Against Verres 55 Essay

Cicero here produces a catalogue of rhetorical questions, each focusing on a landmark battle and commander in the context of Rome’s imperial expansion. With one exception, the list is arranged chronologically and traces significant military encounters in Sicily and the Greek East from the late third century to the middle of the second: i.e. exactly those regions of the Mediterranean in which Verres was active – but also those that produced the most spoils for the coffers of generals and the treasury. Spain was a much less attractive theatre of operation in this respect; but the omission of Carthage – sacked in the same year as Corinth – indicates that Cicero chooses those exempla of particular relevance to the case at hand. Despite the itemizing, Cicero endows his list with a sense of ring-composition, insofar as the list of conquest starts with a city (Syracuse) moves on to region & king (Asia and Antiochus) and king & region (Philip and Macedonia) to king only (Perses) before concluding with one named and many unnamed cities (Corinth and the cities of Achaia and Boeotia more generally).

At the end of the paragraph, Cicero draws his conclusion and establishes a double contrast between the precedents set by the ancestors and the conduct of Verres: their family homes shone with symbolic prestige and excellence but were otherwise unadorned since they put on display their spoils in the public spaces of the city of Rome and all of Italy. With Verres, the exact opposite is the case: the houses of himself and his friends are crammed full with plundered items (yet, by implication, devoid of honos and virtus), whereas the general public in Rome and Italy benefits not at all.

Lists of items can easily become monotonous. This is not the case here. While sticking to a basic ‘subject–object–verb-of-conquest structure’ throughout, Cicero alters details and constructs the overall list climactically. The ensuing effect combines the desirable relentlessness (a long list of ancestral precedents, outstanding figures and their deeds, of which Verres has fallen pitifully short) with the equally desirable variety (to maintain interest and suspense):

  • Marcellus: Syracusas, urbem ornatissimam, cepit: one verb, one direct object with an amplification in apposition. Claudius Marcellus (consul 222, 215, 214, 210, 208) sacked Syracuse in 212 – it is perhaps not a coincidence that an event in Sicily inaugurates the catalogue. See also Ver. 2.4.120–1.
  • Scipio: bellum in Asia gessit Antiochumque, regem potentissimum, vicit: two verbs, two direct objects, the second with an amplification in apposition. L. Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus (consul 190, proconsul 189) beat King Antiochus III in the battle of Magnesia in 190.
  • Flamininus: qui regem Philippum et Macedoniam subegit: one verb, two direct objects in *chiastic order to the king (Antiochus) and the theatre of operation (Asia) in the previous sentence; there is no amplifying attribute, but the shift from an adverbial specification of place (in Asia) to direct object (Macedoniam) ensures an increase in imperial pressure. T. Quinctius Flamininus (consul 198) defeated king Philip of Macedon in the battle of Cynoscephalai in 197. It is difficult to say why Cicero presents this exemplum out of chronological order. Perhaps he wanted to touch on the two geographic regions of greatest pertinence to the case at hand (Sicily and Asia) first, before adding three examples all to do with mainland Greece? Or perhaps he simply wanted the two great battles against Macedon (at Cynoscephalai and Pydna: see next item) to follow on one another?
  • Paulus: qui regem Persen vi ac virtute superavit: Paulus’ success is located in the same theatre of operation as Flamininus’ (Macedonia). Cicero underscores the personal quality of the general epitomized by the term virtus, which he here uses in its basic sense of ‘military prowess’. The *alliterative *paronomasia vis ~ virtus ~ superavit implies an inherent connection between the three words. L. Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus (consul 182 and 168), father of Scipio Aemilianus, defeated Perses of Macedon in the battle of Pydna in 168.
  • Mummius: qui urbem pulcherrimam atque ornatissimam, Corinthum, plenissimam rerum omnium, sustulit, urbisque Achaiae Boeotiaeque multas sub imperium populi Romani dicionemque subiunxit: after his pithy restraint with the first four figures, Cicero opens the floodgates of his rhetoric: two superlatives modifying urbs, the name of the city in apposition, with a further superlative (plenissimam) and a totalizing expression (rerum omnium) attached to it. L. Mummius Achaicus, as consul, sacked Corinth in 146, when he was in charge of the war against the Achaean Confederacy. Elsewhere, Cicero is highly critical of the devastation he wrought: see de Officiis 1.35 and 3.46.
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