history, oratory

Cicero’s ‘Brutus.’ The history of oratory.

1a. M. Junius Brutus (85-42 BCE). In 54 BCE Brutus minted a coin depicting two of his ancestors: L. Junius Brutus, who expelled the kings from Rome, and Servilius Ahala, who killed Spurius Maelius in 439 BCE with dagger hidden under an armpit. RRC 433/2. Images: http://numismatics.org/collection/1944.100.3244

+ Kathryn Tempest’s (@KathrynTempest) Brutus: The Noble Conspirator (2017) = highly recommended! for a stimulating reevaluation of Caesar’s assassin.

1b. On the idea that Cicero’s Brutus (46 BCE) provoked Brutus to kill Caesar (44 BCE)…:

2a. Cicero, Brutus (16). Translated by G. L. Hendrickson (1939):

I am prepared to make payment of goodwill in full measure, but the debt itself I do not now seem able to pay and for this I ask your forbearance. I cannot undertake to repay you out of the new crop, as farmers do, for all new growth has been checked within me, and drought has burned and withered all that flowering which once promised abundance. Nor can I repay you from the garnered grain of my storehouse; it lies there in darkness and I who alone have the key find every approach to it cut off. I must therefore sow something in soil uncultivated and abandoned, and by careful cultivation make it possible to increase with interest the generosity of your gift; that is if my mind can respond as well as a field, which after lying fallow for many years generally yields a richer harvest.

2b. Sarah Culpepper Stroup, “Brutus: the dialogic personification of the Republican voice,” Catullus, Cicero, and a Society of Patrons (2010), p255:

‘In his stylization of Rome’s oratorical masters as the “ancestors” of Republican Eloquentia, Cicero transforms the abstracted silence of the Republican voice into a personal family tragedy — a tragedy for which he, as the eldest surviving son of the oratorical family, will deliver the eulogy.’

3. Cicero, Brutus (57-59). Translated by G. L. Hendrickson (1939):

But the first Roman concerning whom there is extant record of his eloquence, and evidence of his recognition for it, is Marcus Cornelius Cethegus [cos. 204 BCE]. The authority for this statement, and an adequate one I fancy, is Quintus Ennius, especially since he had heard him speak and writes of him after his death, so that no suspicion of distortion because of friendship can arise. The passage of Ennius, if I recall aright, is found in the ninth book of the Annals and runs as follows:

To his colleague Tuditanus was added the orator
Marcus Cornelius Cethegus, of the sweet-speaking tongue, son of Marcus.

He calls him orator and adds the attribute of sweetness of speech, a thing you do not find nowadays in most of them—more barking in some than speaking; but what follows is certainly the greatest title to praise in eloquence:

He used to be called by his fellows of that time,
The men who then lived and passed their restless days,
The choice flower of the people—

and well said indeed; for as reason is the glory of man, so the lamp of reason is eloquence, for preeminence in which the men of that time did well to call such a man the flower of the people,

the marrow of Persuasion.

Πειθώ the Greek term, which it is the business of the orator to effect, Ennius calls Persuasion [Suada], the very marrow of which Cethegus was, he claims; so that of that goddess, which according to Eupolis [5th c. BCE playwright, Old Comedy] ever sat on the lips of Pericles, our orator was, he said, the very marrow.

4a. Cicero, Brutus (81-82). Translated by G. L. Hendrickson (1939):

As for Quintus Metellus [cos. 143 BCE], whose four sons attained to consular rank, you are of course aware that he was esteemed one of the most eloquent men of his time. He spoke in behalf of Lucius Cotta against the indictment of him brought by Africanus. This and other of his orations are extant besides the one against Tiberius Gracchus, which is set forth in the Annals of Gaius Fannius. Lucius Cotta himself was esteemed a practised speaker, but of routine type. Gaius Laelius and Publius Africanus [cos. 147 BCE] however were in the first rank of orators; their speeches are extant, from which one may judge of their oratorical genius. But among all of these, preceding them a little in point of time, Servius Galba [cos. 144 BCE] stood out beyond question as pre-eminent in eloquence. And in fact of Latin orators he was the first to employ those resources which are the proper and legitimate functions of the orator—to digress from the business in hand for embellishment, to delight his listeners, to move them, to amplify his theme, to use pathos and general topics. But for whatever cause, though his pre-eminence in eloquence is well attested, his orations are more meagre and savour more of antiquity than those of Laelius or Scipio, or even of Cato himself. Their colours have become so much faded that they are scarcely still visible.

4b. Cicero, Brutus (93-94). Translated by G. L. Hendrickson (1939):

They are satisfied with the renown they have, and judge that it will appear greater if their writings do not come into the hands of critics. Still others do not write because they are aware that they speak better than they write—the case frequently with men of unusual talent but insufficient training, like Galba. In his case it would seem that when he spoke, in addition to vigorous intellectual grasp, he was fired by a kind of innate emotion, which produced a style of speaking earnest, passionate, and vehement; then when he took up his pen at leisure and all that storm of emotion had subsided, his language lost its vigour. That would not happen naturally to those who follow a more concise style of speaking, because reason and judgement need not desert the orator at any time, and relying upon them he may write in the same manner as he speaks; but powerful emotion is not always present, and when it has subsided, all that force and fire of oratory goes out. This then is the reason why the mind of Laelius still breathes in his writings, the force of Galba has vanished.

5. Cicero, Brutus (62). Translated by G. L. Hendrickson (1939):

Of these some are, to be sure, extant, which the families of the deceased have preserved as trophies of honour and for use on the death of a member of the same family, whether to recall the memory of past glories of their house, or to support their own claims to noble origins. Yet by these laudatory speeches our history has become quite distorted; for much is set down in them which never occurred, false triumphs, too large a number of consulships, false relationships and transitions of patricians to plebeian status, in that men of humbler birth professed that their blood blended with a noble family of the same name, though in fact quite alien to them; as if I, for example, should say that I was descended from Manius Tullius the patrician, who was consul with Servius Sulpicius ten years after the expulsion of the kings.

6. Catherine Steel, “Cicero’s Brutus: the end of oratory and the beginning of history?” BICS (2002), p203:

‘In general, then, Cicero seeks to eliminate content from his discussion, or at least the content of deliberative speeches, and to explain success in terms of technical skill. A similar avoidance of content can be seen in the discussion of specific popularis orators. Of the Gracchi, Tiberius is dealt with in 103-4, and Gaius in 125-126, and Cicero makes no secret of his admiration for the talent of both: his praise is strikingly warm. Tiberius had the potential to outstrip, along with his ally Carbo, all others in gloria, and Gaius is ‘a man who combined an outstanding intellect with passionate enthusiasm and a learned education which began in his childhood’ [Brut. 125]. But, at the same time, the uses to which they put their oratorical talents are condemned. In Tiberius, there is a negative link between talent and activity, implied through a wish for better things: ‘Would that the dispositions of Gaius Carbo and Tiberius Gracchus had been as inclined to do the state good as their intellects were inclined to good speaking . . .’ [Brut. 103]And in Gaius’ case too Cicero indicates his actual unsatisfactoriness through a wish: ‘Would that he had wanted to demonstrate his piety towards his country instead of to his brother!’ [Brut. 126] Yet there is no real discussion of the actions which Tiberius and Gaius took.’

7. Cicero, Brutus (8-9). Translated by G. L. Hendrickson (1939):

Thus, amidst other things far more deplorable, it was to me a peculiar sorrow, that after a career of conspicuous achievements, at an age when it was my right to take refuge in a harbour, not of indolence and sloth, but of honourable and well-ordered ease, when my oratory too had attained a certain ripeness and maturity of age,—it was, I say, a peculiar sorrow that at that moment resort was had to arms, which those who had learned to use them gloriously did not find a way to use them beneficently. Those men therefore appear to me to have lived fortunate and happy lives, in other states and especially in our own, whom fate permitted to enjoy to the end the authority acquired by the renown of their deeds, and the esteem earned by their wisdom.

8. Cicero, Brutus (45-46). Translated by G. L. Hendrickson (1939):

This age therefore first produced at Athens an orator all but perfect. For the ambition to speak well does not arise when men are engaged in establishing government, nor occupied with the conduct of war, nor shackled and chained by the authority of kings. Upon peace and tranquillity eloquence attends as their ally, it is, one may say, the offspring of well-established civic order.a Thus Aristotle says that in Sicily, after the expulsion of tyrants, when after a long interval restitution of private property was sought by legal means, Corax and Tisias the Sicilians, with the acuteness and controversial habit of their people, first put together some theoretical precepts; that before them, while many had taken pains to speak with care and with orderly arrangement, no one had followed a definite method or art.


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.’