It is commonly noted that Cicero “never published” the De Temporibus Suis, the three book epic about his exile and return on which he was working in the mid-50s (e.g. Courtney; Knox; Volk). Proposals for what might have replaced the abandoned poem are less forthcoming. Given Cicero’s fervent desire for commemoration (Fam. 5.12), it is unlikely that he would set the work aside with nothing to take its place. Engaging with various contemporary perspectives on Cicero’s poetry and self-poetics (Volk; Steel), this paper suggests a small sample of possible answers (one poetry, one prose) with an aim to shedding light on Cicero the poet and his cross-generic project of self-construction.
Cicero’s motives for withholding the De Temporibus Suis have been ascribed to various causes (e.g. Dugan). In particular, Knox has made a case for the role of poetic anxieties, citing changes in the literary climate at Rome in the mid-50s, but goes too far in his attempts to separate “Cicero’s conservative tastes” from new poetic streams. Cicero was always an innovative and “experimental” poet (Volk) perfectly able to keep up with the times. Regard for Ennius as the best epic poet (Opt. Gen. 1.2: Ennium summum epicum poetam) and indignation at the fact that modern poets spurn him (Tusc. 3.45) no more align Cicero with Ennian poetics than do similar claims about Cato (Brut. 65-69) prove that Cicero’s oratorical style was somehow Catonian. Still, if changing poetic tastes played some role in the decision to suppress the De Temporibus Suis, Scaevola’s praise of Cicero’s Marius (at Leg 1.2) in language heavy with neoteric approbation (Courtney; Hollis) is surely revealing. Dates for the Marius are disputed, but sometime in the late 50s seems best (e.g. Malcovati; van der Blom). The decision to replace the longer work with a single book (Leg. 1.2: de Mario; Div. 1.106: in Mario; Att. 12.49.1: Marium), small-scale hexameter poem treating his exile and return in allegorical terms makes the work seem a suspicious and uniquely Ciceronian take on the epyllion replete with the various genre-bending innovations we might expect in light of Volk’s recent claims about the De Consulatu Suo. Cicero’s experimentation with a hexameter form only then gaining traction at Rome (e.g. Catullus 64; Cinna’s Zmyrna) places him in the poetic vanguard, complicating standard narratives about his supposed adherence during this period to old-fashioned historical epic (e.g. Courtney; Clausen), and suggesting that in the mid-50s, far from being silenced by the new poetic climate at Rome, Cicero continued to be a dynamic presence.
Strictly personal details left out of the Marius by necessity would have found other venues. Cicero rehearsed the details of his exile and return across a range of speeches in the 50s (Dyck). But the Pro Plancio, delivered in late summer 54 (Marinone) when Cicero was hard at work on the De Temporibus Suis (Harrison) is particularly relevant in that it seems a consciously offered prose substitute to the suppressed epic. In addition to obliquely referencing the De Temporibus Suis at Planc. 74, Cicero playfully gestures to its title on multiple occasions (Planc. 1: meorum temporum memoriam; 4: recordatione meorum temporum; 95: ex meis temporibus), framing his entire speech within the phrase and including details unrecorded elsewhere (95-98). Material from the speech (86: quorum alter exercitum perdidit, alter vendidit) is vetted for inclusion in the poem in a contemporary letter to Quintus (Q.fr. 3.1.24: quorum alter exercitum perdidisset, alter vendidisset), revealing the permeable boundary between the two. Faced with a recent mixed reaction to his epic from Caesar (Q.fr. 2.16.5), Cicero was likely hedging his bets and considering alternatives already. Too many contemporaries knew he was working on a poem about his troubles (Planc. 74; cf. Fam. 1.9.23) for him to turn away from verse altogether. By dividing the project across texts and genres Cicero followed a pattern of self-fashioning that he had initiated half a decade before (Att. 1.19.10).