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Statuary Analogies and Cicero’s Judgment of Caesar’s Style (Brutus 262)

Christopher S. van den Berg

Amherst College

Statuary Analogies and Cicero’s Judgment of Caesar’s Style (Brutus 262)

This paper offers a new interpretation of Cicero’s famous yet perplexing judgment of Caesar’s commentarii in the Brutus (46 BCE): “You see, they are nude, upright, and pleasing, with all stylistic adornment—like a garment—removed” (nudi enim sunt, recti et venusti, omni ornatu orationis tamquam veste detracta, 262).  Through a close reading of the Brutus’ references to statuary (70, 71, 228, 257, 296) and through comparison with the rhetorical topos likening style to statuary (e.g. Cic. de Orat. 3.26, Quint. inst. 12.10.7-9, Dem. Eloc. 14, Dion. Hal. Isai. 4 and Isoc. 3; cf. Plin. nat. 36.20-1), this paper argues that Cicero likens Caesar to Praxiteles, the fourth-century Athenian sculptor famous for his innovation in creating a fully-nude Venus (the Aphrodite of Knidos).  Implicit reference to a statue of Venus creates a connection between Caesarian politics and Caesarian style, allowing Cicero to undermine both.  Furthermore, by claiming that he would rather be a Phidias crafting a Minerva (257), Cicero offers a compelling iconic countermodel to the Caesarian associations with Venus, harnessing the symbolic potency of the Athena Parthenos.  She represents instead civic benefaction and military accomplishment in the service of state unity and political order, as well as the artistic achievements of Periclean Athens.

I build on the valuable observation (Innes 1978) that Cicero’s first analogy to statuary (70) ostentatiously excludes Phidias.  Innes argues that, because Phidias was the next developmental stage in the catalog of sculptors, his absence would implicitly criticize the less-developed Roman Atticists.  I argue that we must instead consider Cicero’s later citation of other sculptors, including Phidias, Polyclitus, and Lysippus.  These later citations expand Cicero’s statuary analogy and draw attention to Praxiteles’ absence, given his fundamental importance to art history and the fame of his Knidian Aphrodite.  While discussing Caesar’s style (251-262) Cicero allies himself with Phidias (Phidiam esse mallem, 257) in a digression promoting his own civic contributions and eloquence over military conquest.  Cicero interprets Phidias’ Minerva as an exemplum of artistic accomplishment and thus primes the reader to equate an author’s style, especially Caesar’s, with a type of statuary.  He first claims that Caesar in his oratory is like a painter setting his artworks in good light (261), further paving the way for us to read Caesar as a craftsman producing a work of art.  The ensuing judgment of the commentarii describes a statue of Venus both pictorially and linguistically: nudi and recti are best understood as describing a nude upright statue, and venusti pointedly and playfully identifies the statue, alluding to the name of the goddess so central to Caesarian ideology: Venus.  The reference is not to the Greek tradition of the heroic male nude (pace Dugan 2005; cf. Kraus 2005), an unlikely identity given the specific detail of the garment fully removed: the removal of the garment for bathing was a signal feature of the Aphrodite of Knidos and many later Roman copies (Havelock 1995).  On the other hand, the heroic nude used for elite self-presentation is neither clearly attested in the iconographic record by 46 BCE nor is the heroic nude itself uncomplicatedly nude.  Rather, the heroic portrait costume uses nudity as a marker of the world of heroism and mythology, sublimating nudity as a representative feature while developing it with symbolic items of heroic dress (Hallett 2005).

Thus, this famous passage is not Cicero’s sober or qualified judgment of Caesar’s style, but rather a pointed instance of Ciceronian self-promotion at the expense of Caesarian ideology.

Session/Panel Title

Latin Prose Interaction

Session/Paper Number

24.2

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