Testēs nunc vērō iam omnēs sunt ōrae atque omnēs exterae gentēs ac nātiōnēs, dēnique maria omnia cum ūniversa, tum in singulis ōrīs omnēs sinūs atque portūs. Quis enim tōtō marī locus per hōs annōs aut tam firmum habuit praesidium, ut tūtus esset, aut tam fuit abditus, ut latēret? Quis nāvigāvit, quī nōn sē aut mortis aut servitūtis periculo committeret, cum aut hieme aut refertō praedōnum mari nāvigāret? Hōc tantum bellum, tam turpe, tam vetus, tam lātē dīvīsum atque dispersum quis umquam arbitrārētur aut ab omnibus imperātōribus ūnō annō aut omnibus annīs ab ūnō imperātōre cōnficī posse?

31: Pacifying the Pond, or: Pompey and the pirates

With his last ‘geographical witness’, which is the entire Mediterranean coastline and every city located on it, Cicero has reached a new topic on which he will dwell for several paragraphs (§§ 31-35): Pompey’s war against the pirates in the previous year (67 BC)...[full essay]

Study Questions:

  • Identify all words in the nominative in the opening sentence (testes nunc vero iam ... atque portus). What is the verb of the sentence?
  • Explain the case of toto mari.
  • What kind of ut-clauses are ut tutus esset and ut lateret?
  • Compare and contrast the quis that introduces the second sentence (quis enim toto maris locus...) with the quis that introduces the third sentence (quis navigavit...): what is the difference?
  • Explain the tense and mood of committeret.
  • What kind of ablative is hieme?
  • What kind of ablative is referto ... mari?
  • Parse praedonum.
  • What are the subject and the verb of the last sentence (hoc tantum bellum ... confici posse)? What is the rhetorical effect of their placement?
  • Explain the tense and mood of arbitraretur.
  • Identify the subject accusative and the verb of the indirect statement introduced by arbitraretur.
  • What kind of ablative are ab omnibus imperatoribus and ab uno imperatore?
  • What kind of ablative are uno anno and omnibus annis?
  • Parse confici and explain its function in the sentence.
  • In the opening sentence Cicero sketches a notional map of the entire Mediterranean coastline: how much of it was under Roman control at the time of his speech?
  • What does the clause cum aut hieme aut referto praedonum mari navigaret tell us about ancient sea-faring?
  • How and why does the accusative object of the final sentence (hoc tantum bellum, tam turpe, tam vetus, tam late divisum atque dispersum) rhetorically mirror the subject of the first sentence (testes nunc vero iam omnes orae atque omnes exterae gentes ac nationes, denique maria omnia, cum universa, tum ... omnes sinus atque portus)?
  • Identify and appreciate the magnificent chiasmus in the final sentence.

Stylistic Appreciation:

Analyse the rhetorical design of the first sentence (Testis est ... sinus atque portus): how does its form reinforce its theme?

Discussion Point:

What does the claim ‘Pompey brought the war against the pirates to an end’ imply? How did he do it?

Testes [sc. sunt] nunc vero iam omnes orae atque omnes exterae gentes ac nationes, denique maria omnia, cum universa, tum in singulis oris omnes sinus ac portus: the main verb [= sunt] has to be supplied. The dissolution of the formula testis est X, foreshadowed by the extension of the formula in the preceding sentence (testis est iterum et saepius Italia...), indicates a slight change in tone and topic. Instead of calling upon specific countries, Cicero here invokes a plurality of subjects as witnesses – the entire coastline of the Mediterranean Sea, all neighbouring peoples, every bay and harbour – to capture Pompey’s truly astounding success against the pirates. In various ways, the design of the sentence reinforces the impression that Cicero’s witnesses are innumerable: (i) omnes orae, (ii) omnes exterae gentes ac nationes, and (iii) maria omnia constitute a ‘classic’ tricolon, even though at first it appears that Cicero has here violated ‘the law of successively growing cola’ – maria omnia is much shorter than omnes exterae gentes ac nationes. But this apparent anti-climax in fact sets up the final piece of rhetorical gushing, which throws the entire tricolon out of sync: cum universa, tum in singulis oris omnes sinus ac portus. denique suggests that maria omnia will be the final item, but Cicero then proceeds to explore it in ways that produce deliberate inconcinnities, both in terms of syntax and theme. Only the cum-part (the attribute universa) fits grammatically with maria; in the tum-part, Cicero introduces the new subjects sinus and portus, which stand on their own – a fact further reinforced by yet another instance of omnis, which thereby figures four times in one tricolon (i.e. one time too often). Likewise, the tum-part, through inclusion of the phrase in singulis oris, points back to the first item (omnes orae), bringing the sentence full circle: it is as if Cicero, in the way he has designed the sentence, is tracing the entire (irregular) coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. The attributes omnes – omnes – omnia – universa – singulis all add to the impression of comprehensiveness.

nunc vero iam: the words recall the iam vero of § 29. Each one can be used on its own to mark a transition to a new topic or item or to set up a rhetorical climax. English has a wide range of similar words – ‘further’, ‘moreover’, ‘now’, ‘indeed’ – but combining them would produce clumsy prose.

omnes exterae gentes ac nationes: the word gens has two basic meanings: it can refer to a Roman clan or group of families sharing the same nomen and the same supposed ancestors (for example: gens Iulia, alleged to derive from Aeneas’ son Ascanius renamed Iulus); or it can refer (as here) to a non-Roman nation, people, or ethnicity. In those cases, Roman authors often add the attribute ‘exter, -era, -erum’ (‘foreign’) to eliminate ambiguity.25 gens is etymologically related to gigno (‘to bring into being, to create’), just as natio comes from nascor (‘to be born’): the two terms are virtual synonyms. The pleonasm adds to the rhetoric of comprehensiveness and generates a parallel design that has maria, cum universa at its centre:

omnes orae ~ in singulis oris
maria, cum universa
omnes exterae gentes ac nationes ~ omnes sinus ac portus

sinus atque portus: both are fourth declension nouns in the nominative plural. Like most fourth-declension nouns, they are both masculine. (The two most important exceptions are manus, -us, and domus, -us, which are feminine.)

cum ... tum...: cum is a nasty little word because it can mean all sorts of things. It can be either a preposition with the ablative or a conjunction, introducing a range of subordinate clauses in either the indicative or the subjunctive. But it also has some other uses. Followed by tum, for instance, it is used to co-ordinate (and rank) two related circumstances. So whenever you encounter the word, it is a good idea to take a step back and consider what kind of cum you are dealing with. Here, the word that follows cum, i.e. universa, could be in the ablative (suggesting, falsely, that we are dealing with the preposition). It isn’t, of course! If one tries this option out, insurmountable difficulties soon arise: ‘with universal...’ doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and a noun that would complete the phrase is of course nowhere to be found – universa is in the neuter nominative plural agreeing with maria. Perhaps, then, we are dealing with the conjunction? But no finite verb form, in either the indicative or the subjunctive, is coming up! So on to the third option, which requires a tum – and lo and behold, here it is!26

quis enim toto mari locus per hos annos aut tam firmum habuit praesidium, ut tutus esset, aut tam fuit abditus, ut lateret? The subject of the rhetorical question, which requires the answer ‘none’, is quis ... locus, which takes two verbs coordinated by aut – aut: habuit (which governs the accusative object firmum ... praesidium) and fuit. The two ut-clauses are both consecutive, each set up by a tam. Cicero specifies two possibilities by which places might have remained unaffected from the pirates: either they had such a powerful garrison that the pirates would not have dared to attack or they were so well hidden that the pirates would have been unable to locate them. But the way Cicero phrases the question implies that such places did not exist: the entire Mediterranean (cf. toto mari) was under threat from piracy during these years.

quis ... locus: quis is an interrogative adjective modifying locus.

toto mari: an ablative of place. This is a neat phrase to revise some difficult declensions. mare, maris, n. is a pure, third-declension i-stem noun, which means that the dative and the ablative look identical:

Singular Plural
Nominative mare maria
Genitive maris marium
Dative marī marībus
Accusative mare maria
Ablative marī marībus
Vocative mare maria

totus, on the other hand, belongs to a group of adjectives that mix the 2nd and the 3rd declension. This means that, unlike straight 2nd declension adjectives, it is possible to distinguish between the neuter dative singular (toti) and the neuter ablative singular (toto):

The following little rhyme from George Lord may help you remember the irregular genitive and dative singular endings of totus and related adjectives:

unus, solus, totus, ullus,
uter, alter, neuter, nullus
The ending that these words will give
is -ius in the genitive.
For dative endings, don’t be wrong,
Like alius the -i is long.

ut tutus esset ... ut lateret: two result clauses in secondary or historic sequence. The main verbs (habuit and fuit) are ‘perfects without have’ (as Morwood calls them) or ‘aorists’:27 they refer to a past state of affairs that does not continue in the present (as opposed to present perfects or ‘perfects with have’). In historic sequence, the imperfect subjunctive in subordinate clauses (like the result clauses here) refers to the same time as (or a later time than) the verb of the main clause.

quis navigavit, qui non se aut mortis aut servitutis periculo committeret, cum aut hieme aut referto praedonum mari navigaret? In this second rhetorical question, Cicero shifts the focus from (stationary) locations around the Mediterranean to travellers. Just as with the locations, he uses aut – aut (this time two pairs) to sketch out the dire condition of sea-faring before Pompey took care of the pirates. If the previous sentence focused on geographical ubiquity (quis ... locus, i.e. none), here the stress is on the absence of temporal respite from danger: people had the choice of sailing either in winter-time when storms would threaten their lives, or during the proper sailing season (which extended from March to October), when pirates would threaten their liberty. (Though one should perhaps not insist on too strict a match between the two pairs of aut: while mortis ... periculo maps up principally with hieme and servitutis ... periculo with referto praedonum mari, the pirates clearly posed a threat to both liberty and life.)

quis navigavit, qui non se aut mortis aut servitutis periculo committeret: unlike the quis of the previous sentence, which is an interrogative adjective (modifying locus), the quis here stands on its own, as a proud interrogative pronoun. navigavit is another ‘perfect without have’ (see note above). The verb in the relative clause introduced by qui is in the imperfect subjunctive – imperfect to indicate contemporaneous action in historic sequence; subjunctive because the sense is consecutive/resultative: ‘who set sail without the consequence/result of putting his life or liberty in danger?’ committeret governs both a direct object (the reflexive pronoun se) and an indirect object (the dative periculo). The English equivalent is: ‘to expose someone to something’. The two genitives mortis and servitutis both depend on periculo.

hoc tantum bellum, tam turpe, tam vetus, tam late divisum atque dispersum quis umquam arbitraretur aut ab omnibus imperatoribus uno anno aut omnibus annis ab uno imperatore confici posse? Cicero adds yet another rhetorical question but significantly delays the interrogative pronoun (quis), which is the subject of the sentence. The main verb is arbitraretur, which introduces an indirect statement: hoc tantum bellum, tam turpe, tam vetus, tam late divisum atque dispersum is the sprawling subject accusative, posse the verb. The present passive confici goes with posse. As in the two previous rhetorical questions, Cicero uses aut – aut to construct an either/or alternative. uno anno and omnibus annis are ‘ablatives of time within which’.

hoc tantum bellum, tam turpe, tam vetus, tam late divisum atque dispersum: the noun here is bellum, which Cicero pads out with a string of modifiers: tantum refers to the size, turpe to the ethics (Rome being bullied by pirates is ‘shameful’ or ‘dishonourable’), vetus to the duration, and late divisum atque dispersum to the complex geography (it was spread across the entire Mediterranean).

quis umquam arbitraretur: arbitraretur is in the imperfect subjunctive. The subjunctive here has potential force: Cicero’s rhetorical question demands ‘no-one’ as an answer and he uses the potential subjunctive to present it as an unlikely possibility that anyone would ever have believed feasible what Pompey then actually went on to do.

ab omnibus imperatoribus uno anno aut omnibus annis ab uno imperatore: Cicero neatly correlates extremes (both in the sense of minima and maxima) in duration of time and in the number of available generals: countless generals, but only one year; countless years, but only one general. The design is chiastic: ablative of agency (ab omnibus imperatoribus) + ablative of time (uno anno) :: ablative of time (omnibus annis) + ablative of agency (ab uno imperatore). Put differently, from the point of view of military strategy he identifies two pairs that each consists of one positive and one negative aspects: many generals, but very short period of time; all the time in the world, but only one general. Neither scenario, he implies, anyone would have considered a recipe for success. This serves him as foil for Pompey’s achievement, who managed to get the job done despite combining the respective negatives: only one general + very limited amount of time.

25 Note that the masculine nominative singular is exter and not (as some vocabulary lists have it) exterus.

26 Note that the meaning of cum you need here is overlooked in some vocabulary lists, including those approved by OCR.

27 Morwood (1999) 86.


ōra, -ae, f.: edge, border; boundary, limit; coast, sea-coast; by metonymy, territory, region, country.

nātiō, -ōnis, [nāscor, nātus], f.: birth; breed, stock, kind; nation, people.

ūniversus, -a, -um, [ūnus + versus], adj.: all together, whole, entire; general, universal. As subst., ūniversī, -ōrum, m., pl., the whole body of men, all men.

portus, -ūs, m.: harbor, port; haven, refuge. ex portū vectīgal, revenue from customs.

fīrmus, -a, -um, adj.: steadfast, strong, powerful; firm, fast, trusty, faithful.

abditus, -a, -um, [part. of abdō], adj.: concealed, hidden; secluded, secret.

nāvigō, -āre, -āvī, -ātum, [nāvis + agō], 1, n. and a.: sail, set sail, cruise; sail over, navigate.

servitūs, -ūtis, [servus], f.: slavery, service, serfdom.

refertus, -a, -um, [part. of referciō], adj.: crowded full, stuffed, filled; thronged, replete.

praedō, -ōnis, [praeda], m.: plunderer, robber.

tantum [tantus], adv.: so much, so greatly, to such a degree; only so much, only, merely.

lātē [lātus], adv.: broadly, widely; extensively, far and wide.

dispergō, -ere, dīspersī, dīspersum, [dis- + spargō], 3, a.: scatter, strew here and there, disperse.

possum, posse, potuī, [potis + sum], irr., n.: be able, can, have power; have influence, avail.

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Suggested Citation

Ingo Gildenhard, Louise Hodgson, et al., Cicero, On Pompey’s Command (De Imperio), 27–49. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-78374-080-2. DCC edition, 2016.http://dcc.dickinson.edu/cicero-de-imperio/31