BMCR 2015.06.05

A Commentary on Cicero, De divinatione I. Michigan classical commentaries

, A Commentary on Cicero, De divinatione I. Michigan classical commentaries. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014. xviii, 218. ISBN 9780472036080. $27.95 (pb).

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Although readers nowadays usually encounter Div. as a source for information about Roman religious practice, on closer acquaintance the work proves surprisingly rich and complex, combining philosophical argument, poetic citations, historical examples, and personal memoir. Commentaries for Anglophone students are, however, inadequate: Pease’s work (1920-23) is “not suited to most readers who approach the text today” (Schultz, p.vii), and Wardle’s is purely historical and based on a translation. A new commentary on Div. is a desideratum.

The Introduction contextualizes the dialogue within Cicero’s life and career and the Roman practice of divination. It also discusses the nature of Div. itself. Schultz essentially follows Beard 1986 in seeing the work as an example of Academic in utramque partem disputari and maintaining that Cicero the author does not take sides for or against divination. She argues that “the absence of any explicit statement of the author’s opinion in Div. is significant” (p.13).

The method of in utramque partem disputari implies that each case is worthy of consideration but not necessarily that Cicero as author is neutral. In the author’s preface (§6), Cicero, citing the example of Panaetius on divination (T 137 Alesse), begs the Stoics’ leave to be a skeptic “on the other matters” ( in reliquis rebus, sc. besides divination). This is because the Stoics have already licensed Panaetius’ skepticism on divination and thus implicitly that of others. Cicero the author is no less a skeptic on divination than on other matters.1

Giving the name and historical attributes of Marcus Cicero to the skeptical speaker surely also has significance. In antiquity, when an author writes a dialogue in which he portrays himself as a speaker, it is assumed that he takes responsibility for the views attributed to him;2 indeed, this is the way Div. itself was read (Augustin. Civ. 5.9). When Marcus speaks of benefiting “our people” ( nostris) by extracting superstition by the roots (2.148), that is surely the same voice that speaks of benefiting “my fellow-citizens” by philosophical writing at 2.1.3

Several considerations may have suggested the equality of arguments in the two books:

(1) Denyer 1985 claimed that the argument of “Cicero” in Book 2 does not touch the Stoic theory of divination, which posits a system of signs without any inherent connection between sign and signified. “Cicero,” however, is not trying to refute the Stoic theory of divination per se but rather Quintus’ case, which makes some use of Stoic theory but which Quintus generally understands, as Marcus does, as implying some inherent connection between sign and signified; cf., e.g., §126: ita fit ut et observatione notari possit quae res quamque causam plerumque consequatur . . . 4

(2) Marcus’ argument elides certain distinctions made by Quintus (cf. Schultz, p.188). Now the cases made by speakers in Ciceronian dialogue should be understood essentially as speeches, with corresponding standards of proof.5 A certain amount of distortion is a feature common to refutations by “Cicero,”6 and the instances in Div. are not conspicuous when the text is read out orally.7

There are some signs that Marcus’ case is meant to be read as superior:

(1) Quintus’ gestures to philosophical theory appear late in his presentation and do not really drive the argument. Rather, his case relies heavily on authorities, which is not what philosophy is about ( N.D. 1.10), and examples, whose cause or veracity is unclear, rather than reasoning ( Div. 2.27).

(2) Quintus’ strongest argument is from state interest (§§25b-33, 95-103a). Marcus is prepared to allow divinatory practice to stand rei publicae causa, but a different standard of truth is required in private philosophical discourse (2.28, 70, and 148; cf. N.D. 3.5-6).

(3) In dialogues of this period, a dogmatic speaker does not admit defeat. It is therefore surprising when at Div. 2.100 Quintus concedes part of his case (systematic divination, the important part from a Roman perspective).

(4) At the conclusion of Div. the speakers agree to continue to practice in utramque partem disputari, but Quintus does not insist that he can devise better arguments to defend the present case (as do Cato in Fin. and Balbus in N.D.).

Div. would thus seem to illustrate not an isosthenia of arguments but the sharp dichotomy between traditional folkways and philosophical thinking (cf. §86, 2.42-44, 80, and 129). Cicero’s duel with a “pre-philosophical” opponent in Hort. is comparable.8

Having set aside the view that the two books are on a par, one can see more clearly how Cicero set about composing Div. : he chose for Quintus, apart from upholding divination rei publicae causa, arguments he knew he could refute, indeed on occasion ones for which a preexisting refutation was available, e.g., Calchas’ interpretation of the omen of the sparrows and the snake (§72), for which he deployed an Aristotelian refutation (2.65 ~ fr. 145 Rose).

Div. 1 shows signs of hasty composition, including stylistic unevenness and repetition (see e.g., pp.162, 173, 192). The divisio into systematic and natural divination (§12) does not match the organization of the book, which wanders back and forth between the two. Moreover, Quintus backs into the topic and offers a significant theoretical framework only at the end (§125, with retrospective application to the treatment of the gods). In the absence of clear signposting by the author, the reader relies on the commentator to explain the organization. Schultz provides an outline of contents on p.xvi, and the commentary includes for each section a heading and description of the contents. Schultz points out, e.g., that “the argument in this section is not linear but, rather, flows discursively over several points” (p.104). But since the problem is pervasive, readers would have been helped had a section of the Introduction discussed the organization of the book and possible explanations (cf., e.g., Wardle 2006: 20-26).

The Introduction might also have devoted more space to discussing, with examples, the political stakes this topic involved in the Late Republic. A section of the Introduction on the style of the dialogue, including a treatment of prose rhythm, would also have been helpful. And many readers would probably have welcomed further detail on the revision of the work after the Ides of March (briefly mentioned at p.10n4).

Schultz’s Latin text chiefly follows Ax’s 1938 Teubner, deviations from which are listed on pp.xvii-xviii. There is a change in text only in ten passages, however, the rest being differences in graphic conventions, punctuation, etc. It would have been helpful if she had regularly indicated the source of the reading she adopts either in this list or in the commentary. Some of these editorial decisions can be queried:

•At §20 Müller’s generosa stirpe profectam is unnecessary; in a poetic text the plain ablative with proficiscor is defensible.9

•At §37 Schultz retains the transmitted divinationem but at the cost of assigning it an otherwise unattested meaning. A similar expression could, however, easily be corrupted to the title-word. Might one consider divinam vim (cf. §§1 and 118 and 2.124)?

•In §95 the transmitted text reads: omitto nostros, qui nihil in bello sine extis agunt nihil sine auspiciis dum habent auspicia. Schultz follows Davies’ deletion of dum habent auspicia. But this leaves an unrhythmical clausula and takes account of only half of Roman practice before turning to foreign examples ( externa videamus follows immediately). More likely is the solution proposed by Schütz of reading with B domi instead of dum and deleting only habent auspicia. This yields a balanced depiction of Roman practice ( in bello . . . domi), each with a cretic ending.

•In §110 Schultz adopts Marsus’ cognatione, rather than Davies’ contagione (“by influential contact”) accepted by Ax; cognitione is transmitted; the word is limited by divinorum animorum in an explanation of prophetic dreams. Schultz cites §64 deorum cognatione, the first reason given by Posidonius for prophetic dreams (i.e., the soul is kin to the reason governing the universe; cf. Kidd 1988: 430). More likely perhaps is a reference to the second of Posidonius’ reasons: quod plenus aer sit immortalium animorum, in quibus tamquam insignitae notae veritatis appareant;10 cf. 2.119, where the idea is expressed by coniunctione cum externis mentibus (cf. also 2.126).

In the chiefly historical commentary, Schultz casts her net widely, citing, e.g., genetic tests that seem to confirm the ancient tradition that the Etruscans migrated from Asia Minor (p.78) or geological research that helps explain the decline of the Delphic oracle (p.110). The Romans’ sometimes opaque religious terms receive careful attention (cf. p. 66 on religio or pp.94-95, 180, 188, and 190 on the special terminology of augury). Div. 1 is remarkable inter alia for the amount of poetry Cicero cites. Schultz’s notes on these passages show fine appreciation of metrical technique, sound devices, and poetic diction.

Because this commentary treats Book 1 alone, it would have been desirable to emphasize more strongly the connections between the two books of Div. so that the reader can develop a sense of how they fit together. For instance, at §68 Schultz might have noted that commenticiam rem anticipates Marcus’ line of argument at 2.27, 80, and 113; on §91 ( Chaldaei) she might have referred to the detailed discussion at 2.87-99; on §132 ( somniorum interpretes) reference to 2.129 and 145 would have been apposite.

Detailed remarks on the Introduction and Commentary is available on request and will be found in the Appendix published as a comment on the review on the BMCR website.

Whatever one’s disagreements in detail, it should be made clear that Schultz’s book, while not rendering Pease or Wardle redundant, offers easier access to the Latin text and up-to-date references to the literature and thus fills a gap.11

Table of Contents

Outline of Books 1 and 2
Concerning the Text


1. Cf. Luc. 7-9, N.D. 1.11, Div. 2.1, Off. 2.7-8 for Cicero’s general skepticism expressed outside a dialogue frame. Notable, too, that when Cicero ran short of time in composing Fat., he skipped the dogmatist’s speech and offered only the skeptical refutation.

2. Schultz also makes this assumption when she allows that Cicero’s vote at the end of N.D. expresses his “personal preference” (p.13).

3. Cf. Schofield 1986 and 2008, arguing powerfully against separation of author and authorial character in Cicero’s dialogues.

4. Only at §127 does Quintus clearly distinguish between sign and cause; cf. Bobzien 1998: 165 and 168.

5. Cf. Krostenko 2000: 371-73.

6. Cf., e.g., Inwood 1990 on Fin. 2; Essler 2011 on N.D. 1; Schilling 1987 on N.D. 3.

7. Cf. Begemann 2012: 78n377.

8. At §86 Quintus picks up Hortensius’ point about the recent origin of philosophy (fr. 52 Grilli).

9. Cf. Courtney 1993: 161 v. 49; TLL X.2 1709.65.

10. I.e., the daimones and/or heroes; cf. Kidd 1988: 431-32; Schultz, p.139.

11. References:

1.Beard, M. 1986. “Cicero and divination: the formation of a Latin discourse,” JRS 76: 33-46.
Begemann, E. 2012. Schicksal als Argument. Ciceros Rede vom fatum in der späten Republik. Stuttgart.
Bobzien, S. 1998. Determinism and freedom in Stoic philosophy. Oxford.
Courtney, E. (ed., comm.) 1993. The fragmentary Latin poets. Oxford.
Denyer, N. 1985. “The case against divination: an examination of Cicero’s De Divinatione,” PCPS 31: 1-10.
Essler, H. 2011. “Cicero’s use and abuse of Epicurean theology,” in J. Fish and K. R. Sanders (eds.), Epicurus and the Epicurean tradition (Cambridge) 129-51.
Inwood, B. 1990. “ Rhetorica disputatio : the strategy of de Finibus II,” Apeiron 23: 143-64.
Kidd, I. G. 1988. Posidonius II: the commentary. Cambridge.
Krostenko, B. A. 2000. “Beyond (dis)belief: rhetorical form and religious symbol in Cicero’s de Divinatione,” TAPA 130: 353-91.
Schilling, R. 1987 “L’exposé du stoicien Balbus dans le traité sur la nature des dieux est-il entaché d’inconsequence?,” in A. Bonanno (ed.), Laurea corona: studies in honour of Edward Coleiro (Amsterdam) 67-72.
Schofield, M. 1986. “Cicero for and against divination,” JRS 76: 47-65.
Schofield, M. 2008. “Ciceronian dialogue,” in S. Goldhill (ed.), The end of dialogue in antiquity (Cambridge) 63-84.
Wardle, D. 2006. Cicero: On Divination Book 1. Oxford.