Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.04.12

Mary Siani-Davies (trans.), Cicero's Speech: Pro Rabirio Postumo, translated with introduction and commentary .   New York and Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2001.  Pp. xiv + 282.  ISBN 0-19-924096-5.  $29.95.  

Reviewed by Jerise Fogel , Columbia University (

This excellent and useful volume presents the first English-language commentary on this brief but historically important speech since the 19th century mainly philological commentary of George Long,1 and apparently the first published English translation of the speech since N.H. Watts' 1931 Loeb.2 Mary Siani-Davies (henceforth S.) has done us all a great service with this honed and careful publication based on her 1991 doctoral dissertation.3 I am grateful to have had the chance to read this introduction, translation and commentary closely, and have learned much from it.

The book, as part of the Clarendon Ancient History Series (gen. eds. Brian Bosworth, David Whitehead, Miriam Griffin, Susan Treggiari), is aimed primarily at serious students of ancient history, although, as S. states, "some discussion of a linguistic, literary and textual nature is also included." It will be most helpful for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students in Ancient History, especially those with no or little knowledge of Latin, as an introduction to several political aspects of the 50s BCE, particularly Roman foreign policy concerning Egypt and the Near East.

The 91-page Introduction discusses at length the history of Ptolemy XII Auletes' restoration and more generally Ptolemaic Egypt's relationship with the Roman government and powerful Roman individuals including all three triumvirs (p. 1-38), Gaius Rabirius Postumus' identity, family and career (p. 38-65), and finally The Trial including the lex Iulia de rebus repetundis (Julian extortion law), under which Postumus was tried in the year 54/53 (p. 65-91). A serviceable translation of Cicero's defense speech is included for accessibility--accurate and generally clearer than Watts' Loeb translation. Both translation and commentary are based on the text of Clark (OCT 1909), with textual changes argued for sporadically in the commentary.4 A useful Chronology, thorough Bibliography, Index Locorum, and General Index are included.

The greatest strength of S.'s book lies in her clear and convincing historical argumentation. In the Introduction, she offers an impressive synthesis of past argumentation and ancient literary and historical sources as well as papyrological and epigraphical evidence, some still unpublished or newly published at the time of writing, on the questions of Ptolemy Auletes' relations with collective and individual Romans (including the chronology of events related to the notorious 'Egyptian question' of the 60s and 50s BCE), the attitude of the triumvirs toward Egyptian kings and their affairs, Rabirius' identity and political alliances (where S.'s skilful use of papyrological and epigraphical evidence leads her to some surprising but persuasive conclusions), and the date, motives, results, law and form of the trial.

Ptolemy Auletes is presented in "rehabilitated" form by S., who takes the opportunity to add some helpful detail to the "revisionist" accounts of Sullivan and Hölbl.5 With some nice logical deduction (p. 27) S. even suggests that Postumus acted as a courier for Pompey via Auletes to Gabinius in 56--thus neatly explicating Dio 39.56.2-3 (further explained in S.'s note at 8.19), and offering a possible concrete instance of Auletes' relationships with the Roman financial class. Evidence from inscriptions and papyri, including a demotic graffito from Dendera and a pylon at Edfu, is used deftly to sketch a vivid context for Auletes. Especially impressive is the quotation and translation of P. Med. Inv. 68.53 to offer an Egyptian perspective on Postumus' behavior as diocetes (chief royal treasurer) under the restored Auletes (p. 33-4). The atmosphere of easy connections between members of the Roman and Egyptian nobility is well portrayed--an atmosphere in which Marc Antony could be praised by the family of Archelaus for giving a soldier's burial to the fallen Egyptian leader, whom he had perhaps met in the camp of Gabinius, the general who slew Archelaus in the battle at Pelusium (p. 29). The summary of Auletes' career and character on p. 37-8 provides a good overview. A map of Egypt would have been welcome somewhere around p. 30, and a genealogical chart for the Ptolemies would have proved useful throughout the first section of the Introduction.

Postumus, originally C. Curtius Postumus but as an adult adopted by his uncle C. Rabirius, was a rich eques and publican accused in this case of having illegally financed Ptolemy Auletes himself and a Roman propraetor who (without the Senate's permission) used a Roman army from his province to march on Alexandria and replace the King on the Egyptian throne from which he had been expelled, allegedly by popular uprising. Postumus had been a longtime friend of Cicero. Postumus, S. argues in a tour-de-force, became politically more prominent than one might expect of a banker because of his successful financing of triumviral adventures such as this one on behalf of both Pompey and Caesar; he apparently won acquittal in 54/53 and continued as financier to Caesar and later Octavian, possibly retiring to the Bay of Naples area to become among other things the wealthy elderly addressee of Horace's Ode 2.14. This section of the Introduction freshly combines literary, papyrological and epigraphic sources, including a tessera nummularia containing the name possibly of Postumus' uncle and adoptive father (p. 47 n. 30), an unpublished inscription (Gian Luca Gregori's help is acknowledged in preface, and S. should be credited with having fruitfully developed contacts with many fine scholars internationally on this project), and assorted evidence about Postumus' freedmen and freedwomen) to provide a convincing identification of Postumus as not only the Curtius Postumus of Cicero's correspondence but also the Caesarian adherent Rabirius Postumus in Caesar's Bellum Africanum, and Horace's Postumus. The careful nomenclature study here is a model of its kind and will be useful to all students of the Roman naming system. Again, the use of Carla Balconi's article is a sign of the care S. has taken. The development of Postumus' apparent Volaterran Etruscan connections and his Campanian connections, is persuasive and explains many points in Cicero's speech in passing (most notably the reference to Postumus' assistance to his own father, whom Cicero had claimed he had never seen with his own eyes). Postumus' rise from trader/financier to important political figure with connections to all triumvirs is outlined in cogent detail on pp. 52-65.

Part of S.'s relatively traditional introduction/translation/commentary project is revisionist in an interesting way. S. attempts mostly successfully to see not only the rule of Ptolemy Auletes but the connections he made with Romans in a more Egypt-centered light. She contributes to the rehabilitation of this king begun by Sullivan 1990 and Hölbl 1994. I wish however that she had been more bold at some points, for in many ways the old Romanocentric perspective is left standing. Although Syria and Mithridates loom as important entities in the background, they are not focused on as powers in their own right here; also, internal Egyptian politics is represented over-schematically (two basic factions, for and against Ptolemy and his Roman friends). No internal reason is given for Egyptian overtures of friendship to Rome by Ptolemy II Philadelphus in 273--only the consequences for the Romans are taken into account. What we mostly see is the effect of Egyptian policy on Rome. This is true of most accounts by classicists of this era, of course, and S. is not particularly at fault for this: but it would have been wonderful, given some of the steps S. takes toward inclusion of Egyptian material, to see a more balanced picture emerge. I particularly felt this lack in the sections on Cleopatra V Tryphaena, mother of Auletes, and Berenice, his sister, who ruled alone for a few years until he returned and had her killed. Berenice's "search for a husband" is framed entirely in terms of Roman intervention in, and manipulation and obstruction of, that search. We never hear what exactly Berenice's own (and the Ptolemies') positive foreign policy aims might have been at this time, from an Egyptian point of view. This is the political nexus into which Cleopatra VII was born (Auletes was her father), and grasping it from inside Alexandria seems important. Part of this is of course a source problem--but even historical speculation takes place only from the Roman perspective for the most part--which is a shame, given the excellent Greek/Egyptian papyrological evidence S. has introduced and explicated.

The commentary helpfully explains many concrete items touched on in the speech, and notes are pitched for sophisticated but inexperienced students of ancient history, with many helpful pointers given about Roman legal and political institutions along the way. That these are not collected systematically into a glossary of terms or concepts seems to be due mainly to the plan of the series--it might be something for future volume-producers to consider seriously, however, as it would be enormously helpful to the prospective audience. Occasionally, the commentary becomes opaque because citations of English terms are paired with citation of studies in Latin, for example, references are made to Kühner-Stegmann without giving the Latin term referred to (e.g. on 1.2 It is bad... falling: "note the use of 'surely', which adds a subjective colouring to the sentence [K-St (1955) II. 799-802]"). Again, the English word, not the Latin, is given in the note on munificence 15.41, but then the Latin, not the English, is discussed ("... for the varied treatment of this word in Latin literature see Manning (1985) 73-83"). The Latin word referred to (and which Manning discusses), liberalitas, is never mentioned. There is therefore something of a hybrid feel to the commentary, probably because it was actually originally based on the Latin text, not keyed to a translation. While very little Latin is cited overall, somewhat inconsistently the word gravitas in Sec. 6 and elsewhere in the notes is never translated; the note on Sec. 6 says merely "A technical term which, in this context, is used to call attention to duty (2Ver. 5.45)." This is not enough to tell a reader innocent of Latin what the term means; and the appellation "technical term" is confusing in this context, whether one understands Latin or not. Nevertheless, a huge amount of information is available in this book: and one can generally find it by persistent use of the General Index, and by browsing. Again, the usual exceptions are concepts and Latin terms (even those translated and explained): although amicitia "between Egypt and Rome" is indexed, the term socius et amicus, the formula sought and won by Ptolemy Auletes, which is mentioned several times by S. in the Introduction, does not receive an entry in the Index, not even under an English term such as "alliance" or "friendship."

The translation is a huge improvement, in style and in clarity, over Watts. Compare Sec. 32, S.: "And, indeed, I do not regret that with me enmities die whereas friendships endure for ever" with Watts' clunkier and more pedantically constructed "nor indeed have I any reason to regret that my enmities are transient while my friendships are eternal." Occasionally, S. slips a bit: "not only on many occasions in the past but also during this present case" misses the Latin idiom in cum saepe ante, tum in hac ipsa causa (Watts is better here: "on many occasions in the past, and never more clearly than in the present case").6 But S.'s translation is much more beautiful and clear in general, and is more often truer to the meaning and tone of Cicero's fluid prose. Compare the opening of the speech:

S.: If there is anyone, gentlemen of the jury, who feels that C. Rabirius ought to be censured for having entrusted his fortune and his riches, principally the result of honest and sound investment, to the power and arbitrary whims of royalty, let him add to his judgement not only my own opinion but also that of the very man who committed the deed; for no one is more disgusted with his behaviour than Postumus himself. It is our standard practice, nevertheless, to judge the worth of a project by its results, so that, if its outcome has been successful, we say that it was well conceived, but if unsuccessful, that it showed a lack of foresight. If the King had proved himself trustworthy, nobody would be considered wiser than Postumus, but, as the King betrayed him, nobody is held to be more foolish; thus, today a man's wisdom appears to consist of nothing more than intuitive guesswork.

Watts: If there is anyone, gentlemen of the jury, who thinks that Gaius Rabirius is deserving of censure for having submitted a fortune so eminently well invested and established as his own to the power and caprice of a king, he is at liberty to count to the support of his view not only my vote but also that of the man himself who has thus acted; for indeed there is no one who so heartily disapproves that act as the agent thereof. Still, it is a habit of ours to gauge the wisdom of a project by its results, and, while imputing foresight to the successful, to charge the unsuccessful with the lack of it. Had the king shown himself honest, Postumus would have been a monument of sagacity; as the king has deceived him, he is pronounced the greatest of fools; in fact, it appears that wisdom to-day has come to be nothing more than guess-work.

Here S., as well as bringing forward the ironic smile in this passage without awkwardness or bombast, also stays much closer to the grammatical construction of the Latin at the end of the passage (Si extitisset in rege fides, nihil sapientius Postumo; quia fefellit rex, nihil hoc amentius dicitur; ut iam nihil esse videatur nisi divinare sapientis).

Some small criticisms (it's my job!): Although the bibliography is full and judicious, it is largely lacking citations from after 1994 (excellent use is made of the 1994 CAH volume IX however)--I noticed that the preface was written in August 1999, so publication in 2001 means a gap not attributable to the author. There are few additions to make, however: this speech has not been frequently read or commented on, as S. notes, although with the appearance of this edition that will probably change. More consistent reference might have been made to the only other good commentary of this kind out there, Klodt 1992 (see n. 2)--while S. occasionally argues specifically with Klodt (e.g. p. 74, n. 36), more often S.'s commentary moves independently, even when helpful rhetorical perspective is offered in Klodt. For instance, in the first few sentences, Klodt points out about Cicero's opening, Si quis est..., that this is a way of avoiding seeming to overpower judges with his own opinion (by introducing their supposed opinion first), but in fact sets the groundwork for their acceptance of his opinion in this way. Readers of German will still want to go back to Klodt for these rhetorical insights--S.'s strong area is clearly history, anyway. To the earlier literature, I would add E.G. Hardy, Six Roman Laws, Oxford 1911, and Some Problems in Roman History: Ten essays bearing on the administrative and legislative work of Julius Caesar, Oxford 1924, esp. 68-98 on the Servilian lex agraria of 63 and Caesar's connection to the "Egyptian question." New studies from the Ptolemaic Egyptian side include: M. Chauveau, Egypte au temps de Cleopatre, English trans. by David Lorton, Egypt in the age of Cleopatra: history and society under the Ptolemies, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press 2000; R.A. Hazzard, Imagination of a monarchy : studies in Ptolemaic propaganda (Phoenix Supplementary volume 37), Toronto: University of Toronto Press 2000.

Overall, this is an excellent volume, and every Classics and Ancient History collection will want to obtain it immediately, as will serious students of these fields with an interest in the late Roman Republic and/or Ptolemaic Egypt. I can only hope its appearance will lead to renewed interest in this often overlooked speech, and the tremendous historical import of the events it touches on.

Some Errata Noted (N.B. This list is not exhaustive; these are simply some minor errors that struck me as I read; < > means add or modify to the contents of the brackets; X > Y means "X should be corrected to Y"): p. 3, n. 10 ([Susannah] Braund... idem > eadem); p. 5, n. 15 ([Dorothy J.] Thompson... idem > eadem) and n. 16 ([Dorothy Burr] Thompson... idem > eadem); p. 59, 'supra-govern[at]orial role'; p. 71, 'furore' > 'furor'; p. 96, l. 2, 'litle' > 'little' (spelled correctly in note, however); p. 121, 'good name' note should go above, before 'he... practices'; p. 146, 'misuse' note should go above, before 'voting tablet'; p. 161, 'you are... I am' > 'You are... I am'; p. 163, 'For if...' > 'For, if...'; p. 166, l. 3, Archelaus > Archelaus'; p. 177, l. 5 from bottom, amended > mended; p. 222, l. 10 from bottom, natured > nature; p. 235, Heinen, Review of H. Sonnabend, 'Fremdenbild und Politik<:> Vorstellungen der Römer...' (correctly punctuated in the entry for Sonnabend itself); p. 235, Hölbl, ... Ideologie (not Ideologië); p. 239 (I fasti dei tributi della plebe > I fasti dei tribuni della plebe); p. 243 (M. Siani, ... Ph.D<.> Thesis); Manfred Fuhrmann (not Führmann), in bibliog. and elsewhere, e.g. p. 127; p. 236, in bibliog., Knoche, 'Magnitudo animi<:> Untersuchungen...'


1.   M. Tulli Ciceronis Orationes with a Commentary, London: Whittaker 1855-62 (vol. IV).
2.   London: Heinemann 1931, rpt. 1965. The most recent French translation is that of Andreas Boulanger in the Budé series (Cicéron. Discours Vol. XVII, Paris, Les Belles Lettres 1949); in German, that of Manfred Fuhrmann (Marcus Tullius Cicero. Sämtliche Reden, eingeleitet, übersetzt und erläutert, Zürich and Stuttgart: Artemis 1970-82 (vol. VI). Claudia Klodt, Ciceros Rede Pro Rabirio Postumo: Einleitung und Kommentar, Stuttgart: Teubner 1992, is essentially the only modern commentary available here, but it deals with the speech mainly in terms of its rhetorical and literary structure, whereas S.'s commentary is chiefly historical. Klodt also addresses textual critical issues, and includes a photographic reproduction of Poggio's manuscript of the speech (Vat. 11458).
3.   M.D. Siani, Commentary on Cicero's Pro Rabirio Postumo, London, Ph.D. Thesis 1991, under the direction of the late John M. Carter, with substantial inspiration from Alan Douglas. Klodt's commentary is also a revised dissertation, defended in 1991, under the direction of Wilfried Stroh.
4.   Mostly arguing for the MSS. against Clark, e.g. Sec. 4, rightly keeping the MSS.' quamvis (viderat) against Clark's unnecessary emendation to quamquam; also, Sec. 42, keeping hiememque against Clark's hiemumque; S. probably correctly emends in Sec. 47 to quidem for the MSS' cui id; Madvig's suggestion Curtio has been generally adopted, but S.'s argument is good.
5.   R.D. Sullivan, Near Eastern Royalty and Rome, 100-30 BC, Toronto 1990; G. Hölbl, Geschichte des Ptolemäerreiches: Politik, Ideologie und religiöse Kultur von Alexander dem Grossen bis zur römischen Eroberung, Darmstadt 1994.
6.   Some infelicities occasionally arise: "consent with me or not" (44) is not particularly good English; "of great succour" (47) seems awkward to this reader.

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