BMCR 2020.12.20

Cicero: Brutus and Orator

, Cicero: Brutus and Orator. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2020. Pp. xi, 311. ISBN 9780190857851 $24.95 (pb).


This volume contains Kaster’s translations of Cicero’s Brutus and Orator, the first translations of these dialogues since Hendrickson and Hubbell’s Loeb edition in 1939.[1] The author notes in his preface that the introductions in the Loeb “are brief and insufficient,” and the annotation “still less adequate” (p. ix). To say that this volume addresses these deficiencies is an understatement. In addition to the translations, Kaster’s edition includes a comprehensive introduction, biographical sketches, a glossary of Roman political terms, and two appendices. The first appendix contains a translation of On the Best Kind of Orator, a short fragment of which Cicero composed in 46 bce between the Brutus and Orator; and the second contains a list of variant readings, which depart from Malcovati’s second edition of the Brutus and Westman’s edition of the Orator.

In his “Introduction,” which spans 48 pages—12 of which contain lists of abbreviations, commonly used terms, ancient authors, and works cited—Kaster reviews the personal and political backdrops before which Cicero composed the dialogues included in this volume. Kaster strategically “avoids duplicating material…on the history of rhetoric before Cicero,” focusing instead on “the immediate context and concerns” of the dialogues at hand (p.1, n. 1). This approach is aided by the inclusion of selections from Cicero’s letters, which brings his personal experiences into greater relief.

In section one of the “Introduction,” the author adeptly leads the reader through Cicero’s involvement in the civil war. Section two provides immediate context for the Brutus, the melancholy nostalgia that Kaster contrasts with the expectant ending of On the Ideal Orator. Rather than explain away some of the more puzzling aspects of the Brutus, the author includes a list of “the most salient issues that readers should find it useful to keep in mind” (p. 14). This list included questions of why Cicero began his oratorical survey where he did, whether the Brutus should be considered a history, and whether we can discern the political stance of the dialogue. It is constructive for the reader to be introduced to these questions prior to beginning the dialogue, and it is to Kaster’s credit that he leaves these questions open for interpretation.

Section three contextualizes the Orator. Kaster delineates the controversy surrounding Roman Atticism and the ways this controversy informed Cicero’s understanding of style. For the unacquainted reader, Kaster defines three stylistic concepts: “elaboration,” “decorum,” and “period.” The author spends the remainder of this section on a discussion of period, and, more specifically, on prose rhythm and the “feeling of completeness” Cicero sought (p. 27). Kaster skillfully employs Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” to illustrate period and rhythm. He reviews the three sources Cicero identified for producing this feeling of completeness—symmetrical figures of speech, cola and commata, and metrical cadences—and discussions of each of these sources are inclusive. His coverage of metrical cadences is particularly valuable for bridging the gap between the reader’s knowledge of English and Cicero’s Latin. Throughout, Kaster defines the Latin terms he uses, going so far as to note parts of speech.

Section four of the “Introduction” includes outlines of each of the dialogues. In section five, Kaster clarifies the intention behind his annotations and translations: he has “tried to make these texts accessible to an audience that cannot read them in Latin with existing commentaries” (p. 34). Regarding his translation, he notes that he aimed to “make the English idiomatic, yet formal enough to suit Cicero’s register” (p. 34). Though it may have been more helpful to include these comments earlier in the introduction, the explicit discussion of the goal of his translations is appreciated. Section six includes information about further reading. Even the notes in the “Introduction” are impressive one on the Roman calendar system (p. 5, n. 7) and another on Greek rhetoric’s “external history” (p. 15, n. 31) stand out in this regard.

Kaster’s translations achieve his goal of idiomatic yet elevated English. In the Brutus, there are a number of memorable turns of phrase, including “atelier of eloquence” (for officina dicendi, p. 58) and “fizzy style fresh from the fermenting vat’s crushed grapes” (novam istam quasi de musto ac lacu fervidam, p. 151-2). Notes for this text concentrate primarily on the dialogue’s long list of historical events and individuals, and Kaster’s cross-referencing to the appendices and the use of footnotes rather than endnotes are particularly appreciated here. The translation of the Orator is equally eloquent, though, appropriately, subtler. Notes for this dialogue primarily illuminate Cicero’s rich “rhetorical and stylistic terminology” (p. 35).  For example, in the discussion of sonic effects of arrangement, Kaster includes ample notes regarding the untranslated Latin (p. 215-223), and all Greek mentioned throughout the dialogue itself and in the notes is transliterated and defined.

Kaster’s edition of the Brutus and the Orator is a superb and much needed volume which offers rich and eloquent translations, as well as comprehensive introductory material, appendices, and annotations. I can envision assigning this text to undergraduates or graduate students in a classical rhetoric or Cicero course, regardless of students’ knowledge of ancient languages or their familiarity with the treatises themselves. As I received an ebook copy of the text for review, I cannot speak to the volume’s physical form. However, in its virtual form, and considering its extremely reasonable paperback price, I find this volume of great value and strongly recommend it for those interested in Cicero’s later rhetorical contributions, from the layperson to the specialist.


[1] Cicero. Brutus. Orator. Translated by G. L. Hendrickson, H. M. Hubbell. Loeb Classical Library 342. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1939.