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Making rhetoric Roman in the first preface of Cicero’s de Inventione (1.1–5)

Kyle Helms

Recent scholarship on Cicero’s philosophica and rhetorica has increasingly helped us understand why Cicero was so committed to adding Greek doctrinae to the Roman “cultural arsenal,” as well as the strategies he pursued to make this technical knowledge suitable territory for a Roman aristocrat’s intellectual conquest (philosophica: Gildenhard 2007; Baraz 2012 (quote from 97); rhetorica: Dugan 2005). Of course, not all of Cicero’s works have yet been accounted for from this perspective. In particular, despite the general resurgence of interest in Cicero’s rhetorical works (e.g., Narducci 1997; Arweiler 2003; Fantham 2004), Cicero’s earliest foray into rendering Greek technical knowledge for a Roman audience, his youthful de Inventione, has failed to attract much recent attention (though see, e.g., Corbeill 2002; Kastely 2002; Connolly 2007, 65–76). In this paper I argue that in the first preface of de Inventione (1.1–5) Cicero negotiates Roman anxieties over expending effort on originally Greek technical subjects and provides an argument for rhetoric’s place at Rome.

A unifying theme in Cicero’s argument in Inv. 1.1–5 is the utility of rhetoric for the Roman aristocracy and for the Republic, with the consistent proviso that rhetoric requires moral guidance, provided by philosophy. Throughout the preface Cicero works carefully, however, to discuss his topic in domestic terms, and he thereby tries to avoid exposing the foreignness of this subject. Here we find, above all, the terms eloquentia (12x in Inv. 1.1–5) and sapientia—and not, e.g., ars rhetorica and philosophia. Cicero’s argument for rhetoric’s utility for Rome is, at the same time, his answer to the debate between philosophers and rhetoricians on the utilitas of their disciplines, well known from other sources (cf., e.g., Phld. Rh., 2: 154–55 Sudhaus; S. E. M. 2.31–42; Brittain 2001, 298–312, esp. 300). With this union intact, Cicero argues, rhetoric is a perfect discipline for Rome. Armed with eloquentia, the utilissimus civis has the means to effectively fight for commoda patriae (1.1). Cicero’s anthropology (1.2) demonstrates that rhetoric’s role to create civic advantages is a part of its very origins: it called together humankind and led them in unam quamque rem… utilem atque honestam, and provided the sustaining civic ideology that taught humanity to embrace fides, iustitia, and the conviction later expressed as dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. In war and peace, rhetoric was exercised cum summis hominum utilitatibus (1.3). Further, Roman maiores—Cato, Laelius, Scipio, the Gracchi—sanction the pursuit of eloquentia, through which they were able to buttress their own virtus and auctoritas (1.5). And Cicero’s concluding laudes eloquentiae (Victorin. Comm. Rhet. p. 22.2–3) further enumerate the personal and public advantages that rhetoric produces: rhetoric has the power to make life tuta, honesta, illustris, and iucunda, to provide commoda for the Republic, and to secure laus, honos, and dignitas for the man that can master it. Ad summam: the Greek discipline is shown to be an ideal pursuit for the Roman aristocracy, and, in Cicero’s vision, rhetoric fits perfectly within the values that supported the political culture of the Republic.

This paper thus offers a new and relevant reading of a passage that hitherto attracted scholarly attention largely in the context of Quellenforschung (e.g., Philippson 1886, 417–18 (Posidonius); Pohlenz 1913, 4 (Philo of Larissa); Solmsen 1932, 151–54 (Isocrates); Barwick 1963, 24–25 (Isocrates and ?); Lévy 1995, 159–61 (Philo of Larissa); Grilli 1997, 174 (Isocrates and Posidonius); cf. Brink 1963–82 on Hor. Ars 391–407 (= 2:384–86) for the broader background)—despite calls to move on over 40 years ago (Douglas 1973, 95–102; cf. Craig 2002, 511). Rather than investigating how Greek Cicero’s arguments are in Inv. 1.1–5, the present paper, in contrast, highlights just how Roman Cicero makes his topic.

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