Edited by: Ingo Gildenhard, Louise Hodgson, et al.
DE IMPERIO 48 ESSAY
The darling of the gods49
Cicero continues using praeteritio to deal with Pompey’s apparent power over fortune, with even nature doing his bidding. His use of the verb obsecundare (with venti and tempestates as subjects) in particular is striking and quite unparalleled: it personifies forces of nature and endows them with a mind of their own that Pompey is somehow able to bend to his will. This remarkable hyperbole assimilates him to a divine being capable of controlling the physical environment – though in the next sentence (hoc brevissime dicam...) Cicero stresses, however obliquely, that the gods remain the ultimate source of Pompey’s luck: he is the recipient of such lavish divine favours (quot et quantas di immortales ad Cn. Pompeium detulerunt) that it would be an act of hubris for others to even dream about them. This sets up the concluding thought: Cicero suggests to the people that it would be in their interest to pray (as, he alleges, they anyway do so already) that the gods transform the felicitas he has ascribed to Pompey into its Sullan variant, by turning it into his personal and ever-lasting possession (quod ut illi proprium ac perpetuum sit). Both the salus and imperium of Rome and the man himself (homo ipse) justify such prayers – though the programmatic reference to Pompey as a human being (homo ipse) is designed to reassure those members of the audience who would have balked at Cicero’s idiom of quasi-deification. Pompey, Cicero continues to suggest, is unlike Sulla: his luck does not serve as a source of self-empowerment beyond the remits of the republican constitution, but benefits the commonwealth at large. Cicero thus manages to attribute to Pompey luck of Sullan proportions without turning it into an undesirable quality reminiscent of a tyrant. The concluding emphasis on the benefits that the Roman people derive from Pompey’s luck picks up on one of the main themes of the speech: the felicitous congruence of Pompey’s appointment to the generalship and the interests of the people.
The section on felicitas, then, offers a precarious balancing act: it is as much about defining and delimiting ‘divine support’ as it is about claiming the quality for Pompey. Cicero makes a significant concession to the Sullan variant, trying to harness its appeal for his argument in favour of Pompey, while at the same time reworking it in a republican key. As Kathryn Welch puts it: ‘Pompey’s felicitas is a personal attribute (Sullan) but he acts in harmony with his fellow-citizens and for their benefit (not-Sullan).’50
49 The following is adjusted from Gildenhard (2011) 269-70.
50 Welch (2008) 194.