The pirates of the Mediterranean

Cicero continues with his onslaught of rhetorical questions, but now gives them a special edge: they all involve his audience, the Roman people, whom he holds to account at least partially for the dire state of affairs caused by the pirates. On the face of it, the tactic of collective shaming is curiously negative, but it generates room for the special relationship between Pompey and the people that Cicero will bring into play in subsequent paragraphs, while also reminding them that technically they are in charge of the far-flung empire that Rome has become. This comes with certain responsibilities, not the least of which is appointing generals capable of dealing effectively with military challenges.

The paragraph falls into three parts. We begin with a string of rhetorical questions (all calling for a negative answer) that put the spotlight on Cicero’s audience, the Roman people:

  • (i) quam provinciam ... tenuistis...?
  • (ii) quod vectigal vobis tutum fuit?
  • (iii) quem socium defendistis?
  • (iv) cui praesidio ... fuistis?
  • (v) quam multas existimatis insulas esse desertas...?

He then addresses a rhetorical question to himself:

  • (vi) sed quid ego longinqua commemoro?

After the one sentence that is not a rhetorical question in this paragraph (fuit hoc quondam ... non sua tecta defendere), Cicero returns to interrogative mode with three further rhetorical questions that all follow the same pattern: they are introduced by a verb in the deliberative subjunctive, which sets up an indirect statement, followed by a circumstantial cum-clause (note, though, that the cum-clauses do not belong into the indirect statements):

  • (vii) ... ego ... mare ... clausum fuisse dicam, cum...
  • (viii) ... [eos] captos [esse] querar, cum...
  • (ix) ... tutum mare non fuisse dicam, cum...

The pattern continues in the following paragraph (see below). In those last three rhetorical questions Cicero contrasts the ill-fortune that the pirates inflicted on non-Roman citizens (allies, envoys sent to Rome, merchants) with that suffered by Roman armies or official representatives of the Roman people (exercitus vestri, legati populi Romani, secures, i.e. axes here symbolic of praetors and their magisterial power).