- Purchase/rental options available:
Cicero's Verrine Orations offer a glimpse into the complex political posturings surrounding the reception of Greek art by Roman audiences. Cicero downplays his own (legitimate) collecting habits, and accuses Gaius Verres, the corrupt governor of Sicily from 73–71 bce, of abusing his political office by looting the island's art treasures. One example that particularly disturbs Cicero is the theft of a statue of Sappho, commissioned by the Syracusans from the early Hellenistic sculptor Silanion for their town hall. This theft is shown to be part of a pattern in Verres' behavior, as he repeatedly removes public images of women and female divinities from their civic or cultic sites of honor, and transfers them to his private dwelling. The language of sexual exploitation pervades Cicero's narratives as he argues that Verres perverts the statues by using them for private delectation. Because Verres leaves behind the inscribed base of the Sappho statue, she may no longer be identifiable as the archaic lyric poet once she has been carried off to Rome. Verres' inappropriate passion for Greek artwork, according to his accuser, destroys the statue's identity as a famous female poet from archaic Greece, and reduces it to a nameless female body, a victim of imperialism and greed.