Modes of Persuasion24

Public speaking is designed to persuade an audience of a specific point of view. If the setting is a court of law, the prosecutor tries to convince those who judge the case of the guilt of the defendant, whereas the advocate aims to achieve a verdict of innocence. But how does one succeed in causing another person to consent to one’s own point of view and to act accordingly? Is it the rational force of the better argument? Or is it the authority of the speaker, deriving, perhaps, from (superior) age, position, or prestige? What audiences find persuasive differs from culture to culture and, within a given culture, from one setting to another. Ancient rhetorical theory identified three main modes of persuasion: a speaker could prove his points or render his arguments plausible by means of logos (that is, reasoning, analysis and argument), ethos (that is, the characters of the individuals involved in the trial, especially that of the defendant and the speaker), or pathos (that is, strong emotions roused by the speaker in his audience).25 The chosen passage showcases Cicero’s resourceful handling of all three modes.

Reasoning and argument

In his handling of the affair at Lampsacus, Cicero opts for a two-pronged approach to prove Verres’ guilt: to begin with, he simply presupposes that the sequence of events has as its unifying factor Verres’ inability to keep his lecherous instincts under control. In his account of what happened at Lampsacus and the aftermath (the trial and execution of Philodamus and his son) Verres is presented as the mastermind behind the scene, first by plotting sexual assault, then by trying to cover up his guilt. By showing the defendant in action (as it were), Cicero thus makes narration (or a narrative) do the work of argumentation.26 Only after he has established his version of the event as a compelling point of reference does he switch into a more explicitly argumentative mode. In §§ 7885, he explores and rebuts potential lines of defence Verres might have adopted to cast doubt on Cicero’s interpretation and give an alternative explanation of what happened. According to Cicero, Verres’ counter-arguments do not amount to much and crumble under scrutiny. When all is said and done, so Cicero claims repeatedly, Verres is unable to explain why what occurred did occur. And this, so Cicero asserts, means that his own version of the events, for which he has two reliable witnesses, must represent the truth. After reading the passage, are you convinced that Cicero has proved Verres’ guilt?


Cicero takes great care to provide vivid portrayals of the characters he deals with in his speeches.27 The Verrines are no exceptions. The greatest effort goes of course into his characterization of Verres. But Cicero also gives us insidious character appraisals of Gnaeus Dolabella, the governor of Cilicia and Verres’ superior in command, and Gaius Nero, the governor of Asia, that is, the province in which Lampsacus was located. The traits Cicero emphasizes in the former are his murderous villainy and conspicuous stupidity, whereas the latter comes into Cicero’s rhetorical crosshairs for his yellow-bellied cowardice. Cicero also spends some time on Verres’ worthless entourage, notably Rubrius. And even individuals or groups that only make a cameo appearance in his text have a distinct (if often one-sided) identity and personality profile that enables the audience to relate to them. Examples of minor characters include envoys (legati) from Asia and Achaia (§ 59), Ianitor, Verres’ host in Lampsacus (§§ 634), the Roman citizens who were in Lampsacus for business reasons (§ 69), the Roman creditors of the Greeks (§ 73), one of whom acts as accuser of Philodamus (§ 74), and the praefecti and tribuni militares of Dolabella (§ 73). Cicero also knows how to underscore the reliability of his two prime witnesses: P. Tettius and C. Varro, who both served on the staff of Nero (§ 71).

When it comes to the depiction of character, Cicero likes to paint in black and white. Whereas Verres and his ilk appear as villains and perverts, he lavishes praise upon the inhabitants of Lampsacus and in particular Philodamus and his son. Cicero portrays Verres and Dolabella in such a way as to remove them from civilized society: they come across as beasts ruled either by their passions or even worse instincts such as delight in cruelty; the Lampsacenes, in contrast, represent a peace-loving community that cherishes private and public values dear to the Romans as well, such as devotion to family members, unselfish courage, and commitment to civic life. One rewarding exercise in responding to Cicero’s ethopoiea is to colour in shades of grey – that is, to interrogate his categorical condemnations as well as his unqualified embraces, in an effort to arrive at a more realistic picture of his personnel.28

In this context, it is also worth noting how Cicero constantly engages the audience: he appeals to them as persons endowed with a special disposition and committed to certain values, but does not hesitate to let them know how disastrous it would be if they did not decide the case at hand in his favour. In particular, it would put the judges at the same level as the defendant. A keynote of the speech (2.1: Neminem vestrum ignorare arbitror, iudices…) is that Cicero’s audience is in the know: Verres’ shenanigans, trickery, and attempts at deception cannot fool them.29 But since his guilt is so glaring and well-established, a verdict of innocent would reveal the judges inevitably as corrupt and unfit for their role.


Cicero’s report of Verres’ looting of artworks and his narrative of the Lampsacus affair are both fraught with pathos, meant to generate indignation, if not downright outrage, at Verres’ conduct. In addition, the portion of text under consideration here includes two paragraphs that are especially designed to appeal to the emotions. In § 59, Cicero recalls one of the rare occasions in which Verres adorned the city of Rome with his plundered treasures for public viewing. ‘By chance’ (casu), a great number of embassies from the towns Verres had ravaged happened to be in Rome at the time, and Cicero describes heart-wrenching scenes of Greek ambassadors setting eyes on long lost treasures, often statues of gods and goddesses of profound religious value and significance, breaking down on the spot, in public, in worship and tears. And in § 76, Cicero describes the public execution of Philodamus and his son in the city of Laodicea as a tragic spectacle, matching the bestial cruelty (crudelitas) of the Roman officials Verres and Dolabella against the humanitas (humanity) and the family-values of the condemned. The sight, so Cicero, even moved the presiding Roman magistrate Nero to tears – precisely the sort of response he wishes to generate in his present audience as well, grounded in sympathy and compassion for Verres’ victims and righteous anger at his abuse of power and violation of Roman values.


24.From among the large number of books on ancient rhetoric available, I recommend Habinek, T. (2005), Ancient Rhetoric and Oratory, Malden, Mass., as both stimulating and concise. It includes a bibliographical essay on further reading (111–20). See also Kennedy, G. (1994), A New History of Classical Rhetoric, Princeton; and, for the afterlife of ancient rhetoric, Kennedy, G. (1980), Classical Rhetoric and its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times, Chapel Hill. The most important handbook on invention and style in classical and classicizing rhetoric is Lausberg, H. (1998), Handbook of Literary Rhetoric, Leiden.
25.The classic treatment of ethos and pathos in ancient rhetoric is Wisse, J. (1989), Ethos and Pathos from Aristotle to Cicero, Amsterdam.
26.One may wish to distinguish the act of narration or the result thereof, i.e. a story or narrative, from the technical term narratio, which is used of that part of a forensic speech in which the speaker sets out the facts of the case: see Levene, D. S. (2004), ‘Reading Cicero’s Narratives’, in J. Powell and J. Paterson (eds.), Cicero the Advocate, Oxford, 117–46 (117).
27.On ethopoiea: Gildenhard (2011) 20–22 with much further bibliography.
28.For Cicero’s tendency to split his personnel into the good and the bad and to characterize accordingly see Gildenhard (2011) 74–98 (‘The good, the bad, and the in-between’).
29.The judges are addressed in the second person plural or as iudices throughout our passage: 53: scitis, audistis; 57: cognoscite; 58: iudices; 60: iudices; 62: existimatis?; 63: iudices; 71: potestis dubitare … ?; 72: audite, quaeso, iudices et … miseremini … et ostendite…!; 76: putatis?; 81: parcetis?; 82: Nolite … cogere, … nisi vos vindicatis!; 86: accipite nunc!