BMCR 2005.05.50

Cicerone e i suoi interpreti: Studi sull’ Opera e la Fortuna

, Cicerone e i suoi interpreti : studi sull'opera e la fortuna. Testi e studi di cultura classica ; 29. Pisa: ETS, 2004. 442 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 8846709748 €19.00.

Over the last two decades or so, Emanuele Narducci (hereafter N.) has established himself as one of Europe’s foremost Ciceronian scholars. In particular his books Modelli etici e società. Un’ idea di Cicerone (Pisa 1989) and Cicerone e l’eloquenza romana. Retorica e progetto culturale (Rome and Bari 1997) have contributed significantly to our appreciation of Roman aristocratic culture and Cicero’s place within it. The present volume gathers together in a convenient compendium some twenty one essays and short notes on Cicero and Late Republican literature, most of which have been published elsewhere.

These essays are grouped into three sections. Section 1 ( Studi su Cicerone e la tarda repubblica romana) features essays on Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations and Pro Cluentio; on Cornelius Nepos and his biography of Atticus; on friendship and flattery in the Late Republic; on perceptions of exile in Cicero’s works (based largely on N.’s article in AJPh 118, 1997); and on elements of Greek culture in Cicero’s villas. Section 2 ( Note di lettura) contains shorter notes on a variety of subjects. A close engagement with these items is beyond the scope of this review; for reference, a list of their titles is appended below. Section 3 ( Aspetti e momenti della fortuna di Cicerone) is the most thematically unified part of the volume and features five essays on the scholarly reception of Cicero as writer and politician from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. N. discusses here the influence of Ciceronian writings on Leon Battista Alberti, one of the leading architects in the Florentine renaissance of the fifteenth century; the contrasting depictions of Cicero in Boissier’s biography of the orator, and in Napoleon the Third’s biography of Caesar; the portrayals of Cicero and Caesar in Guglielmo Ferrero’s Grandezza e Decandenza di Roma (published in 1902); and interpretative trends in Italian Ciceronian scholarship during the twentieth century. There is also an appendix featuring an essay on Lucretius.

As this summary suggests, the volume is a testament to the formidable breadth of N.’s expertise. Specialists in Ciceronian studies will perhaps profit most from the book’s third section. While the treatment of Cicero in Italian literature may seem something of a gentle divertissement from more mainstream topics — N. readily admits that Guglielmo Ferrero and Giuseppe Rovani, for example, are scarcely major figures in Italian letters — many of N.’s observations do in fact have a wider relevance and resonance. As has long been acknowledged, scholarly views of Cicero in the nineteenth century were strongly coloured by Mommsen’s condescending criticisms of the orator on the one hand, and his trumpeting of Caesar’s greatness on the other. But, as N. shows, Mommsen’s elevation of Caesar to the rank of master politician was not just a matter of stale academic partisanship; the model of a dictator who ruled an empire through the support of his army and people — il Cesarismo — was a potent one in the Napoleonic age and its aftermath. Hence the determined distortions in Napoleon the Third’s Histoire de Jules César (published in 1865), calculated to present Caesar’s career as motivated by noble and self-sacrificing concerns for the state (pp. 318-9). This self-serving mythologising was criticised by scholars of the time; but it also provoked an interesting response in the form of a romantic novel by Giuseppe Rovani ( La giovinezza di Giulio Cesare, published in 1873). N. argues (pp. 333-36) that Rovani’s depiction of Caesar as a man driven by strong private passions rather than public virtues was motivated by more than just the Romantic aesthetic; it was designed specifically to counter the heroic perfection of Napoleon’s dictator. The literary reconstruction of Roman politicians thus becomes a form of urgent political discourse. Ultimately N.’s interpretation of Rovani’s intent requires a certain inferential leap, but he builds his case clearly and carefully (alluding for example to Rovani’s political engagement with Napoleon in other works), and constructs a persuasive argument.

Il Cesarismo also features prominently in N.’s study of the French scholar Gaston Boissier and his biography of Cicero (in a curious coincidence, also published in 1865). In this case, N. views Boissier’s silence on the whole issue of Caesarianism as politically loaded; Boissier could only afford to be more explicit in his criticisms after the fall of Bonapartism (p. 293). Boissier’s sceptical interpretation of Caesar’s political motives, on the other hand, is taken by N. to be a reaction against Mommsen’s optimistically teleological view of Rome’s conquest of Gaul and Spain (pp. 296-97). N. is astute enough, however, not to make too great a claim for Boissier as a historical thinker. While his biography of Cicero was an important corrective to Mommsen’s dismissive view of the orator, the work was (inevitably) influenced in turn by Boissier’s own personal predilections. Thus, N. regards its celebration of Cicero’s conciliatory political policies as a reflection of Boissier’s own moderate tendencies (p. 300); and its exaggerated remarks regarding the danger and fickleness of the Roman mob as a symptom of Boissier’s own class anxieties and prejudices (pp. 302-3). The result is a judicious and penetrating analysis of Boissier’s scholarship, and N. urbanely confirms its continued relevance for modern students of Cicero: he admits discovering with dismay an obscure 1865 article by Boissier which had anticipated in important ways some of his own apparently ground-breaking observations (p. 305).

There is then a good deal of important material here for readers with an interest in intellectual history and Classical scholarship, especially for those specializing in Cicero and Caesar. N.’s concern with developments in intellectual thought and the Classics is explored further in the book’s final chapter, which reviews the academic trends evident in Italian studies of Cicero during the twentieth century. The main scholars evaluated here are Ettore Lepore, Aldo Schiavone and Antonio La Penna, with a few closing remarks outlining N.’s own position within this tradition. This is a useful piece, both as a critical analysis of the insights and limitations of earlier scholarship, and as a catalogue of the contrasting guises thrust upon Cicero over the decades.

Most of the longer essays in the volume’s first section were originally designed as introductions to new Italian translations of Latin texts in the Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli series. As such they do not set out to advance innovative interpretations or to provide extensive bibliographies for each critical problem. (The scholarship cited is predominantly Italian, with further references to the most significant discussions in English, German and French.) The chapters do present, however, expert surveys of often difficult and complex works. For the Pro Cluentio, for example, N. provides a clear and incisive introduction not only to the background and rhetorical design of the speech, but also to the most salient features of Cicero’s linguistic style. He is equally at home in the philosophical works, skilfully identifying the issues most relevant for a full appreciation of the Tusculans.

The chapter on Cornelius Nepos combines introductory material to a text of Nepos with a separate and more innovative analysis of the personality and career of T. Pomponius Atticus. In this latter discussion, N. explores in particular how the complex and ambivalent character of Atticus has been variously interpreted by different generations of scholars. For men such as Montaigne, Atticus provided a useful model of how to cultivate and maintain friendly relations with aristocrats of the highest rank (pp. 158-60); for Drumann, by contrast, writing in the aftermath of the French Revolution, Atticus’ character takes on less positive dimensions: he is viewed as bland and colourless, dedicated merely to being what more powerful men wanted him to be. N. thus develops here many of the same themes that he pursues in Section 3 with reference to Cicero, with similarly rewarding results. His remarks on Nepos as biographer of Atticus are also important, not least because, as N. observes (p. 145, note), recent studies of Nepos are not entirely satisfactory. Most profitable of all, perhaps, is his attempt to understand Nepos’ work according to its own aims. N. shows well (pp. 165-79) how the positive qualities that Nepos identifies in Atticus are designed to produce an ethical exemplum quite consistent with the virtues of the traditional Roman aristocracy — even though Atticus pursued a career that was in most respects very different. There is thus no sign here of Nepos the “intellectual pygmy”, who (according to Horsfall) “clearly had no serious grounding in how to use his own language”.1 N.’s discussion provides a welcome counterbalance to Horsfall’s disparaging assessment, but, for this very reason, leads one to long for a more direct engagement with these supposed limitations of Nepos.

Section 1 features in addition a new and unpublished essay entitled “L’amico e l’adulatore. Cicerone e i pericoli della simulatio.” Here N. begins by examining Cicero’s relations with Catiline, focusing in particular on the latter’s ability to present an appearance of virtue and reliability (pp. 79-86). This skill at dissimulation was naturally an unsettling one and at odds with the Cicero’s expectation in his Laelius that the true friend be straightforward ( simplex), with no element of pretence or deviousness. Perhap the most stimulating feature of N.’s discussion here is the link that he then goes on to make with the principles of aristocratic decorum set forth by Cicero in De Officiis Book 1. These principles are problematic, N. suggests (pp. 92-3), because socially appropriate behaviour is now perceived (at least partially) in external terms, in the rational control of one’s emotions and bodily comportment. This focus on external elements — as well as Cicero’s very codification of these rules in De Officiis — opens the door to their exploitation by those skilled in dissembling. N. identifies here an interesting conundrum, one that played a real part in aristocratic relationships, as Cicero’s comments on amor verus and amor fictus at Fam. 9.16.2. shows. As Cicero implicitly acknowledges in this passage, there seems to be no easy intellectual solution to the dilemma; in the end only experience will show which friends’ loyalty and integrity truly correspond to their outer manifestations of virtue and amiability.

The appendix on Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura — originally intended again as an introduction to a new Italian translation — is both discerning and comprehensive: N. steers us (correctly in my view) away from those interpretations that want to make Lucretius something of an outcast from aristocratic society (pp. 391-2) or treat Epicureanism as a philosophy that garnered a large-scale following among Roman common folk (p. 395). Likewise he astutely dismisses the notion (p. 393) that Cicero had some kind of agenda in not referring to the DRN in his philosophical treatises — although perhaps more could have been said here about the issue of genre: was Lucretius in Cicero’s mind primarily a poet rather than a philosopher, and so not an obvious choice when it came to surveying previous treatises on Epicureanism? The issues involved in interpreting the end of the poem are also set forth judiciously (pp. 405-6) and N. identifies well the tensions in the work that have long created conflicting critical views (p. 414). Presumably this chapter is relegated to an appendix because Cicero does not feature prominently in it; it would be a pity, however, if this location led it to be overlooked by readers of Lucretius.

To conclude: while this volume seems primarily intended for an Italian readership of graduate students and beyond, there is much of interest here for other scholars, especially those who specialise in Cicero, the Late Republic, and intellectual history. The book is attractively produced (I noted only a couple of insignificant typographical errors: section 4 on p. 303 needs to be changed to section 5, and note 90 on p. 342 needs to be on p. 341). And it performs a valuable service in making readily accessible (and at a remarkably inexpensive price) a number of important essays that would otherwise be difficult to locate.

List of chapters in Section 2

Cicerone, Crasso e un verso di Ennio. Nota a pro Caelio 18

Il discorso di Augusto nella apocolocyntosis di Seneca e un passo della pro Caelio di Cicerone

Congettura a Cicerone, de domo 11

Cecità degli occhi e accecamento della mente. Nota a Cicerone, de domo 105 (con un contributro all’interpretazione di Ovidio, fast. VI 437-454)

Cicerone e il “dilemma” di Gaio Gracco

Una reminiscenza enniana in Cicerone e in Virgilio?

Cicerone e un detto di Cesare. Nota a pro Marcello 25 sgg. e a Cato maior 69

La più antica citazione delle familiares di Cicerone


1. For the phrase “intellectual pygmy”, see Nicholas Horsfall “Cornelius Nepos” in Cambridge History of Classical Literature vol. II: Latin Literature. Eds. E. J. Kenney and W. V. Clausen. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge) page 290. For “clearly had no serious grounding etc.”, see Nicholas Horsfall Cornelius Nepos: A Selection, Including the Lives of Cato and Atticus (Clarendon: Oxford 1989) page xviii.