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The General and the Orator

Ulysses Vestal

In-Class Topic Discussion: LATN 604 - Cicero

University of Maryland, College Park

29 March 2000

I. Chronological Comparison of Public Careers
Yr Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (b. September 29, 106 B.C.) Marcus Tullius Cicero (b. January 3, 106 B.C.)
89 Member of the consilium of Cn. Pompeius Strabo, his father. Served under Cn. Pompeius Strabo, possibly but not likely a member of his consilium.
86 Defendant in civil case involving theft of father's booty.  
83 Raised an army in Picenum. Joins Sulla, who salutes him as imperator.  
82 Propraetor. Reorganizes Sicily.  
81 Propraetor in Africa. Hailed as imperator for victories in Africa. Demanded triumph. Returned to Rome from Africa, celebrated triumph on 12 March. [Chronology of these events is uncertain. Triumph may have been held in 80.] Delivered first case: Pro Quinctio.
79   Student of philosophy and oratory in Greece and Asia Minor.
78   Student of philosophy and oratory in Greece and Asia Minor.
77 Received pro praetore imperium against M. Lepidus. Received pro consule imperium against Sertorius. Student of philosophy and oratory in Greece and Asia Minor.
76 Proconsul in Hispania Citerior. Elected quaestor.
75 Proconsul in Hispania Citerior. Quaestor. Served under Sex. Peducaeus in western Sicily.
74 Proconsul in Hispania Citerior.  
73 Proconsul in Hispania Citerior.  
72 Proconsul in Hispania Citerior.  
71 Proconsul in Hispania Citerior. Elected consul in absentia. Celebrated triumph on 29 Dec.  
70 Consul. Terminus ante quam for cooption into augurate. Elected Aediles Plebii
69   Aediles Plebii.
67 Received command with unlimited imperium for three years. Acclaimed imperator. Elected praetor first.
66 Proconsul. Received provinces of Bithynia, Pontus, and Cilicia. Praetor. Delivers De imperio Cn. Pompei at a contio early in the year.
65 Proconsul. Acclaimed Imperator.  
64 Proconsul. Organized Syria as a Roman province. Elected consul: first novus homo elected since 94.
63 Proconsul. Consul. Receives supplicatio.
62 Proconsul. Returned to Italy by December.  
61 Proconsul. Celebrated triumph on Sept. 29.  
57 Receives cura annonae in September: per quinquennium omnis potestas rei frumentariae (Att. 4.1). Fifteen legates are assigned to him.  
56 Cura annonae.  
55 Consul II. Receives command both Spains for five years. Cura annonae.  
54 Proconul of both Spains, which he governed through legates. Cura annonae.  
53 Proconsul of both Spains, which he governed through legates. Cura annonae.  
52 Stood for consulship in absentia. Elected Consul III without a colleague. Cura annonae. His command in both Spains is prorogued for five more years. Elected and coopted into the Augurate.
51 Proconsul in both Spains, which he continued to govern through his legates. Proconsul in Cilicia. Acclaimed imperator in October after victory by his legates over the tribesmen of Amanus.
50 Proconul of both Spains, which he continued to govern through his legates. Proconsul and Imperator in Cilicia. Leaves for Rome in June.
49 Proconsul of both Spains. Empowered to command the Republican armies against Caesar. Crosses the Adriatic on 27 March. Proconsul and Imperator. Flees to Pompeius on June 7.

II. Cicero on Pompeius

1.  For I so think, that four matters ought to belong in the greatest general, -- knowledge of military affairs, virtus, prestige, and good fortune.  Therefore who either was or ought to be more skilled than this man?  He who from school and from the training of boyhood set out to the army of his father and for instruction in warfare during the greatest war and with very active enemies; he who during the last stage of boyhood was a soldier in the army of the greatest general, who going into the age of a young man was himself general of a very great army; who more often struggled with a public enemy than anyone disputed with a private enemy, who waged more wars than others have read about, he settled more spheres of administration than others coveted; the youth of this man was trained for the knowledge of military affairs not under the command of others but under his own authority, not by failures of war but by victories, not by campaigns, but by triumphs.  Finally what kind of war can there be, in which the fortune of the state might not have employed this man?  Civil war, an African war, a Transalpine war, Spanish war mixed from citizens and from the most belligerent peoples, slave war, naval war, various and different kinds both of wars and of opponents, non only have been waged by this man alone but also have been finished, they have declared that there is no matter laid down in practice of war, which could escape the ability of this man (Leg. Man. 10.28, U. K. Vestal, trans.)

2.  Therefore, since both the war is so necessary that it cannot be neglected, so great that it must be conducted with the most scrupulous care possible; and since you can set it over this general, in whom there is the most excellent knowledge of war, uncommon courage, the most illustrious authority, eminent fortune,--fellow citizens, will you doubt that you should confer this great blessing, which from the immortal gods has been offered and given to you for preserving and enlarging the republic? (Leg. Man. 16.49, U. K. Vestal, trans.)

3.  If we ever appear to have spoken in a "popular" way, we did it with the purpose of attaching Gnaeus Pompeius to ourselves, in order to have him, with his very great power, as a friend in our canvass, or at least not an opponent.  (Q. Cicero, Comment. pet. 1.5, M. Henderson, trans.)

4.  You have already won over those city masses and the favor of their political managers by advancing Pompeius, by undertaking the case of Manilius and defending Cornelius; now we have to mobilize the support which nobody has ever possessed without the good graces of the highest personages.  You have also to make everybody know that Pompeius is a strong supporter of yours and that your success in this candidature would suit his plans extremely well.  (Q. Cicero, Comment. pet. 13.51, M. Henderson, trans.)

5.  Non est inquit [Pompeius] in parietibus res publica.  (Att. 7.11, ca. 1/21/49)

The commonwealth, Pompeius says, does not exist in the walls [of our homes].  (U. K. Vestal, trans.)

6.  Unus Pompeius me movet, beneficio non auctoritate.  (Att. 8.1, ca. 2/15/49)

Pompeius alone moves me, by his favor, not by his authority.  (U. K. Vestal, trans.)

7.  On the same principle I was angry when I remembered the mistakes of the past ten years, including the year of my own disaster in which he did not defend me (to use no harsher phrase), and when I perceived his recklessness, inertia, and negligence at the present time.  But now all that has gone out of my mind.  I think of Pompeius' services [beneficia] to me, and his greatness [dignitatem] too.  I understand, later indeed than I could have wished because of Balbus' letters and talk, but I do see clearly that Caesar's whole purpose is and has been from the first to destroy him.  I think of how in Homer a mother and a goddess say to her son, "Thy doom awaits thee after Hector's end." And her son replies, "Let me die quickly, since my friend is slain and I not there to aid." It is not only a friend in my case, but a benefactor too; add the greatness of the man and of the cause he champions.  Truly I think life worth losing for these duties' sake. (Att. 9.5, 3/10/49, D. R Shackleton Bailey, trans.)

8.  Beneficium sequor, mihi crede, non causam, ut in Milone, ut in-sed hactenus.  (Att. 9.7, 3/13/49)

Believe me, I follow as an act of service, not for the cause, as I did in Milo, as in...but I digress. (U. K. Vestal, trans.)

9.  Nihil me adiuvit cum posset; at postea fuit amicus, etiam valde, nec quam ob causam plane scio. ergo ego quoque illi.  (Att. 9.13, 3/23/49)

When he could, he did not aid me, yet afterwards he was my friend, and a very good one at that, and I plainly don't know on what account [that he became my friend].  Therefore I too will be a friend to him. (U. K. Vestal, trans.)

10.  De Pompei exitu mihi dubium numquam fuit.  tanta enim desperatio rerum eius omnium regum et populorum animos occuparat ut quocumque venisset hoc putarem futurum.  non possum eius casum non dolere; hominem enim integrum [highly-principled] et castum [temperate] et gravem [dignified] cognovi.  (Att. 11.6, 1/27/48)

Concerning the end of Pompeius there was never any doubt to me.  For such a great hopelessness of his circumstances seized the minds of all kings and peoples that wherever he came I knew that this was going to be [his fate].  I am not able to not grieve his downfall.  For I knew a man highly-principled and temperate and dignified.  (U. K. Vestal, trans.)

11.  Gnaeus Pompeius my contemporary, destined by nature to pre-eminence, would have enjoyed greater glory for eloquence had not ambition for still greater glory drawn him off to the prizes of a military career.  His language had some elevation and he possessed good judgment in discerning the question at issue; but chiefly a fine voice and great dignity of bearing made his delivery impressive.  (Brut. 239, G. Hendrickson, trans. )

III. Ancient Secondary Sources

1.  Of the same kind, too, was the remark recorded by Marsus as having been made by Pompeius to Cicero when the latter expressed distrust of his party: “Go over to Caesar and you will be afraid of me.” Had this last remark been uttered on a less serious subject and with less serious purpose, or had it not been uttered by Pompeius himself, we might have counted it among examples of humour.  (Quintilian 6.3.111, H. E. Butler, trans.)

2.  Pompeius meanwhile had brought about a vote for the recall of Cicero. Thus, the man whom he had expelled through Clodius, he now brought back to help him against that very individual.  (Dio Cassius 39.6.1, E. Cary, trans.)

3.  Pompeius found Cicero's witticisms tiresome, and the following sayings of Cicero were current: “I know whom to avoid, but I don't know whom to follow.”  Again, when he had come to join Pompeius, to those who were saying that he was late in coming he retorted: “Late? Not at all, for I see nothing ready here yet.”  Afterward, when Pompeius asked him where his son-in-law Dolabella was, he replied: “With your father-in-law.” And when Pompeius had given Roman citizenship to a deserter, Cicero's comment was “That was handsome of the man; he promises the Gauls a citizenship to which they have no right, and yet he can't restore our own city to us.”  And so it was thought that Pompeius was justified in saying of Cicero:  “I wish to goodness he would go over to the enemy. He would then learn to fear us.”  (Macrobius, Saturnalia 2.3.7-8, P. V. Davies, trans.)

IV. Some Modern Observations

1.  Prosopographical research has the great virtue of reaching individuals or small groups, but does not explain their material or spiritual needs: it simply presupposes them.  History is the history of problems, not of individuals or of groups.  If the tacit assumption of much prosopographical research is that people are moved by personal or family ambitions, the assumption is not merely one-sided; it substitutes generic trends for concrete situations.  (Momigliano 1940: 77-78)

2.  The elevation to the augurate was, after the consulship, the greatest political and social success of Cicero, marking the peak of his career after his return from his exile.  (Linderski 1972: 190)

The results achieved are purely conditional:  but we should not convert possibilities into facts and pretend to know more than we do.  (Linderski 1972: 200)

3.  Temperament goes a long way towards explaining Mommsen's Pompey and it has the merit of suggesting why it is that Mommsen went to such lengths to thoroughly depreciate the character and career of Pompey.  (Croke 1985: 145)

3a.  A good officer, but otherwise of mediocre gifts of intellect and of heart, fate had with superhuman constancy for thirty years allowed him to solve all brilliant and toilless tasks; had permitted him to pluck the laurels of others; had brought him face to face with all the conditions requisite for obtaining the supreme power-only in order to exhibit in his person an example of spurious greatness, to which history knows no parallel.  (Mommsen 1867: 424, W. Dickinson, trans.)

  At this critical juncture in his career, Pompeius bought the consulship for Afranius in the expectation that Afranius would, as consul, secure senatorial acceptance of Pompeius' Eastern settlement.  Afranius' failure to do so was a serious political setback for Pompeius and has led virtually everyone to blame Afranius for this debacle. Pompeius, however, is the one who must be held accountable.  By relying on a man of such limited stature to propose his program, Pompeius demonstrated that he had little understanding of and less appreciation for the realities of the Roman political arena.

Throughout his earlier career Pompeius had gained his political ends through fortuitous circumstances, military power, and the work of other men, not through his own political acumen.  (William and Williams 1988:  198-199, 206) [This loose analysis of Pompey exhibits the modern inheritance and persistence of Mommsen's fictitious character of Pompey.]

4.  Amicitia (and clientela) formed the essence of Roman politics; as Ronald Syme put it, amicitia was a weapon, not a sentiment based on congeniality. W[istrand] does not distinguish between personal friendship and political amicitia - with disastrous consequences for his book.  Cicero was never Cato's personal friend, nor did he belong to the inner circle of Cato's political allies.  (Linderski 1980: 783-784) [You could replace "Pompey" with "Cato" in the above statement and retain its accuracy. Cf. no. 6 below.]

5.  If Pompey would not have been anxious over Cicero's defense of Archias, if, indeed, he was not behind the attack on Archias, Cicero need not have felt it necessary to praise Pompey.  Cicero did not want his defense to be interpreted by Pompey as an act of disloyalty or rebellion and he was careful to avoid such an interpretation by praising the general. (Haley 1983: 4)

6.  Their association was political.  In the fashionable view of Roman politics this too could create binding connections.  But Cicero was never one of Pompey's confidants. He had continually remarked on the reticence and ambiguity which could make Pompey's mind impenetrable to him...In the crisis of 49 it was Lucceiuis and Theophanes who dominated his counsels...Moreover, the extent of their past political association can be exaggerated.  There is no testimony in Cicero's writings that it went back before 62.  (Brunt 1986: 28-29)

7.  Few men of the traditional ruling class will have recognized Cicero as their spokesman, Cato as their symbol, or Caesar as the potential agent of their destruction. If one man stood out in the two decades before civil war it was none of these three.  The most conspicuous figure of the era and (in the eyes of contemporaries) the most prominent threat to the old order was Pompeius Magnus.  (Gruen 1969: 72)

Yet it is hazardous and myopic, as noted at the outset of this study, to interpret Roman politics of the late Republic through the eyes of Cicero.  Too often the orator's wild lamentations on the destruction of the state and the collapse of legitimate authority are really camoflauge for his own loss of influence on the course of events.  (Gruen 1969: 106)


P. A. Brunt. 1986. "Cicero's Officium in the Civil War." JRS 76: 12-32.

Brian Croke. 1985. "Mommsen's Pompey." Quaderni di Storia 11: 137-149.

Erich Gruen. 1969. "Pompey, the Roman Aristocracy, and the Conference of Luca." Hist. 18: 71-108.

Shelley Haley. 1983. "Archias, Theophanes, and Cicero: the Politics of the Pro Archia." CB 59: 1-4.

Jerzy Linderski. 1980. Review of Magnus Wistrand: Cicero Imperator. Gnomon 52: 782-785.

           .  1972. "Aedileship of Favonius, Curio, and Cicero's Election to the Augurate." Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 76: 180-200.

Arnaldo Momigliano. 1940. Review of R. Syme's Roman Revolution. JRS 30: 75-80.

Theodor Mommsen. 1867. The History of Rome 4. Translated by W. Dickinson. London: Richard Bentley.

Richard Williams and Burma Williams. 1988. "Cn. Pompeius Magnus and L. Afranius: Failure to Secure the Eastern Settlement." CJ 83: 198-206.

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