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  • Perceptions of Exile in Cicero: The Philosophical Interpretation of a Real Experience
  • Emanuele Narducci


Dolor is a keyword in Ciceronian oratory: a direct and explicit token of deep emotional involvement, the term underlines the display, through the performance of the orator, of the psychological and moral suffering which lends credibility to the passion in his words, to his outbursts of indignation and to his appeals to pity. 1 Antonius insists on this point when recalling the tones of dramatic pathos to which he had recourse in his defence of Aquilius: non fuit haec sine meis lacrumis, non sine dolore magno miseratio omniumque deorum et hominum et civium [. . .]. Si dolor afuisset meus, non modo miserabilis, sed etiam inridenda fuisset oratio mea (De oratore 2.196). Not unlike Antonius, Cicero himself explains his own surpassing skill in delivering moving perorationes: ut viderer excellere non ingenio sed dolore assequebar (Orator 130).

From such statements it is quite clear that in the law courts the rhetorical manoeuvre is not unusual whereby the orator, in the most emotionally charged passages, displays to the judges the dolor which inspires his words. 2 In this show of emotions Cicero saw something both [End Page 55] akin to that staged by actors in the theatre and at the same time something very different. The difference, as Antonius once again stresses in De oratore 2.194, lies in the fact that the orator does not play another’s role, but enacts his own part (neque actor sum alienae personae, sed auctor meae). 3

The definition of the orator as an auctor personae suae perhaps fits none of Cicero’s speeches better than De domo sua. In this address he speaks not as a patronus to defend another, but to claim his own property and the right to take his place once again and fully at the heights of Roman society after the humiliation of his exile. 4 We can therefore believe what, shortly after delivering the speech, he writes to Atticus about the genuineness of the feelings which dictated his words: secuta est summa contentio de domo. Diximus apud pontifices pridie K. Octobres. Acta res est accurate a nobis, et, si umquam in dicendo fuimus aliquid, aut etiam si numquam alias fuimus, tum profecto dolor reique magnitudo vim quandam nobis dicendi dedit (Ad Atticum 4.2.2).

Throughout De domo sua, Cicero makes a show of still bearing in his heart the marks of that same suffering with which in 58 he had faced parting from Rome and his dear ones, and confronted his later wanderings before the long-awaited recall. But what he actually provides us with in this speech is a reinterpretation of his personal experience of exile ably aimed at restoring his auctoritas, his prestige and his overall political image. 5 For this reason the low spirits, dejection, and discouragement which had distinguished the period of his exile (and which are attested in much of his correspondence) undergo a profound transformation. In De domo sua and even earlier in the Post reditum speeches, the decision to abandon Rome without facing the struggle with Clodius is presented not as being determined by anguish and an awareness of his [End Page 56] own political isolation, but as the result of a rationally considered choice, and one based on the certainty that resorting to armed defence would have quickly thrown the city into a state of chaos. Cicero describes his departure in the terms of a sacrifice, of an out and out devotio on behalf of the res publica and all the boni. He drives home the utter untimeliness of a conflict which would have ranged Gabinius and Piso on the side of the improbi and probably given rise to a social upheaval, with the Roman state being handed over to the slaves. This argument, which plays upon an atavistic fear felt by the ruling classes, is often used by Cicero in his attacks on Clodius. 6

As we shall see more clearly later, Cicero’s philosophical studies have had a considerable influence on the formation of this rhetoric of the struggle’s abandonment and on its general coloring. But what is the philosophy that can be glimpsed...

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