BMCR 2002.08.10

Cicero. Letters to Quintus and Brutus. Letter Fragments. Letter to Octavian. Invectives. Handbook of Electioneering. Loeb Classical Library

, , , , Letters to Quintus and Brutus ; Letter fragments ; Letter to Octavian ; Invectives ; Handbook of electioneering. Loeb classical library ; 462. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002. viii, 483 pages ; 17 cm.. ISBN 0674995996. $21.50/EUR 22.50.

This last volume of the new Loeb edition of Cicero’s correspondence brings together a set of extremely valuable, often intriguing texts that have probably never been so readily accessible. (The two Invectives and the Fragments were not included in the original Loeb volume, Cicero XXVIII, that this one replaces.) The letters and fragments reprint the texts of the editor’s Teubner edition. The text and translation of the letter to Octavian and of the two Invectives are new. The text of the Handbook is again the editor’s Teubner text, but the translation and supporting material are based on M. I. Henderson’s original Loeb. In addition to texts, translations, and basic explanatory notes, each work comes with a short but informative introduction and updated bibliography. An appendix explaining the basics of Roman dates, money, and nomenclature, a concordance to the traditional numbering of the Quintus and Brutus collections, and a (surprisingly useful) Glossary round out the explanatory material. Indices of names and places mentioned in each work are gathered sequentially at the back.

Much of the material here, even when familiar, remains deeply interesting. Each reader will have personal favorites. Some of mine: Cicero’s attitude toward contemporary Greeks (as explicitly distinguished from their more worthy ancestors), most memorably displayed in the long letter to Quintus on governing a province (1.16), shows a Roman fist unabashedly flexing itself in the urbane Ciceronian glove, even as the passage, read upside down, provides equally impressive hints of how Greek provincials responded to their imperial masters. The calculated bows, scrapes, and occasional jostles among peers, patrons and those anxious to be one or the other continue to fascinate. The Brutus correspondence, dating from the spring and early summer of 43, is extraordinarily dramatic with the Republic disintegrating in the wings and maddeningly poignant in its talk of the junior Marcus Cicero and the young man his father too readily called Caesar puer (7.1). Cicero’s shifting perceptions of Octavian (and Brutus’ response to those shifts) are also noteworthy.

The spurious (although that hardly seems the right term) works in this collection have attractions of their own. They probably all, i.e. the Letter to Octavian, the two Invectives, and the last two letters of Brutus to Cicero, originate in rhetorical exercises of one sort or another and are therefore not ‘historical’ in the same sense as the ‘authentic’ texts, but we should not simply dismiss them as, in S.B.’s phrase, a ‘sorry genre’. They are important in their own right, both as evidence for the power that Cicero and his contemporaries continued to exert over their Roman posterity and as testimony to the sources and substance of later rhetorical training. S.B. is much less dismissive of the Commentariolum, which is perhaps not spurious enough. Though hard to accept as what it purports to be, namely a letter of advice from Quintus to Marcus Cicero on canvassing for the consulship, it shows a sound, detailed knowledge of the late Republican political scene. As such, it has long claimed the historians’ notice. If it is or is modeled on some kind of rhetorical exercise, however, it would probably predate the elder Seneca, and thus be a very important piece of evidence for understanding a crucial but poorly documented period in Roman education. Literary scholars should perhaps be paying it more attention.

A better guide than Shackleton Bailey would be hard to imagine for all this, and the present volume displays his characteristic virtues, most notably a talent for pithy, well-focused notes and the extraordinary confidence with which he makes real English from Ciceronian Latin. His ability to be free (e.g. ‘a capacity more than human’ for divinae cuiusdam virtutis, p. 35; ‘politically of great importance’ for vehementer interfuit rei publicae, p. 97) without being loose is a gift and a wonder. Only rarely does the idiom seem a little hoary (e.g. ‘a young harum-scarum’ for adulescens nullius consili, p. 63). There are also some surprises. Persistent rendering of the cura ut valeas kind of formula, which rarely seems to mean more than ‘take care of yourself’, as a specific ‘see to your health’, as if Cicero were preparing, like Mr. Woodhouse, to press upon his brother the virtues of an egg softly boiled, sounded much too fussy, until sentences like ‘Reliquum est ut te orem ut valetudini tuae, si me et tuos omnis valere vis, diligentissime servias’ (p. 46) brought me up short. Strong disagreement with S.B. never seems to be advisable: the odds of being wrong are too great.

That said, he remains a scholar loyal to old opinions even when there are grounds for rethinking them. The two lines from Cicero’s poem on his consulship as quoted in the Invective Against Cicero, ‘ fortunatam natam me consule Romam’ and ‘cedant arma togae, concedat laurea linguae’ are, for example, almost certainly parodies of the original. Posterity knew and hated them—an echo may linger in the last, spurious letter of Brutus, ‘sustinuisse mihi gloriatur bellum Antoni togatus Cicero noster,’ 26.2—but it did not always get them right. Cicero, whose poem was in the third person, probably wrote te consule and almost certainly wrote laurea laudi, which at least puts a different spin on the poem’s infelicities. The cruelty of the parody, with the added cruelty that the parody survived for Quintilian to quote with a straight face, surely deserved a mention, as does the work of W. Allen, Jr. that first brought these possibilities to notice [ TAPA 87 (1956) 130-46].

Yet all of this is merely by way of saying that problems worth wrestling with remain to be found in this material. S.B. has not done everything that needs doing but he has done the really big thing, which is to make what remains so much easier for the rest of us to manage.