Saint Pompey

The paragraph consists of five sentences, with the first four focusing on Pompey’s temperantia vel continentia (the two terms are virtual synonyms) and the final sentence moving on to Pompey’s facilitas:

  • (i) Itaque omnes nunc in iis locis Cn. Pompeium sicut aliquem non ex hac urbe missum, sed de caelo delapsum intuentur;
  • (ii) nunc denique incipiunt credere, fuisse homines Romanos hac quondam continentia, quod iam nationibus exteris incredibile ac falso memoriae proditum videbatur;
  • (iii) nunc imperii vestri splendor illis gentibus lucem adferre coepit;
  • (iv) nunc intellegunt non sine causa maiores suos tum, cum ea temperantia magistratus habebamus, servire populo Romano quam imperare aliis maluisse.
  • (v) Iam vero ita faciles aditus ad eum privatorum, ita liberae querimoniae de aliorum iniuriis esse dicuntur, ut is qui dignitate principibus excellit, facilitate infimis par esse videatur.

(i) – (iv) elevate Pompey; (v) emphasizes that despite his elevated status Pompey has remained humble. Grammar, syntax, and style reinforce the point. Cicero sets up (i) – (iv) as a thematic unit by means of the anaphora of nunc; the iam vero of (v) marks a new section in the argument: the two particles iam and vero will continue to provide ‘transitional kit’ in the following paragraph (see below). A similar effect is achieved by the subjects and the verbs. (i) – (iv) present matters from the perspective of the Eastern provincials, which Cicero introduces in (i) with the formulation omnes in iis locis (‘everybody in this part of the world’). omnes in iis locis is also the implied subject of (ii) incipiunt credere and (iv) intellegunt. (iii) also maintains the provincial perspective but with an element of variation. If (i) intuentur, (ii) incipiunt credere, and (iv) intellegunt put the emphasis on the perception of provincials, (iii), which is the central sentence of this section, foregrounds facts from a Roman point of view (see imperii vestri splendor), even though the focus remains on the impact of Rome on provincial peoples: illis gentibus is synonymous with omnes in iis locis. In contrast, (v) again breaks with this pattern: we get the impersonal passive verb dicuntur, which carries no implication that what is being said about Pompey’s accessibility and ease in interpersonal interaction is a matter of provincial perception: it holds true anywhere.

The anaphora of nunc endows this paragraph with special urgency: opinions in the East are (again) swinging in favour of Rome because of Pompey’s presence and the way in which he has conducted his military operations so far. The Roman people, so Cicero implies, ought not to miss this opportunity and build on the momentum Pompey has generated, not least since they are the beneficiaries of Pompey’s efforts on behalf of the res publica. In the course of the paragraph, Cicero transforms the respect, indeed worship, that Pompey commands in the East into the imperial glory of the Roman people: nunc imperii vestri splendor illis gentibus lucem adferre coepit. Now it is the ‘glory of your empire’, rather than just Pompey’s personal success. Thus Pompey’s temperance results in a view of the Roman empire itself as being above human, bringing ‘light’ to the people of the East. (The notion of the Roman people as a civilising force would have been welcome to Cicero’s audience, but we should not take his word for it that the provincial people really saw Rome in this way.) Cicero even implies that the moral standards of ancestral Rome justified her empire, as demonstrated by the fact that some gave up their independence voluntarily, arguing (on the basis of no evidence) that the reason for this voluntary submission to Roman rule was the self-restraint of Roman officials at the time – the same self-restraint for which Pompey, too, is famous.

Cicero is here most likely alluding to the decision of King Attalus III of Pergamum, who died without heir in 133 BC, to leave his kingdom to the Roman people. The reasons will have had more to do with a pragmatic sense of power-politics in the region than appreciation of the outstanding morals of Roman officials – and the decision proved at any rate controversial. It was Tiberius Gracchus who decided to accept the legacy (before he got killed, that is), via the people, as a way to fund his land redistribution. (As someone who enjoyed an inherited guestfriendship with Eumenes he received the news ahead of everyone else.) Some in the senate were pretty cross with him for jumping the gun, especially when a revolt broke out, led by Aristonicus, a son of Attalus’s predecessor Eumenes. It took two years to quell the uprising and another two years to set up the province of Asia. Put differently, Cicero is playing fast and loose with the historical truth.