Translation and Commentary; Cicero, Pro Archia: 23-25

Nam si quis minorem gloriae fructum putat ex Graecis versibus percipi quam ex Latinis, vehementer errat: propterea quod Graeca leguntur in omnibus fere gentibus, Latina suis finibus, exiguis sane, continentur. Qua re si res eae quas gessimus orbis terrae regionibus definiuntur, cupere debemus, quo manuum nostrarum tela pervenerint, eodem gloriam famamque penetrare: quod cum ipsis populis de quorum rebus scribitur, haec ampla sunt, tum eis certe, qui de vita gloriae causa dimicant, hoc maximum et periculorum incitamentum est et laborum.

[24] Quam multos scriptores rerum suarum magnus ille Alexander secum habuisse dicitur! Atque is tamen, cum in Sigeo ad Achillis tumulum astitisset: “O fortunate” inquit “adulescens, qui tuae virtutis Homerum praeconem inveneris!” Et vere. Nam nisi Illias illa exstitisset, idem tumulus, qui corpus eius contexerat, nomen etiam obruisset. Quid? noster hic Magnus, qui cum virtute fortunam adaequavit, nonne Theophanem Mytilenaeum, scriptorem rerum suarum, in contione militum civitate donavit; et nostri illi fortes viri, sed rustici ac milites, dulcedine quadam gloriae commoti, quasi participes eiusdem laudis, magno illud clamore approbaverunt?

[25] Itaque, credo, si civis Romanus Archias legibus non esset, ut ab aliquo imperatore civitate donaretur perficere non potuit. Sulla cum Hispanos donaret et Gallos, credo hunc petentem repudiasset: quem nos in contione vidimus, cum ei libellum malus poeta de populo subiecisset, quod epigramma in eum fecisset, tantummodo alternis versibus longiusculis, statim ex eis rebus quas tunc vendebat iubere ei praemium tribui, sed ea condicione, ne quid postea scriberet. Qui sedulitatem mali poetae duxerit aliquo tamen praemio dignam, huius ingenium et virtutem in scribendo et copiam non expetisset?

For if there is anyone who thinks there is a lesser amount to be gained from Greek verse than from Latin, he is seriously wrong: because Greek is read in every by every nation, while Latin is read in its own boundaries, which admittedly are narrow. Where those deeds that we have waged are limited only by the ends of the earth itself, we ought to desire that wherever our strength and our arms have ventured, our fame and our glory ought to penetrate also. Since this is an ample reward for those whose deeds are recorded, so is it the greatest inspiration to face dangers and labours for those men who fight for the sake of glory.

How many writers for his own deeds is the great Alexander said to have had with him! And yet when he stood at Cape Sigeum and the grave of Achilles he said “Fortunate young man, who found Homer as the annalist of your great deeds! And rightly so for if it were not for the Iliad, that same grave, which covered the corpse would have covered up his renown. What? Did our own Great, whose valour has been equal to his fortune, did he not grant Theophanes the Mitylenaean, his own historian, citizenship at a military council? And our brave men, though they were soldiers and peasants, moved by this sweet glory as if they were party to the same honour, did they not approve of this with a great clamour?

I suppose therefore that if Archias was not already legally a Roman Citizen, he couldn’t have been granted this title by some general in the field! While Sulla was handing it out to Spaniards and Gauls, I suppose he would have refused him this request! A man whom we ourselves saw in a public assembly, when he was handed a little book by a wretched poet from the common crowd, because he had made an epigram about him with every other verse a little too long. At once he ordered that some of the things he was selling be given to the fellow, on one condition: that he not write anything ever again. Would not this man who thought even the work of a terrible poet was worth some reward, would he not have sought out the genius and the talent for writing that is in this man?

This passage from Cicero’s defence of the Greek poet Archias details an argument for the importance of Greek literature to Roman interests, puts forth the idea that literature acts as an incentive to personal endeavour, and argues that poetry is something that has been and should be rewarded. It can be broken down into three main sections, which are as follows:

1) Greek is more widely spoken than Latin, and therefore Greek literature can laud Roman greatness to a wider audience. (23)

2. Literature not only exalts the nation it exalts the individuals who fight in the cause of that nation. Alexander the Great envied Achilles, who had Homer to write about this deeds. Pompeius Magnus had Theophanes of Mytilene record his successes for him and consequently presented the poet with citizenship at one of his consilia. (23-24)

3. It is entirely within the remit of a Roman commander to grant citizenship in the field. Sulla even rewarded with payment a truly terrible poet, so shouldn’t Archias have been rewarded in keeping with his abilities? (25)

The theme of poetry as being useful to the interests of the state is something we see repeated in the course of this speech, and here it is portrayed as a means of glorifying the achievements of Rome. This connection is most clearly made in the lines cupere debemus, quo manuum nostrarum tela pervenerint, eodem gloriam famamque penetrare. There is a sense of parity between the word and the deed (tela…gloriam famamque) which holds to Cicero’s overall argument of literature as a corollary to Roman expansion, glory, and renown. There is a seamless transition from the state to the individual in the passage quod cum ipsis populis… incitamentum est et laborum. This echoes an earlier discussion at 14 of how Cicero’s love of literature and learning provided him with moral lessons that encouraged him to face down the dangers he has faced as both rising politician and consul. It also looks ahead to 28 in which Cicero continues with the idea of glorification after death (nullam enim virtus aliam mercedem laborum periculorumque desiderat praeter hanc laudis et gloriae). It is also worth mentioning that, although Greek was the more popular language, it was still the language of a defeated people. Cicero’s argument that this language be made to serve to interests of the Roman people is an interesting utilisation of an existing literary tradition in order to express Roman power all the more widely. We may recall that within the recusatio of this speech is Cicero’s recognition of literature as the means by which he developed his oratorical abilities. The very style of the speech, announced openly by Cicero, is carefully crafted to reflect his advanced education in literature and the arts. This style communicates the very argument that Cicero puts forth in that it openly puts into practice a literary style in the practical world of the Roman law courts. Literature is at all points here seen to act in the service of Rome.

Glorification and inspiration leads to the mention of Alexander the Great as not only an example of a remarkable individual clearly valuing poetry and literature (Quam multos scriptores rerum suarum magnus ille Alexander secum habuisse dicitur!) but also as a parallel with one of the leading politicians and generals of Cicero’s time: Pompeius Magnus. The mention of Homer may call to mind Cicero’s previous remarks at 19 that various Greek states are anxious to claim that Homer was originally located there. Here we see Alexander wish that Homer could have recorded his deeds, which reemphasises the glory that can be associated with poets and poetry; just as States wish to associate themselves with Homer to share in his renown, so too does Alexander wish his achievements could be sent up by one so gifted. In the line Nam nisi Illias illa exstitisset, idem tumulus, qui corpus eius contexerat, nomen etiam obruisset, we have the idea that if it were not for literature then the names of even the greatest heroes would be lost to time. This could even be seen as something of a warning regarding the achievements of Rome and her generals; should no record be kept then the great deeds of the Roman Empire would eventually cease to be remembered and so become essentially worthless.

Cicero’s mention of Alexander allows him to draw a parallel with Pompeius by virtue of the shared honorific between the two men. This not only serves to back up his argument that great men should (and indeed do) value literature, but leads neatly into the example of Theophanes of Mytilene and his investment as Roman Citizenship by Pompeius at a military consilium. Cicero is careful to describe the manner in which this act was acclaimed by Pompeius’ rank-and-file; this avoids the matter being depicted as one man towering above his peers, but instead portrays it as collective glorification. The quasi participes eiusdem laudis is important in pointing out the collective benefit of literature which lauds Roman achievements; pride can be taken in the achievements of ‘one of ours’ and so add to the apparent self-worth of the Roman people.

The example of Theophanes also helps Cicero return to the actual specifics of the case at hand: those regarding the citizenship of Archias. Cicero’s rhetorical question si civis Romanus Archias legibus non esset, ut ab aliquo imperatore civitate donaretur perficere non potuit is a nice flourish but disingenuous all the same. The charge is that Archias does not possess Roman Citizenship not that he deserves Roman Citizenship. Sulla’s grants of citizenship to Spaniards and Gauls are used here as indications that it was a reward quite freely given and there would have been no reason that Archias would not have been included also. That he is a poet would not have been a hindrance and Cicero makes use of an amusing tale of how Sulla rewarded a particularly bad poet with a one off payment on the condition that he never set pen to paper ever again. The story would have no doubt raised a chuckle or two from the jurors, but it still makes the point that poets have been valued and rewarded in the past, even those who are terrible. Cicero rounds this off with the argument that if such execrable poetry was rewarded by Sulla, then why would he not seek out and similarly award Archias?

These two examples of leading Roman citizens who have associated themselves with poetry is by no means a one off. In the course of the speech Cicero makes reference to a variety of big name Republicans including Cato, Lucullus, and Scipio Africanus. His intention is to associate what may well have seemed to many as an effeminate rather foreign practice completely removed from the stern values of Republican heroes. By linking literature with those who achieved so much for Rome Cicero not only legitimizes an interest in the liberal arts, he also, by arguing that literature is an inspiration for such achievements, determines that a study of letters helps produce these kind of individuals.

We can also see a glimpse of the patronage system in the relationship between Pompeius and Theophanes. That Pompeius grants citizenship to an individual who has clearly benefited him by extoling his virtues in literary format is an indication of how poets, artists, or craftsmen could be rewarded for their work and integrated into Roman society. This very individualistic process of patronising the arts should be understood against the background of the intellectual world in the late Republic, which was characterised by a notable lack of public patronage or, to push the claim, interest. Cicero’s remark that Greek is more widely read than Latin indicate that whilst Roman political power had extended itself widely around the Mediterranean world its artistic prowess had some serious catching up to do. We can also understand that Greek, as the wider language, was the means by which a great deal of art and culture were being disseminated into Roman society.

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