Cicero /

Edited by: Ingo Gildenhard, Louise Hodgson, et al.

DE IMPERIO 40 ESSAY

No sight-seeing or souvenirs for the perfect general

Cicero now argues that Pompey’s outstanding character not only ensures compliance with ethical standards in military operations set by the ancestors; it also has significant strategic advantages. The very speed of movement Cicero has singled out earlier as a hallmark of Pompey’s approach to warfare is ultimately grounded in his personal qualities. This is an interesting argument, not least since it runs counter to his earlier assertion that the most important manifestation of virtus is martial prowess, whereas the ‘soft’ qualities are mere handmaidens. Consider: in § 29, Cicero identified celeritas in conficiendo as one of the virtutes imperatoriae, which everybody recognizes as such; in contrast, temperantia is one of those seemingly ‘secondary’ qualities that Cicero introduces as administrae comitesque to virtus bellandi in § 36. Now it emerges that temperantia is in fact the enabling condition of celeritas in conficiendo – far from being secondary, it is foundational for Pompey’s success (and hence an essential element of Cicero’s conception of the summus imperator). Cicero does not spell any of this out explicitly. But those able to read between the lines will realize that his initial endorsement of virtus bellandi as the most important manifestation of aristocratic excellence is little more than a concession to Roman common sense that he himself does not share. Through the unorthodox validation of other, ethical qualities, and the (frankly astonishing) argument that they are of fundamental importance not just for winning over the hearts and minds of locals but for successful warfare, Cicero’s discussion of virtus in the pro lege Manilia offers at least a partial critique and subversion of this common sense – and a redefinition of virtus in a distinctly Ciceronian key.

As in the previous paragraph, Cicero makes his case by means of comparison (cf. § 36: ea magis ex aliorum contentione quam ipsa per sese cognosci atque intellegi possunt). Unlike other generals, Pompey is immune to temptations and desires that routinely slow down members of Rome’s ruling elite when on campaign in the Greek East, with its manifold attractions and opportunities for enrichment and pleasure. Whereas his peers get sidetracked, Pompey’s moderation enables single-minded dedication to the task at hand. Cicero here concedes that many Roman aristocrats considered the Eastern Mediterranean as one large museum from which they could help themselves to statues, paintings, and other artworks for display back in Rome. But greed and plunder, as he has already argued in earlier sections of the speech, slow down military progress and incite hostility among the indigenous people. It is one of the main reasons why Lucullus had not been able to finish off Mithridates after defeating him in battle (§ 22):

Primum ex suo regno sic Mithridates profugit, ut ex eodem Ponto Medea illa quondam profugisse dicitur, quam praedicant in fuga fratris sui membra in eis locis, qua se parens persequeretur, dissipavisse, ut eorum collectio dispersa, maerorque patrius, celeritatem persequendi retardaret. Sic Mithridates fugiens maximam vim auri atque argenti pulcherrimarumque rerum omnium, quas et a maioribus acceperat et ipse bello superiore ex tota Asia direptas in suum regnum congesserat, in Ponto omnem reliquit. Haec dum nostri colligunt omnia diligentius, rex ipse e manibus effugit. Ita illum in persequendi studio maeror, hos laetitia tardavit.

[At first Mithridates fled from his kingdom, as Medea is formerly said to have fled from the same region of Pontus; for they say that she, in her flight, strewed about the limbs of her brother in those places along which her father was likely to pursue her, in order that the collection of them, dispersed as they were, and the grief which would afflict his father, might delay the speed of his pursuit. Mithridates, flying in the same manner, left in Pontus the whole of the vast quantity of gold and silver, and of beautiful things which he had inherited from his ancestors, and which he himself had collected and brought into his own kingdom, having obtained them by plunder in the former war from all Asia. While our men were diligently occupied in collecting all this, the king himself escaped out of their hands. And so grief retarded the father of Medea in his pursuit, but delight delayed our men.]

And, as Cicero goes on to say, the reputation of L. Lucullus’ army that it would despoil even the most sacred shrines struck fear into the hearts and minds of the local population, so that they rose up in arms against the Romans and afforded protection to Mithridates (§ 23).

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