BMCR 2020.10.22

Ciceros Rede ‘cum senatui gratias egit.’ Ein Kommentar

, Ciceros Rede 'cum senatui gratias egit.' Ein Kommentar. Göttinger Forum für Altertumswissenschaft. Beihefte N.F., 10. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2019. 260 p. ISBN9783110629217 €109,95.

Publisher’s preview

Jeremy Markland, writing in 1745, offers an unreserved judgment about four of the speeches that Cicero delivered upon returning from exile: “There is as great a Difference between These and any of Cicero’s undoubtedly genuine Pieces, as there is between a person in full Health and Vigour, and another who is struck with a fit of the Palsy.”[1] Markland’s proposal that these works were the product of the declamatory schools of the early first century CE met with immediate resistance, and it would likely have been forgotten had it not been for the efforts of the preeminent German classicist of his day, Friedrich Wolf. Six years after publishing his masterwork, the Prolegomena to Homer of 1795, Wolf produced a set of commentaries on these four speeches—Cum senatui gratias egit, Cum populo gratias egit, De domo sua, and De haruspicum responsis—devoted exclusively to supporting and supplementing Markland’s points about non-Ciceronian authorship.[2] Although the discovery of better manuscripts and the study of prose rhythm have vitiated many of Markland’s and Wolf’s arguments, and no Ciceronian scholar today doubts their authorship, they have continued to suffer from scholarly neglect. Until now. After over two centuries of disgraceful relegation, these speeches are at last striving to return from their scholarly exile and, one hopes, will soon be treated as more than a pecking ground for historians of the late Republic. In addition to this German commentary under review on Cum senatui gratias egit (henceforth p[ost]. red[itum]. in sen[atu].), full commentaries are currently in preparation in English for all four orations.

The speech before the senate is chronologically the first delivered, on September 5, 57 BCE, the day following Cicero’s return to Rome after having been forced into exile for his role in executing Roman citizens without trial in the aftermath of the Catilinarian conspiracy. That departure was precipitated by the violence and threatened legal proceedings of Clodius, tribune of the plebs in 58. Consider the freshly returned Cicero’s predicament: from the moment he had left the city in March of 58 he has been consumed with arguing, pleading, praying, and begging for a recall, both directly in letters and through intermediaries in Rome. He must have been thoroughly exhausted physically and emotionally. Boll presents well in his introduction, and throughout the commentary proper, the rhetorical challenges facing him on that day in the curia, speaking before a senate house crowded with supporters, allies, and an indeterminable number of frenemies. Cicero’s strategy is clever—as he would himself seem to agree, since elements of it recur throughout his speeches over the course of the next year. His exile, rather than being an act of cowardice, was in fact one of heroism since by fleeing Rome on his own volition he prevented a bloodbath (e.g, p. red. in sen. 32–36). As a result, he is able to represent himself as savior of the state a second time (the first time being, of course, in his quashing of the Catilinarian conspiracy; e.g., p. red. in sen. 32–34). Third, and ubiquitously, in restoring the state through his restoration, Cicero can logically equate his own wellbeing (and jeopardy) with that of Rome herself.

Within this well-charted map of persuasion, Cicero had to walk a rhetorical tightrope when it came to historical facts. He of course cannot neglect publicly praising those senators to whom thanks are rightly due, but at the same time he has to be careful not to imply criticism of any fellow senators who may have been less proactive in pushing for his return. Boll highlights well in the commentary proper the ways in which Cicero manages this for, e.g. Pompey (111, 113), Q. Caecilius Metellus Nepos, consul in 57 (127), and various senators best left nameless (119). To cover all bases, Cicero includes a twisted sentiment worthy of the best acknowledgments page of a modern work: he cannot, after all, thank everyone, “since it’s difficult not to forget someone, but a sin to forget anyone” (p. red. in sen. 30). Finally, Cicero’s reputation meant that he had to enclose his remarks in a stylistically agreeable package. More so than is normal for the mature Cicero, there is a remarkable amount of regularity and parallelism of construction in p. red. in sen., presumably so that if one is the sort to tire of the litany of thanks and (self)congratulation, the easy flow of syntax eases the ears. Only the harsh and lengthy invective against the consuls of 58, Piso and Gabinius, marks a major shift in style, with its disruptive syntax, suggestive subject matter, and frequent change of emphasis (p. red. in sen. 10–18). Given these conditions, it is to be expected that Cicero took care in writing and delivery, and in this instance we have rare corroborative evidence. In his defense of Plancius three years later Cicero remarks, undoubtedly in reference to p. red. in sen., that he took the unusual step of having “spoken from a script” (Planc. 74: oratio, quae … dicta de scripto est). This extraordinary preparation probably does not mean, pace Boll (6), that he read out the speech word for word, but rather that he had written out a prompt so as not to omit expressing gratitude to any of the many members of the senate who had facilitated his recall.

The book has two main components: lengthy introduction, followed by commentary; there is no Latin text. The introduction covers the expected topics. Boll reviews very broadly the complicated historical background, beginning with the first signs of enmity between Cicero and Clodius. He lists five possible reasons for why Cicero chose to testify against Clodius during the Bona Dea scandal and concludes by attributing his damning testimony to a combination of all five (12). He then treats issues more directly relevant to the speech. Clodius’s varied relationships with both the triumvirate as a body and its individual members segues naturally into an account of his flittering relationship with the principal dramatis personae in the speech, particular during the years preceding Cicero’s return. These remarks allow Boll to explain, for example, why Pompey is accorded Cicero’s praise, while Caesar is alluded to only obliquely, and why he reserves the harshest invective for Piso and Gabinius. Boll also repeats each of these, and other, points in the appropriate portions of the commentary so that reading this volume in its entirety renders much of the lengthy introduction redundant. In all these instances, a simple cross-reference to the introduction in the notes would have been adequate. Boll then reviews the interesting research that compares p. red. in sen. with the thanks delivered soon afterward to the people assembled in a contio. The speeches’ similarity in style and syntax, which Boll illustrates with a helpful table of parallel passages, may at first occasion surprise. The most notable differences, by contrast, can be more easily explained: their popularity with the people accounts for why the portrayals of Pompey and Marius are more favorable in the contional speech than they were before the senate, and the desire to paint a more flattering picture of senatorial proceedings likely explains the lack of harsh invective against fellow members of the elite in the speech before the people. Tellingly, the gods receive more attention in the later speech than in the former. The final section of the introduction reviews the textual tradition for p. red. in sen., in a discussion principally derivative of the apparatuses of previous critical texts (mainly Peterson’s OCT and Maslowski’s Teubner, with whose stemma Boll largely agrees). As mentioned, the volume offers no original text, although Boll does tabulate the differences from Peterson and Maslowski, each of which, and more, is given extensive notice in the commentary. Much of this textual discussion, curiously, reviews evidence for readings that are clearly incorrect, or that have not received support in recent critical editions. Indeed, if Boll had included a text and full apparatus this would not only have been convenient for readers, but it would have also saved much space in the commentary. The few significant changes from recent editions that Boll chooses to offer seem unnecessary or highly unlikely. For example, on the basis of a parallel at p. red. ad Quir. 5 he suggests reading enumerando in place of numerando of all major codices at p. red in sen. 1. But it is difficult to believe that Cicero would end the second sentence of his first public speech before the senate in nearly a year and a half with the bugbear “heroic clausula” (considerations of rhythm are rarely not taken into account elsewhere in the commentary). In other places justification for the reading is not fully argued (e.g., ascendit at 12; Boll’s retention of the oddly abrupt, and not clearly Ciceronian, syntax of P at 15; the elimination of the geminatio of potui at 33, which does not accord with his stemma). On the positive side, Boll offers good reasons to retain diceret of the codices at 12, and his discussion of the many problems in the first sentence of 26 is clear and helpful.

Most future users of Boll’s book, however, are unlikely to turn to it for a survey of the history of the early 50s BCE, or for a new text, but for the commentary, and here Boll does a fine job within the limits that he seems to have set for himself. The commentary follows a regular pattern: a lengthy lemma from the Latin text is followed by a German summary (there is no translation); this summary is supplemented by appropriate historical parallels, most often from the other speeches post reditum. Boll concentrates primarily on providing historical context and examining political terminology, and in these portions the commentary is valuable. By themselves the notes offer an excellent introduction to Roman legal and political procedure; for example, when mention of the comitia centuriata occurs in the text, Boll offers a succinct and helpful summary of its function, with bibliography (205). The focus on history also allows him to offer interesting insights into Cicero’s rhetoric. For example, in discussing Cicero’s often-mocked self-awareness of his past accomplishments as both speaker and statesman, Boll reminds us throughout that the reason for his repeated mentions of suppressing the Catilinarian conspiracy is not (just) vanity, but the fact that his allegedly illegal actions at the time are precisely what precipitated his departure from Rome. By analogous logic, Boll’s line-by-line analysis also nicely calls attention to how even Cicero’s most fulsome expressions of thanks have an undertone of self-praise (that is, by praising elite members of the Roman community for saving him Cicero only underscores his own importance). Readers interested in philological and literary analysis, however, will often come away disappointed (a significant exception is the thorough and enlightening discussion of the lengthy attack on Piso and Gabinius at p. red. in sen. 10–18)

Boll’s commentary on Cicero’s Cum senatui gratias egit fills a significant gap in the scholarship and will be particularly helpful for those interested in the historical background that informed Cicero’s exile. We can be thankful (appropriately) to have at last a reliable guide to this speech, which marks a key transition in Cicero’s oratorical and political development.


[1] Remarks on the Epistles of Cicero to Brutus and of Brutus to Cicero: in a letter to a friend. With a discussion upon four orations ascribed to Marcus Tullius Cicero. London 1745. 224.

[2] M. Tulli Ciceronis quae vulgo feruntur Orationes quatuor etc. Berlin 1810.