While novel honors granted to Pompey and Caesar were blurring distinctions between men and gods at Rome, Cicero was hailing these late-Republican dynasts with divinizing metaphors in his public speeches. Recent work on metaphor offers a useful way to think about Cicero's expressions in their historical contexts. A tendency among classicists has been to conceive of divinizing expressions as just metaphors, relying–consciously or not–on traditional, Aristotelian theories that treat metaphor as a matter of language and overlook any cognitive dimensions. This paper employs methodological approaches to metaphor pioneered by Lakoff and Reddy, scholars challenging the idea that metaphor is simply an inert, figurative use of language. Their focus is on the cognitive ordering and 'cross-domain mapping' that metaphors perform in a culture's conceptual frameworks–that is, the way metaphor sets priorities and shapes perspectives. I employ this new conception of metaphor as I consider the cultural work performed by Cicero's divinizing language. If we acknowledge that metaphor possesses cognitive agency, we can entertain the possibility that Cicero's metaphorical expressions are capable of subtly transforming conceptual distinctions between mortals and immortals at Rome. Although Roman statesmen before Caesar and Pompey had cultivated associations with divinity, the identification of politicians with divinity was pushed to new extremes in the turbulent last decades of the Republic. Cicero's handling of Pompey and Caesar in his speeches gives us a glimpse into the encoded gestures and systematic ambiguities that worked out this closer identification of humans and gods. In his first speech before a public assembly at Rome, the Pro lege Manilia, Cicero carefully but insistently represents Pompey as a divinely-ordained savior figure whose divine attributes elevate him above the standard lot of statesmen. The scarcity of precedents for such Ciceronian terms of praise in Roman oratory precludes the assumption that Cicero was simply recycling the Roman orator's stock-in-trade for an audience inured to such language. If such divinizing strategies and tropes were familiar commonplaces in public speech at Rome we might expect to find them in rhetorical handbooks, but we do not. Although Cicero adapts elements of Hellenistic panegyric (which must have been largely unfamiliar to many attending a Roman contio in 66 BCE) in the Pro lege Manilia and perhaps also collocations of humans and gods found in poetry, the historical context of this profusion of divinizing language in Cicero's oratory must necessarily be considered along with any of its genetic strands. Celebrating someone's divina virtus, for example, is not calling them a god, but persistently using this and similar expressions to define men who are bringing themselves into the range of divinity through innuendo and association is more than conventional grandstanding. The connection between rhetoric and emerging religious ideas is even more pronounced in Cicero's framing of Caesar in the Pro Marcello. Cicero's praise in the Pro Marcello summons up specific associations from the Pro lege Manilia but the unprecedented divinizing honors that the Senate was awarding Caesar give Cicero's words heady new valence. The rhetorical brinkmanship of Cicero's divinizing metaphorical expressions can be understood, I argue, as a part of the uncertain process of cultural innovation. The traditional conception of metaphor sees Cicero's metaphorical expression as only a figurative use of language, while contemporary theory of metaphor–arguing that metaphor is as much a matter of thought as of language–understands it as a surface manifestation of how a person or collectivity is conceptualizing one mental domain in terms of another (Lakoff 1993.1). Thinking of Cicero's divinizing rhetoric in late-Republican Rome in such terms, we can see how repeated metaphorical mappings between mental domains could affect Romans' various conceptualizations of the relationship between humans and gods. So when Cicero represents Roman statesmen like Pompey and Caesar as divine, he is indeed climbing through rhetorical registers, but he is also shaping currents of thought and helping naturalize new possibilities.
Lakoff, G. 1993. "The Contemporary Theory of Metaphor" in Metaphor and Thought, A. Ortony ed. Cambridge.