BMCR 2003.12.09

Cicero’s Style: A Synopsis Followed by Selected Analytic Studies. Mnemosyne Suppl. 245

, Cicero's style : a synopsis. Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.. Leiden: Brill, 2003. 1 online resource (viii, 281 pages).. ISBN 1417506016 $95.00.

There has been no comprehensive survey, or synopsis (to use the terminology of the author) of the results of scholarship on Cicero’s language and style for many years. In this new study Michael von Albrecht gives us not only such a survey, but offers a substantial contribution throughout from the fruits of his own investigations. Perhaps no scholar alive today is more qualified to produce such a work than von Albrecht, not merely because of his profound knowledge of Latin language and literature, but also because he was the author of an earlier authoritative synopsis of information about Cicero’s language and style, published in RE Supplement XIII thirty years ago.1 This new book, enriched by a vast bibliography covering the last century and a quarter of scholarship on Cicero (as well as some selected earlier material), will certainly be a starting point for any work on Cicero’s language for years to come. If one needs exhaustive statistics on word usage or clausulae, such information can be found in earlier studies, concordances, lexica, or electronic searches. Von Albrecht’s work, however, can help us utilize and contextualize such information. Moreover, it accomplishes a much wider-ranging task.

Cicero’s Style embraces all genres of Cicero’s writing. Although von Albrecht makes no attempt to list every distinctive linguistic and stylistic feature, his study is highly detailed because he focusses on those elements of Cicero’s language and style that are strategically significant and determined by the necessities of each genre. The author understands style as elocutio, or the choice and literary application of the linguistic means of expression. Above all, von Albrecht hopes to undermine the stereotype of the Ciceronian style as an invariably well-rounded, ample, and periodic mode of expression. In fact, Cicero’s style is extremely varied, and von Albrecht masterfully demonstrates both how and why this is the case.

Von Albrecht shows how well the separate features of Cicero’s style are always related to the author’s literary choices and strategy in a given work or passage. Cicero considers his audience carefully. In an oration delivered before a crowd in the forum, for instance, he tends to favor the ample and explicit statement of things, whereas in the letters he sends to individuals and especially to friends, his language can be much more elliptical and allusive. Audience, subject matter, personal preference, and many other factors affect his diction. Style therefore depends on circumstances and accordingly inventio is of fundamental importance. For Cicero the writer and orator another essential determining factor is the principle of decorum or aptum, according to which the discourse must be appropriate for the situation and time, the subject matter, the speaker and the audience.

Chapter I of Cicero’s Style deals with the stylistic differences between the various genres of Cicero’s works, while Chapter II explores nuances of style within genres and individual works. We learn about the chronological development of Cicero’s style in Chapter III. It seems that in the progress of time Cicero became more adept at adapting his expression to his audience and subject matter. Accordingly his diction appears to become more and more ‘natural’. In Chapter IV the focus is on those elements of consistency throughout various genres that give Cicero’s style its distinctive character. An appendix to this chapter offers the reader a valuable summary of the immense and highly complex subject of Cicero’s influence on the subsequent western literary tradition. Von Albrecht provides an appropriate finale to his survey in Chapter V, in which he analyzes specific texts taken from Cicero’s speeches in the light of Cicero’s own precepts. Here we have some illuminating examples of the nexus between theory and practice and how the former helps us understand the latter.

The Epilogue and Postscript take us beyond the specific questions of how the linguistic means of expression are adapted to cirumstances and audience. Here the author, through a close analysis of passages in De oratore and De re publica, treats Cicero’s ideal of the rhetorical education and the requirements Cicero thought were necessary for the formation of an accomplished orator. Especially illuminating is von Albrecht’s discussion of the importance of the figure of Socrates in determining the ideal of the orator set out in De oratore. Moreover, von Albrecht points out what aspects of Cicero’s ideal of the orator and the culture of the speech might be relevant for us today. It is not merely a question of clarity of expression and skill at manipulating language or insight into how others do this; the author asks us to consider a restoration of the value of rhetoric after the eclipse it has suffered since the romantic age and points out that rhetorical sophistication can be of crucial importance in democratic societies. In short, von Albrecht makes a convincing case that Cicero’s mastery of many means of expression and his skill at adapting them to specific circumstances deserves new attention. Von Albrecht has given us a study that will be of lasting value not merely to students of Cicero and Latin letters, but also to anyone who seeks a better understanding of literature and the art of verbal expression.


1. M. von Albrecht, “Marcus Tullius Cicero. Sprache und Stil,” RE Supplementband XIII (M√ľnchen, 1973), 1237-1347.