Against Verres 58 Essay

In this paragraph Cicero changes tack, as he anticipates (note the future dices) and counters the potential objection by Verres that, far from hiding away his plundered treasures, he put them on public display at the centre of the city. It is not entirely clear what occasion Cicero refers to. As Mitchell (1986) 185 points out, ‘it was customary for aediles to decorate the comitium and the forum for major festive occasions, and they often had to resort to borrowing works of art from friends and from provincial and allied communities to secure the necessary adornments’ (with reference to our passage, as well as Ver. 2.3.9, 2.4.6, and 2.4.126). Pseudo-Asconius suggests that Verres helped Hortensius and the Metelli brothers in that way (nam aedili atque praetori Hortensio et item Metellis rapta ex provinciis signa ad ornandum forum et comitium commodaverat Verres). Along those lines, P. A. Brunt has more recently argued that Hortensius’ otherwise inexplicable devotion to Verres derived from the fact that he was a prime beneficiary of Verres’ extortions.59

As for dates: Hortensius was aedile in 75 and praetor in 72; Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus (in 70 consul designate, together with Hortensius) canvassed for the praetorship in 75 (and must have held it in one of the following years given his application to the consulship in 70); L. Caecilius Metellus was praetor in 71; and Marcus Caecilius Metellus was praetor designate in 70. (We do not have information about the cursus honorum of a fourth brother, C. Caecilius Metellus.) Alternatively, Cicero may be recalling (memini) the year 74 when Verres was himself urban praetor and hence responsible for the ludi Apollinares. Most likely, however, he deliberately avoids specifying the precise occasion, leaving it up to the audience in joining him ‘to think back’ to any one occasion when Verres’ plundered artworks adorned the public spaces of Rome. As far as Cicero was concerned, Verres was damned if he did as well as when he did not: the public spectacle he generated out of his large-scale thievery for himself or for others might have been magnificent to behold, but the sight saddened anyone endowed with thought and feeling. In the second half of the paragraph, however, Cicero makes it clear that this by no means included all sightseers. Quite the contrary: Verres had occasion to observe (vidit) the reaction of fellow senators to his spectacle, and what he saw was appreciative greed. Cicero reproachfully identifies this experience of implicit encouragement from his peer group as providing the stimulus for Verres to perpetrate further crimes of a similar nature in future.

59.Brunt, P. A. (1980), ‘Patronage and Politics in the Verrines’, Chiron 10, 273–89, 280: ‘But why was Hortensius so devoted to Verres? He had long been a leader of the bar; he had been elected to the consulship with the minimum interval after his praetorship. How could such a man have any need of Verres? I find it hard to resist acceptance of Cicero’s imputations: Hortensius was an accessory after the fact in Verres’ extortions’ (with reference to our passage, among others).