Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.10.19

James E. G. Zetzel (trans.), Marcus Tullius Cicero: Ten Speeches.   Indianapolis/Cambridge:  Hackett Publishing Company, 2009.  Pp. xl, 332.  ISBN 9780872209893.  $14.95 (pb).  

Reviewed by Alison Jeppesen, University of Calgary (


Zetzel's translation of ten speeches by Cicero is a welcome addition for anyone interested in the works of Cicero or late Republican history. Though Cicero’s letters have been well served by Shackleton Bailey's translations, his speeches have been less accessible in English. Updated translations have long been overdue as those most readily available are scattered through the Loeb Classical Library ranging back to the 1920s. More recently, D. H. Berry has offered two paperback volumes of Cicero's defense speeches and political speeches.1 Zetzel's volume, however, makes a selection of Cicero's various speeches available in a clear and readable style and in a single reasonably priced paperback volume. The choice of speeches is aimed not only at illustrating Cicero's style to a modern audience, but also at showing his creation of his public persona. It does both effectively.

The stated purpose of this book is to present ten speeches from the entire range of Cicero's career given before the senate, court, and people in a new, American-English translation that does not deprive readers of Cicero's wit and style. As Zetzel states (xxiv): "Most translations of Cicero’s speeches aim at the formal style of nineteenth-century written oratory rather than the more relaxed and colloquial idiom of the spoken language. But formal translation loses a great deal of the effect of the original speech." A translation of Cicero's speeches should demonstrate not only "immediate comprehensibility for a listening audience" but also a certain element of entertainment and humour. This has often been lost and Zetzel's "domesticating" translation (p. xxv, n. 35) pays greater attention to the "rhetorical goals" rather than to the "complex word order" of each speech and, as a result, provides the reader with a better understanding of Cicero's style. This understanding is furthered by the selection of speeches, which range in length, topic, time period, and addressees, giving an overview of Cicero's speeches rather than a focused examination of one particular speech, group of speeches, or style of speech. In what follows, the speeches will be discussed as a whole, following a brief summary, in order to provide examples with minimum repetition.

The ten speeches included span Cicero's career from 70 BCE to 43 BCE and are presented in chronological order. Included are well known speeches such as Against Verres: On the Theft of Works of Art, In Defense of Marcus Caelius, and two of the Philippics. Less well known speeches (depending on the reader), such as Cicero's Defense of the Poet Archias, are also included and provide a welcome breadth to the volume. Each speech is presented with an individualized introduction of approximately five to seven pages. These introductions give a more in-depth overview of the events and issues pertaining to a particular speech than that found in the general introduction. Read as a whole, they are an excellent summary of the Late Republic and Cicero's place in it.

The short "Introduction" (p. viii-xxvi) presents the reader with a concise overview of Cicero's life and the milieu in which the speeches were written before moving into a discussion of the author's translation (see below). This is a good introduction for students reading the speeches as a set and is a well written review of the main events for anyone. This is followed by a brief (p. xxvii-xxx) and very clear summary of "Roman Institutions and Offices," which includes a description of Roman nomenclature, public offices, and political institutions. Again, this material is a succinct introduction for students and an excellent all-purpose review. A chronological table, good for easy reference, and three maps finish off the introductory material. At the end of the book, a brief but up-to-date and relevant Works Cited list (p. 310) and a Biographical Index (p. 315) will be of use to everyone. The addition of a topical index might have been useful but the lack of one is not a serious disadvantage.

The individual introductions preceding each translation are succinct and useful guides to the topics and issues surrounding each speech. They give insight not only into each speech but also into the underlying purpose of the book as illustrating Cicero's character and rise. Examples from the opening to Against Verres (p.1-8) will suffice to show the type of content available in each one. Zetzel supplies a useful description of the events leading up to Verres’ prosecution, the form of the trial, and the fact that the current speech (Book 4 of the second Actio) was never delivered but was circulated after the fact to drive Cicero's points home and, more importantly, to add to Cicero’s public persona as a defender of Rome (p. 3-4). Zetzel then discusses the actual points of law covered by Cicero illustrating that Verres was likely guilty of very little under Roman law (p. 5). This is typical of the format and type of information found in each of the introductions but it is this introduction that shows Zetzel’s purpose (p. 8) in his choice of speeches was to illustrate Cicero's own "complex self-definition." It can be no accident that many of the ten speeches chosen show this side of Cicero. In the end, this book tells us as much about Cicero, himself, as it does about the politics and culture of the late Republic while providing new and entertaining translations of some of Cicero’s most important speeches. This volume goes beyond merely presenting new translations of ten speeches; it furnishes the reader with contextual information that enhances the understanding of Cicero and his self-presentation together with bibliographical references both to supporting and opposing works.

The translations themselves are clear and readable. This is not something that should be undervalued. Cicero is often seen as difficult, even in translation, and Zetzel skilfully bridges the gap between Latin and modern English. A few examples should suffice. First, Zetzel's modernization of vocatives is a welcome change. "Members of the jury" (p.11) will have more resonance with today's readers (and viewers of television court dramas) than "O Judges."2 Similarly, the use of "slut" (p. 210) in reference to Clodia is a more engaging and contemporary term of invective than "prostitute" or "harlot" which could seem either overly formal or simply odd and out-dated as an injury-producing insult. As a last example of Zetzel's updated style, his translation of nec enim muliebris 
umquam inimicitias mihi gerendas putavi, praesertim cum 
ea quam omnes semper amicam omnium potius quam 
cuiusquam inimicam putaverunt (Cic. Cael. 32.15) as "I've never thought I should conduct hostilities with women, especially with a woman we've all always thought of as loved by everyone rather than hated by anyone" (p. 206) imparts to the reader Cicero's use of sly humour to slander a witness, in this case Clodia. Examples such as these illustrate that this domesticating translation will work to bring Cicero's style home to a new generation.

Zetzel has also included a number of excellent explanatory and reference notes for each speech. These are particularly helpful for guiding one toward additional information or for explaining items that are complex or that simply may not be known to the reader of a particular speech. For example, Zetzel's notes to his translation of Against Lucius Calpurnius Piso are particularly useful given the fragmentary nature of the first portion, surviving only as nineteen quotations. They are also useful for highlighting the invective and inventions used by Cicero in a speech against someone he clearly (at this time) disliked (p. 230-231, p. 232, n. 9, and p. 233, n. 12). For each speech, these notes are edifying and never distracting.

In short, each speech read separately is well translated and informative. Together, these ten speeches deliver an overview of some of the most significant moments of the late Republic. This volume is an excellent guide to the events of this period but also, and perhaps more importantly, to Cicero himself. This translation gives students of Cicero a window into his life and his beliefs. It presents his wit, humour, and style in an engaging way that should appeal to many modern readers. While some may prefer the more traditional translations, many will appreciate the style of this volume. It should be particularly useful for classes on Cicero, oratory, or the Republic. The translations are engaging and students should find them very approachable. The accessible price of this volume should also not be overlooked for those seeking a textbook of Cicero's speeches. One can hope that more translations in the same vein will follow.


1.   Cicero, Letters to His Friends, ed. and trans. D.R. Shackleton Bailey (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001). Cicero, Letters to Atticus, ed. and trans. D.R. Shackleton Bailey (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999). Cicero, Phillipics, trans. D.R. Shackleton Bailey (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986). Loeb Classical Library. Cicero, Defence Speeches, trans. D.H. Berry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). Cicero, Political Speeches, trans. D.H. Berry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). These two paperbacks are each reasonably priced as well but each contains a specific type of speech.
2.   M. Tullius Cicero, The Orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero, trans. C. D. Yonge (London: George Bell & Sons, 1903). Perseus version.
3.   M. Tullius Cicero, The Orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero, trans. C. D. Yonge (London: George Bell & Sons, 1891). Perseus version.

Comment on this review in the BMCR blog
Read Latest
Index for 2010
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review
Bryn Mawr Classical Commentaries

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
HTML generated at 02:24:04, Thursday, 07 October 2010