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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: May 2011

3 - Channeling Conflict through Antagonistic Rhetoric in the War with Catiline



In the prior chapter, we encountered Sallust's depiction of Rome's corruption – its transformation from the best of states to the worst of states, from seeming moral certainty to moral confusion. This corruption, we saw, was linked to the removal of the fear of enemies. Collective fear in general served as a buttress to social cohesion and public-spiritedness, given that beneath the surface of Roman society lay antagonism, evident in individual Romans' pursuit of advance – the struggle in virtue – and the struggle between classes, latent until the fall of Carthage in the War with Catiline and the War with Jugurtha, but dating to the early history of Rome in the Histories.

With the decline of collective fear came a transformation in Roman values; struggles which had been innocuous and externally directed turned inward and wrought havoc on the body politic. This, in turn, posed a threat to a politics of virtue centered on particular attachments to the political community, given that the loss of fear weakened the sense of particular attachment, contributing to corruption. Such a process seems to make Rome's decline not only irreversible, but also inevitable, if it depended on fear. This, combined with Sallust's apparent similarity to Hobbes in his view of rhetoric, made him seem at best an ambiguous republican, and certainly anti-Ciceronian. Yet we encountered evidence that matters are more complicated for Sallust, given the healthful role of antagonism in his writings.

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Winterbottom, M., “Quintilian and the Vir Bonus,” The Journal of Roman Studies 54 (1964): 90–7
Leeman, Anton D., Pinkster, Harm, and Wisse, Jakob, M. Tullius Cicero, De Oratore Libri III: Kommentar, vol. 4 (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1981), 200–1