BMCR 2023.03.13

Cicero’s Rede pro L. Cornelio Balbo: Einleitung und Kommentar

, Ciceros Rede pro L. Cornelio Balbo: Einleitung und Kommentar. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2022. Pp. vii, 239. ISBN 9783110795608



Cicero’s two surviving speeches in citizenship cases have had very different fates. Ever since its discovery by Petrarch in Liège in 1333, the Pro Archia, with its effusive celebration of poetry, quickly became a favorite and continues to find a place in the curriculum, whereas Pro Balbo has been neglected, the latest English commentary being Reid 1878. This text is important, however, involving issues rarely discussed in such detail about Roman citizenship, how it could be granted, the grounds for challenging such a grant in court, and how such a case could be most effectively argued. A new commentary shedding light on such questions is therefore welcome.

The book under review is the revised and expanded version of a 2017 University of Düsseldorf dissertation. Like other recent Ciceronian commentaries from this press (Boll 2019; Schwameis 2019), it offers introduction and commentary without Latin text. This is an avowedly philological commentary (p.2).

Helfberend’s somewhat undernourished introduction (26 pages) consists of a survey of existing commentaries followed by sections on (1) the dating of the speech, (2) the defendant’s biography, (3) his relation to Cicero, (4) the structure and argumentation of the speech, (5) legal issues, and (6) the textual tradition. One might have expected more on the relation of delivered to published speeches than the mere citation at p.9 n27. In addition, readers would have been helped by sections (a) discussing the court and the history of legislation regulating citizenship, (b) synthesizing the author’s observations about the defense strategy, and (c) analyzing the stylistic qualities of the speech.

(1) In dating the speech, Helfberend (p.3) follows Gelzer 1963, 231, who saw the allusion at §64 to Caesar’s remoteness as a reference to his campaign against the Veneti, or rather the Morini and Menapii (referred to at Gal. 3.28), and so placed the speech in September, 56. But Cicero’s words are rhetorical and imprecise. He probably had only a vague notion of Caesar’s whereabouts. I will argue elsewhere for an earlier date based on the inner chronology of the speeches of this period.

(2) In the survey of Balbus’s life, the main points are the date of the award of citizenship and his possible sponsor(s). Helfberend seems to favor Cornelius Lentulus Crus (cos. 49) as the eponymous Cornelius. He makes this hypothesis seem more likely by the (unconscious?) substitution of Lucius for Cnaeus as Crus’s praenomen (p.6). There is also discussion of the cognomen Balbus and its possible origin.

(3) Helfberend briskly summarizes Balbus’s prior relations with Cicero (a review of his relations with Pompey and Caesar would also have been helpful). But he surprisingly fails to mention their first known encounter, when, toward the end of December, 60, Balbus presented Caesar’s offer of a place on the supervisory board for his land redistribution in exchange for Cicero’s support for the measure (Att. 2.3[23].3). When Helfberend narrates Cicero’s entanglement with Clodius, his exile, and subsequent subservience to the Dynasts, attention to Clodius’s recent biographies (Tatum 1999; Fezzi 2008) might have been helpful. Finally, Cicero evidently departed Rome on the very day Clodius’s bills de capite civis Romani and on the assignment of consular provinces were passed (cf. Sest. 53), not beforehand, pace Helfberend, p.11.

(4) The treatment of the structure and argumentation is good, aided by previous scholarship, especially the lucid analysis by Barber 2004, 65 (whose work is used beneficially throughout).

(5) The prosecutor’s principal claim is that Gades (mod. Cadiz), the city where Balbus was born, would have had to ratify the grant of citizenship in order for it to be valid (cf. §§19–20). The status of the Gaditanes’ treaty with Rome and its manner of ratification are also at issue (see below). Helfberend helpfully summarizes the status quaestionis with references to the relevant literature.

(6) While generally following Maslowski 2007, Helfberend challenges his positing of a separate hyparchetype as the source of H (Harleianus 4927, end of the 12th century), about which Maslowski himself (1982, 160–61) expressed some reservations. Helfberend might have addressed the good readings that H alone offers among the older codices; cf. Giardina 1971, 12 and Helfberend’s own later observation apropos of §16 (experta atque perspecta: p. 74). Some matter that might have been expected here, such as remarks on Maslowski’s orthography, are included in the commentary instead (pp.31–32). In general, Helfberend might have built out this section by collecting and analyzing scattered observations in his commentary.

Helfberend departs from Maslowski’s text in fourteen instances, most of which I will discuss. In §3 he rightly prefers, on rhythmical grounds, Peterson’s recte procedere to Reid’s recte cadere, adopted by Maslowski for transmitted tractare(t). On the other hand, at §6 (pp.42-43) his repunctuation with a semicolon before spes pro periculis praemiorum seems ill-advised. Here is the sentence with Maslowski’s punctuation: haec sunt propria Corneli merita in rem publicam nostram, labor assiduitas dimicatio virtus digna summo imperatore spes pro periculis praemiorum; praemia quidem ipsa non sunt in eius facto qui adeptus est . . . This point is slyly included among the merita of Balbus: it is the attitude that made his listed achievements possible. The sharp contrast in this sentence comes with the asyndetically attached praemia quidem ipsa. This is the use of ipse to take up a preceding point for elaboration; it is usually preceded by strong punctuation; cf. TLL 7.2:316.3 ff.

At §11 (audii hoc de parente meo puer), Helfberend shows that H’s audii should be preferred to audi of the other witnesses, the contracted form only gaining ground later. In the same chapter, rather than bracket iudicium with Maslowski (in the phrase Cn. Pompei decretum †iudicium† de consilii sententia pronuntiatum), he makes a plausible case for Peterson’s iudices, albeit he affixes cruces (the possibility that the archetype presented variant readings cannot be excluded).

At §16 Maslowski prints the rare form extinxet, attested in P (Parisinus 7794, mid-ninth century; the oldest codex), whereas Helfberend prefers extinxisset of the other witnesses. Since extinxet is clearly lectio difficilior, and Virgil’s exstinxem (Aen. 4.606), even if used metri causa, shows that the syncopated form was available and not lectio impossibilis, one would have to side with Maslowski.

At §35 this sentence is transmitted: sed isti disputationi certe nihil est loci. It is generally agreed that hic should be inserted, but where? Helfberend wants to place it prior to isti disputationi, not certe, as by Cobet, whom Maslowski follows. His reason is that then one must posit only one, rather than two errors (a mistaken est is transmitted prior to iste/isti disputationi in the major witnesses): p.135. But certe is used with single words and has restrictive force; like Greek γε, it is an enclitic, immediately following the item it limits (cf. OLD s.v. 2). It clearly belongs immediately after hic, and hic can easily have dropped out between the –ni of disputationi and the c of certe, whereas it is palaeographically implausible that hic and est were interchanged.

§39: The transmitted text qui a principio sui generis aut studio rei publicae ii ab omni studio sensuque Poenorum mentes suas ad nostrum imperium nomenque flexerunt (the people of Gades are the subject) is deeply problematic. Helfberend (pp.147–48) has done a service by applying cruces, rather than adopt the facile solution of changing aut to ac and bracketing studio and ii (with Maslowski). One suspects that there is a lacuna following a principio sui generis and that something was said about the relation of the Gaditani to the Phoenicians and Carthaginians (cf. Scaur. 42 on the origins of the Sardinians) before the remarks about their turning to Rome (during the Second Punic War).

In §56 Maslowski prints illa [sc. incitements to envy] in omni parte orationis summa arte aspergi videbatis, where summa is Lambinus’ conjecture for transmitted sua(e). Helfberend prefers orationis suae [arte] (also suggested by Lambinus). But perhaps Maslowski’s text can stand (it involves fewer changes to the transmission): in saying that the prosecutor has sprinkled incitements to envy throughout the speech, he may be alluding to Antonius’ advice on the passions (after Aristotle) at De oratore 2.310, a dialogue on which Cicero was working around this time. Moreover, warning the jurors against the opponent’s skills is a tactic going back at least to Socrates’ accusers.

Besides textual criticism, Helfberend is interested in usage, rhetorical figures, and syntax, the last supported by references to Kühner and Stegmann 1976. Sentence-connection and word order are of less interest to him. The attentive reader will be rewarded with many niceties of Ciceronian usage, which, in forensic speeches, sometimes borders on the colloquial (cf., e.g., p.67 apropos of prepositional phrase in lieu of genitive). Throughout, Helfberend displays healthy skepticism of Cicero’s account of the prosecution’s claims (e.g., p.44n39) and points out weaknesses in his argumentation (e.g., p.115).

Even on syntax, Helfberend’s forte, there are problems. Thus in tackling the ita . . . ut construction at §5, he begins unhelpfully by claiming that it is “nicht konsekutiv” (p.40). In fact, this is a well-known construction that in English we call a consecutive clause with limiting force; cf. Kühner and Stegmann 1976, 2:249–51 (luckily, Reid 1878 put Helfberend on the right track, calling it “limitative”). Again at §33 (cum caput eius qui contra fecerit consecratur), Helfberend explains the subjunctive as “eine Art der oratio obliqua” (pp.124-25). But this is perhaps more plausibly explained as subjunctive in a relative clause with conditional force; cf. Kühner and Stegmann 1976, 2:309. Contrary to both Helfberend (p.167) and Kühner and Stegmann, there is no need to assume an attraction of adficiantur to the mood of liceat in the si-clause in §44; this is surely the common ideal conditional sentence with subjunctive in both clauses (Kühner and Stegmann 1976, 2:393-94). At §59 quos quidem … Cn. Pompeius …  contendere iubebat is a connecting relative, not a relative clause preceding its antecedent parallel to §10 (as Helfberend claims, p.210).

The subject matter of the speech turns in part on the treaty the Gaditanes had entered into with Rome in the late third century and whether it was “sacrosanct.” If so, the lex Cornelia Gellia of 72 regularizing Pompey’s grants of citizenship was inapplicable in Balbus’ case. When the treaty came up for renewal in 78, the matter was handled by the senate, not the comitia, from which Cicero infers that sacrosanctity was not in question. Though Helfberend usually is reserved about accepting other scholars’ opinions, an exception to this is when (p.132) he allows that Reid 1878 (on §34) may be right in thinking that the Gaditanes’ treaty was not ratified by the people because of Sullan restrictions on the comitia. In fact, there is no evidence for such Sullan legislation; their treaty falls under “generals’ treaties ratified by the senate”; cf. Mommsen 1887–88, 3.2:1166-68.

Apropos of the later history of Roman citizenship, Helfberend claims (p. 93) that the same principle, i.e., that liberty is equated with citizenship (as Cicero says at §24), continued under the Empire, but this should have been qualified, since under either Augustus or Tiberius a category of latini iuniani was created consisting of slaves who were manumitted without becoming full citizens; cf. Sherwin-White 1973, 328–34.

In this speech, as elsewhere, Cicero’s defense involves bolstering his own credibility by presenting a certain public image. When at §61 Cicero speaks of himself as princeps et auctor of measures in favor of Caesar, Helfberend claims this does not mean that Cicero made the motion in the senate (pp.214–15 and n359), but that is the historical consensus (cf., e.g., Gelzer 1969, 169) and helps explain why Cicero was so embarrassed by his volte-face.

The picture of his client, too, is carefully considered. Thus Cicero depicts Balbus’ rise to citizenship in a series of steps (gradibus: §40). Here Helfberend might have cited Cicero’s similar account of his own rise in offices (gradatim: Red. pop. 5) or Deiotarus’ rise to recognition as king (Deiot. 27).

Another ploy is to raise the stakes for a conviction. Here Cicero attempts to tie Balbus’ conviction to a (hypothetical) conviction of the dead C. Marius (§46), who also offered rewards of citizenship on the battlefield. Helfberend might have cited the similar tactic at Rab. perd. 27–30. As a further parallel to the conformatio of Marius at §47, Mil. 79 could have been cited, where Cicero plays with the idea of summoning P. Clodius from the dead.

Any commentary is necessarily a selection. Here are a few aspects that could profitably have been pursued. In the very first sentence the emphatic words auctoritates and usus might be flagged up as key to the subsequent defense, with Pompey’s possession of practical experience and authority contrasted with the prosecutor, who will be denigrated as an ignoramus (cf. Helfberend’s later observations, pp.32 and 50). Similarly, §3 on Pompey’s acquisition of knowledge adumbrates §15, as Helfberend indicates only later (p.68). Again in §1, a note is needed explaining that hunc is used to refer to the defendant (cf. TLL 6.3.2719.33-41); the failure to take this usage into account causes difficulty later when Helfberend must resort to a strained explanation of hunc in §6 (p.45). When Cicero says he is going to discuss something alio loco (still §1), the reader should be told where this is (in this case, §58). Helfberend notes (p.100) that Cicero repeats at §27 some arguments from §20; he comments on similar repetitions at §§34–35 and 51. This phenomenon is, in fact, found in a number of speeches; it is Cicero’s way of giving the impression that his material is richer than it really is; see further Classen 1985, index s.v. “Trennen zusammengehöriger Argumente”; Dyck 2013, 90–93.

The bibliography is inevitably shorter than for most other Ciceronian speeches. It does, however, highlight the overreliance on the RE and neglect of more recent reference works such as Alexander 1990 or Marinone and Malaspina 2004.

Reid 1878 is worth retaining, since, although Reid should be used with caution, he frequently offers parallels and explanations that are not found in Helfberend. But the latter presents a much fuller and more sophisticated reading that enriches our understanding of the speech in light of scholarship of the past 150 years and his own sensitivity to Cicero’s style. All in all, a promising start.



Alexander, M.C. 1990. Trials of the Late Roman Republic, 149 BC to 50 BC. Toronto.

Barber, K.A. 2004. Rhetoric in Cicero’s Pro Balbo: An Interpretation. New York-London.

Boll, T. 2019. Ciceros Rede cum senatui gratias egit. Ein Kommentar. Berlin–Boston.

Classen, C.J. 1985. Recht, Rhetorik, Politik. Untersuchungen zu Ciceros rhetorischer Strategie. Darmstadt.

Dyck, A.R. ed., comm. 2013. Cicero: Pro M. Caelio. Cambridge.

Fezzi, L. 2008. Il tribuno Clodio. Rome-Bari.

Giardina, I.C., ed. 1971. M. Tulli Ciceronis Pro L. Cornelio Balbo oratio. Milan.

Gelzer, M. 1963. Kleine Schriften. Vol. 2, ed. H. Strasburger and C. Meier. Wiesbaden.

Gelzer, M. 1969. Cicero, ein biographischer Versuch. Wiesbaden.

Kühner, R. and C. Stegmann. 1976. Ausführliche Grammatik der lateinischen Sprache: Satzlehre. 2 vols. 5th edn., ed. A. Thierfielder. Hannover.

Marinone, N. and E. Malaspina. 2004. Cronologia ciceroniana. 2nd edn. Rome–Bologna.

Maslowski, T. 1982. “Some Remarks on London, British Library, MS Harley 4927 (H).” Rheinisches Museum 125: 141-61.

Maslowski, T., ed. 2007. M. Tullius Cicero Scripta . . . Fasc. 24: Oratio De provinciis consularibus, Oratio Pro L. Cornelio Balbo. Berlin–New York.

Mommsen, T. 1887-88. Römisches Staatsrecht. 3rd edn. 3 vols. in 5. Berlin.

Reid, J.S., ed., comm. 1878. M.T. Ciceronis Pro L. Cornelio Balbo oratio ad iudices. Cambridge.

Schwameis, C., comm. 2019. Cicero: De praetura Siciliensi (Verr. 2,2). Berlin–Boston.

Sherwin-White, A.N. 1973. The Roman Citizenship. 2nd edn. Oxford.

Tatum, W.J. 1999. The Patrician Tribune P. Clodius Pulcher. Chapel Hill.