Vereor nē haec forte cuipiam nimis antīqua et iam obsolēta videantur; ita enim tum aequābiliter omnēs erant eius modī ut haec laus eximiae virtūtis et innocentiae nōn sōlum hominum, vērum etiam temporum illōrum esse videātur. P. Servīlius, vir clārissimus, maximīs rēbus gestīs, adest dē tē sententiam lātūrus: Olympum vī, cōpiīs, cōnsiliō, virtūte cēpit, urbem antīquam et omnibus rēbus auctam et ōrnātam. Recēns exemplum fortissimī virī prōferō; nam posteā Servīlius imperātor populī Rōmānī Olympum urbem hostium cēpit quam tū in īsdem illīs locīs lēgātus quaestōrius oppida pācāta sociōrum atque amīcōrum dīripienda ac vexanda cūrāstī.

After adducing figures from the period 212 – 146 BC in the previous paragraph, Cicero suddenly pauses to voice the fear that his grand sweep of exempla from the more. . . [full essay]

Grammar and Syntax:

  • Explain the case and function of hominum and temporum illorum.
  • Parse curasti.

Style and Theme:

  • Discuss the interrelation of style and theme in vi, copiis, consilio, virtute.
  • How does ‘the past’ figure in Cicero’s argument?
  • What are the names of the stylistic devices that Cicero deploys in postea … quam? How do they reinforce his argument?

nimis antiqua et iam obsoleta: this is a surprising point of view in a culture that placed a premium on tradition and often equated antiquity with authority. As recent studies have shown, however, the Roman attitude towards their own past in general and Cicero’s handling of exempla maiorum in particular defy easy simplifications.53 Two points are worth bearing in mind: (i) exempla and exemplary figures were often hotly contested, especially during the late Republic: was Scipio Nasica, who killed Tiberius Gracchus in 133 BC, a cold-blooded murderer who ought to be executed or a heroic killer of a potential tyrant who deserved the gratitude of the senate and the people of Rome? Opinion on this differed according to political persuasion. But struggles over the meaning of history were co-existent with Roman Republican history (and, of course, beyond). An example from an earlier period is the controversy around the historical significance of outstanding individuals: a prime example is the above-mentioned Claudius Marcellus, whose reputation was slandered by his opponents after he died ignobly in an ambush.54 (ii) All this adds up to the second point, namely that Cicero never simply invokes exempla as if they pre-existed as readily available facts; rather, he construes them for the rhetorical purpose at hand.

videantur … videatur: Cicero here develops a hypothetical scenario, reinforced by the use of forte (‘conceivably’, ‘perhaps’) and quispiam (‘an unspecified person’, ‘someone’).

haec laus … esse videatur: another interesting line of thought, which builds on the notion of the exempla just listed being potentially out of date. The sentence is meant to explain why Cicero fears that some may consider his precedents obsolete (see enim). The explanation is quite contrived, presupposes a great deal, and is therefore not entirely easy to untangle. The aspects that make up the argument are as follows: (i) Cicero implies that the praise and admiration that his exemplary ancestors nowadays attract is a retrospective phenomenon; during their lifetime, they would not have appeared extraordinary since everyone was equally excellent; (ii) in the absence of degrees of excellence, the praise belongs not (just) to individuals, but (also) to the period;55 this presupposes that the excellence of specific individuals did not owe itself to any personal qualities – rather, it was simply the result of the good luck of living at a good moment in history; (iii) times have changed, and the behavioural patterns that were once common (and now elicit praise) have become obsolete; note that for this inference to make sense Cicero presupposes for the sake of the argument that human beings are by and large creatures of the period in which they happen to live – a notion that, apart from doing away with personal agency and responsibility, would seem to eliminate the past as a meaningful reservoir of norms, values, and exemplary conduct; (iv) a consequence of the presupposition that we are creatures of our times is that the negative comparison of Verres with figures of the past is by the way – since times have changed, so the implied argument, past paragons of virtue (who anyway did nothing more than act in the spirit of their period) possess no authoritative value. What Cicero leaves unexplained in all this is why the current generations of Romans should attach laus to times past (and specific historical figures): this implies, after all, that they did perceive a difference between ancient excellence and the current state of affairs – though his hypothetical adversary could have argued, from within his model of historical determinism, that the perception and evaluation of historical difference is one thing and drawing consequences for current practice quite another. Cicero of course does not endorse this hypothetical line of reasoning at all; for him the past remains a meaningful resource of precedents and normative benchmarks. But why does he go to such length to refute the potential objection that his historical exempla could be dismissed as irrelevant? Perhaps we here capture a mainstay of defences in extortion trials, namely the argument that the behaviour of the defendant did not differ from that of fellow-Romans, that he simply acted like his contemporaries. One way of countering this objection was to cite a contemporary figure who exhibited what some considered outdated excellence; and this, of course, is exactly what Cicero does: he devotes the remainder of § 56 and all of § 57 to a comparison between Verres and P. Servilius, who, conveniently, was part of the jury.

hominum … temporum illorum: genitives of possession depending on esse

temporum illorum: illorum is ambiguous: it could mean either ‘their times’, i.e. referring back to hominum (pronominal use of ille), or ‘those times’ (adjectival use of ille).

Olympum: a city in Cilicia (that is, the very region where Verres served as legate), which served as basis for pirates; the sack yielded a significant amount of booty.

P. Servilius: P. Servilius Vatia Isauricus (consul 79, proconsul in Cilicia 78–77) fought the pirates of the Eastern Mediterranean and local tribes of Asia Minor as proconsul from 78–74. (One of the tribes were the Isauri, inhabitants of Isauria, a region of Asia Minor on the borders of Pisidia and Cilicia, hence his triumphant epithet Isauricus; for the custom of attaching a geographical moniker to a name to signal military involvement in a region one can compare Lawrence of Arabia or Earl Mountbatten of Burma.) In Cicero’s oeuvre, Servilius and superlatives (or alternative markers of distinction) go hand-in-hand: in addition to clarissimus and fortissimus as here, we find gravissimus, amplissimus, sanctissimus, ornatissimus, constantissimus and such formulations as in senatu princeps erat, amabatur a populo.56 Servilius was one of the most distinguished jurors sitting in judgement at Verres’ trial, and Cicero names him repeatedly in the Verrines. They remained close political allies until Servilius’ death as nonagenarian in 44 BC.

vir clarissimus: at the time of Cicero, the adjective clarus tended to be used of senators, but it was not yet a technical term that designated senatorial rank (as it became under the empire): see Berry, D. H. (1996), Cicero, Pro P. Sulla Oratio, edited with introduction and commentary, Cambridge, 136 (on Sul. 3.2).

vi, copiis, consilio, virtute: an intricate quadruple: whereas *alliteration links vi with virtute and copiis with consilio, in thematic terms vi goes with copiis (the troops) and consilio with virtute (the general).

laturus: Mitchell (1986) 187 points out that this ‘is the only example in Cicero of the use of the future participle to convey the idea of purpose.’

Recens: placed first for emphasis; it stands in implied antithesis to the nimis antiqua et iam obsoleta of the opening sentence.

profero: the verb can have the legal sense ‘to produce (documents, etc.) in evidence’ and, more generally (as here), ‘to bring up (a fact, circumstance, etc.) in support of a contention, adduce, put forward for consideration’: OLD s.v. 5.

nam postea Servilius imperator populi Romani Olympum urbem hostium cepit quam tu in isdem illis locis legatus quaestorius oppida pacata sociorum atque amicorum diripienda ac vexanda curasti: Cicero’s report of Servilius’ achievements recalls the idiom used to enumerate the exempla maiorum in the previous paragraph: subject – object – verb of conquest, with subject and object being developed in precise parallel. Here Servilius corresponds to Olympum, imperator to urbem, and populi Romani to hostium. Cicero’s laconic precision in recounting the deed of Servilius (‘he sacked the hostile city Olympus’) contrasts with his verbose description of the activities of Verres. imperator populi Romani contrasts with legatus quaestorius (by adding the qualification ‘of the Roman people’ Cicero reinforces the theme of rightful entitlement and action taken on behalf of the entire commonwealth), just as urbem hostium stands in sharp *antithesis to oppida pacata sociorum atque amicorum. The rhetoric (understatement in one case, hyperbole in the other) misrepresents the facts: whatever Verres may have done, he hardly inflicted more suffering on the locals with his thievery than Servilius did with his military operations – though this is precisely what Cicero implies with diripienda ac vexanda, two verbs that belong in the context of warfare and, in particular, looting.

postea … quam: Cicero elaborates on recens by stressing (not least by means of the *tmesis and the massive *hyperbaton which allow him to place postea prominently at the beginning of the sentence) that he now brings into play events so recent that they happened after Verres’ stint as legate. ‘Postea … quam brackets the main clause and signals the upcoming temporal clause’: Mitchell (1986) 187. Note that there is a slight inconcinnity in Cicero’s argument here: because he wishes to emphasize the recent nature of the exemplum and the fact that Servilius and Verres acted in the same geographic region (in isdem illis locis), we have the seemingly paradoxical situation that at the time of Verres the region was full of pacified towns and friends and allies of the Roman people, yet several years later, during Servilius’ pro-consulship it had somehow turned into an enemy stronghold. One wonders how ‘pacified’ and ‘friendly’ Cilicia truly was when Verres was legate.

curasti: syncopated form of curavisti; Cicero is being highly ironic, while setting up the non-ironic use of curare in the following paragraph.

53.A German dissertation by Bücher, F. (2006), Verargumentierte Geschichte. Exempla Romana im politischen Diskurs der späten römischen Republik, Stuttgart, has shown that the overwhelming majority of historical precedents that Cicero brings into play belong to the fairly recent past (the book comes with a CD-Rom that includes tables of all exempla that Cicero uses in his speeches); and van der Blom, H. (2010), Cicero’s Role Models: The Political Strategy of a Newcomer, Oxford, offers a nuanced overview of the current state of research on Rome’s memorial culture and Cicero’s place within it.
54.See Flower, H. (2003), ‘Memories of Marcellus: History and Memory in Roman Republican Culture’, in U. Eigler, U. Gotter, N. Luraghi, U. Walter (eds.), Formen römischer Geschichtsschreibung von den Anfängen bis Livius: Gattungen – Autoren - Kontexte, Darmstadt, 1-17.
55.The notion of praise belonging to a period rather than to specific individuals who lived within it recurs elsewhere in Cicero’s oeuvre, notably in de Officiis 3.
56.References in Münzer, F. (1923), ‘93) P. Servilius Vatia Isauricus’, Real-Encyclopädie 2.4, 1812–17 (1815).


quispiam, quaepiam, quidpiam, and, as adj., quodpiam, indef. pron., any one, anybody, anything; some one, something, some, any.

obsoleta worn-out, dilapidated; hackneyed;

aequabiliter uniformly, equally; in equal proportions/a regular manner; smoothly; justly;

eius modi of this sort; of such kind; [et ~ => and the like];

eximius, -a, -um, [eximō, take out], adj., choice, fine, excellent; uncommon, extraordinary, remarkable.

innocentia, -ae, [innocēns], f., blamelessness, innocence; uprightness, integrity.

vērum [vērus], adv., truly; but in truth, but notwithstanding, but, however, still. nōn modo — vērum, not only — but. nōn modo — vērum etiam, not only — but also.

Pūblius, -ī, abbreviated P., m., Pūblius, a Roman forename.

Servīlius, -a, name of a Roman gens, at first patrician, afterwards including plebeian families also. The following Servīliī are mentioned in this book: (1) M. Servīlius, tribune of the people B.C. 43. Ant. IV. vi. (2) C. Servīlius Ahāla, cf. Maelius, and n. to p. 62. 1. 4. (3) C. Servīlius Glaucia, see Glaucia. (4) P. Servīlius Vatia, see Vatia.

Olympum A city in Cilicia that was sacked by P. Servilius.

ōrnātus, -a, -um, [part. of ōrnō], adj., fitted out, equipped, provided; furnished, decorated, adorned; eminent, illustrious.

prōferō, -ferre, -tulī, -lātum, [prō + ferō], irr., a., carry out, bring out, bring forth, produce; put forth, stretch out, extend; make known, reveal, show.


Rōmānus, -a, -um, [Rōma], adj., of Rome, Roman, Latin. As subst., Rōmānus, -ī, m., Roman.

posteā [post + eā], adv., after that, thereafter, later; then, afterwards. posteā quam, followed by a clause, after, after that.

quaestorius ex-quaestor;

pācō, -āre, -āvī, -ātum, [pāx], 1, a., make peaceful, pacify, subdue.

dīripiō, -ere, dīripuī, dīreptum, [dī- + rapiō], 3, a., tear asunder, tear in pieces; lay waste, pillage, plunder, rob, ravage.

vēxō, -āre, -āvī, -ātum, [freq. of vehō], 1, a., shake, jolt; disturb, harass, trouble, waste.

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Suggested Citation

Ingo Gildenhard, Cicero, Against Verres, 2.1.53–86. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-90692-463-8. DCC edition, 2016. http://dcc.dickinson.edu/cicero-verres/56