Terentia, Tullia, Publilia.

1. Portrait of a Wife and Husband. Wall painting from Pompeii. Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Image: wikimedia.

2a. Plutarch, Life of Cicero (19-20). Terentia during the Catilinarian conspiracy (63 BCE).

[19] It was now evening, and the people were waiting about the temple in throngs, when Cicero came forth and told his fellow-citizens what had been done. They then escorted him to the house of a friend and neighbour, since his own was occupied by the women, who were celebrating mysterious rites to a goddess whom the Romans call Bona Dea, and the Greeks, Gynaeceia. Sacrifice is offered to her annually in the house of the consul by his wife or his mother, in the presence of the Vestal Virgins…

[20] While Cicero was in this perplexity, a sign was given to the women who were sacrificing. The altar, it seems, although the fire was already thought to have gone out, sent forth from the ashes and burnt bark upon it a great bright blaze. The rest of the women were terrified at this, but the sacred virgins bade Terentia the wife of Cicero go with all speed to her husband and tell him to carry out his resolutions in behalf of the country, since the goddess was giving him a great light on this path to safety and glory. So Terentia, who was generally of no mild spirit nor without natural courage, but an ambitious woman, and, as Cicero himself tells us, more inclined to make herself a partner in his political perplexities than to share with him her domestic concerns, gave him this message and incited him against the conspirators.

2b. Susan Treggiari, Terentia, Tullia, and Publilia (2007), p46:

‘As consul’s wife, Terentia was a source of patronage, especially for women. One Contemporary source, the Sicilian Diodorus, gave an account of a plot of the Catilinarian conspirators which seems to be doublet of the attempt to assassinate Cicero on 7 November. They thought of killing leading men by infiltrating their houses at the Saturnalia in December. It was this, according to Diodorus, which a young man (not named here) betrayed to his mistress (again, unnamed). She went to the “wife of Cicero” and warned her (40.5. a fragment). In the usual version, Cicero got information from Fulvia [=Sallust, Bellum Catilinae 23], the mistress of Q. Curius, and Terentia is not mentioned. But, on the use of Terentia as an intermediary by a woman informant, Diodorus is convincing.’

2c. Susan Treggiari, Terentia, Tullia, and Publilia (2007), p48-49:

‘But a great deal of intervention by wives was acceptable and so normal that it was taken for granted and is rarely mentioned in our sources. For instance, in 62, Cicero wrote to P. Sestius, who was serving as proquaestor in Macedonia, about whether he wished to be replaced. An earlier letter from Sestius suggests that he did, but one of his trusted agents had been to see Cicero and told him that the proquaestor wanted to stay in the province. Cicero had not been sure if this was right and Sestius had indeed changed his mind until he followed up the matter with a certain Q. Cornelius and Sestius’ wife, Cornelia, arranged a meeting with Terentia. Here we see Cornelia as the repository of the most up-to-date instructions from her husband, contacting the consular’s wife quite formally to ensure that Cicero would oppose the recall of Sestius and persuade Sestius’ other friends in the senate to do the same. Terentia was a trusted intermediary. It was etiquette for the junior senator’s wife to approach her and not Cicero himself.’

3. Plutarch, Life of Cicero (29). The Bona Dea scandal (Dec. 62 BCE), Cicero, Clodia, Terentia…  

Now, Cicero was a friend of Clodius, and in the affair of Catiline had found him a most eager co-worker and guardian of his person; but when Clodius replied to the charge against him by insisting that he had not even been in Rome at the time, but had been staying in places at the farthest remove from there, Cicero testified against him, declaring that Clodius had come to his house and consulted him on certain matters; which was true. However, it was thought that Cicero did not give his testimony for the truth’s sake, but by way of defence against the charges of his own wife Terentia. For there was enmity between her and Clodius on account of his sister Clodia, whom Terentia thought to be desirous of marrying Cicero and to be contriving this with the aid of a certain Tullus; now, Tullus was a companion and an especial intimate of Cicero, and his constant visits and attentions to Clodia, who lived near by, made Terentia suspicious. So, being a woman of harsh nature, and having sway over Cicero, she incited him to join in the attack upon Clodius and give testimony against him.

4. Cicero, Letter to Quintus (1.3.3). Written from exile. Thessalonica, 13 June 58 BCE. Translated by Shackleton Bailey

You can imagine how I weep as I write these lines, as I am sure you do as you read them. Can I put you out of my mind sometimes, or ever think of you without tears? When I miss you, I do not miss you as a brother only, but as a delightful brother almost of my own age, a son in deference, a father in wisdom. What pleasure did I ever take apart from you or you apart from me? And then at the same time I miss my daughter, the most loving, modest, and clever daughter a man ever had, the image of my face and speech and mind. Likewise my charming, darling little boy, whom I, cruel brute that I am, put away from my arms. Too wise for his years, the poor child already understood what was going on. Likewise your son, your image, whom my boy loved like a brother and had begun to respect like an elder brother. As for my loyalest of wives, poor, unhappy soul, I did not let her come with me so that there should be someone to protect the remnants of our common disaster, the children we have in common.

5. Cicero, Letter to Terentia (Fam. 14.4.1). Written as Cicero was going into exile. Brundisium, 29 April 58 BCE. Translated by Shackleton Bailey.

I send you letters less often than I have opportunity, because, wretched as every hour is for me, when I write to you at home or read your letters I am so overcome with tears that I cannot bear it. If only I had been less anxious to save my life! Assuredly I should have seen no sorrow in my days, or not much. If Fortune has spared me for some hope of one day recovering some measure of well-being, my error has not been so total. But if these present evils are to stay, then, yes, I want to see you, dear heart, as soon as I can, and to die in your arms, since neither the Gods whom you have worshipped so piously nor the men to whose service I have always devoted myself have made us any recompense.

6a. Cicero, Letter to Appius Claudius Pulcher (Fam. 3.12.1-2). Written as Cicero was returning from Cilicia, Side 3 or 4 August 50 BCE. Translated by Shackleton Bailey.

Indeed I do congratulate you heartily on the corruption trial—not on your acquittal, which was a foregone conclusion,… As for me, please for a moment put yourself in my shoes, imagine you are I; and if you have no difficulty in finding what to say, I won’t ask you to forgive my embarrassment! I should indeed wish that the arrangement made by my family without my knowledge may turn out well for my dear Tullia and myself, as you are charming and kind enough to desire. But that the thing should have come about just when it did—well, I hope and pray some happiness may come of it, but in so hoping I take more comfort in the thought of your good sense and kind heart than in the timeliness of the proceeding! And so how to get out of the wood and finish what I have begun to say I cannot tell. I must not take a gloomy tone about an event to which you yourself wish all good luck; but at the same time I can’t but feel a rub.

6b. Cicero, Letter to Atticus (6.6). Contemporary with 5a. Translated by Shackleton Bailey, with adjustments.

Here am I in my province paying Appius all manner of compliments, when out of the blue I find his prosecutor becoming my son-in-law! ‘Good luck to that,’ say you. So I hope and I am sure you so desire. But believe me it was the last thing I expected. I had actually sent reliable persons to the women (mulieres) in connexion with Tiberius Claudius Nero, who had treated with me. They got to Rome after the betrothal. However I hope this is better. The women are evidently quite charmed with the young man’s attentiveness and engaging manners.

7. Susan Treggiari, Terentia, Tullia, and Publilia (2007), p36:

‘Cicero notoriously went to one party where the only woman known to be present was not the sort who could mix with senators’ wives. The dinner was at the house of P. Volumnius Eutrapelus and she, Volumnia Cytheris, was his freedwoman and had been his mistress and an actress, therefore disqualified on three counts from socialising with upper-class women. But this was probably while Cicero was divorced and he seems not to have made a habit of this kind of thing.’

8. Susan Treggiari, Terentia, Tullia, and Publilia (2007), p47:

‘In his speeches, Cicero exploited his love for his family to illustrate the sacrifice he was prepared to make for his country. In fact, his execution of the conspirators came back to haunt him and to threaten his family. If Terentia, as hostess at the sacrifice to the Good Goddess, was responsible for announcing a favourable omen which steeled his resolution, she was morally implicated. Plutarch (Cic. 202) says she spurred him on. That rite was the high point of the year of the consul’s wife, but it came at a moment of crisis: Terentia rose to on both occasions.’

9. Susan Treggiari, Terentia, Tullia, and Publilia (2007), p123-124:

‘Tullia told Cicero of the kindness Atticus had been showing her, but her presence was not the tonic it usually was [p124]:

I have not been able to take from her courage, kindliness and love the pleasure I ought to have taken from such an extraordinary daughter. Instead, I have been overcome by unbelievable pain at the realisation that such a human being is condemned to such a wretched lot and that this happens through no sin of her own, but by my grievous fault. Att. 11.17, Brundisium, 12 or 13 June 47.’

10. Susan Treggiari, Terentia, Tullia, and Publilia (2007), p124:

‘Cicero continued to blame himself for the mess he had got into by leaving Italy in 49 and then by going back. His political career was in ruins, and this affected the standing of his wife and daughter, and his political decisions and his general negligence of financial matters had completely changed the financial situation and expectations of the family. But the disaster suffered by Tullia, her failed marriage with Dolabella, was not his responsibility. Although it might be considered partly Cicero’s fault that he had not seen her married before he left (compulsorily) for Cilicia, Tullia and her mother had chosen Dolabella. It was a poor choice, for reasons which Cicero had seen clearly at the time. Dolabella’s track record was bad and he did not change his ways. But Cicero was meticulous in avoiding any flavour of ‘I told you so.’ He did not exculpate all his family for his own anguish: ‘we have brought it all on ourselves by those mistakes and sufferings of mind and body, which I wish those nearest to me had chosen to heal.’ Att. 11.25, Brundisium 5 July 47.’

11. Susan Treggiari, Terentia, Tullia, and Publilia (2007), p33:  

‘We know from Quintus that Helvia was a frugal manager. Quintus writes to his brother’s secretary Tiro to ask him to keep the letters coming even if he has no news: he should just send an empty letter so that Quintus will know he is not being cheated of correspondence. This will be just like his mother, who used to seal all the empty wine-bottles so that she could tell that no unauthorized person was drinking the wine.’ 


A world of letters.

1. BL Kings MS 23, f. 1., 14th c. manuscript containing Cicero’s Epistulae ad Familiares. Image: British Library.

2. Peter White, Cicero in Letters (2010), p15:

‘Traces of missing letters in the published correspondence seem too numerous and too widely distributed to be explained by postal failure, deficient archives, or other impersonal causes. Whoever published Cicero’s letters must first have sorted through them, selecting and discarding in light of guidelines nowhere made explicit. But once we accept that editorial choice was being exercised, we can begin to perceive types of letters that were passed over.’

3. Catherine Edwards, “Epistolography,” A Companion to Latin Literature (2005), p273:

‘The letters chart shifts in Cicero’s self-perception, at the same time working to present a more fluid, intimate picture of their author to external readers, a picture that many have found significantly more attractive than those discernible from Cicero’s public speeches or philosophical writings. Cicero’s letters were apparently composed without the anticipation that they would be published. They are full of allusions and references that need explication if they are to be understood by later readers. Indeed the letters to Atticus occasionally seem to assume that no one besides the addressee will read them; Cicero comments, for instance, in 1.16, ‘I don’t feel that I am bragging when I talk about myself in your hearing, especially in a letter that I don’t wish to be read to other people’ (61 BC). The letters of Cicero are often contrasted, in this – and other – respects with Pliny’s letters, which, as we shall see below, were, it seems, written specifically with a view to publication.’

4. Peter White, Cicero in Letters (2010), p106:

‘Still, Cicero is more attuned to his correspondents as individuals than as members of a class. Although almost all would have received the usual literary and rhetorical education, he does not presume that all cherished literary interests. In letters to only about a third of them does he touch even lightly on literature, mentioning particular books, for example, or quoting verse or talking of culture (studia, doctrina, litterae) in the abstract. One manifestation of reserve in this regard can be seen in his deployment of quotations from Greek poetry. More than a hundred are found in his letters to Atticus (where they are twice as frequent as quotes in Latin). The long stays in Greece that had earned Atticus his name had made him as conversant with Greek as with Roman culture. Not quite a dozen citations of Greek verse occur in Cicero’s letters to his brother, who as a young man had accompanied Cicero on his study tour of Greece and Asia in the early 70s. A dozen more quotations are sprinkled through letters to just five other persons. This distribution suggests that Cicero’s quotations are neither decorative nor random elements but are carefully calculated, and I would argue that that is true of most of his other evocations of literature. Cicero considered not only the background and interests of the person to whom he was writing but also the particular effects he wanted to achieve when he brought the subject up.’

5. Catherine Edwards, “Epistolography,” A Companion to Latin Literature (2005), p272:  

‘The first kind is that which conveys important information to those who are far away. But when there is no such information to be sent, letters may be classed as ‘intimate and humorous’ (familiare et iocosum) or else as ‘austere and serious’ (severum et grave). Cicero’s addressees include those with whom Cicero was evidently on close terms, such as Curio and Caelius, but also others, such as the powerful aristocrats Lentulus Spinther and Appius Pulcher, whom he knew much less well. Letters to those in the second category tend to be couched in an elaborate and formal style that differs little from that of Cicero’s published works of other kinds. Letters to close friends, above all those to Atticus, are by contrast full of the vulgar terms, neologisms and diminutives that have come to be seen as the distinctive features of Cicero’s informal letter-writing. This latter style is of course no less self-conscious and carefully worked.’

6. Peter White, Cicero in Letters (2010), p61:

‘Some idea of the subject matter that the editor favored can be gained by comparing extant letters with letters that are missing. The most obvious bias is, as just noted, toward political content, dramatic political content above all, for which the editor was willing to stretch the parameters of his project. He included some letters he discovered in the files that were not only not written by Cicero, but not written to him either. He was also fond of letters in which a writer spread himself in the “O tempora, o mores!” vein, and less interested in detail about parliamentary discussions or public trials. The editor discarded many letters covering Cicero’s life out of the public spotlight: letters about family relations, business affairs, literary and other cultural pursuits, and purely social interactions. He was also leery of including isolated letters that could not be integrated into a context of some sort.’

7. Peter White, Cicero in Letters (2010), p41-42:

‘There are four places, however, in which it is difficult to resist the conclusion that text has been deliberately abridged. One occurs in a letter that Cicero wrote to Appius Claudius Pulcher (Fam. 3.10 = 73 SB), the man he succeeded as (p.42) governor of Cilicia. At this point in their exchange, each was accusing the other of actions that slighted and undermined him. Cicero insists that he has acted only from the most generous motives, which he enunciates at length. At the very end of the letter, he turns to steps he has taken to ensure that no discreditable evidence reaches Rome during Appius’s trial for official misconduct. The transition is as follows: “But so much for all that; perhaps I have even gone on at greater length than was necessary. Now let me inform you what initiatives and arrangements have been forthcoming on my side.” The next sentence in the manuscripts reads, “And these things we have done and will continue to do, more in furtherance of your dignity than in aid of your trial” (sed haec hactenus; pluribus enim etiam fortasse verbis quam necesse fuit scripta sunt. nunc ea quae a me profecta quaeque instituta sunt cognosce * * * atque haec agimus et agemus magis pro dignitate quam pro periculo tuo, Fam. 3.10.11 = 73 SB). A passage recounting helpful interventions in Cilicia has evidently disappeared.’

8. Ruth Morello, “Writer and addressee in Cicero’s letters,” Cambridge Companion to Cicero (2013), p210.

‘In Fam. 15.4, Cicero constructs an ‘epistolary code’ which figures Cato as synecdochically representative of the senate as a whole, makes him first recipient (before even the senate) of official news from a proconsul in the field, and highlights the distinctively ‘Catonian’ mandate for Cicero’s campaign. Thus Cicero turns to flattering use the persona he depicts in more critical terms in Att. 2.1.8 where he makes his famous joke that Cato speaks as if he were in Plato’s Republic rather than Romulus’ cesspit, and then again more positively in Att. 6.1.13 where he measures contemporary governors (including himself) against what he calls Cato’s ‘blueprint’ (‘politeuma’).’

9. Peter White, “The Editing of the Collection,” Cicero in Letters: Epistolary Relations of the Late Republic (2010) p59.

‘The point just made about letters from correspondents was also true of enclosures and letters of recommendation: the editor has selected material that privileges the topmost stratum of Roman society… Élisabeth Déniaux’s table of correspondents in the extant books lists ninety-seven named persons, of whom seventy-four are senators. Thirty-six books or more that are lost once contained a correspondence with Pompey, Brutus, Caesar, Octavian, Pansa, Hirtius, Axius, Licinius Calvus, Marcus junior, and Cornelius Nepos, of whom all but the last two are senators.

This concentration on Cicero’s relations with fellow members of the governing class may seem unremarkable, since it undoubtedly suits the tastes of most readers ancient and modern. But let us nevertheless take a moment to inventory some of the available correspondents whom the editor passed over. The published collection preserves almost none of Cicero’s letters to magnates in the towns of Italy or in the provinces. It contains no letters to persons in his hometown of Arpinum, for example, or to regional clients he accumulated as quaestor in Sicily and afterward, and almost none to some three dozen people whom he identifies as hospites. And while the editor made a point of including letters of recommendation, he retained little of the background communication with the persons on whose behalf the recommendations were written. The collection also contains none of Cicero’s exchanges with Greek intellectuals whom he cultivated, such as the philosophers Aristus, Diodotus, Cratippus, and Posidonius and the grammatici Nicias and Tyrannio. The only member of his domestic staff represented in the edition is Tiro, though Cicero often wrote to Philotimus and the tutor Dionysius as well, and nothing survives of an active correspondence with the businessmen Vestorius and Vettienus.’ 


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.’


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: emersonkent.com.

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.