Remembering the Roman People. Essays on Late-Republican Politics and Literature

Author: Wiseman, Timothy Peter
Title: Remembering the Roman People. Essays on Late-Republican Politics and Literature
Place edition: Oxford, New York
Editor: Oxford University Press
Year edition: 2009
Pages: 271
Keywords: Héritage - Fortuna - Legacy, Histoire - Storia - History, Politique - Politica - Politics

Balbo, "Rivista Storica Italiana" 123 (2), 2011, 824-827 – Classen, "Historische Zeitschrift" 290 (2), 2010, 439-441 – Flower, "Journal of Roman Studies" 100, 2010, 251-253 – Gabba, "Athenaeum" 97 (2), 2009, 741-742 – Kraus, "Bryn Mawr Classical Review" 7, 2010 – Martin, "Revue des Etudes Latines" 87, 2009, 440-442 – Mouritsen, "Classical Review" NS 60 (2), 2010, 522-524 – Mutschler, Gnomon 83 (7), 2011, 608-611 – Osgood, "The Classical Journal" 105 (2), 2010, 180-183 – Raepsaet-Charlier, "L'Antiquité Classique" 81, 2012, 480-483 – Scheidel, "American Journal of Philology" 131 (2), 2010, 335-338 – Tatum, "Hermathena" 186, 2009, 101-106

Description: [Editor Abstract] This book consists of ten linked studies of the political culture of the late Roman republic, all based on the premise that most recent scholarship has been over-influenced by the ideology of the self-styled optimates, as transmitted above all in the letters and speeches of Cicero, and has largely ignored the interests and ideological standpoint of the Roman People as a whole. Rejecting the assumption that the republic was always and necessarily an oligarchy, and keeping open the possibility that the People had a strong egalitarian ethos of its own, normally in conflict with that of the optimates, the book investigates a series of political episodes which have not been satisfactorily explained, and brings out, as a counterweight to Cicero, the hitherto unexploited political character of his near-contemporary Marcus Varro. Among the other themes explored are the attitudes of two lost Roman historians, Licinius Macer and Asinius Pollio; the dramatic nature of Roman satire, consistently ignored by scholars of Latin literature; the inextricable interdependence of performance space and political space in Rome; the extraordinary justification of political murder in Cicero’s philosophical dialogues; and the verdicts passed on Cicero and Caesar by a great 19th-century historian who was also an orator and an experienced politician.

Keywords: Cicero, Caesar, optimates, performance space, political murder, Roman People, Roman politics, Roman republic, Roman satire, Varro.

Chapter 1. Roman History and the Ideological Vacuum. In the Roman republic, only the People could make laws and elect politicians to office; the word respublica means ’The People’s business’. So why is it always assumed that the republic was an oligarchy? The reading of late-republican politics as a non-ideological competition for office was created by Gelzer in 1912 in reaction against the ’party-political’ model presupposed by Mommsen; reinforced by M?nzer (1920) and Syme (1939), it was enshrined as accepted doctrine in ’Paully-Wissowa’. This chapter argues that the Gelzer model relies on the misinterpretation of a key text, that close reading of the contemporary sources reveals far more ideological conflict than the Gelzer model allows, and that one of the results of assuming its truth has been a failure to appreciate the political background of the historian Licinius Macer.

Chapter 2. The Fall and Rise of Gaius Geta This chapter investigates a neglected political episode of the late 2nd century BC. the expulsion from the Senate, by the censors of 115, of the ex-consul C. Licinius Geta, who was then himself elected as censor for 108. The evidence for these events is very inadequate, but analysis of the narratives of the period in Appian and Sallust enables us to piece together the picture of an arrogant aristocracy and the resistance to it by those who spoke for the Roman People. Geta’s family had been responsible for many laws (legendary and historical) for the benefit of the citizens; attention is drawn to a neglected tradition, in Columella, that a tribune Licinius first divided the common land into equal seven-iugera plots after the expulsion of Tarquin, and it is argued that the Licinius Stolo who limited the size of holdings passed his law early in the 2nd century BC.

Chapter 3. Licinius Macer, Juno Moneta, and Veiovis. This chapter takes issue with Tim Cornell’s view that nothing useful can be known about the historian Licinius Macer and that he should not necessarily be identified as the tribune of that name in 73 BC, to whom Sallust in his Histories attributed a speech on the restoration of the tribunes’ powers. The traditions on the founding of the tribunate are analysed, with Macer suggested as the source who named two Licinii and a Sicinius among the original tribunes elected. A new proposal for the site of the Juno Moneta temple, where Macer claimed to have found documentary evidence for the early republic, places it on Catulus’ huge new platform on the site of Romulus’ asylum on the Capitol. The god of the asylum was Veiovis, who is identified as the young god with the thunderbolt on Macer’s coin issue of 84 BC.

Chapter 4. Romulus’ Rome of Equals. According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Romulus divided up the territory of Rome equally among the citizens. He makes that point at the start of a lengthy digression on Romulus’ constitutional arrangements, inserted into the narrative between the foundation and the rape of the Sabines. The digression clearly comes from a non-narrative source, and since Dionysius at one point refers to Varro’s Antiquitates, this chapter compares the particular measures he attributes to Romulus with what is known of Varro’s views on each item, and concludes that the entire digression is likely to have been taken from the Antiquitates. It may be significant that Varro’s own family was enrolled in the Quirina tribus, whose original members had been allotted strictly equal seven-iugera farms in the Sabine country conquered by Manius Curius in the 3rd century BC.

Chapter 5. Macaulay on Cicero. So much of our detailed knowledge of late-republican politics comes from Cicero that there is a constant danger of being over-influenced by Cicero’s own political views. In order to counter that, this chapter draws attention to the judgements made on Cicero’s life and work by Thomas Babington Macaulay in his letters, his journals, and the margins of his books. Macaulay constantly re-read the classical authors, and his phenomenal memory gave him an unrivalled mastery of the literary sources for the ancient world; as an orator and a statesman as well, he was ideally placed to give an informed judgement on Cicero’s politics. He was critical of Cicero’s cultivation of the optimates after 63 BC, and what shocked him most was Cicero’s praise of the men who killed the Gracchi, and his delight at the murder of Caesar.

Chapter 6 Cicero and Varro. Cicero’s correspondence with Varro in 46 BC gives the impression that they were friends whose interests and opinions were as one; on the other hand, his letters to Atticus about Varro in 59 and 45 BC reveal how little they had in common. This chapter explores the differences between the two men, starting from Cicero’s allusions to Homer and Euripides to describe Varro’s temperament and political position. There is no reason to suppose that Varro’s satire Tricaranos was critical of Caesar and Pompey; his use of the ?helmsman’ metaphor in De lingua Latina shows how he distanced himself from the optimate views of Cicero’s De republica; and a fragment of his lost De uita populi Romani evidently refers to a very un-Ciceronian policy of civil concord in the months after the Ides of March.

Chapter 7. Marcopolis. The fragments of Varro’s Menippean satires have been unjustly neglected by both literary scholars and historians. This chapter demonstrates that Roman satire had been from its inception a performance genre, and that Varro’s satires were written for the stage; ’Menippean’ satire evidently exploited the Cynic philosophers, who made a performance of their own life, and ?Marcus’, the protagonist of many of the Varronian satires, is shown to have similar opinions to those held by his creator. For over twenty years, from the 80s to the 60s BC, Varro entertained the Romans by showing them how their present conduct fell short of the standards of their ancestors; those he attacked were evidently the wealthy, luxurious, and corrupt ? the same aristocrats whose villas he was still criticising in the Res rusticae thirty years later.

Chapter 8. The Political Stage Roman political life was a spectacle, not only for the magistrate on the rostra addressing the assembled People, but for prosecutors and defence counsel in the courts, and for other senators on great occasions, such as Cicero on his return from exile in 57 BC. This chapter examines the evidence for the places in the Forum and elsewhere that were used by the People as vantage points, for the temporary stages and auditoria that were put up for the games, and for the use of magistrates’ tribunals as stages for performance. In the light of this information, an examination of the evidence for Antony’s behaviour at the Lupercalia of 44 BC, when Caesar was offered the crown, provides a vivid insight into the overlapping conceptual worlds of politics and spectacle at Rome.

Chapter 9. The Ethics of Murder. Before 133 BC, the Roman republic had solved political crises by compromise and without violence; after that year, murder was acceptable in Roman politics, and the civil wars followed. Was it what Tiberius Gracchus did that made the difference, or what was done to him? The former, according to the optimate tradition, was followed by Cicero ? as if legislation in the People’s interest were enough to justify killing the legislator. This chapter investigates the history of that idea, and its application by Cicero and Brutus to the murders of Clodius and Caesar. It is clear from the Pro Milone and from Cicero’s correspondence that the optimates automatically equated successful popularis politicians as Greek tyrants, and applied Plato’s analysis of the ’tyrannical man’ as a self-evident justification for murder.

Chapter 10. After the Ides of March. This chapter offers a close reading of the narratives in Nicolaus of Damascus and Appian of the events of 15-19 March 44 BC. It is clear that both were using a well-informed source dependent on eye-witness accounts, probably Asinius Pollio, and that Appian and the other later authors also used an influential narrative unknown to Nicolaus, probably Livy. It is suggested that the histrionic behaviour of Cornelius Cinna (culminating in the murder of ’Cinna the poet’) and the brave speech of Lucius Piso were Livian elaborations of the story, possibly motivated by political considerations in 16-15 BC. Antony’s conduct of the funeral is analysed as further evidence of the spectacle of public life, with the rostra used as a full-scale stage set. The narrative disproves Cicero’s allegation that the Roman People approved of the killing of Caesar.
Author initials: Wiseman 2009