Preferred Citation: Vasaly, Ann. Representations: Images of the World in Ciceronian Oratory. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  1993.

Chapter ThreeSigna and Signifiers: A World Created

The Rhetorical Solution

The raw material of the fourth speech of the Second Action was the extraordinarily long and potentially tedious inventory of stolen and extorted objects revealed by the witnesses and documents introduced in the First Action. For the speech to be successful Cicero had to transform this catalogue into a logically compelling and emotionally gripping narrative with both a comprehensible overall form and a cohesiveness among its parts. He accomplishes these aims in a variety of ways, one of which is to knit the work together structurally through a geographical progression, in which he surveys the crimes committed by Verres on the island in a variety of cities, beginning with Messana and culminating in an account of events in Syracuse. Further, he links the individual accounts thematically through the development of a number of repeated ideas and images—most prominently, the comparison of the tyrannical Verres with other, noble Romans who had exercised power in Sicily. In order to invest the references to each individual crime with interest for


his audience, Cicero relies on the same method as that exploited in poetic catalogues from Homer to Vergil: the expansion of factual material through incorporation of suggestive detail. In many cases this consists only of a few words or phrases concerning the object stolen or the individual or community from which it was taken; but at certain points within the list Cicero extends the account of an object or objects into a longer discussion with a beginning, middle, and end. Within these discussions, the rhetorical technique he constantly exploits is that of evidentia or vivid description, whereby what is narrated not only enters the minds of the audience but seems to be present "in the eyes and vision of all" (Div. Caec. 27: in oculis conspectuque omnium ).

In the fourth Verrine four of these extended narratives are of special interest, as they illustrate important aspects of the persuasive strategy pursued in the work as a whole. Each of these narratives focuses on a particular object or group of objects. These are the statues appropriated from Gaius Heius of Messana (II.4.3–28); the candelabrum that Verres tricked Antiochus, crown prince of Syria, into surrendering (II.4.60–71); the statue of Diana extorted from Segesta (II.4.72–83); and the statue of Ceres taken from Henna (II.4.105–15). It is the form of these episodes and the meaning assigned by Cicero to the works of art described within them that I wish to discuss.[36]

The Statues of Heius of Messana

Cicero begins this account with a sentence typical of the opening of the narrative section of a speech: "Gaius Heius is a Mamertine, and as all who have experience of Messana willingly admit, he is the most honored man in all respects in that state" (II.4.3: C. Heius est Mamertinus—omnes hoc mihi qui Messanam accesserunt facile concedunt—omnibus rebus illa in civitate ornatissimus ).[37] He then, however, shifts to an unusual tack, focusing on a description of place. He states that

[36] Fuhrmann, "Tecniche narrative," discusses these and other episodes in the Verrines, analyzing the role Cicero, as narrator, assumes. He divides the narratives analyzed into three groups: (1) those in which Verres commits an assault that meets with no resistance, (2) those in which Verres' assault is futilely resisted, and (3) those in which Verres makes an attempt but is successfully repulsed.

[37] Cf. Rosc. Am. 15: Sex. Roscius, pater huiusce, municeps Amerinus fuit, cum genere et nobilitate et pecunia non modo sui municipi verum etiam eius vicinitatis facile primus; Caecin. 10: M. Fulcinius fuit, recuperatores, e municipio Tarquiniensi; qui et domi suae cum primis honestus existimatus est et Romae argentariam non ignobilem fecit.


Heius possessed the finest and best-known house in Messana. Before Verres' advent the house had constituted one of the chief beauties of the town, but now that the house had been stripped bare, the town could take pride only in its situation, walls, and harbor. In this way the orator orients his audience to the setting of what has occurred: the town of Messana, which is the first place the traveler encounters in crossing from the Italian mainland into Sicily, will be the beginning of Cicero's verbal journey throughout the island, cataloguing the crimes committed by the defendant.

Once he has oriented his audience to the town as a whole and the importance within it of Heius and his house, he then reveals that there is a room within the house especially visited and admired, the family shrine. This shrine he describes as an "extremely ancient place" (sacrarium . . . perantiquum ), handed down from Heius's ancestors. The audience then learns the source of its renown: within the sacrarium stood four statues of exceptional beauty—a marble Cupid, an impressive bronze Hercules placed opposite the Cupid (both of which stood behind small altars), and two charming bronze statues of maidens carrying baskets on their heads. Cicero also names the sculptors of the works (albeit with a show of difficulty), giving special attention to the Cupid of Praxiteles. A similar sculpture by the same artist, he states, was the property of the town of Thespiae in Boeotia; when Mummius captured this town he took away all the "profane" statues (II.4.4: profana . . . signa ) but left the Cupid untouched because it had been consecrated. Cicero also notes approvingly that the very statue belonging to Heius had earlier been borrowed and subsequently returned by Gaius Claudius Pulcher at the time of his celebrated aedileship.

In this opening section of the account of Verres' crime (II.4.3–7), Cicero has made use of a familiar narrative technique: "There is a town and within the town is a house and within the house is a room . . ." and so on. Not only does this serve to acquaint the audience with the general setting of the events that will be described, but by suspending mention of the statues it invests them with greater mystery and importance. It should be noted as well that when Cicero does go on actually to describe the statues, he is careful to incorporate in the description both the reason for their renown among outsiders and their value to Heius. Even


idiotae —Verres' term for ordinary Romans like Cicero and his audience (II.4.4–5)—were able to take pleasure in viewing such strikingly beautiful works; for Heius, however, they were not only magnificent statues but sacred objects handed down from his ancestors and worshipped as reverently by himself and his family as the town of Thespiae worshipped the consecrated statues Mummius had piously refused to plunder.

In the second part of the narrative (II.4.8–14) Cicero goes on to confront the contention of the defense that Verres had bought rather than extorted the works from Heius. The charge is rebutted both by evidence (in which Cicero cites the law forbidding such purchases and the accounts stating that Verres had supposedly purchased the statues for an absurdly low sum) and by the argument from probability (depending on Cicero's contention that it was not credible that Heius would give up the statues at all, much less for such a price). In this section Cicero, who claims to place little value on the statues himself, impresses upon the audience both their high value on the open market and their special meaning for Heius.

In the third and longest part of the narrative (II.4.15–28) Cicero explains why the town of Messana had decreed an official eulogy of Verres and why that eulogy had been delivered at the trial by none other than Gaius Heius himself.[38] His rebuttal of the eulogy is achieved through a twofold strategy. First, he attacks the city itself. We learn that during Verres' governorship Messana had become the center of his criminal activities and had been rewarded for its assistance by exemption from the burdens it normally owed the Roman state. The official eulogy, according to Cicero, was part of a criminal quid pro quo by which Verres and the town profited while many Sicilians and the interests of the Roman state as a whole suffered. This discussion of the town also allows Cicero to remind his audience of two other grave charges expanded on in other parts of the Second Action: namely, that Verres had been derelict in the continuing war against the pirates and that he had illegally executed innocent people, including a Roman citizen who was crucified at Messana.

[38] The matter of official eulogies was clearly an important one, for Cicero confronts the issue at two critical points, the beginning and the end of the oration: he attempts at the outset (II.4.19–25) to vitiate the praise of Verres decreed by Messana, while at the end of the work he includes a lengthy explanation of the motivation and attitude of the inhabitants of Syracuse, supposedly the only other city that had voted a eulogy (II.4.137–44).


Cicero also attempts to discredit the eulogy decreed by Messana through a discussion of the circumstances under which Heius came to deliver it. In the course of this explanation he depicts Heius as a man of high character who, by delivering the eulogy, had carried out the official duties required of him as the chief citizen of Messana, but had refused to falsify the account of his personal dealings with Verres (II.4.16). Throughout, Cicero primarily uses references to Heius's feelings about the statues to reveal Heius's character to his audience. The objects taken by Verres are seen by Heius as "holy things" (II.4.17: sacra ) handed down from his forebears and as "the household gods of his ancestors" (II.4.17: deos penatis . . . patrios ). He humbly acquiesces in the loss of what are merely precious works of art, but—referring to the marble Cupid and the bronze Hercules—he demands that the "images of the gods" (II.4.18: deorum simulacra ) be returned. In this way Cicero establishes Heius's spiritual communion with the Roman senators who sat on the jury and who would have understood implicitly the familial piety that motivated Heius. The orator also draws in clear outlines the ethical opposition between Verres, a man with no shame, no sense of piety, and no fear (II.4.18: pudor/religio/metus ), who has not hesitated to rob from his host's sacrarium the images of the gods, and Heius, whose sense of religio has led him both to fulfill the odious duties required of him in praising Verres (II.4.16: de religione sua ac dignitate ) and to demand the restitution of the paternal gods he piously worships (II.4.18: quia religioni suae . . . in dis patriis repetendis . . . proximus fuit ).

In this narrative, the description of Heius's stolen statues has provided the focus for the passage as a whole. The statues—and that of Cupid in particular—constitute the visual images that will ultimately symbolize the ideas, arguments, and themes of the entire narrative. The audience is first prepared to anticipate eagerly the reference to the statues and then to visualize them through Cicero's description. They are then led by the orator to attach to that visualization a stream of ideas associated with the story of the theft of the statues—ideas concerning Verres' greed, Heius's nobility and piety, and the criminal complicity of the town of Messana.

The Candelabrum of Antiochus of Syria

In this narrative Cicero recounts how Verres tricked the prince of Syria into surrendering to him a variety of precious objects, including a mag-


nificent candelabrum that was to be dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus as soon as his Capitoline temple in Rome, burned in the fire of 83 B.C. , was completed. The story of the uneven battle of wits between the crafty Verres and the naive, if not fatuous, young prince depends for its initial effect on Cicero's statement of the singular importance of the event in the catalogue of Verres' crimes (II.4.60) and on his detailed account of the accoutrements at the dinners given by Verres for the prince and by the prince for Verres. In recounting the latter occasion the orator refers to the quantity of silver plate and the jewel-encrusted gold cups set on the table. He mentions in particular a wine ladle, sculpted out of a single huge gem, with a handle of gold (II.4.62), and he goes on to describe the reaction of Verres, who, like a greedy child, had picked up and fondled each object.

The predictable outcome of the inflaming of Verres' greed for the works is then interrupted as Cicero begins anew, introducing the following section of the narrative with the statement that the story of what then occurred was known throughout the world (II.14.64). The previous description of precious objects now appears as but a prelude to the mention of the real treasure possessed by Antiochus. This is the great lamp stand intended as a gift from the Syrian throne to the restored Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, an object "of marvelous workmanship" and "fashioned from the most precious stones" (II.4.64). Verres, having heard that Antiochus had the candelabrum in his possession, begs the prince to allow him merely to view it. As in the case of the statues of Heius, Cicero emphasizes the mystery, beauty, and importance of the object in his narrative. The lamp stand is not meant to be viewed before its dedication and is therefore sent to Verres carefully shrouded (II.4.65: involutum quam occultissime ). The scene when the object arrives is then vividly played out for the audience: the removal of the wrappings, the shout of astonished delight from Verres, the exquisite beauty and stunning size of the work. Verres, of course, will not allow the candelabrum to be returned to the prince, and the next section of the story recounts the dismay of the young man and his public proclamation of the theft. Again, as in the case of Heius, the rightful owner of the work states that the loss of other precious objects had not greatly disturbed him. His outrage stems from the theft of the candelabrum, which he considers as already consecrated to the god by intent; he then publicly declares before all those assembled in the forum that he "gave, donated, offered, and consecrated the work to Jupiter Optimus Maximus" (II.4.67).


In the concluding sections of the account (11.4.67–71) Cicero guides the response of his audience to the story he has just told. Here the orator leaves nothing to chance in the interpretation of the meaning of the candelabrum and its theft by Verres. He had introduced the narrative with the statement that this one action by Verres would not simply demonstrate his greed but would be an act in which all crimes were contained, since in it the gods were violated, the reputation and authority of the Roman people were impaired, the duties of hospitality betrayed, and friendly kings and the nations under their power alienated from Rome (II.4.60). In the narrative itself Cicero emphasizes the injustice done the young man, but the final passages expand on the harm done the interests of the Roman state by the theft. The orator argues that the crime committed against Antiochus, the representative of a rich and powerful kingdom, will be seen as an outstanding example of the pattern of abuse now typical of Roman magistrates in their treatment of subject and allied states. The incident will not only result in the besmirching of the name of the Roman people but will soon cause independent states to alter their intention of sending generous gifts to adorn the Capitolium (II.4.68). He then calls on Quintus Catulus, the restorer of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus and one of the judges at Verres' trial, to take thought for the temple that will consecrate the memory of his name forever (II.4.69–70). The final passage of the account focuses exclusively on the impiety of Verres' action. Cicero argues that in taking the candelabrum Verres has stolen not from Antiochus but from Jupiter himself. Could anything, Cicero asks, be sacred or holy to a man who would commit such a crime (II.4.71)? The orator then fits the incident into a larger pattern of sacrilege by stating that it was the gods themselves who were claiming restitution at the trial—not only Roman Jupiter, but all those other divinities of Asia and Greece whose sanctuaries Verres had plundered (II.4.71).

The rhetorical exploitation of the symbolism of the lamp stand hardly needs fuller explanation, as its meaning has been explicitly developed and stated by Cicero.[39] The theft of the object by Verres plays an important part both in In Verrem II.4 and in Cicero's overall develop-

[39] This is true in the case of many of the objects referred to in the speech (cf. II.4.93, in which the symbolic meanings attributed to a statue of Apollo are somewhat clumsily catalogued). One may compare the technique used in this early oration with the more subtle treatment of the statue of Jupiter in the third Catilinarian .


ment of the image of the defendant as a tyrant whose behavior is typical of all tyrants. Not only has Cicero used this and other narratives to illustrate that Verres possessed the stereotypical traits of the tyrant—greed, lust, cruelty, and impiety; he has also attempted in this story to suggest that Verres' career fit into a pattern typical of the tyrannical personality. In the stereotypical narrative of this kind the tyrant is a man of large capacities who becomes corrupted through the exercise of power.[40] The turning point in his career is usually an act of great criminality, after which point he is depicted as a bestial figure, hated by all and devoid of redeeming characteristics. At the end of the Antiochus narrative, which occurs in almost the exact center of the speech as a whole, Cicero states that "once [Verres] had conceived this horrible crime, thereafter he considered nothing in all of Sicily to be either holy or sacred; for three years he therefore conducted himself in that province as if he believed that he had declared war not only on men but even on the gods" (II.4.72).[41] It is at this point, then, that Cicero wished his audience to mark the degeneration of Verres into the archetypal tyrant, a man like the cruel despots who had ruled in Sicily before the Romans, a contemptor deorum hominumque .[42]

Diana of Segesta

Immediately after the statement quoted above, Cicero recounts the story of the theft of the statue of Diana from the town of Segesta (II.4.72–83). "Segesta," says Cicero, "is an extremely ancient foundation in Sicily . . . which they say was founded by Aeneas after he fled from Troy

[40] For the stereotype of the tyrant, see Dunkle, "The Rhetorical Tyrant," and "The Greek Tyrant"; and Vasaly, "Personality and Power," 215–21. Cf. Her. 2.49; Cic. Inv. 1.102. Plutarch (Sull. 30.5) questions whether the evil traits exhibited by the tyrant are a manifestation of his inborn character or whether they express a character that has been corrupted by power.

[41] Cf. Verr. II.1.6: Multa enim et in deos et in homines impie nefarieque commisit; 5.188: ceteros item deos deasque omnis . . . quorum templis et religionibus iste . . . bellum sacrilegum semper impiumque habuit indictum.

[42] The phrase is Augustan. See Livy 3.57.2; Verg. Aen. 7.648: contemptor divum (describing Mezentius). For Sicilian tyrants, see Grimal, "Cicêron et les tyrans de Sicile." For comparison of Verres with rulers such as Phalaris or Dionysius, see Verr. II.4.73, 123: taetrior hic tyrannus Syracusanis . . . quam quisquam superiorum; 5.145: Versabatur in Sicilia . . . non Dionysius ille nec Phalaris, tulit enim illa quondam insula multos et crudeles tyrannos, sed quoddam novum monstrum.


and arrived in these parts" (II.4.72). This beginning thus emphasizes the legendary connection of the town with Rome. The importance of this connection to the theft of the statue becomes clearer as the story unfolds. The orator relates how the statue had been removed from the town when it was plundered by the Carthaginians. Such was the beauty and sanctity of the work, however, that even this enemy people devoutly worshipped it (II.4.72). Many years later, when Carthage fell to Scipio Aemilianus, the great general set about returning many of the works plundered over the centuries by the Carthaginians, including the Diana of Segesta, which was then reerected with an inscription honoring Scipio. When Verres, called now by Cicero "the enemy of all that is holy and sacred" (II.4.75), sees the statue he is driven almost mad with desire to possess it. After recounting the intimidation that finally compels the Segestans to give up the statue, Cicero describes the chaotic scene of Diana's removal. The women and girls of the town rush to accompany the goddess out of their land, anointing her with unguents, covering her with flowers, and burning spices and incense throughout the journey.

In this narrative Cicero leads his audience to see the meaning of the statue not only in religious terms; it is also a monument to Scipio's victory and a symbol of Roman rule. In refusing at first to part with the statue, the Segestans appeal to its summa religio (II.4.75) and to the fact that the statue was "the property of the Roman people," since Scipio had placed it there as a "memorial of the victory of the Roman people" (II.4.75). Again, after Verres had taken the statue, Cicero claims that the anger of the Segestans was roused not only because of the sacrilege committed (II.4.78: religiones . . . violatas ) but also because Verres had destroyed "the glory of the great deeds, the memory of the bravery, and the token of the victory of Publius Africanus, the most gallant of men" (II.4.78).

What follows next is an appeal by Cicero to Publius Scipio Nasica to defend the reputation of his famous ancestor, since, as the orator remarks, "it is a custom handed down from our ancestors for each to defend the memorials of his forebears" (II.4.79). This digression, if such it can be called, is of crucial importance not only to the analysis of the meaning assigned the statue of Diana but to the understanding of Cicero's strategy in the Verrines in general. Throughout the corpus Cicero rarely depends entirely on an appeal based on abstract justice or on the audience's disinterested sympathy for the Sicilians; rather, considerations of justice are interwoven with appeals to self-interest. On many occasions he attempts to demonstrate that corrupt administration such


as that exercised by Verres was detrimental to the aims of the governing class. In the short run, it had blackened the reputation of the upper classes and had endangered the senatorial monopoly on the jury system; in the long run it could result in the loss of imperium itself.[43] Even in the case of the removal of the statue of Diana from Segesta one can see a form of the argument from self-interest, since—as has been noted—Cicero has been careful to present the statue not only as a religious object but as a symbol of Roman power and hegemony.[44]

In the address to Scipio Nasica, however, the statue comes to stand not for Roman power alone but for an ideal in the exercise of that power. Here Cicero first appeals to Nasica—a supporter of Verres—asking him who there will be to guard the "monuments and tokens of Scipio's gallantry" (II.4.80: monumenta atque indicia virtutis ) if not his descendants. The orator goes on to answer his own question, for he declares that Scipio's reputation is not truly the property of one family, or even of the Roman aristocracy, but of all Romans, and especially "new men" like himself, who were united to Scipio not by birth but by sharing with him the virtues that had made Rome great. Among these virtues Cicero mentions justice, diligence, self-control, the protection of the wretched, and the hatred of the wicked (II.4.81: aequitate, industria, temperantia, defensione miserorum, odio improborum ). This "kinship" of virtue (II.4.81: cognatio studiorum et artium ), claims Cicero, is as strong as any relationship of blood or marriage.

The Verrines thus create two opposed images of imperial government. On the one hand, Cicero gives ample evidence of the naked exploitation exemplified by Verres' public career, the ineluctable rights of the conqueror over the conquered, the power that "makes all things profane" (II.4.122), to use the orator's phrase. On the other hand, Cicero sets up an ideal no different from that which Vergil would later articulate in the sixth book of the Aeneid (851–53: tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento/ hae tibi erunt artes, pacisque imponere morem,/ parcere subjectis et debellare superbos ). Using the image—but surely not the reality—of past heroes of the Republic as exempla, Cicero points to the supposed religious scrupulosity of a Mummius, the restraint, generosity, and humanitas of a Marcellus, and the generosity

[43] See below, pp. 211–12.

[44] Thus the Roman governor could not allow the statues of Verres to be overturned, as it was an affront not simply to an individual but to Roman power (II.2.158–60).


of a Scipio Aemilianus as a justification for Roman rule.[45] Even this appeal is not purely altruistic, for just as Scipio Nasica Corculum (the great-great-grandfather of Scipio Nasica, to whom Cicero addresses this appeal) had once argued for the preservation of Carthage not out of consideration for Carthage itself but from his desire to preserve the best in the Roman character, so Cicero's argument for just treatment of the provinces and allies is, in part, an effort to halt Roman corruption for Rome's own sake.[46] Nevertheless, Cicero's vision is clearly one in which the interests of both ruler and ruled are served. The statue of Diana that Scipio had returned to Segesta becomes, in Cicero's account, a monument to this ideal of mutual advantage, in which the subject peoples are allowed to become "as prosperous and as splendid as possible" (II.4.134: ut imperio nostro quam ornatissimi florentissimique essent ).

Ceres of Henna

The fourth extended narrative in the speech (II.4.105–15) has often been the subject of stylistic analysis.[47] It is couched in terms so poetic

[45] L. Mummius: II.1.55; 3.9; 4.4; M. Marcellus: II.1.11; 2.4, 50; 4.115, 120–23, 130; 5.84; Scipio Aemilianus: II.1.11; 2.3, 86–87; 4.73, 93, 97; 5.124. Aemilianus asks the Sicilians to consider the fact that they had prospered under the mansuetudo of Roman rule, having suffered under earlier Sicilian tyrants like Phalaris (II.4.73: monumentum et domesticae crudelitatis et nostrae mansuetudinis ). If, however, Roman rulers like Verres merely recreated the cruelty of the tyrant's rule, what loyalty could be demanded from this naturally loyal people (II.5.115: illam clementiam mansuetudinemque nostri imperii in tantam crudelitatem inhumanitatemque esse conversam )?

[46] P. Cornelius Sc. Nasica Corculum (cos. 162, 155 B.C. ), opposing the blind hostility of Cato towards Carthage, ended each speech with a statement that Carthage ought to be preserved. See App. Lib. 69; Plut. Cat.Mai. 27.1–2; Scullard, Roman Politics, 242–43; RE 4[1] (1900):1497–1501 ("Cornelius" no. 353). Corculum is praised several times by Cicero (Brut. 79, 212; Tusc. 1.18). Cicero's addressee was consul in 52 B.C. See RE 3[1] (1897):1224–28 ("Caecilius" no. 99). There is perhaps some irony in Cicero's lecture to Nasica concerning the real significance of the tokens of Scipio Aemilianus. Scipio Nasica later set up statues of his famous ancestors in many places in the city, including the Capitolium. Cicero complains to Atticus (Att. 6.1.17) that the statue of Nasica's great-grandfather had the caption "censor"—an office the man never held. Further, the statue of P. Cornelius Scipio Serapio bore the features of Scipio Aemilianus, an embarrassing blunder that Cicero attributes to Nasica's shocking ignorance.

[47] Recently, see Romano, "Cicerone e il ratto di Proserpina"; Römisch, "Cicero," 43–47, and "Ovid," 173–74; Hinds, "An Allusion in the Literary Tradition." The passage is also mentioned by Seneca the Elder (Suas. 2.19) and frequently by Quintilian (4.2.19, 3.13; 9.4.127; 11.3.164).


that Cicero twice apologizes for including material of this sort. "Forgive me," he says at the outset, "if I seem to delve into and trace somewhat too deeply this account of religious significance" (II.4.105: memoriam religionis ). He begins his story not with a theft or extortion perpetrated by Verres but with the statement that the entire island of Sicily was believed to be sacred to the goddess Ceres.[48] Cicero then relates how Proserpina was thought to have been carried off from a wood near Henna by Dis, the god of the underworld, whereupon the distraught Ceres lit her torches from fiery Aetna as she set out in quest of her daughter. Topography and mythology become one in Cicero's description of Henna. The town, rising on a lofty plateau in the very center of Sicily, is believed to be the sacred birthplace and dwelling of the goddess. Like Delphi in Greece, the region is called the umbilicus of the island and is isolated from the surrounding countryside by lakes, woodlands, and precipitous cliffs. It is seen by Cicero as a kind of locus amoenus, watered by "eternal springs" and surrounded by flowers that bloom in all seasons with never-ending fecundity. Here the god of the underworld had suddenly appeared from "a bottomless cave" and had snatched the maiden Proserpina, plunging with her beneath the earth at a spot near Syracuse where a lake had subsequently appeared. The place itself, says Cicero, seemed to confirm the myths about it, as it was marked by the very signs (vestigia ) of the gods.[49] He ends this section of the narrative with several proofs of the universal reverence with which the shrine of Ceres of Henna had always been regarded, citing the fact that the Romans, when long ago instructed by the Sibylline Books to worship "the most ancient Ceres," had sent ambassadors to this place (II.4.108).

In the second part of the narrative Cicero describes how Verres had removed from her shrine at Henna the oldest and most sacred cult image of Ceres—a bronze statue of moderate size and outstanding workmanship, depicting the goddess with the torches that lit her way as she

[48] Part of Cicero's strategy consisted in undermining the connections between Verres and the powerful cult in northwestern Sicily of Venus Erycina—which Verres had apparently fostered—by emphasizing the symbolism of the cult of Ceres of Henna. On Verres' exploitation of the cult of Venus, see von Albrecht, "Cicero und die Götter Siziliens"; della Corte, "Conflitto di culti"; Martorana, "La Venus di Verre."

[49] II.4.107.


searched for her daughter (II.4.109). Unable to take away as well two very large statues of Ceres and Triptolemus that stood in front of the shrine, Verres had also carried off an extraordinarily beautiful (II.4.110: pulcherrime factum ) statue of Victory that had stood in the right hand of the goddess. Following his account of this theft, Cicero describes the reaction of the Sicilians to this shocking act. As in previous narratives, the orator denies that consideration of monetary loss was the principal complaint of those whose goods had been plundered. He claims that the Sicilians would have endured in silence all other outrages against them; the theft of the Ceres of Henna, however, was a sacrilege that could not be borne, for the city was deemed by its inhabitants to be the "shrine" of Ceres; the citizens, her priests (II.4.111). Cicero describes the terror felt by the Sicilians at the desecration of their most sacred temple and tells of the emptiness of the countryside, which had been abandoned by the farmers. The whole land, he claims, had become deserted, uncultivated, and neglected after this outrage (II.4.114).

Cicero's treatment of this narrative, as he twice confesses, has departed markedly from "the everyday way of speaking" and "the custom of the law courts" (II.4.109). Why does the orator give this story such prominence, distinguishing it both in style and in content from others? The answer to this question turns, in part, on the connection of this section of the speech with Cicero's attempt throughout the Verrines to characterize the defendant as a tyrant. The orator's manipulation of this stereotype is especially apt here, since the Sicilian tyrants were famous in antiquity for their cruelty—a fact that Cicero pointedly alludes to at the conclusion of the speech (II.5.143–45). One element of this commonplace characterization has already been noted in the story of Antiochus—that is, the notion that a turning point exists in the career of the tyrant after which his character sinks rapidly into ruin—and other elements drawn from the stereotype recur throughout Cicero's indictment of Verres: he is cruel, governed by whims rather than reason, greedy for wealth as well as for power.

There is, moreover, one aspect of the stereotype of the tyrant of ancient drama, rhetoric, and historiography that functions as a kind of emblem for the depravity of his character: his sexual libido, the objects of which are usually women and children, the most vulnerable members of society.[50] The theme of Verres' sexual depravity, therefore, is a crucial

[50] Cf. Livy's account of the rousing of the tyrannical Appius Claudius's desire for Verginia (3.44.2). For sexual libido as an analogue for the obsessive desire for power, see Vasaly, "Personality and Power," 219–20. Here the rhetorical manipulation of the stereotype of the tyrant overlaps with another commonplace evident throughout the Verrines : the "captured city" topos. Verres' progress throughout the eastern Mediterranean and Sicily has been like that of a marauding enemy. In fact, Cicero declares that Syracuse had not been dealt with as ruthlessly when it had actually fallen to Marcellus in the Second Punic War as it has been treated under Verres (II.4.115). In this topos one of the greatest fears exploited is that concerning the sexual threat posed by the enemy to women and children. Cf. above, p. 77 n. 78 ("captured city" topos) and pp. 117 nn. 40, 42, 120 n. 45 (stereotype of tyrant). Cf. Her. 2.49, in which the author states that the seventh commonplace for arousing an audience's emotions comes from showing that an act is "a horrible crime, cruel, impious, and tyrannical, such as the assaulting of women."


element in the Verrines, and a particularly memorable treatment of this theme occurs in the first part of the Second Action, where Cicero relates the story of the defendant's attempt upon a young virgin in Lampsacus (II.1.63–85). Accounts of actual outrages perpetrated against women are not prominent in the fourth part of the Second Action, however, and Cicero alludes only briefly in his litany of Verres' crimes in Syracuse to "the violation of married women" (II.4.116).

The theme is exploited in In Verrem II.4 not through reference to the actual rape of women but through reference to Verres' assaults upon the images of women and female divinities. In the narrative concerning Heius of Messana, for example, two of the four statues taken by Verres are described by Cicero as "not large but of extraordinary charm, with the appearance and clothing of virgins" (II.4.5: virginali habitu atque vestitu ). These, like the marble Cupid, will end up in "the house of a panderer and amidst the customs of a prostitute" (II.4.7). The robed statue of Diana of Segesta is said to be "quite large and tall, but nevertheless, for all its magnitude, its age and appearance were that of a virgin" (II.4.74: aetas atque habitus virginalis ), and it is noted that no Segestan, whether free or slave, was willing "to lay hands upon it" (II.4.77: attingere ), so that foreigners had to be found to take the statue from the town.[51] And in Syracuse, Verres is accused of plundering the beautiful paintings and exquisite doors from the Temple of Minerva, thereby "transferring the embellishments of the virgin Minerva to the house of a prostitute" (II.4.123: ornamenta Minervae virginis in meretriciam domum ). Cicero could hardly have illustrated and summarized this aspect of the defendant's character more memorably than by de-

[51] Cf. Ter. Hec. 135–36; Catull. 67.20: non illam vir prior attigerat.


scribing Verres' violent seizure of the image of the goddess most sacred to all Sicily—an account introduced by the story of Pluto's violent abduction of Proserpina from the very place where Verres had perpetrated his crime.

Quintilian (4.3.12–13) terms the passage in this speech dealing with the praise of Sicily and the rape of Proserpina a "digression" (egressus/ egressio ). The use of this term is surely accurate if it signifies that the passage in question does nothing to advance the logical argument of the case or to prove objective truth or falsity; it is inaccurate, however, if the term "digression" is used to imply that this passage is not crucial to the strategy of persuasion within the speech. Not only does the narrative dealing with the statue of Ceres fit into the pattern Cicero has created of Verres' assaults upon innocent young girls and women; symbolically it goes farther. In it Cicero had declared that to the Sicilians Verres had become a second Orcus (II.4.111: alter Orcus ) who had stolen away not Proserpina but Ceres herself from their midst. Just as the legend tells how the mourning of the goddess of grain for her absent daughter brought the devastation of crops, so Cicero declares that Verres' theft of the Ceres statue had resulted in general desolation and the abandonment of the rich Sicilian fields. It seems clear that in this elaborate and poetic account the orator not only intended to impress upon the minds of his audience a further instance of Verres' outrages against the innocent; at the same time—and intimately connected with the images created by the narrative—he wished them to read in the story an allegory for Verres' rape of Sicily itself.

Chapter ThreeSigna and Signifiers: A World Created

Preferred Citation: Vasaly, Ann. Representations: Images of the World in Ciceronian Oratory. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  1993.