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Cicero, Brutus 63–9 and the history of Cato’s Origines

Jackie Elliott

University of Colorado Boulder

This paper analyses what can be gleaned from Brutus 63–9 about the ancient transmission history of Cato’s speeches and his Origines, set in the context of the findings of a project that analyses that transmission history entire. Brutus 63–9 is remarkable for the claim, uttered by Cicero’s own avatar in the dialogue, to have found and read more than 150 of Cato’s speeches. It is therefore noteworthy that conspicuously absent from Cicero’s record of citation of earlier oratory (Inv. 1.80, Font. 38–9, Caecin. 53, Clu. 140–1, etc.) is any identifiable mention of specific speeches of Cato’s not associated with a context in the Origines (for we know, in part on Cicero’s information, that Cato reproduced at least two of his own speeches there)—no mention, that is, until the final two years of his life, just post-dating the claim in the Brutus (46 BCE). Even then, such mention is limited to four instances (Tusc. 1.3.5, Sen. 14, 62, Off. 3.104; cf. Padberg 1933: 60, 64).

Cicero’s frequent engagement with Cato as an idea and an ideal in fact routinely dwarfs Cicero’s traceable engagement with Cato’s texts. Thus, at Brutus 63–9 the discourse about those texts can better be said to characterise the speaker, ‘Cicero’, as benignly over-enthusiastic for the Roman past than to show substantial knowledge of them. Even the claims about style are rapidly revealed as fleeting, idiosyncratic experiments with historical perspective on the part of a devotee (Brut. 69, 293–4). Where Cicero does show knowledge of specific content of the Origines, it is knowledge of the preface (Planc. 66) and of the episode of the ‘trial’ of Galba in Book 7 (De orat. 1.227–8, Brut. 89–90, with Gell. 13.25.15). If we cannot track any further citation to a specific part of the text, Cicero’s deliberately loose citation-practices (well summarised at FRHist I.55–6; cf. Hendrickson 1906) may in part be held responsible. But those practices do not account for the repetitiveness that characterises the majority of Cato’s references to the Origines: besides the Galba-doublet already mentioned, there are doublets also at Rep. 1.27 and Off. 3.1 (Africanus on otium) and at Tusc. 1.101 and Sen. 75 (the bravery of Roman legions), and a triplet at Brut. 75, Tusc. 1.3 and 4.3 (the banquet-songs). Such a series of repetitions hardly testifies to detailed and extensive knowledge.

The project from which this paper emerges argues that the Origines were not a text that educated Romans (or others) even in c. 1 BCE grew up knowing (ctr. e.g. FRHist I.58–60; cf. Schütz 1913, Fleck 1993); knowledge of the work was acquired, if at all, during adulthood. For, as a second century Roman prose text, the Origines—like Roman historiography generally—had no routine place in the schoolroom at either level of education (Momigliano 1978, 1983; Nicolai 1992, 2007). Thus it could happen that Cicero shows no knowledge of the work until the mid-fifties (cf. Padberg 1933). This finding is made no less surprising by the fact that Cicero is responsible for almost 10% of the Origines’ abrupt surviving record—far more than for the speeches’ larger record, to which he barely contributes.

Cicero did read the Origines, or perhaps some extracts thereof, in connection with historical research for his dialogues, in his final decade. That he sampled the work at a time when to all appearances it lay disused is a sign of his historical curiosity and his investment in the past; it is more likely to distinguish him from than to make him representative of the majority of his contemporaries. His primary contribution to the Origines’ record was to promote the text in connection with the already famous name of Cato, which his citations show was itself his own primary reason for interest in it. The act will not have escaped Cicero’s close readers, including Sallust.

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Latin Prose Interaction

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