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A destructive text(ile): translating pain in TD ii.8.20 from Soph. Trach. 1046-1102.

Jessica Westerhold

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

In the second book of Tusculan Disputations, Cicero adduces and translates from Greek tragedy three examples of suffering caused by pain—Sophocles’ Philoctetes and Heracles and Aeschylus’ Prometheus—only to relegate these shameful representations to literature and advocate, instead, the tolerance of pain.  Nevertheless, each tragic hero resembles Cicero in his suffering. He is an exile, like Philoctetes, and a foe to tyrants, like Prometheus.  This paper will focus on the second exemplar, Heracles, whose resemblance to Cicero is strongest at this time of his life.  In 45 BCE, Cicero’s suffering, like Heracles’, has its most immediate origin in his relationships to the women in his life—the death of his daughter, his subsequent divorce from Publilia and, before that, his divorce from Terentia.  The Ciceronian Heracles cries: “but by a woman’s feminine hand I a man am destroyed./ O son, truly adopt this name of your father” (sed feminae uir feminea interimor manu./ O nate, uere hoc nomen usurpa patri, TD 2.20=Soph. Trach. 1062-64).  Like Heracles, Cicero’s son remains to him as comfort and heir. By translating and transforming Sophocles into Latin verse, Cicero performs his ability to confront and endure his own pain for the educated audience whose ranks will be self-identified by their shared familiarity with the very same Greek literary text he has chosen. Our poet at once represents himself as a brave man and a member of an elite group.

Scholars have noted Cicero’s love of the stage.  They have also noted his fondness for quoting plays in all of his writings (Canter 1936; Geffcken 1973; Gildenhard 2007; Goldberg 2000; Malcovati 1965; Shackleton Bailey 1983; Zetzel 2007; Zillinger 1911). Goldberg 2000 further demonstrates the important work these quotations do.  Identifying the literary education as cultural capital, Goldberg sees in Cicero’s literary quotations a means of defining and claiming membership in an educated Roman elite. Sophocles’ Heracles offers both an excellent example of suffering and proof of Cicero’s education. In my analysis of this passage, however, I will consider how Cicero’s poetic choices in his translation reveal his motivated selection of this particular example and his attempt endure his own pain.

The text which he translates into Latin is chosen for its difference.  It demonstrates negative examples represented by the poets.  Cicero’s act of translation repudiates this kind of suffering as Greek and tragic.  Rendering it into Latin, however, makes it more available to Romans.  Cicero’s Latin rendition presents his pain in Latin verse to his fellow Romans to inspect and judge as if a challenge to recent critics of his extended grief and seclusion (Att. 12.20.1, 12.21.5, 12.38a.1, 12.40.2–3, 12.41.3; Fam. 4.5, 5.14; Walters 2013; Wilcox 2005).  Moreover, through the act of translating the Sophoclean Heracles’ pain, Cicero masters his own.  For example, he ends his translation with Trach. 1102 (κοὐδεὶς τροπαῖ᾽ ἔστησε τῶν ἐμῶν χερῶν). Just as no one triumphed over Heracles own hands, Cicero proclaims that “no one snatched martial prizes away from our own praise” (nec quisquam e nostris spolia cepit laudibus).  The Roman Cicero-Hercules’ suffering renders him effeminized in the eyes of his friends and colleagues (Ecfeminata uirtus adflicta occidit), nevertheless, he is not bereft of glory.  His pain, moreover, is bound by a woven ruin (pestis textile), not the unspeakable fetter of Sophocles’ Heracles (ἀφράστῳ τῇδε πέδῃ, 1057).  Cicero’s translation disembodies Heracles’ pain in his Latin verse, where the triumphant body (χεῖρες) becomes public praise (laudes) and a physical restraint (πέδη) becomes a woven ruin (pestis textile).  The adjective textile in the translation of a poem carries with it metapoetic connotations.  Cicero’s linguistic choices augment the process of abstraction begun by the scholarly process itself.  Pain belongs to poetry, to ancient Greek poetry—to a destructive text.

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Cicero Poeta

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