy to be made known on the day his statue was placed on the Capitolium was evidence that it was he who had actually brought about the revelation of the plot. The sight of the statue, therefore, becomes visual evidence that “all that we see and especially this city is guided by the will and power of the immortal gods” (21).

This interpretation by Cicero of the meaning of the statue is accompanied by a reinterpretation of his own role in what had occurred. The consul once again summons up the image of the urban landscape—”even the temples and shrines of the gods”—threatened by destruction (22: non solum vestris domiciliis atque tectis, sed etiam deorum templis atque delubris ), an image introduced at the beginning of the speech (2: toti urbi, templis delubris, tectis ac moenibus ). In the exordium, however, Cicero had claimed that he himself had put out the fire threatening the city, had turned away the daggers from the necks of the citizens, and had been responsible for illuminating and revealing the details of the plot (3: inlustrata, patefacta, comperta sunt per me ). By the end of the speech, however, the focus has shifted. Jupiter rather than Cicero is said to have turned aside the fire threatening the city, and the conspirators’ plans have been “illuminated and revealed” (21: inlustrata et patefacta ) not simply through the vigilance of the consul but by means of divine intervention” (84-85).’

7. Ann Vasaly, Representations (1993), p28:

‘We should note, however, the degree to which Cicero has civilized and rationalized his topographical model. The characters in the De oratore do not, like Socrates and Phaedrus, wander in the countryside; they stroll around the manicured walks of Crassus’s estate. When they are inspired to recline on the grass under the shady tree, they immediately send their slaves for cushions to sit on. Most important, Scaevola is depicted as drawing inspiration from the intellectual associations of the place rather than from the natural setting itself: the plane tree that he sees reminds him of the plane tree described by Plato, and the thought of that Greek plane tree is moving not simply because the tree was beautiful but because the dialogue that occurred under it was “divine.”‘

7. Ann Vasaly, Representations (1993), p37:

‘Of greater interest in this work, however, is the process by which Cicero not only drew on the more accessible preexisting associations of monuments and topography but attempted to emphasize certain less obvious associations at the expense of others, as well as to create new meanings that would interact with preexisting associations to further his rhetorical aims.’