Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.12.06

Emanuele Narducci (ed.), Interpretare Cicerone: Percorsi della critica contemporanea; Atti del II Symposium Ciceronianum Arpinas (Arpino 18 Maggio 2001).   Firenze:  Felice le Monnier, 2002.  Pp. 83.  ISBN 88-00-81502-2.  EUR 10.50.  

Contributors: Antonio La Penna, Alberto Cavarzere, Alberto Grilli, Guiseppe Cambiano

Reviewed by Sarah Culpepper Stroup, University of Washington, Seattle (
Word count: 2303 words

This helpful and interesting collection of articles, marking the 21st occasion of the Certamen Ciceronianum Arpinas and the 2nd edition of the Certamens' "offspring," the Symposium Ciceronianum Arpinas, is introduced by a brief forward, with explanatory and contextualizing notes, by E. Narducci. The collected papers consist of four thought-provoking studies on various aspects of the corpus, each with its own bibliography. All of these papers speak strongly to both the recent upwelling of interest in Ciceronian studies and the continuing (and productive) trend of looking at Cicero both "literarily" and, as a consequence, across established literary genres. The collection is not a lengthy one, but highly worthwhile in both its goals and results. I find its focus on the letters and technical treatises (rather than the orations) refreshing and productive, and I expect it to be of use both to scholars who work on Cicero in particular, as well as to those interested the stylistics of Roman rhetorical, philosophical, and epistolographic prose.

The collected papers include: the literary representation of (especially political) individuals in the epistolary collection ("Ritratti dalle lettere di Cicerone," La Penna), Cicero's use of public oratory as a means of representation and self-fashioning ("L'oratoria come rappresentazione. Cicero e la eloquentia corporis," Cavarzere), the orator's interweaving of rhetorical and philosophical interests in the technical treatises ("Cicerone tra retorica e filosofia," Grilli), and a study on Cicero's recurrent interest in the social and political necessities of philosophical study throughout in these same treatises ("Cicerone e la necessità della filosofia," Cambiano). In what follows, I will summarize, and provide comments on, each of the included studies.

La Penna's contribution, "Ritratti dalle lettere di Cicerone" (pp. 1-13), offers an interesting and helpful analysis of Cicero's (henceforth C.) remarkably skillful representation of persons and personalities in his letters. As La Penna (henceforth L.) notes, C.'s remarkable talent for producing powerful portraits of the passions, intrigues, and individuals has been widely recognized in the case of the orations. But the letters are similarly replete with vivid representations of individuals and affective states, and L.'s approach is informed by his broader interest in epistolographic texts as particularly useful for investigations into literary representation and Wertbegriffe, or the history of concepts and ethical value. L. begins his study with a quick overview of what he means by "portraits" (ritratti) and notes the author's "simple" or "contained" portraits often function in terms of an elogium funebris (so L. Cornelius Lentulus Niger in Att. 5.8a.3; Fabius Luscus in Fam. 1.9.22) or malignant or satiric attack (Piso in Att. 1.13.2; 4.19.2). But it is the complex "indirect" or "extended" portraits (ritratti indiretti), those which are developed over the span of years, recipients, and political climate, with which L. is concerned, and the bulk of the essay is devoted to a survey of some of the more compelling of these. To this end, L. reviews C.'s characterizations of Pompey, Curio, and C. Trebatius Testa throughout the corpus of letters, and argues for a relative consistency in the tone and language of the epistolographer's representations of each of these men. L. begins with a survey of C.'s many and varied characterizations of Pompey and argues that, although the bulk of these are fairly negative (as we might expect), it is a constantly evolving negativity, and one marked most strongly by the charges of distrust, duplicity, ignorance, and indecipherability. The Pompey of C.'s letters is a man who feels one thing and says another, who is not only a difficult man to read but also (even more fascinating) a man who has difficulty reading or knowing himself. L. turns next to a discussion of C.'s representation of the tribune Curio, a representation L. shows to have been characterized, consistently and progressively, by the language of intimate association, political admiration, and paternal optimism and exhortation. Finally, L. considers the epistolary "portrait" of C. Trebatius Testa and shows that C.'s representations of this figure are marked by a highly affective and jovial tone, full of the language of social intimacy and shared humor. In sum, although it is not surprising that C. is consistent in the tone and language of his characterizations, L. does a fine job of extracting the lexical subtleties of these "portraits" and arguing for a kind of overarching interconnection of representation throughout the corpus. An unfortunate omission, recognized by L., is any discussion of C.'s feminine ritratti, though he does direct his readers thus interested to a work by Boissier on C.'s representation of Terentia. It would have been similarly illuminating for L. to triangulate C.'s representation of the recipients of his letters as men of distinct literary or political character (e.g. Atticus, Brutus, Quintus) against those of the characters described (or even in and of themselves), but certainly L.'s study is solid and thought provoking as it stands. In sum, it makes an exceedingly attractive contribution to literary investigations of the corpus and will be an important starting point for subsequent investigations into Ciceronian characterization and epistolography.

In the next essay, "L'Oratoria come Rappresentazione: Cicerone e la eloquentia corporis" (pp. 24-54), Cavarzere (henceforth Car.) investigates C.'s varied discussions of actio, or non-verbal communication. The main argument is that this "eloquence of the body" (the subtitle refers to Or. 55) held a much more powerful role in the oratorical practice of Rome than is normally recognized, even as it embodies (no pun intended) a tension between forensic practice and rhetorical theorization. Car. notes that the Greek equivalent of actio, ὑπόκρισις, receives only glancing notice in the Aristotelian discussion of the tripartite officia orationis (πίστεις, λέξις and τάξις, corresponding to inventio, elocutio and dispositio). After a brief overview of the possible reasons for this marginalization, Car. notes that by the end of the Republic the officia oratoris had come to include the categories of actio and memoria, although both categories remained somewhat marginalized due to their origins in natural ability rather than learning and practice. The remainder of the study consists of a careful analysis of the category of actio in C., depending most heavily on C.'s discussions of such in the three major rhetorica, and comparing the Republican (and later, Imperial) conceptualization of actio to that of the Aristotelian school. A mechanism of the body as well as an instrument of the mind, actio serves as a universal language of the physical form--it is the eloquentia corporis. As such, Car. argues, it contributes substantively not only to the act of delivery--the performance--but indeed to the oratorical process of argumentation and persuasion as a whole. In sum, Car.'s study is a thorough and convincing one and sheds needed light on the somewhat fraught position of actio--as veering dangerously close to "acting"--in both C.'s rhetorica and Quintilian's later discussions of oratorical delivery. I wish Car. had put more weight on the purely Ciceronian aspects of the term than he does, as surely C.'s actio is not a mimesis of Aristotelian ὑπόκρισις, so much as a category of oratorical display influenced by the Greek but evolved in explicit response to the needs of the Republican forum. Nevertheless, this was not Car.'s plan, and his study, as it stands, is a very good one.

The third essay of the collection, Grilli's (henceforth G.) "Cicerone tra retorica e filosofia" (pp. 53-65), is particularly strong. G's intent is a simple one: to show that the whole of the Ciceronian political corpus, from the youthful de Inv. to the late Orator, is marked by an intentional and explicit interweaving of the categories of rhetoric and philosophy in the production of the Republican orator. In this, he is remarkably effective. G. begins with the argument that the semantic force of the title orator is from its inception that of the definitively 'political man.' As G. argues from evidence ranging from Homer Il. 9.44, to Ennius Ann. 207 V2 = 202 Sk. and Cato Fil. 14J, the ideal orator is by the late Republic established as both a doer of deeds and speaker of words; a man active both in times of war--as an ambassador petitioning for resolution--and in peace--as a vocal defender of speech and the state. After this introduction, G. turns to a brief overview of the history of professional rhetoric at Rome, noting especially the early suspicion with which the Greek rhetoricians were met and the later opposition against the Latin rhetorical school of the populares. It is in the context of this social milieu that G. sets C.'s first rhetorical treatise, the de Inv.. In this work, the necessary interconnection of philosophy and rhetoric, each in the service of creating the most perfectly "political man," is made manifest by the young writer, an interconnection we should not find surprising, as G. notes, in light of C.'s own early educational training. The remainder of the study consists of a thorough, if occasionally swift, journey through the most relevant of C.'s political treatises. G. rightly rejects the traditional distinctions between the 'rhetorical,' 'political' and 'philosophical' treatises as anachronistic and misleading, and argues instead that rhetoric and philosophy are for C. not only inseparable categories of study, but indeed nearly indistinguishable elements in the production of the perfect political individual. G. examines in turn de Or., de Re Pub., Part. Orat., Brut., Top., and Or. In each case, he argues not only that C. positions himself (and his ideally 'political man') again and again at the meeting point of rhetoric and philosophy, but also that C. does not merely repeat or recycle this position but in fact evolves and strengthens it over time and in response to political contingency. It is a common feature of the Ciceronian treatises that they offer in historicizing or ostensibly objective terms (the imagined discourses of Rome's august intellectual fathers; leisurely sermones between C. and his contemporaries) acute commentary on the author's own and increasingly troubled social and political status. As G. has shown so compellingly in this study, we have in C.'s idealization of the political man of the Republic--an orator educated and skilled equally in both rhetorical and philosophical matters--a man who can be none other than C. himself. Again, G.'s intent for this essay was a relatively simple one, but the implications of his study will be important for any future work on C.'s intellectual and political self-fashioning in the treatises.

The final contribution to the collection, "Cicerone e la necessità della filosofia" (pp. 66-83), similarly concerns C.'s philosophical leanings, but from an importantly different angle. Cambiano (henceforth Cam.) focuses upon C.'s progressive promotion of the practice of philosophy--prompted, as Cam. notes, by C.'s own political situation--in the later treatises. To restate this in a less gratingly alliterative way, it is Cam.'s contention that although the justification of philosophical activity had itself long been a focal point of philosophical discourse, C.'s philosophica transform philosophical investigation, which for C. means philosophical writing, into a source of cultural capital and influence that might make up for the orator's effective exclusion from the forum. In all cases, Cam. argues convincingly that C.'s critique of specific philosophical schools forges an image of the 'necessity' of philosophy as a valued cultural and intellectual practice itself concerned with probability, necessity, and the reasoned judgment thereof. In the first part of the paper (after an introduction to the problem), Cam. provides a dense but learned overview of C.'s discussions of the philosophical schools and preference for the Accademia 'scettica' and the specific problem of the determination of probability and verisimilitude within these schools. To this end, Cam. concentrates in particular on the orator's varied representations of philosophical practice and argument as embodied in, e.g., Archesilaos and Plato (among others) and as expressed by the various characters of the dialogues (Luc., Varr., de Or. and Tusc. Disp. receive particular attention). In the end, Cam. turns to the Roman tradition and suggests that C. produces a vision of a Roman philosophy which is able to hold its place against the Greek. Cam.'s study is a heady one and covers significant ground in relatively limited space. The focus is perhaps the most solidly philosophical of the group and rather too complex to detail here at length (my summary above does little justice to Cam.'s careful analysis). I would note that the treatises discussed by Cam. are considered rather synchronically and without much emphasis on form, character, or the conditions of composition. To be sure, such an analysis was not Cam.'s intent and so I charge no shortcoming, but greater interest in the social and literary concerns of the treatises would have added depth to Cam.'s overarching argument about the production of philosophical literature at a time of ozio forzato (p. 68). The study is nevertheless an important one as it stands and offers many valuable insights into both Cicero's use of Greek philosophical schools and sources and his drive to establish a degree of Roman preeminence for philosophy at a time of personal and political trial.

In sum, then, this small collection (quite rightly a libellus) is a highly worthwhile one, and Narducci is to be credited with having brought these impressive and provocative papers together in one volume. The studies approach the "problem" of Ciceronian intellectual, social, and literary self-fashioning in distinct ways, but each makes a valuable contribution to the field of Ciceronian studies, and indeed prose studies as a whole. The grouping, moreover, is a fortuitous one; for, although any of these fine papers will stand well on its own (and surely that is how they should be read) and there are thankfully no awkward attempts to create a continuous "theme" throughout (save the matter of Cicero), the papers do indeed play off each other in delightfully unexpected ways. This is a strong volume of strong individual works, and I anticipate that it will be warmly welcomed by scholars interested in the continuously unfolding complexities of late Republican prose.

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