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Arethusa 34.1 (2001) 119-130

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Dressing To Kill: Attire as a Proof and Means of Characterization in Cicero's Speeches1

Andrew R. Dyck

Not all means of persuasion exploited in Cicero's speeches were codified and dissected in ancient rhetorical handbooks. Ann Vasaly (1993) has recently called attention to one example, namely Cicero's use of place in his speeches: both the scene of delivery and the distant places he conjures up. But Cicero was also keen to observe and exploit other phenomena of the world around him. In particular, he made a most judicious use of details of clothing to reinforce his case in court, whether in defense or prosecution, or to undergird his position in senatorial debate, with details of dress usually serving to reinforce the orator's characterizations of people. Recent interest in the body and its construction has fed into the study of antiquity and has sparked examination of attitudes toward both the nude body and the body clothed for presentation in public.2 In particular, Julia Heskel has undertaken an interesting attempt to reconstruct late republican dress codes from Cicero's speeches.3 Such codes, however, were not hard and fast, but were open to much manipulation and interpretation by the orator. Clothing still remains to be considered as a component of Cicero's rhetorical toolkit. [End Page 119]

The use of clothing for emotional effect was a regular feature of the judicial business of both Athens and Rome. During the peroration of the defense speech, the accused, together with his or her parents, children, spouse, or other relatives would stand before the court dressed in squalid raiment in a blatant attempt to move the jurors to pity. This ploy, obvious though it was, must often have been felt to be effective, for Cicero used it whenever possible,4 but he also introduced some interesting variants. The non-fulfillment of the expected ritual of vestitus mutatio could be used to characterize a defendant, like Cicero's client Milo, as too brave to demean himself and his loved ones in this fashion (Mil. 101). This is part of Cicero's strategy of portraying Milo as a kind of Stoic hero, unmoved by emotion, and thus incapable of killing in the heat of passion as the prosecution alleged.5 However, Milo's refusal to play the usual game of charades was not necessarily a matter of fixed principle with him, for he had, in fact, appeared sordidatus at the trial of P. Sestius four years earlier (Sest. 144). In another case, Cicero succeeded in turning this tactic to the advantage, not of the defense, but of the prosecution. In prosecuting C. Verres de repetundis, Cicero introduced in court one of the defendant's victims, the ward P. Junius, dressed in the rags to which he had been reduced by Verres' scam in letting a contract for the repair of the temple of Castor in the forum for which young Junius bore financial responsibility. This tactic seems to have had some effect on the jury, for Verres' defense counsel, Q. Hortensius, was sufficiently annoyed to accuse Cicero of using populist rhetoric (populariter agere, quoted at Ver. 2.1.151-536).

More striking, however, than the wearing of filthy clothes in court, because much more rare, was the removal of clothing there.7 The defense counsel Marcus Antonius parted the tunic of his client M'. Aquilius, accused of extortion, in order to display the wounds the veteran commander had [End Page 120] received facing the enemy. In the sequel, Aquilius, though surely guilty as charged, was acquitted.8 Cicero seems to have imitated this ploy and displayed his client's wounds in the peroration of his defense in the treason trial of C. Rabirius.9

Now the ancients generally believed that there were external signs pointing to inner virtues and vices. The Homeric poems sometimes seem to imply that good looks and fine physique point to sterling character,10 though Homer also shows awareness that Paris' character by no...


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