Victim of the Muses: Poet as Scapegoat, Warrior and Hero in Greco-Roman and Indo-European Myth and History

  Compton, Todd M. 2006. Victim of the Muses: Poet as Scapegoat, Warrior and Hero in Greco-Roman and Indo-European Myth and History. Hellenic Studies Series 11. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Chapter 22. Cicero Maledicus, Cicero Exul

This chapter will regard Cicero as a poet in a nontechnical sense, an artist projecting the archaic categories of praise and blame in his verbal medium, oratory, and will examine how “aggressive” elements in his speeches contributed to his exiles and death.

In such an environment, where invective was so powerful, it is not surprising that actual poets, such as Naevius, and later Ovid and Juvenal, should offend political leaders and be punished by exile. In the case of Cicero, as a dominant practitioner of traditional Roman invective, we find the same mechanisms of punishment and exclusion in place. The orator gains power, to a large extent, through his ability to attack verbally, to defend his client by abusing the client’s enemy. Oratory was Cicero’s main path to political power, and invective and satirical language were central aspects of Roman oratory. As Merrill and Syme state, attacking one’s opponent was the standard method of winning a case.

But, as we have seen, the greater the power through artistic invective, the greater the danger to the practitioner, who is often exiled and executed. If Cicero fits this pattern, he is particularly valuable because his life is so well documented; here we are dealing substantially with history (which is not the case with many exiled poets). Though, of course, some legendary material might still be attracted to such a heroic figure, our extensive documentation allows us to control it more precisely.

The paradigm for Cicero as exiled poet is dependent on an understanding of the importance of Roman law pleading for political advancement: (1) Cicero, as a new man, was not from one of the prominent Roman families. He could not gain political success through his family and political connections alone. [18] (2) Cicero’s oratory was the main factor in elevating him. Aside from oratory’s value in politics generally, Cicero, as Rome’s dominant orator, gained political favors and alliances by defending his allies and attacking his allies’ enemies (that is, to defend Roscius, he had to attack Chrysogonus. Praise and blame are inextricably intertwined). (3) The nature of the Roman law courts, as described by Syme, cannot be emphasized enough. You made political progress by means of prosecuting in the courts, where battles involving private and political feuds were conducted. Personal attacks were far more effectual than appeals to evidence. Oratory as sword to wield against enemies— “personal abuse”—is here given central emphasis. Invective is a key element of oratory, since we are dealing with “prosecution,” “enmities,” and “feuds” (in Syme’s words). To repeat Merrill, “Attacking the morality and behavior of one’s opponent became the standard method of winning a case.” Christopher Craig tempers this judgment only to the extent of affirming that invective was an important tool both in the law courts and in the senate; but invective had more impact in the law courts if it was based on truth. [19]

Cicero’s invective, wielded in the law court, could destroy a powerful, if corrupt, political career, as in the case of Verres, who was forced to endure exile in Massilia after Cicero’s devastating courtroom performance against him, just as Demosthenes had forced Aeschines out of Athens through his invective.

Of course, Verres fled before Cicero had delivered all of the Verrine orations, but Cicero did prosecute for a full day, which was enough. It has been suggested that it was Cicero’s evidence, not his oratory, that made the prosecution so devastating, but that would be an oversimplification. It was the combination of “evidence,” cross-examination of witnesses, and Cicero’s powerful oratory that caused Verres to flee. As has been shown above, Roman courts were more oriented toward oratory than toward evidence in the modern sense, though evidence was a factor. D. Stockton writes of the central importance of Cicero’s oratorical skill, with its satirical bent, on that first day of trial. More than speedy legal maneuvering was necessary to win the trial: “Clarity of exposition … mastery of a … maze of detail, and all crowned by all the arts of public persuasion—cajolery, irony, sarcasm, the sly hint, the rolling thunder of justified reprobation, the neat joke … often just the sheer music of the spoken word: these too were needed, and … dazzled contemporary Rome.”

Cicero’s head and hands (because they had written the Philippics) were taken to Rome and displayed on the rostrum. Dio tells us that Antony’s wife, Fulvia, after holding the head in her lap and mocking it, stuck a pin into its tongue. Invective warfare is felt so passionately that it is carried on even after death, as the full details of the account show:

ὡς δ’ οὖν καὶ ἡ τοῦ Κικέρωνός ποτε ἐκομίσθη σφίσι (φεύγων γὰρ καὶ καταληφθεὶς ἐσφάγη), ὁ μὲν Ἀντώνιος πολλὰ αὐτῷ καὶ δυσχερῆ ἐξονειδίσας ἔπειτ’ ἐκέλευσεν αὐτὴν ἐκφανέστερον τῶν ἄλλων ἐν τῷ βήματι προτεθῆναι, ἵν’ ὅθεν κατ’ αὐτοῦ δημηγορῶν ἠκούετο, ἐνταῦθα μετὰ τῆς χειρὸς τῆς δεξιᾶς, ὥσπερ ἀπετέτμητο, ὁρῷτο· ἡ δὲ δὴ Φουλουία ἔς τε τὰς χεῖρας αὐτὴν πρὶν ἀποκομισθῆναι ἐδέξατο, καὶ ἐμπικραναμένη οἱ καὶ ἐμπτύσασα ἐπί τε τὰ γόνατα ἐπέθηκε, καὶ τὸ στόμα αὐτῆς διανοίξασα τήν τε γλῶσσαν ἐξείλκυσε καὶ ταῖς βελόναις αἷς ἐς τὴν κεφαλὴν ἐχρῆτο κατεκέντησε, πολλὰ ἅμα καὶ μιαρὰ προσεπισκώπτουσα.

When, however, the head of Cicero also was brought to them one day (he had been overtaken and slain in flight), Antony uttered many bitter reproaches, and then ordered it to be exposed on the rostra more prominently than the rest, in order that it might be seen in the very place where Cicero had so often been heard declaiming against him, together with his right hand, just as it had been cut off. And Fulvia took the head into her hands before it was removed, and after abusing it spitefully and spitting upon it, set it on her knees, opened the mouth, and pulled out the tongue, which she pierced with the pins that she used for her hair, at the same time uttering many brutal jests.


[ back ] 1. Juvenal admired Cicero’s abusive art (the second Philippic is “divine and of outstanding fame,” 10.125, conspicuae divina Philippica famae), and many of the traditional invective topoi used by Cicero are found in Juvenal e.g. luxuria: Cicero For Roscius 75 cf. Juvenal 6.292–297; drunkenness, Cicero Against Piso 22, cf. Juvenal 6.314; see Merrill 1975:2–3, 15, 121, 153, 169. Cf. Winkler (1988), who sees mockery, but admiration, in Juvenal’s treatment of the orator. The tradition extended back to a comic poet, Plautus, cf. Merrill 1975:2, 18n5; Geffcken 1973.
For praise and blame in the Greco-Roman world, see Dumézil 1943; “Census,” in Dumézil 1969:103–124; Ward 1973:130, 135; ch. 2 (Aesop).

[ back ] 2. Rhetoric 3.1, 1404a (trans. Roberts): Ἤρξαντο μὲν οὖν κινῆσαι τὸ πρῶτον, ὥσπερ πέφυκεν, οἱ ποιηταί … Ἐπεὶ δ’ οἱ ποιηταὶ, λέγοντες εὐήθη, διὰ τὴν λέξιν ἐδόκουν πορίσασθαι τήνδε τὴν δόξαν, διὰ τοῦτο ποιητικὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο λέξις …

[ back ] 3. On Oratory 1.69–70: Est enim finitimus oratori poeta, numeris astrictior paulo, verborum autem licentia liberior, multis vero ornandi generibus socius, ac paene par.

[ back ] 4. Aristotle Rhetoric 1.3.10–37 (1358b), 1.9 (1366a–1367b). See also Plato Phaedrus 267c–d; Hinks 1936; Usher 1999:62–63. After Demosthenes delivered his devastating oratorical attack on Aeschines, the latter chose to leave Athens, Plutarch Demosthenes 24.2 (857). For Demosthenes’ invective, see Rowe 1968 and 1966; Usher 1999:227–285. Demosthenes produced his masterpiece, perhaps, of invective, De Corona, only after Aeschines had attacked his reputation in the Against Ctesiphon; thus, it was viewed (by the author) as defensive satire.

[ back ] 5. See Diogenes Laertius 8.58 (DK 82 A3); Olympiodorus in Gorgias 6.17 N. (A10); Suda s.v. Gorgias (A2); cf. Isocrates Antidosis 268 (Empedocles and Parmenides are “sophists,” and Gorgias is listed with them).

[ back ] 6. Diogenes Laertius 8.58 (DK 82 A3). For Empedocles as poet, see Lucretius 1.731.

[ back ] 7. Encomium of Helen 10 (trans. Dodds 1959:8): ἡ δύναμις τῆς ἐπωιδῆς ἔθελξε καὶ ἔπεισε καὶ μετέστησεν αὐτὴν γοητείαι. See DK 82 B11; Entralgo 1970:32–107.

[ back ] 8. See above, ch. 20; For Caelius 38.

[ back ] 9. Syme 1939:149–152; also “The Uses of Invective,” in Jerome 1962; Nisbet 1961:192–197; Williams 1970:606; Fowler 1909:106–107.

[ back ] 10. Merrill 1975:30.

[ back ] 11. See Merrill 1975:39–42.

[ back ] 12. Merrill 1975:33–34; Cicero For Caelius 6.

[ back ] 13. Corbeill 1996:5. As I will argue, it is the orator’s power to “exclude” his enemy that leaves him open to the counterattack of force. Cf. Corbeill 1996:19.

[ back ] 14. Corbeill 1996:19; for the ethics of seemingly extreme satirists, see ch. 3 (Archilochus), ch. 4 (Hipponax) and app. B.

[ back ] 15. Mitchell 1991:41–42.

[ back ] 16. Cicero On Rhetorical Invention 2.177–178 (trans. Hubbell, adapted): “Praises and vituperations will be derived from the topics that are employed with respect to the attributes of persons …” (Laudes autem et vituperationes ex eis locis sumentur qui loci personis sunt attributi …); On Oratory 2.349 (trans. Sutton): “these topics of praise and blame we shall frequently have occasion to employ in every class of law-suit” (his locis et laudandi et vituperandi saepe nobis est utendum in omni genere causarum). Cicero On Oratory 2.182; “Cicero” Rhetoric To Herrenius 3.10–15; Quintilian Training in Oratory 3.4.1–10. Merrill 1975:5; Corbeill 1996:16; Craig 2004:188–190.

[ back ] 17. Mitchell 1979: 44. Cf. also Habicht 1990.

[ back ] 18. See Mitchell 1979:44.

[ back ] 19. Craig 2004, cf. Riggsby 1997:248, who argues against Syme et al. that law courts were generally oriented toward judgments based on truth. However, he writes, “In invective, truth is largely irrelevant.”

[ back ] 20. See Plutarch Cicero 2.3 (861); Townend 1965:109–134; Spaeth 1931.

[ back ] 21. For Cicero’s invective, satire, and humor, see Macrobius Saturnalia 11.3; Cicero On Oratory 1.17; 2.217–290; On Rhetorical Invention 1.16–22; 100–105; “Cicero” Rhetoric To Herrenius 2.47–49; 3.10–15; Koster 1980:134–145; also pt. 3A; Opelt 1969:40–57, in which the Cicero section is the largest section for any one author; Haury 1955, esp. 106–109; Merrill 1975, “Cicero and Early Roman Invective”—an excellent thesis, which concludes that Cicero always used traditional topoi in his invective, but used them with enormous skill; Delacy 1941. See also, Nisbet 1965, esp. 65–67; Corbeill 1996; Craig 2004; Volpe 1977:311–312; Geffcken 1973; Austin 1960; Nisbet 1961:192–195; Watson 1970 (unconvincing); Wooten 1983:73–86; Solmsen 1938:542–546; Sollmann 1960:51–53, 55–58; De SaintDenis 1958; Canter 1936; Grant 1924:131–139; Dunkle 1967; Hands 1962.

[ back ] 22. Demosthenes & Cicero Compared 1.4–5, 886 (trans. Perrin): Κικέρων δὲ πολλαχοῦ τῷ σκωπτικῷ πρὸς τὸ βωμολόχον ἐκφερόμενος, καὶ πράγματα σπουδῆς ἄξια γέλωτι καὶ παιδιᾷ κατειρωνευόμενος ἐν ταῖς δίκαις εἰς τὸ χρειῶδες, ἠφείδει τοῦ πρέποντος … “ὡς γελοῖον ὦ ἄνδρες ἔχομεν ὕπατον.” δοκεῖ δὲ καὶ γέλωτος οἰκεῖος ὁ Κικέρων γεγονέναι καὶ φιλοσκώπτης.

[ back ] 23. Brutus 312; see below.

[ back ] 24. Stockton 1971:47–48. Cf. Scullard 1959:98.

[ back ] 25. Cicero Against Catiline 2.1; Plutarch Cicero 16.3–4 (868); Scullard 1959:113.

[ back ] 26. Cicero mentions the shock that was felt by the prosecuting cousins when he actually mentioned the freedman’s name, For Roscius 60. For mockery of the real wrongdoers in the case, see Sihler 1914: 51. Cf. Elliott 1960:123, 122–129; and above, ch. 21.

[ back ] 27. Plutarch Cicero 3 (862b–c): ἀναδεξάμενος οὖν τὴν συνηγορίαν καὶ κατορθώσας ἐθαυμάσθη, δεδιὼς δὲ τὸν Σύλλαν ἀπεδήμησεν εἰς τὴν Ἑλλάδα, διασπείρας λόγον ὡς τοῦ σώματος αὐτῷ θεραπείας δεομένου.

[ back ] 28. Cicero also pleads health reasons in Brutus 313–314. Gruen 1968:149–178, cf. Mitchell 1979:93n1. Schur (1962:216) accepts Plutarch here, cf. Bucheit 1975:570.

[ back ] 29. On the Responses of the Haruspices 17; On His House 76 (in isto tuo maledicto).

[ back ] 30. See Nisbet 1961:ix–xiv; Shackleton Bailey 1965–1968 2:227–232; Herescu 1961, who contrasts Cicero’s actual exiles with a psychic exile during Caesar’s ascendancy; Seager 1965; Cremaschi 1944; Gahan 1985, esp. 145n1; Grasmück 1977, and 1978:110–126; Habicht 1990:47; Mitchell 1991:132–157; Stroh 2004, with further literature.

[ back ] 31. Letters to his Brother, Quintus 1.3.1, quamdam effigiem spirantis mortui. See also Cicero Letters to Atticus 3.7–21; Letters to his Brother, Quintus 1.4; Plutarch Cicero 32.5 (877b): “he led a disheartened and excessively mournful existence for the most part” (ἀθυμῶν καὶ περίλυπος διῆγε τὰ πολλά). Cf. Stockton 1971:190; Sihler 1914:208–209. The exile was an “intolerable wound,” Nisbet 1965:64. For Cicero’s exile as a death, see Claassen 1996:574–575, 1999:107. For exile generally as death, see Doblhofer 1987:166–178; 57; and below, ch. 23 (Ovid’s misery in exile), ch. 25 (Seneca’s exile poetry). For Cicero’s psychological state, Briot 1968.

[ back ] 32. Letters to Atticus 3.13.2, mentis errore ex dolore adfici.

[ back ] 33. Letters to His Friends 14.4.1 (trans. Williams): quod utinam minus vitae cupidi fuissemus! … si haec mala fixa sunt, ego vero te quam primum, mea vita, cupio videre et in tuo complexu emori.

[ back ] 34. Letters to His Friends 14.4.5.

[ back ] 35. Letters to his Brother, Quintus 1.3.5 (trans. Sihler): neque enim tantum virium habet ulla aut prudentia aut doctrina ut tantum dolorem possit sustinere.

[ back ] 36. Nisbet 1965:64; Nisbet discusses the important passage in For Sestius (45, cf. On his House 63–64; 98–99; Against Piso 21), in which Cicero sees himself as a passenger on a ship menaced by pirates; when the pirates demand Cicero, his friends refuse to surrender him, but Cicero is willing to give himself up for the good of his companions. This self-sacrificial motif had great mythical power, for it crops up again in Cicero’s death (see below); earlier it had defined the deaths of Aesop (see above, ch. 2; cf. G 92–100) and Socrates (see above, ch. 15). Paradoxically, even when the victim is forced into exile or execution, he departs or dies “willingly.” For the voluntary ideology in sacrifice, see Burkert 1983:4, cf. Petronius fr. 1.

[ back ] 37. For further on the experience of Cicero’s exile, see Doblhofer 1987:73–75.

[ back ] 38. See After His Return: To the Senate 10–18; this blame of his exilers is balanced by a section of praise extended to Cicero’s supporters, 18–23. Cf. Letters to Atticus 4.1.4.

[ back ] 39. Sihler 1914:216.

[ back ] 40. See Stroh 2004.

[ back ] 41. Cf. Herescu 1961:139; Sihler 1914:271.

[ back ] 42. Letters to Atticus 16.7.1–2.

[ back ] 43. Philippics 1.5–6; 2.43.

[ back ] 44. Philippics 1.5: Nimis iracunde hoc quidem et valde intemperanter.

[ back ] 45. Philippics 5.7.

[ back ] 46. Letters to His Friends 12.2.1, 12.25.4 (trans. Ker): itaque omnibus est visus, ut ad te antea scripsi, vomere suo more, non dicere … omnemque suum vinulentum furorem in me unum effunderet … quem ego ructantem et nauseantem conieci in Caesaris Octaviani plagas. Cf. Philippics 2.1 (me maledictis lacessisti); 3.33; 5.19–20: Antony “vomited a speech” against Cicero “from his most filthy mouth” (orationem ex ore impurissimo evomuit). For defensive characterization of one’s verbal attacker as expelling verbal filth, cf. Aristophanes Acharnians 377ff. For the motif of Antony actually vomiting, see Philippics 2.63, 76, 84, 104; Merrill 1975:120–121.

[ back ] 47. Letters to Atticus 16.11. See Holmes 1928:198, and Stockton 1971:298n56 for the dating of this speech’s appearance.

[ back ] 48. Cf. Wooten 1983:53–54; Sussman 1994.

[ back ] 49. Cicero 45.3 (884) (trans. Perrin): τὸν μὲν Ἀντώνιον ἐξέκρουσε καὶ κατεστασίασε, καὶ πολεμήσοντας αὐτῷ τοὺς δύο ὑπάτους, Ἵρτιον καὶ Πάνσαν, ἐξέπεμψε …

[ back ] 50. For a sympathetic political analysis of Cicero’s position at this time, see Mitchell 1991:300–311.

[ back ] 51. Third Philippic 24; 11; 27; Letters to His Friends 10.28.1. On the occasion of the third and fourth Philippics, see Letters to His Friends 10.28.2.

[ back ] 52. Plutarch Cicero 46.2–3 (884); Mitchell 1991:319–323.

[ back ] 53. Homeyer 1977. The ancient sources can be found on p. 56n1; see especially Plutarch Cicero 46–49 (884–886); Brutus 27.6; Antony 20; Appian Civil Wars 4.19.73; 4.20.81; Dio Cassius 47.8.3; Livy ap. Seneca Rhetor Persuasive Discourses 6.17. Homeyer shows that, as might be expected, the sources are contradictory and embellished by folkloric details. See also Homeyer 1971; Buechner 1958; Egger 1958; and treatments in such standard works as Syme 1939:192; Gelzer 1939, esp. 1087–1088; Stockton 1971:332; Sihler 1914:462.

[ back ] 54. See Homeyer 1977: 57–68.

[ back ] 55. Livy ap. Seneca Rhetor Persuasive Discourses 6.17: “moriar” inquit “in patria saepe servata.” This is probably unhistorical. Buechner (1958) argues unconvincingly that Cicero decided to die so that his influence would continue on, even if the Republic had died. Cf. following note.

[ back ] 56. Plutarch Cicero 48.4–5 (885): ἐσφάγη δὲ τὸν τράχηλον ἐκ τοῦ φορείου προτείνας.

[ back ] 57. Thus Seneca Rhetor Persuasive Discourses 6.20; Appian Civil Wars 4.20.77; Dio Cassius 47.11.12 (who, with Plutarch among others, mentions that Cicero had defended him against a charge of patricide—perhaps an ironic ornamentation, for the pater patriae to be killed by a patricide, see Homeyer 1977:66). Plutarch, however, has Herennius kill the orator, cf. Homeyer 1977:65–66.

[ back ] 58. See Homeyer 1977:68–80, esp. 70n33.

[ back ] 59. Trans. Cary. This story is probably another fictional detail emphasizing further the monstrousness of Cicero’s persecutors, cf. Gelzer 1939:1088; Homeyer 1977:82n64. For the theme of the mutilation of the poet’s tongue, cf. Plutarch On Exile 16 (606B); Seneca On Anger 3.17, where Lysimachus removes a man’s tongue, eyes, ears, and nose to punish a chance bit of verbal mockery; ch. 17 (poet Teig Dall O’Higgin’s tongue cut out); epilogue. For Fulvia, cf. Plutarch Antony 10.5 (920c–d); Babcock 1965.

[ back ] 60. Plutarch Cicero 49.1 (885): οὐ τὸ Κικέρωνος ὁρᾶν πρόσωπον οἰομένοις, ἀλλὰ τῆς Ἀντωνίου ψυχῆς εἰκόνα.

[ back ] 61. According to Plutarch, see above. At the very least, Cicero’s oratory was a central force in turning the senate against Antony and making him a hostis, an ‘enemy, outlaw’ of Rome.