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Cicero’s Post-Exile Recovery of Masculinity

Melanie Racette-Campbell

Cicero’s Post-Exile Recovery of Masculinity

In a number of speeches delivered in 57 and 56 BCE (Post Reditum in Quirites, Post Reditum in Senatu, De Domo Sua, De Haruspicum Responsis, De Provinciis Consularibus , and Pro Sestio) in the aftermath of his exile of 58/57 BCE, Cicero carefully re-constructs his public persona.  Cicero’s intensive and intentional self-fashioning (Dugan 2005 and Steele 2001) and his central importance for understanding the nature of social and political relations in the late republic (Krostenko 2001 and Stroup 2010) have received thorough study in recent years, and this paper situates itself in those areas of Ciceronian scholarship.  I examine how such an important, but recently disgraced, public figure undertook to recover his position and his self-image after the exile, one of the greatest setback of his career and one from which he would never fully recover.  I argue that Cicero’s speeches from this period are aimed at reconciling his particular assets (rhetorical skill and togate service to the Republic) and deficits (cowardice and depression, according to his enemies and even some friends) with the traditional martial masculinity valued in republican Rome, with a view to justifying his actions around his exile and regaining his prominence and the respect of his peers. 

In the speeches under analysis in this paper, Cicero is at pains to present himself as a good, just, and even courageous man, yet other evidence from the same time period shows him privately admitting to fear and despair (e.g. Att. III.2, 3, 5 and 10 and Fam. XIV 1, 2, 3, and 4; cf. Hemelrijk 2004 and Gunderson 2007).  Cicero’s numerous attempts to justify, minimize, and recast his private feelings and the actions they drove him to shed light on his shame about these feelings and his fear that others knew of them.  His post-exile speeches focus on his specific virtues: his moderation; his selflessness and courage in protecting the republic from harm; his devotion to his family and friends; and his worthiness to receive beneficia from all ranks of Romans.  He uses these positive traits to construct a framework to explain his own actions before and during his exile, particularly when responding to criticism from his detractors. 

In this paper, I analyze what Cicero’s speeches suggest about the successful public performance of masculinity, how he worked to fit himself and his actions into that type of performance, and how he attempted to recast his failures of normative masculinity as successes.  Throughout his career, Cicero worked to re-locate uirtus from military/political bases to oratorical and literary ones (Dugan 2005; also McDonnell 2006 on the unusualness of a nouus homo achieving the consulship primarily on the strength of his oratorical career; cf. Gunderson 2000), but his post-exile speeches show a particular urgency in this project that reveals the fragility of this particular masculine self.  Such fragility in a man who had reached the heights of the political system further displays the tenuousness of even an exemplary Roman man’s hold on masculinity.  Cicero was not seeking to overturn or undermine the standards of the Roman elite, but an unforeseen side effect of his self-fashioning is that he inadvertently exposes the limitations and points of weakness of traditional masculinity.

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Men and War

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