Skip to main content

In the first directly reported speech of his De Coniuratione Catilinae, Sallust has the conspirator recount the dishonors heaped upon him and his followers and then ask, “How long will you endure these things?” (quae quo usque tandem patiemini, o fortissumi viri?, 21.9). The words had long been read as an allusion to the famous opening of Cicero’s In Catilinam I; in the wake of Renehan’s (1976) affirmation that Sallust was indeed conspicuously citing the orator, debate shifted to the question of the function of the citation. Was it parody or tribute? Malcolm (1979) introduced a new complication by arguing that quo usque tandem was originally a catch phrase of Catiline himself, so that Cicero’s oration was already re-appropriating the words of his enemy. More recent practices of intertextual reading applied particularly to Latin poetry (Hinds 1998: esp. 34-39) suggest replacing questions of whether Sallust is citing Cicero or Catiline and whether his intention was parody or not with an approach that allows the historian’s text to be read in dialogue with both and reveal how the interpretive issues raised by hearing the words spoken by these contrasting authors extend far beyond Sallust’s attitude toward Cicero. My paper thus begins from the assumption that both intertexts were available to Sallust’s readers: that Cicero’s exordium quickly became notorious has been well established, and whether or not Catiline was in actual fact the source for the phrase quo usque tandem, Sallust retrospectively makes him its author by putting the words in his mouth at a moment in time before Cicero’s speech.

However borrowing a poetic approach to intertextuality in this case brings into focus two problems important for the generic definition of Sallust’s work as historiography: these involve simultaneously the historicity of the events reported by the historian—whether he evokes reality or merely a prior representation of reality, and the reception of his text in turn by an audience whose understanding of it will be historically determined by the real events the text describes. The subject of Sallust’s first monograph arguably makes the greatest impact on the history of the late republic by being talked about. As accusations spawn debates about the punishment of his accomplices, then about the guilt of their accuser Cicero, and then about the virtues of the men who spoke for and against their execution, a sequence of politically interested representations of Catiline link the actual event Sallust described to the precise historical moment of his text. The overlapping of the voices of Cicero, Catiline, and Sallust at 21.9 provokes reflection on this phenomenon and on the crucial question of Sallust’s relationship to the long process of speech that his text at once incorporates and attempts to control. On the one hand, Sallust characterizes his choice to write historiography as an effort to escape from the distorting language of political invective, fama and invidia (3.5). Yet the historian is equally aware that it is in precisely this interpretive climate that his work will be read: his audience will assume that he writes out of envy, even as their own jealously prompts them to read accounts of great virtues not as history, but as fiction (3.2). In addition to emblematizing the chain of speech that distances his written history from events, even as it threatens to determine its own reception as a mere product of invidia, Catiline functions even more directly as the voice of invidia itself. For in aiming to stir resentment against his political rivals and offering the promise of material rewards, he speaks to rather than against the historically conditioned inclinations of his audience. Catiline the “author” therefore raises the problem for Sallust of exposing and countering such a contemporary voice, without being taken merely as another in the long list of his rhetorical defamers, of being neither a Catiline nor a Cicero.