Cicero’s penchant for self-praise has been a source of amazement (and sometimes scorn) since antiquity. As is well known, he rarely fails to insert a reference to his consulship into a dialogue, legal case, or political speech (e.g., Kurczyk 2006). In this paper, I analyze a more surprising instance of Cicero’s aggrandizement: calling himself a god. This accusation, and Cicero’s defense against it in De Domo Sua 92 is an opportunity to explore Roman, and especially the political elite’s, thoughts on the gray area between great human achievements and divine providence.
Rome’s problematic relationship with human divinity is well-known, but more typically analyzed in respect to Caesar (e.g., Alfoldi 1971; Weinstock 1971) or the emperors (e.g., Koortbojian 2013; Fishwick 1987). Yet recent scholarship has suggested that this trend had earlier and non-Julian roots. In particular, both Cole (2013) and Gildenhard (2010) have suggested that Cicero himself (perhaps with the influence of Greek philosophy) promoted deification as a reward for civic service, even from a very early stage of his career. Although most attention has focused on Cicero’s philosophical dialogues (in particular, De Re Publica), similar preoccupations can be seen at other stages in Cicero’s career. For this paper, I argue that Cicero’s interest in divine honors could be subverted in order to portray Cicero as an irreligious tyrant.
In De Domo Sua 92, Cicero responds to Clodius’ claim that he has called himself Jupiter. General opinion has seen here a reference to Cicero’s lost De Consulatu Suo (see Petzold 1911, followed by Nisbet 1939; contra, Jordan 1876); I argue that Clodius’ accusation finds equal support in the surviving prose works, such as In Catilinam 3. Cicero blurs the boundary between himself and Jupiter consistently in this speech, and this obfuscation matches Clodius’ accusation (as reported by Cicero). This published consular speech offered Clodius better ammunition for his invective, and Cicero’s defense skirted the question of whether he had actually suggested that he was the equivalent of a god. The words Cicero uses (me dicere solere esse me Iovem, Dom. 92), while not necessarily Clodius’ own, suggest that he was walking a fine line: the distinction between calling oneself Jupiter and hinting at one’s own divinity offered evidence of the Ciceronian arrogance that fueled Clodius’ abuse.
Because the matter of Cicero’s house was a question of religio, public displays of piety could potentially function as legal proofs. Cicero certainly thought so (see Dom. 104-105; 116). Clodius had been charged with incestum and was, despite his acquittal, in a more vulnerable position than Cicero. As Tatum (1999) has rightly noted, Clodius attempted to present himself as a homo religiosus in this case (Dom. 127). It was thus to his advantage to prove that Cicero had indeed equated himself with a deity, and to insinuate that this was an evil on par with disrupting the rites of the Bona Dea. That the pontiffs ruled in Cicero’s favor can thus be read as further evidence that the gulf separating gods and great men was already shrinking, or perhaps never so vast as Clodius would have us believe.
“Theism” and Related Categories in the Study of Ancient Religions