BMCR 2015.02.21

Persuasive Language in Cicero’s ‘Pro Milone’: A Close Reading and Commentary. BICS Supplement 121

, Persuasive Language in Cicero’s 'Pro Milone': A Close Reading and Commentary. BICS Supplement 121. London: Institute for Classical Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, 2013. xv, 503. ISBN 9781905670482. £48.00.

Although the Pro Milone was one of Cicero’s most popular speeches in antiquity, it has not received a full-scale scholarly commentary in English for more than a century. Fotheringham’s work does not fill the gap, but she did not intend it to. Her commentary is the idiosyncratic production of long years of meditation on the text. She states in her introduction that “the most likely readership for this work consists of Latin scholars already familiar with the Pro Milone ” (xi), and that is a fair assessment: professional scholars studying the speech, above all those focused on the details of its structure and the development of its arguments, will need to consult the book and will derive some profit from its close readings. Other readers will be better served by earlier commentaries.

The commentary sets for itself some unusual restrictions. To quote again from the introduction, “Much of what would normally be expected in a commentary on a Ciceronian speech will be conspicuous by its absence, specifically exegesis of historical context relevant to specific points made in the speech and parallels for particular Latin expressions, either from other Ciceronian works or from other authors. In addition, there is little reference to the scholarly bibliography on Cicero” (xi–xii). One will likewise search the commentary in vain for any substantive discussion of ancient scholarship on the speech, ancient rhetorical theory, prose rhythm, textual difficulties, Realien, lexicographical points, and so on. Latin is almost never translated. To these absences is added the unusual fact that after paragraph 22 of the speech (out of 105) there is a dramatic (and deliberate) drop off in the number of lemmata commented on, to the extent that many sentences receive little more than a bare outline of grammatical structure.

So what does the book contain? First a long introductory essay on the methodology of the commentary, then Clark’s OCT text with new punctuation and paragraphing, followed by the commentary itself and an unusual series of indices. Fotheringham’s main innovation is an attempt to explore Cicero’s stylistic choices through quantitative analysis, and to argue from this extremely focused reading that the speech exhibits a careful and artistic unity. While I find her reasons for resorting to statistics rather a counsel of despair—fundamentally she believes that today we lack the Latin Sprachgefühl of generations of yore (xiv)—in principle I agree entirely that statistical analysis could yield any number of valuable insights about an ancient text. Unfortunately, what Fotheringham does here cannot really be called “analysis.” She has deployed great industry in counting: she counts lexical items and grammatical persons and subordinate clauses and enumerates her results in tabular form, and as far as I can see all of this is competently done. The trouble is two-fold: first, these data are very seldom used for any interpretive purpose, or at least any non-obvious interpretive purpose; second, the “statistics” consist primarily of raw numbers and trivial percentages. The topic of “statistical significance” is never broached, there are no standard deviations in sight, and there is certainly nothing like a chi-square test to be found. For all these numbers to mean something, they must first be analyzed with some sophistication, and this analysis must then be joined to actual interpretation.

Fotheringham’s close analysis of style and structure is supposed to be deployed in a broader argument about the unity of the speech. Cicero makes two main arguments in the Pro Milone : first and most important, that Clodius set a deliberate ambush for Milo, and Milo killed him in justified self-defense. Oddly, however, at Mil. 72–91 he makes an additional counterfactual claim: he says that although Milo did not set out to kill Clodius, if he had done so, he would deserve a reward rather than a punishment. Scholars have often felt that this second argument sits uncomfortably next to the first, and many have sought to explain it as a later addition to the published version of the speech, especially since we are told by Asconius that two versions were in circulation (42C; Quint. inst. 4.3.17 implies the same). The strongest and most interesting part of Fotheringham’s introductory essay is her vigorous defense of the cohesiveness of the speech’s argument and her probing inquiry into the value of Asconius and other ancient sources. But while she makes her case forcefully and clearly, I remain unconvinced. In a speech designed to persuade and to be understandable, we should not have to search for deep and hidden clues about structural unity. The “Public Good” argument seems not only tacked on to the more powerful “Self Defense” argument; it would indeed seem to undercut it completely. Yes, it is notionally expressed as a conditional statement, but so was the title of O. J. Simpson’s book: If I Did It. Nonetheless, Fotheringham here makes a significant contribution to the scholarly debate.

The strengths and weaknesses of the commentary proper can be best illustrated by an example. At Mil. 6 Cicero says that although he could cite Milo’s noble services to the state in his defense, he will not: he will instead show that Clodius set a deliberate ambush for him, and that Milo exercised his natural right to defend himself. Fotheringham’s note for 6.3 (p. 134) begins:

Sin illius insidiae clariores hac luce fuerint,
tum denique obsecrabo obtestaborque uos, iudices,
si cetera amisimus,
hoc nobis saltem ut relinquatur,
uitam ab inimicorum audacia telisque ut impune liceat defendere.

principal clauses – 1
subordinate clauses – 4: sin, si, ut, ut
opening clause – conditional clause
levels of subordination – 2 ( si cetera amisimus; uitamliceat defendere)

Every single sentence of the speech is subjected to this parsing. The varying levels of indentation do make Fotheringham’s understanding of any sentence’s structure crystal-clear, and such analysis might be particularly useful for students grappling with the Latin. I do not, however, see the enumeration of numbers and types of clauses as being useful for anyone. After this introductory material comes the most valuable part of the commentary, in which Fotheringham spends nearly a full page paraphrasing and analyzing the argument of the sentence and where it fits into the overall structure of the speech. While here one may quibble with the details (e.g., “the principal clause asserts that the speaker will speak in a pleading tone at a later point in the speech”—really?), in general I find her analysis at least accurate and at its best especially insightful. The sentence I have quoted is then given three lemmata: clariores hac luce; obsecrabo obtestaborque uos, iudices; amisimus … nobis. These individual notes tend not to be very helpful, and sometimes are misleading. On clariores hac luce we are told that “the metaphor develops the vision-theme.” The glaring weakness of not providing comparanda is here exposed: this is a dead metaphor and a frequent collocation in Cicero, although hardly to be found in other authors ( TLL 7.2.1909.29–35, Ehlers). Heavy weather is then made of the first-person singulars in obsecrabo obtestaborque in the company of the first-person plural amisimus and other first-person plurals in the preceding sentences. I do not rule out the possibility that “the use of the singular here increases the personalisation, and perhaps intensifies the emotional tone … it also anticipates the strong focus on Cicero himself in the pars orationis where the pleading will take place, the peroratio,” but I do think it should be noted that yoked obsecro and obtestor (or oro : e.g. Mil. 92, 105) is simply a fixed phrase frequently found with a vocative iudices or uos in the Ciceronian corpus (and elsewhere). It does not occur in the first-person plural. The claim that amisimus, “coming so soon after a singular … is most naturally taken as referring to the defence-team” seems unlikely: what seems most natural is Fotheringham’s alternative possibility, that nobis “generalizes from the single defendant to the broader principle.”

More frustrating perhaps is what is left out of this analysis. Prose rhythm, for example, neatly supports some of Fotheringham’s divisions of this sentence. Moreover, the word order of hoc nobis saltem ut relinquatur is described only as “postponed ut; indirect command.” Surely there is something to be said about the effect of the “postponed ut ”—I would prefer “fronting hoc nobis saltem ”—whether you wish to speak in terms of topic and focus or simply emphasis. Furthermore, hoc is separated from saltem : why? A brief explanation of “second position” and Wackernagel’s Law would help illuminate an otherwise potentially perplexing word order and would further justify Fotheringham’s cola. The (so-called) cretic-trochaic clausula of ut relinquatur marks a strong break to introduce the culminating plea. Observations of this sort are there to be made on virtually every sentence and would fall well within the purview of the commentary’s exclusive focus on style and close reading.

The commentary also provides lengthy introductions to each of the major sections of the speech in Fotheringham’s proposed structure. These are again at their most insightful when they focus on Cicero’s argument, and least insightful when they cite numbers. To learn that in the 549 words of the narratio the word-groups Milo, Clodius, facere / difficile / facinus, res, dicere / dictitare, populus / publicus, and raeda occur with a frequency of 1–2% will tell nobody anything. (These, by the way, are the supposedly significant words in the passage.) Yet even here there is perhaps some gold to be found among the dross. For example, the observation that there are no vocatives or questions in the narratio is trenchant, and Fotheringham might have pressed the point harder in interpretation: are the iudices supposed to lose themselves in Cicero’s vividly “objective” version of events? If they were reminded of their status by vocatives, it would break their reverie.

A series of indices concludes the book: lexical, syntactic, and thematic. These are a bit of a ragbag; for example, the lexical indices include an alphabetical concordance to the speech with sometimes bizarre etymological classification (e.g. ratio, occurring 6 times in the speech, is to be found under reor, which never occurs, while eculeus, eques, and equus each get their own entries) and a list word-groups in descending order of frequency. The syntactic index slices and dices the speech into grammatical phenomena: all uses of, for example, the ablative of separation in the speech are digested here. This index too is occasionally maddening: to be told things like 79.5 eius … mortis … ultores could mean “avengers of that death” or “avengers of his death” when context guarantees the latter does not inspire confidence. Nevertheless, these indices are potentially a very useful tool for teaching purposes.

The Latin text appears to be free from typographical errors, which elsewhere are plentiful but rarely confusing (except perhaps the lemma that has drifted from 18.3 to 16.4).

Fotheringham’s book neither vindicates the overall unity of the Pro Milone nor excels at nitty-gritty analysis of the speech, but it does succeed somewhere in the middle, in carefully tracing the development of each of Cicero’s arguments. The reader interested in anything beyond this circumscribed scrutiny, however, will still need to turn elsewhere for commentary on the speech.