Against Verres 63 Essay

The events at Lampsacus, which was located in the Roman province of Asia, will preoccupy Cicero until the beginning of § 86. This is a fairly self-contained unit of text. Mitchell (1986) 188 calls Cicero’s account of what happened at Lampsacus ‘one of the finest examples of his skill in narratio’ – and, as one could add with reference to Catherine Steel’s study, spin.65 For in order to appreciate the text in all of its nuances it is of vital importance to bear in mind that we are not getting an objective record of what actually happened, but what Cicero wants his audience to believe has happened. He accordingly manipulates the available information (or facts) in such a way as to capture the attention of his audience by means of a fascinating story that portrays Verres in the worst possible light. In Cicero, narration always has the double function of report and argument. Indeed, the facts that can be established with reasonable certainty from Cicero’s text (our only source) boil down to: (i) during Verres’ stay at Lampsacus, a commotion broke out at a dinner party that the highranking Lampsacene citizen Philodamus organized and which was attended by several members of Verres’ entourage (not by Verres himself); (ii) during this commotion, Cornelius, one of Verres’ lictors, was killed; (iii) at the subsequent trial, over which Dolabella presided, Philodamus and his son were sentenced to death and summarily executed. Everything else remains unsubstantiated and circumstantial – we have to take Cicero’s word for it, even though in § 71 he mentions his informants (P. Tettius and C. Varro, who belonged to the staff of C. Nero, the governor of Asia at the time). Cicero’s purpose is obvious: he construes his tale in such a way that Verres emerges as the mastermind behind the commotion at the dinner party, driven on by lust and lechery; that Philodamus and his son are the innocent and upright victims of Roman aggression; and that the court proceedings were skewed by Verres and his supporters, meaning that the Roman provincial governors of Cilicia (Dolabella) and Asia (Nero) perpetrated judicial homicide to protect Verres. A good way to approach this portion of the text is to ask at every step what techniques Cicero employs to endow his version of the story with plausibility: how does he enhance the appearance of veracity? What parts of his story do not stand up to scrutiny? How does he brush over details that suggest a different explanation of what happened? What is the balance between argument and appeal to the emotions, logic and outrage, that Cicero aims for? Are you, in the end, convinced that Cicero has actually told us what really happened at Lampsacus?

In terms of structure, the story itself falls into two parts, roughly equal in length: §§ 6369 give an account of what happened in Lampsacus; §§ 7076 deal with the judicial aftermath, i.e. the trial and the execution of Philodamus and his son. This is followed by a lengthy attempt to discredit Verres’ version of the story (§§ 7785). The strategy is telling: Cicero first advances his own account and then uses it as foil to question Verres’ ‘official’ version of the story.

In § 63, Cicero sets the scene. He begins in an ethnographic vein, introducing the inhabitants of the city and their key traits, before detailing how it came about that Verres paid a visit to the city. The final part of the paragraph details what Verres initiated upon his arrival at Lampsacus; Cicero makes it out that he is reporting ‘standard operating procedure’ (see esp. ut mos erat istius), thereby underscoring his earlier point that he chose this episode exempli gratia: it stands in for countless similar events that Cicero is passing over in silence. The claim that we are witnessing ‘routine business’ adds to the plausibility of the tale – but it may not be more than a claim.

65.Steel, C. (2004), ‘Being Economical with the Truth: What Really Happened at Lampsacus?’, in J. Powell and J. Paterson (eds.), Cicero the Advocate, Oxford, 233–51.
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