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.’


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.’

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.’

Consular year

The Consular Year. Cicero’s Catilinarians.

1. 5th c. CE papyrus codex from Egypt containing a Latin-Greek word list to Cicero’s Catilinarians 2.14-15, P. Ryl. 1.61. Image: John Rylands, Manchester.

2. 9th c. Add. 47678, one of the earliest manuscripts containing Cicero’s Catilinarians. Here’s a closeup of the infamous opening (In Cat. 1.1): quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra? Image: British Library.

3a. Cicero, In Catilinam 1.16. Translated by Siobhán McElduff. Compare with Cesare Maccari’s Cicerone denuncia Catilina (1889).

What sort of life do you have these days? For I shall now so speak with you that I shall not appear to be provoked by hatred – as is my right – but by pity, not a scrap of which you deserve. A little while ago you entered the Senate. What man from this massive crowd and among you many friends and connections paid their respects? If no one has experienced this within living memory, do you wait for my insults when the momentous judgement of their silence crushes you? What shall we say of the fact that at your arrival those benches around you were emptied, that all men of consular rank (so often marked by you for murder) left your section bare and empty as soon as you sat down? Tell me, how do you think you should bear this?

3b. Cicero, In Catilinam 2.12. Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

Yesterday, citizens, a day on which I was nearly killed in my own home, I called a meeting of the Senate in the temple of Jupiter Stator and reported the whole business to the members of the Senate. When Catiline arrived, was there a senator who would use his name or greet him? Was there a single one who saw him as anything other than a ruined citizen or, should I say, as a completely vicious citizen? In fact, even the leading members of that body left the sections of benches he had approached bare and empty.

4. Cicero, In Catilinam 1.16. Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

How many times has your blade (sica) been ripped from your hands, how often has it fallen or slipped from them by some blunder! Yet you cannot live without it. I cannot imagine with what ritual it has been consecrated and dedicated that you think it necessary to plunge it into the body of a consul.

Zliten mosaic c. 200 CE: a Thraex gladiator (right) thrusts a sica into a Murmillo. Image: wikimedia commons.

5a. Cicero, In Catilinam 1.20. Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

Leave the city, Catiline, free the Republic from fear. Go – you are awaiting that word. What is it, Catiline? Are you paying any attention? Have you noticed these men’s silence at all? They permit this speech – they are silent. Why do you await their spoken command when you can clearly see their silent desire?

5b. Cicero, In Catilinam 2.13. Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

Then I, the famously violent consul, who exiles citizens with just a word, I asked Catiline whether or not he had been at the norcturnal meeting at Marcus Laeca’s. Since he, although he has plenty of nerve, was overcome by the consciousness of his guilt and was silent at first, I laid out the rest.

5c. Shane Butler, The Hand of Cicero (2002), p94. On Cicero Catilinarian 3.

‘Indeed, the careful reader detects a number of probable manipulations of the truth, such as Cicero’s repeated assertions that each conspirator, confronted with the incriminating evidence against him, subsequently “confessed.” Cicero never reports the details of these “confessions”; probably most or all were far more limited than Cicero led the crowd to suppose; otherwise he surely would have provided some of the self-incriminating words. Note, however, that Cicero misleads only by suggestion; here and generally, he takes almost maniacal legalistic care to avoid expressing a literal untruth.’

6. Cicero, In Catilinam 2.7; 2.10. Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

Is there an evil or crime which can be dreamed or thought up which he did not come up with? Can we find any gladiator, any outlaw, assassin, parricide, forger of wills, con-man, glutton, prodigal, adulterer, woman without a decent name, corrupter of the young or corrupted loser who does not confess that he was intimate friends with Catiline?…[2.10] But who could tolerate cowards plotting against the brave, idiots against the wise, the drunk against the sober and the comatose against the conscious? Men who recline at feasts, clutching whorish women, limp from wine, stuffed with food, crowned with garlands, smeared with perfumes and worn out from sex, belch out as conversation the murder of decent men and the burning of Rome.

7. Cicero, In Catilinam 1.29. Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

For if our greatest men and most prominent citizens did not so much stain as grace themselves with the blood of Saturninus, the Gracchi, Flaccus, and many before that, sure I should not fear that any hatred will overwhelm me after this murderer of his fellow-citizens is killed. But even if this should threaten me, I have always been of the mind that hatred born from a courageous act is in reality glory.

8. Cicero, In Catilinam 2.28. Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

What exactly is impeding you? Our traditions? But in this Republic even private citizens have frequently punished destructive ones with death. Or is it the laws which have been passed regarding the punishment of Roman citizens? But in this city laws have never preserved the rights of citizens who have abandoned the Republic. Maybe you fear posterity’s hatred? Naturally! Repay the remarkable favour you owe the Roman people for raising you – a man famous through his own efforts and not those of his ancestors – at such a young age through each successive political office, until you reached their apex, by neglecting the safety of fellow-citizens because you fear danger or being hated.

9. Shane Butler, The Hand of Cicero (2002), p95.

‘The letter, as later quoted by Cicero (and Sallust), does indeed urge Catiline to make use “even of the lowliest members of society,” but Volturcius’ version specifies that this means “troops of slaves,” and adds the advice that Catiline “approach the city as soon as possible with his army.” Now it is scarcely possible that Cicero would later choose to quote from the letter an excerpt that does not include these damning details. Part of the problem is that Volturcius is paraphrasing (and, to make matters worse, Cicero in turn is paraphrasing Volturcius, expanding his statement with explanatory glosses). Note, however, that Cicero does not say that this paraphrase is of the letter alone; rather, Volturcius reports the purport of the mandata (instructions) as well as the litterae (letter) he has been asked to deliver to Catiline. Mandata can be written (indeed, Cicero probably counts on this to confuse his listeners further), but in this case they surely designate oral instructions which Lentulus was circumspect enough not to trust to writing. Daring grammatical acrobatics follow. Cicero cites Volturcius citing Lentulus’ letter not, as one would expect, by a series of indirect statements but instead by two ut-clauses to be constructed with mandata et litteras (the sense being Lentulus mandavit ut…). This is followed by a third ut-clause that reports the plan to burn the city and slaughter countless citizens. But before this Cicero inserts the phrase id autem eo consilio which makes the final ut depend on consilio. Thus what appears to be a third instruction is only the “plan” that Lentulus has in mind– and probably this represents not even the speculation of the only apparently quoted Volturcius, but rather that of Cicero himself.’ 

10. John Dugan, “Cicero’s compulsion to repeat his consulate,” The Classical Journal (2014), p17:

‘Cicero proceeds to describe in more general terms the aesthetic dimensions of his narrative, asserting that he will enjoy reading about events that brought him pain in real life, while, for others who had no part in these misfortunes, the pity they feel from surveying another’s troubles is itself a source of pleasure. Cicero then expands upon the aesthetics of closure with which he began by generalizing about the greater satisfaction that a self-contained monograph treatment of a hero’s triumphs and setbacks has in comparison to an annalistic history: if it is “completed with a remarkable outcome (si vero exitu notabili concluduntur) the mind is filled with extremely delightful reading pleasure” (Fam. 5.12.5). He then proceeds to refer to such an account of his story as being “like a play” (quasi fabulam), and thus advertises the fact that his story has a plot, a coherent structure with a beginning, middle, and an extraordinary end. Here we see Cicero shaping his story to have a telos that will make it an aesthetically and psychological satisfying whole.’

Republishing the speeches three years later:

Cicero, Letter to Atticus (Att. 2.1.3) from 60 BCE:

I’ll send my little speeches, both those you ask for and some more besides, since it appears that you too find pleasure in these performances which the enthusiasm of my young admirers prompts me to put on paper. Remembering what a brilliant show your countryman Demosthenes made in his so-called Philippics and how he turned away from this argumentative, forensic type of oratory to appear in the more elevated role of statesman, I thought it would be a good thing for me too to have some speeches to my name which might be called ‘Consular.’ They are: (1) delivered in the Senate on the Kalends of January; (2) to the Assembly, on the agrarian law; (3) on Otho; (4) in defence of Rabirius; (5) on the children of persons proscribed; (6) delivered when I publicly resigned my province; (7) when I sent Catiline out of Rome; (8) to the Assembly the day following Catiline’s flight; (9) at a public meeting the day the Allobroges turned informers; (10) in the Senate on the Nones of December. There are two further short pieces, chips, one might say, from the agrarian law. I shall see that you get the whole corpus, and since you like my writings as well as my doings, the same compositions will show you both what I did and what I said. Otherwise you shouldn’t have asked—I was not forcing myself upon you.

Early speeches

Making a name. Cicero’s Pro Roscio Amerino.

The journey so far… Ciceronian locations: Arpinum, Rome, Athens, Ameria. Nola and Asculum: Cicero claims eye witness experiences of the Social War.

1. Paris Lat. 14749 (15th c.) containing Ciceronian orations including Pro Roscio Amerino. Image: Bibliothèque nationale de France.


2. Cicero, Pro Roscio Amerino (6). Translated by D. H. Berry:

And what is that? The property of the father my client, Sextus Roscius, is worth six million sesterces, and it is from the valiant and illustrious Lucius Sulla, whose name I mention with the greatest respect, that a young man, arguably the most powerful man in Rome at the present time, claims to have purchased this property for two thousand sesterces: this man is Lucius Cornelius Chrysogonus! He has a particular request to make of you, gentlemen. Seeing that he has unlawfully seized the extremely valuable and splendid property of another man, and seeing that the life of Sextus Roscius appears to him to stand in the way of and impede his access to that property, he asks that you remove all uneasiness from his mind and release him from all his fears. For as long as Sextus Roscius is unharmed, Chrysogonus does not imagine that he can keep possession of the very large and valuable inheritance of this innocent man; with Roscius condemned and forced into exile, however, he believes that he will be free to squander and fritter away his ill-gotten gains. Chrysogonus therefore requests that you relieve him of this anxiety which worries and torments his mind night and day, and declare yourselves his accomplices in this outrageous theft which he has committed.

3. Cicero, Pro Roscio Amerino (19). Translated by D. H. Berry:

After Sextus Roscius had been killed, the first to bring the news to Ameria was a certain Mallius Glaucia, an impoverished freedman and a dependant and friend of Titus Magnus here. This Glaucia brought the news not to the house of the victim’s son, but to that of his enemy, Titus Capito. Moreover, although the murder had been committed more than an hour after nightfall, Glaucia reached Ameria by dawn: in ten hours during the night he raced across fifty-six [Roman] miles in gigs laid on in relays. And his purpose was not simply to be the first to bring the hoped-for news to the murdered man’s enemy, but to show him the blood of the man he hated while it was still fresh, and present him with the dagger which had been pulled out of the body only a few hours before.

4. Cicero, Pro Roscio Amerino (46-47). Translated by D. H. Berry:

[46] Even if fortune has given you no definite knowledge of who your father is, and has thus deprived you of an understanding of how a father feels towards his children, nature has at least endowed you with your full share of human feeling, and has added a taste for culture, making you no stranger to literature. Let me therefore take an illustration from a play. Do you really think that old man in Caecilius [Statius] thinks less of Eutychus, the son of his who lives in the country, than he does of the other one — Chaerestratus, I think he is called? That he keeps the one with him in the city as a mark of his esteem, but has banished the other one to the country as a punishment? [47] ‘Why are you straying into such absurdities?’ you will ask. As if it would be difficult for me to give you as many names as you like of people – my fellow tribesmen, say, or my neighbors (not to stray too far afield) – who want their favorite sons to become hard-working farmers! It would, however, be a breach of good manners to mention specific individuals by name, when it is not known whether they would be happy for their names to be used in this way. In any case there is no one I could mention who would be more familiar to you than Eutychus, and it certainly makes no difference to my argument whether I use the name of this young man from comedy or that of someone, say, the territory of Veii. In fact I think that poets make up these stories so that we can see our own behavior represented in other people, and be given a realistic depiction of our daily life.

5. Cicero, Pro Roscio Amerino (50-51). Translated by D. H. Berry:

But —  by Hercules! — our ancestors took a very different view about him and others like him, and it was because they did so that, instead of an extremely small and insignificant country, they handed down to us one which is very great and prosperous. For they worked on their own lands tirelessly, rather than greedily seeking after those of others; and by acting in this way they came to acquire land, cities, and foreign peoples, and so enlarged their country, this empire, and the glory of the Roman people. [51] I am not saying this for the purpose of making a comparison with our current investigation. No, the point I want to make is this. In the days of our ancestors, the most remain constantly seated at the helm of the state, nevertheless devoted a certain amount of time and effort to cultivating their land. I therefore believe that one ought to forgive a man who declares himself a countryman, in that he has always lived in the country, especially considering that there is nothing which would have pleased his father more, or would have been more agreeable to himself, or in actual fact, more honorable.

6. Cicero, Pro Roscio Amerino (56-57). Translated by D. H. Berry:

[56] It is beneficial that there should be, in the state, a large number of prosecutors, so that crime may be kept in check by ear. This is, however, only beneficial so long as the prosecutors do not openly make fools of us. A man is innocent, say: he has done nothing, but nevertheless has fallen under suspicion. It is a pitiful situation. All the same, I can forgive, up to a point, the man who brings a charge against him. For because the prosecutor has something to say which gives the impression that there is a case to be answered, we do not view him as amking fools of us in public and knowingly bringing a false accusation… [GEESE ON THE CAPITOL, GUARD DOGS] [57] It is jut the same with prosecutors. Some of you are geese, who only honk, and can do no actual harm, while others are dogs who can bite as well as bark. We can see that you are fed. In return, you should direct your attacks against those who genuinely deserve it: that is what the people want. In cases where it is likely that someone has committed a crime, by all means give your voice to your suspicion by barking: that is also permissible. If, however, you behave in such a way as to prosecute a man for the murder of his father without being able to say why or how he did it, and bark when there are no grounds whatsoever for suspicion, then nobody is actually going to break your legs — but, if you I know these jurymen at all, they will tattoo your forehead with that letter which you prosectors find so hateful that you also detest the Kalends of every month. And they shall do it so indelibly that you will be able to accuse nothing for ever afterwards but your own bad luck.

7. Cicero, Pro Roscio Amerino (154). Translated by D. H. Berry:

Men who are wise, and endowed with the authority and power which you possess, have a particular duty to cure those ills from which our country is particularly suffering. There is no one among you who is not conscious that the Roman people, who used to be thought merciful to their enemies abroad, are currently suffering from cruelty at home. Remove this cruelty from our nation, gentlemen. Do not allow it to continue any longer in this country of ours. It is an evil thing, not only because it has done away with so many citizens in a most dreadful manner, but because it has taken away the feeling of compassion from even the mildest of men, by accustoming them to troubles. For when we are witnessing or hearing of some dreadful event every hour, even those of us who are tender-hearted by nature fine that, through contact with unpleasantness, we lose all sense of humanity.

What Cicero said about the Pro Roscio Amerino later in life:

Cicero, Brutus (312):

Thus my first criminal case, spoken in behalf of Sextus Roscius, won such favourable comment that I was esteemed not incompetent to handle any litigation whatsoever. There followed then in quick succession many other cases which I brought into court, carefully worked out, and, as the saying is, smelling somewhat of the midnight oil (tamquam elucubratas*).

*on lucubratio see James Ker 2004.

Cicero, Orator (107):

What mighty applause greeted the following passage from a speech of my youth on the punishment of parricides, which somewhat later I came to feel was not sufficiently mellowed [= Pro Roscio 72] “What indeed is so common as breath to living creatures, earth to the dead, the sea to those tossed on the waves, the shore to shipwrecked mariners? Such is their life while they are let live that they cannot breathe the free air of heaven; they so die that the earth does not touch their bones; they are so tossed on the billows that they are never washed clean by them; so at last they are cast forth on the shore that, though dead, not even on the rocks can they rest in peace,” etc. All these are the words of a young man who was applauded not so much for maturity of achievement as for promise of success.

Cicero, De Officiis (2.51):

Then, too, briefs for the defence are most likely to bring glory and popularity to the pleader, and all the more so, if ever it falls to him to lend his aid to one who seems to be oppressed and persecuted by the influence of someone in power. This I have done on many other occasions; and once in particular, in my younger days, I defended Sextus Roscius of Ameria against the power of Lucius Sulla when he was acting the tyrant. The speech survives (exstat oratio), as you know.

Early life

Cicero: beginnings.

1. Sallust, The War with Catiline 31:

Then the consul Marcus Tullius, either fearing his presence or carried away by indignation, delivered a brilliant speech of great service to the state, which he later wrote out and published [= First Catilinarian, Nov. 8th 63 BCE]. When he took his seat, Catiline, prepared as he was to deny everything, with downcast eyes and pleading accents began to beg the Fathers of the Senate not to believe any unfounded charge against him; he was sprung from such a family, he said, and had so ordered his life from youth up, that he had none save the best of prospects. They must not suppose that he, a patrician, who like his forefathers had rendered great service to the Roman people, would be benefited by the overthrow of the government, while its saviour was Marcus Tullius, a resident alien in the city of Rome [inquilinus ciuis urbis Romae]. When he would have added other insults, he was shouted down by the whole body, who called him traitor and assassin. 

2. Plutarch, Life of Cicero 1-3:

1 It is said of Helvia, the mother of Cicero, that she was well born and lived an honourable life; but of his father nothing can be learned that does not go to an extreme. For some say that he was born and reared in a fuller’s shop, while others trace the origin of his family to Tullus Attius, an illustrious king of the Volscians, who waged war upon the Romans with great ability. However, the first member of the family who was surnamed Cicero seems to have been worthy of note, and for that reason his posterity did not reject the surname, but were fond of it, although many made fun of it. For cicer is the Latin name for ‘chick-pea’, and this ancestor of Cicero, as it would seem, had a faint dent in the end of his nose like the cleft of a chick-pea, from which he acquired his surname. Cicero himself, however, whose Life I now write, when he first entered public life and stood for office and his friends thought he ought to drop or change the name, is said to have replied with spirit that he would strive to make the name of Cicero more illustrious than such names as Scaurus or Catulus. Moreover, when he was quaestor in Sicily and was dedicating to the gods a piece of silver plate, he had his first two names inscribed thereon, the Marcus and the Tullius, but instead of the third, by way of jest, he ordered the artificer to engrave a chick-pea in due sequence. This, then, is what is told about his name.

2 It is said that Cicero was born, without travail or pain on the part of his mother, on the third day of the new Calends, the day on which at the present time the magistrates offer sacrifices and prayers for the health of the emperor. It would seem also that a phantom appeared to his nurse and foretold that her charge would be a great blessing to all the Romans. And although these presages were thought to be mere dreams and idle fancies, he soon showed them to be true prophecy; for when he was of an age for taking lessons, his natural talent shone out clear and he won name and fame among the boys, so that their fathers used to visit the schools in order to see Cicero with their own eyes and observe the quickness and intelligence in his studies for which he was extolled, though the ruder ones among them were angry at their sons when they saw them walking with Cicero placed in their midst as a mark of honour. And although he showed himself, as Plato thought a nature should do which was fond of learning and fond of wisdom, capable of welcoming all knowledge and incapable of slighting any kind of literature or training, he lent himself with somewhat greater ardour to the art of poetry. And a little poem which he wrote when a boy is still extant, called Pontius Glaucus, and composed in tetrameter verse. Moreover, as he grew older and applied himself with greater versatility to such accomplishments, he got the name of being not only the best orator, but also the best poet among the Romans. His fame for oratory abides to this day, although there have been great innovations in style; but his poetry, since many gifted poets have followed him, has altogether fallen into neglect and disrepute.

3 After he had finished the studies of boyhood, he attended the lectures of Philon the Academic, whom, above all the other disciples of Cleitomachus, the Romans admired for his eloquence and loved for his character. At the same time he consorted with Mucius Scaevola, a statesman and leader of the senate, and was helped by him to an acquaintance with the law; and for a little while he also did military service under Sulla in the war against the Marsians. Then, seeing that the commonwealth was hurrying into factions, and from factions into unlimited monarchy, he betook himself to a retired and contemplative life, associated with Greek scholars, and pursued his studies, until Sulla got the mastery and the state appeared to be somewhat settled.

3. Pliny the Elder, Natural History 18.10:

The most lavish gifts bestowed on generals and valorous citizens were the largest area of land that a person could plough round in one day, and also a contribution from the whole people of one or two quarterns of emmer wheat a head. Moreover the earliest surnames were derived from agriculture: the name ‘Pilumnus’ belonged to the inventor of the ‘pestle’ for corn-mills, ‘Piso’ came from ‘pounding’ corn [piso = ‘mortar’], and again families were named Fabius [faba = ‘bean’] or Lentulus [lens = ‘lentil’] or Cicero [cicer = ‘chick-pea’] because someone was the best grower of some particular crop. One of the Junius family received the name of Bubulcus [bos, bovis = ‘ox’ or ‘cow’] because he was very good at managing oxen. Moreover among religious rites none was invested with more sanctity than that of Communion in Wheat, and newly married brides used to carry in their hands an offering of wheat.

4. Cicero, On the Laws 2.1-3:

Atticus: As we have now had a sufficiently long walk, and you are about to begin a new part of the discussion, shall we not leave this place and go to the island in the Fibrenus (for I believe that is the name of the other river), and sit there while we finish the conversation?
Marcus: By all means; for that island is a favourite haunt of mine for meditation, writing and reading.
Atticus: Indeed I cannot get enough of this place, especially as I have come at this season of the year, and I scorn luxurious country-places, marble walks and panelled ceilings. Take those artificial streams which some of our friends call ‘Niles’ or ‘Euripi’—who, after seeing what we have before us, would not laugh at them? And so, just as you, a moment ago, in your discussion of law and justice, traced everything back to nature, in the same way nature is absolutely supreme in the things that men seek for the recreation and delight of the soul. I used to be surprised (for I had the idea that there was nothing in this vicinity except rocks and mountains, and both your speeches and poems encouraged me in that opinion) — I was surprised, I say, that you enjoyed this place so much; now, on the other hand, I wonder that you ever prefer to go elsewhere, when you leave Rome.
Marcus: Indeed, whenever it is possible for me to be out of town for several days, especially at this time of the year, I do come to this lovely and healthful spot; it is rarely possible, however. But I suppose that the place gives me additional pleasure on account of a circumstance which cannot have the same effect on you.
Atticus: What circumstance is that?
Marcus: To tell you the truth, this is really my own fatherland, and that of my brother, for we are descended from a very ancient family of this district; here are our ancestral sacred rites and the origin of our race; here are many memorials of our forefathers. What more need I say? Over there you see our homestead as it is now—rebuilt and extended by my father’s care; for, as his health was not good, he spent most of his life in study here. It was on this very spot, I would have you know, that I was born, while my grandfather was alive and when the homestead, according to the old custom, was small, like that of Curius in the Sabine country. For this reason a lingering attachment for the place abides in my mind and heart, and causes me perhaps to feel a greater pleasure in it; and indeed, as you remember, that exceedingly wise man is said to have refused immortality that he might see Ithaca once more.

5. Richard Wilson, Cicero and his Two Friends, Atticus and Quintus, at his Villa at Arpinum. Appeared in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1770. According to David Solkin (1990: 42), Wilson based ‘Arpinum’ not on Italian topography, but on the Welsh countryside. Image: Wikimedia.


6a. G. A. Harrer, ‘The Site of Cicero’s Villa at Arpinum,’ (1924), p541:

‘Centuries gone there was quite a lively rivalry between the cities of Sora and Arpinum, both claiming that Cicero had been their townsman. The rivalry was due to the fact that the site near the mouth of the Fibrenus has long belonged to Sora, while in Roman literature Cicero is known as a man of Arpinum, and it led finally to a trial by combat between champions of the cities, under the patronage of Count Federico of Segni, some three hundred years ago. With the result of the combat, so far as the question settled by it is concerned, we may rest content, for the champion of Arpinum won the day!’

6b. D. Bernardo Clavelli, L’Antica Arpino (1623). Digitized by google books.

6c. Google map: Arpinum (modern Arpino). Basilica San Domenico Abate.