Against Verres 59 Essay

Cicero here elaborates on the idea he introduced obliquely in the previous paragraph, with the formulation ornatu … acerbo et lugubri. The scenes he pretends to remember are as emotionally moving as they are implausible: ambassadors from all over Greece and Asia spending their days in Rome worshipping in front of cult statues that Verres had plundered from their shrines and displayed in the forum or gazing tearfully on other statuary and precious objects. Cicero’s creative writing manifests itself in an overwrought, emphatic idiom; notable stylistic features include the conjuration of a historical watershed (tum primum), the series of superlative, totalizing or ‘absolute’ phrases (spem omnem; plurimi; Quorum omnium; nihil), and highly dramatic images and expressions (spem omnem … abiecerunt; lacrimantes; de exitio). Some imaginative touches add colour to the scene that Cicero here invokes: features to savour include the disingenuous casu (for which see below) and the delayed plurimi (‘there happened to be Greek ambassadors in Rome – a whole crowd of them’).

In the course of the paragraph, Cicero moves from an emphasis on practice and sight (venerabantur, intuebantur) to hearsay and reflection (sermonem, audiebamus); there is an analogous movement from a concern with objects of spiritual and material value (rerum ac fortunarum suarum, deorum simulacra, signa et ornamenta) to more abstract considerations of life and death (de exitio), the principles of international relations and justice (or its perversion). All this is designed to set up the punch-line of the paragraph: the same public spaces of the city that were previously used to bring crimes against the allies to justice now serve to celebrate them. The end of § 59 thus harks back to and elaborates on the end of § 58: if in the previous paragraph, we got the reaction of Verres’ aristocratic peers to his public displays, namely emulative greed of other prospective perpetrators along with further encouragement of Verres, here we get the perspective of the victims: utter despair. (Cicero underscores the correlation on the lexical level: see below on spem omnem.)