Scholia Reviews ns 17 (2008) 35.

Joan Booth (ed), Cicero on the Attack: Invective and Subversion in the Orations and Beyond. Swansea, The Classical Press of Wales, 2007. Pp. xiv + 216. ISBN 978-1- 905125-19-7. UK£45.00; US$69.50; €45.00.

Maridien Schneider,
Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa

This volume comprises eight essays that originated from a two-day colloquium on 'The Language of Ciceronian Invective' held at the University of Wales Swansea in May 2001. The chapters attempt not just analysis of the techniques of Cicero's verbal aggression within a political and forensic context, but also evaluation of the orator's own formal rhetorical theory and his debt to other literary genres.

In the introduction, 'Man and Matter' (pp. iv-xiv), the editor Joan Booth, makes clear that although some contributors in their approach show an inclination towards the 'New Historicism' which emphasises cultural differences over time, most of the chapters 'are more inclined to point to parallels and to draw analogies with the events, attitudes and anxieties of the modern (Western) world' (p. xii).

The first chapter 'Invective and the Orator -- Ciceronian Theory and Practice' (pp. 1-23), commences with a thorough investigation of the term 'invective'. The author, J.G.F. Powell, acknowledges the limitations of defining invective as literary 'genre'. Invective proper, in the Ciceronian corpus, must, according to Powell, include direct personal attack among its primary purposes, and could even be taken as a declaration of open enmity (p. 2). Straightforward invectives like the In Pisonem and the Second Philippic are distinguished from the speeches where Cicero's attacks are more subtle and mitigated, for instance, the Pro Murena. Powell's preliminary discussion includes consideration of 'invective' at Rome in a historical and social context; invective in ancient rhetorical theory; and invective in Roman political and forensic oratory. The main section concerns the role of invective in the Roman forensic speeches of the Ciceronian period. Powell convincingly argues that cultural and social considerations may account for Cicero's deployment of invective, and warns against the danger of taking passages from the Ciceronian corpus (cf. the discussion of Cicero's attack on Sassia in the Pro Cluentio, p. 16) as evidence for what was typical or conventional practice at the time.

In Chapter Two 'Ciceronian Invective: Themes and Variations' (pp. 25-46), Robin Seager examines Cicero's deployment of three techniques of attack. First, Seager illustrates the claim that the behaviour of the vituperand is unprecedented, as exemplified by the orator's distinction between, on the one hand, the unprecedented negative conduct of the villains Vatinius, Verres and Piso, and, on the other hand, praise for the unprecedented positive deeds of glory, for instance, of Caesar, or the achievement of Octavian, lauded in the Philippics. Second, Seager looks closely at the claim that the targeted individual's conduct reveals his unique wickedness (Vatinius; Anthony; Verres as negative instances), and third, concludes that a comparison between the target and positive foils (either a paragon of virtue, for instance, Cicero as saviour of the Republic, or less virtuous individuals like Caesar; Scipio Africanus or even Hannibal), enhances the target's iniquity. Seager ends the chapter with a brief discussion of similar venomous modes of rhetorical attack present in the formal ‘free-standing invectives’ of Claudian (p. 41), who followed in Cicero's footsteps with no less vituperation.

The study of Ciceronian invective by means of semantics and pragmatics is the focus of Chapter Three. In 'The Semantics and Pragmatics of Ciceronian Invective' (pp. 47-70) Javier Uría defines invective as 'any element of a speech act which has the aim of denigrating a named individual' (p. 48). He illustrates the benefit of a semantic and pragmatic approach by analysing a selection of Cicero's references to Sextus Cloelius, lieutenant of Publius Clodius. Uría's semantic analysis shows how Cicero uses both polysemy and phonetic innuendo to construct certain ambiguities that could implicate Cloelius with acts of sexual obscenity. Uría concludes that Cicero exploits both the devices irony and hyperbole to the effect that Ciceronian invective became not only a source of political manipulation, but also a tool of political propaganda. The ultimate aim of Cicero's invective against Sextus Cloelius was, according to Uría, a political attack on Publius Clodius.

In 'Smear and Spin: Ciceronian Tactics in De Lege Agraria II' (Chapter Four, pp. 71-103) Keith Hopwood considers Cicero's speech 'to be an extreme form of what is now called 'spin' for the purpose of persuading people to vote against their own interests' (p. 73). Hopwood offers a brief overview of the political background of 63 BC and continues with a discussion of how Cicero's rhetoric in this speech is designed not only to attack, but also to disable the land-distribution bill of Servilius Rullus. He contends that, given Cicero's self- interest; his career strategy; and his pro-Pompeian commitment at the time, the speech should be considered for its oratorical aims rather than taking for granted the political and constitutional history that have been written on the basis of the orator's presentation of this 'piece of partisan oratory' (p. 76). In this thorough re- reading of Cicero's ‘manipulated portrait of himself’ as a popularis consul (p. 81) -- his self-presentation as Pompey's agent by popular demand; the discrediting of his opponent's agents, the decemviri; his appeal to the Roman plebs; and his denunciation of the Capuan Settlement -- Hopwood comprehensively calls for a reappraisal of the De Lege Agraria II as a historical source.

The next chapter deals with Cicero’s post-reditum speeches. These received mainly negative criticism in the past.[[1]] Whereas commentators often fixated on perceptions of Cicero's so-called weaknesses and failures, Catherine Steel gives a refreshing new interpretation of the invective in these speeches. Scrutiny of the role of naming and namelessness in these invectives sheds new light on Cicero's political aims shortly after his return from exile. In Chapter Five 'Name and Shame? Invective against Clodius and Others in the Post-exile Speeches' (pp. 105-28), Steel identifies a special category within Ciceronian invective, namely for those individuals targeted by Cicero in more than one speech. Special consideration is given to Publius Clodius, who, as Cicero's arch-enemy and political foe for more than a decade, remained excruciatingly active and influential in the Roman political arena. Steel hypothesises that the post-reditum speeches are 'responses to a particular problem', namely Cicero's 'position and authority within Roman politics' (p. 106), and that these speeches are 'stages in a campaign of political rebuilding in which oratory is the main weapon' (p. 107). She argues that Cicero's decision to name or not to name Clodius, could be taken as a reflection of his perception of strengthening his own political position. This strategy then, enables him to transform from political victim to one who has regained political authority.

In Chapter Six 'Acting the Part: Techniques of the Comic Stage in Cicero's Early Speeches' (pp. 129-47), Byron Harries contends that Cicero's friendship with and company of actors (for instance Clodius Aesopus and Quintus Roscius Gallus during the eighties) and their patrons led him to adopt certain theatrical ploys in his early speeches (Pro Quinctio, Pro Roscio Amerino, Pro Roscio Comoedo) that later diminish as his aesthetic taste became more refined and more in tune with the preferences of the Roman elite during the turbulent fifties. According to Harries, this changing perspective is evident in Cicero's later treatises Orator and Brutus where reference to the treatises of Plautus, Caecilius and Roscius is judgemental and limited to anecdote and quotation.

Quotation from drama remains the topic under discussion in Chapter Seven 'Greek Auxiliaries: Tragedy and Philosophy in Ciceronian Invective' (pp. 148-82). Here Ingo Gildenhard explores to what extent some of Cicero's rhetorical assaults, in particular those that have 'philosophical underpinnings' could be interpreted as 'resourceful political commentary' (p. 149). Gildenhard explains how Cicero exploits verse quotations from New Comedy and Tragedy to relay a moral message. In the De Haruspicum Responsis, for instance, Cicero is shown to give a reinterpretation of the soothsayers' commentary by his portrayal of Clodius as a 'tragic fiend' (p. 150), a religious criminal who, despite an official acquittal in a court of law, still continues to pollute the Roman community with his relentless sacrilege against Roman state religion. Perpetrators of such heinous crime, according to Cicero, deserve divine punishment. However, Cicero is also shown to acknowledge that the very nature of Roman civic religious practice hinders direct divine intervention, and for that reason he exhorts his audience to take political action. Next, Gildenhard examines Cicero's construction of a 'philosophy of punishment' in the In Pisonem where the orator is shown to administer a 'heavy dose of Platonic wormwood with some exquisite rhetorical honey' (pp. 156-57). Discussion of De Legibus and De Officiis elaborates on themes also present in the In Pisonem (that is, the reassertion of justice in an unjust world) to illustrate conclusively how Cicero develops Greek philosophical ideas within the context of Roman political invective by citing exempla drawn from Roman history, and exploiting these with strategic anecdotes from either Greek or Roman tragedians.

In the last chapter, 'What a Funny Consul We Have! Cicero's Dealings with Cato Uticensis and Prominent Friends in Opposition' (pp. 183-205), Rogier van der Wal considers the role of ethos in Ciceronian invective, in particular Cicero's manipulation of traditional ethos when his opponents happen to be either personal friends or respected colleagues. Discussion includes the prominent personages Servius Sulpicius Rufus; Cato Uticensis (Pro Murena); the prosecutors Atratinus, Herennius Balbus and one Publius Clodius (Pro Caelio). Van der Wal examines how Cicero avoids invective in the strict sense with 'indirect and relatively polite attack on respected opponents' (p. 184). He gives particular attention to Cicero's mitigated treatment of Cato in the Pro Murena and perceives the orator's attack as 'but a mild form of criticism' (p. 193) or 'context-bound strategy' (p. 197). Cicero’s treatment of Cato, according to Van der Wal, is in contrast with the orator’s allusions to him in his philosophical works (Brutus, De Finibus) and personal correspondence.

The volume concludes with five indices: I 'The Life and Works of Cicero'; II 'Personal Names'; III 'Main Passages Discussed'; IV 'Latin and Greek Terms'; V 'Subjects'. Although individual chapters each provide a bibliography, an additional all-inclusive bibliography at the end would have been useful. Overall the individual chapters form a cohesive collection, while the number of cross-references between chapters indicates healthy interaction between the contributors. The collection in its entirety allows one to appreciate the complexity of Ciceronian invective and one has to agree with the editor, who justly emphasises the intrinsic divisive nature of invective (introduction p. vii), that 'conclusion is deliberately absent: the aim [of this collection] is opening, not closure' (p. xii). Cicero on the attack is a meaningful and welcome contribution to the field of Ciceronian studies, and as a collection it paves the way for further investigation that should provoke continuous and stimulating debate.


[[1]] Cf. D. R. Shackleton Bailey, Cicero. Back from Exile: Six Speeches upon his Return (Atlanta 1991).