Ancient rhetorical theory, like some modern criticism of ancient drama,
The author sets herself the worthy goal of showing that “an understanding of Ciceronian persuasion is a piece of intellectual furniture well worth having” (p.ix). The book accordingly addresses itself not just to specialists but strives to reach a more general audience; hence all the cited Latin is translated by V. herself, and Greek terms are transliterated. V.’s approach to the problem of Cicero’s ‘relevance’ is, of course, merely adumbrated, rather than argued in detail, in the brief preface, which is really a kind of flight-plan for the whole book. V. proceeds to argue that the influence of Ciceronian oratory in the early principate was far from negligible. But her reference at this point to “the mass appeals on which Augustus and his supporters relied” (p.x) is too vague even for a specialist to follow what she means; a cross-reference to pp.13-14 and 241-42, where it becomes clear that she had in mind, not public speeches, but Augustus’res gestae and the map of the world which Marcus Agrippa exhibited on the Campus Martius, would have been welcome. Likewise the appeal “one has only to glance at the pages of Livy to see how thoroughly the speeches were assimilated …” (ibid.) is too vague to convince the specialist but assumes a specialized knowledge the general reader seems unlikely to possess. Moreover, Cicero’s influence or lack thereof in the Augustan Age is in any case unlikely to weigh very heavily with today’s general reader. More to the point is the following comparison of Ciceronian oratory with modern democratic rhetoric; when V. speaks of “Cicero’s need to sway a large, heterogeneous, and mostly unlettered and uneducated audience”, a need which led him to cultivate “rhetorical strategies that depend on integrating words with visual images” (p.xi), we approach closer to the actual terrain to be traversed; one wonders whether, when writing these words, V. thought perhaps of George Bush’s 1988 television spot sited at Boston Harbor.
An orientation, such as that of the present study, toward the general reader, which is nowadays fostered, indeed demanded, by university presses generally, will at best encourage clear, jargon-free writing; it will be less welcome, however, if it results in a relaxation of philological rigor. V. states in the first footnote to chapter one that, unless otherwise noted, all Latin and Greek quotations are, apart from two philosophical essays, “drawn from the Oxford Classical Text editions”; but this is not a wholly accurate description of her practice. Thus when she renders Pro Scauro 43 (“in the pure stock of this race”; p.196), V. omits Clark’s supplement in hac gente
An introduction sets this project in relation to other work, ancient and modern. The relevant ancient rhetorical doctrines are competently delineated and their inadequacy for study of the visual component of oratory shown. On the other hand, V. has borrowed some concepts and terms from the semioticians, in particular that of nonverbal signs (though this was already an ancient grammatical doctrine
The way in which the subject is introduced in chapter 1 is perhaps a bit misleading. Here V. cites two trials narrated by Livy, that of Manlius Capitolinus for sedition (6.20) and that of Publius Horatius for killing his sister, who had mourned for one of the slain Curiatii (1.26); in both instances the defense is said to have made striking use of objects visible from the locus of the trial, in the former, the Capitol itself, in the latter the monument to Horatius’ victory (the “Horatian spears”). V. concludes that “this technique of persuasion might well have been a facet of Latin oratory as practiced both in Livy’s time and earlier” (p.18). Livy was evidently himself influenced by Ciceronian rhetoric, a point V. makes several times (pp.9; 33, n. 30; 53); if that is all that V. means to imply by citing the two cases at law, one can readily agree. She seems, however, to want to suggest something more; her next example is that of C. Gracchus’ speech shortly before his death ( ORF 1.196 M.): quo me miser conferam? quo vortam? in Capitoliumne? at fratris sanguine redundat. an domum? matremne ut miseram lamentantem videam et abiectam? V. draws this inference (p.19): “The famous dilemma of Gracchus suggests … that appeal to the visible environment was a facet of rhetorical training and practice long before Cicero’s day”. However, in spite of the fact that Cicero ( De or. 3.214) praises the passage inter alia for gestus, it is not known where this speech was delivered and hence whether the Capitol and/or Gracchus’ house were visible to the audience, let alone whether, if so, he had learned the method from handbooks. Thus the use of visible places as a basis for argument in Roman oratory cannot with certainty be pushed back earlier than Cicero.
V. finds “hints that Cicero might have seen the appeal to monuments and places as a form of inartificial proof” (p.25) and cites as an example the appeals to the temple of Castor at Verr. 1.129-54. But this passage is not really an indication that Cicero regarded such use of places as a species of
The chapter which will be read with greatest eagerness is surely the second, dealing with Catilinarians 1 and 3. One admires the assurance with which V., in spite of what Viktor Pöschl called “the schooldust of the ages”
As V. shows, much of the rhetorical power of the Third Catilinarian derives from the contrast between the familiar city which forms its backdrop and the scenario Cicero paints of what would have been the case had the conspiracy gone forward as planned. On the other hand, the lengthy discussion of the setting of the speech on the Rostra (pp.60-75) seems unnecessary; and V. should have resisted speculating that “the image of Camillus, whose statue stood on the Rostra, was meant to suggest itself” (p.80), since Camillus receives no mention in the speech; finally, V. has little to add to previous discussions of the way Cicero capitalizes on the newly restored statue of Jupiter Capitolinus to identify his own unmasking of the conspiracy with the workings of divine providence.
As background to her analysis of De signis V. offers a summary of ancient doctrines of perception and of the rhetorical theory of vividness in narration. In this connection she lists (p.90) a congeries of ancient rhetorical terms for vividness and notes that one of them (sc. ekphrasis) “does not seem to have been current in Cicero’s own time” (p.91, n. 4); this point leaves the reader wondering whether it is safe to assume that the others were; in fact, Cicero, who generally eschews technical terms from rhetoric, comes close to the later technical usage only of illustratio ( part. or. 20) and sub oculos subiectio ( De or. 3.202; or. 139; it is not clear that descriptio at De or. 3.205 has the technical sense in question). In general it can be said that H. Lausberg’s Handbuch der literarischen Rhetorik, which V. cites in this connection, while a useful collection of evidence, needs to be used with care, for it combines sources of various date into a seemingly monolithic system.
At several points (pp.8 ff. and 38-39) V. addresses the methodological problem of dealing with performance aspects of speeches of which we have the published versions but not the performance versions, which may have differed considerably. In general she is right to acknowledge the problem but to proceed to analyze the versions we have (she might have argued, for instance, that references to objects visible in the courtroom might be retained from the oral version but would be unlikely to be introduced for the first time in the published version). However, in the case of In Verrem II.4 the problem is still more acute, since it remains unclear to what degree the components of the undelivered Actio secunda were written up on the assumption that the trial would proceed or simply for publication following Verres’ exile. V., p.124, n.52, alludes to the problem, as well as the general assumption of scholars that the Actio secunda was written up ab initio with a view to publication, and states her own opposing view that it may represent “the kind of speech that might actually have been made in a complex trial when a single orator presented the case for the prosecution” but offers no supporting argument. Now V.’s overall interpretation of De signis is that the ancient mnemonic technique of associating the various topics of the speech with different places has influenced its composition; Cicero could, of course, conceivably have used mnemotechnique as his model whether or not he actually went through the process of memorizing the speech this way (by suggesting, p.127, that he actually did so, V. weakens her case by making it appear to depend on the intent to deliver). But there is, I think, another organizational principle at work in the speech besides place, namely type of object, with the causes célèbres of stolen statues strategically placed at the beginning and end of the speech for emphasis and smaller objects buried in the middle (§§ 29-71). Moreover, one wonders whether the arbitrary associations of things and places recommended by ancient mnemotechnique were likely to serve as a model for the careful links between places and objects established by Cicero (V. meets this objection [p.128] with “the presumption that Cicero [or his teachers] must have realized that in order to be of use in persuading an audience the techniques of artificial memory had to be altered”; but this amounts merely to a positing of the probandum). It is worth considering whether an alternative model might better explain the organization of objects by place, namely travel literature (
Whether or not one agrees with V.’s general thesis about De signis, she does contribute various worthwhile observations about Cicero’s rhetorical problem (“the problem was to make Verres’ guilt matter”: p.110) and strategies (” … in each of the accounts he has led his audience to connect the setting, the symbolism of the object or group stolen, and the feelings of the complainants about the object or objects with unambiguously Roman religious and patriotic sentiments”: p.127) in one of his very finest speeches. Among many aperçus I single out the point that Cicero wished the theft of the famous statue of Ceres at Henna to be seen as “an allegory for Verres’ rape of Sicily itself” (p.124).
After a chapter (4) which discusses ethnic stereotyping in the ancient world in general and places it in the context of primitive thought which tends to identify one’s own homeland as the center of the world, V. goes on to two detailed studies of the rhetoric of place in Cicero, the use of topoi related to country and city (chapter 5) and the ethnic stereotypes with which he operates in some speeches (chapter 6). V.’s method proves fruitful as applied to the black/white city/country stereotyping of Pro Roscio Amerino.
Though so far V. has focussed on some of Cicero’s most studied speeches, it is a welcome feature of her book that she ventures further afield. The sixth chapter (“Ethnic Personae”) explores Cicero’s use of the stereotypes of the Gauls, Sardinians and Asian Greeks in defending the ex-governors M. Fonteius, M. Aemilius Scaurus and L. Flaccus against extortion charges buttressed by the testimony of provincials. Then, returning to the Verrines, V. effectively shows how, in the Actio secunda, Cicero disarms this defense by turning the tables and portraying Verres as void of fides and respect for religion (the usual charge to discredit provincial witnesses). The chapter concludes with a detailed analysis of the argument in the second speech De lege agraria; here V. argues convincingly that Cicero is making use of vintage optimate tactics in playing upon the plebs‘ fear of loss of libertas, as well as of encirclement, not to mention sounding variations on the theme of the resuscitation of Rome’s erstwhile enemies, Corinth, Carthage and, in particular, Capua.
The “Conclusion” draws together, as one would expect, some of the threads spun in the preceding chapters but also takes up the apologia pro Tullio adumbrated in the “Preface”. Whether or not “in some instances a fiction that appeals to the emotions and imagination may represent reality more accurately than an objective account,” as V., p.251, asserts, may depend on one’s definition of ‘accuracy’; in any case, by focussing at this point on the prosecution of Verres, V.’s defense of Cicero’s forensic practice seems to depend on ignoring its less savory aspects (she is more candid in the “Preface” when she admits that “the very act of analysis will sometimes lead us to condemn on an ethical basis what we applaud for its technical mastery” [p.xi]). Finally, one regrets that, in the last paragraph of the book V. thought to revert to the simplistic dichotomy of the Greeks as “gifted abstract thinkers” and the Romans as “a plodding folk, … tied to the world of things rather than of ideas” and to find in her own study a confirmation of the latter judgment (p.256); in fact, in order to test this hypothesis even within the sphere of forensic rhetoric, she would, of course, have had to conduct an altogether different study with focus not just on Cicero’s allusions to the concrete but also on his use of abstract reasoning (and over his whole oratorical corpus, not just select speeches).
Nearly one hundred years ago Eduard Norden wrote that almost all prerequisites for a proper appreciation of Cicero as an orator and stylist were lacking;