Bryn Mawr Classical Review 94.03.15

Ann Vasaly, Representations: Images of the World in Ciceronian Oratory. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Pp. xii + 301. ISBN 0-520-07755-5.

Reviewed by Andrew R. Dyck, UCLA.

Ancient rhetorical theory, like some modern criticism of ancient drama,1 suffered from a divorce of theory and practice whereby the theorists treated their model texts purely as books, without any effort to picture the conditions in which they had functioned on the forensic, political or epideictic 'stage' as a part of a living culture. Moreover, as modern critics have so often taken their cue from their ancient predecessors, certain aspects of ancient oratory have been insufficiently understood and appreciated down to the present day. Now, as is well known, Cicero was extraordinarily sensitive to places and responded particularly to the places where famous men of the past had lived, worked, been buried, etc. What has until the publication of this study by Ann Vasaly (hereinafter V.) been much less remarked is Cicero's very skilful use of place in his speeches -- both the venue of the speech itself and also the places relevant to the particular case or subject. From here V. goes on to the other uses which Cicero makes of place, including playing on Romans' ideas about the world around them and its dangers -- real or imagined. The subject, then, is a promising one.

The author sets herself the worthy goal of showing that "an understanding of Ciceronian persuasion is a piece of intellectual furniture well worth having" (p.ix). The book accordingly addresses itself not just to specialists but strives to reach a more general audience; hence all the cited Latin is translated by V. herself, and Greek terms are transliterated. V.'s approach to the problem of Cicero's 'relevance' is, of course, merely adumbrated, rather than argued in detail, in the brief preface, which is really a kind of flight-plan for the whole book. V. proceeds to argue that the influence of Ciceronian oratory in the early principate was far from negligible. But her reference at this point to "the mass appeals on which Augustus and his supporters relied" (p.x) is too vague even for a specialist to follow what she means; a cross-reference to pp.13-14 and 241-42, where it becomes clear that she had in mind, not public speeches, but Augustus' res gestae and the map of the world which Marcus Agrippa exhibited on the Campus Martius, would have been welcome. Likewise the appeal "one has only to glance at the pages of Livy to see how thoroughly the speeches were assimilated ..." (ibid.) is too vague to convince the specialist but assumes a specialized knowledge the general reader seems unlikely to possess. Moreover, Cicero's influence or lack thereof in the Augustan Age is in any case unlikely to weigh very heavily with today's general reader. More to the point is the following comparison of Ciceronian oratory with modern democratic rhetoric; when V. speaks of "Cicero's need to sway a large, heterogeneous, and mostly unlettered and uneducated audience", a need which led him to cultivate "rhetorical strategies that depend on integrating words with visual images" (p.xi), we approach closer to the actual terrain to be traversed; one wonders whether, when writing these words, V. thought perhaps of George Bush's 1988 television spot sited at Boston Harbor.

An orientation, such as that of the present study, toward the general reader, which is nowadays fostered, indeed demanded, by university presses generally, will at best encourage clear, jargon-free writing; it will be less welcome, however, if it results in a relaxation of philological rigor. V. states in the first footnote to chapter one that, unless otherwise noted, all Latin and Greek quotations are, apart from two philosophical essays, "drawn from the Oxford Classical Text editions"; but this is not a wholly accurate description of her practice. Thus when she renders Pro Scauro 43 ("in the pure stock of this race"; p.196), V. omits Clark's supplement in hac gente <pestilentiae> plena, printed in his OCT, and evidently uses Heinrich's conjecture in hac gente pura (for plena); but an explicit indication would have been helpful (the two most recent editors, Ghiselli and Olechowska, both retain the transmitted text; indeed it would be a pity to lose the oxymoronic formulation ... cum integri nihil fuerit in hac gente plena, where plena perhaps has the sense 'complete in itself': cf. OLD s.v. plenus 13c). Furthermore, given that V.'s choice of texts for detailed study includes In Cat. 1, all texts of which have been "out of date since 1977,"2 a different policy, or at least a defense of the policy adopted, would have been desirable. In general the strength of this study lies in the uncovering of rhetorical strategies, whereas the analysis of language and style is less secure. Thus at p.183, n. 41, V. suggests that "the philosophical concept of 'humanism' in Cicero's writings is much broader than the idea of humanitas as it appears in the speeches"; but the problem perhaps arises from a comparison of apples and oranges; her 'humanism' derives from the last chapter of H.A.K. Hunt, The Humanism of Cicero, and is a construct synthesized from various Ciceronian philosophica; there is no reason to expect it to correlate with the term humanitas as used in Cicero's speeches or elsewhere; in fact, the sense of humanitas is fairly stable throughout the Ciceronian corpus; cf. the links established between the philosophical works and even the letters by R. Harder.3 In a similar vein, it is not clear that the three verbs of the second tricolon at leg. agr. 2.474 "ascend [if that is the right word] in violence" (V., p.223); now the three verbs describe the same process from different angles; and, in fact, the first clause, with its personification of the Roman people and its image of cutting into the sinews, is the most drastic and pathetic; surely the order was determined by Cicero's desire to reserve the weighty double cretic for the end of the sentence.

An introduction sets this project in relation to other work, ancient and modern. The relevant ancient rhetorical doctrines are competently delineated and their inadequacy for study of the visual component of oratory shown. On the other hand, V. has borrowed some concepts and terms from the semioticians, in particular that of nonverbal signs (though this was already an ancient grammatical doctrine5) or the notion that certain meanings can be "blown up", others "narcotized" in the mind of the audience (though these terms, in fact, play no rôle in V.'s subsequent analysis); she sensibly draws the line, however, at the semioticians' attempt to reduce rhetoric to style.

The way in which the subject is introduced in chapter 1 is perhaps a bit misleading. Here V. cites two trials narrated by Livy, that of Manlius Capitolinus for sedition (6.20) and that of Publius Horatius for killing his sister, who had mourned for one of the slain Curiatii (1.26); in both instances the defense is said to have made striking use of objects visible from the locus of the trial, in the former, the Capitol itself, in the latter the monument to Horatius' victory (the "Horatian spears"). V. concludes that "this technique of persuasion might well have been a facet of Latin oratory as practiced both in Livy's time and earlier" (p.18). Livy was evidently himself influenced by Ciceronian rhetoric, a point V. makes several times (pp.9; 33, n. 30; 53); if that is all that V. means to imply by citing the two cases at law, one can readily agree. She seems, however, to want to suggest something more; her next example is that of C. Gracchus' speech shortly before his death (ORF 1.196 M.): quo me miser conferam? quo vortam? in Capitoliumne? at fratris sanguine redundat. an domum? matremne ut miseram lamentantem videam et abiectam? V. draws this inference (p.19): "The famous dilemma of Gracchus suggests ... that appeal to the visible environment was a facet of rhetorical training and practice long before Cicero's day". However, in spite of the fact that Cicero (De or. 3.214) praises the passage inter alia for gestus, it is not known where this speech was delivered and hence whether the Capitol and/or Gracchus' house were visible to the audience, let alone whether, if so, he had learned the method from handbooks. Thus the use of visible places as a basis for argument in Roman oratory cannot with certainty be pushed back earlier than Cicero.

V. finds "hints that Cicero might have seen the appeal to monuments and places as a form of inartificial proof" (p.25) and cites as an example the appeals to the temple of Castor at Verr. 1.129-54. But this passage is not really an indication that Cicero regarded such use of places as a species of A)/TEXNOS PI/STIS, since, as V. indicates, the presence of the temple of Castor can, in fact, prove nothing;6 rather Cicero evidently wanted the visible temple to serve as a reminder to the jurors of Verres' unscrupulousness and formulated vividly, personifying the temple as a witness, to drive the point home. The temple as witness is, then, part of Cicero's persuasive strategy in this passage, rather than evidence for his own general attitude toward objects visible to the jurors. But, whatever Cicero may have thought about the matter, such objects are like the A)/TEXNOI PI/STEIS in another sense: they are pre-existing entities which have their own impact on the jurors (cf. V., pp.130 and 255) and within the framework of which the orator's inventio must operate.

The chapter which will be read with greatest eagerness is surely the second, dealing with Catilinarians 1 and 3. One admires the assurance with which V., in spite of what Viktor Pöschl called "the schooldust of the ages"7 -- which rests no less heavily on these speeches than on the Aeneid itself --, propounds her reading. V. rightly emphasizes that Cicero has carefully stage-managed the first speech by setting it in the temple of Jupiter Stator; the setting in turn enables Cicero to portray himself as Romulus and Catiline as the Sabine enemy within the walls of the city. However, her reinterpretation of the beginning of the final sentence (§ 33: Tu, Iuppiter, qui isdem quibus haec urbs a Romulo es consitutus, quem Statorem huius urbis atque imperi vere nominamus ...) seems unlikely to carry conviction. She objects to the interpretation "Tu, Iuppiter Stator, cuius templum constitutum est," which leads interpreters to regret Cicero's inexactitude, the temple having been founded after the city. She wants instead "to take Cicero at his word", so that "it is Jupiter who is 'established' by Romulus" (p.56). In support she asserts that "this use of the verb with a personal subject is in no way unusual" but cites no parallels. Our passage is cited (with a 'cf.') at OLD s.v. constituo 6b 'to create, establish (an institution, etc.)'; cf. TLL s.v. IIB. There are other senses in which this verb can be used with a personal object or, what amounts to the same thing, with a personal subject when passive, viz. OLD no. 5: 'establish (a person), make'; or no. 8 ' appoint (a person)'; but it is hard to see how Jupiter could be 'established' in either of these ways. Surely Cicero refers to the establishment of the cult of Jupiter by Romulus as being coeval with the city but finesses the chronological problem by adding the epithet Stator in the relative clause as one of the manifestations of the supreme deity. At least this much of V.'s argument can stand, however: "The orator ... joins conceptually ... the two chief associations of the location where the speech was delivered: the founding here of the Palatine city by Romulus and the subsequent dedication of a temple in this place to Jupiter Stator" (pp.56-57). On the other hand, one doubts that this passage involves "a significant broadening of the sphere in which the god was praesens" or an interpretation of the cult title unlikely to have been "in popular consciousness at the time of the speech" (V., p.57). V. compares Seneca ben. 4.7.1 (et Iovem ... Statorem, qui non, ut historici tradiderunt, ex eo, quod post votum susceptum acies Romanorum fugientium stetit, sed quod stant beneficio eius omnia, stator stabilitorque est), a passage which, she suggests (p.58), "echoes a section of De legibus (2.28)"; but in the Senecan passage I find an echo, not of De legibus 2.28, but of Varr. gram. fr. 137 Funaioli (not cited by V.; note the words I have underlined in both): dixerunt eum [sc. Iovem] ... Statorem ... quod haberet ... statuendi stabiliendi ... potestatem ...).8 The Romans were exceedingly conservative, not least in matters of religion; it would be surprising if Cicero, in the climax of his great speech, had chosen to present a view of Jupiter Stator unfamiliar to his audience.

As V. shows, much of the rhetorical power of the Third Catilinarian derives from the contrast between the familiar city which forms its backdrop and the scenario Cicero paints of what would have been the case had the conspiracy gone forward as planned. On the other hand, the lengthy discussion of the setting of the speech on the Rostra (pp.60-75) seems unnecessary; and V. should have resisted speculating that "the image of Camillus, whose statue stood on the Rostra, was meant to suggest itself" (p.80), since Camillus receives no mention in the speech; finally, V. has little to add to previous discussions of the way Cicero capitalizes on the newly restored statue of Jupiter Capitolinus to identify his own unmasking of the conspiracy with the workings of divine providence.9

As background to her analysis of De signis V. offers a summary of ancient doctrines of perception and of the rhetorical theory of vividness in narration. In this connection she lists (p.90) a congeries of ancient rhetorical terms for vividness and notes that one of them (sc. ekphrasis) "does not seem to have been current in Cicero's own time" (p.91, n. 4); this point leaves the reader wondering whether it is safe to assume that the others were; in fact, Cicero, who generally eschews technical terms from rhetoric, comes close to the later technical usage only of illustratio (part. or. 20) and sub oculos subiectio (De or. 3.202; or. 139; it is not clear that descriptio at De or. 3.205 has the technical sense in question). In general it can be said that H. Lausberg's Handbuch der literarischen Rhetorik, which V. cites in this connection, while a useful collection of evidence, needs to be used with care, for it combines sources of various date into a seemingly monolithic system.

At several points (pp.8 ff. and 38-39) V. addresses the methodological problem of dealing with performance aspects of speeches of which we have the published versions but not the performance versions, which may have differed considerably. In general she is right to acknowledge the problem but to proceed to analyze the versions we have (she might have argued, for instance, that references to objects visible in the courtroom might be retained from the oral version but would be unlikely to be introduced for the first time in the published version). However, in the case of In Verrem II.4 the problem is still more acute, since it remains unclear to what degree the components of the undelivered Actio secunda were written up on the assumption that the trial would proceed or simply for publication following Verres' exile. V., p.124, n.52, alludes to the problem, as well as the general assumption of scholars that the Actio secunda was written up ab initio with a view to publication, and states her own opposing view that it may represent "the kind of speech that might actually have been made in a complex trial when a single orator presented the case for the prosecution" but offers no supporting argument. Now V.'s overall interpretation of De signis is that the ancient mnemonic technique of associating the various topics of the speech with different places has influenced its composition; Cicero could, of course, conceivably have used mnemotechnique as his model whether or not he actually went through the process of memorizing the speech this way (by suggesting, p.127, that he actually did so, V. weakens her case by making it appear to depend on the intent to deliver). But there is, I think, another organizational principle at work in the speech besides place, namely type of object, with the causes célèbres of stolen statues strategically placed at the beginning and end of the speech for emphasis and smaller objects buried in the middle (§§ 29-71). Moreover, one wonders whether the arbitrary associations of things and places recommended by ancient mnemotechnique were likely to serve as a model for the careful links between places and objects established by Cicero (V. meets this objection [p.128] with "the presumption that Cicero [or his teachers] must have realized that in order to be of use in persuading an audience the techniques of artificial memory had to be altered"; but this amounts merely to a positing of the probandum). It is worth considering whether an alternative model might better explain the organization of objects by place, namely travel literature (PERIH/GHSIS), a genre much cultivated by the Greeks beginning in the Hellenistic age; the authors of such books used place as an organizing principle and included descriptions of notable local objets d'art. Sicily had been written up by various authors known to us (and doubtless others): Crito of Pieria, Nymphodorus of Syracuse, Phlego of Tralles and a certain Theophilus.10 It seems very likely that Cicero was familiar with such works (might he have rediscovered Archimedes' tomb with their aid? cf. TD 5.64 ff.); it would not be surprising if he used them as a source to supplement information from his Sicilian informants for this speech; if so, it would be an obvious move to transfer their method of organization as well.

Whether or not one agrees with V.'s general thesis about De signis, she does contribute various worthwhile observations about Cicero's rhetorical problem ("the problem was to make Verres' guilt matter": p.110) and strategies (" ... in each of the accounts he has led his audience to connect the setting, the symbolism of the object or group stolen, and the feelings of the complainants about the object or objects with unambiguously Roman religious and patriotic sentiments": p.127) in one of his very finest speeches. Among many aperçus I single out the point that Cicero wished the theft of the famous statue of Ceres at Henna to be seen as "an allegory for Verres' rape of Sicily itself" (p.124).

After a chapter (4) which discusses ethnic stereotyping in the ancient world in general and places it in the context of primitive thought which tends to identify one's own homeland as the center of the world, V. goes on to two detailed studies of the rhetoric of place in Cicero, the use of topoi related to country and city (chapter 5) and the ethnic stereotypes with which he operates in some speeches (chapter 6). V.'s method proves fruitful as applied to the black/white city/country stereotyping of Pro Roscio Amerino.11 Even if in the end one decides that the cui bono test together with the machinations by which the name of the elder Roscius was posthumously added to the list of the proscribed are still decisive indices to the guilt of Chrysogonus and his confederates and the innocence of the younger Roscius, V.'s points about the inadequacy of the proofs presented in the speech are nonetheless unsettling and deserve very serious consideration.12 Cicero has clearly exaggerated the contrast between the allegedly naive younger Roscius and his supposedly street wise fellow townsmen Magnus and Capito as well as between the potentia of Chrysogonus and the resourcelessness of his own client. Interesting comparisons can be drawn between this youthful speech and the mature Pro Caelio, as emerges in V.'s discussion of how the ethos of advocate and client in both speeches are made to correspond (pp.188-90); the argumentation in the later speech is, as it must be, much subtler, as is the handling of the personae of opposing counsel. But though Cicero is clearly playing against some of the same stereotypes that he had previously exploited, V.'s contrast between the laudes ruris of Pro Roscio Amerino and the laudes urbis of Pro Caelio is overdrawn; for the latter are at most implicit, not a real theme, as had been the praises of the country in the earlier speech.

Though so far V. has focussed on some of Cicero's most studied speeches, it is a welcome feature of her book that she ventures further afield. The sixth chapter ("Ethnic Personae") explores Cicero's use of the stereotypes of the Gauls, Sardinians and Asian Greeks in defending the ex-governors M. Fonteius, M. Aemilius Scaurus and L. Flaccus against extortion charges buttressed by the testimony of provincials. Then, returning to the Verrines, V. effectively shows how, in the Actio secunda, Cicero disarms this defense by turning the tables and portraying Verres as void of fides and respect for religion (the usual charge to discredit provincial witnesses). The chapter concludes with a detailed analysis of the argument in the second speech De lege agraria; here V. argues convincingly that Cicero is making use of vintage optimate tactics in playing upon the plebs' fear of loss of libertas, as well as of encirclement, not to mention sounding variations on the theme of the resuscitation of Rome's erstwhile enemies, Corinth, Carthage and, in particular, Capua.

The "Conclusion" draws together, as one would expect, some of the threads spun in the preceding chapters but also takes up the apologia pro Tullio adumbrated in the "Preface". Whether or not "in some instances a fiction that appeals to the emotions and imagination may represent reality more accurately than an objective account," as V., p.251, asserts, may depend on one's definition of 'accuracy'; in any case, by focussing at this point on the prosecution of Verres, V.'s defense of Cicero's forensic practice seems to depend on ignoring its less savory aspects (she is more candid in the "Preface" when she admits that "the very act of analysis will sometimes lead us to condemn on an ethical basis what we applaud for its technical mastery" [p.xi]). Finally, one regrets that, in the last paragraph of the book V. thought to revert to the simplistic dichotomy of the Greeks as "gifted abstract thinkers" and the Romans as "a plodding folk, ... tied to the world of things rather than of ideas" and to find in her own study a confirmation of the latter judgment (p.256); in fact, in order to test this hypothesis even within the sphere of forensic rhetoric, she would, of course, have had to conduct an altogether different study with focus not just on Cicero's allusions to the concrete but also on his use of abstract reasoning (and over his whole oratorical corpus, not just select speeches).

Nearly one hundred years ago Eduard Norden wrote that almost all prerequisites for a proper appreciation of Cicero as an orator and stylist were lacking;13 the past century has seen some important studies illuminating individual aspects of Cicero's art; but much yet remains to be done before Norden's goal can be achieved. V.'s monograph, though it is not, and does not claim to be, an exhaustive survey even of Cicero's use of visible objects in his speeches,14 offers many shrewd insights and sharpens our eye for an aspect of Ciceronian oratory which has received too little attention. If I have, more recensentium, dwelt overlong on points of disagreement, this fact should be taken as a sign of just how stimulating a book V. has produced. Anyone who cares about Cicero will want to study it.15


  • [1] Cf., e.g., E. Fraenkel ad Ag. 613 f.
  • [2] So R.H. Rouse and M.D. Reeve in Texts and Transmission: a Survey of the Latin Classics, ed. L.D. Reynolds (Oxford, corr. rp. 1986), p.65.
  • [3] R. Harder, "Nachträgliches zu Humanitas," in: Kleine Schriften, ed. W. Marg (Munich, 1960), pp.401-12.
  • [4] ... incidant nervos populi Romani, adhibeant manus vectigalibus vestris, inrumpant in aerarium.
  • [5] Cf. CP 77 (1982), 271 and n. 7.
  • [6] V. should, however, have inserted a cross-reference to p.129, where she explains the scam by which Verres tried to cheat the young ward P. Iunius who, on his father's death, was responsible for carrying out repairs to the temple; without such help most readers will wonder why the temple should be invoked by Cicero as a witness of Verres' crimes (Verr. 2.1.154).
  • [7] Viktor Pöschl, The Art of Vergil: Image and Symbol in the Aeneid, trans. G. Seligson (Ann Arbor, 1962), p.5.
  • [8] Statuere here surely has the sense 'uphold, support' (cf. OLD s.v., 6).
  • [9] Cf. R.J. Goar, Cicero and the State Religion (Amsterdam, 1972), pp.41 ff., who, p.43, suggests that Cicero may have delayed the setting up of the statue of Jupiter for dramatic effect.
  • [10] Cf. Heinrich Bischoff, RE 19.1 (1937), 734.5, 22 and 42 and 741.32 (s.v. Perieget).
  • [11] Though delivery was doubtless a considerable factor in all of Cicero's oratorical successes, by specially emphasizing it in connection with this speech (pp.169-70) V. somewhat undercuts her own analysis of its effective rhetorical strategy.
  • [12] V. might, however, have accorded more acknowledgment to the work on this speech of a predecessor, T.P. Kinsey, esp. "Cicero's case against Magnus, Capito and Chrysogonus in the Pro Sex. Roscio Amerino and its Use for the Historian," L'antiquité classique 49 (1980), 173-90, "The Political Insignificance of Cicero's Pro Roscio," LCM 7 (1982), 39-40, and "The Case Against Sextus Roscius of Ameria," L'antiquité classique 54 (1985), 188-96 (omitting the others, V. cites the last-named in her bibliography, but not in this section of the book).
  • [13] E. Norden, Die antike Kunstprosa 1, 2nd edn. (Leipzig-Berlin, 1909; 1st edn. Leipzig, 1898), 212-13.
  • [14] For some further examples cf. V. Pöschl, "Zur Einbeziehung anwesender Personen und sichtbarer Objekte in Ciceros Reden," Ciceroniana. Hommages à K. Kumaniecki, ed. A. Michel, R. Verdière (Leiden, 1975), 206-26, esp. 215 ff.
  • [15] A few minor points: though the book has been attractively printed and jacketed by the University of California Press, the jacket copy is marred by the howler 'Aritosthenes' for 'Eratosthenes'; p.10: C.J. Classen's phrase "die wichtigste Forderung der Theorie" surely should be translated as "the most important demand of theory", not "the most significant demand (or challenge) to theory"; p.29: "a discussion of the ethical philosophy of Antiochus" is an inadequate characterization of De finibus as a whole, though Antiochus may have served as the source for Books 2, 4 and 5 (as well as 1.17-26); cf. R. Philippson, RE 7A1 (1939), 1135.8 ff.; p.40 (epigraph): insert ea after in; p.83 for 'credibility' read 'credulousness' or 'gullibility'; p.208: Pro Milone should not be lumped together with the Second Philippic as a speech which "Cicero published but never delivered," since he did, in fact, deliver a version of it; p.245 "a memory for the concrete": overdone as a rendering of memoria rerum?