Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.03.20

Franz Bücher, Verargumentierte Geschichte. Exempla Romana im politischen Diskurs der späten römischen Republik. Hermes Einzelschriften 96.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner, 2006.  Pp. 363; CD-Rom.  ISBN 3-515-08870-9.  €76.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Yasmina Benferhat, University of Nancy (
Word count: 953 words

Did the mos maiorum exist only to bother Romans who wanted something new? There is a strong interest nowadays in the way the Romans dealt with past, and F. Bücher's book is to be seen in this perspective. It's a lightly revised version of his PhD, composed of three parts. The first is about the political elites of Rome; the second focuses on the importance of memory, both in private and public spaces; and the third treats the subject announced by the title. It's an interesting book which should allow everyone, scholars and students, to refresh their knowledge about Roman political life and see how Cicero, since he is the main source, managed to manipulate his audience by using carefully chosen exempla.

The first part (around 100 pages) deals with the category of people who were specialists of speeches -- the politicians who used them as the way to communicate with their fellow citizens. It is introduced by a brillant fictive scene in the Forum, goes on with a definition of the political speech as a technique which concerned all politicians, whether beginners or consulares, as the usual channel of communication, as a weapon sometimes and, last but not least, as a way to dominate others. Then B. presents the various places where speeches were pronounced, in the contiones1 and the comitia -- a speech was always like a one man show. A comment of Cicero's speech for the lex Manilia closes this presentation.

B. then describes the political elites and the place of rhetoric in their education. One might regret that this is mainly based on H.-I. Marrou's book (first edition in 1940) though there are much more recent important studies like those of G. Kennedy, who is present in the bibliography but not in the footnotes. B. comments on the Ad Herennium and the De Inuentione. For him, the political elites though divided by age2 or familial origins were united by a common history. This first part is certainly useful as a reminder of the general context,3 but it might have been a little bit shorter, since it does not bring anything new. The second part (around 50 pages) suffers from the same lack of originality: after having tried to bring a definition of what politics was in Republican Rome--i.e., a direct relationship between the elites and the assemblies--B. underlines the importance of memory in daily life, both in the private sphere with the imagines, the pompa funebris, and the atrium, for example, and in the public space. The buildings, the coins, the statues, the ceremony of triumph were all ways to celebrate one's gens and to exalt its past. He generously goes on with the Roman literature -- drama, epic, history -- since it was connected with history and a way to celebrate it. Thus the second part ends with Cicero's considerations on history: B. concludes that Cicero was more interested in exactitude than he was a real thinker.

The third part (around 150 pages) concentrates on the use of exempla, mainly in Cicero's political speeches. B. presents first a definition of the exemplum: "Etwas auf der Vergangenheit zum Zwecke gegenwärtiger Überzeugungsarbeit eines Redners herausgenommen wird" (p.154). B. tries to classify his exempla. The first classification is based on a distinction between general exempla (mos maiorum, patrum memoria) and then particular exempla concerning one of the Roman illustres uiri.4 The list is chronologically organised, from the kings to the Decii first; then from the first Punic war to Cato Maior. Each time B. presents the sources Cicero might have used and then his exempla. The case of Cato leads B. to comment on Cicero's De Amicitia, since Cato is the main figure in it, but one might remark that it's not a political speech, and it's obviously not the real Cato but an idealized, one might say Ciceronian, Cato. Also one might argue that it's a little bit problematic to put on the same level a simple quotation of a name and the way Cicero plays with Appius Claudius Caecus in the pro Caelio where the name becomes a comic senex.5

Rather than an exhaustive classification, B. chose to present the exempla first with a study of some political speeches of Cicero: the De lege agraria and the in Catilinam. Thereafter B. chose a third way to study exempla, by concentrating on some major figures or themes: Cato once more, Scipio Aemilianus, Sulla, the fight between Optimates and Populares (commenting again on the De lege agraria), ending with a discussion of Macer's speech in Sallust's Histories. The problem is nevertheless the same as for Cato in the De Amicitia: what belongs to Macer himself and what to Sallust? Maybe B. should be more cautious. One then finds a short comment on the pro Plancio, then of the three Caesarianae. These speeches are a little bit special since Cicero uses no exemplum, but Sulla's shadow is always there: one might have expected B. to consider the exempla in the pro Marcello, for exemple, used to create and feed hate against Caesar who should be killed. The last pages focus on the way Cicero himself created new exempla (Catilina as the perfect monster, Brutus as the "Liberator").

B.'s book deals with more than just exempla: it is a reflection on the presence and use of the past in Roman political life and a study of Cicero through almost all his works. It gives very interesting clues about the art of manipulating feelings and audiences in the Late Republic. The presentation is almost perfect6 -- except in the bibliography, whose punctuation has obviously suffered from haste -- and there is a CD-ROM with all the lists of exempla.


1.   See the recent study of Dominique Hiebel, Rôles institutionnel et politique de la contio sous la République romaine (287 avant J.C.-49 avant J.C.), Thèse, Paris, University Paris II-Panthéon Assas, 2004.
2.   See M. Coudry-Bonnefond's study, which B. seems to ignore, Le sénat de la République romaine de la guerre de Hannibal à Auguste: pratiques délibératives et prise de décision (EFR, Rome), for the conflict between young and old senators.
3.   B. seems to consider the tribunate as the second step of the cursus honorum p. 95: actually, it was not part of the cursus honorum at all.
4.   In the middle of this classification there are some pages about the choice of the place to pronounce a speech with all the manipulations it implied, Cicero once showing a statue of Camillus to impress his audience.
5.   B. could have used K.A. Geffcken's book, Comedy in the Pro Caelio (Brill, Leiden, 1973).
6.   There are a few typos, as usual, but very few : p. 85 Graviationszentrum, p. 142 n. 3 obcsure, p. 243 n. 70 desripta, p. 254 n. 116 incedibilis for incredibilis I presume, p. 313 n. 9 plucherrimi.

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