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III THE CONSULAR SPEECHES The Ethos of Auctoritas and the Persona of a Consul Great is the name, great the splendor, great the dignity, great the majesty of a consul. That greatness your narrow mind cannot comprehend nor your shallow nature recognize; your spiritless heart and feeble understanding cannot grasp it; nor can you, with your inexperience of prosperity , sustain a persona so eminent, so dignified, so august. (In Pisonem 24) The year 6} B.C. marked the high point in Cicero's life and public career. His accession to the consulship, the final and highest step in the cursus honorum, and his subsequent disclosure of the Catilinarian conspiracy, which obliged him to exercise his consular potestas in an extraordinary and memorable way, would remain for him a source of pride, influence, and renown and provide for his enemies an almost continual source of irritation, annoyance, and grudging envy. Cicero had won, at least temporarily, his struggle for dignity, authority, influence, and reputation, even in the eyes of, or perhaps in the face of the nobilitas. He certainly had a right to be proud of his achievement, and he did not hesitate for a moment to assume the consular persona, a mask that, despite its unaccustomedness, seemed to fit quite comfortably. Cicero's first official act as consul was to speak in opposition to the agrarian law proposed by Rullus. In his oration to the people, the consul projected this new dimension of his ethos and underlined the magnitude and uniqueness of his accomplishments. The comments Cicero makes concerning himself in the opening sections of the speech provide a convenient principium for our examination of the consular ethos. With his election to the consulship-the first "new man" to be so honored in a very long time-the Roman people had broken 50 Trials of Character the barrier of the nobilitas and opened the office to virtue (De Leg. Ag. 2.3).1 Even more impressive than the fact of his election was the time at which he had secured it, having been selected at the youngest possible legal age, in "his own year," a feat no "new man" had ever accomplished (2.3). Still more glorious and illustrious than this, however, was the manner of his election, for he had been universally acclaimed by the Roman people (2.4).2 The exceptional qualities of Cicero's election to the consulship, rehearsed here at great length, further ennoble his ethos. But exceptions to the rule, although often glorious and remarkable, are not always welcome, especially to those who have established the rules. A consul who has been "created in the Campus, not in the cradle,"3 must be especially diligent in guarding the Republic: Many serious thoughts occupy my mind, citizens, thoughts which leave me no share of rest day or night-above all, as regards maintaining the dignity of the consulship, a great and difficult task for anyone, but above all for myself, since no mistake of mine will meet with indulgence; if I am successful, scanty praise and that forced from the people is in prospect; if I am in doubt, I can see no trustworthy counsel, if I am in difficulty, no loyal support from the nobility. (De Leg. Ag. 2.5)4 We see here in more than a nascent state the persona that would emerge into full light with the eruption of the Catilinarian conspiracy : that of the proud, patriotic, and capable consul, whose time, talents, and thoughts were entirely consumed by his care for the Republic. Cicero's accession to the consulship also meant, of course, the acquisition of a new oratorical weapon, consular prestige. By 63 the advocate had already secured for himself, by virtue of his hard work, his willingness to accept and plead many cases, and his important victories in those cases (especially over Hortensius in the Verrine affair), supremacy in the Roman courts. The addition of consular dignity and authority to his character was the crowning jewel of his industria, virtus, and reputation. Cicero understood fully the impact that consular prestige was capable of exerting in Roman society, politics, and especially in the courtroom, and he recognized the advantages it bestowed on its possessoradvantages that in his early career he had worked vigorously to neutralize when present in his adversaries. Now in possession of supreme auctoritas, Cicero would exploit, almost indiscriminately, those advantages in defense of his client and himself. The consular speeches,5 to be sure, are still marked...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469616322
Related ISBN
9780807817599
MARC Record
OCLC
868976113
Pages
224
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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