Appendix: Issues for Further Discussion

The Lampsacus episode is well suited as a point of departure for discussing broader issues in Ciceronian oratory, (ancient) rhetoric and Roman imperialism. Here are some topics that may be worth exploring further either individually or as part of a group exercise:

Facts and Fiction in Law-court Rhetoric

If one boils down Cicero’s account of what happened at Lampsacus to indisputable facts, one is left with precious little: (i) a visit of Verres at Lampsacus during a diplomatic mission; (ii) the death of one of his lictors during a dinner party at which Verres was not present, housed by the local notable Philodamus; (iii) unrest among the inhabitants of the town, instigated by Themistagoras and Thessalus (named by Verres in a letter to Nero); (iv) the trial and execution of Philodamus and his son for the homicide of the lictor. Cicero embeds these hard facts within a tale of sexual desire and attempted rape, which, he claims, he has heard from two witnesses, Tettius and Varro, who served on the staff of Nero at the time. Imagine you are a member of Verres’ defence team: how would you attack Cicero’s version of the events in a Roman court of law? Can you break down the coherent plot that Cicero construes into a series of unfortunate coincidences? Is it possible to question the veracity of Cicero’s witnesses or his handling of circumstantial evidence? Are there gaps in his account that could be filled with an alternative story? (For instance, is the son, who was executed for homicide, really as innocent as Cicero makes him out to be?)

Ancient and Modern

Compare and contrast Cicero’s use of evidence and argumentation with contemporary legal practice: which pieces of evidence, and which lines of argument would be permitted in a court today and what would be ruled out as inadmissible?101

Humour – Sophistication – Self-promotion

Cicero’s oratory is designed to induce the audience to adopt his point of view and his version of the truth. But there is a difference between listening to an oral performance and the perusal of a written version. However attentive and suspicious a listener one may be, one is bound to be drawn into, or even to become mesmerized, by a good oral delivery, especially if the speaker is also a top performer, who combines verbal wizardry with the theatrical use of voice and gesture. In reading a speech, it is much easier to avoid being swept away in the drama of delivery and to resist emotional appeals. One can re-read and reflect upon the argument: how is it constructed? Where does it break down? What problems are being dodged and how? After his successful speech for Cluentius, Cicero bragged that he pulled one over on the judges, but nevertheless published a written version of his defence (the pro Cluentio), seemingly wishing to invite everyone to appreciate and admire how he had done it. Is something similar going on in his account of what happened at Lampsacus? Are there deliberate touches of humour and hyperbole that give the game away? Does Cicero invite us to read against the grain? Where and to what extent does he parade his ability to spin a few facts into a compelling story centred around the spectacularly vile figure of Verres, who is, however, in large part Cicero’s own creation? What does this tell us about the power of words and the imagination?

Ethics and Empire

Catherine Steel, who systematically (and, I believe, by and large successfully) exculpates Verres from any wrongdoing at Lampsacus, implicitly incriminates Cicero for implying that the only problem with Rome’s imperial administration and exploitation was with individuals, rather than the system as such: ‘One of the consequences of Cicero’s ascribing what happened to Verres’ viciousness is that the potentially much wider problems inherent within the system of administration are obscured.’ Later, however, she also recognizes that ‘Cicero pulls off the astonishing feat of presenting Roman provincial government as completely, and convincingly, corrupt and oppressive.’102 These observations raise the question: to what extent is Cicero critical of, to what extent collusive in, the system of Roman imperial administration – above and beyond his attack on a particularly vile representative of Rome’s ruling elite?

Cultural Property and the History of Plunder

The case of Verres can serve as a good point of departure for exploring the fate of art in the context of war, conquest, and imperial plunder across history. The topic has lost none of its relevance. A good place to start from to explore both its historical dimension and its contemporary remit is Miles, M. M. (2008), Art as Plunder: The Ancient Origins of Debate about Cultural Property, New York. Her second chapter is on Cicero’s Verrines.

101.A good starting point to explore this issue is Laws, J. (2004), ‘Epilogue: Cicero and the Modern Advocate’, in J. Powell and J. Paterson (eds.), Cicero the Advocate, Oxford, 401–16. (Lord Justice Laws is a Judge of the Court of Appeal.)
102. Steel (2004) 242 and 251.