Cnidum aut Colophōnem aut Samum, nōbilissimās urbēs, innumerābilēsque aliās captās esse commemorem, cum vestrōs portūs atque eōs portūs, quibus vītam ac spīritum dūcitis, in praedōnum fuisse potestāte sciātis? An vērō ignōrātis portum Cāiētae celeberrimum ac plēnissimum nāvium īnspectante praetōre ā praedōnibus esse dīreptum, ex Mīsēnō autem eius ipsīus līberōs, quī cum praedōnibus anteā ibi bellum gesserat, ā praedōnibus esse sublātōs? Nam quid ego Ōstiēnse incommodum atque illam lābem atque ignōminiam reī pūblicae querar, cum prope īnspectantibus vōbīs classis ea, cui cōnsul populī Rōmānī praepositus esset, ā praedōnibus capta atque oppressa est? Prō dī immortālēs! tantamne ūnīus hominis incredibilis ac dīvīna virtūs tam brevī tempore lūcem adferre reī pūblicae potuit, ut vōs, quī modo ante ōstium Tiberīnum classem hostium vidēbātis, nunc nūllam intrā Ōceanī ōstium praedōnum nāvem esse audiātis?

    33: Pirates ante portas!

    This section sees a continuation of the onslaught of questions Cicero began in § 31. They serve to illustrate how great the threat the pirates presented was and therefore how great Pompey must be as a general to have successfully defeated them. In the course of his geopolitical sweep, Cicero brings the enemy ever closer to home. ..[full essay]

    Study Questions:

    • Identify and explain the mood of commemorem.
    • Identify the subject accusatives and the infinitives of the indirect statements introduced by commemorem, sciatis, and ignoratis.
    • What does Cicero mean by vitam et spiritum?
    • What construction are inspectante praetore and inspectantibus vobis?
    • Look at the verbs captas esse, esse direptum, esse sublatos, capta (sc. est), oppressa est. What do you notice about their voice? Is there a rationale for Cicero’s ‘choice of voice’ here? How does it change after pro di immortales!?
    • cui consul…praepositus est: what case is cui and why? What is the antecedent?
    • Does Cicero choose his moment for the exclamation pro di immortales well?
    • What noun does tantam(ne) agree with? What is the rhetorical effect of its placement in the sentence?
    • Explore the tension between ‘mortal’ and ‘immortal’ in the phrase unius hominis incredibilis ac divina virtus.
    • What is the rhetorical effect of Cicero’s relentless references to pirates in this paragraph (in praedonum ... potestate; a praedonibus; cum praedonibus; a praedonibus; a praedonibus; nullam ... praedonum navem)?
    • Discuss Cicero’s reference to seeing and spectatorship in this paragraph.
    • Can you place the locations Cicero mentions here (Cnidus, Colophon, Samos, Caieta, Misenum, Ostia, the straits of Gibraltar) on a map? Is there a logic to the order in which they occur?

    Stylistic Appreciation:

    How does Cicero maintain the supernatural colouring he introduces in his discourse with the exclamation pro di immortales! in the subsequent sentence?

    Discussion Point:

    Why does Cicero refer to the pirates’ attack on Ostia as a national disgrace? What qualifies as a ‘national disgrace’ nowadays?

    Cnidum aut Colophonem aut Samum, nobilissimas urbes, innumerabilesque alias: Plutarch, Life of Pompey 24, recounts the indiscriminate plundering of the pirates in the Eastern Mediterranean, mentioning Samos (but not Cnidus or Colophon): ‘Besides, they attacked and plundered places of refuge and sanctuaries hitherto inviolate, such as those of Claros, Didyma, and Samothrace; the temple of Chthonian Earth at Hermione; that of Asclepius in Epidaurus; those of Poseidon at the Isthmus, at Taenarum, and at Calauria; those of Apollo at Actium and Leucas; and those of Hera at Samos, at Argos, and at Lacinium.’

    cum vestros portus atque eos portus ... in praedonum fuisse potestate sciatis?: sciatis is in the subjunctive in a circumstantial cum-clause. It introduces another indirect statement: vestros portus and eos portus are the subject accusatives, and fuisse the infinitive. Cicero distinguishes between the harbours that were (or ought to have been) under direct control of the Roman people (vestros portus) and those from which shipments of corn were sent to Rome (eos portus). The pirates managed to bring each type into their power, at least temporarily.

    quibus vitam et spiritum ducitis: quibus is either an ablative of origin or an instrumental ablative; the indicative ducitis signals that the relative clause is not part of the indirect statement (otherwise the verb would be in the subjunctive): Cicero is stating a fact. The phrase vita et spiritus refers, literally, to ‘breath as the concomitant of life or consciousness’ (OLD s.v. spiritus 3); here Cicero uses it metaphorically to refer to Rome’s corn supply, which the pirates put under threat.

    in praedonum fuisse potestate: there is both a prepositional hyperbaton (the preposition in is not immediately followed by potestate, the noun it governs) and verbal hyperbaton (fuisse breaks up the phrase praedonum potestate) here. These smaller rhetorical flourishes do not compromise the audience’s understanding of Cicero’s sentences or force it to wait until the end of the sentence for key information as a periodic sentence does, but add some spice and make the syntax a little more exciting. The unusual word order could also mirror the disruption the pirates caused to Roman systems.

    An vero ignoratis portum Caietae celeberrimum ac plenissimum navium inspectante praetore a praedonibus esse direptum? ex Miseno autem eius ipsius liberos, qui cum praedonibus antea bellum gesserat, a praedonibus esse sublatos?: ignoratis introduces two further indirect statements:

    • (i) portum (subject accusative) ... esse direptum (infinitive)
    • (ii) liberos (subject accusative) ... esse sublatos (infinitive)

    Unlike the main verb in the previous sentence, commemorem, or the three at the end of § 32 (dicam, querar, dicam), Cicero does not use a deliberative subjunctive or the first person singular to ask this question. Instead, he addresses his audience directly with ignoratis, a second person plural present indicative active. Why does he alternate? Perhaps he wanted to add some variety, perhaps he wanted to ensure he held the people’s attention by putting them on the spot, perhaps he wanted to obfuscate his less than precise ‘recall’ of events (for which see below). (The rhetorical question presupposes ‘no, we do know’ as an answer, whether it is actually true or not...). With querar in the subsequent sentence, Cicero switches back to the deliberative subjunctive.

    an: the particle an introduces a direct question that includes a notion of surprise or indignation and/or expects a negative answer (as here).

    portum Caietae: a harbour, situated on the coast of Latium south-west of Formiae (a town north of Naples). Cicero here surprisingly uses a genitive of definition (‘the harbour of Caieta’); usually in classical Latin geographical specifications stand in apposition to the general noun: urbs Roma (rather than urbs Romae). (English, in contrast, prefers the genitive of definition: ‘the city of Rome’.)

    celeberrimum ac plenissimum navium: navium is genitive plural and stands apo koinou with celeberrimum and plenissimum. The superlatives rhetorically pad out the facts.

    inspectante praetore: an ablative absolute. If this phrase is translated with concessive force (‘even though a praetor was watching’), it gives the impression that not even the presence of Roman authority-figures sufficed to stop the pirates. The indifference of pirates to the presence of a Roman magistrate with normal imperium seems implicitly to justify giving extraordinary powers to Pompey. There is also a neat contrast between Pompey’s ability to subdue enemies while still far away (cf. the end of § 30: while still absent from Italy, he nevertheless managed to have a significant impact on the suppression of the revolting slaves) and the inability of an ordinary magistrate to thwart the pirates running riot in his sphere of command. Listing the sufferings and misfortunes of senators, who were at the top of the Roman pecking order, at the hands of the pirates also suggests that the average Roman citizen was vulnerable and would be entirely powerless against them. This impression is furthered through the parallel between the phrases inspectante praetore and inspectantibus vobis two sentences later. They are both ablative absolutes with the verb inspecto and so suggest the Roman people are just as helpless as the praetor at Caieta. It is not entirely clear who the praetor actually was – and given his pathetic inability to deal with the pirates the suppression of his name is probably a deliberate act of rhetorical mercy on Cicero’s part. One promising candidate is M. Antonius Creticus, one of the praetors of 74 BC, who was in charge of a fleet located at Misenum, the place where the alleged abduction of his children occurred.

    ex Miseno autem eius ipsius liberos, qui cum praedonibus antea bellum gesserat, a praedonibus esse sublatos?: Intuitively, one is tempted to relate eius ipsius back to the ‘watching praetor’ of the previous sentence; but this is not a requirement. The pronouns, which are the antecedent of the relative pronoun qui, could simply look forward to a different individual – i.e. the person who had waged war against the pirates some time ago. And indeed, commentators link this reference to a piece of information in Plutarch’s Life of Pompey, who reports that the pirates abducted the daughter (singular!) of M. Antonius, the father (!) of M. Antonius Creticus, off the coast of Italy; then they go on to argue that Cicero here uses ‘a rhetorical plural’ instead of the accurate singular. However, for the plural to register as ‘rhetorical’, the audience would have to have their facts straight. Yet how many citizens present at the delivery of the speech would have been able to grasp on the spot that Cicero is referring to two different Antonii and two events separate in time, and, moreover, is using a rhetorical plural? Our guess is: not too many (especially since he keeps matters anonymous). For the inattentive listener, Cicero conjures up a praetor who had fought the pirates unsuccessfully and had his children abducted on top of it. Why does he do it? Arguably, because in terms of both simplicity and drama, his potted version of events is rhetorically superior to one that is painstakingly accurate (but boring in its details). It deserves emphasis, though, that Cicero always treads very carefully when he distorts history: M. Antonius had commanded a fleet against the pirates back in 102 BC, and with the pluperfect gesserat and the adverb antea he seems to acknowledge, however obliquely, that the Antonius at issue is not the praetor, but his father, without troubling the audience by elaborating on this point explicitly.

    gesserat: although this verb is in a subordinate clause in indirect speech (introduced by ignoratis), it is in the indicative because Cicero accepts this as fact, not simply as something reported which he does not wish to verify.

    Nam quid ego Ostiense incommodum atque illam labem atque ignominiam rei publicae querar, cum prope inspectantibus vobis classis ea, cui consul populi Romani praepositus esset, a praedonibus capta atque oppressa est?: Cicero reverts to the deliberate subjunctive. querar, however, does not introduce an indirect statement but takes a series of direct objects linked by atque: (i) Ostiense incommodum, (ii) illam labem, (iii) ignominiam rei publicae, all of them referring to the same event. What follows is not, as previously, a cum-clause in the subjunctive, but a cum-clause in the indicative (cum classis ea ... capta atque oppressa est) – an unexpected shift in mood that underscores Cicero’s indignation at arguably the greatest outrage committed by the pirates against the Roman people, the attack on the harbour of Ostia, reported also in Cassius Dio (36.23): ‘As these operations of theirs met with success it became customary for the pirates to go into the interior, and they inflicted many injuries on those even who had nothing to do with the sea. This is the way they treated not only the distant allies of Rome, but even Italy itself. For, believing that they would obtain greater gains in that quarter and also that they would terrify all the others still more if they did not keep their hands off that country, they sailed into the very harbour of Ostia as well as other cities in Italy, burning the ships and pillaging everything.’

    Ostiense incommodum: the adjective Ostiense is here used to indicate location: ‘the set-back at Ostia’. Ostia, Rome’s seaport, comes from the Latin word for ‘the mouth of a river’, i.e. ostium, which in turn derives from the Latin word for mouth, i.e. os. It is the place where the river Tiber flows into the Mediterranean.

    illam labem: the demonstrative pronoun or (as here) adjective ille, illa, illud often carries the notion of ‘common knowledge’, ‘fame’, or (as here) ‘notoriety’: ‘that disaster (which you are all familiar with)’.

    ignominiam rei publicae: rei publicae could be either a possessive genitive (‘disgrace of the commonwealth’) or a dative of disadvantage (‘disgrace for the commonwealth’).

    prope inspectantibus vobis: an ablative absolute. prope (‘almost’) renders the hyperbole acceptable: Ostia was located about 30 kilometers from the city.

    classis ea, cui consul populi Romani praepositus esset: the antecedent of cui is classis ea, with the demonstrative adjective ea (in unusual postpositive position) setting up the consecutive relative clause – hence the (pluperfect passive) subjunctive praepositus esset. The consecutive force underscores the fact that the pirates didn’t just sink any old fleet, but a fleet of such importance that it was under the command of a consul of the Roman people. Who that consul was we do not know.

    capta atque oppressa est: although these are verbs in a cum-clause, it is a temporal cum-clause and so is followed by the indicative, not the subjunctive. With the relevant vowels elided (final ‘a’ in capta, ‘e’ in atque, ‘e’ in est) this phrase scans entirely spondaic. The spondaic rhythm adds to the grave tone and feeling of disaster Cicero’s has built up across this and the preceding sections.

    pro di immortales!: Cicero uses the interjection pro followed by the vocative di immortales as pivot from highlighting, via a long string of rhetorical questions, what threat the pirates posed to the Roman people, to Pompey’s quick and resounding victory over them in the previous year. The invocation of the immortal gods at this point is thematically appropriate insofar as Cicero goes on to position Pompey vis-à-vis the divine sphere in the following sentence in two countervailing ways: by referring to him as a ‘human being’ (cf. hominis), he emphasizes the distinction between ‘mortals’ and ‘immortals’ and leaves no doubt that Pompey belongs to the former, yet by means of the phrases divina virtus and tantam ... lucem adferre rei publicae he subtly assimilates him to the gods.

    tantamne unius hominis incredibilis ac divina virtus tam brevi tempore lucem adferre rei publicae potuit, ut vos, qui modo ante ostium Tiberinum classem hostium videbatis, nunc nullam intra Oceani ostium praedonum navem esse audiatis? The final sentence of the section is yet another rhetorical question. However, this time, Cicero uses the device to marvel at Pompey’s remarkable skill in ridding the Mediterranean of the pirates so effectively and so quickly. adferre governs both an accusative object (tantam ... lucem: note the massive hyperbaton) and a dative (rei publicae). tantam and tam set up the result clause ut ... audiatis. audiatis governs an indirect statement with nullam ... navem (another massive hyperbaton) as subject accusative and esse as infinitive. Within the ut-clause, Cicero highlights the fantastic turn-around achieved by Pompey by means of the antithesis of modo (‘just recently’) and nunc (‘now’) and a geographical contrast: if a little while ago the pirates ran riot at the mouth of the Tiber (ante ostium Tiberinum), now none of their ships can be found anywhere within the entire Mediterranean (intra Oceani ostium). The danger has receded from sight (videbatis) to the absence of any rumour (audiatis). Set out schematically, the ut-clause and the relative clause therein compare and contrast as follows:

    modo ~ nunc
    ante ~ intra
    ostium Tiberinum ~ Oceani ostium
    classem hostium ~ nullam ... praedonum navem
    videbatis ~ audiatis

    Cicero introduces a touch of (chiastic) variation into his otherwise parallel design by playing with the position of attributes and genitives: (a) ostium (b) Tiberinum – (b) Oceani (a) ostium; (a) classem (b) hostium – (b) praedonum (a) navem.

    tantamne ... lucem: -ne is an interrogative particle used in direct questions; it tends to attach itself to emphatic words (such as tantam here).

    incredibilis ac divina virtus: Cicero endows this aspect of Pompey’s virtus with two elevating attributes: divina (‘divine’ or ‘god-like’) and incredibilis (‘defying belief’).

    In the political culture of the Roman republic ‘godlikeness’ was not an unproblematic form of praise:30 to elevate a specific individual above the rest of humanity was at variance with the principle of oligarchic equality that underwrote the senatorial regime of republican government. At the same time, many outstanding individuals – from Scipio Africanus Maior to Sulla and the young Caesar – staked claims to a special relationship with the gods, and Cicero’s panegyric of Pompey would have been flat if he had not explored Pompey’s relationship with the divine sphere. He does so most explicitly in the paragraphs on felicitas (§§ 47-48: see below), but also elsewhere in the speech, not least by strategically deploying the attribute divinus. Cicero ascribes Pompey’s success over Sertorius to his divinum consilium ac singularis virtus (§ 10) and the term recurs as attribute of his virtus both here and in § 36 (discussed below).31 It is not easy to determine how Cicero wanted the attribute to be understood in each individual instance. The semantics of divinus range from the literal (pertaining to the divine sphere) to the metaphorical. In the latter sense divinus loses its association with the divine and becomes synonymous with more mundane markers of distinction such as praeclarus, eximius, or mirabilis. In some instances, it is obvious whether the usage is literal or metaphorical. In § 42, for instance, Cicero claims that Pompey was born divino quodam consilio to end all wars, clearly referring to some supernatural charter (to be discussed in more detail below). From an ideological point of view, such a passage is fairly unproblematic. While Pompey appears to be acting in accordance with the will of the gods, this kind of religious privilege stays short of the claim that he himself possesses supernatural powers. Suggestive ambiguities arise, however, when the adjective is made to refer not to the gods, but to human beings or their capacities, as is the case with Pompey’s divinum consilium and divina virtus. In those instances it remains unclear whether the literal or the metaphorical meaning of the attribute is in force. Whether Pompey’s exercise of judgement or his courage are truly divine, a gift from the gods, or merely outstanding is impossible to decide – and Cicero exploits this ambiguity for a panegyric that plays with fire while trying to avoid a conflagration: he nudges Pompey skywards without explicitly claiming divinity for him.

    tam brevi tempore: Pompey cleared the Western Mediterranean of pirates in just 40 days and the Eastern Mediterranean in 49 days in the course of the summer of 67 BC.

    lucem adferre rei publicae: The phrase receives discussion by Kathryn Welch, in her study of light metaphors used in Roman public discourse: ‘The phrase lucem adferre is not a common one in Cicero. It is used on only one other occasion [Philippics 13.44] and there it serves to indicate the depths to which the res publica has sunk. ... In both cases, the emphasis is on virtus placed at the disposal of the community for its greater good.’32

    ante Oceani ostium: ante here is the preposition + accusative; Oceani ostium (literally: ‘the mouth of the Ocean’) refers to the strait of Gibraltar.

    30 This paragraph is based on Gildenhard (2011) 266-67.

    31 Contrast § 20, where Cicero praises the virtus, assiduitas and consilium of Lucullus; unlike Pompey’s qualities, those of Lucullus’ come without distinguishing attributes.

    32 Welch (2005) 326.


    Cnidus or Cnidos, -ī, [Κνίδος], f.: Cnidus, a city in Caria, in the extreme southwestern part of Asia Minor.

    Colophōn, -ōnis, [Κολοφών], m.: Colophōn, a city in the western part of Asia Minor, north of Ephesus.

    Samos or Samus, -ī, [Σάμος], f.: Samos, an island in the Aegean sea, near Ephesus.

    innumerābilis, -e, [in- + numerābilis], adj.: countless, innumerable.

    commemorō, -āre, -āvī, -ātum, [com- + memorō], 1, a.: call to mind, keep in mind, remember; bring to mind, recall; relate, recount, mention.

    portus, -ūs, m.: harbor, port; haven, refuge. ex portū vectīgal, revenue from customs.

    praedō, -ōnis, [praeda], m.: plunderer, robber.

    ignōrō, -āre, -āvī, -ātum, [cf. ignārus], 1, a. and n.: not know, be unacquainted with, be ignorant.

    Cāiēta, -ae, [Καιήτη], f.: Cāiēta, a sea-coast town, with a harbor, in the southwestern part of Latium.

    celeber, -ēbris, -ēbre, adj.: frequented, crowded, thronged with; hence honored by the presence of many, renowned, famous, celebrated, distinguished.

    īnspectō, -āre, -āvī, -ātum, only pres. part. found in classical Latin, [freq. of īnspiciō], 1, a. and n.: look at, observe, view, īnspectante praetōre, under the eyes of the praetor.

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

    Mīsēnum, -ī, [= Μῑσηνόν], n.: Mīsēnum, a promontory and town on the coast of Campania, west of Neapolis (= Naples); now Capo Miseno, Miseno.

    anteā [ante + eā], adv.: before, formerly, previously, hitherto.

    Ōstiēnsis, -e, [ōstium], adj.: of Ostia, the seaport of Rome at the mouth of the Tiber. Ōstiēnse incommodum, the disaster at Ostia. Imp. P. xii.

    incommodum, -ī, [incommodus], n.: inconvenience, disadvantage, trouble; misfortune, loss, defeat.

    lābēs, -is, [lābor], f.: sinking in, settling; spot, blemish, stain, disgrace.

    ignōminia, -ae, [in-, nōmen], f.: disgrace, dishonor, infamy, ignominy; degradation.

    rēs pūblica, reī pūblicae, f.: see pūblicus.

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

    praepōnō, -ere, praeposuī, praepositum, [prae + pōnō], 3, a.: place before; set over, put in charge, place in command, appoint; set before, prefer.

    dēprimō, -ere, dēpressī, dēpressum, [dē + premō], 3, a.: press down; sink; overwhelm.

    prō, interj.: O! ah! alas!

    immortālis, -e, [in- + mortālis], adj.: undying, immortal; endless, eternal, imperishable.

    incrēdibilis, -e, [in- + crēdibilis], adj.: beyond belief, incredible, extraordinary, unparalleled.

    dīvīnus, -a, -um, [dīvus], adj.: of a god, of a divinity, divine; godlike, superhuman; religious, sacred; inspired by divine influence, prophetic.

    tempus, -oris, n.: period of time, time, season, point of time; right time, opportunity, occasion; condition, times, circumstances; time of need, exigency, emergency, id temporis, at that time. ex tempore, off hand, without preparation.

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

    ōstium, -ī, [ōs], n.: door; by metonymy, mouth, entrance. Ōceanī ōstium, the mouth of the Ocean, i. e. the Straits of Gibraltar.

    Tiberīnus, -a, -um, [Tiberis], adj.: of the Tiber.

    intrā, [cf. interior], prep. with acc. only: within, inside of, into, during, in the course of.

    Ōceanus, -ī, [Ὠκεανός], m.: the great sea that encompasses the land, outer sea, ocean.

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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.