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Foreign Voices: Caesar's Use of 'Enemy' Speech in the Helvetii Campaign

Haley Flagg

Whatever one thinks of Julius Caesar and his motives behind writing his war commentaries, he has done posterity the service of giving a voice to an otherwise mute and unknowable cultural presence of the ancient world: the peoples of Gaul. Caesar deems his ‘barbarian’ opponents worthy of a voice in his narrative, even if that voice is fabricated and only serves to justify their subjugation. In the account of the Helvetii in Book 1, Divico provides the first instance of substantial enemy speech. This paper analyzes the way in which Divico’s words set the groundwork for a strong and carefully organized justification for the Helvetii campaign.

Divico enters at a midway point in the narrative, delivers his threat to Caesar, and then departs and is not heard of again. His purpose within the account is to voice a challenge to Rome and to Caesar, to which Caesar is then able to respond. However, Divico is not restricted to providing Caesar with a platform for defending Roman frontier policy. He is an equally convenient mouthpiece for any criticisms of Caesar back in Rome, allowing Caesar to defend himself while still maintaining an atmosphere of ‘us vs. them.’

When he enters the narrative, Divico assumes the position of enemy chieftain, even though his actual role appears to be that of respected warrior and elder rather than actual authority. But his significance rests on his former implication in the defeat of Cassius’ legions fifty years before [Radin; Moscovich]. Divico heads the Helvetii parlay following the destruction of the Tigurini by Caesar’s cavalry, ostensibly to reach a peace agreement. However, Divico’s words are anything but peaceful, and he goes so far as to threaten a disaster similar to that which befell Cassius. Divico’s voice characterizes the dangerous nature of Gallic temperament, legitimizing and necessitating subsequent Roman action [Otis].

Caesar’s limited use of Divico (for the old warrior does not appear again after his speech) is consciously symbolic. Divico’s arrival carries the associations of the past Roman iniuria, which Caesar couples with the private grievancethe death of his kinsman. Divico’s arrogant words allow Caesar to demonstrate how the private and public are aligned in his motivation, which in turn legitimizes his actions in the Republic’s best interest [Martin]. The use of a ‘foreign voice’ also avoids the petty pointing of fingers, enabling Caesar to counter claims brought against him without identifying the original claimant as a Roman [Murphy]. By using Divico to necessitate a reply, Caesar maintains the focus of a foreign enemy while still effectively defending himself against his critics back in Rome.

The ‘foreign voice’ argument in this paper follows the same line of thought which Andrew Riggsby has so aptly used in his book Caesar in Gaul and Rome. Caesar “displaces the burden of argument” within the text and avoids the appearance of overt self-justification (Riggsby 214). Yet whereas Riggsby focuses on Caesar’s use of intertext to craft a subtle argument, this paper analyzes Caesar’s use of the non-Roman voice as justification for himself and for Rome’s presence in Gaul. 

Session/Panel Title

The Next Generation: Papers by Undergraduate Classics Students

Session/Paper Number

36.3

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