You are here

Cicero’s Paternal Grief: Public Commemoration for a Personal Loss

Aaron Seider

In this paper, I reassess Cicero’s desire to publicly commemorate his daughter by evaluating it in the context of his other reactions to devastating loss, specifically his exile. While Cicero’s attempt to memorialize his daughter with a public shrine may be termed a “strange plan” (Shackleton Bailey in a footnote to his 1999 translation of Att. 12.18; see also Shackleton Bailey 1966, 404-13), this paper argues that such a commemoration offered Cicero a unique way to stabilize his response to this death in the face of the blistering evaluation of his mourning. Even though the Post Reditum in Senatu (57 BCE) and Cicero’s letters to Atticus about Tullia’s death (45 BCE) differ in audience and occasion, they both confront events that antiquity counted among Cicero’s “severe wounds” (magnis … uulneribus, Sen. Suas. 6.22), and this earlier speech productively informs our evaluation of Cicero’s later response to his paternal grief. In the Post Reditum Cicero characterizes his forced absence from Rome as a death that he and the city have overcome together, a model of commemoration that sets distinct limits on personal loss. In his private letters (Steel 43-7), Cicero tells Atticus how he attempts to balance his public responsibilities with his own overwhelming grief, a situation made particularly challenging in light of expectations about the proper emotional limits of male behavior (Greene; Gunderson). With his daughter’s death difficult to overcome (Treggiari 136; Baltussen 358), Cicero turns away from his concern over hiding his own passions to consider planning a highly visible and permanent memorial for his child. In doing so, he aspires to the type of commemorative strategies seen in the Post Reditum and plans to circumscribe his enduring private loss within the limits of a public and concrete memorial.

In his thanksgiving to the Senate, Cicero transforms a devastating and indeterminate event into a finite danger that he has overcome. Addressing the Senate after his return to Rome, Cicero characterizes his exile as his own death (see, e.g., 12, 16, 24, 34), a rhetorical move that makes his recall all the more impressive. Announcing that his return has given him a new “birthday” (natalem, 27), Cicero creates a break in his self-identity. By inscribing his unscathed emergence from this metaphorical death within a public narrative, Cicero forestalls any speculation about his inner turmoil and promotes a greater awareness of his own agency.

In his letters to Atticus immediately following Tullia’s death, Cicero turns to the idea of public commemoration as a way to address his private grief. These letters set the debilitating impact of Cicero’s mourning alongside his need to memorialize his daughter publicly. Just as it was incumbent on Cicero to control the interpretation of his exile (Riggsby 166), so too would he need to shape the perception of his reaction to his daughter’s death. Having retreated from Rome to his villa in Astura, he tells Atticus he is overwhelmed by weeping and desires only solitude (Att. 12.14, 15, 16, 18, 23). Concerned with his ability to hide his mourning, he wishes to avoid the Forum (Att. 12.14, 17, 20, 21, 23, 28). Yet even as Cicero shuns any appearances in this most public space, he seeks a prominent site to construct a shrine for Tullia (Att. 12.12, 18, 19, 25, 27, 29, 30, 31). If a visit to the Forum carries too great a risk of the perception of Cicero’s grief, then the idea of a static and, hence, more controllable display offers the opportunity to showcase his emotional resolution and project a performance of his grief that recognizes its own end. Even though Tullia’s death is not one from which she can return, Cicero himself must go back to the public sphere, and such a memorial would at least give the impression that he has left his grief behind.

Session/Panel Title:

Republican Literature

Session/Paper Number

2.4

Share This Page

© 2019, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy