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Cicero claims to represent all right-thinking citizens, the boni, associated with an ideology of traditionalism, as opposed to the populares, whom he describes as a few seditious and degenerate outliers. This reflects a partisan rhetoric associated with the so-called optimates, even though it rests on the paradoxical claim that there are not two similar parties at all. In De Domo Sua and Pro Sestio, Cicero’s partisan rhetoric construes the optimates as having a monopoly on legitimacy, particularly on the legitimate use of violence as a political tool. In a letter to his brother in 56 BCE, Cicero gives a revealing report of an episode in which Clodius and Pompey were addressing simultaneous, partisan contiones. In the Philippics Cicero reflects on the role of factions in the 50s and attempts to resurrect his polarizing rhetoric in order to brand Antony a popularis and therefore an undesirable leader.
Effusive and earnest gratitude was a trait Cicero identified as foundational in his character, particularly when playing the role of a friend. He expressed this particularly through enthusiastic and even hyperbolic praise of his friends, especially after his return from exile. When he applied this treatment to Pompey in Pro Balbo and to Caesar in De Provinciis Consularibus and Pro Marcello, the result was extravagant panegyric. He frames his praise of Pompey and Caesar as a show of gratitude in return for their support and friendship, an act of reciprocity rather than sycophancy. The persona of friend is also used to justify his surrendering of previously held positions in favor of compromise and reconciliation. He also sought to exert pressure through “friendly” advice combined with praise, to Caesar in Pro Rabirio Postumo and Pro Marcello, and to Dolabella and other young men in his letters and the First Philippic.
Cicero construed his withdrawal into exile in 58 BCE as an act of self-sacrifice for the good of his community, a political martyrdom. However, he also foregrounded the pain and misery he experienced in doing so (particularly in De Domo Sua). While his display of emotion is atypical, it was consistent with his tactics as a forensic advocate. By contrast, Cato the Younger was lionized as a political martyr even in his lifetime, but especially after his death, as illustrated in Plutarch’s biography. Cato demonstrated his moral absolutism and fortitude through filibustering and obstructionism, even at personal risk. In Pro Sestio, Cicero celebrates Cato’s noble adherence to principle and defiance of political opposition but also claims to be an exemplary political martyr himself in a more humane way. In the Philippics (especially 2, 3, 4, and 12), Cicero promises again to take great personal risk or sacrifice himself for the common good, likely influenced by Cato, but fails to win the reputation Cato achieved as a martyr.
Cicero shows deference to the senate’s will and holds up the senate’s authority as a defining characteristic of the functioning republic. The more the senate’s authority seems to erode in this period of crisis and dysfunction, the more Cicero insists on its solidarity and power. Especially in orations delivered to the senate, Cicero casts himself as a champion of the senate’s collective authority and promotes concord among its members based on a sense of shared virtue, shared values, and mutual respect. In De Haruspicum Responsis and In Pisonem, he describes his recall from exile and the restoration of his house on the Palatine as symbols of the senate’s support for him and his politics, while his opponents Piso, Gabinius, Clodius, and later Antony and Calenus (Philippics 2, 5, 7) are characterized in his orations as detested by the senate. Historically, one of the most obvious symptoms of the aspiring tyrant in Rome was contempt or abuse of the senate. He claims that Caesar shares his fidelity to the senate in De Provinciis Consularibus and Pro Marcello, and therefore is not a tyrant.
Cicero puts on an exciting show of outrage, anger, and contempt in his attacks on certain opponents, but balances attacks with statements of restraint and self-control in order to maintain his own dignity and decorum, so that he is not seen as contemptible himself. This balance can be observed in the opening sections of his speeches In Vatinium and De Haruspicum Responsis, where he particularly criticizes the failures of his targets as orators. His persona as an attacker may distract from political weakness in his speech In Pisonem. In the Second Philippic, never delivered in public, he shows less restraint. The Philippics generally show less of the balance he maintained earlier in his career, probably due to political circumstances. While this persona will be familiar to most readers of Cicero, it is a good initial example of how Cicero portrays contemporary people and events through a distorting lens. It is also a good example of how Cicero uses (or weaponizes) norms to police others, often by claiming to embody those norms himself.
Pompey and Caesar often found young, ambitious politicians, especially tribunes, looking to boost their own careers by riding a dynast’s coattails, and the dynasts themselves were happy for the legislative and rhetorical support of their juniors. Cicero tried to find a middle ground between full-throated opposition to the dynasts and a role as their spokesman, as can be seen particularly in De Domo Sua, Pro Caelio, Pro Balbo, and later in Pro Marcello. Clodius sometimes portrayed himself as a spokesman or agent for the “first triumvirate,” although he also sometimes distanced himself from them or attacked Pompey in particular, as we see in De Domo Sua and De Haruspicum Responsis. Asconius’ commentary on Pro Milone and letters from Cicero and Caelius show that Curio and Antony gained prominence as Caesar’s spokesmen in the lead-up to the civil war in 50–49 BCE.
While Cicero’s self-fashioning has been a subject of great scholarly interest already, my approach is more granular, emphasizing variability and adaptation in Cicero’s use of eight distinct personae to generate political leverage through the shaping of persuasive political narratives. The speeches from his return from exile in 57 BCE to his death in 43 have received relatively little scholarly attention (some more than others), and this book offers a comprehensive and innovative account of that part of the corpus. Cicero’s time in exile and the rise of the “first triumvirate” combined to change the political landscape, not only for Cicero but in general, creating new challenges in the rebuilding and maintenance of his influence. Each of the eight personae gives readers a framework in which to understand Cicero’s rhetorical strategies, and to see how his arguments and accounts of the world around him are shaped to address his political goals. A persona consists not only of social role and status but also of character traits, affective responses, and relationships to others.
While auctoritas may seem to be a crucial prerequisite for the Roman orator, Cicero sometimes took on a nonauthoritative persona, especially in periods of domination by Pompey and Caesar: he made a show of fear, self-effacing humor, or stubborn silence. He performs fear especially in the introductions of Pro Milone and Pro Deiotaro in order to play down his own power to threaten Pompey and Caesar, and perhaps to provoke resentment of their power to threaten him. In Pro Milone and Pro Ligario, he makes a potentially comical statement that he will shout to be heard, acting foolishly to break political tension. In his letters and in the Brutusunder Caesar’s dictatorship, he proclaims his refusal to speak in public in order to show resistance to the new regime, using silence as an act of protest. I read this as rhetoric of withdrawal or disengagement rather than a transparent reflection of reality.
Cicero claims strength in numbers and the moral high ground for his political views by citing demonstrations of his popularity. Cicero claims popular support for his actions, especially when facing “popular” or populist opponents, but is careful to explain that he is not acting with the levitas of a stereotypical demagogue or popularis in doing so. In Post Reditum ad Populum, De Domo Sua, and Pro Sestio he points to real demonstrations of mass support for his recall and political career as a source of validation. He argues that his supporters on these occasions are the “true” Roman people, as opposed to Clodius’ masses of supporters, whom he dismisses as mercenaries or slaves. He repeats this strategy in Philippics 1, 6, and 7. In Pro Plancio he speaks as the populus itself in a prosopopoeia, emphasizing the people’s power over the republic.
Cicero’s orations show versatility in adapting to new situations and contexts during the latter half of his career, particularly in his reshaping of these paradigmatic roles as a political orator. Studying these roles allows us to appreciate the complexity and flexibility of his self-fashioning over time, independently of chronological phases. He chooses his personae to suit the circumstances of each case and selects from a range of possibilities in confronting those circumstances, calculating for maximum advantage. Each persona requires balance and care to avoid extremes. Caesar, Pompey, Clodius, and Antony presented obstacles to politics as usual – or, at least, to norms for political processes as traditionally conceived – which could not be ignored, and which had to be negotiated carefully and creatively. Cicero was successful in doing so, up to a point.
Cicero's speeches provide a fascinating window into the political battles and crises of his time. In this book, Joanna Kenty examines Cicero's persuasive strategies and the subtleties of his Latin prose, and shows how he used eight political personae – the attacker, the grateful friend, the martyr, the senator, the partisan ideologue, and others – to maximize his political leverage in the latter half of his career. These personae were what made his arguments convincing, and drew audiences into Cicero's perspective. Non-specialist and expert readers alike will gain new insight into Cicero's corpus and career as a whole, as well as a better appreciation of the context, details, and nuances of individual passages.