Saturday, March 9, 2013

On Five Lines of Cicero

In discharge of my pedagogical duties I've been this week teaching a selection of Cicero's Catilinarian Orations. Given our Presidential Rhetoric series, as well as recent praise of Rand Paul's filibustering and the usual boilerplate about President Obama's rhetorical prowess, it seemed prudent to share some thoughts on a choice passage of Cicero. Not that we need any pretense to talk Cicero, of course.

Without further delay, Cicero against Catiline. Fasten your seat belts.

Though we are looking only at a section of the speech, it is clearly of the deliberative type. Cicero stands before the senators to:
  1. Urge a course of action: the exile of Catiline. 
  2. Demonstrate a concern over Rome's future.
  3. Establish the expediency of punishing Catiline.
Given Catiline's crimes, though, this speech undoubtedly shares in the elements of a forensic speech with its invective and catalogues of Catiline's deeds.

Let's now look at a section, which I reproduce courtesy The Latin Library.
V. Quae cum ita sint, Catilina, perge, quo coepisti, egredere aliquando ex urbe; patent portae; proficiscere. Nimium diu te imperatorem tua illa Manliana castra desiderant. Educ tecum etiam omnes tuos, si minus, quam plurimos; purga urbem. Magno me metu liberabis, dum modo inter me atque te murus intersit. Nobiscum versari iam diutius non potes; non feram, non patiar, non sinam
The opening cum clause swiftly combines the previous thoughts and emphasizes one thing: that they happened. Cicero continues in apostrophe, addressing Catiline directly with a series of imperatives: perge, egredere, proficiscere, educ, purga. The effects are many. First, as a list, Cicero provides a catalogue of what Catiline intended to do. Second, Cicero is being ironic, suggesting that Catiline leave not to come back and challenge Rome, but as an exile. Third, the imperatives taunt Catiline, challenging him to do what he wanted to do. Fourth, Cicero mocks Catiline, emphasizing both Catiline's desire to do those things as well as his weakness and exposure. Lastly, the imperatives, as commands, emphasize Cicero's consular authority.

Note also the personification with castra desiderant: "The camp has been missing you, its general." Here Cicero at once 1) mocks Catiline, calling him "general," imperatorem, 2) reminds the audience of Catiline's martial intentions, 3) reminds the audience about the army which was at that very moment waiting to attack Rome, and 4) distances Catiline from the senators, as if Cicero said, "Go back to your camp, with your people, where you belong." This is masterful economy.

Cicero continues to taunt Catiline, telling him to leave and take his friends with him. Again, a few brilliant touches here.

First, si minus, quam plurimos, "if [you take] less than all [your allies], [take] as many as possible" suggests, correctly or not, that there are so many conspirators that Catiline might not be able to take everyone with him. Also, there is a pleasing parallelism and contrast of if less, then many. The omission of the verb, such as to lead, and the substantive tuos give this statement a curt, off-the-cuff ring, as if Cicero is so fed up he blurts out, "Go, fine if you can't take them all, but just go!" Second, purga carries the sense of empty as well as meaning of clean here, suggesting in departing Catiline will be cleansing the city, an image Cicero will pick up again later.

Cicero finishes this thought with a simple conditional, stating that if Catiline goes, he'll "free" (liberabis) Cicero from a great fear, as long as a wall, that is the wall around Rome, separates them. It's easy to overlook the effects of this simple statement.

First, Cicero is being ironic in using liberabis, as if the criminal Catiline could do anything such as free someone. Second, Cicero emphasizes his dominance by painting a scene in which Catiline has obeyed him. Third, he describes that Catiline was a danger with magno metu, but indirectly, connecting by metonymy Cicero's fear with Catiline's plans which caused the fear. Lastly, the invokation of Rome's walls reminds the audience of Rome's power and, again, the fact that Catiline belongs outside them.

Cicero concludes the section with a series of short, staccato phrases. Of devices we have alliteration and  anaphora with non, as wells as asyndeton with the final three verbs. versari, meaning to stay but also be situated among again drives home the point that Catiline does not belong. Also, the word order here and person of the verbs here are effective:

With us to stay longer you are not able; 
I will not bear it; I will not endure it; I will not allow it. 

Cicero places Catiline's inability, potes, right next to Cicero's own authority, non feram.

Too the shift from the previous imperatives, taunting Catiline, to the second person, "you will free" and "you are not able," mocking and diminish him, to Cicero's conclusions with "I, I, I" are pleasing contrast, climax, and a reminder of who is in charge.

Not bad for five sentences.

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