restricted access Making a New Man: Ciceronian Self-Fashioning in the Rhetorical Works (review)
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Reviewed by
John Dugan. Making a New Man: Ciceronian Self-Fashioning in the Rhetorical Works. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. x + 388 pp. Cloth, $120.

The title somewhat undersells this book in two respects. First, in addition to treating several of the rhetorica (De Oratore, Brutus, Orator), it also offers readings of two actual orations (Pro Archia and In Pisonem). Second, and more importantly, self-fashioning in the narrow sense is only half of the project Dugan analyzes. As interested as Cicero was in offering versions of himself to a variety of audiences, he seems to have been at least as interested in fashioning an audience that would evaluate those versions properly (that is, positively). The theatrical character some have noted in much of Roman culture might lead one not to be surprised to find late Republican interest in self-fashioning; and, as Dugan points out, a "new" man such as Cicero would have been particularly self-conscious about the matter. One might even have expected that attempts to change the rules on the fly would be fair game (cf. Pliny Ep. 4.17.3, 6.17.4, 7.4.10). Still, the scale of Cicero's enterprise seems to have no classical parallel and was badly in need of description and analysis. This is the work carried out effectively by Dugan's book. The Cicero being fashioned is in part the togate general and hero of the Catilinarian affair. He is also, however, the cultural producer who tests cultural limits and standards of acceptability and is eventually displaced by his own product.

The first chapter argues that Pro Archia adopts an essentially epideictic form to exploit, on the one hand, the ludic associations of that genre and, on the other, its proximity to the aristocratic laudatio funebris. The former licenses Cicero's valuation of literary polishing (roughly, ornatus), explicitly in poetry, but also in history and oratory. The latter co-opts a highly traditional mode of fashioning for a new man who might not have literal access to it. The speech is both an argument for a certain set of values and a demonstration of Cicero's possession of the same: the value of cultural production to the community, the [End Page 473] value of formal polish and aestheticization to that production, the role of texts in processes of exchange, personal auctoritas as the ultimate guarantor of value, and semiotic transparency. This speech and its hoped-for responses would be able to canonize Cicero's version of the Catilinarian conspiracy, a version in which he was the hero. In Pisonem attempts to canonize a vice-ridden Piso by similar means and also sets him in a world where the same values (especially transparency) break down.

The second chapter reads De Oratore as a defense of a novel, Ciceronian construct of the ideal orator as in fact traditional. The key to the new aesthetic (beyond its being an aesthetic in sometimes moralizing terms) is "controlled transgression," that is, a tolerance for the metaphorical, the theatrical, the humorous, and in general the potentially indecorous and effeminate. This is made tolerable by a variety of strategies. The overt arguments of the text constantly police the boundaries of decorum (even if they protest too much). The whole is projected back onto ancestors who are automatically respectable and from whom Cicero personally can construct an intellectual genealogy. (Here again we have potential contact with the laudatio funebris.) At the same time, parts of the reputations of some of those maiores are cleaned up to suppress potential controversy. The dialogue form displaces responsibility for any particular claim of characters in the text, even though Cicero does in places stress his own authorship of the whole. Not only are Cicero's would-be weaknesses (such as his perhaps over-ready wit) justified, but he also assumes the role of the regulator. Heavy use of bodily metaphors and refusal of the conventional form/content distinction serve to naturalize Cicero's preference for risking effeminacy for the sake of ornatus.

Brutus, the topic of chapter 3, gives a "history" of oratory with a point. Cicero and his preferred style were the natural culminations of that...