Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.04.39

Andrew Lintott, Cicero As Evidence: A Historian's Companion.   Oxford/New York:  Oxford University Press, 2008.  Pp. x, 469.  ISBN 9780199216444.  $130.00.  

Reviewed by Barbara Saylor Rodgers, University of Vermont (
Word count: 2999 words


In his preface, Andrew Lintott states that his intent is not to write a biography of Cicero, nor a history of the late Republic. Yet in some ways he has missed his own mark, for the work is more than advertised. Lintott concentrates upon Cicero's texts -- speeches, letters, rhetorical and philosophical works (omitting the early De Inventione) -- and in the process describes the orator's professional and political progress and what is known of his experiences and his reactions to those from 81 to 43 BCE. The book has four parts and eight appendices, all chronologically ordered; as it happens, chronological arrangement usually fits a thematic discussion of the kinds of cases Cicero argued as an advocate. The defense of Sex. Roscius and the oration in support of the Manilian law receive separate treatment in the first two appendices and thus do not interrupt what falls out as a neatly thematic approach to the speeches. Whatever the reader is looking for is probably here: legal history, political negotiation, and especially a juxtaposition of epistles with speeches, literary productions, and external events.

Part A (Reading Cicero) has three chapters to introduce the kinds of analysis possible and address some of the basic questions that all who consult Cicero must ask. In the first chapter Lintott uses two letters and two orations as examples. His discussion of Att. 1.1 on the elections and Att. 1.16 on the Bona Dea trial show that historians often miss out on the more important issue(s), e.g., maintaining balance in his relationship with Atticus, and that the account of Clodius' trial is an unsatisfactory source except for how Cicero felt about it. Two of the orations after his return, Red. Sen. and Red. Pop. -- the latter, Lintott argues, was prepared but not actually delivered yet valuable as an example of how Cicero was projecting himself -- treat the same themes in different ways, as the oration to the people was meant to preserve an image of Cicero devoted to the public interest rather than to personal feuds. Lintott next discusses the extent to which letters and speeches accurately represent what Cicero wrote or said; Cicero had no time to edit the letters, which we can accept are genuine as to what was sent. It is almost obligatory in works on Cicero to address the authenticity of the orations, especially in light of the work of Humbert and Stroh.1 Nearly every oration is a special case, and while Humbert was sometimes wrong, he was sometimes also right, and raised questions that one may not ignore. Lintott's treatment is balanced and reasonable. Chapter III offers a variety of examples of the orator's ability to misrepresent or even lie in the interest of his case, including a false narratio in Mil., untrue statement of ignorance in Sull., allegations about the vadimonium in Quinct.. Cicero's lack of complete honesty is more subtle in Caecin., Leg Agr. 2., Clu., Red. Sen., Sest. (more about all these in later chapters). Lintott demonstrates that one must be wary of reading anything in Cicero's orations out of context, yet even the less honorable arguments are of interest to historians and biographers, for various reasons.

Part B (Reading Oratory) progresses chronologically with cases arranged by type: financial litigation, repetundae prosecution, repetundae defense. While historians may be anxious to get into politically juicier territory, there is much to be learned from these examples of civil litigation: about relations of moderately wealthy landowners and Cicero's connections to these elements, his able legal thinking when necessary, his ability, evident from his first case, to obfuscate and omit. In Chapter IV Lintott makes two very good points in his discussion of Quinct.: that publication indicates that Cicero may well have had a success and that his arguments in Quinct., as in Q Rosc. and Caecin. later, hew closely to the legal interpretation, and thus this is an earlier date for the 'rise of the Roman jurist'.2 In discussion of Q Rosc. Lintott offers a new solution and suggests that Fannius may have neglected to get from Roscius a revised sponsio, thus allowing the actor to stand on firm legal, if not moral, ground. The sixth chapter (Property and Violence: The Pro Tullio and Pro Caecina) displays Cicero's legal ingenuity, his ability to distract and reinterpret, and a greater facility in bringing politics into civil disputes, as he had done earlier in Quinct. As in the two earlier cases, the clients are wealthy landowners of equestrian status or below. Lintott notes Cicero is revealed as a legal expert in Caecin. and does not seem to mind displaying his knowledge; again we see Roman jurisprudence as it develops.

Discussion of Cicero's prosecution of Verres in Chapter VII offers much of interest on the development of repetundae courts and their procedures in Cicero's lifetime; both his speeches and Asconius are good evidence for legal historians. After describing the history of the case, Lintott notes changes in the law regarding final selection of the accuser, after the divinatio, and time allowed to collect evidence from abroad. There is much of interest here on the course of repetundae trials after comperendinatio was introduced, on the length of time (considerable in this case) that must have been consumed in hearing witnesses. Lintott shows that although the second actio was not delivered, there was a purpose to continuing the prosecution and publishing the results. There are four aspects of interest to historians: allusions to the text of the law, financial calculations, lines of what was surely a standard defense, and the misery of the allies, and concludes that one should be wary of using the Verrines as evidence for Cicero's political beliefs, but they are a mine of information for the repetundae court. In the next two chapters Lintott addresses the defense tactics of repetundae (Font., Flac., Scaur.) and violence (Corn., Rab. perd.) trials, in that order, describing how criminal courts worked, the use and status of witnesses, typical defense tactics and arguments. Some of the arguments that Cicero uses on behalf of Flaccus -- that logical arguments are more important than witnesses, and that one can discredit witnesses even before they appear -- can also be used in purely Roman cases with Roman witnesses (Cael. 22 and 19-20, respectively), yet Lintott emphasizes that different strategies were required in different courts. In the defense of Cornelius, Cicero does not try to disprove allegations of the defendant's use of extreme measures when he was tribune of the people but, arguing from history, justifies the occasional use of violence in the public interest. Lintott adduces the later De Or. for an exemplar: Antonius' defense of Norbanus as Cicero describes it, and refers the reader to the trial of Milo, where, he notes, it was logically difficult to say that killing Clodius was in the public interest while also arguing that the action came about by chance and was forced upon Milo, and finds a better example in Rab. perd.. Following discussion of the criminal process in the latter case, Lintott compares the defenses of Cornelius and Rabirius for their value to Cicero and what his arguments may or may not reveal of his political sympathies.

Part C (History in Speeches and Letters) offers a fusion of orations and letters, beginning with Cicero's candidacy and the well-known issue of his relations with Catilina and Antonius before mid-64, refusal on good grounds to dismiss outright Q. Cicero's authorship of the Comm. pet., and a fairly brief discussion of the orations against Rullus' agrarian law. There is some unevenness in coverage of the Catilinarian orations, going over every bit of the first speech -- perhaps because that is required in view of the impromptu nature of the speech -- but quite cursory of the second and third (noted as offering the best narrative). Cat. 4, he argues, is a cento published afterwards, and more useful as a font of themes that will figure later in Cicero's political orations.

In Chapters XI-XIII Lintott assembles a variety of sources, primarily letters and defense speeches, to piece together the years following Cicero's consulship, his exile, and return. Many of the observations are not novel, but the close inspection of almost every extant work is valuable for its very comprehensiveness and frequent observations on what one should note in reading Cicero and why. Lintott argues that Cicero's frequent praise of himself arose not from a desire to brag but in response to criticism, that Cicero's letters from 62 and following are mostly about himself and his status as consular, although those to Atticus focus on their relationship and what Cicero is trying to accomplish with Pompey (who, Lintott argues, was no friend of Atticus), that his notion of P. Clodius as another Catilina may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy, that Cicero could have become a fourth member of the gang of three but that he remained aloof for reasons that meant much to him: to maintain his standing with the boni and because he disliked Caesar's use of violence. There is exceptionally good information about affairs at Rome in the letters after Cicero's return from exile, especially in letters to his brother and to Lentulus Spinther; Lintott carefully separates what one can then discern of the difference between Cicero's public and private personae. In Chapter XIII one will find descriptions of the close legal arguments Cicero employed in Dom., an interesting statement on gratia and its limits (p. 192), the defense of Sestius and the observation that Cicero's point about optimates throughout all ranks of society and all of Italy may be original. While discussing Har. resp., Prov. cons. (distressing), Balb. (not distressing), Pis., Lintott traces the variety of treatments given Clodius, Gabinius, and Piso, while noting that as far as we can tell using Cicero as evidence, the agreements of the conference at Luca were revealed to the world at large only gradually.

Part D (History and Ideas) encompasses nearly half the book, commencing with the very long and varied chapter on Cicero's search for otium; Lintott begins by showing how Cicero was writing, in a variety of forms, to insure his memory. Combined here are letters to Lucceius (Cicero to posterity), Lentulus Spinther (Cicero in the present and his new political alignment), the defense of Plancius, De Oratore and De Re Publica, defenses of Gabinius, Rabirius Postumus, Milo, and more letters, especially to Atticus. The interest of Planc. for the historian lies in reaction of the boni to Cicero's new stance, and of Cicero's evident discomfort at charges from Laterensis. Lintott discusses the implications of the settings of De Or. and Rep., the former "an apparently, but deceptively, more secure and civilized world before the Social and Civil Wars" (p. 226), the latter in a more stable past; he elucidates parallels in De Or. to Cicero's world and choices in his own career, while he fairly but briefly describes the scholarly controversy over Cicero's puzzling rector in Rep.. Political change occurred as Cicero worked on Rep. with Pompey at the center, yet there are few letters to help; in what is part summation of primary sources and recourse to secondary, he works through the political issues of 51-50. He also offers reasonable grounds for Cicero's decision to defend Gabinius and argues rightly that the secondary sources are mistaken in their account of a feeble defense of Milo. Especially of interest is his citation of Att. 7.1.4 as the only evidence that Cicero was involved in diplomacy between Caesar and Pompey during Pompey's third consulship, before Milo's trial on 4 April.

The account of Cicero's governorship embraces the many developments of that crucial year in an efficient combination of narrative and analysis; the letters are naturally the main source, and Lintott argues that Cicero's assertions of his integrity mask a reasonable fear of being prosecuted for repetundae and the difficulty of satisfying both provincials and tax-collectors. The recurrent themes are that Caesar's first consulship was the tipping point (Lintott notes that later historians often concurred), that Pompey might not win a conflict and even if he did the result would not be pretty, and especially that Cicero believed that Caesar had a valid legal right to run for consul, thus Cicero would have expected Caesar to have room for negotiation. Treatment of Cicero's anguished deliberations is relatively brief in Chapter XVI. Lintott's detailed scrutiny of Cicero's letters, combined with information from Caesar, Appian, and Plutarch, makes very clear how difficult the negotiations were and how close accommodation must have seemed on more than one occasion. Clear also are how little moral speculation or historical analogies were able to help Cicero choose; the observation that "Atticus must have wearied of his agonized deliberations, as most modern readers seem to do" (p. 298) is close enough to the truth.3

The chapter on Caesar's dictatorship is many-faceted; Lintott calls the Brutus a funeral laudatio for both the dead and the republic, notes historical and political parallels to De or., and believes it ends with an encrypted message to Brutus on tyrannicide. He asks, not the only time in the book, how Cicero survived Sulla's return in the Eighties. This is not a question that had occurred to me, for despite the family connections, Cicero himself and his father were not important enough (and perhaps not rich enough) to proscribe. There were other connections as well, especially with Scaevola, as Lintott shows when arguing where Cicero's sympathies must have tended, yet it might be well not to discount some other influence, even that of Q. Roscius. In discussion of the three Caesarian orations, often described as command performances, Lintott argues that Marc. was delivered on impulse and written up afterwards; he rejects Dyer's thesis4 of a hidden agenda in Marc. although does regard Deiot., at least in part, as figured speech. There is clear delineation in this chapter of how things had changed and kept changing, although Cicero remained important as a patron for others, and maintained a good if wary rapport with Caesar, devoted himself to philosophical studies but also to his new friends, and maintained active correspondance with many, both those welcome in the new order and those who were not.

Although Lintott rehearses in these final chapters much (but by no means all) of what one might already have read, there is much to be said for an excursion through the works, especially near the end of Cicero's life, in tandem with letters written at the same time. One does not ordinarily read these things in this way and it is worth doing. For the last year and a half, Cicero's literary output was extraordinary: many letters, the Philippics, philosophical works, all examined in the eighteenth chapter. Especially of note is the discussion of Cicero's correspondence with Matius, and the translation of political experience and belief and notions of morality into the philosophical works, in particular Am. and Off.

The last two chapters are the hardest to read for anyone who is fond of Cicero. Lintott's close analysis of speeches and letters is a remarkable achievement; put another way, one who does not read all of the letters together to piece out the course of events and negotiations should at least read chapters XIX and XX. Some highlights: the evaluation of Phil. 2 and its message to others, Cicero's skepticism of Octavian's assurances and motives for Cicero's support, when he did support him, analysis of the rhetoric of Antony's letter and citing Antony as source for much subsequent anti-Ciceronian invective, and a balanced assessment of the importance of the Philippics to historians and how and why Cicero's influence, although genuine, was not what one might assume from the texts of the speeches. The many letters preserved from 43 BCE show very clearly the role of the soldiers in forcing action or inaction upon the several commanders. Lintott finds Plancus untrustworthy although under considerable pressure -- here I missed reference to Watkins' biography, a useful book that appears to be not much known.5 Cicero shows up well enough in these chapters, though, and Lintott grants him a measure of common sense that other historians may not, e.g., that the orator must have expected of Brutus and Cassius a replay of Sulla's return from the east in 83. He rightly seconds Shackleton Bailey, too, in the judgment that Ad Brut. 24 and 25 are not authentic. He ends with an intriguing observation that in the final crisis Cicero turned not to philosophical models but to the heroic, the Iliad.

The first three of the eight Appendices address the interest of three orations for historians: Rosc. Am., Leg. Man., Cael.. Discussions are brief and to the point. In matters of detail I note that the Caecilia Metella who protected Sex. Roscius is not necessarily the wife of App. Claudius (cos. 79),6 and that P. Antistius, killed with Scaevola and two others on the eve of Sulla's return, is probably not the same as the accuser (L. Antistius, perhaps) named in Rosc. Am. 89-90. In Appendix 4, Lintott reaches no firm conclusion on the terminal date of Caesar's command in Gaul, but elucidates how Cicero probably understood it. The chronology of events after Caesar's murder (Appendix 7) is valuable. The final Appendix is the Latin text and English translation of Antony's letter to Cicero quoted in Phil. 13.22-48, minus Cicero's commentary. It is a pity that the appendices are in chronological sequence for this one reason, that Antony speaks last.

This book is a wonderful resource for the different periods of Cicero's life, and the later chapters especially should be kept open to read side by side with the letters and other sources: the narrative is often as immediate as the letters without distracting details. For other purposes, e.g., the financial litigation, repetundae courts, political speeches, the book offers commentary that is necessary but not sufficient, which stands to reason, as a full commentary on every product of the orator's stilus would take many volumes.


1.   Jules Humbert. Les plaidoyers écrits et les plaidoiries réelles de Cicéron (Paris 1925); Wilfried Stroh. Taxis und Taktik. Die advokatische Dispositionskunst in Ciceros Gerichtsreden (Stuttgart 1975).
2.   Citing B. W. Frier, The Rise of the Roman Jurists: Studies in Cicero's pro Caecina (Princeton 1985).
3.   Yet see Peter Brunt, "Cicero's Officium in the Civil War," JRS 76 (1986) 12-32 for an equally sympathetic reading of the letters.
4.   R. R. Dyer, "Rhetoric and Intention in Cicero's Pro Marcello," JRS 80 (1990) 17-30.
5.   Thomas H. Watkins, L. Munatius Plancus. Serving and Surviving in the Roman Revolution. Illinois Classical Studies, Supplement 7 (Atlanta, Georgia 1997).
6.   See most recently Patrick Kragelund, "Dreams, Religion and Politics in Republican Rome," Historia 50 (2001) 53-95.

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