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A Ciceronian Blind Spot: Caecus, Cethegus, and Ennius in Cicero’s Brutus

Christopher van den Berg

Amherst College

This paper examines Cicero’s choice in the Brutus to begin oratorical history with Marcus Cornelius Cethegus (cos. 204).  Based on Cicero’s own criteria for constructing oratorical history, I argue, we would expect Cicero to begin his history earlier, with Appius Claudius Caecus (cos. 307, 296).  The paper begins by closely analyzing Cicero’s citations of Ennius as his evidence for choosing Cethegus.  Careful reading of these passages will show Cicero’s distortions and manipulations.  I then offer reasons to begin oratorical history with Caecus, and I conclude by examining what was at stake in Cicero’s choices.

The scholarship thus far has emphasized how Cicero’s construction of poetic history is tendentious (Goldberg 1995, Hinds 1998, Welsh 2011).  I build on this work in order to show the complications inherent in his oratorical history and his artful manipulation of evidence.  The paper thereby contributes not only to our understanding of Cicero’s Brutus but also to recent work on Ennius and the distortions of his excerpters (Goldberg 2006; Zetzel 2007; Elliot 2013).

Cicero introduces Cethegus by citing Ennius:

primus est M. Cornelius Cethegus, cuius eloquentiae est auctor et idoneus quidem mea sententia Q. Ennius...

“additur orator Cornelius suaviloquenti
ore Cethegus Marcus Tuditano conlega
Marci filius”

et oratorem appellat et suaviloquentiam tribuit (57-8)

Although Cicero purports to neutrally relay Ennius’ opinions, he subtly manipulates the evidence.  Ennius is cited in part because no speech of Cethegus existed.  In the citation itself Cicero plays on the semantic breadth of orator in order to include Cethegus in the history of great speakers (oratores).  In early and poetic usage orator typically meant “envoy/ambassador” as much as “(great) speaker” (see Elliott 2013, 160 n.74; Brutus 55 for the sense of “envoy”).  Likewise the term suaviloquentia involves considerable sleight of hand.  Cicero states that Ennius attributed eloquentia to Cethegus, yet Ennius does not use that term.  Cicero suggests that suaviloquens is a compound of suavis and eloquens (rather than suavis and loquens).  The terms eloquens/-ntia are not connected to pleasing speech (suaviloquentia) by Roman etymologists, but rather to full speech (Maltby 1991, 203: “eloquens, -ntis. Varro, Ling. 6.57 hinc (sc. a loquendo) eloquens qui copiose loquitur. Isid. Orig. 10.81 eloquens, profusus eloquio”).  Ultimately, Cethegus is an odd choice.

Instead Cicero could have begun oratory with Appius Claudius Caecus.  However, Cicero rejects his Speech against Peace with Pyrrhus on aesthetic grounds.  Prominent criteria within the Brutus would still support the inclusion of Caecus.  Cicero noted that nothing is both discovered and perfected at a single stroke (nihil est enim simul et inventum et perfectum, 71).  And while he claims that Livius Andronicus’ plays are not worth a second read (non satis dignae quae iterum legantur, 71), nevertheless Livius’ own work inaugurates Latin poetry.  Aesthetic objections, for poetry at least, are insufficient in determining who stands at the head of a tradition.  Cicero otherwise includes as many orators as possible and even defends his over-inclusiveness (Brutus 176, 181, 242, 270, 299).  Cicero strives elsewhere to include and to praise speakers who might be thought old-fashioned, such as Cato and even Cicero’s oratorical role model Crassus.  Orators, he repeatedly asserts, must be judged on what they have accomplished “relative to their times” (ut illis temporibus).

The paper concludes by assessing Cicero’s motivations.  These include the choice to have poetry be the first genre of written texts (i.e. Livius Andronicus’ play of 240 BCE), the claim that oratory developed later because of its difficulty (and therefore importance), the desire to snub Caecus’ descendant, Clodius Pulcher, or the need to ward of charges of antiquarianism by Atticist contemporaries.  In weighing these factors we will thus come to understand why Cicero presents such a brilliant—and brilliantly distorted—account of the beginning of oratorical history at Rome.

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Roman Republican Prose and its Afterlife

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