Bryn Mawr Classical Review 03.05.20


Marcus Tullius Cicero, Back from Exile: Six Speeches upon his Return. Translated with Introductions and Notes by D. R. Shackleton Bailey. Classical Resources Series No. 4: American Philological Association, 1991. ISBN 1-55540-626-2 (hb). ISBN 1-55540-627-0 (pb).


Reviewed by John Webster, University of Washington.

The post-reditum speeches are among the most neglected, and most misunderstood, of Cicero's works. As advertisements for himself they offend modern intellectual sensibilities; we don't like to read someone who seems as intent on self-promotion as these speeches show Cicero to be. But they provide, in fact, an extremely interesting record of a Roman politician's campaign after an extraordinary fall from grace to reestablish himself both in terms of his social and, perhaps more importantly, in terms of his political power as well. Upon his return to Rome, so far from having been chastened by what was for him an extremely painful ordeal, from September of 57 through the early months of 56 Cicero thought it possible that he could again save the Republic as he had against Catiline, this time by dividing the ruling triumvirate against itself. This belief proved false; in the end, Pompey, Caesar and Crassus renewed their triumviral pact at the conference of Luca in April of 56, thereby crushing Cicero's effort to develop an independent political position. But in the short term it did seem possible to play power-broker between the divided triumvirate and a newly responsi-ble senate, and these speeches record an important part of Cicero's public maneuverings in pursuit of that goal.

So it is a welcome thought that someone might bring the post-reditum speeches, if not back into the mainstream of Ciceronian scholarship, at least back to visibility. Now Shackleton Bailey has given us translations of the first six extant works that follow Cicero's return from exile in 57: the two addresses, one to the senate, one to the people, made in the days immediately following Cicero's arrival back in Rome (Post Reditum in Senatum and Post Reditum ad Quirites); his speech concerning the restoration to him of his residence on the Palatine (De Domo Sua); his commentary on the soothsayers' responses to questions put to them by the Senate (De Haruspicum Responsis); and the two speeches connected with his defense of Sestius: his long oration on Sestius' behalf (Pro Sestio), and the short, invective-filled set of questions asked of Vatinius, a major witness on the prosecution side (In Vatinium).

Shackleton Bailey has not just translated these speeches, but has also gone painstakingly through all six texts, providing the material for a critical edition, if not the edition itself. Keying his work to Sir W. Peterson's Oxford Classical Text edition, Shackleton Bailey provides an appendix of emendations he makes to the Latin text such that the interested reader, armed with the OCT, can construct the Latin version which underlies Shackleton Bailey's translation.

That said, the book is still disappointing. The biggest weakness is the absence of a Latin text. Who is going to read these speeches in translation? Classicists? Probably not. Undergraduates? Which of them would ever find themselves in a course so specialized that they would be reading minor (even if interesting) Ciceronian speeches? "General readers"? If that means those among us who spend afternoons browsing in bookstores, I doubt it. It used to be that various people might pick up a speech by Cicero, or a dialogue by Plato, with which to while away an evening, but that day is past.

Whether for good or ill, the audience for texts like this is to be found either among classicists, or among the many professors and graduate students in history, rhetoric, or the modern languages whose research requires that they dip into the classical world. But each of these groups, if for different reasons, is going to want a Latin text to accompany the English.

There is room for new edition-translations, of which the Shackleton Bailey Philippics is a model. In the edition under review, however, not only is there no Latin text but the critical apparatus is an awkward compromise at best, and at points even becomes a distraction. Thus a cross occurs in the translation's margin for every emendation which affects meaning; these break in upon one's concentration, and with little obvious profit. It is a compromise that ends up serving neither of the text's largest potential groups of readers.

A similar confusion about who will use this book reigns over its various apparatuses, some of which seem perfectly appropriate to non-specialists, others of which seem designed for those with much more background than many readers are likely to have. The index of names is particularly useful to the non-specialist; it is a mini-onomasticon which briefly, but clearly, differentiates among the many, many names which crop up throughout the text. Similarly good for the non-specialist is a glossary that defines various Roman offices and institutions: Centurion, Clerks, Colonies, and so on. Many readers are going to need this sort of information. But we don't get the same level of help in the historical introduction or in the notes. These speeches are highly allusive to a rather complex set of both cultural and historical matters, and readers need extensive, reader-friendly footnotes if they are to keep track of the goings on. Here the historical introduction is minimal -- fine for a reader who has read Syme or Rawson, but probably not for most of the non-classicist readers I can imagine -- and the notes are often both too brief for the non-expert, and, with a frequency that greatly interferes with the readability of the whole, merely directions to consult other notes on other pages.

The translation itself is, as I said above, generally readable. Cicero is by no means easy to put into colloquial English, particularly if one tries to maintain any sense at all of the wonderful syntactic effects of the original. Even making allowances, however, this translation makes its task more difficult at points than it need have been. Though never wrong, it can be misleading. Thus improbus is consistently rendered as "rascal," a rather light-hearted term for the villains Cicero thinks the Clodian conspirators to be. Similarly, res publica is consistently rendered as "commonwealth," a translation which seems unnecessary at best. The phrase "The Roman Republic" has been used in English for centuries; why avoid the word "republic" here, especially when "commonwealth" has connotations of Empire (as in the British Commonwealth of Nations) whose scope of reference is considerably wider than that implied by Cicero's res publica?

Of course, neither of those translations will be misleading if one knows enough to make allowances, and that, in different forms, represents the translation's biggest drawback. If you know Latin already, phrases like "lugubrious aspect" (28), "sanguinary struggle" (19), "anile superstition" (82), or "unanimous suffrages" (36) (for cunctis suffragiis) won't throw you. Otherwise, you may find yourself reaching for the dictionary, because the English you get in these pages is at times no less Latinate than the original, and thereby no less dated than that of the Loeb.

Yet here, as elsewhere, the real problem lies in not having imagined fully enough just exactly who would be reading this, and what accommodations would thus be necessary to make the translations as reader-friendly as possible. For myself, I kept reaching for my Latin text to see what could possibly have given rise to various phrases I came across -- again, had the Latin been on the facing page the translation would have seemed far less problematic. Judging from his comment in the Preface ("It has not been practicable to print a new text ..." [vii]), I'd bet ten to one that Shackleton Bailey would have preferred the facing-page format, too; I hope future volumes in this series find a way to adopt it.