(BEING CONTINUED FROM 16/10/11)
A Project of State
Cicero’s De Republica does not set out to sketch an ideal state as does Plato.
Instead, he projects himself into the past, to the time of the Scipio’s as the best form
of state. The dialogue takes place in 129 at a villa of Scipio Aemilianus. In the first
part, Scipio distinguishes the three forms of government and how the Romans
successfully used all three. Book 2 dealt with the development of the Roman
Constitution. The following books are highly fragmentary, but it concludes in 6
with the dream of Scipio, in which Africanus appears to show how insignificant
mortal life is, but how wonderful the afterlife would be for a good statesman.
The theory of government goes back, through Polybius, to Aristotle. Cicero adds the
first citizen, the princeps, which he seems to think of in the role Scipio Aemilianus
played, a first citizen working in the bounds of the Republic. The princeps would
have to steel himself against all selfish passions. The dream of Scipio enjoins
disdain for all human things. It was a difficult task, as the events of the 50s showed
with Pompey and Caesar.
The De Republica was followed by De Legibus, begun in 52. It has a contemporary
setting with Cicero, Quintus, and Atticus as speakers. In book 1 Cicero expounds
the stoic theory that law is based on what is innate in men and therefore derives
from god. In book 2 he expounds on the best laws, based on the Roman constitution.
In 3 he gives the texts of laws concerning magistrates and their competence.
Morality for Roman Society
Cicero didn’t start writing philosophy until 46, and picked up the pace in 45 after
his daughter Tullia died. Perhaps his masterpiece is De Finibus Bonorum et
Malorum, dedicated to Brutus. It deals with ethical questions, the highest good and
evil, in three dialogues. The first dialogue (books 1-2) refutes Epicureanims, the
second compares Stoicism with the Academic and Peripatetic theories, and the last
(book 5) expounds the eclectic theory of Cicero’s teacher Antiochus. The Tusculan
Disputations deals with themes of death, grief, sadness, spiritual disturbance, and
virtue as a guaruntee of happiness and is the closest Cicero gets to Stoicism. Other
works include those on divinities, and the De Officiis, which is his last philosophical
Cicero is trying to rethink the whole system of philosophy that grew up in
Hellenistic times, and to knit together an ideal structure for the Roman state. For
knowledge, Cicero rejects that it can be known for sure, and holds to the skepticims
of the Academics, that the truth must be apprached in terms of appearances and
probability. This is how Cicero approaches most problems.
This leads to a philosophical eclecticism, of humanitas that urged the adoption of
open tolerance. This is manifested even in the dialogues, which show good Roman
society, with a softened polemic and a rejection of harsh contradiciton, and general
politeness. The only case were this doesn’t really apply is Epicureanism, which is
refuted in De Finibus, because it doesn’t emphisize activity in the state and because it excludes divinity’s providential function. The De Finibus develops the comparison of different philosophical systems most fully. Ethical rigidity, such as
the stoicism of Cato, is rejected, and Cicero is even willing to consider philosophies
like the Paripatetics that were moderately open to pleasure.
In the Cato Maior de Senectute, Cicero projects himself onto the figure of Cato in
the last year of his life, and makes Cato into a refined cultivator of humanitas and
sociability. Otium is perfectly harmonized with the tenacity of political
engagement, two demands that Cicero tried to reconcile throughout his life. In the
Laelius de Amicitia Cicero tries to enlarge the social basis of friendship beyond the
circle of the nobilitas, not just for political relations, but for true, sincere friendship.
The De Officiis was written alongside the Philippics. It is a treatise dedicated to
Marcus Cicero. It seeks to formulate a morality that will allow the Roman
aristocracy to regain control over society. The philosophy is provided by the modern
Stoicism of Panaetius, which was less rigid and hard-edged. This gave Cicero a
model for moving between theoretical thought and practical application.
Panaetius theorized about beneficence, which fitted well with the lives of Roman
aristocrats and how they used officia and donations to attract a following. This was
problematic too, for Cicero, because it could lead to corruption and demagoguery.
Panaetius replaced the idea of virtue with magnitudo animi, a sort of gentlemanly
virtue and a natural desire to dmoniate or outdo others, even though it disdains
worldy wealth. Checking personal desire was a strong part of this. Cicero links this
all to reason and says the task is to get rid of egoitism and vice, or transform to
virtue and work for the state.
The final virtue is moderation. It is manifested in a suitable decorum of words and
actions and shows firm self-control, to be admired by others. He gives a long list of
advice on etiquette and ends with a description of the aristocrats ideal house – large
and elegant, but not luxurious and pretentious.
This concept of decorum permits individual variation. Each man must play the part
as best suited to his talent. One can undertake a non-public career as long as he
remembers his duties to the community. This obviously includes all those boni to
whom Cicero had been speaking since the Pro Sestio, both those involved in politics,
and those supporting the right politicians.
Cicero as Prose Writer: Language and Style
Like Lucretius, Cicero had a hard time finding the right sort of terminology for his
philosophy. He experimented a lot, and avoided Grecisms. He ended up
introducing many abstract words into Latin as a result. But his main contribution
is the creation of a complex and harmonious period, with perfect balance between
its parts, modeled on Isocrates and Demosthenes. It was very logical and
eliminated many of the incogruities Latin had. Phrases were orgranized into units
with accurate and explicit subordination instead of coordination. Cicero also has a
huge variety of tones and registers, and great ease of movement among different
stylistic effects. The disposition of words must follow the numerus, a sort of metrical rule system for prose, which located rythmical effects in the final part of the period.
The Poetic Works
Cicero wrote poetry all his life, and it was not well received. At first he wrote short
mythologizing poems in the Alexandrian style, and an epic on Marius. These works
are in some ways precursors to neoterics. Around 60 he composed a three book
poem on his consulship. It was heavily criticized, then and now, for being
overloaded with praise for Cicero. By this time, Cicero was working in the Ennian
tradition and was hostile to the neoterics. Technically though he contributed to the
regularizing of Latin hexameter, and gave it more elegance and flexibility. This
was very important for Ovid and Virgil. Cicero also translated, with somewhat
more success, Greek works.
We have 16 Books Ad Familiares, 16 books Ad Atticum, 3 books Ad Quintum, and 2
books Ad Brutum, about 900 letters in all, from 68-43. It is a rich and varied
collection, to a wide variety of correspondents, showing every side of Cicero. The
style is different from the other works, slangy, elliptical, full of allusions and
Grecisms. It reflects faithfully the language of the Roman upper class.
Cicero’s Literary Success
Cicero and his contemporaries saw him primarily as a statesmen, and his prose was
widely criticized by various schools at the time. Sallust rejected him completely.
But the elder Seneca ranks him with the Greek orators. Seneca the Younger
perfected an ani-Ciceronian style, but by then he was being canonized as the main
prose author in schools. Asconius wrote his commentary around this time and
Quintilian named Cicero as the master of rhetoric.
Philology, Biography, and Antiquarianims at the End of the Republic
Studies of Antiquity and Nostalgia for the Roman Past
Research into etymology was also research into the origins of customs and
institutions. But these philological=antiquarian studies reached their full flowering
at the end of the Republic. Doubtlessly the crises of the time led to a nostalgic
desire to know about ancient things. Veneration of the national past was a bit of a
roadblock to true philology, but Varro at least does not ignore foreing contributions,
and Nepos mixes traditional values with moderate cultural relavitism.
Born 116, was a partisan of Pompey, but pardoned by Caesar and entrusted in 46
with the task of creating a large library. Died in 27. His extant works include 6
damaged books of De Lingua Latina (out of 25) and a De Re Rustica. But he wrote
many many many other things.
Varro more or less overlaps with Cicero for most of his works, and he too was trying
to give an intelligent response to the crisis of the Republic. He saw Rome as
declining and the problem as the growth of consumption. But unlike Cicero, Varro
was good about admiting the importance of foreign culture to Rome. He seems to
have allied himself with Posidonius in saying that Rome’s success was due to its
willingness to learn from everybody.
In his work, the Antiquitates, nearly all of Latin civilization was illustrated and
given order. It was divided into sections on Res Humanae and Res Divinae. The
Res Humanae were very successful and established much of the basic chronology of
Rome. Virgil made use of it in creating the legend of the Aeneid. The Res Divinae
was taken by Christian fathers as being the basic pagan text. History in these
works was above all of customs, institutions. It is a collective history of the Roman
people. The Roman people over the ages ultimately created the Roman state.
Major heroes are only seen in this context.
Varro was also a devoted philologist. He did extensive work on the text of Plautus,
establishing as authentic the 21 plays that have survived. He also wrote
extensively on the latin language, discussing things such as foreign elements and
etymologies. The etymologies in particular are quite bizarre.
He also wrote the Menippean satires, in a mixture of prose and verse, in 150 books,
over an extended period. We have about 90 titles and 600 short fragments. A
common them through them is the decline of Roman morals and the vices of current
politicians. Much is based on Lucilius, and there is a strong Plautine influence as
well. The language was rich and colorful, and the Menippeans were forerunners to
the Satyricon and the Apocolocyntosis. There was a strong Greek influence as well,
odd for Roman satire. The most important identifying factor was the irregular
mixture of prose and verse.
Written in 37, the De Rustica is the work of his old age. In three books, arranged as
a dialogue. There is a strong relationship to Cato’s work. The main purpose of the
work is glorify the country gentleman. It has little instruction on the stuff one
actually does in agriculture, but merely fosters the ideal of the rich landowner.
We have so little of Varro’s output that it is easy to forget that he was once
numbered among Cicero, Caesar, Virgil, and Horace. He enjoyed great popularity
throughout antiquity. Virgil based the Georgics in large part on De Re Rustica.
Varro was the model for all later Latin scholars. But like all ancient scholars, fewer
and fewer read him.
Born around 100, and had connections to Cicero and Atticus. Part of his De Viris
Illustribus had been presrved, the part on foreign military leaders, the rest is lost
aside from Atticus and Cato. Died around 27. His first work was a systematic
universal chronology, the Chronica.
The biographies were evidently a means for comparing civilizations, and were
grouped by profession. Each category had two books, one Roman, one foreign
(especially Greek). The comparisons do not necessarily seem to have been pro-
Roman, even Hannibal comes across in a good light. This sort of thing was
symptomatic of an era when the Romans were wondering what was distinctive
about their civilization. One can see some cultural relativism in Nepos, since he
warns not to judge the customs of another people by one’s own.
All in all, Nepos was a mediocre writer. He influenced Plutarch’s parallel lives. His
works, written in a very simple style, were aimed at the less culturally elite. The
one really interesting life is that of Atticus, who was a contemporary figure and was
shown to be an example of how old fashioned virtues and modern values could be
Born July 13 100. Had to leave Rome on account of his relationship to Marius,
served in Asia, returned 78. Quaestor 68, aedile 65, PM 63, praetor 62, propraetor
in Spain 61, consul 59, etc. His conquest of Gaul 58-51 gave him vast personal
power. Invaded Italy after his opponents refused to compromise, etc. Works
included the commentaries, various speeches, verse compositions, and an Anticato.
The Commentarius as Historical Genre
An intermediate form between notes and reports and true history, Earlier
politician like Sulla had written them on their own careers and Caesar was
doubtlessly in this tradition. Cicero speaks of Caesar’s commentaries as the raw
material for historians to use. But Caesar’s commentaries come awfully close to full
history, using drama and direct discourse, in the third person.
The Gallic Campaigns in Caesar’s Narration
The seven books cover the period from 58-52 when Caesar subjugated Gaul. Starts
with the migration of the Helvetii and ends with the capture of Vercingetorix. It is
not clear if it was written in one go in 52/51, or year by year. Stylistic indications
point towards the latter.
The Narration of the Civil War
Three books, the first two narrate 49, the third 48 without quite covering the whole
year. The work appears to be unfinished, and may have been published after
Caesar’s death, although most go for a date of 46. Caesar does not miss a chance to
take a swipe at the old ruling order, dominated by a corrupt clique. It becomes
quite satirical in places. This culminates in the picture of the Pompeian camp
before the battle of Pharsalus, where his opponents fight to divide up the spoils.
However, the Civil War does not put forth a clear program of reform. Rather,
Caesar works to destroy the image of himself as a revolutionary and reassure the
traditionalists. Thus Caesar emphasizes his opposition to more radical measures like land reform, and his support for the limits of law. Above all the Civil Wars are a glorification of his own soldiers.
Caesar’s Truthfulness and the Problem of Historical Distortion
The unadorned style, the rejection of rhetorical embellishments contribute to the
objective impassive tone of the works. However, modern criticism has found
distortions and interpretations of events for political propaganda. This is more
apparent in the Civil Wars. On the other hand, The Gallic Wars present a
defensive war, in keeping with the traditions of Roman imperialism. And in both
works he does not create a halo of charisma around himself and puts a great deal of
emphasis on luck, the impoderable factor that effects both sides.
The Continuators of Caesar
Hirtius wrote Book 8 of the Gallic War to link up the narrative to Book 1 of the Civil
War. The Bellum Alexandrium probably also belongs to him. His style is plainer
and closer to the traditional commentary than Caesar. The Bellum Africum is
horribly archaizing, while the Bellum Hispaniense was clearly written by a soldier
with little rhetorical skill.
Caesar was one of the greatest of all orators, but we don’t have any of his speeches.
Cicero recognizes him as a purifier of the Latin language. Caesar wrote 3 books De
Analogia in which he encouraged the use of regular words and the avoidance of
strnage words. Simplicty, order, and clarity were praised. Cicero recognized the
greatness of the Comentarii, but disapproved of Caesar’s rhetorical views.
In the modern period most of Caesar’s success has been political and military. But
Caesar’s contemporaries took him seriously as a writer. Both opponents and
proponents praise the style of the Comentarii. Later his clarity made him a dull
author for grammarians and his real followers were the historians. Livy gradually
supplanted him as the most read source for the period.
Born 86 in Sabine country. Moved to Rome for training and entered politics as a
populares. He led a fierce campaign against Milo and cicero in 52, and was expelled
from the Senate. Fought with Caesar and reentered the Senate in 46. After a
really bad governorship he withdrew again from the Senate and devoted himself to
writing, probably dying in 34 with the Histories unfinished.
The Historical Monograph as a Literary Genre
Both monographs have lengthy proems in which Sallust tries to justify his
withdrawal from public life to write history. For him, history is important for training the politician. He denounces the greed and corruption that brought himself down. But most important is that his work takes the form of an
investigation into the crisis. This accounts for the monographs, almost unique in
Roman history. They allowed him to focus upon a single historical problem against
the background of an organic view of Roman history. The Bellum Catinlinae
illuminates the most acute point of the crisis, while the Bellum Iugurthae directly
confronts through a paradigmatic episode the incapacity of a corrupt nobility and
the first successful resisitance by the populares.
Catiline’s Conspiracy and the Fear of the Lower Classes
Catiline had perceived that an opposition to the senatorial government could be
made up of the urban plebs, the poorer classes of Italy, and the debt laden part of
the aristocarcy, and even slaves. Sallust saw Catiline as one of the symptoms of the
Roman decline, and goes on to trace the decline or morality from the fall of
Carthage. He pins much of the blame on Sulla, who inspired Catiline. A second
excursus denounces the decay of Roman political life between Sulla and the civil
war of Caesar and Pompey. Government by faction is condemned. Sallust probably
hoped that Caesar would reestablish the power and order of the ruling class by
expanding the senate with the elites of Italy. Sallust partially distorts Caesar, in
that he cleanses him of any link with the Catilinarians and does not condemn him
as the chief populares. There is also the famous comparison of Caesar and Cato, in
which both men are shown to be essential types for the state. Cicero comes off less
prominently than might be expected, not as a hero, but as the official doing his
duty. Catiline on the other hand emerges as a mighty evil. Sallust locates the
moral degeneration of Catiline in many other of the Roman ruling class, but does
not push too far, lest he seem to support the rebellion.
The Bellum Iugurthae: Sallust and the Oppostion to the Nobility
Sallust explains that the war with Jugurtha was the first occasion when men dared
to oppose the insolence of the nobility. The purpose of the monograph is to make
clear the responsibilities of those governing the state. The war against Jugurtha is
important against the backdrop of the degenerating politcal life. The opposition to
the nobility wants an expansionist policy. As in the Catiline, there is an excursus
midway through on the perils of faction. But now the principle target is the
nobility, and Sallust, while condemning the excesses of the Gracchi, does not
condemn them altogether.
The main lines of populares policy are put into speeches by the tribune Memmius
and of Marius when he encourages the plebs to enroll in the army en masse.
Marius in particular emphasizes the need for a new aristocracy based on virtue and
appeals to the original values that made Rome great. In spite of this (which Sallust
approves) Marius is an ambiguous character. Sallust does not approve of his
expansion of the army, which led to the professional armies of a few decades later.
Jugurtha on the other hand is much like Catiline – admirable traits corrupted,
leaving a petty treacherous tyrant.
The Histories and the Crisis of the Republic
The Histories begin in 78, and the last fragment goes to 67. The work was
apparently left unfinished at Sallust’s death, we do not know how far he planned to
go. It was a much more ambituous piece than the monographs and returned to
annalistic form. Four large speeches and several letters survive, along with several
fragments of a geographic or ethnographic character. The Histories paints a very
dark picture as immorality spreads inexorably, with a few exceptions. It is a very
It was Sallust who determined, to a large extent, the future stylistic evolution of
Latin historiography. He was nourished on Cato and Thucydides, and developed a
style of inconcinnitas, rejecting long balanced periods in favor of variety and
irregularity. He made frequent use of antithesis, asymetry, and variation. This
restless dynamism and the moves to keep it in check produce a majestic gravitas.
There is a strong archaizing trend to this, with obsolete words and strings of
paratactic phrases. Balance and subordination are avoided. The expression is very
economic. In short, an archaic style, but innovative, with broken movement and
strange vocabulary running contrary to the trends in literary language at the time.
The Epistulae and the Invective
Sallust was immediately very popular, as is shown by the Invective against Cicero
preserved under his name, which is probably an Augustan school exercise. The
letters to Caesar are also probably forgeries.
Among Latin authors, only Virgil and Cicero were more widely read. He was highly
regarded as a prose stylist and considered both a model for historians and for
speech and letter writers. His linguistic oddities made him a favorite of
grammarians. Tacitus adopted his style, and he appealed to Ammianus much later.
( TO BE CONTINUED )
BY GIAN BIAGIO CONTE
PROFESSOR OF LATIN LITERATURE (1941)