You are here

Arguments for Political Participation in Cicero’s pro Sestio and de Republica

David West

Scholarship on Cicero’s pro Sestio (56 B.C.) tends to treat the speech in isolation from his philosophical works of the 50s in spite of their historical proximity and some shared themes. In this paper, I will argue that, in particular, Cicero’s de Republica is connected to the pro Sestio through two basic arguments for participation in political life: (1) an anti-Epicurean argument to serve the State despite the risks which appeals to the desire for glory, in accordance with the mos maiorum and with the contemporary exemplum of Cicero himself, and (2) an additional argument which asserts that altruistic statesmen's souls are immortal and obtain eternal glory. Kaster’s (2006) commentary analyzed the speech on the persuasive-process model in the aftermath of similar studies which grouped it in a general way with the post reditum speeches (May 1988; Riggsby 1999, 2002). Scholars have also frequently directed their attention to its famous formulation of the goal of politics as cum dignitate otium (Boyancé 1970; Wirszubski 1954; Lacey 1962; Wood 1988; Lintott 2008), and more recently to Ciceronian self-fashioning in the speech, especially his attempt to rehabilitate his own auctoritas in the aftermath of his return from exile (Kurczyk 2006; van der Blom 2010; cf. Dugan 2005 and Steel 2005). Gildenhard’s (2010) innovative study goes further, recognizing Cicero’s attempt to promote original, “philosophic” ideas here and throughout his oratorical corpus, but does not draw any direct links between this speech and Cicero’s philosophic works proper. The idea of comparing a forensic speech such as the pro Sestio with philosophical dialogues which are evidently of a completely different genre becomes less strange than it initially seems once we consider that Cicero, by circulating selected speeches in writing (significantly, by no means all of them— cf. Crawford 1984), intended them to attain the status of literature, striving thereby to influence Roman culture both at the present and in the indefinite future (cf. Narducci 1997). Therefore in spite of their different genre, it should come as no surprise if Cicero's speeches at times promote the same ideas, including philosophic ideas, as his philosophic works. The idea of willingly embracing danger for the sake of the state is a constant refrain throughout Sest. (e.g. 1, 4-5, 10, 12, 15, 23, 29, etc.) which finds its counterpart in the preface to the first book of Rep., where Cicero calls attention to the exemplary political career of Cato Maior, who exposed himself to “the billows and storms” of political life (1.1). Likewise, Cicero himself is proposed as a model for imitation in this regard in both works (Sest. 49-52 and Rep. 1.7-8). Further, in both works, the ideal of courageous service of the state despite the risks is emphatically contrasted with deleterious Epicurean ideals of political detachment: Epicureans are said to view Cato as demens (Rep. 1.1), and Piso’s Epicurean teachers are said to have taught that a hominem bene sanum will not engage in public affairs (Sest. 23). To these Epicurean arguments Cicero opposes customary Roman motives for public service such as the desire for glory and the sense of duty and love for one’s country (e.g. Sest. 23, 102; Rep. 1.1 amorem ad communem salutem). Cicero also calls for generous public service by asserting in both works that the soul is selfmoved and hence immortal (Sest. 143 and Rep. 6.26-8), and that great statesmen receive eternal glory (Sest. 143 and Rep. 6.16; 29). This is evidently a more philosophic argument, and consequently is developed at much greater length in Rep. than in Sest. in the memorable myth of the Somnium Scipionis near the conclusion of the work, a sign of the limits of the oratorical genre for accommodating philosophic arguments, even in written form.

Session/Panel Title:

Cicero across Genres

Session/Paper Number


Share This Page

© 2019, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy