Iam vērō virtūtī Cn. Pompēī quae potest ōrātiō pār invenīrī? Quid est, quod quisquam aut illō dīgnum aut vōbīs novum aut cuiquam inaudītum possit adferre? Neque enim illae sunt sōlae virtūtēs imperātōriae, quae vulgō exīstimantur, labor in negōtiīs, fortitūdō in perīculīs, industria in agendō, celeritās in cōnficiendō, cōnsilium in prōvidendō; quae tanta sunt in hōc ūnō, quanta in omnibus reliquīs imperātōribus, quōs aut vīdimus aut audīvimus, nōn fuērunt.

29: His Excellence (and Excellences)

After fairly briskly dispatching the first of four essential attributes of his perfect general, scientia rei militaris, in § 28, Cicero here moves on tothe second in his list, virtus, which receives more extensive coverage (§§ 29-42). In § 29 he introduces three decisive conceptual operations that remain crucial for how the section on virtus unfolds…[full essay]

Study Questions:

  • How does the dative virtuti fit into the sentence?
  • What is the subject of the opening question?
  • Identify and explain the mood of possit.
  • Discuss Cicero’s manipulation of the term ‘virtus’ in this paragraph, starting with the switch from singular (virtuti) to plural (virtutes).
  • Parse quae in the sentence quae tanta sunt in hoc uno... What is its antecedent?
  • Cicero here lists those qualities of a general that are commonly thought of as such, but also claims that there are others: what are they? And how do they compare to labor in negotiis, fortitudo in periculis, industria in agendo, celeritas in conficiendo, and consilium in providendo?
  • Why does Cicero distinguish between imperatores he and his audience have seen (vidimus) and those they have only heard of (audivimus)? Comment on the use of the first person plural verbs (vidimus, audivimus).

Stylistic Appreciation:

What are the lexical and rhetorical devices Cicero uses in this paragraph to elevate Pompey’s claim to virtus above that of everyone else?

Discussion Point:

  • vir-tus is related to vir (‘man’): its basic meaning is ‘manliness’. What did manliness comprise in late republican Rome? What does ‘being a man’ mean in 21st century Britain? What are the similarities, what the differences?
  • Do you have to be a man to exhibit virtus?

Iam vero virtuti Cn. Pompei quae potest oratio par inveniri?: Cicero begins the new section with a rhetorical question, flagging up the inability of speech (even his) to match reality. The interrogative adjective quae and the noun it modifies (oratio) are postponed, yielding proleptic pride of place to Pompey’s virtus. The word order, with virtus coming first and the oratio about it a distant second, thus mirrors the facts. The v-alliteration verovirtuti (cf. also inveniri) adds rhetorical colour.

Iam vero: iam can be used to mark a transition to a new topic (here from Pompey’s scientia rei militaris to his virtus); in this sense, it is frequently strengthened by vero (as here): OLD s.v. iam 8a.

inveniri: the basic meaning of invenio is ‘to encounter, come upon, meet, find’. In rhetoric, it acquired the technical sense ‘to devise arguments or topics for a speech’. Inventio (‘invention’, ‘finding something to say’) is the first of five canonical parts in classical rhetorical theory of how to prepare and deliver an oration. The others are dispositio (‘the organization of the argument’), elocutio (‘style’, i.e. ‘artful expression’), memoria (‘memory’, ‘recall’), and pronuntiatio or actio (‘delivery’). Cicero’s earliest surviving piece of theoretical prose is entitled de Inventione. Cicero thus seems to imply that he could falter at the first task when faced with the challenge of capturing Pompey’s virtus in discourse. Despite this (mock-)diffidence, he will of course rise to the occasion.

quid est quod quisquam aut illo dignum aut vobis novum aut cuiquam inauditum possit adferre?: The subject and the predicate of the question are quid and est. quid is also the antecedent of quod; the subject of the quod-clause is quisquam; dignum, novum, inauditum are predicates of quod. Cicero uses a polyptoton of the generalizing quisquam ~ cuiquam and a polysyndetic (autautaut) tricolon to underscore the futility of anyone (quisquam) trying to put Pompey’s outstanding ability into words that would be worthy of Pompey (illo), novel to the Roman people (vobis), or unfamiliar to anyone (cuiquam) in the whole wide world. The rhetorical question calls for the answer ‘nothing’. Cicero, of course, will find something to say worthy of Pompey, new to his audience, and simply unheard of – starting with the next sentence where he claims that there are virtutes imperatoriae not commonly thought of as such, a claim that (as we shall see) forms the basis for an interesting bipartite structure to this section. In what follows, then, the posture of modesty adopted here thus imperceptibly turns into a platform of oratorical megalomania that culminates in the assertion at the end of the section (§ 42) that outstanding public oratory features among those things worthy of a general. There is, then, plenty that is novel and unheard of in Cicero’s discourse about (Pompey’s) virtus, and in a special sense the originality of his approach also proves ‘worthy’ of Pompey (as well as of Cicero himself).

quid est ... quod quisquam ... possit adferre?: quod introduces a relative clause of characteristic (hence the subjunctive possit): ‘what is there of such a kind that...’

Neque enim illae sunt solae virtutes imperatoriae, quae vulgo existimantur,

labor in negotiis,
fortitudo in periculis,
industria in agendo,
celeritas in conficiendo,
consilium in providendo,

quae tanta sunt in hoc uno, quanta in omnibus reliquis imperatoribus, quos aut vidimus aut audivimus, non fuerunt: the subject of the sentence is illae, which takes solae virtutes imperatoriae as predicate and functions as antecedent of the relative pronoun quae: ‘those are not the only qualities specific to a general, which are thought of as such by the people – namely...’.

quae, a connecting relative (= et ea), is in the nominative neuter plural (cf. tanta) as Cicero steps back and sums up the preceding qualities (which are of indiscriminate gender).

labor in negotiis: labor is here used in the relatively rare sense of ‘application to work’, ‘industry’, ‘perseverance’: OLD s.v. 2. Most commonly, it means ‘work’, ‘labour’, ‘toil’, ‘physical exertion’, ‘hardship’. Cicero uses labor as a positive hallmark elsewhere, often in conjunction with another term such as studium (de Oratore 1.260: Atheniensem Demosthenem, in quo tantum studium fuisse tantusque labor dicitur: ‘Demosthenes, the Athenian, in whom there is said to have been so much enthusiasm and application to work’) or industria (in Verrem 3.103: hominum summi laboris summaeque industriae: ‘men of the greatest industry and diligence’). More frequently, labor is not itself a virtus, but the context in which excellence manifests itself. See e.g. Tusculan Disputations 1.2: in laboribus et periculis fortitudo (‘courage in hardships and dangers’). The willingness to undergo physical toil and bear hardship is a key feature of Roman-aristocratic self-promotion.

As for neg-otium: as the negation of otium (‘free time’, ‘leisure’), it refers to the fact of being occupied, i.e. ‘work’ or ‘business’ and, in particular, ‘public or official business’, both in the singular and (as here) plural, with or without the attribute publicus.

fortitudo in periculis: fortitudo means ‘courage’ and ‘courage’ only (unlike virtus, which can mean ‘courage’ but also has a wide range of other meanings). Quintessentially, it captures facing up to danger, in particular on the battlefield. In § 28, Cicero implicitly divided the qualities that characterize the perfect military commander into ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ ones, when he lamented the absence of a large pool of viri fortes atque innocentes to choose from (utinam, Quirites, virorum fortium atque innocentium copiam tantam haberetis...!). His supreme commander needs to be brave (fortis) first and foremost, but also show integrity of character (innocens) – one of the ‘uncommon’ qualities Cicero will return to in § 36.

[Extra information:

The adjective fortis is very common, the noun fortitudo less so. Cicero uses it a lot in his philosophical works to translate the Greek term for ‘manliness’ and courage, i.e. andreia (from anêr, meaning ‘man’) since he employs virtus (in terms of etymology, the closest equivalent to andreia) to translate the Greek term for ethical excellence, i.e. aretê.23 In the speeches, in contrast, fortitudo occurs only nine times.]

industria in agendo: industria means ‘diligence’, ‘application’, ‘industry’, referring to the careful and purposeful pursuit and execution of tasks, not least in military matters.

celeritas in conficiendo: Given that the war against Mithridates had been dragging on for more than two decades, Pompey’s track-record of bringing conflicts to a quick and decisive conclusion (proven not least in his campaign against the pirates: a point that Cicero will hammer home in §§ 32-35, with repeated references to ‘speed’) is particularly pertinent.

consilium in providendo: consilium has a range of meanings, from ‘advice/counsel’ to ‘advisory body/council’. Here it refers to the ‘exercise of judgement’ or ‘discernment’ in matters of military strategy or more generally ‘strategic intelligence’.

quae tanta sunt ..., quanta ... non fuerunt: tanta modifies quae in predicative position and correlates with quanta (‘these are present to such a degree, as...’).

in hoc uno ... in omnibus reliquis imperatoribus: an antithesis that contrasts this one specific individual with all the rest. It is reinforced by the chiasmus of (a) hoc (b) uno :: (b) in omnibus (a) reliquis.

quos aut vidimus aut audivimus: the antecedent of quos is imperatoribus. With vidimus and audivimus Cicero harks back to the end of § 27, where he argued that Pompey outshines in excellence both the glory of his contemporaries (eorum hominum, qui nunc sunt, gloriam) and the memory of historical superstars (memoriam antiquitatis): vidimus refers to individuals within living memory (whether still alive or dead: vidimus is in the perfect) and audivimus to generals more distant in time or culture. The ancient world produced its share of military geniuses, and Cicero’s formulation evokes the spectre of one figure in particular: Alexander the Great. He was widely considered the best and the most successful military leader there ever was, and Pompey, from early on, modelled himself on the Macedonian prince in a spirit of imitation and emulation, starting with his adoption of the epithet ‘Magnus’.

22 Cicero’s discussion of virtus at de Inventione 2.159, where he defines the term philosophically (and very much against Roman common sense) as animi habitus naturae modo atque rationi consentaneus (‘a disposition of the mind in harmony with nature and reason’) and posits that it is comprised of four parts, i.e. prudentia (‘practical wisdom’), iustitia (‘justice’), fortitudo (‘bravery’), and temperantia (‘moderation’), is slightly different again: it betokens an attempt to impose a Greek intellectual grid of canonical excellences on the Roman notion, but again demonstrates how malleable virtus was in Roman discourse, dependent on genre and occasion.

23 McDonnell (2006) 334.


Gnaeus, -ī, abbreviated Cn., m.: Gnaeus, a Roman forename.

Pompēius, -a: name of a plebeian gens. The most distinguished person bearing the name was Cn. Pompēius Māgnus, born Sept. 30, B.C. 106. He was victorious over the pirates and over Mithridates, was a member of the first triumvirate, and was killed in Egypt, whither he had fled for refuge, after the battle of Pharsalia, Sept. 29, B.C. 48.

possum, posse, potuī, [potis + sum], irr., n.: be able, can, have power; have influence, avail.

inaudītus, -a, um, [in- + audītus], adj.: unheard-of, unusual, strange.

imperātōrius, -a, -um, [imperātor], adj.: of a commander, of a general.

fortitūdō, -inis, [fortis], f.: strength; firmness, courage, bravery, fortitude.

industria, -ae, [industrius], f.: activity, diligence, zeal, industry.

celeritās, -ātis, [celer], f.: swiftness, speed, quickness.

prōvideō, -ēre, prōvīdī, prōvīsum, [prō + videō], 2, a. and n.: see beforehand, see in advance, foresee, discern; see to, take care, look after, provide, be careful.

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Suggested Citation

Ingo Gildenhard, Louise Hodgson, et al., Cicero, On Pompey’s Command (De Imperio), 27–49. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-78374-080-2. DCC edition, 2016.http://dcc.dickinson.edu/cicero-de-imperio/29