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When Being a Man Just Isn’t Enough: A Modified Forensic Defense in the Pro Ligario

Ky Merkley

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

While the conclusion of the Pro Ligario and the imagery of Caesar as parens is often cited as a point of divergence from Cicero’s other forensic oratory (Drumann; Walser; McDermott; Lintott), I assert that Cicero, in fashioning his judge into a figure sympathetic to his cause, is following his customary forensic defense. Before the Caesariana, Cicero provided the iudex with an opportunity to prove that he was a bonus vir. With Caesar as dictator, fashioning the iudex into a vir is no longer appropriate, so Cicero appropriates the stronger imagery of a parens. Not only does the image of parens apply the social constraints governing the use of potestas patriae, but Cicero, who himself used the title parens patriae, is offering Caesar a chance to take up the same benevolent mantle.

The process of interpreting Caesar as parens lies at the heart of the debate concerning how to interpret Lig. This passage (Lig. 30-1) has encouraged some to cast the whole of Lig. as political stagecraft, a deprecatio merely posing as forensic oratory [Quint. Inst. 5.13.5; Craig 1984; Notari; Drumann]. However Montague and McDermott have argued that Lig. should be read as standard forensic oratory. Adding to Montague’s reading of Lig., I submit an analysis of how Cicero’s use of the term vir both in forensic speeches prior to Caesar’s dictatorship and in the Caesariana. Previous analysis has broadly demonstrated to what extent Cicero is particular in assigning the term vir (L’Hoir, Goldberg). My analysis shows that Cicero’s use of the term vir markedly changes after his consulship and again during the dictatorship of Caesar. Prior Ciceronian forensic defenses routinely employed the term vir in tightly regulated clusters that bind the reus, iudex and patronus into a collegial partnership (analyzing Cic. Mur., Sull., Planc., & Cael. [following Craig 1981]. I note that in the Caesariana, Cicero’s use of the term vir shifts; Caesar is never referred to as a vir but rather Pompey and the Pompeians are vir. This semantic shift could help explain why Cicero employs the term parens within Lig. For since Lig. employs the marked forensic strategy of fashioning the iudex into a friendly ally, so fashioning Caesar into a clemens parens merely is an intensification of his prior strategy—more apt for the autocratic dictator than the equality implied in being a vir.

Additionally, Cicero’s choice of casting Caesar as a parens rather than a vir introduces an even more intriguing subtext. While the use of patria potestas demands clementia from the pater and could be an example of Cicero providing an additional social constraint to Caesar’s actions (Roller; Lacey), standing in the background of Caesar and Cicero’s dialogue is the title parens (or pater) patriae (Stevenson 2000). A number of different threads all hint that Caesar was already pondering accepting the title when Cicero delivered Lig.: the importance of pater patriae in Caesar’s later identity (Stevenson 2009); Caesar’s cultivation of clementia among his fellow citizens (Stevenson 1992); the Julian gens attempt to claim ownership of the state religion (Stevenson 2009); Caesar’s apparent expectation of the title pater patriae (Plut. Caes. 60; Stevenson 2007); Cicero’s own corona civica and all its associations with pater (Stevenson 1992). Such a preponderance of evidence makes any moment where Cicero calls Caesar parens deserving of more careful analysis.

By implying the pater patriae, Cicero advances his own program rehabilitating Pompeians and mending a broken republic, while Caesar receives recognition as a benevolent superior who can mitigate some of the damage caused to his own persona. Reading the Pro Ligario as forensic oratory, modified to better speak to Caesar’s unique position as dictator, strengthens Montague’s reading and provides further evidence that Lig. is best understood in relation to Cicero’s other forensic speeches.

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