Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.04.09 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.04.09

Isak Hammar, Making Enemies: The Logic of Immorality in Ciceronian Oratory.   Lund:  Lund University, 2013.  Pp. 381.  ISBN 9789174736137.  

Reviewed by Andrew R. Dyck, Los Angeles (

The title of this University of Lund dissertation is “a slight attempt at provocation” (p.336), “logic” not usually being a concept related to immorality. Hammar clarifies that he means “cultural logic,” i.e., the place of immorality within the cultural system of the Romans, which he hopes to locate based on the charges of immorality in Cicero’s speeches.

An initial problem with Hammar’s plan is one of terminology. Immorality is not, of course, an ancient term, nor one with an obvious Latin equivalent; on p.197 he ventures that audacia “might actually be seen as denoting immorality itself,” though to establish equivalence or at least overlap one would have needed argumentation that Hammar does not provide (for a different view of audacia see p.333). Nor does he define what he means by immorality, and he uses it in shifting ways in the course of the study. At first, it appears that it is an ancillary charge added to the main charges against an opponent (cf. pp.187-88 on Catiline), much as the topics drawn from the vita ante acta are in forensic speeches. Later, however, he claims that Catiline’s conspiracy itself was “an immoral offense against the state” (p.312). One would have liked to see the basic term clearly defined at the beginning and then consistently applied.

Hammar takes Cicero’s invective on grounds of morals seriously as part of a “logic” by which Cicero wants to establish causal connections between an immoral life and criminal behavior or action against the state, or as Hammar puts it, “the murder follows from the immorality” (p.313). But this logic is, of course, specious, and when Cicero is on the other side of the argument, he makes that point: ‘adulter, impudicus sequester’ convicium est, non accusatio (Cael. 30: “‘adulterer, unchaste, bribery agent’ are slander, not an accusation”). The immorality argument is not so much a rigorous logic as part of the atmospherics of persuasion, and Hammar himself pulls back from extreme claims for the “logic of immorality” on p.324 (“the immorality card did not trounce all other arguments”).

Hammar begins by asking why Cicero devoted so much attention to immorality in his speeches. He makes the assumption that the focus on immorality resonated with jurors in court and that the same applies to members of the senate and audiences in contiones. Hammar could have strengthened his case by pointing out that this emphasis was not a mere eccentricity of Cicero’s. Thus, for instance, Herennius Balbus, one of the prosecutors of M. Caelius, seems to have devoted considerable effort to, and won the rapt attention of the jurors with, an excoriation of the defendant’s morals, not necessarily expected in a prosecution de vi (Cael. 27 and 29; the case is briefly discussed by Hammar for other purposes on pp.257-60 and 271-73). There is one other use of the immorality argument, besides helping Cicero to win forensic cases or persuade the senate to a certain course of action, that Hammar does not touch on: in the ongoing zero-sum game that was Roman politics, the charge of immorality can help discredit one’s opponents and hold their influence in check. Thus Cicero himself was accused of immorality ([Sal.] Cic. 2), a fact not mentioned by Hammar. Such charges were no doubt vented in Piso’s reply to In Pisonem, to which Cicero chose not to respond ( 3.1[21].11), a fact that suggests that this was an expected part of the political give-and-take.

As Hammar points out, a prosecutor in a modern Western court would not focus on the defendant’s immorality in the way Cicero (and his Roman colleagues) did. He suggests that such rhetoric has to do with “the prominent place of morality in the identity of the Roman elite” (p.179). But the move from courtroom rhetoric to sense of identity may be a bit trickier than Hammar suggests. These speeches are public postures, and there may have been, as in so many other matters, a difference between public and private attitudes and discourse (for Cicero’s awareness of such a difference cf. N.D. 1.61). A more complex picture would have emerged from a comparison with Cicero’s letters: in some of the letters to Paetus, for instance, Cicero expresses fondness for dinner-parties probably not dissimilar to the ones he publicly denounces when indulged in by his adversaries.1 In addition, the differences from modern Western courts have to do with different rules, not necessarily a stronger cultural emphasis on morality per se. The iudicia publica took it as their mandate to judge the defendant whole, including his fitness to continue as a member of the body politic, and there was no mechanism, as in modern courts, for excluding points not strictly relevant to the charge.2 Finally, in some instances Hammar might have given further thought to the legal position. Thus, on p.138 he speaks as though cruelty were not covered by the lex Cornelia de repetundis. The statute, unfortunately, does not survive, but it is arguable that cruelty fell within its scope, as it did under its successor, the lex Iulia.3

Hammar finds that Cicero typically presents a coherent picture of sexual activity in adolescence leading to a taste for sex and luxurious indulgence in later life that in turn leads to lawbreaking and, in the case of his political enemies, endangerment of the state. Activating one part of this chain can be held to imply (most of) the other elements as well. The trick is to establish that the targeted individual fits the pattern. Here Cicero manipulates his audience’s perceptions by interpreting certain features in the realm of appearances, including physiognomy, dress, personal grooming, and body language. The general point is to deny that the individual is a man in the strong sense and claim that he is, instead, weak, effeminate, and sexually deviant and therefore outside the bounds of, and a threat to, respectable society (the same is true, mutatis mutandis, of female targets such as Sassia and Clodia). Hammar traces this oft-repeated argumentative pattern through Cicero’s speeches. Viewed this way, it is striking how consistently Cicero applies this model, with a few subtle variations, from the beginning to the end of his career. This fact suggests the use of stereotypes lightly varied to suit the target. One suspects that one reason the rhetoric of the Philippics is so extreme is that the effect of such depictions has eroded over time.

If the general contours of Cicero’s practice are clearly delineated, some of the detailed interpretations are problematic, particularly when passages are interpreted out of context. Thus apropos of Catil. 1.25 ibis tandem aliquando quo te iam pridem tua ista cupiditas effrenata ac furiosa rapiebat; neque enim tibi haec res adfert dolorem, sed quandam incredibilem voluptatem (“you will go at long last where that unbridled and mad desire of yours was hastening you on, and this will bring you no pain, but a certain incredible pleasure”), Hammar remarks “this cupiditas, which here relates to pleasure (voluptas), rather than wealth or luxury, is the . . . logic of Catilina’s behavior in this passage” and then tries to relate this to the cupiditas of Sassia as described at Clu. 12. In fact, however, the cupiditas is Catiline’s controlling desire for power, and this sentence is part of Cicero’s strategy of persuading Catiline to leave Rome voluntarily (hence he holds out the prospect of voluptas, contrasted with dolor, the implicit ethics of his argument being Epicurean), whereas Sassia’s cupiditas is sexual passion. In spite of the use of cupiditas in both, the two passages function very differently.

Another passage taken out of context is the description of Antony’s partying at Phil. 2.105, which Hammar cites as part of an argument about the dichotomy between the freedom and dominance of the vir as opposed to the submissiveness of the prostitute in Roman society. He remarks (p.311) that “Cicero makes sure that Antonius is not the master, the dominus of this house.” But in context the reason Cicero makes that point is that, as he noted prior to the sentence quoted by Hammar, the party took place at the house of M. Varro; he was not making a general point about dominance.

Some of Hammar’s other inferences should perhaps have been rethought. Thus when he claims (p.193) that “Cicero, in his reproach on Catilina’s poor financial state, meant to suggest immorality” (sc. at Catil. 2.10), the relations might rather be that the immoral activity attributed to Catiline led to the financial ruin, which in turn led to conspiracy; financial problems on their own would not necessarily argue immorality. Again, Hammar concludes (p.243) on the basis of the vivid picture Cicero paints at Har. 44 of Clodius in drag on the night of the Bona Dea festival that “gender trespass was equated with immorality.” But one might query whether it was generally true that gender trespass was equated with immorality or only in this specific case, where Clodius was thought to have intruded on the rites of the Bona Dea in feminine disguise in pursuit of an affair with Caesar’s wife.

Greater attention to Roman political terms might have been helpful. In the same passage (Har. 44), where Cicero speaks of Clodius emerging from his feminine attire and from illicit sex (stuprum) to become suddenly a popularis, Hammar speaks of the result as Clodius’ “political exclusion” (p.243), but there may be more to it than that. Again, on p.260 Hammar comments on Cicero’s charge that Clodius was a populare scortum (Dom. 49), which Hammar paraphrases as “a whore to the masses,” but again that is only part of the meaning. Clodius was, of course, the leader of the political faction known as the populares (as Hammar points out on p.228), an idea that Cicero is clearly playing with in both passages. In the former, popularis is a surprise substitution where one might have expected scortum; in the latter, there is a double meaning, referring to Clodius both as a “common whore” and as a politician pandering to the masses.

Small mistakes include that it was Piso, not Piso and Gabinius, who had to be extracted from the popina (Pis. 13), and that Gabinius, not Piso, is said to have danced naked at Pis. 22, pace Hammar, pp. 275, 278.

In spite of reservations detailed above, Hammar has performed a useful service by providing a phenomenology of charges of immorality in Cicero’s speeches arranged roughly chronologically. He has also shown that Cicero links the different immoral phenomena so that one can construct a kind of model. The fact that Cicero’s speeches constitute the overwhelming bulk of Roman oratory means, however, that one must be extremely cautious about moving from the logic of Cicero to the logic of the culture in general. Cicero was a uniquely gifted figure, and it is implausible to reduce him to “a speaker act[ing] as his community’s interpreter” (p.282), as if he did not have his own agenda and were not putting his own spin on the phenomena. If one wishes to speak of a logic of immorality in the late Roman Republic (see above), it is perhaps, insofar as we can access it, not so much something that was “out there” in Roman culture generally as something in the head of Cicero and other clever advocates who imitated him that enabled them to construct portraits of villainy that their fellow-Romans found compelling.4

Table of Contents

Methodology, Sources and Scope
Defense and Prosecution (80-69)
Republican Politics (66-59)
Political Conflicts (57-52)
End Game (44-43)


1.   Cf. Fam. 9.16(190).7-8, 18(191).3, 20(193).7-8, 24(362).3.
2.   Cf. Riggsby 1999: 11-20.
3.   Cf. Henderson 1951: 75; Lintott 1981: 207.
4.   References:

Henderson, M. I. 1951. “The process ‘de repetundis,”’ Journal of Roman Studies 41: 71-88.
Lintott, A. W. 1981. “The leges de repetundis and associate measures under the Republic,” Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte 98: 162-212.
Riggsby, A. M. 1999. Crime and community in Ciceronian Rome. Austin.
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