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Rerum memoria propria est oratoris; eam singulis personis bene positis notare possumus, ut sententias imaginibus, ordinem locis comprehendamus.

A memory for the concrete is the unique possession of the orator; we are able to imprint this memory on our minds when the individual "masks" have been well ordered, so that we assimilate ideas by means of images and their sequence by means of places.
Cicero, De oratore 2.359

The Character of the Orator

As early as the third century B.C. Roman historians had begun to employ the techniques of fiction to create compelling tales out of the unadorned scraps of information handed down to them from earlier generations. Drawing on recognizable personae and familiar narrative patterns, they transformed the bare names and scanty records associated with the earliest days of the city into a rich historical tapestry, illustrating the triumph of Roman virtue over the challenges that were faced from within and without. This study has shown the degree to which Cicero engaged in a similar, although not identical, kind of embellishment. By fitting to the features of various individuals treated in his speeches the masks of stereotypical characters, by narrating events in such a way as to reinforce these stereotypes, Cicero created in his oratory a reflection of the world that was both familiar and credible to his audience. As we have seen, when assigning these ethical masks to various individuals, Cicero frequently had recourse to stereotypes dependent upon place. And, in spite of the presence of passages purporting to explain why the Capuan was arrogant, the Greek deceptive, or the farmer honest, this appeal was ultimately directed to the emotions, not to reason. By locating the specific issues of an argument within the larger universe of Roman assumptions about how ethos and locus were


connected, the orator hoped to draw on his audience's unexamined but deeply rooted prejudices, both negative and positive.

Modern historians have often found fault with their Roman counterparts for their exploitation of the techniques of fiction.[1] If something of the same sort went on in Cicero's speeches, that is, if Ciceronian rhetoric frequently involved a fictionalization of the real world and the people in it, are we not entitled to condemn the orator at least as strongly as we do the historian? After all, it was not the long-dead figures of the antique past whose reputations and fortunes were affected by Cicero's speeches but living men and women—citizens of a nation that, for most of Cicero's oratorical career, tottered on the edge of moral and political collapse. Was it not ethically irresponsible of Cicero to practice a rhetoric that depended upon appearances rather than reality, upon popular prejudices rather than unpopular truths, upon the emotionally potent rather than the logically persuasive? In 155 B.C. , the Academic philosopher Carneades scandalized some and delighted many when on an embassy to Rome he delivered lectures on successive days demonstrating first the justice and then the injustice of Rome's empire. Cato the Elder, we are told, realizing the potential danger to the state of such a performance, attempted to hurry the Greek philosopher out of town.[2] Is Cicero not to be considered an equally dangerous character?

There is no doubt that at various points in his oratorical career Cicero lied, successfully defended those guilty of the crimes with which they were charged, exploited his audience's ethnic and gender prejudices, and constantly attempted to control his audience's perceptions of reality through emotional appeals. But as the case against Cicero on all of these charges has been forcefully articulated and extremely influential, especially among modern scholars, let me attempt to argue briefly the case for the defense. It is recorded that, in the fifth century B.C. , when the Sicilians Corax and Tisias attempted to systematize various aspects of the rhetorical art, they had stressed the primary importance of the argument from probability. Plato later depicted Socrates as demonstrating the immorality of one of Tisias's better-known illustrations


of the need to argue the probable rather than the true. In the Phaedrus (273b), Socrates states that if a strong but cowardly man was assaulted and robbed by a weak one and thereafter sought remedy through a lawsuit, according to Tisias the strong man should not tell the truth, since no one would believe him. Instead he should claim that the small man had not been alone when he had assaulted him. Although Socrates emphatically rejects this kind of argument, nevertheless the case is a good illustration of the fact that the truth, simply by being true, is not necessarily persuasive to a popular jury. A case cited by Cicero himself adds another dimension to the question of whether or not it is ethical to make use of certain kinds of arguments. In the De oratore Antonius states that Publius Rutilius Rufus had roundly condemned an orator who prostrated himself before his judges and used emotional pleas to secure an acquittal. Rutilius, says Antonius, though completely innocent, rejected any such appeal when he himself was arraigned. He "not only refused to supplicate his judges but did not wish that his case should make use of any rhetorical embellishment more than the simple truth of the matter required" (De or. 1. 229). The outcome, Antonius goes on, was the same as in the case of Socrates—a wise and blameless man was condemned.

Cicero's point in alluding to the condemnations of Socrates and Rutilius Rufus involved the question of means and ends. Should not an innocent individual when defending himself or herself against a false accusation make use of whatever legal means exist to win the case? While Socrates and Rutilius Rufus would have said no, Cicero argued in the De oratore that an orator, because he had to practice in the real world and not in the ideal republic of Plato, ought to base his rhetorical strategy upon "what his fellow citizens . . . think, feel, believe, and hope for" (De or. 1.223) rather than upon the tenets of philosophy. And once we grant that the kind of rhetoric that both bends the truth and clouds the judgment of its audience is morally justified in the case of the defense of an innocent person, may we not grant as well that the same techniques may be used "to bring help to the suppliant, to succor the afflicted, to grant men their safety, to free them from danger, to retain them as citizens, . . . to attack the wicked, and to take vengeance on those who have harmed us" (De or. 1.32)? In practice, once we have deemed permissible the use of these techniques in some cases, we deem them permissible in many others.

It should be kept in mind that Cicero himself operated under several self-imposed restraints in using the rhetorical weapons at his command.


When the orator was constrained to speak against his own friends and political allies, as in his defense of Lucius Licinius Murena when prosecuted by Servius Sulpicius Rufus and Marcus Porcius Cato, he chose with great care the sort of criticisms he thought might be safely leveled at his two antagonists, conscious of the subtle rules that dictated what a Roman orator could say in support of his client without meriting the lasting enmity of the opposition. Cicero acknowledged as well that he was more comfortable exercising his oratorical prowess in defense of those accused than in the prosecution of his enemies, since a successful lawyer for the defense might be guilty of freeing a wrongdoer but could not be charged with destroying an innocent man.[3] The greatest restraint on Cicero's handling of any rhetorical situation, however, was his desire to say or do nothing that, in his opinion, might ultimately injure the Republic. For Cicero and for every other orator of importance in ancient Rome, public speaking was not a profession in itself; rather, it represented one aspect of their activities as magistrates, leaders, and politicians. The cases a man chose to prosecute or defend, the speeches he made for or against various bills or senatorial motions, even the funeral orations he pronounced, were part of an attempt to further his political goals. Cicero, unlike certain of his contemporaries, was no demagogue. His ultimate goal was not self-promotion but rather the preservation of a system of government he considered superior to all alternatives. It is my opinion that, with the possible exception of a period in the middle fifties following his return from exile, Cicero never intentionally allowed his rhetorical handling of the arguments he made in any speech to contradict this goal.[4] Thus, while we find him arguing in utramque partem on a variety of issues, we never find him arguing in


such a way as to suggest that autocracy was to be preferred even to the fatally compromised Republic of his day.[5]

It is possible to mount a defense of Ciceronian rhetoric on grounds other than simply the fact that, in many cases, laudable ends could justify less than admirable means. The very nature of what can be considered truth in oratory provides another basis for defending Cicero's persuasive strategies. In the Gorgias Socrates had argued that all of the speakers of his own and earlier times could be likened to cooks—that is, they were men who earned their living by flattering other men's tastes rather than by attempting to further their true health and well-being. Socrates had compared the true orator (whose like had never yet been seen in Athens) to a physician, for he was one who gave his fellow citizens what was good for them rather than what they merely wished for. And as the physician was able to do this because of his knowledge of the basic causes of health and sickness, so the true orator was able to serve his fellow citizens because he based his oratory on knowledge of what was, in a Platonic sense, true and false. For the Socrates of the Gorgias, then, the only true orator was the philosopher, as only he could persuade through knowledge (episteme ) rather than opinion (doxa ); and the orator who was, in reality, a philosopher would make his audience better by the practice of his craft, since it would, of necessity, aim at leading them to knowledge and virtue.

If the notion of truth found in the Gorgias is a realistic standard for the orator, then Cicero was surely to be condemned for failing to meet that standard. But even Aristotle, who had in his Rhetoric fulfilled many of the requisites Plato lists in the Phaedrus for the creation of a true "art" (techne of persuasion, denied that it was possible for popular oratory to deal in absolute truths. He argued that since rhetoric deals with human actions, which are governed by no systematic rules, and since it takes place before an audience that may be assumed to be incapable of following a complex chain of logical argumentation, it follows that the orator deals for the most part only with what appears to be probably and generally true, not with what is of necessity true.[6] The point was echoed by Cicero himself in the De oratore . In reproducing the arguments of Charmadas, Antonius states that no systematic art of rhetoric exists, since what deserves to be termed an "art" deals with


incontrovertible facts, while all those matters treated by oratory "are doubtful and uncertain" due to the fact that orators themselves do not grasp these matters clearly (1.92). Cicero went even farther in denying the applicability of the absolute truths of the philosophers to persuasion. While philosophy might supply the orator with commonplaces concerning friendship, justice, moderation, and the like, what use is it, he asked, for the orator to know "whether the summum bonum resides in the mind or in the body, whether it is to be defined as virtue or pleasure," or whether, in fact, anything at all can be known for certain?[7] "The greatest fault in oratory," he declared in one of the opening passages of the De oratore (1.12) "is to depart from the ordinary way of speaking and to shrink from the habits of common sense." And in book 2 (223–24) he continues: "[The orator] must feel the pulse of each class, each age group, each rank; he should taste the thoughts and sensibilities of those before whom he is pleading or intending to plead. But he should keep his philosophy books for the rest and relaxation of places such as this Tusculan estate."

It has been noted that Cicero, as a Skeptic, was not inclined to believe that human beings were able to achieve absolute certainty about the facts of experience. He was a man whose most ingrained habit was to question, to weigh each side of a proposition, to search not for the unquestionably true but for the more convincing, the more probable, of various alternatives. In March of 49 B.C. , shortly after Caesar had crossed the Rubicon and the civil war had been set in motion, we find him debating, Hamlet-like, in utramque partem the question of whether or not one ought to remain in one's country when it is ruled by a tyrant and whether or not it is required of the citizen to risk every danger for the sake of freedom.[8] This tendency to see the world not as black and white but in shades of gray continued to the very last, for his inability in 43 B.C. to decide whether it was better to flee Italy or to remain allowed the agents of the triumvirs to part him from his head and hands. If we see the reality that lay behind Cicero's speeches as unequivocal, then Cicero's constant manipulation of that reality looks like an effort to undermine the truth. But, as Renato Barilli has written,

Matters appear quite different if we proceed from the supposition that, at least in the realm of human actions, no secure and unequivocal "truth" can triumph; there exist only more or less probable arguments; it is therefore


both the right and the duty of one who is convinced of the goodness (bontà ) of his or her own arguments to make them "better," more competitive, to make them acceptable to others.[9]

Even if we are willing to grant that there is such a thing as an unequivocal truth about a person, an event, or a situation, what is the clearest way this truth can be expressed? Are there not certain kinds of truths which are more readily understood through fiction than through the recital of facts? In his brilliant account of the literary history of the First World War, Paul Fussell writes of the difficulty veterans encountered in attempting to reproduce the "truth" of their experiences. He quotes a young airman in the Second World War who had hoped that in his daily diaries he might retain an accurate account of what had happened to him. The flyer had written:

From all the quite detailed evidence of these diary entries I can't add up a very coherent picture of how it really was to be on a bomber squadron in those days. There's nothing you could really get hold of if you were trying to write a proper historical account of it all. . . . No wonder [historians] have to erect rather artificial structures of one sort or another in its place. No wonder it is those artists who re-create life rather than try to recapture it who, in one way, prove the good historians in the end.[10]

In referring to this quote I am not attempting to excuse Cicero for those times when he simply misrepresented facts; rather I am contending that in some instances a fiction that appeals to the emotions and imagination may represent reality more accurately than an objective account. No better illustration of this can be found in Ciceronian rhetoric than the account of the theft by Gaius Verres of the statue of Ceres from Henna. Cicero's digressive narrative of the crime would surely not be allowed if the case were to be tried in a modern courtroom. Yet if one assumes, as do most historians, that Verres was guilty of the gross offenses with which he was charged, then the narrative is a striking example of the


kind of quasi-fictional treatment by which, in the end, Cicero was able to "re-create" reality rather than "recapture" it.

The Character of Ciceronian Oratory

Oratory in ancient times was an oral art, in which a speaker could depend only to a limited degree on written reminders. Even an orator with as prodigious a memory as Cicero, therefore, had constant recourse to a "formulaic language" of rhetoric—taught both by schooling and experience—and consisting of familiar diction, oft-repeated phrases, more or less set passages, and commonplace arguments (topoi), all ordered within a more or less predictable structure. The survey of speeches in this book has shown the degree to which the ability to exploit and adapt various kinds of commonplaces figured in Cicero's representation of external reality.

The commonplaces of ancient rhetoric were of two kinds: those that applied to general sources of argument, such as "the less and the more" (seen in Cicero's comparison of the political institutions of the Athenians and those of the Asian Greeks in the Pro Flacco ), and those that dealt with more specific topics (for instance, "the value of the military leader to the state"; "the perfidy of the Gauls"; "the simple virtue of rustic life"; or "the superiority of proof through witnesses to proof through argument").[11] Cicero himself compares the general commonplaces to the letters of the alphabet:

For whenever we must write some word, we do not need to search strenuously in our thoughts for the letters of this word; similarly, whenever we must plead a case, we ought not to turn to a set of arguments stored up for this case, but rather to have certain [general] commonplaces, which, just like the letters for writing a word, immediately come to mind for setting out the case.

(De or. 2.130)

Familiarity with the topoi was only a beginning, then, for if it is true that they constituted a key part of the formulaic language of rhetoric, it is also true that their effectiveness turned on how this language was used. Simply memorizing a series of topoi did not, in itself, give an orator the ability to persuade; specific arguments had to be created from the general topics and the specific arguments themselves had to be adapted to a particular rhetorical occasion. As Cicero writes:


For you may bring me a man as educated, incisive, intelligent, and articulate as you wish, and if the same man is a stranger to the traditions, precedents, and customs of the state, and to the mores and character of its citizens, then the commonplaces from which proofs are derived will be of little use to him.[12]

(De or. 2.131)

Clearly, the creation of persuasive oratory through the use of general and specific topoi required subtlety of invention, stylistic judgment, and, ultimately, the ability to gauge the effect of a particular strategy upon a particular audience.[13] Furthermore, it should also be clear that simply recognizing that an orator has made use of a topos (or even a stereotype) in a speech does not constitute proof of either its truth or its falsity in a particular instance; nor does it say anything about whether this strategy was employed effectively or not.

Another observation concerning commonplaces that has emerged, especially from the second part of this work, is that justifications of topoi connecting place and character had, by Cicero's day, become part and parcel of the topoi themselves. Like his contemporaries whose writing touched on ethnography, Cicero appended to his descriptions of the world a variety of explanations for the characteristics imputed to the people in it: racial mixing and degeneration explain the character of the Sardinians in the Pro Scauro; in the Pro Flacco Cicero implies that exposure to the decadent and slavish cultures of the East is the reason for the cultural and moral debasement of the Asian Greeks as compared with the European Greeks; and the effect of geography and resources on ways of life and, ultimately, on human temperament is alluded to in a number of speeches to explain the admirable character of country folk, as well as the negative traits of the proud and treacherous Campanians of the De lege agraria 2. Only in the Pro Fonteio does the orator rely on


an appeal to negative prejudice unsupported by any arguments as to the grounds for that prejudice.

Comparison of the Pro Roscio Amerino with the Pro Caelio and of the Pro Flacco with the Verrines has also shown the degree to which Cicero exploited commonplaces on both sides of an issue (in utramque partem ) in his representations of the world. We have seen that appeals to one set of images of places and the people who inhabit them are made in one speech, only to be abandoned or even reversed in another. As I have argued in the introduction to this work, awareness of these contradictions is crucial to understanding the spectrum of viewpoints to be found among Cicero's listeners. But even within the shifting topoi studied in this work a certain consistency can be observed in Cicero's frequent exploitation of the commonplace of the rusticus bonus . Arguments concerning the value of rural life and the virtues of rustic landowners appear in the Pro Flacco , the Verrine orations, and the De lege agraria 2; in the Pro Quinctio and the Pro Roscio Amerino such arguments are central to Cicero's rhetorical strategy. Time and again when the orator wished to characterize a client, supporter, or friendly witness in positive terms he turned to this tactic. While this would clearly have been a futile strategy when he was faced with the necessity of creating a credible and attractive persona for an individual of recognized power and influence, when it came to portraying the outsider—the stranger who lived in a small Italian municipality or the unknown witness or litigant who came from a Roman province—the most effective positive stereotype Cicero could draw on was evidently that of the humble, honest farmer.

This book has fallen into two parts: the first dealing with specific places and monuments, both seen and unseen, and the symbolic roles assigned to them in various speeches; the second focusing for the most part on more general representations of place and the link forged in Cicero's speeches between place and character. One might well ask at this point what one has to do with the other and, further, whether Cicero's frequent recourse to both strategies reveals something important about the character of his oratory. I shall use the closing pages of this work to suggest an answer to such questions.

I believe that both of these strategies of persuasion were part of Cicero's effort to create within his oratory an impression of objectivity. Allusions to the visual ambiance, descriptions of places and things not seen by the audience, creation of believable settings for characters and the actions they perform, invest what are actually subjective arguments


with some of the same credibility as that derived from the presentation of documents, exhibits, and witnesses. It seems probable that the combined effect of Aristotle's cursory treatment of inartificial proof and the existence of commonplaces elevating arguments from probabilities above this sort of proof has led us to underestimate its importance in Latin oratory. Cicero's remark in the Verrines that when something had been stolen or appropriated the whole focus of the trial was on documents and witnesses (II.1.27) and Quintilian's observation that most forensic arguments dealt with inartificial proofs (5.1.2) might be more accurate reflections of the actual role played by evidentiary proof in Roman courts. As already noted (above, p. 25), the places, monuments, and topography referred to in Cicero's speeches did not actually constitute inartificial proofs, but such references must have produced an effect on an audience similar to that produced by the use of inartificial proofs.[14] Both general references to places as an explanation of character and allusions to and descriptions of specific places and things were a vital part of the orator's attempt to convince his audience that all of his arguments and appeals were ultimately grounded in a potentially discernable and verifiable reality.

Another connection between the various kinds of representation analyzed in this work appears when we consider these strategies in light of the theatrical nature of Ciceronian oratory. In the speeches Cicero creates a number of figures who play their roles against a variety of backgrounds. Both the stereotypical masks assigned to the characters and the milieux in which they perform function on a superficial level as locations of meaning: that is, the success of the dramas created by the speeches depended in large part on the orator's choice of characters, "props," and settings and on the power and persuasiveness of the symbolic values he assigned to these signifiers.

The passage from De oratore quoted at the beginning of this chapter makes us wonder whether Cicero himself might not have understood some of the strategies he employed in just this way. Here he states that through the use of the mnemonic art it is possible to "imprint" (notare ) the mind. The verb used, notare, carries the sense of something impressed, as, for instance, marks on a writing table. It may also refer to the creation of an emblem or symbol, since notatio can designate a kind of shorthand in which letters stand for complete words. In the passage,


the final clause defines both what is imprinted and what the imprints stand for: through images the mind apprehends ideas, and through the memory loci it takes in the sequence of these ideas. It is, however, the phrase that precedes this which is most interesting and most relevant to our effort to connect the two halves of this study. In it Cicero refers to the orator's need to create a clear sequence of loci, observing that the images must be "well placed" (bene positis ). In alluding to the imagines themselves Cicero employs an unusual term: personae, or "masks." A. S. Wilkins explains: "The mnemonic images are compared to the masks in a theatre, behind which were the facts or thoughts which they represented."[15] Cicero's use of the term personae in this context reminds us that images of persons as well as of things served as memory stimuli for the orator. It suggests as well that Cicero's connection of ideas with specific places and objects, as well as his manipulation of ethical stereotypes, might both have figured in his application (whether conscious or unconscious) of the principles of the ars memoriae to the task of manipulating the thoughts and feelings of an audience.

It has long been a truism among scholars of the ancient world that the Greeks were gifted abstract thinkers and the Romans a plodding folk, extraordinarily tied to the world of things rather than of ideas.[16] This study of Cicero's speeches has, to a great extent, confirmed the accuracy of the second half of this judgment, although I see no reason to couch the observation in the pejorative terms frequently used. Ciceronian oratory was indeed characterized by its constant allusions to "things." Whether Cicero at any given point in a speech was relying chiefly on an appeal to logos, ethos, or pathos, he consistently grounded these appeals in concrete reality: logical proofs demonstrating guilt or innocence included frequent recourse to probabile ex vita arguments in which the character of various places provided a setting and an expla-


nation for the character of individuals; the ethical traits of friends and enemies were illustrated through dramatic narrations of events in which the setting of a scene often played a crucial role in the actions described and in the interpretation of them; and in his most memorable attempts to engage the emotions of his audience Cicero consistently linked appeals to his audience's patriotism and piety to specific places and objects. But while this study has thus reinforced the stereotype of the orator and his audience as closely wedded to the real world, it has also shown that this constant reliance on the visual and the concrete was but the Roman gateway to the world of ideas.


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