Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.1.27

Emanuele Narducci, Cicerone e l'eloquenza romana: Rhetorica e progetto culturale. Roma-Bari: Laterza, 1997. Pp. viii, 186. L 37000. ISBN 88-420-5124-1.

Reviewed by John Dugan, Departments of Greek and Latin, Bryn Mawr College,

In this work Narducci (N.), who is the author of several other books on Cicero,1 investigates Cicero's rhetorical thought within its historical and cultural background. In the Prefazione N. prepares the reader well for the work that lies ahead by acknowledging his debt to his teacher and colleague at the University of Florence, Antonio La Penna, for the method he deploys in this study (p. viii). La Penna's historicist criticism stands in distinct contrast to the more formalistic approach of his student Gian Biagio Conte whose work has been so influential on Anglophone classical scholarship.2 N.'s book then has the particular interest of being a sweeping, yet succinct, study of Ciceronian rhetoric from a critical perspective that is largely unfamiliar to English-speaking Latinists.

N. notes (p. vii) that his work, which arose from research for a projected comprehensive history of Roman oratory, is organized as follows: of the work's five chapters, the first (on the Pro Archia) plays a largely introductory role, while those that follow alternate between studies of two of Cicero's major rhetorical works (De Oratore and Brutus in chapters 2 and 4 respectively) and chapters devoted to more thematic issues that cut across Cicero's literary production. This arrangement for the most part succeeds in integrating synchronic and diachronic perspectives: questions mentioned only briefly in the chapters devoted to individual works receive more extensive treatment in the thematic chapters. At times, however, the unity of the work does seem strained when the original provenance of the chapters (all of which are based on previously published material) seems to interrupt the flow of the argument. The first chapter, La pro Archia: gli orizzonti dell'eloquenza, begins with a thorough introduction to the historical background of Archias's legal situation, and then proceeds to analyze the speech's innovations, in both its form and content. Thanks to Cicero's immense consular prestige, he was able to cast his defense of the Greek-speaking, Syrian-born poet's right to Roman citizenship in the form of an epideictic oration that praised the general cultural value of poets and literature. N. emphasizes the novelty of so public a declaration of cultural interests by a Roman advocate. He notes that while it was common Roman forensic practice for a patronus to lend his auctoritas in aid of his client's case, he would do so by making a show of his austere lifestyle or the strength of his political convictions. Cicero instead openly admits his literary interests and the formative influence that Archias and literature in general have had on the development of his oratorical career. Such a rhetorical tactic is a conspicuous break with the tradition among the Roman aristocracy that encouraged the dissimulation of cultural interests. N.'s historicism shows itself in his attempt to show how the speech responds to the rise in social status of professional intellectuals in the late republic (p. 12) and in seeing the speech as the product of the same culturally self-reflective spirit as the antiquarian works of Varro and Atticus (p. 18). His focus, however, is squarely upon the question of how the Pro Archia prefigures many of the ideas that would find fuller development in Cicero's later rhetorical and philosophic works. N. convincingly demonstrates that the Pro Archia's arguments about the cultural value of literature foreshadow both the De Oratore's debate over the orator's need to have wide cultural learning and the discussion of the relationship between culture and civic engagement, although the Pro Archia presents these ideas with a restraint that defers to his audience's prevailing suspicion of cultural refinement (p. 9). N. makes the interesting observation that Cicero's catalogue of distinguished men from Rome's past who succeeded in combining innate excellence with cultural enlightenment (Pro Archia 16: Scipio Aemilianus, Gaius Laelius, Lucius Furius and Cato the Censor) are to return as interlocutors in De Republica, De amicitia and De Senectute. It is in the Pro Archia that Cicero, by attributing literary and philosophical interests to these eminent figures, first claimed to be the heir of these maiores in his own innovative cultural program (p. 11). While N. may at times appear to overemphasize the importance of the Pro Archia as a wellspring of its author's later works, he is doubtless correct to see this speech as a key text in the progression of Cicero's cultural thought and, indeed, as marking an important step in the development of such attitudes privileging literary culture as would come to full flower in the age of Augustus (p. 17).

The second chapter Eloquenza, retorica, filosofia nel "de oratore" begins with a valuable discussion of the dialogue's composition, and then proceeds to survey and analyze the work's contents. The chapter's first section, la parole, l'oblio e la memoria, argues that memory functions as a Leitmotiv that unites this enormous and complex treatise, and makes a detailed and persuasive case for there being a discernible method in what others have deemed an amorphous and self-contradictory work. N. argues that Cicero took pains to stage his dialogue as a multivocal debate that followed the same changes, contradictions, and revisions of opinion that are characteristic of a real conversation, and one, moreover, that conformed to protocols of Roman aristocratic etiquette. For N., the De Oratore is a literary representation of the tirocinium fori, the hands-on rhetorical apprenticeship from which Cicero himself learned his craft (p. 32). The prologues to each of the three books of the De Oratore play a special structural role in the work: each directs the reader in reaching the proper interpretation of the discussion that follows. As N. succinctly puts it, the solution to the issue under discussion in each book precedes its complication (p. 22). A prologue can playfully interact with the audience, as in the second book's assertion that Antonius and Crassus were more learned than they are reputed to have been (a claim that Cicero would later contradict in the Brutus). N. suggests that Cicero in this way sought retrospectively to reduce the tension between reality and fiction that readers may have felt in reading the first book. In the face of other scholars' attempts to rationalize away the work's contradictions, N. forcefully advocates that the dialogue is designed to resist easy interpretation, and that indeed the resistance to interpretation accounts for much of the work's abiding fascination. Such a view of the De Oratore provides a healthy corrective to the opinions of the dialogue espoused by such influential scholars as George Kennedy and Brian Vickers.3

From questions of the dialogue's composition N. now proceeds to summarize and analyze the De Oratore's contents, and at the same time substantiates his view of the work's purposeful design. Particularly noteworthy is N.'s treatment of how Antonius, the champion of practical experience over theory, handles such a technical area of oratory as inventio in a thoroughly untechnical fashion. The resulting discussion is a "metatheoretical" rethinking of inventio that studiously avoids the standard technical vocabulary of this particularly technical area of rhetoric (p. 51).

N.'s historicist perspective once again is apparent as he places in social and political context not only the rhetorical ideas that the dialogue articulates, but also the Roman aristocracy's dissimulatio of cultural refinement and learning. N. suggests that this concealment of cultivation is not only a manifestation of the national pride and traditionalism of the Roman ruling class and of an orator's need to shield himself from the wide-spread popular suspicion of intellectual activity, but is also perhaps related to anxieties about the spread of the art of rhetoric to members of social strata who could use it to put power relations into discussion (p. 24). N.'s political reading of the dialogue crystallizes around Crassus's closing of the school of the rhetores Latini as censor in 92 BCE (cf. De Orat. 3.93f.), which N. interprets as an attempt on Crassus's part to restrict access to rhetorical education from ambitious parvenus who might use this tool to advance a revolutionary political program. The program of wide cultural education that Cicero's Crassus advocates is, then, part of a deliberate effort to keep rhetoric available only to the Roman ruling class. To support this interpretation N. suggests that, while Cicero exaggerates his interlocutors' level of cultural learning, it is unlikely that Cicero would have engaged in wholesale fabrication; they must have had interests, however inchoate, that would have sanctioned such an elaboration (p. 24). N. relates this political agenda to the view of rhetoric that Crassus articulates in the third book: his binding of rhetoric closely to sapientia is a reaction against those who saw in rhetoric a danger to social stability, as Scaevola warns in the example of the Gracchi (De Orat. 1.38) (p. 65). The unity of culture that Crassus advocates combines the forms of knowledge (philosophical, political, legal) that aid the consolidation of aristocratic power. Rhetoric therefore performs a hegemonic function in holding together the branches of knowledge that converge in the person of the orator (p. 70). Consequently, the mastery of rhetoric legitimizes the authority of the ruling class.

In the chapter's final section, Eloquenza come persuasione e come forma di espressione artistica, N. moves from ideological and political to aesthetic considerations. N.'s discussion of Cicero's treatment of actio, ornatus, and the role of pleasure in effecting rhetorical persuasion shows that N.'s historicist model does not limit his interpretation of the dialogue. Here N. demonstrates how Cicero conceived of oratory's persuasive force as inseparably linked to its aesthetic appeal and how he developed the idea of oratory as an autonomous artistic entity, a notion whose evolution N. will trace in following chapters.

The third chapter, Tra verità e simulazione: gli arcani dell'oratore, is a thematic study that takes upon itself the task of unraveling the complicated question of Cicero's ideas about the relationship between oratory and the emotions. N. begins with an examination of two Ciceronian texts which decisively contradict each other: Antonius in De Orat. 2.189ff. emphatically argues for the impossibility of an orator's inspiring emotions in others which he does not feel himself; Tusculans 4.55, in response to Peripatetic theories of the emotions, equally emphatically argues that to become angry is not at all advantageous for the orator. N. points out that two factors complicate the suggestion that Cicero simply changed his mind on this issue: Orator 123, a work composed a little before the Tusculans, restates the position taken in De Oratore; and Cicero's close linkage between his post reditum rhetoric and his personal experience of dolor.4 N. thus shows how isolated Tusc. 4.55 is within the larger context of Cicero's thought, and suggests that this passage manifests a momentary adherence to almost radical Stoicism in response to public and personal reversals. For N., however, this provides only a partial solution to the problem. He proposes that a deeper explanation of Cicero's contradictory views of the relationship between oratory and emotions is to be found in the distinction that Antonius draws between orator and actor: the former performs, not another's role, but his own (De Orat. 2.194: neque ego actor sum alienae personae sed auctor meae). Crassus will further refine this idea by arguing that ars and prudentia are necessary for the orator to give order to the confused jumble of emotions, and in this way he can communicate them to others (De Orat. 3.212). The orator is an "actor of truth" while the actor is merely truth's imitator (3.214: oratores, qui sunt ueritatis ipsius actores, reliquerunt, imitatores autem ueritatis, histriones, occupauerunt). Therefore the emotions of the orator, unlike those fictive passions of the actor, are real emotions, and yet are able to be summoned at will according to the needs of the case. It is in this distinction that N. finds the solution to the paradox of how Cicero could see the actions of the orator at one time as completely spontaneous and at another as deliberately fictive. Moreover, N. argues that the notion of the orator as an actor veritatis is able to bridge the divide between ars and spontaneity, and between truth and imitation, since it is only through the orator's artistry that the truth can come to light (p. 87).

In the following section, Eloquenza come menzogna? N. delves deeper into the question of the epistemological status of oratory, and explores in particular the issue that the ueritas of an orator's emotions does not necessarily imply a firm conviction of the goodness of the case he is advocating. N.'s discussion centers around the debate of the status of rhetoric as a scientia, which Antonius asserts is illegitimate since rhetoric is based upon mendacium (De Orat. 2.30). N. then renews his discussion of the orator's emotions as presented in Tusculans and De Oratore. He attempts to show that even the Stoic orator of Tusculans cannot totally ignore the role that the emotions play, as a thorough fidelity to Stoic doctrine would have demanded, because the orator must bring about perturbatio animi in those whom he would oratorically dominate. This perturbatio animi, N. suggests, is the rhetorum mysteria, which Cicero says (in Tusc. 4.55) that he does not want to profane. The orator of Tusculans can renounce emotions, but not their "simulazione". N. adduces the illuminating parallel in De Officiis 1.136f., which discusses how the uir bonus ought, under certain circumstances, to appear angry in the midst of reproof, and yet be apart from real ira; thus the self-control of the uir bonus in the private realm, mutatis mutandis, is parallel to that of the orator.

In the chapter's next and concluding sections N. broadens the discussion of simulatio. His analysis moves from the serious impasse that 'pretense' causes in the De Officiis, and, by bringing a wide range of Cicero's works to bear on the problem (speeches, ethical and rhetorical treatises), proceeds to tease out the ethical and political implications of simulatio. The political dangers of deception, which are exampled in the demagogic rhetoric of the populares, do not keep Cicero from suggesting how one should lure the populus with the promise of economic gain (Partitiones 90). N. proposes that the essential similarity in rhetorical technique between Cicero's political friends and foes lies behind the emphasis, in De Oratore, upon the need of a firm moral basis for the orator: rhetorical training apart from ethical instruction is tantamount to giving arms to madmen (De Orat. 3.55). The chapter ends with a discussion of the ethically ambiguous status of oratory in the light of Cicero's own adherence to the tenets of the skeptical Academy, which encouraged the breaking down of truth into a multiplicity of perspectives, wherein it was possible, as Cicero says of himself (Orator 123), to think one thing at one time, and another at another. Throughout this chapter, N. eschews simple conclusions and delves deeply into this subtle question of Cicero's rhetoric using a broad range of his writings.

The fourth chapter, I Brutus: storia dell'eloquenza e polemiche di stile, returns to focus on one work and begins with a brief introduction that places this Grabrede (p. 98) to Roman oratory in its historical context in the twilight of the republic under Caesar's dictatorship. N. then discusses the vexed and much disputed question of the work's political orientation. N. sees the range of modern interpretations -- from seeing the Brutus as anticaesarian, or as an invitation to the dictator to restore republican liberty, or as an attempt to justify in the eyes of the optimates a policy of mediation liable to seem like acquiescence -- as reflecting the variability of Cicero's moods during this period as seen in his correspondence. N. advances this discussion with the productive notion that the letters -- with their day-to-day changes of opinion -- do not exist on the same plane as that of the dialogue, wherein variations of opinion solidify into a dominant mood of generalized gloom. While resisting the idea of expunging the author from the text (a modern critical practice that N. finds particularly inappropriate in the case of Cicero), he concedes that in the present case there may be some value in the distinction between the 'subjectivity of the author and objectivity of the work' (p. 101).

Particularly noteworthy in N's discussion of the work's Sceneggiatura e forma dialogica (pp. 104-109) is the observation that, in a work that does not appear to demonstrate great care in its characterization, there are nevertheless some cleverly ironic elements in the presentation of Brutus and Atticus. Examples include: Cicero's discussion of literary "debt" (Brutus 18) plays off of the pair's well-known punctiliousness in collecting financial obligations (cf. Nepos Vita Attici 2.4); and a 'metaliterary' joke when Brutus suggests that Cicero is unwilling to discuss living orators out of fear that Brutus or Atticus might divulge the contents of their private discussion (Brut. 231). N.'s detailed account of the dialogue's contents begins with a suggestive discussion (Due generi di eloquenza) of the Brutus' bipartite division of oratory into a plain and grand style. N. argues that, while this distinction plays an important role in Cicero's polemics against the Atticists, where the distinction between plain and grand more or less mirrors that between Atticist and Asianist, this distinction is not merely a rhetorical tactic but has its roots in historical sociological reality. N. sees the distinction between plain and grand as related to such late-second century phenomena as the modifications made in makeup and arrangements of the courts, the rise of democratic leaders (Gaius Gracchus is paradigmatic), and the increase of accusers drawn from outside the ranks of the ruling class as factors that favored the development of an emotionally powerful oratory.5 This sort of oratory, with its appeals to an audience's pity, would scarcely be suitable to the dignity of the traditional aristocracy, who favored restraint and brevity in speech. N. is nonetheless careful to make the qualification that while these styles may have developed out of political divisions, experience soon taught the aristocracy that they could not neglect appeals to the emotions, particularly with the growth of the political importance of court cases and the large crowds that they attracted (the story of Laelius and Galba provides a case in point of both the aristocracy's distaste for emotional oratory and of its effectiveness: cf. Brutus 86-90). As part of this same section, N. discusses the further development in the Brutus of the idea, also noted in his discussion of the De Oratore in Chapter 3, of the evolution of the idea of oratory as form of artistic expression. In his treatment of the Atticists, N. takes the sensible position that the movement, while having recognizable historical antecedents, is best thought of as a phenomenon particular to Rome in the 50's BCE. Especially interesting is N.'s discussion of Licinius Calvus. He notes that Cicero's depiction of Calvus as a restrained and timid orator (Brut. 183f.) sharply conflicts with other ancient accounts which attribute to Calvus a forceful and animated delivery capable of stirring the emotions of his listeners (p. 130f.). N. does not doubt the intellectual honesty of Cicero's assessment. Instead he suggests that the reason for the incongruity between Cicero's and the others' evaluations of Calvus's style may have arisen from a critical blind spot on Cicero's part. N. hypothesizes that the Atticists may have been a far more heterogeneous group than Cicero presents them. Instead of being a movement united by their admiration of Lysianic simplicity, N. suggests that some Atticists, including Calvus, may have instead modeled their oratory on Demosthenes.6 While the available evidence does not allow this idea to advance beyond speculation, nonetheless N. proposes the attractive suggestion that Cicero's differences with Calvus and other Atticists may not have originated from the choice of models, but from the question of how one could best imitate Demosthenic vis: Cicero favored copia and amplitudo, while Calvus chose instead a concentrated intensity (densitas) that Cicero saw as dryness (exilitas). The virtue of N.'s approach is that he does not accept Cicero's account of the Atticists at face value, but instead constructs a plausible scenario for the historical reality that may lie behind Cicero's biased polemics.

The remainder of the chapter consists of two sections ("Nascità e suiluppo dell'eloquenza romana" and "Cicerone e i suoi contemporanei") which, though for the most part summaries of Cicero's account of the history of Roman oratory in the Brutus, are often accompanied by illuminating commentary on Cicero's historiographic method. Of particular interest are: N.'s discussion of the importance of Cato in Cicero's narrative through whom he adumbrates his view of chronological relativity of art (136-8); how in the Brutus, Cicero adopts a synchronic, and Atticus a diachronic view of the development of Roman rhetoric (p. 139); that Cicero omits, among predecessors, Marius and Sulla, and, among contemporaries, Clodius and Catiline (p. 147f.); and Cicero's gingerly handling of his chief oratorical rival, the recently dead Hortensius (152-5).

In the fifth and final chapter, Dal discorso pronunciato al discorso scritto. L'eloquenza come prodotto letterario, N. directly grapples with complex issues that have not yet received his uninterrupted attention: the relationship between Cicero's written and delivered speeches, his efforts through writing to overcome the constraints of time and space, and the development in his thought of a notion of oratory as an independent form of artistic expression.

N. begins by recalling the surprise that Cicero expresses in the Brutus at the fact that few of his oratorical predecessors went to the trouble of leaving behind evidence of their work. N. cleverly inverts the question: it is not the failure of earlier orators to publish their works, but rather the innovation of Cicero's doing so that requires explanation. N. suggests that a necessary precondition for Cicero's publication of his works was the development and enlargement of a reading public. This need was particularly acute given the nature of "publication" in antiquity, which for the most part consisted of the informal copying and distribution of texts among friends. Such a form of dissemination led to a close correspondence between the number of copies of a particular work and the number of readers. By Cicero's time the development of a reading public among the Roman and Italian elites, as well as those of lower social strata who aspired for advancement, set the stage for Cicero's program of publication.

The chapter's second section L'oratore e la scrittura sketches out some of the complexities of the relationship between orality and writing in Cicero's rhetorical thought. N. notes that "writing" takes on a prominent role in Cicero's last major rhetorical work, the Orator, and remarks that Cicero, although aware that writing can only partially restore the power of the delivered oration (Orator 130), nevertheless is sure that merely reading his speeches is sufficient to give evidence of their ability to inflame an audience (Orator 132). Cicero's confidence in the ability of the texts of his speeches to replicate the experience of hearing them, combined with his repeated criticisms of orators who fail to write as well as they spoke (e.g., Galba in Brutus 92, Hortensius in Orator 132), N. suggests, makes it probable that Cicero took pains to preserve as much as possible the movement and intensity of the delivered orations in their published versions.

N. is careful, however, to stipulate that Cicero did not consider writing merely a means of representing the spoken word, but emphasized the formative influence that the pen has on speech. Especially in his discussions of the rhythmically complex periodic style, Cicero emphasizes the essential role that writing plays in training an orator to construct the period's complex balanced cadences: the successful speaker's words, even when he speaks extemporaneously, will seem to have been written beforehand (Orator 200). The writerly elaboration of spoken words has an essential persuasive goal. As N. nicely puts it (p. 163): "Questi artifici miravano a imprimere le parole dell'oratore nella menti di quanti lo ascoltavano; a prolungarne l'effecto, superando l'effimera evanescenza dell'oralità." N. proceeds to suggest that the written word further influences the spoken, in that Cicero's published speeches provided models that others followed in their oratory.

In the third section, "Oratoria scritta e formazione del consenso politico", N. argues that Cicero simultaneously had artistic, didactic, and political goals when he published his orations. Against the interpretation that the speeches, since they were published so soon after delivery, were read only out of literary interest,7 N. proposes that Cicero's published orations would have also performed the function of keeping the public informed, particularly in the case of speeches delivered in the confines of the senate. His speeches would thus be vehicles for influencing the political orientations of broad segments of his reading public. Moreover, the speeches often present a particular situation in light of a broader political program, which for N. attests to the works' more general political ambitions. The novus homo from Arpinum used the publication of his speeches as self-promotion at the beginning of his career, and, after his return from exile, as a means of shaping the political orientations of growing numbers of readers, not only in Rome but among the increasingly politically influential local Italian elites. The chapter's final section, Discorsi reali e discorsi fittizi, presents Cicero's publication of speeches that were never delivered (like the actio secunda in Verrem and second Philippic) as examples of the transformation that Cicero brought to Roman oratory by fully exploiting the political uses of publishing texts of carefully crafted artistic prose.

The final chapter exemplifies many of the virtues and shortcomings of the work as a whole. N. here sets out very attractive and interesting ideas that, owing to the brevity of their exposition, do not always receive fully satisfactory treatment. The combination of N's broad brush strokes and modest-sized canvas (186 pages in all) sometimes leads to a frustrating loss of detail, and to the feeling that N. has not fully developed the implications of his arguments.8 In particular, I would have liked to have read a more systematic enunciation and articulation of how N. thinks that Cicero's rhetorical writings were engaged in a conscious and deliberate cultural program.

Although one may find this study at times more suggestive than conclusive, and that it can spend more time summarizing works than would be necessary for serious students of Roman rhetoric (which is perhaps a vestige of the original appearance of chapters 1, 2 and 4 as introductions to individual editions of the works), N.'s book nonetheless does the valuable service of offering a synthetic vision of Cicero's rhetorical thought and one, moreover, that treats its subject matter as worthy of attention in its own right. Also welcome is the fact that N.'s historicism has a light touch that shuns dogmatism and throughout his study is a flexible interpretive tool. In addition, N.'s analysis shows a full mastery of the Ciceronian corpus and relevant secondary scholarship. This book should be of interest not only to Ciceronian specialists, but also to those with more general interests in late republican intellectual history and rhetoric. I look forward to both the comprehensive study of Roman rhetoric and the larger study of the relationship between the published and delivered orations that N. has promised.  


1. Among N.'s numerous editions of Cicero's individual works and more general studies, perhaps of most scholarly interest would be his investigation of Cicero's ethical thought Modelli etici e società: Un'idea di Cicerone (Pisa, 1989).  

2. For a discussion of La Penna's work and an illuminating comparison with that of Conte, see Peter Toohey's review (in BMCR 97.2.28) of the collection of La Penna's essays Da Lucrezio a Persio: Saggi, studi, note, con una bibliografia degli scritti dell'autore (Milan, 1995) which N. co-edited along with Mario Citroni and Alessandro Perutelli.  

3. N. (p. 35 note 33) distances his views from those of Kennedy as expressed in his The Art of Rhetoric in the Roman World (Princeton, 1972) p. 226 and A New History of Classical Rhetoric (Princeton, 1994) p. 146. He is more critical of Vickers' Storia della retorica trad. it. Bologna 1994 (which I take to be his Defense of Rhetoric [Oxford, 1988]): "un grave fraintendimento della forma artistica del de oratore."  

4. N. gives full expression of this idea in his "Peceptions of exile in Cicero: the philosophical interpretation of a real experience", AJP 118 (1997) 55-73.  

5. N. here acknowledges a debt to J.-M. David, Le Patronat judicaire au dernier siècle de la république romaine (Rome, 1992).  

6. N. bases his discussion on W. D. Lebek, Verba Prisca. Die Anfänge des Archaisierens in der lateinischen Beredsamkeit und Geschichtsschreibung "Hypomnemata" 25, Göttingen 1970, pp. 84-95.  

7. So Humbert, Les plaidoyers écrits et les plaidoiries réelles de Cicéron (Paris, 1926) p. 265.  

8. N. does caution the reader (p. 157 n.2) that the chapter contains preliminary results of a larger investigation that he promises to publish elsewhere.