The Measure of All Things: Natural Hierarchy in Roman Republ

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Re: The Measure of All Things: Natural Hierarchy in Roman Re

Postby admin » Thu Oct 03, 2019 3:02 am

Part 3 of 4

Varro presents one such rhetorical handling of these broad ideas, utilizing them in a limited and conscious way. However, their scope and implications extend far beyond the matters with which the Res Rustica concerns itself. In the notion of a single, natural scale of status for all living beings, there exists a potential mechanism for understanding and discussing the entire structure of society. Varro’s treatment of this concept is a rhetorical one in that it is tailored to serve a rhetorical goal – whether that goal was to create a simple technical manual, or to write covert political commentary. To what extent other writers make use of the concept, and how they do so, remain to be seen. For the rest of this work, I will explore the ways in which Roman authors employ the same assumptions in order to discuss both social classifications and society as a whole. For the rest of this chapter, I will consider, in particular, how Cicero and Sallust comment on the standing of free persons by utilizing the notion that “slave” is a natural social category. The ideas displayed in the Res Rustica are also present in those texts, and clearly subject to rhetorical manipulation.

The Ideological Assimilation of Free Wage-Earners to Slaves

Cicero and Sallust wrote texts which, unlike the Res Rustica, are overtly political. They do not disguise their meaning with talk of shepherds and herd animals, or concern themselves with slaves and herd animals much at all. Their interests are the Roman state and its citizen body, the citizens’ slavery or freedom, the citizens’ humanity or lack of it. As a result, slaves and herd animals usually appear only as objects of comparison, in order to describe the state and status of citizens, usually the plebs. How could Sallust and Cicero describe free Romans in terms of domestic animals, when domestic animals necessarily implied servility? Cicero asserts that “other nations can bear servitude, but liberty is proper to the Roman people”: aliae nationes servitutem pati possunt, populi Romani est propria libertas” (Phil. 6.19). According to him, it is the senate’s task to safeguard and augment the plebis libertas (Sest. 137). These are not the claims of a man who attached an innately servile temperament to the Roman people. The populus Romanus were not legally slaves, either, to be owned and exploited like Varro’s shepherds. Nonetheless, Varro’s man-herd animal comparisons may clarify those in Cicero and Sallust. When he divides men and herd animals into the categories instrumentum vocale and instrumentum semivocale, he includes under the first heading not just slaves, but also free men – specifically mercennarii and poor farmers. In that instance, the similarity between herd animal and free man lay in their productive function. The same might be true for comparisons between herd animal and plebs.

Before I turn to Sallust’s Historiae and Cicero’s De Re Publica, I will examine De Officiis 1.150-151, a passage that discusses which occupations are acceptable, and which not, for a Roman gentleman. The text makes it clear that some professions carried the stigma of servility, even when practiced by free persons; it can therefore help to explain why free persons are likened to slaves and herd animals, and what these comparisons have to do with nature. Scholars have always debated whether the passage has a Ciceronian or Panaetian origin, whether its intended audience was Greek or Roman, and whether it expresses Roman attitudes. 57 Regardless of its provenance, I hope to show that some of its ideas, at least, have parallels in other Roman texts, and reflect concepts which we have already seen in the Res Rustica. I will pay special attention to the hired wage-earner, the mercennarius, for several reasons. The text does not just imply a certain degree of servility, but actually equates mercennarii with slaves, although they were not legally assimilated to slaves.58 Here, if anywhere, we should be able to discover how a legally free man can also be, conceptually, a slave. Moreover, Varro lumped mercennarii together with slaves under instrumentum vocale, and the idea of wage-earning plays an important part in the Sallust passage which I will analyze next.

The De Officiis reveals that the perceived “slavery” of mercennarii depends on their productive role, just as, in Varro, the similarity between slave and herd animal depends on productive role. The roles of both mercennarii and of actual slaves resemble that of herd animals, the “natural” slaves, who are destined to work for the benefit of man. The ideological degradation of wage-earners therefore illustrates how naturalizing slavery could affect the social standing of free persons: regardless of legal reality, a condition of servitude was thought to exist whenever the natural criterion for slavery was met. Since the natural criterion for slavery consisted of performing a certain productive role, anyone who performed that role occupied the same social space as slaves and herd animals. Mercennarii are assimilated to slaves – and by extension to herd animals – because their labor produces profit for others, not for themselves.

Cicero’s comments on mercennarii can only be understood in the context of the passage in which they appear. De Officiis 1.150-151 talks about “trades and means of livelihood, which ones are to be considered becoming to a free man, which ones are vulgar”: de artificiis et quaestibus, qui liberales habendi, qui sordidi sint. This introduction immediately establishes the three major trends of the passage. The first: various professions are ranked according to the social esteem enjoyed by their practitioners. Although the text does not set up a strict hierarchy, with every occupation placed relative to the others, it does indicate levels or gradations in social status, as determined by occupation. Mercennarii, for example, are clearly very low on the social scale. Their wage itself is the reward of slavery: est enim in illis ipsa merces auctoramentum servitutis. Skilled professions – like medicine, architecture, and teaching – are honorable, but only for those “whose station they befit”: eae sunt iis, quorum ordini conveniunt, honestae. Cicero makes agriculture the most prestigious money-making enterprise, claiming that “nothing is more worthy of a free man”: nihil homine libero dignius. By implication, the landowner living off the proceeds of agriculture commands the most prestige among men.

The language with which Cicero describes social status points to the second significant trend in this passage: it connects social standing to personal liberty. The text is full of vocabulary that refers to freedom or its opposite state, servitude. The distinction which Cicero draws at the very beginning – livelihoods which are liberales or sordidi – expresses the contrast between reputable and disreputable professions in terms of what is suitable for a free man, and what is not. This phenomenon continues. The livelihood of wage-earners is illiberalis, and their wage is a reward of servitus. There is nothing ingenuum in a workshop. Those trades must not be approved, which are ministrae to sensual pleasures. Nothing is more worthy for a homo liber than agriculture. The fact that there are gradations of liberty, corresponding to gradations in social status, is consistent with the Roman conception of libertas. As P.A. Brunt notes, “there could be degrees of freedom or servitude”. 59 The divisions in Cicero’s passage, between different levels of status and freedom, do not necessarily match legal divisions. A mercennarius was technically not a slave, and was no less free than a butcher with his own shop, or a teacher, whom Cicero ranks above both wage-earner and butcher. Rather, the inequalities reflect the amount of respect accorded to each profession, and liberty and social standing are measures of that respect.60 The passage as whole demonstrates that free people could be ideologically, if not legally, degraded to the lowest social state, that of slaves.

The third important trend recalls Varro’s practice in the Res Rustica: the De Officiis passage gauges the status of an individual, and the degree of his freedom or servitude, by the role he plays in a productive, money-making process. Brunt has pointed out that the text specifically examines means of acquiring wealth, quaestus; Cicero’s topic is not professions per se, but professions as sources of enrichment.61 He specifies that he is about to talk de artificiis et quaestibus, and then goes on to repeat the word quaestus three times throughout the passage. Agriculture is characterized as the best of all things “from which something is gained”: ex quibus aliquid adquiritur. Thus Cicero treats even agriculture, like any other source of income, as a profit-making enterprise – which is precisely what Varro does in the Res Rustica. In the Res Rustica, the emphasis on profit meant that productive function determined the standing of man and animal alike, and that servitude was defined as an economic relation between master and slave, not a power relation. The De Officiis shows that the same method of reckoning applied in society at large, beyond the narrow confines of a farm. Cicero derives social standing from the way an individual makes money: that is, from the goods and services which an individual produces, in order to earn a living. Although other cultural assumptions play a part as well, the final criterion of status is a person’s productive function, and the usefulness of that function for the community. Once, Cicero even employs the word utilitas, when he explains why skilled professions like teaching are respectable.

Since the passage emphasizes money-making and production, we ought to consider the “servitude” of mercennarii in terms of the economic aspects of wage-earning. This is especially true because De Officiis 1.150-151 has shown close parallels to the Res Rustica, and in that context the critical feature of slavery is an economic one. The exact wording of Cicero’s comment about mercennarii also stresses money; he speaks of “means of livelihood” and “buying” and “wage”. Here is what he says:

Illiberales autem et sordidi quaestus mercennariorum omnium, quorum operae, non quorum artes emuntur; est enim in illis ipsa merces auctoramentum servitutis.

Unbecoming to a free man and vulgar are the means of livelihood of all hirelings whose services, not whose skill, are bought; for in their case the wage itself is a reward of servitude.


Scholars usually attribute the poor reputation of wage-earning to the hired man’s dependence on his employer.62 That no doubt played a part, but is not the whole explanation. “Dependence” takes finances into account to a certain extent: the wage-earner depended on his employer to provide money. However, the idea of dependence refers more to the power disparity which existed between employer and employee, because the employer dispensed the money. Cicero seems more concerned with buying and selling than with power. Another theory relies on his distinction between buying operae and buying artes; the two words in juxtaposition seem to refer to manual labor and skilled labor, respectively. The aversion to wage-earning therefore reflects the upper-class aversion to working with one’s hands. Again, that must be part of the explanation, but not the whole. Other sources reveal that mercennarii need not be unskilled, manual laborers, and that selling even skilled labor for a wage carried a social stigma. Cornelius Nepos notes that Greeks held secretaries, scribae, in higher esteem than Romans did, since Romans considered secretaries to be mercennarii (Eum. 1.5). Quintilian claims that it is appropriate for forensic orators to accept monetary gifts of gratitude from their clients, but they must never collect a wage, merces (12.7.8-12). Although he never uses the word mercennarii, the appearance of merces implies that orators should not reduce themselves to mere wageearners. He refers to such a practice as “selling one’s work”: vendere operam. In this instance, opera certainly does not refer to manual labor; moreover, Quintilian’s argument demonstrates that even one of the most skilled and respected professions, forensic oratory, could be degraded when it was performed for a wage. I will examine this passage in more detail later. Here it is enough to note that Quintilian views the wage itself as demeaning, regardless of the nature of the work.

G.E.M. de Ste. Croix might come closest to the truth. He sees Cicero’s operae and artes as a distinction between two different types of worker. The first is a general laborer, who hires himself out over a period of time for unskilled or partly skilled work. The other is what we might call a “contractor”: someone who undertakes a specific task, usually requiring skill and the possession of some kind of equipment. The former, who is a mercennarius in the strict sense, does not sell his skill for a one-time job; rather, he sells “the general disposition of his labour power”.63 This view of the matter takes into account the economic dynamics of wage-earning, and also recalls Varro’s formulation of servitude in the Res Rustica.

In the Res Rustica, the most important aspect of slavery, and the one that made human slaves comparable to herd animals, lay in who produced for whom. Both slaves and herd animals, although they did receive upkeep in return, were ultimately enriching their masters. The master took the fruits of their labor for himself. An employer stood in the same economic relation to his mercennarius as a master to his slave or herd animal. By paying a wage, the employer became entitled to what de Ste. Croix calls “the general disposition” of the wageearner’s “labour power”. To put it another way, the employer purchased the right to the wageearner’s use and produce. This is what Cicero means when he says that the operae of hirelings are “bought”. Presumably the value of the hired man’s produce equaled, and often exceeded, the payment he received. Why bother to hire him, if the employer did not secure a return from the work performed? Thus, receiving a wage bound the mercennarius, like a slave, to labor for the profit of another man. Thus, as Cicero notes, “the wage itself is a reward of servitude”.64

Another passage in the De Officiis supports this reading. At 1.41, Cicero again equates mercennarius with slave:

Est autem infima condicio et fortuna servorum, quibus non male praecipiunt qui ita iubent uti, ut mercennariis: operam exigendam, iusta praebenda.

The lowest condition and fortune is that of slaves. Those men advise well, who bid us to make use of slaves thus, as we do hired workers: work must be exacted, dues must be paid.


Cicero’s recommendation addresses both moral and practical concerns. It comes in the course of a discussion about justice. Justice, he contends, is owed even to the most humble, who happen to be slaves. The quote above provides a guideline for treating slaves with justice, without ceding the master’s right to their labor and produce. They must be forced to work, but they must be given their dues, iusta, in return. Other texts hint at what Cicero might have in mind when he says iusta. We have already seen what Varro proposes for the use and care of slaves. He suggests providing not only necessities, but even certain privileges and accommodations; however, these generous provisions aim at increasing the productivity of slaves. They are not a gesture of kindness on the master’s part, but a stick-and-carrot method of getting the most work out of a human chattel. The precepts in Res Rustica books 1 and 2 are supposed to maximize agricultural profit; Varro was fully aware that the monetary return from well-treated slaves exceeded what was spent on them. Cato the Elder similarly focuses on profit in his own handbook of agriculture. Despite his infamous assertion that old and sick slaves should be sold (2.7), even he maintains that the familia ought to be kept warm and well-fed (5.2). No doubt his reasons for this attitude match Varro’s. Cicero’s iusta, if Varro and Cato are any guide, definitely did not constitute full recompense for the value of a slave’s work. The fact that the work of a mercennarius was likened to a slave’s work, and his iusta to a slave’s iusta, is telling. The principle that “work must be exacted” recognizes the employer’s financial stake in the hireling’s productivity. The conflation of merces with a slave’s iusta shows that a wage was not thought to cover the full worth of a wage-earner’s produce.

Two passages in Seneca make the connection between mercennarius and slave even more explicit. The first demonstrates that the Romans could and did distinguish between purchasing a thing and purchasing its use and produce. De Beneficiis 7.5.1-6.3 is devoted to drawing that very distinction. Seneca states that sometimes “one man is the owner of a thing, another of its use”: alter rei dominus est, alter usus. To illustrate his point, he adduces several examples of rental arrangements. The landowner does not have a right to his tenant farmers’ crops. The house owner cannot enter his tenant’s rented apartment. The man who has rented a cart does not have to give the owner a ride. Finally, “you [the slave owner] will not take away your slave, my hireling”: nec servum tuum, mercennarium meum, abduces. Here, Seneca imagines a scenario in which he has hired out another man’s slave. The fact that this mercennarius is also a slave is immaterial. What matters is the difference between slave and hireling. The context makes it clear that the issue turns on right of possession versus right of use. When a master bought a slave, he bought both kinds of right over the slave. If he then rented the slave out, he ceded right of use to the renter. Seneca treats a merces as the purchase price, or rental fee, for right of use. A free mercennarius, then, was someone who sold the right to his use and produce; because another had this right over him, he was like a slave. He did not, however, sell his person; no one had possession of him. That was the primary contrast between slave and mercennarius. The language of the De Officiis reflects the distinction between right of possession and right of use, when Cicero says of hirelings that their services are bought. He does not say that they themselves are bought.

The Romans knew, of course, that they were making a profit from the use of their slaves and wage-earners. This becomes clear in the other Seneca passage, in which he discusses whether it is possible for a slave to perform a beneficium for his master (De Ben. 3.18.1-28.6). Seneca claims that he can; others apparently said otherwise. They reasoned, according to Seneca, that a service is only a beneficium, when bestowed by someone who does not have to bestow it. However, a slave is a person “whose condition has placed him in such a position, that nothing he offers imposes a charge on his superior”: quem condicio sua eo loco posuit, ut nihil eorum, quae praestat, imputet superiori. This argument is further refined. A slave, claims Seneca’s opponent, cannot bestow a beneficium for the following reason. “He is not able to become his master’s creditor, if he gives him money. Otherwise he places his master under obligation every day”: Quia non potest…creditor domini sui fieri, si pecuniam illi dederit. Alioqui cotidie dominum suum obligat. The imaginary speaker then lists several jobs which slaves normally undertake for their masters. He ends with the declaration that a slave has no power to refuse any of these things; since he has to give them in any event, they cannot constitute beneficia. This entire case rests on the master’s right to the use and produce of his slave. The slave must provide his labor, and the master is entitled to the fruits of his slave’s labor, owing nothing in return except upkeep. Because everything the slave has or produces belongs to the master anyway, the master cannot be the slave’s debtor, or the slave his master’s creditor. A beneficium need not be a cash gift; it could be a favor performed. However, the interlocutor decides to clarify his point in terms of money. This choice shows an awareness that the slave’s services have a certain monetary value which ultimately enriches the master. The relationship between master and slave could be construed as an essentially financial arrangement, in which the productive capacity of one side is exploited for the benefit of the other.

It is in response to this reasoning that Seneca presents his counter-attack. Despite the master’s rights over a slave, he believes it possible for a slave to go above and beyond the call of duty, thereby bestowing a beneficium on his master. Here he introduces and espouses a view which he attributes to a Stoic philosopher. “A slave, according to Chrysippus, is a perpetual wage-earner. Just as a wage-earner gives a benefit when he supplies more than he contracted for, so a slave”: Servus, ut placet Chrysippo, perpetuus mercennarius est. Quemadmodum ille beneficium dat, ubi plus praestat, quam in quod operas locavit, sic servus. I cited this quotation in the previous chapter as evidence that the Stoics viewed slavery as an economic role, though I did not discuss at the time how they defined that role. Given the context of this passage, there is only one way to understand the servile function as it is presented here: to produce profit for another. Like Varro and like Seneca’s imagined opponent, Chrysippus presumes that a slave is someone constrained to offer his full services and their value to his master, for a minimal amount of recompense in the form of his upkeep. The equation of slave to mercennarius only works if a mercennarius, too, provides services to his employer whose value exceeds his fee. With this argument, Seneca continues to cast the debate in financial terms. The comparison works to the slave’s advantage, and supports Seneca’s point, because it limits what the slave owes to his master. A hireling might provide his employer with more than he receives in return, but his obligation to the employer is still circumscribed by what he contracts to do, and the amount of wage he collects. If a slave is a kind of mercennarius, then his obligation is finite as well. He is therefore capable of surpassing the bounds of what he must give, and so providing a beneficium.

I have taken much of my evidence for mercennarii from philosophical works by Seneca and Cicero, both heavily indebted to Stoicism. Seneca cites the Stoic Chrysippus for the idea that a slave is a perpetuus mercennarius, and scholars have seen this concept as the basis of Cicero’s remarks in the De Officiis, whether he was influenced by Chrysippus directly or indirectly through Panaetius.65 We might ask whether the attitudes expressed by Cicero and Seneca had any currency beyond philosophical theory. Varro’s Res Rustica indicates that the Stoic definition of slavery, at least, appeared outside of strictly philosophical contexts. I have just shown that Stoic comments on wage-earning depend on the same assumption which underlies Varro’s treatment of slaves: servitude is an economic arrangement in which one person works for the gain of another. We should probably conclude from this circumstance that common notions influenced both Varro and the Stoics; it is unlikely that philosophical precepts exercised much influence over how the Romans perceived and managed their agricultural business enterprises. Likewise, a passage in Quintilian suggests that the views on wage-earning which I just discussed reflect widespread cultural prejudices.

Although Quintilian occasionally appeals to philosophy, the relevant section concerns practical, professional ethics (12.7.8-12). Here he attempts to establish guidelines for the payment of forensic orators, obviously believing that the form which this payment takes will impact an orator’s standing in society. Specifically, he addresses whether they should accept a fee. I referred to this passage earlier, as an instance in which a wage was felt to degrade skilled labor. It is now time to consider the exact nature of Quintilian’s objection to wage-earning. The text is full of vocabulary that recalls the De Officiis. He starts with the claim that it is “most honorable” (honestissimum) and “most worthy of a liberal education” (liberalibus disciplinis…dignissimum) to work for free. If anyone makes oratory a source of gain when he already has enough money, he lays himself open to the charge of vulgarity (sordes). The opposition between liberalis and sordidus dominates De Officiis 1.150-151, where it provides the standard by which Cicero assesses the various professions. Whatever is not liberalis is unworthy of a free man. In Quintilian, then, as in Cicero, the measure of a person’s liberty is somehow implicated in his means of making money. “Means of making money”, rather the profession itself, is the issue here, as it is in the De Officiis. When a man takes money for his oratory, Quintilian describes it as a quaestus, and an adquirendi ratio. Forensic oratory itself was, of course, a prestigious profession. As I pointed out before, the fact that even an orator could have this dilemma shows that a stigma attached to the merces itself.

The language of buying and selling predominates in this passage, as it does in the other texts which talk about mercennarii. Quintilian speaks of receiving a wage (merces), of selling work (vendere operam), of selling a service (venire beneficium), of having a price (pretium), of owing (debet). Ultimately, he concedes that an orator in need of funds may accept a client’s gift of gratitude; on no account, however, must he accept a wage. The distinction seems meaningless, since the orator takes money from his client either way. Quintilian’s reasoning becomes clear, however, if we recognize that a wage is the selling price for the right to a person’s use and produce. That also explains all the vocabulary of buying and selling. A forensic orator usually performed his job not for his own sake, but in the service of others. Quintilian himself notes that it is hard for an orator to make money in any way except from his oratory, since “all his time is given to the business of others”. If an orator were to charge a set fee, he would essentially sell his client the right to his service, whose worth exceeded the fee itself. The transaction therefore bound the orator to undertake labor that profited another more than himself, which would be an arrangement akin to servitude. Quintilian’s solution finds a way around this problem:

Nihil ergo adquirere volet orator ultra quam satis erit, ac ne pauper quidem tamquam mercedem accipiet, sed mutua benivolentia utetur, cum sciet se tanto plus praestitisse: non enim, quia venire hoc beneficium non oportet, oportet perire: denique ut gratus sit ad eum magis pertinent qui debet.

An orator will wish to make no more money than is enough, and not even a poor man will take it as a wage, but he will use mutual goodwill, when he knows that he has given so much more: for the service ought not go to waste, because it ought not to be sold: finally, that he be grateful pertains more to the man who owes.


By relying on mutua benivolentia, rather than exacting a fee, the orator ostensibly offers his labor for free. Because he does not sell the right to his work, he does not obligate himself to perform a task that is worth “so much more” than what he receives in return. Rather, he puts himself in the superior position of having obligated another. Since it is the client “who owes”, it behooves him to show his gratitude with a gift of cash. Quintilian’s advice allows the orator to collect his money, while avoiding the odium of selling his services and becoming a mercennarius.

If Quintilian is any indication, working for a wage was felt to be degrading even among skilled professionals. It impinged upon the personal liberty of the wage-earner, and so diminished both his standing as a free man, and the amount of respect he could command in society. For a mercennarius in the strict sense – a general laborer who hired out his unskilled work – the stigma of wage-earning counted against him, as well as those of poverty and manual labor. They all combined to reduce his status to that of a virtual slave. He was not legally a slave, nor was an orator any less free before the eyes of the law, if he decided to accept a wage. “Status” here corresponds to the prestige, or lack thereof, accorded to a person by society at large. The hireling’s ideological assimilation to a slave resembles the assimilation of slave to herd animal: in each case, the sources conflate the two categories, while still recognizing a difference between them.

The explanation for this phenomenon lies in the point of similarity that drives the comparisons. In the Res Rustica, De Officiis, and other texts I have examined, the general emphasis is on money-making and its source, the production of goods and services. More specifically, money and production dominate comments about slaves and mercennarii, and indeed prove to be the link between them. Because somebody else owns the right to their use and produce, wage-earners and slaves both labor for somebody else’s profit. They therefore have essentially the same role in the productive process, and play the same part in the acquisition of money: they work in order to provide themselves with a little, and someone else with more. In a cultural context that evaluated social standing in terms of utility, the status of mercennarius and that of servus were bound to overlap – to the detriment of the mercennarius. Wage-earning, a form of exploitation, was inevitably likened to slavery, the most perfect form of exploitation, which inflicted the deepest social disgrace.

In the background, serving as the perfect model of the perfect form of exploitation, was the herd animal: the pecus, basis of all pecunia, who was destined by nature to labor for and enrich man. The existence of this natural slave made slavery a natural criterion against which to judge any profession. Nature itself had established the servile function and allotted it to herd animals. Since a domestic animal was, by definition, an animal that served this natural purpose, any person who served the same purpose was a kind of domestic animal. Perhaps only legal slavery corresponded perfectly to that job description; nonetheless, an occupation was demeaning if it brought its practitioner closer to a servile state, and so closer to the level of a herd animal. This is reflected in the language Cicero uses to assess professions in the De Officiis. He approves or disapproves of each one according to how liberalis it is, “suitable for a free man”. People like mercennarii, who were almost fully assimilated to slaves, risked losing not just their status as free men, but their status as men altogether. When Cicero claims that agriculture is most worthy of a free man, he includes the word homo: nihil homine libero dignius. If the reader does not realize what is at stake, the insertion of homine might seem like a pleonasm. In fact, its use is very pointed. Because slaves were so closely identified with herd animals, the distinction between free and slave was also a distinction between human and herd animal. Thus, the more free a person was, the more human he was. The liber homo who was not truly free was both less liber and less a homo.

A passage in Petronius’ Satyricon illustrates how a threat to liberty could be construed as a threat to human identity. A mercennarius named Corax takes exception to the heavy labor he is required to do. He protests:

“Quid vos” inquit “iumentum me putatis esse aut lapidariam navem? Hominis operas locavi, non caballi. Nec minus liber sum quam vos, etiam si pauperem pater me reliquit.” (117.11-12)

Do you think that I am some draft animal or ship for carrying stones? I contracted the work of a human, not of a pack horse. I am no less free than you, even if my father did leave me a poor man.


The mercennarius seems to believe that the nature of his work is more fitting for a herd animal, and that this fact has led others to view him as a herd animal. His fear is consistent with the tendency I have now traced through the Res Rustica, De Officiis, and other texts: job, or productive function, determines the status of man and animal alike. Because they both subsist on the same scale of social worth, they can be assimilated to each other, or occupy the same social category, on the basis of shared function. Corax obviously connects herd animals with slavery, and their labor with servile labor, since he defiantly asserts that he is as free as anyone else. He also implies that he is only doing this job because he is poor, which indicates that he sees servile work as demeaning, just as Cicero does. In three short sentences, Corax’s complaint demonstrates how entangled were the concepts of “slave” and “herd animal”, on the one hand, and “free” and “human”, on the other. It shows, too, that mercennarii were associated with the wrong end of the spectrum. Corax’s wage-earning has put him in a position where he feels the need to defend his standing as both a liber and a homo.

The words have been put into this character’s mouth by a wealthy, senatorial author, and might communicate specifically upper-class prejudices. It is impossible to know for sure whether mercennarii themselves, and other people of low station, shared these low views on wage-earning. A passage from Sallust may be suggestive, however. It makes use of the same ideas, and its context indicates that it might reflect the concerns of a plebeian audience. If so, then the plebs in general, like Corax the mercennarius, felt acutely that their liberty was at stake, and their status as human beings along with it.

Fighting for Freedom and Humanity in Popular Oratory

Scholars generally recognize that there was a distinctly popular brand of oratory practiced in republican Rome, a set of tropes and ideas utilized by those who were speaking before the assembled people and professing to champion their interests. 66 Such oratory tended to rail against the supposed slavery of the plebs; accordingly, the preeminent slogan was “freedom”, libertas.67 If we assume that this rhetoric was meant to address the concerns and desires of the plebs, then we may deduce from the prevalence of servitus and libertas that they were concerned for their status as free men. I have argued at length now that the opposition between free and slave in Roman thought often resolved itself into the opposition between human and domestic animal, due to the perception that slaves and domestic animals have the same natural and social value. We might suspect, then, that the plebs, suffering anxiety over their freedom, worried about their standing as humans, as well. Certain texts indicate that this was indeed the case. There are four extant orations usually thought to exemplify the popular style of speaking.68 One of them is a speech delivered by a tribune named Macer, as reported by Sallust in a fragment of the Historiae (3.34). In addition to taking libertas as its leitmotiv, it contains a prominent comparison between the plebs and herd animals. The comparison establishes some of the major topics of the speech, which are all closely entwined throughout the text with the theme of plebeian liberty. This oration is therefore the ideal text with which to consider why free citizens are likened to slaves and animals, and how nature is implicated in the comparison.

I contend that the passage draws upon the same conception of slavery that prompted Varro to assimilate slaves to herd animals, and Cicero to assimilate wage-earners to slaves. By extension, the speech reveals that the plebs shared in, or at least were aware of, the ideology that reduced free wage-earners to virtual slaves, and thus very nearly to animals. In fact, these ideas play a major role in the whole tradition of popular oratory; after I discuss their use in Macer’s speech, I will trace their presence in other popular speeches.

Specifically, I will show that the primary point of comparison between plebs, on the one hand, and slaves and herd animals, on the other, is productive or economic role. Thus, as we have seen elsewhere, popular orations assume that the defining feature of slavery is determined not by law, but by nature. Despite their free legal status, the plebs perform the function naturally allotted to slave and herd animals, and so the plebs, too, are slaves and herd animals in a sense. In the other texts which I have examined, characterization as a slave or herd animal does not necessarily connote an innately servile temperament, and therefore does not presuppose the existence of teleologically differentiated human types; the designation describes a certain job and its attendant social status. Again, the same holds true for portrayals of the plebs in popular speeches, which make a point of contrasting the natural slavishness of herd animals with the plebs’ naturally free and human character. With this tactic, the speakers protest the plebs’ servitude. Although it may seem counterintuitive, popular rhetoric therefore combats plebeian slavery, but does so by employing the ideas which naturalize legal slavery.

The oration in which this trope figures most prominently was never actually delivered. Although a tribune named Macer did, apparently, deliver a speech to the people on the same subject, the version that survives is Sallust’s reconstruction. It is impossible to say how closely Sallust has followed Macer’s original speech; however, whether Macer really said something like this, or Sallust invented something appropriate to put into his mouth, the historical context guarantees that it reflects the kind of oratory intended to appeal to the plebs. C. Licinius Macer was tribune of the plebs in 73 B.C., and here he speaks to the assembled people, addressing them directly in the second-person plural. The matter at hand featured prominently in politics from 76 to 70 B.C.: the restoration of the legislative powers of the tribunate, which Sulla’s constitutional reforms had removed. The tribunes would regain the right to initiate legislation in 70 B.C., but in 73 Macer was one of those agitating for that very outcome. In his oration, he represents himself as the people’s defender in this fight and exhorts them to force the issue through collective action.

Because the tribunate was always regarded as a bastion of plebeian freedom,69 Macer could cast the curtailment of tribunician powers as a problem in which freedom itself was at stake. In keeping with popularis rhetoric, and the political circumstances, he does so. From the very outset (1-4), he establishes that Sulla has imposed slavery, servitium, on the plebs, a slavery currently maintained by the mastery, dominatio, of the nobles. Macer himself is encouraging the people to take the path which will lead to the recovery of their libertas. Although, in fighting alone for their rights, he has taken on a task impossible for one man, he has decided that defeat in the struggle for liberty is better for a brave man than not to have struggled at all. The language of slavery, mastery, and liberty continues throughout the oration. The idea of struggling for liberty, in particular, serves as a rallying point. It is significant that Macer immediately characterizes this struggle as something that befits a brave man, fortis vir. Since the contrast between free and slave was also a contrast between human and animal, the vir (male human) perhaps stands in opposition both to womanly weakness and to the slavishness of herd animals. What follows confirms that this is the case.

The next two sentences further explain the situation (5-6). Here, Macer describes the plebs’ noble masters and the nature of the slavery they have imposed. We might expect the speaker to say more about the tribunician power and political rights, since that is the issue under discussion. Instead, he talks about how a few prominent men have taken possession of imperial holdings. It is in this context that Macer compares plebs to herd animals:

Itaque omnes concessere iam in paucorum dominationem, qui per militare nomen aerarium, exercitus, regna, provincias occupavere et arcem habent ex spoliis vestris, cum interim more pecorum vos, multitudo, singulis habendos fruendosque praebetis, exuti omnibus quae maiores reliquere…70

Therefore all have now yielded to the mastery of a few, who, under pretence of war, have seized the treasury, the armies, the kingdoms, and the provinces, and hold a stronghold from your spoils; in the meantime you, in the manner of herd animals, offer yourselves, a multitude, to individuals for use and enjoyment, after having been stripped of everything which your ancestors left you…


According to this passage, the supposed servitude of the plebs, and their likeness to herd animals, consist of two elements: economic exploitation, and their willingness to be so exploited. Even though Macer does not explicitly mention herd animals again, these two concepts are both fundamental to the rest of the speech. The idea of the domestic animal – the perfect, natural slave – therefore shapes his portrayal of the plebs’ slavery and its opposite state, their freedom.

The fact that the matter involves money is signaled by several words: aerarium, spoliis, habendos, fruendos, pecorum. Per militare nomen and spoliis indicate that a particular kind of property is under scrutiny: that acquired through military action. The contents of the treasury, the armies, the kingdoms, and the provinces are all represented as spoils of war. Macer leaves no doubt about who is responsible for winning these possessions: plebeian soldiers. That is why he refers to the list of goods as “your spoils”, as spoils that properly belong to the people who fought for them. A few powerful men, however, have seized these goods. Thus the plebs can be said to offer themselves “for the use and enjoyment” of such men: the plebs’ military labor, voluntarily undertaken, is enriching these individuals rather than the plebs themselves. Here, as we have seen elsewhere, ideological servitude and mastery exist where there is a relationship of economic exploitation: one who works for the profit of another man is a slave, one who keeps the profit from another man’s work is a master. If they were really free men, as opposed to slaves and herd animals, the plebs would be enjoying the fruits of their own labor.

It might seem strange that a speech ostensibly about legislative rights should harp on the fate of military spoils. Macer, however, calls the tribunician power “a weapon prepared by your ancestors for liberty”, vis tribunicia, telum a maioribus libertati paratum (12). This is hardly a unique thought; as I have already pointed out, the tribunate was always associated with the freedom of the plebs. Since the office existed in order to secure the plebs’ liberty, any impingement on that liberty could be seen as the province of the tribunes. A skeptic might suspect that this offered a conveniently wide rhetorical umbrella for any politician seeking to win the favor of the plebs. In Sallust’s version of the speech, Macer never does offer concrete details about the supposed theft of plebeian property, nor a plan for dealing with the problem. Perhaps his talk of public money is an allusion to – and promise of – reforms that involved the redistribution of state property, like the grain dole and agrarian legislation; such reforms were usually initiated by the tribunes of the plebs, utilizing the very power which Sulla’s constitution had stripped from them. Thus the tribunes’ legislative powers could be seen as a mechanism by which state money, acquired in war, made its way back to the people who had fought for it; in this way, the tribunate secured for the plebs an economic return from their own labor, and by extension secured their liberty. By this roundabout logic, never explicitly stated, the tribunes’ lost legislative powers do have a connection to military spoils. Whatever his intentions, and however sincere he was, Macer clearly recognized the efficacy of this particular appeal, even when the disposal of government property was not strictly the matter at hand. He no doubt realized that the issue of political rights was always more abstract, and of less immediate interest, than the question, Where is my money?

Economic exploitation is one aspect that the plebs have in common with herd animals, who are also slaves. The other similarity is the plebs’ apparent acceptance of their exploitation, signaled by Macer’s accusatory use of the word praebetis. The plebs actually yield themselves up for servitude, willingly going off to fight when it will not enrich them, passively letting other men take the profits. The comparison turns on the belief that herd animals are slaves by nature. They always accept their lot with passivity and willingly labor for the benefit of human masters, because they have no alternative; they serve and obey in accordance with inescapable, natural impulses. This idea appears prominently elsewhere in Sallust. As I explained in the first chapter, it plays a part in the prologue of the Bellum Catilinae. There, herd animals are employed as a negative model, an extreme to avoid, precisely because they have no choice but to behave slavishly. In the same work, Sallust has Catiline urge his troops to die fighting like men, rather than be captured and “slaughtered like herd animals”: neu capti potius sicuti pecora trucidemini quam virorum more pugnantes (58.21). His remark assumes that domestic animals are characterized by a servility so extreme, they quietly acquiesce even in their own deaths. Macer suggests that the plebs are displaying just such acquiescence, which is the essential feature of the herd animal’s natural character.

All three Sallustian passages, however – prologue, military harangue, and contio – offer an alternative to this brutish slavishness. The prologue maintains that a human can, should, must strive to be better than the beasts. Catiline tells his troops to fight to the bloody end so that might they die like men. Macer, too, exhorts his listeners not to behave in the manner of herd animals. In each case, Sallust is drawing upon a conception of human nature which I discussed in chapter 1, and which definitely does not entail human teleology. When the speaker calls upon his audience to decide between an animal and a human mode of conduct, he presumes that people, unlike animals, have a capacity for choice or free will. However, this capacity enables humans to choose wrongly, and so deviate from correct human behavior. The passages all identify the correct standard of human behavior for the audience, by portraying one form of conduct as proper to herd animals, and another as proper to humans. Thus, in every instance, Sallust simultaneously makes use of both a normative and a descriptive understanding of “humanity”. In the normative sense, the audience will be less human if they pick the option which the speaker warns them against, because that course of action is inconsistent with the norm of human behavior. In the descriptive sense, the audience members are all fully human in that they possess the uniquely human power for choice. Therefore, they all have the ability to adhere to the human norm and become “truly” human, if only they will choose rightly by acting as the speaker recommends.

In keeping with the pattern outlined above, Macer’s speech does not posit that the plebs are naturally slavish or subhuman; in fact, it asserts the opposite. The oration draws its persuasive and emotive power from the tension between the servile role forced upon the plebs, and their naturally free and human character. Precisely because they are not slaves or animals by nature, they can choose not to submit to treatment which is unsuitable for human beings; they can choose to reclaim a truly human living situation by rising up and taking what is rightfully theirs. Therefore the reference to herd animals is in fact a clarion call to action. The plebs’ noble masters have imposed upon them a condition of economic servitude, a condition equivalent to that of slavish herd animals. They will continue to be treated like animals, and resemble them in character, if they do not correctly utilize their human faculty of choice and exercise their will to act. We see now why Macer claims that the struggle for liberty, even a losing one, befits a brave man, and why he later urges the plebs to remember and recreate the manly deeds, virilia illa, of their ancestors (15). The choice to resist, the will to freedom, the struggle itself is naturally appropriate to a man, utterly denied to a herd animal.

Although Macer only mentions herd animals once, the themes established in that one sentence continue throughout the speech. The negative example of the herd animal therefore remains very much in the foreground. Sections 14-16 dwell on the idea that the plebs are willingly submitting to their servitude, by supporting the designs of their self-appointed masters (like herd animals). Macer accuses his audience of having a weak spirit, animus ignavus, since they are not mindful of their liberty outside of the assembly. All the power is actually in their hands, he claims, because they can choose to carry out or not to carry out the very commands which are imposing their slavery. The plebs are putting such orders into effect by executing them, and are thus rushing to enact their own servitude (like herd animals). Since their slavery depends on their connivance, they could win their freedom simply by refusing to cooperate.

In sections 17-18, Macer further refines on his characterization of the plebs’ slavery, and on his plan for ending it. Here, too, he describes their slavery in terms of economic exploitation. He begins: iure gentium res repeto, “I demand restitution according to the law of nations”. This is the formula which was used by the fetialis to demand from a foreign state reparation for stolen goods or redress for an injury.71 The demand for the return of stolen goods, aimed as it is at the domineering nobles, again voices the idea that all state holdings really belong to the plebs. The nobles who are enjoying these goods can be said to have stolen them from their rightful owners. The only remedy for the situation is for the plebs to get their money back. How does Macer propose they accomplish this? He advises that they no longer offer up their blood: ne amplius sanguinem vestrum praebeatis censebo. The reference to blood signals that he has military spoils in mind when he speaks of stolen goods. Since he specifies that the plebs shed their blood of their own accord, this might also be an implicit comparison to herd animals, who even die willingly for their masters’ benefit. When he bids them to stop shedding their blood, Macer means that they should stop serving as soldiers. Let the nobles wage their wars alone, he urges, but “let danger and labor be absent for those who have no part of the profit”: absit periculum et labos, quibus nulla pars fructus est. This last phrase expresses the character of the plebs’ servitude explicitly and succinctly: they perform the labor of military service, but do not reap the profits. Macer’s “no pay, no work” slogan calls to mind a modern labor strike, and that is essentially what he advocates. The nobles cannot carry out a war without plebeian soldiers. Soldiers who refuse to fight will not be paid, but neither will the nobles grow rich off their hardship.
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Re: The Measure of All Things: Natural Hierarchy in Roman Re

Postby admin » Thu Oct 03, 2019 3:02 am

Part 4 of 4

Next, Macer admits that the plebs might be receiving some return for their work (19). He uses the concept of wage-earning, however, and its similarity to servitude, in order to make the point that they are still slaves, despite the paycheck. Although he never uses the word for wage, merces, the language of buying and selling makes his intention clear: “Unless by chance your services are paid for by that sudden grain law; a law by which they valued the liberty of all at five pecks each, which certainly cannot be more than a prison allowance”, nisi forte repentina ista frumentaria lege munia vestra pensantur; qua tamen quinis modis libertatem omnium aestimavere, qui profecto non amplius possunt alimentis carceris. Macer proceeds to elaborate on the similarity between the grain allotment and prison rations, in order to emphasize the scantiness of the allotment. He is suggesting that the grain distribution does not nearly begin to cover the entire sum of money acquired by the plebs through military conquest. Thus it is a form of payment for the plebs’ military services, but one that falls far short of the full value of their labor. In that respect, the grain dole can be viewed as a wage – as animal fodder or slave upkeep, provided for the purpose of keeping the plebs alive and working for the enrichment of their masters. The plebs will only have true freedom if they recover the full amount of their earnings. This is the reasoning that prompts Macer to claim that the plebs’ liberty has been valued and bought at five pecks per man: in exchange for those five pecks, every one of the plebs has traded his liberty, his right to enjoy the full fruits of his labor.

Macer continues with this line of thought (20). Even if the amount offered were large, he maintains, it would still be the price of slavery, servitii pretium. For the plebs to be deceived by this offering, and to feel gratitude for the theft of their own property, vestrarum rerum iniuria, would be an act of great sluggishness, torpedo. The phrase servitii pretium is reminiscent of Cicero’s auctoramentum servitutis. Cicero explicitly states that a wage is the reward or recompense of slavery. By claiming that the grain dole is the price of slavery, Macer implicitly calls it a wage. That is, it is the buying price for the right to the plebs’ use and produce, the value of which exceeds the wage itself. Even a large wage is nothing to be grateful for, since that money belongs to the plebs anyway – as well as the rest of the money produced by their labor, the money which is not being paid out to the plebs, the money which has been stolen from them using the grain dole as a blind. If Macer’s speech does indeed represent the kind of oration that could have been spoken in an assembly of the people, then his audience must have been familiar with the rationale that assimilated wage-earning to slavery, and identified economic exploitation as the essential feature of both. He employs these concepts without spelling them out. They must also have been sensitive to the warning implied by use of the word torpedo. Macer states here, as elsewhere, that the plebs are willingly submitting to their servitude through sheer sluggishness. Their position makes them like herd animals; their acquiescence in the situation will perfect the resemblance.

The conclusion of the speech emphasizes the ideas which I have traced throughout the text (26-27). Again Macer blames the plebs’ dilemma on their own sluggishness, torpedo, as well as idleness, ignavia. In this case he treats the idleness itself as the wage for which they have sold the right to their profits. “You have exchanged everything for your present idleness, having reckoned your freedom abundant, doubtless because your backs are spared and you are allowed to go here and there, gifts of your rich masters”: cunctaque praesenti ignavia mutavistis, abunde libertatem rati, scilict quia tergis abstinetur et huc ire licet atque illuc, munera ditium dominorum. The sentence as a whole makes it clear that ignavia is supposed to suggest a wage, and that the defining feature of the plebs’ servitude is economic exploitation. The phrases tergis abstinetur and ire licet refer to other aspects of slavery, corporal punishment and restriction of movement. Macer admits that the plebs are not suffering those particular features of servile life. They are only free from these indignities, however, because their rich masters permit it. The description of the masters as rich points to the phenomenon that has turned the noble-pleb relationship into a master-slave relationship: the nobles are growing wealthy off the plebs’ labor, while the plebs themselves enjoy little or no monetary reward.

The final sentence of the speech touches upon all of the concepts initially introduced by Macer’s comparison between plebs and herd animals. The sentence begins with, “thus you fight and conquer for the benefit of a few, plebs”: ita pugnatur et vincitur paucis, plebes. By now his meaning, and its consequences, are obvious: the plebs’ military service is enriching a few prominent men, and this arrangement constitutes slavery for the plebs. This slavery will be strengthened day-by-day, he continues, “if indeed those men retain their mastery with greater care than you expend to regain your freedom”: si quidem maiore cura dominationem illi retinuerint, quam vos repetiveritis libertatem. The oration ends resoundingly on the word libertas. This final call for action reminds the audience that to be free is indeed an act as well as a legal status, a contested state that must be won and constantly defended. The will to wage this on-going battle, and to claim one’s own property in the process, resides in men, and this human possession ought not to be sold off for the paltry sum of a wage. To labor endlessly for the benefit of others, without protest, is the naturally appointed lot of herd beasts. Unless the plebs want to share that fate, they must exert themselves.

Macer’s concluding comments indicate which argument he, or Sallust, believed would have the greatest emotional impact. Although tribunician powers provide the occasion for the speech, Macer’s grand rhetorical finish never mentions the tribunate or political rights. He focuses instead on a matter which is not directly related, money, and characterizes freedom and slavery in terms of who is providing money for whom. No doubt the rhetorical effectiveness of this ploy derived partially from the financial self-interest of the audience; however, if that were the whole explanation, there would have been no need to obscure the financial incentive with talk of freedom. It is libertas, not pecunia, that literally has the last word. From Macer’s speech we get some sense of just how fragile freedom and human identity could be. I showed in my discussion about wage-earners that people could be ideologically assimilated to slaves even if they were legally free. Before that, I demonstrated that human slaves were ideologically and legally assimilated to herd animals, although the fact that they were human was still recognized, too. In each of these cases, as for the plebs in Macer’s speech, the conceptual degradation to a lower social category arose from economic or productive role. When a person’s status as a free human being depended not on their innate qualities, but on how they earned a living, that standing was precisely as stable as their financial standing. For a poor pleb, possessing little or no financial security, hanging on near the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, the possibility of falling to the very bottom must have seemed all too probable. Perhaps, then, socio-economic precariousness lies at the heart of Macer’s oration and the whole tradition of popular speaking, with its emphasis on liberty. This rhetoric appealed to the plebs’ greed and their jealousy of social position, but, more importantly, it played on their fear.

Of course, it may be overreaching to extrapolate from just one speech that the plebs feared for their freedom, and to extrapolate from just one herd animal comparison that they feared for their very humanity. Because the evidence for popularis rhetoric is scanty, it is difficult to determine how prevalent these themes were; even if the evidence were more abundant, it would be impossible to say for certain how the plebs felt about anything. There are signs, however, that animal comparisons were a long-standing tradition in speeches delivered before the people.

The only extant herd animal comparison that I am aware of, besides Macer’s, was delivered by a tribune of the plebs in the year 97 B.C. This tribune, Marcus Duronius, attacked a piece of sumptuary legislation from the rostra. He said, among other things: “Reins have been thrown upon you, citizens, which must in no way be borne. You have been bound and constrained by the bitter bond of slavery”; freni sunt iniecti vobis, Quirites, nullo modo perpetiendi. alligati et constricti estis amaro vinculo servitutis (Valerius Maximus 2.9.5)72. In this case, the relevant aspect of the plebs’ “slavery” is restriction of their activities, not economic exploitation. Duronius’ reference to the “reins” of slavery, however, illustrates how domestic animal vocabulary could always be utilized to evoke human servitude. The states of being a slave and of being a domestic animal were rhetorically interchangeable. Given the prevalence of the liberty vs. slavery opposition in surviving tribunician speeches, it seems probable that human vs. herd animal also cropped up on a regular basis.

A more precise parallel to Macer’s comparison appears in Plutarch’s life of Tiberius Gracchus. If Tiberius really did speak the words which Plutarch attributes to him, or something like them, then the habit of likening plebs to animals extends at least as far back as the Gracchi. The following is the relevant passage:

ὁ γὰρ Τιβέριος…δεινὸς ἦν καὶ ἄμαχος, ὁπότε τοῦ δήμου τῷ βήματι περικεχυμένου καταστὰς λέγοι περὶ τῶν πενήτων, ὡς τὰ μὲν θηρία τὰ τὴν Ἰταλίαν νεμόμενα καὶ φωλεὸν ἔχει καὶ κοιταῖόν ἐστιν αὐτῶν ἑκάστῳ καὶ καταδύσεις, τοῖς δὲ ὑπὲρ τῆς Ἰταλίας μαχομένοις καὶ ἀποθνῄσκουσιν ἀέρος καὶ φωτός, ἄλλου δὲ οὐδενὸς μέτεστιν, ἀλλ᾽ ἄοικοι καὶ ἀνίδρυτοι μετὰ τέκνων πλανῶνται καὶ γυναικῶν, οἱ δὲ αὐτοκράτορες ψεύδονται τοὺς στρατιώτας ἐν ταῖς μάχαις παρακαλοῦντες ὑπὲρ τάφων καὶ ἱερῶν ἀμύνεσθαι τοὺς πολεμίους• οὐδενὶ γάρ ἐστιν οὐ βωμὸς πατρῷος, οὐκ ἠρίον προγονικὸν τῶν τ οσούτων Ῥ ωμαίων, ἀ λλ᾽ ὑ πὲρ ἀ λλοτρίας τ ρυφῆς κ αὶ π λούτου π ολεμοῦσι κ αὶ ἀποθνῄσκουσι, κύριοι τῆς οἰκουμένης εἶναι λεγόμενοι, μίαν δὲ βῶλον ἰδίαν οὐκ ἔχοντες. (9.4-5)73

Tiberius…was eloquent and invincible when, with people crowding around the rostra, he took a stand and spoke about the poor, saying that the wild beasts dwelling in Italy each have a den and lair and hiding-places, but that the men fighting and dying for Italy have a share in the air and light, but in nothing else. They wander homeless and unsettled with their children and wives, and their commanders lie when they exhort soldiers in battle to defend tombs and shrines from the enemy: for not one of them has a hereditary altar, not one of so many Romans has an ancestral tomb, but they wage war and die for the luxury and wealth of others, and although they are said to be masters of the world, they do not have a single clod of earth for their own.


Although Tiberius compares the plebs to wild animals, τὰ θηρία, rather than herd animals, the same reasoning underlies this famous passage as underlies Macer’s comparison. When Tiberius states that Roman soldiers “wage war and die for the luxury and wealth of others”, he acknowledges that a successfully prosecuted war is a money-making enterprise. Like Macer, he claims that those who perform the actual labor are not securing any personal gain from this enterprise. Instead, their labor is enriching others. The unfair exploitation of military labor is precisely what prompts Macer to call the plebs slaves and, by extension, herd animals.

There is a difference between the two tribunes’ arguments which accounts for Tiberius’s use of wild animals rather than domestic animals. Macer admits that the plebs are getting some return for their labor, a paltry wage, in the form of the grain dole (a practice which the Gracchi introduced). Tiberius, on the other hand, maintains that the plebs are not receiving any return on their labor; in fact, they are being denuded of everything they own, including their homes. According to him, the plebs are suffering an exploitation and consequent dispossession so extreme that they do not retain even the basic necessities of life. When he says that they “have a share in the air and light, but in nothing else”, he surely means to imply that they are barely subsisting. Even a slave or herd animal could expect to be provided with upkeep in exchange for his labor. Tiberius therefore likens the plebs to wild animals for this reason: they receive absolutely nothing from their exploiters, and so they do not participate in the partnership or reciprocal exchange between animal and master which is the defining feature of the herd animal state. Despite all their hard work and the riches it has yielded for their countrymen, they have even less than wild animals, who do not labor and who do not belong to the productive conglomerate which constitutes a state.

The speeches of Tiberius and Macer, as presented by Plutarch and Sallust, are the only texts I am aware of that explicitly employ animals to describe the plebs’ economic condition; nonetheless, the idea of exploitation which drives the comparisons features prominently in other popular orations, and even in Sallust’s historical analysis. At one point in the Bellum Jugurthinum, he sums up the activities of the Gracchi: “they began to free the plebs and to expose the crimes of the few”; vindicare plebem in libertatem et paucorum scelera patefacere coepere (42.1). Exactly how did they champion the freedom of the plebs, and what were the crimes of the few? In the preceding section, Sallust provides the following specifics:

Paucorum arbitrio belli domique agitabatur; penes eosdem aerarium provinciae magistratus gloriae triumphique erant; populus militia atque inopia urgebatur; praedas bellicas imperatores cum paucis diripiebant; interea parentes aut parvi liberi militum, uti quisque potentiori confinis erat, sedibus pellebantur. (41.7-8)

Affairs at war and at home were carried out according to the will of a few, and the treasury, provinces, magistracies, glory, and triumphs were in the possession of the same men; the people were oppressed by military service and poverty, and their commanders were seizing the spoils of war and dividing them with a few others. Meanwhile the parents or small children of the soldiers, if they were the neighbors of a more powerful man, were driven from their homes.


This characterization of the Republic’s ills could have been taken directly from the Tiberius Gracchus fragment. The wild animal comparison is the only thing missing; the circumstances which prompt the comparison are all there. Since Sallust focuses on the nobility’s enrichment and the plebs’ impoverishment, he must refer, at least in part, to the Gracchi’s agrarian legislation when he speaks of their fight for the people’s liberty. By the reasoning which I have now traced through both Sallust and Plutarch, agrarian legislation, as well as other measures designed to redistribute wealth, merely returns state property to its rightful owners. Because such acts allow the people to enjoy the fruits of their own labors, they guarantee the people’s freedom.

Another passage in the Bellum Jugurthinum makes use of the same themes (31). It purports to be a speech delivered by Gaius Memmius, tribune of the plebs. In it, Memmius tries to rouse the plebs to action regarding the war in Numidia; its conduct had supposedly been undermined by Roman officials in the pay of Jugurtha. This oration is one of the two tribunician speeches in Sallust; the other, of course, is Macer’s speech. Although the historical events surrounding the two orations are different, and although neither speech is technically about the disposal of public goods, Sallust has Memmius employ essentially the same arguments as Macer. He does not explicitly compare the plebs to herd animals, but the similarity is virtually implied by his focus on the plebs’ economic servitude.

Like Macer, Memmius starts by establishing that he is a defender of the people’s liberty, though it is dangerous for him (31.1-7). This introduction ends with an ominous allusion to the fate of the Gracchi and their followers. He proceeds to characterize the Gracchi’s efforts as an attempt to “restore to the plebs their own property”; plebi sua restituere (31.8). The neuter plural sua does not specify precisely what the Gracchi were trying to restore to the plebs, and could refer to political rights. However, the very next sentence shows that Memmius has something more tangible in mind. “In former years,” he says, “you were silently indignant that the treasury was plundered, that kings and free peoples paid tribute to a few nobles, that the greatest glory and vast riches were in the possession of the same men. Nevertheless, they do not consider it enough to have undertaken these great crimes with impunity…” The nobles’ crimes obviously consist of enriching themselves at the expense of the commonwealth; thus, when the Gracchi were trying to return the plebs’ “own things” to them, they were trying to release state funds to their rightful owners, the Roman people. The theft of public, i.e. the people’s, money forms a major theme throughout the oration. The nobles enjoy priesthoods, consulships, and triumphs as stolen goods (31.10). They have seized the republic and made everything honorable and dishonorable a source of gain (31.12). All things human and divine reside in the possession of a few (31.20). They extort money from the allies, betray the auctoritas of the senate and the imperium of the Roman people to the enemy, and, in short, offer up the republic for sale at home and abroad (31.25).

Memmius does not treat the noble’ misdeeds as mere embezzlement, but as a kind of domination over the plebs. In the midst of leveling his accusations, he frequently upbraids the plebs for passively accepting their slavery, in terms highly reminiscent of Macer’s exhortations (31.11, 16, 17, 20, 22, 26). Two of these passages are especially illustrative of the issues at stake. In one instance, Memmius asks, “Slaves purchased with money do not put up with unjust rule from their masters; do you, citizens, born in power, tolerate slavery with a calm mind?”: servi aere parati iniusta imperia dominorum non perferunt; vos, Quirites, in imperio nati, aequo animo servitutem toleratis (31.11)? I have argued throughout this chapter that the Romans did not automatically attribute servile natures to their slaves. Here, Memmius acknowledges that human slaves can and do sometimes choose to resist their state of servitude. Like Macer, Memmius uses the tension between servile conditions and free human will in order to urge the plebs to action. He suggests that the plebs are already suffering the conditions of slavery. To bear these circumstances with passivity would make them more slavish than people legally sold into slavery.

The other passage (31.20) shares an important feature with Tiberius’ speech in Plutarch. Memmius talks about the recent period of domination by the nobles, in which “all things human and divine were in the possession of a few men”. Meanwhile, the Roman people, although undefeated by enemies and rulers of the world, “considered it enough to retain the breath of life”: satis habebatis animam retinere. For which of the plebs, asks Memmius, dared to refuse slavery? Not only does Memmius align master and slave with rich and poor, exploiter and exploited, but he claims that the people have been stripped of all but their very lives. This portrayal of the plebs’ extreme dispossession recalls Tiberius’ Roman soldiers, who “have a share in air and light, but nothing else”. Despite having conquered the known world, the plebs are barely subsisting.

Even Cicero utilizes the idea of plebeian economic exploitation when it suits him, which indicates that it was indeed a trope, and one with rhetorical currency. During his consulship, Cicero spoke against an agrarian law put forward by Publius Servilius Rullus, tribune of the plebs. The second of his speeches on the subject, De Lege Agraria 2, was delivered before the popular assembly. In this oration, Cicero had to convince the bill’s ostensible beneficiaries, the Roman people, that the proposal was actually contrary to their interests. The sentiments expressed in this speech differ markedly from those normally found in Cicero’s corpus, and it is generally supposed that, owing to his plebeian audience, he consciously adopted a popular persona and speaking style for this performance. In keeping with that strategy, he portrays the promise of land distribution as a ruse, one which will enable a few powerful men to enrich themselves at the expense of the plebs.

The main thrust of Cicero’s argument is introduced in section 15, where he reveals the “true” aims of the bill’s promulgators. These men, he claims, will be established as kings and masters of the treasury, the revenues, all the provinces, the entire republic, the kings, the free peoples, and, finally, the whole world. It is no accident that Cicero mentions the treasury and revenues first. In the next sentence, he begins with the money once more. He asserts that, in the proposed law, nothing is given to the citizens, but all things are gifted to certain men, that lands are held out before the Roman people while even their liberty is snatched from them, that the money of private individuals is augmented and public money drained, and that kings are set up in the state. This passage presents a familiar conjunction of thoughts: public funds seized, a few powerful individuals enriched, the liberty of the Roman people threatened. Cicero proceeds to expand on the topic of libertas (16), again in a familiar manner. If, after hearing his speech, the citizens believe that a plot has been laid against their liberty, they should not hesitate to defend their freedom, obtained and handed down to them by the sweat and blood of their ancestors. Like Sallust’s tribunes, Cicero urges the plebs to action, emphasizing the need for will and struggle with his reference to blood and sweat.

Near the end of the speech, Cicero asserts that the men behind the pernicious land bill will use their ill-gotten gains to raise military force against the Roman people (73-97). Nevertheless, I have now argued at length that any suggestion of economic exploitation was enough to imply servitude, and Cicero takes advantage of that association to its fullest extent. The bill apparently called for ten land commissioners, decemvirs, to raise funds by selling public property; once the funds had been raised, they were to purchase land in Italy on which to settle colonies of Roman citizens. Cicero devotes much of his oration to insisting that the decemvirs will pocket the proceeds from the sale of public property (35-62), neglecting to purchase the necessary land or to establish proper colonies (63-71). After making his case, Cicero concludes by posing the question, quid pecuniae fiet? What will become of the money? His final answer: “The decemvirs will hold all the money, not a field will be bought for you; after your revenues have been alienated from you, your allies harassed, and the kings and all the nations emptied, those men will have the money, you will not have fields”; igitur pecuniam omnem decemviri tenebunt, vobis ager non emetur; vectigalibus abalienatis, sociis vexatis, regibus atque omnibus gentibus exinanitis illi pecunias habebunt, vos agros non habebitis (72).

Throughout the speech, Cicero harps on the idea that the decemvirs will be making themselves rich off lands and revenues that rightfully belong to the Roman people. He emphasizes his audience members’ personal stake in those lands and revenues by repeatedly using “your” to describe state holdings: all your things, vestra omnia (25); your empire, vestrum imperium (35); your money, vestra pecunia (67, 80); your revenues, vestra vectigalia (33, 47, 56, 62). Like Tiberius Gracchus and Macer, he also reminds the plebs of why those goods properly belong to them: they, or their ancestors, won that property through military service (40, 49, 50, 69, 84).

Morstein-Marx has argued that there were no distinct political ideologies represented in speeches delivered before the people.74 Rather, any politician who needed to speak before the assembly, regardless of his real views, would draw upon a stock set of popular themes in order to portray himself as the true friend of the Roman people and his opponent as a false friend, who secretly aimed to serve factional interests at the expense of the people. The choice presented from the rostra, then, was never a choice between competing ideas, but between competing politicians who all espoused the same ideas, at least in public. The winner was the one who did so more convincingly. Morstein-Marx adduces De Lege Agraria 2 as an example of such ideological and rhetorical appropriation. My own analysis supports his thesis. I have identified a Roman tendency to see any kind of economic exploitation as a form of slavery. By that definition of slavery, a man reduced the plebs to slavery if he enriched himself with funds produced by their labor. Agrarian legislation was envisioned as a corrective for plebeian slavery, since it restored to the plebs the fruits of their own labor. When Cicero was faced with the difficult task of turning the people against agrarian legislation, he claimed that the promulgators really meant to…enrich themselves with funds produced by plebeian labor. Thus, he carefully cultivated his role as friend of the people by drawing on rhetoric pioneered by the Gracchi, the original friends of the people. In order to attack a popular, tribunician measure, Cicero employed the very argument which tribunes traditionally used to promote popular measures.

The narrow rhetorical focus maintained in popular speeches, the limited scope of the ideas expressed, and the continued relevance of those ideas through time – from the days of Tiberius Gracchus to those of Cicero and Sallust – suggest that these speeches reflect the plebs’ political concerns. Those concerns, moreover, were neither complicated nor many in number. The most pressing of them did not involve political rights – although those were a source of worry too – but something of more immediate and practical consequence: money. The discourse on this issue demonstrates an awareness on the part of the plebs that their own economic interests were often different from, and even in direct conflict with, those of the rich citizens who controlled the government and the military. Accordingly, the matter of wealth distribution resolved itself into a matter of class strife. As I have shown, orators portrayed this strife as a contest, not just between competing economic interests, but between the libertas of the plebs and the dominatio of the nobles.

As I have also shown, the connection between economic status, liberty, and domination lay in the Roman conception of slavery as a productive role. Any relationship in which one party produced, and the other took the produce, could be described as a slave-master relationship. This was potentially even more true for the plebs and nobles collectively than for individual wage-earners and employers. Because there were property qualifications for holding office, wealth enabled members of the ruling class to wield real power over the lower orders. Exercising official authority could entail more direct coercion, like passing legislation which curtailed certain activities, but it also meant having the all-important power of the purse. The magistrates, the senate, the generals – such men decided how much public money to dispense and to whom – just as a master decided how much to food to give to his slaves, and an employer decided how much to pay his wage-earners. A master, however, had a vested interest in keeping his slaves healthy and productive. A wage-earner could choose not to work for a particular individual, if the offered pay was not high enough to meet his needs. Tiberius Gracchus would have his listeners believe that the men in power were denying even survival rations to the plebs.

Since orators used animals to describe the plebs’ economic slavery, presumably their target audience understood and shared in the assumptions that assimilated herd animals to slaves and slaves to herd animals. Slavery was thought to be a naturally occurring phenomenon, characterized first and foremost by economic exploitation. Thus, anyone who was exploited technically met the natural criterion for slavery, whether or not that exploitation was supported by law. Because utility to the human community naturally determined all status, all beings who were useful in this particular way held the same status. The plebs clearly understood that, by this method of reckoning, they belonged to the same social category as slaves and herd animals.

The orators’ repeated warnings – do not act like slaves and animals, do not fall to their level, do not accept for yourselves the servile dehumanization which is imposed on them – imply a twofold desire in the plebs: to exact their dues from those of superior socio-economic standing, and to maintain their own superiority over social inferiors. This dual agenda highlights the fact that the concept of natural status was a two-edged sword. On the positive side (from a plebeian point of view), it ensured that there was always somebody to look down upon in the person of the legal slave. The notions which equated slave with animal justified the subordination of both. Certain economic circumstances may have suggested a likeness between pleb and slave, but in truth a free citizen was always free to resist those circumstances. Orators were reminding their audience of that truth when they held up the herd animal, the natural slave, as a behavioral model to avoid. As human beings the plebs had the will to fight servitude, and as citizens they had social and legal support for that fight. Popular speakers urged the plebs to utilize those resources, so that they might sustain and maximize the difference between themselves and slaves. This rhetorical strategy both drew upon and reinforced the – supposedly natural – inequality between slave and citizen, while using it as a means to attack the inequality between poor and rich citizens.

The ideas manipulated by popular orators also had negative consequences for the plebs. These ideas may have located slaves at the lowest extreme of the social hierarchy, alongside herd animals, but the very same beliefs suggested the similarity between pleb and slave. In my discussion of wage-earners, I pointed out that the measure of a man’s social prestige could be expressed in terms of the degree of his liberty or servitude. An individual’s servitude need not have been literal to diminish the esteem which he could command in society. Some free persons, like wage-earners, were regarded as virtual slaves. There was therefore a real threat posed by the mere appearance of slavery. If we accept that popular oratory targeted issues sure to illicit a strong emotive response, then the plebs must have felt the degradation of their supposed slavery keenly. Their acceptance of an extralegal, natural criterion of slavery meant that, legal status aside, their standing as free citizens was always in danger. While the legal divide between slave and poor citizen was huge, the social divide seems to have been thin indeed.

That thin line could be rhetorically exploited to either side, depending on the views and aims of the orator. Those speaking before the people maintained that the plebs were being treated like slaves and animals, and that they must rise up and fight against this unjust servitude. However, Cicero’s optimate discourse often reveals the opposing viewpoint: the plebs are treated like slaves and animals, and they ought to be. In the De Re Publica, the same concepts which place slaves and animals at the very bottom of the social scale are employed, as well, to justify the low standing of poor citizens relative to rich citizens. Thus, the plebs were participants in an ideology which elevated them above nature’s lowest members (barely), but which simultaneously naturalized their own social and political handicaps.

Conclusions

The apparent contradictions within popular discourse, and between popular and optimate discourse, indicate that we should not expect perfect consistency when texts conflate social with natural status, human with non-human. The instances which I have examined – the assimilation of slaves, wage-earners, and plebs to herd animals – each rely on three basic notions: all beings belong to a single scale of worth and status; the universal or natural measure of worth is utility to the human community; because that measure of worth is universal, even members of different species can hold the same worth and therefore the same status. These ideas, broad though they are, manifested themselves in some specific patterns of thought – such as the persistent identification of certain people with herd animals. However, their very broadness ultimately meant that they could be used in various ways to support different, even opposing, points of view. Their use depended on who or what the speaker was talking about, how he defined the role of the relevant humans or animals, the usefulness he assigned to that role, and whether he was trying to reinforce or undermine the status quo. Popular oratory, intended to provoke a particular response in a particular audience, reflects the prejudices, fears, and goals of that class of people, which are not necessarily the products of logical cogitation.

To the extent that the concept of natural status has any theoretical background at all, it assumes a teleological theory of nature, which holds that the lower orders of creation are naturally adapted to the purpose of serving the higher. This concept provides the only reasonable justification for assessing everything in nature according to its usefulness for humans: everything in nature exists in order to support the highest earthly entity, human society. Although Roman sources do not apply teleological principles to humans, as they do to animals, they do assess humans by that same standard, usefulness to society, and presume that that is a natural mode of assessment. This notion is compatible with a teleological view of nature, in that it arises from the premise that all things, including people, are intended by nature to promote human society. Thus, in Roman thinking, nature itself has established the benchmark by which both animal and human worth and status are to be measured, and status so determined has been naturally ordained. By this reckoning, the resulting inequalities in status are built into the world order. Moreover, the phenomenon which I have studied in this chapter, the linking of slave and domestic animal, presupposes that other things, as well, are naturally or inevitably occurring parts of the world order. Herd animals are naturally or inevitably slaves to mankind. They are naturally suited to slavery. Slavery itself is natural and unavoidable, and consists of fulfilling a role which, if lowly, is nonetheless necessary to the existence of human society.

Because Hellenistic philosophy made nature normative, some of these concepts found support there. Roman authors therefore could and did draw upon philosophical sources when discussing the relevant topics. Varro, for example, quotes the Stoic joke about pigs, and Cicero and Seneca adopt the Stoic view that slavery is a form of wage-earning. We should probably not suppose, however, that the Romans took all of their ideas about nature and society from Greek philosophy. While educated Romans were no doubt influenced in a general way by their philosophical reading, the texts I have examined suggest that borrowing could also be conscious and selective. Certain philosophical notions were compatible with Roman cultural preconceptions, and were thus available for use if and when convenient.

This selective pattern of philosophical borrowing is evident in the Roman discourse on nature and status. Parts of the ideological framework which I am studying have parallels in philosophical doctrine, and so texts make an occasional nod to Stoicism; however, taken in its entirety, it does not conform to any particular philosophical system. The presence of these ideas in popular oratory suggests as much. It is one thing for Varro to include philosophical precepts in the Res Rustica or Cicero in the De Officiis; those works have intellectual pretensions and are clearly aimed at a wealthy and educated audience. It would be another thing entirely for a speaker to direct philosophical precepts towards the plebs at a popular assembly. If the popular orations which survive do in fact reflect the sorts of speeches which were delivered from the rostra, then they should reflect the sorts of beliefs which were commonly held, even among the illiterate poor. Accordingly, those orations do not employ the philosophical buzzword natura. They did not need to in order to access the relevant mode of thought. Who ever contemplated the nature of creation when he put a donkey to work or bought a slave off the auction block? The Lex Aquilia built the equation of slave and herd animal into the Roman legal system long before Greek philosophy had an impact on Roman law. Even on the Greek side, for that matter, popular preconceptions, which linked slave to animal on the basis of productive role, shaped Aristotle’s theory of natural slavery, not the other way around. Moreover, humans often believe that their society reflects the natural order of things, even when they do not have a coherent theory of nature to justify that belief. I propose that the complex of ideas which naturalized social inequality was a long-standing and deep-seated habit of thought, a series of cultural assumptions never consciously adopted nor seriously questioned by most. These preconceived notions may have influenced philosophical discourse, but they were certainly not its products. Precisely because they were not subject to formal scrutiny, they could be wielded with the flexibility and inconsistency which I have already commented upon.

There were alternate ideas in circulation, other ways to understand nature and its relationship to human society. Epicureanism, for example, denied that the universe had been created for mankind and developed its ethical system accordingly. Even Stoicism differed in some respects, although it did accept a teleological world view and cast slavery as a natural productive role. If Seneca’s Epistle 47 and De Beneficiis are any indication, then the Stoics went out of their way to oppose the assimilation of slaves to animals. More specifically, they objected to abusing slaves as if they were animals. They did this by emphasizing slaves’ human qualities and thus their close kinship with their masters. This approach cut straight to the heart of the matter. It identified the major fallacy in placing certain humans on a social level with animals, and attempted to correct the attendant ethical problem: collapsing social categories tended to collapse the difference between slaves and animals entirely, with the result that slaves were treated like animals.

I have shown that the assimilation of slave to herd animal did not necessarily presuppose an innate similarity between slave and animal. Roman texts, probably echoing Stoic tenets, sometimes say explicitly that no man is born a slave by nature. However, that intellectual lip service coexisted with a darker reality. Seneca would not have penned Epistle 47, reminding slave owners of the common humanity of their slaves, if slave abuse were not widespread. Social worth is often confused with innate worth, and once certain people had been grouped with animals, it was easy to think that they were in fact animal-like. This is especially true because the association of specific kinds of people with specific kinds of animals depended upon a teleological understanding of nature. As I have observed numerous times, the teleological hierarchy of species was a hierarchy of both function and type. Since the ancients tended to conflate this hierarchy with the social hierarchy on the basis of function, it would have been tempting to complete the analogy between the two by assuming that the social hierarchy was indeed a scale of type, as well as function; that there were indeed different kinds of human to fulfill different functions, just as there were different kinds of animals to fulfill different functions.

Aristotle’s theory of natural slavery chronicles just such a mental leap. He starts from the notions that nature is teleological, and that slaves and herd animals perform the same function, and from those premises he extrapolates the existence of the natural slave, who is mentally akin to an animal. Given ancient ideas about nature, animals, and status, and the ubiquity of slavery, it is not surprising that Aristotle drew the conclusions expressed in the Politics. What is surprising is the fact that more people did not think as he did. The only explanation is that the idea of intrinsically different human types conflicted with the evidence of their own eyes. The Stoics were right: the concept of a slave by nature is inconsistent with reality. Although many of the ancients seem to have recognized this, that recognition did not put an end to the ingrained, thoughtless habit of contempt that downgraded the slave to an inferior type of human.

This customary disdain invested the slave-herd animal association with significance beyond its most basic meaning. In some texts, such as the Res Rustica and Lex Aquilia, the coupling of slave and herd animal invokes only the functional similarity between the two, and amounts to a mere job description, legal designation, or social classification. However, in his article “Animalizing the Slave”, Keith Bradley demonstrates that the connection between slave and animal had real-life ramifications for both the practice of slavery and the slave’s experience of servitude.75 Moreover, a kind of taint definitely attached to the person of the slave or former slave, an indelible stain of inferiority that set him apart from freeborn persons. Henrik Mouritsen, who devotes a chapter to the servile stigma,76 tries to reconcile its existence with the fact that Roman sources generally reject the idea of a natural slave. He concludes that the very condition of servitude – especially the harsh treatment which the slave suffered – was thought to be degrading and to negatively impact the slave’s disposition. Mouritsen may be right, but it would probably be a mistake to insist on one, rational explanation for an unrationalized and conventional belief. Cicero often displays a similar bias, but against the plebs rather than slaves. He assigns near-animal status and attributes to poor citizens, without explaining why they are less capable of intelligent and moral behavior than wealthy citizens. His attitude simply reflects the tendency of a rich and politically privileged man to look down on the lower orders. If free citizens could be victims of such prejudice, so too could slaves.

Cicero’s contempt for the plebs is no different in its causes from the plebs’ own contempt for slaves. In each case, the socially superior party assumes innate superiority over social inferiors – for no particular reason other than bias. This habitual bias was convenient, since it justified social and legal advantages on moral grounds. The fear of slipping downwards on the social scale, which is so apparent in popular speeches, also gave everyone a vested interest in differentiating themselves as much as possible from those below them. This fearful, self-serving, and purely reflexive prejudice coexisted with the rational knowledge that wealth and profession, not innate worth, decided social and legal status. Thus, despite the impulse to connect social standing to moral standing, there remained an awareness that the two did not always coincide. A person’s station in life was ultimately a matter of luck. The fact that fortune, not character, determined status gave rise to an uncomfortable reality. Social inequality was an accepted part of life, and naturalized through the utility-based assessment scheme. However, there was no compelling reason to suppose that every individual was naturally suited to his rank, because there was no convincing or universally accepted ideology that differentiated between types of people. That is, there was no conventional belief in the teleological differentiation of human beings. Even if distinct types of people did exist, each intrinsically inclined toward a certain role and status, there was no mechanism to ensure that every person was settled in the station where he belonged according to his merits.

As far as civil concord was concerned, the lack of a strong discourse of human teleology was actually problematic. The apparent disjunction between natural status and natural type made class conflict endemic to human society. The capacities, ambitions, desires, and needs of any given person or group did not necessarily align with the position they occupied. Because there was no tradition of human teleology, telling them that they were inherently and inevitably deserving of their station, people did not necessarily resign themselves to their lot and its attendant disadvantages. Cicero might have believed that the plebs were practically animals and ought to be curbed accordingly, but popular oratory tells us that the plebs had different thoughts on the matter. Even as the elite applied political and ideological pressure from above, the plebs pushed back from below. Likewise, masters needed to keep their slaves cowed and productive, but slaves did not always accept their fate passively. Bradley points to resistance as a key theme in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, where the main character’s transformation into an ass is paradigmatic of the animalization of the slave. The rest of the world might see him as an ass and a slave, but he retains his human mind and, with it, the ability to disobey when he deems it safe or advantageous. His calculated acts of rebellion illustrate the truth that the animalization of the slave was never complete, because human slaves still had human mental capabilities. 77 Bradley’s analysis concurs with my own observation: despite the existence of social classifications which conjoined human with animal, the Romans were well aware that any person remained essentially human and thus an unknown quantity. Social classifications were therefore contestable whenever there was a perceived discrepancy between social standing and inner worth. Although legalized social divisions gave rise to such contradictions and to bitter class conflict, nobody ever seems to have seriously considered eliminating them. Those divisions were, after all, thought be a natural part of the world order.

In the next chapter, I will continue to explore how Roman authors treat social status as natural by likening human to non-human on the grounds of utility. Exploitation and herd animals are not the only standards against which to measure utility and status. Wild animals comprise a different category of being, one defined by separateness. They are natural outsiders, creatures that inevitably exist apart from the human community, and even violently oppose it. Accordingly, the notions of separateness and violence figure prominently in comparisons between wild animals and people. Although these comparisons employ the utility-based criterion of natural status, they differ from the herd animal comparisons in that they often state or imply that the people involved possess minds that match their animalistic behavior and status. How could authors make this claim, if, as I have just argued, the Romans did not subscribe to human teleology? I will continue to argue they did not accept teleological theory where humans are concerned: the comparisons do not assume that there is a special kind of human, innately disposed to act like wild animals. The answer lies elsewhere, and it sheds light on how the Romans could reject human teleology, yet simultaneously maintain that some people – whether slaves or plebs or barbarians or criminals – are less human than others.

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Notes:

47 Bradley (2000) 111.

48 I have used the reconstructed text and translation provided in Crawford (1996) 723-726. On reconstructing the original text, see Crawford (1996) 723-726 and Crook (1984). Only paraphrases of the Lex Aquilia have survived. See especially Dig. 9.2.2pr.-1 (Gaius) and Gaius, Inst. 3.210.

49 Bradley (2000) 111.

50 For the contents of the Digest, I have used the translation provided by Watson (1985) 614.

51 e.g. Green (1997) and Kronenberg (2009).

52 e.g. Perl (1977) and Skydsgaard (1968) 15-17, 33-34, 35-36.

53 I owe this point to Perl (1977) 425.

54 cf. Cicero, Nat. Deor. 2.160, De Fin. 5.38; Pliny, N.H. 8.207; Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 7.34.

55 I owe this point to Flach (1997) on Varro, Res Rust. 2.1.12 (p. 199).

56 Cicero, Nat. Deor. 2.160, De Fin. 5.38; Pliny, N.H. 8.207; Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 7.34.

57 For a brief overview of this debate, see Dyck (1996) on Cicero, De Officiis 1.150-151 (pgs. 331-333). Dyck himself thinks that the passage is a Ciceronian insertion.

58 Brunt (1980) 99-100 argues that, although upper-class writers regarded wage-earning as servile, mercennarii were not assimilated to slaves legally. At least, there is no evidence that they were.

59 Brunt (1988) 287.

60 cf. Dyck (1996) on Cicero, De Officiis 150-151 (pg. 331): “Our section deals not with choice of profession…but the amount of respect that representatives of various professions can claim in society”.

61 Brunt (1973) 21, 28.

62 For bibliography on paid labor in Rome and the general disrepute in which it was held, see Diliberto (1981) 32 n. 89.

63 de Ste. Croix (1981) 189, 198-199.

64 Throughout my examination of De Officiis 1.150-151, I have rendered the phrase auctoramentum servitutis as “the reward of servitude”. In translating auctoramentum as “reward”, I have followed the OLD s.v. auctoramentum, 3. However, that translation probably does not convey the full import of the Latin. The auctoramentum was the oath by which free men became legally assimilated to slaves. Cicero’s use of the word to talk about the similarity between slaves and wage-earners is therefore very pointed. In order to gain a better understanding of the meaning of auctoramentum in this passage, I have consulted Diliberto’s book on the auctoramentum (1981), specifically his discussion about the relationship between the auctoramentum and the locatio operarum, the contract for hired work (pgs. 67-70). He concludes – on what seems to me to be insufficient grounds – that any contract for hired work was essentially an auctoramentum with two additional elements, wage and term limit. He contends that a contract for hired work was understood to put the hired man into a quasi-servile state, because it made him dependent upon and subject to his employer. Therefore such a contract accomplished the same thing as the auctoramentum, which was to establish a relation of domination and subjugation between the two parties involved. The auctoramentum by itself created the most extreme form of this relation, a master-slave relation, whereas a normal labor contract mitigated the relation by adding a wage and term limit. Diliberto’s interpretation depends on the assumption that wage-earning was thought to be akin to servitude because of the power disparity between employer and employee; however, I question the validity of that assumption. I have argued and will continue to argue that the primary point of similarity was believed to lie rather in the economic relation between master and slave, employer and employee, exploiter and exploited. If I am correct, then the connection between the auctoramentum and wage-earning, and so the meaning of auctoramentum in De Officiis 1.150, perhaps needs to be reassessed, though there is no space for such a study in this work.

65 Dyck (1996) on Cicero, De Officiis 1.41 (pg. 154), 1.150 (pg. 334).

66 The bibliography on optimates and populares is huge. For a fairly recent and comprehensive overview of popularis rhetoric, see Morstein-Marx (2004) 204-240.

67 For libertas as the leitmotiv of popular rhetoric, see especially Wirszubski (1950) 40-65, Hellegouarc’h (1963) 551-558, Brunt (1988) 330-350, and Morstein-Marx (2004) 217-222.

68 Sallust, Iug. 31 (Or. Memmi), Hist. 1.55 (Or. Lepidi), Hist. 3.48 (Or. Macri); Cicero, De Lege Agraria 2.

69 For the association of the tribunate with plebeian freedom, see Wirszubski (1950) 25-27, 50-52, and Brunt (1988) 324 n. 109.

70 I have used Maurenbrecher’s text (1891-1893) for all quotations from Sallust’s Historiae. The translations are my own.  

71 I owe this point to McGushin (1994), on Sallust, Historiae 3.34.17 (pg. 94).

72 =Malcovati (1953) 68.1, pgs. 262-263.

73 =Malcovati (1953) 34.13, pg. 149.

74 Morstein-Marx (2004) 204-240.

75 Bradley (2000).

76 Mouritsen (2011) 10-35.

77 Bradley (2000) 119-121.  
 
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Re: The Measure of All Things: Natural Hierarchy in Roman Re

Postby admin » Thu Oct 03, 2019 3:50 am

Part 1 of 4

CHAPTER 4

The Human Beast: Man’s Savage Nature


Throughout this chapter, I will continue to support my argument from the previous chapter: that Roman republican authors tend to assimilate certain classes of human to certain classes of animal on the grounds that they fulfill a similar function within the human community. This habit arises from the view that utility to society is a natural criterion of worth and status for both man and animal, and that man and animal can therefore hold the same status, if they are useful to society in the same way. This is the conceptual mechanism which allows Roman writers to treat status as natural, and, by extension, inequalities in status – both the inequalities between man and animal, and between man and man.

I will now show that comparisons between humans and wild animals, like those between humans and domestic animals, display this pattern of thought. The three major types of humans typically associated with wild animals are practitioners of illicit violence, primitive humans, and elites accused of crimes. Although I will touch upon Lucretius, most of the extant wild animal comparisons come from Cicero, and it is his use of such comparisons that I will primarily discuss. The majority of the comparisons belong to the realm of political invective, and portray Cicero’s opponents as social isolates and public enemies; it is their alleged disruption of social life that places them on the same level as wild beasts, who are naturally separate from and hostile to human society. Although neither public enemies nor dangerous beasts can be said to benefit the human community, their very lack of usefulness and active harmfulness define both categories. Thus, wild animal comparisons apply the utility-based assessment scheme of natural status, since they each posit that a human and a wild animal share the same social role – that of threat to society – and so share the same social status.

Wild animal comparisons do differ from herd animal comparisons in one respect. I devoted the previous two chapters to showing that the idea of natural slaves never enjoyed much currency at Rome and does not account for most herd animal comparisons. These comparisons often uphold the essential humanity of the people they target, likening them to animals on the basis of job alone. Their character and abilities have nothing to do with it. By contrast, comparisons between humans and wild animals almost always stress the innate animal ferocity of the person in question. In this way, they inevitably align a person’s moral quality with his status, thereby implying that he merits his lowly position by virtue of his own actions and mental composition.

Does this aspect of the wild animal comparisons finally provide evidence for a teleological view of humans? I will contend that it does not: the texts do not suggest the existence of a separate category of humans, designed by nature to resemble and act like wild animals – any more than herd animal comparisons suggest the existence of natural slaves. Instead, they indicate that every human has the capacity for savage deeds. Since such deeds are similar to those of beasts, Roman authors often describe the urge to commit them as bestial. This phenomenon reflects not a reasoned discourse on human nature, but a loose analogy between human and animal minds, prompted by a shared behavior. Thus, the habit of linking bestial deeds to bestial minds reflects a broader tendency which I discussed in the previous chapter, that of matching inner qualities to outward behavior and status. In just such a way, the Romans assigned subhuman personalities to slaves because they performed the same job as herd animals; the Romans did this habitually, despite espousing the reasoned, philosophical idea that nature does not so differentiate between humans. Wild animal comparisons therefore conform to the same pattern as herd animal comparisons, and reveal the same assumptions about the relationship between nature and human society.

Despite the parallels between wild animal and herd animal comparisons, my examination of wild animal comparisons will add something new to my discussion. I will propose that these comparisons, since they talk about the character and minds of their targets, reveal a certain assumption about human psychology. This assumption enabled Roman authors to reconcile a relatively egalitarian view of human nature with the habit of regarding some people as more or less human than others. The relevant idea is not the concept of teleologically differentiated human types, but another notion, which I introduced in chapter 1: all humans have the power to deviate from nature.

Violent Deeds and Bestial Minds in Cicero’s De Officiis

Cicero’s wild animal comparisons rely heavily on the association of wild animals with violence, an association which I discussed in Chapter One. Just as economic exploitation is the natural criterion which places humans on par with herd animals, so violence places them on par with wild animals. Before I turn to the rhetorical use of such comparisons in Cicero’s oratory, it will be helpful to clarify some of his thoughts on violence, the animals and humans who commit violence, and how they and their violence fit into the natural scheme of things. The following discussion considers passages which explicitly compare animal and human violence; many of them happen to come from the De Officiis. Like Cicero’s comments about wage-earners in the same work, I believe that his remarks on violence reflect broadly held Roman attitudes, even though the De Officiis is based on a Greek philosophical text. I therefore treat Cicero’s words in the De Officiis as an expression of his own views, in that they reflect his own compositional choices, regardless of intellectual provenance. To the extent that they are his views, they are also Roman views. In later parts of this chapter, I will show that the same assumptions play a part in Cicero’s speeches, as well, in the form of human-wild animal comparisons. If he could utilize these concepts in speeches for persuasive ends, then presumably they had a place in the collective Roman consciousness.78

There are three major ideas which emerge from the De Officiis passages, and which underlie most wild animal comparisons in oratory. The first: a man acts like a wild beast if he perpetrates not just any violence, but specifically violence contrary to the interests of human society. The second: such anti-social behavior is indicative of a bestial, subhuman mind, because it shows a lack of rational control on the part of the perpetrator. The third: despite the fact that perpetrators of violence possess bestial, subhuman minds, they do not constitute a naturally distinct type of human. Rather, all humans are capable of bestial, unnatural conduct, which some manage to restrain while others do not.

Although Cicero intends wild animal comparisons to reflect badly on his targets, it should be noted that wild animals could represent admirable characteristics in ancient literature – despite, or perhaps because of, their inclination to violence. Some texts even maintain that animals are superior to mankind.79 The most famous and lengthy of these is Plutarch’s Bruta Animalia Ratione Uti, also known as the Gryllus (985d-992e). In it, one of Circe’s Greeks- turned-swine has a conversation with Odysseus, and contends that being an animal is better than being a man. The pig, Gryllus, builds his argument on the premise that animals possess the same virtues as humans, and possess them in a more perfect form. While virtue in humans arises as a result of instruction and compulsion, in beasts it simply exists as a part of their natural make-up.

Gryllus claims a number of virtues for animals, but only one is really relevant to the Roman discourse: courage in battle, demonstrated by wild animals in their struggles against one another and against humans (987c-988e). The fact that Gryllus starts with this indicates how closely wild animals were associated with martial prowess in ancient thought. He lauds the valor and indomitable spirit with which they fight, even to the death. He attributes this fighting instinct to another, related characteristic, the impulse to avoid subjugation. A lion is never a slave to a lion, he says, because lions never ask for pity nor acknowledge defeat through cowardice. Even when wild animals have been captured alive through snares, they refuse food and water, preferring to die by thirst and hunger rather than submit to slavery. As support for his assertions about animal bravery, he points to the long-standing literary tradition of comparing warriors favorably to animals, a habit which manifests itself in epithets such as “wolf-minded”, “lion-hearted”, and “like a boar in valor”. This practice has come about due to a general consensus among men concerning the existence and superiority of animal fighting spirit.

An appreciation for animal fortitude appears even in Cicero. In a letter to a friend about Pompey’s games, he asks, “What pleasure can a cultivated man get out of seeing a weak human being torn to pieces by a powerful animal or a splendid animal transfixed by a hunting spear?”: Sed quae potest homini esse polito delectatio cum aut homo imbecillus a valentissima bestia laniatur aut praeclara bestia venabulo transverberatur? (Fam. 7.1.3). In the Tusculan Disputations, he holds wild animals up as models for the ability to scorn pain. “What of beasts? Do they not endure cold and hunger and mountain-ranging, woodland courses and wanderings? Do they not fight for their offspring so fiercely that they take wounds and fear no attacks nor blows?”: Quid bestiae? Non frigus, non famem, non monti-vagos atque silvestres cursus lustrationesque patiuntur? Non pro suo partu ita propugnant, ut vulnera excipiant, nullos impetus, nullos ictus reformident? (5.79). Twice he refers to wild animals’ determined defense of their freedom, when he declares that nothing is sweeter than liberty for either men or beasts (Leg. Agr. 2.9; De Rep. 1.55).

At first glance, there seems to be a mismatch between the status of wild animals and their innate qualities, just as there could be a mismatch between the status and innate quality of a human slave. By the measure of human utility, wild animals are the lowest of animate beings, since they are not only unnecessary to human civilization, but even harmful to it. However, their personal characteristics commanded an admiration that the all-important, but servile, herd animals never enjoyed. What is more, ancient authors single out for praise the very two characteristics which render wild animals incompatible with and useless to human society: their propensity for violence and their resistance to taming. The explanation for this phenomenon no doubt lies at least partially in the harsh circumstances of life in antiquity. Although it was not a desirable contingency, it was often necessary to fight for life, property, or freedom. Where the threat of violence and slavery loomed as a very real possibility, the ferocity of wild animals could be perceived as an attractive trait. Theirs was a nature that simply could not show cowardice or submit.

With very few exceptions, late Republican texts use wild animals as exemplars of bad, not admirable, behavior. I have talked about the alternate, more positive tradition because it helps to clarify the negative. As the foregoing discussion indicates, violence itself was not automatically objectionable. As I will now show, what mattered was the end to which violence was directed.

A passage in the Pro Milone offers an example of what Cicero construes to be acceptable violence. He has portrayed the fateful encounter between Milo and Clodius as a two-sided brawl in which Clodius was at fault: he sprang a trap, Milo merely met violence with violence in order to defend his life. Cicero invokes self-defense as a use of violence which is legitimate and naturally sanctioned, for both men and animals:

Sin hoc et ratio doctis et necessitas barbaris et mos gentibus et feris natura ipsa praescripsit ut omnem semper vim quacumque ope possent a corpore, a capite, a vita sua propulsarent, non potestis hoc facinus improbum iudicare quin simul iudicetis omnibus qui in latrones inciderint aut illorum telis aut vestris sententiis esse pereundum. (30)

But if reason has ordained this to learned men, and necessity to barbarians, and custom to all nations, and nature itself to the beasts, that they are always to repel all violence by whatever means they can from their body, from their person, from their life, then you cannot judge that this action was wrong, without judging at the same time that all men who fall among bandits must perish, either by the bandits’ weapons or by your verdict.


Here Cicero is appealing to the element of violent self-help which was always inherent, even encouraged, within Roman laws and customs.80 As the passage implies, it was fully expected that a man apply force, if necessary, in order to meet aggression directed against his life, property, or freedom – a point that Cicero expounds upon at greater length elsewhere in the Pro Milone, citing well-known examples of legally justifiable violence (7-11). He contends that, since Milo acted in self-defense, the jury could not convict him without infringing the time-honored and perfectly natural principle of self-help.

Violence had a place, albeit a limited one, within the confines of society in the form of personal self-defense. Legitimate violence could also be directed outwards toward foreign enemies, in defense of the entire state. In the De Officiis, Cicero makes this point as well, again associating wild animals with violent response. “To mix heedlessly in the battle line and contend hand-to-hand with the enemy is a savage and beast-like kind of affair. But when the times and necessity demand it, we must fight it out by force and prefer death to slavery and disgrace”: temere autem in acie versari et manu cum hoste confligere immane quiddam et beluarum simile est; sed cum tempus necessitasque postulat, decertandum manu est et mors servituti turpitudinique anteponenda (De Off. 1.81). In this instance, animals do not serve as a positive model; battle should be avoided as unbefitting a human. However, battle is sometimes unavoidable and should be undertaken in order to secure the safety, liberty, or standing of self and state.

As Cicero presents the matter, there is one major criterion which has to be fulfilled for violence to be compatible with human convention and human nature: social bonds must be preserved. When a man applies force strictly on his own behalf, it should be to protect himself or his own from an aggressor, who, by attacking, is disregarding the rules which regulate human interactions. Military force directed against a foreign threat protects an entire society, along with all the individual social bonds of which it is composed. An animal, on the other hand, fights only for itself and perhaps its offspring. It is unable to form a more complex and extensive social network, or utilize any means of conflict resolution except violence. Peaceful conflict resolution is one of the foundations of human civilization; it should be abandoned for violence only in the absence of other options. This, then, is the essential difference between illicit animal violence and licit human violence: the former serves as a ready means to secure selfish ends, the latter is a last resort, undertaken for the sake of the human community.

The distinction is implied in the following passage. Cicero has just stated that reason and speech are the first bonds of human society; because they enable teaching, learning, communication, discussion, and judgment, reason and speech reconcile men among themselves and join them together in natural fellowship. “In no other way,” he says, “are we farther from the nature of beasts. We often say that they have courage, like horses and lions, but we do not say that they have justice, equity, and goodness; for they are devoid of reason and speech”: neque ulla re longius absumus a natura ferarum, in quibus inesse fortitudinem saepe dicimus, ut in equis, in leonibus, iustitiam, aequitatem, bonitatem non dicimus; sunt enim rationis et orationis expertes (De Off. 1.50). Cicero stresses the primacy of uniquely human virtues, those arising from the use of speech and reason for the formation of social life. Fortitude in battle, when practiced by animals, is without moral value in Cicero’s reckoning; he maintains that they take no part in justice or goodness, regardless of what action they are engaged in. Since they are not endowed with human reason and social instinct, they can pursue no higher cause than the satisfaction of their impulses. Even human courage, which is downplayed here, apparently has little or no moral value unless it is ancillary to a greater moral end, human community.

Elsewhere in the De Officiis, Cicero explicitly says that the only morally correct violence is that which serves social utility, though he makes his point without referring to animals (62- 63). He endorses the Stoic definition of courage, which describes fortitudo as “that virtue which fights for right”: eam virtutem esse dicunt propugnantem pro aequitate. He contrasts this selfless and praiseworthy battle with one waged for personal interest, which has nothing virtuous about it. “But that elevation of mind which is perceived in dangers and hardships, if it lacks justice and fights not for the common safety, but for its own advantage, is a vice”: sed ea animi elatio, quae cernitur in periculis et laboribus, si iustitia vacat pugnatque non pro salute communi, sed pro suis commodis, in vitio est. Such self-serving bravery, continues Cicero, should be called audacia rather than fortitudo.

The passages above distinguish between more and less acceptable types of violence on the basis of the purposes for which it is perpetrated. They also display another characteristic which is prominent in comparisons between humans and wild animals: they link behavior to innate qualities. This link is made obvious by the abundance of words denoting personal characteristics, including: fortitudo, iustitia, aequitas, bonitas, virtus, elatio animi, vitium, and audacia. According to Cicero, the practice of virtues like iustitia, aequitas, bonitas, and virtus arise from specifically human mental attributes, that is, reason and speech. The absence of these virtues in animals can be attributed to their lack of mental capacity. Fortitudo, which manifests itself in the execution of a violent act, presents a problem precisely because it is a trait common to both animals and humans. Raw physical courage is an aspect of the bestial, unreasoning mind. To become a truly human excellence, it requires rational control and discretion in its application, so that it is applied only at appropriate times for appropriate and uniquely human ends. This logic explains the Roman tendency to associate acceptable violence with a well-regulated, human mind, and unacceptable violence with a brutish, subhuman mind.

Cicero encapsulates the relationship between human and animal mental states, correct and incorrect violence, in a single sentence. “Greatness of mind, if removed from human community and union, would be a kind of wildness and savagery”: magnitudo animi remota communitate coniunctioneque humana feritas sit quaedam et immanitas (De Off. 1.157). The words which I have here translated as wildness and savagery, feritas81 and immanitas82, are properly used of animals and suggest animal savagery when applied metaphorically to humans. Cicero is therefore contrasting a specifically human quality, magnitudo animi, with a bestial one. The fact that he speaks of personal characteristics – magnitudo animi, feritas, immanitas – rather than particular behaviors, indicates that it is the mind itself which must be constrained by social concerns, the mind which can take on a bestial aspect. However, when the sentence is read in context, it becomes clear that he is also talking about the actions which spring from those mindsets. The sentence comes in the midst of an argument that the pursuit of knowledge is barren if not conjoined with a more important pursuit, maintaining human society. Knowledge, then, and the thirst for knowledge are only meaningful attributes if they produce a result that aids the human community. To support his point, Cicero adduces magnitudo animi as another seeming virtue that is no virtue at all if not directed toward promoting the common good. Thus, Cicero’s comment ranges human courage on one side, along with social conscience and works which benefit human society; on the other side, animal courage, a lack of concern for others, and deeds which benefit no one but the doer.

The passage I have just examined juxtaposes magnitudo animi with feritas. In keeping with the rest of my discussion and with the most prominent theme in Roman wild animal comparisons, I focused on the sense of fighting courage implicit in magnitudo animi. However, the phrase has a wider array of possible meanings, a fact that is not irrelevant. The following passage indicates that fighting spirit is not the only human trait that amounts to mere animal savagery if not subject to rational constraint; rather, it is the whole person that must be checked and controlled by reason.

Panaetius quidem Africanum, auditorem et familiarem suum, solitum ait dicere, “ut equos propter crebras contentiones proeliorum ferocitate exsultantes domitoribus tradere soleant, ut iis facilioribus possint uti, sic homines secundis rebus effrenatos sibique praefidentes tamquam in gyrum rationis et doctrinae duci oportere, ut perspicerent rerum humanarum imbecillitatem varietatemque fortunae.” (De Off. 1.90).

Panaetius relates that Africanus, his pupil and friend, used to say: “Just as, when horses run riot with ferocity on account of their frequent struggles in battle, their owners are accustomed to hand them over to trainers, so that they can make use of the horses more easily; so men, who through favorable circumstances have become unbridled and over confident, ought to be led into the training-ring, so to speak, of reason and learning, so that they may perceive the feebleness of human affairs and the fickleness of fortune.”


The choice of war-horse as an illustrative example is telling. Although technically a domestic animal, a war-horse could hardly be described as a placid slave, unwilling and unable by nature to fight its human exploiters. The word ferocitas suggests that its innate temper was closer to that of a wild animal, though not entirely wild. With proper training, it could be tamed and broken to human use. The comparison assumes that people possess a similar nature – an idea that accords with my own observations. In this chapter, I have shown and will continue to show that humans were believed to be characterized by animal savagery unless curbed by some civilizing influence. In the previous chapter, I demonstrated that the Romans often portrayed humans as herd animals, as well, though not necessarily on the basis of innate servility. For the practitioners of many occupations, playing a functional role in human society meant suffering a diminution of personal liberty, and therefore relegation to a status analogous to that of a herd animal. Thus, human behavior was thought to encompass both extremes, wildness and domesticity, and each extreme was described as an opposing kind of animal condition. Since some wild animals could be made obedient and useful, it was a short leap of logic to see the same phenomenon at work in humans. By analogy with the domestication of animals, the process that brought a person from one state to the other – from fierce and socially disruptive to docile and socially serviceable – could be construed as a process of taming and training. Cicero’s comparison confirms that it was sometimes so construed.

The word effrenati, literally “unbridled” or “without a rein”, applied as it is to homines, extends the imagery of animal taming to humans. The description of the war-horse serves to identify the salient characteristic of such unbridled men, as well as what their taming consists of. Cicero specifies that training an overly ferocious war-horse aims to make it more tractable to human use. This indicates that homines effrenati are also unwilling or unable to cooperate peacefully with humans; their prescribed training should make them less self-serving and more serviceable to society. The fact that Cicero attributes their restiveness to prosperity, secundae res, signals that he has in mind especially men of high station, who have achieved an exceptional political position through some success. This is another recurrence of a notion that we have already seen at work: seemingly admirable qualities, like fortitudo and magnitudo animi, if not properly channeled, are actually bestial impulses that prompt the bearer to commit inhuman, antisocial acts. The underlying thought seems to be as follows: what sets one man above other men can also set him completely apart, if he is not careful to curb his ambitions and maintain ties with his fellow humans. He can achieve this by directing his superior virtues toward common interests, rather than his own. Cicero claims that ratio and doctrina are the moderating forces which figuratively throw the reins on runaway virtues. Because right reason dictates correct social behavior, and because the other virtues find their true expression only in service to society, they in fact constitute human virtues only when they obey reason. Thus reason can be said to tame or domesticate the human animal, rendering him fit to live in and serve the community. The man untamed by reason has nothing human about him; he does not live in accordance with the uniquely human trait, and his resulting actions isolate him from the human community.

This interpretation of the war-horse analogy suggests that those prone to antisocial behavior do not constitute a separate class of people. Rather, everyone has animal tendencies, everyone is capable of selfish violence, everyone needs to heed the taming influence of reason – even, or especially, those with the most human potential. We could take this as a purely philosophical position. Cicero explicitly cites Panaetius as his source, and I noted in chapter 2 that the Stoics did not subdivide the human race into distinct types. Cicero, however, claims that Panaetius is actually quoting Scipio Africanus. We do not have to believe the attribution, but we have no good reason to disbelieve it, either. There is evidence that many Romans held the same views, or were at least aware of them. The imagery of taming the human animal, for example, occurs with regularity throughout Cicero’s corpus. He often employs effreno and its various forms to negatively characterize people, their mental states, or their emotions.83 Cicero was not the only one to utilize the taming theme; we saw a variation on it in the last chapter, from a popular speaker. The tribune Duronius, in order to warn the plebs against a restrictive piece of legislation, said that reins had been thrown on them (Valerius Maximus 2.9.5).84 In this case the restraint and taming of humans is portrayed as negative, because the process has been taken to an extreme. The law, according to Duronius, did not aim to make the plebs socially functional, but to reduce them all the way to a state of servility. The ideas which I discussed above also drive the many wild animal comparisons found in late Republican oratory. If Cicero and other speakers believed that such tactics would be rhetorically effective, then presumably they reflect commonly held cultural prejudices.

For the rest of this chapter, I will explore how attitudes toward human and animal violence are deployed for persuasive ends through the use of human-wild animal comparisons. Specifically, I will show that the comparisons found in rhetorical and oratorical sources operate on the same principles that I have identified in the De Officiis passages. Before I move on to those texts, I will consider briefly how the concepts that I have just elucidated fit into the ideological framework which is the subject of this dissertation. The general pattern of the wild animal comparisons and the assumptions behind them are consistent with what I have found elsewhere, in that they reveal a similar understanding of the relationship between nature and the human social hierarchy. Although I make broad claims given the slender amount of evidence I have examined so far in this chapter, in later sections I will specify how the new evidence supports my present conclusions.

Wild animal comparisons in oratory, like those I just examined, or like herd animal comparisons, reckon natural worth and standing, for both humans and animals, according to their usefulness for human society – or their lack of usefulness, in the case of wild animals. The fact that wild animals are violently hostile to humanity marks them as outsiders and as natural enemies to the human community; this status defines the very category “wild animal”. A person meets the natural criterion for that category if he commits violence against society, and thereby acquires the same status and value as a wild animal. As we have seen, “against society” is perhaps the more important half of this qualification. An act of violence can be necessary or even admirable if all other options have been exhausted, and if undertaken for unselfish and socially constructive reasons. The emphasis on social disruptiveness will continue in the rest of the comparisons I examine. In many instances, the disruption does occur through physical violence. In some cases, however, “violence” consists of the disregard, severance, or perversion of some social bond, without the application of corporal force.

Cicero attributes both animal violence and illicit human violence to irrationality, and it is irrationality that characterizes a bestial mind, whether it belongs to a real beast or a beast in human form. Wild animals, who lack reason, do what they do simply by natural impulse, and have no choice. A human, on the other hand, should be guided by the uniquely human attribute, ratio. Ratio prompts people to live peaceably together and to conduct themselves in a way that preserves this human union; it therefore forbids violence which disturbs that union. Thus, a person who acts like a wild beast, raging against society, must have a correspondingly bestial, irrational mind. If he were ruled by human reason, he would not do such inhuman things. This line of thought explains why texts always associate animal ferocity with violent criminals, but do not automatically assign herd animal characteristics to slaves. A well-behaved slave interacts successfully with his fellow human beings and has a function and a place in the community, even if it is a lowly one. Because he is sociable and serviceable, he conforms to rational, human behavior, and so gives proof of his rational, human mind. A violent criminal, however, deviates from natural human behavior, which must indicate a deviation from natural human reason.

When certain persons, actions, and minds are labeled deviant or abnormal, the labeler presupposes that there is a norm that can be deviated from, a natural standard of conduct and mental composition. The habit of treating violent criminals as subhuman therefore presupposes natural design. The animals to whom they are likened supposedly possess certain traits and a certain status allotted to them by nature. Their subordinate status reflects the naturally ordained end of all things: to serve mankind. Nature has formed their innate qualities in such a way as to allow them to fulfill that purpose. The notion of a natural purpose and of natural qualities extends to mankind, as well. Perpetrators of illicit violence have transgressed against the purpose of creation by harming the community. In so doing, they have also transgressed against the character implanted in humans by nature, which disposes each one to serve human society.


Although human-wild animal comparisons assume a natural purpose and a natural design for all things, they do not indicate that the Romans differentiated between humans on the basis of natural type. In that respect, the comparisons do not reflect a truly teleological viewpoint. Such a viewpoint does hold that everything in nature has been adapted for a specific purpose. More specifically, however, “teleological” denotes the belief that the lower orders of nature have been adapted for the purpose of serving the higher orders – a belief that the Romans do not seem to have applied to human social orders. I concluded in the previous chapter that the analogy between the teleological scala naturae and the human social hierarchy was imperfect. We have seen that various authors rank humans and animals alike according to how they fulfill a certain natural end, and some authors espouse the idea that society as a whole should fulfill a certain natural form; nonetheless, they do not say that socially inferior humans exist for the sake of their superiors, in the same way that the lower animals exist for the sake of humans. This fact helps to explain the Romans’ ambivalence about the intrinsic character of slaves. They had no intellectual impetus to define a naturally servile type, because they did not necessarily believe that nature had fashioned a distinct category of humans whose express purpose was serving another. In the case of violent criminals, authors insist that their innate qualities actually do correlate to their acts and status. What the texts do not suggest is that nature intentionally made a special subset of humans with criminal tendencies, in order that they might perpetrate violence as their natural function.

Unjustified violence against humans might be natural for a wild animal; it is unnatural for a man. Nature, which intends for people to live together in harmony, would hardly mar that union by designing a subcategory of humans dedicated to disrupting it. Nonetheless, people do exist who disrupt that human union, contrary to nature’s intentions. How is that possible? I talked about the relevant concepts in chapter 1, and have already touched upon them in this discussion. In chapter 1 I noted that man was the only animal thought to be capable of unnatural acts, due to his possession of reason. Because reason confers the power to form judgments and to act upon those judgments, it essentially confers the power of free will. However, human reason is imperfect, which makes free will a double-edged sword. Humans often come to incorrect conclusions, and free will allows them to act upon those conclusions, resulting in incorrect behavior. Since nature itself has supposedly established the correct standard of human behavior, incorrect behavior amounts to unnatural behavior, or behavior that deviates from the natural standard. Likewise, there is a natural standard of correct reason, in that correct reason conforms to the universal reason of nature, and therefore prompts people to the kind of behavior that nature intends for humans. Thus, incorrect reason is unnatural, or reason that deviates from the natural standard. The idea that there is a natural, objectively valid and universally applicable mode of human reason and conduct led to normative and descriptive uses of both “reason” and “human”. In a normative sense, those people who engage in right reason, and so act as humans are supposed to, are more truly human those who do not. In a descriptive sense, “reason” denotes rational capacity, not just right reason; because everyone possesses this capacity, everyone is human, regardless of how they end up using their rational powers. The possession of reasoning capabilities is in fact a prerequisite for unnatural behavior. Even the most deviant person is therefore still human, since his deviance results from the misapplication of human intelligence to unnatural ends, not a lack of human intelligence.

The savagery of a violent criminal – directed, as it is, against society, the very entity which nature commands him to protect – represents just such a falling away from or perversion of natural conduct and reason. This concept is apparent in the wild animal comparisons examined above, and will continue to be prominent in the comparisons examined later. I have already observed that they treat antisocial violence as an activity unbefitting a human. I have observed, too, that they depict the mind of the perpetrator as irrational and bestial. We now see that this portrayal draws upon the normative senses of “human” and “reason”, by presenting the activity under discussion as an unacceptable departure from the natural standard of human behavior. The culprit’s irrationality does not consist in the absence of reason, as an animal’s does, but in the divergence from right reason. Since this divergence is itself made possible by rational capacity, a uniquely human feature, the animal imagery used to describe the criminal mind does not indicate that the person under discussion is innately subhuman. Rather, it marks him as inhuman, insofar as he deviates from the norm of human thought and conduct which has been established by nature. Later, I will consider texts that explicitly label criminals and their deeds as unnatural. Violent transgressors, then, do not constitute a separate class of naturally animal-like people, but rather a proof and fulfillment of man’s capacity for unnaturalness.

Detailed theories about natura, ratio, and human psychology properly belonged to philosophical treatises, although some of those ideas no doubt found their way into more mainstream discourse. The Stoic De Officiis indicates that violent wrongdoers do not belong to a separate natural category, but we might expect political and forensic oratory to claim otherwise. It was, after all, a common tactic to portray the opposition as uniquely aberrant, both in his mental composition and in his violation of social norms. However, I will now turn my attention to oratory and demonstrate that the notions articulated in the De Officiis are at work here, as well. Even in invective, the bestial man falls short of constituting a class distinct from the rest of humanity, characterized by unique psychological traits.

Roman texts are more likely to explain the existence of savage men with reference to a view I discussed above: human beings need taming in order to live successfully in a community. Those who commit violence for selfish purposes are humans like any other in the descriptive sense, but they are untamed, and therefore do not conform to human norms. I will explore the rhetorical use of this notion in the next section, which will focus on the Pro Sestio 91-92. This passage and others depict primitive men as wild animals; some civilizing influence subjects them to the restraints of right reason, and only at that point do they start living like “real” humans. Implicit in this model of human progress is the assumption that all people have the potential to act either like humans or more like wild beasts. Animal behavior comes spontaneously to the untaught; truly rational, communal behavior is a learned behavior which has to be actively cultivated. Self-serving violence is therefore a common human failing, but one that everyone must strive to suppress.

After I discuss the Pro Sestio, I will examine invective passages. These display the pattern that I have been elucidating, in that they liken man to animal on the basis of illicit violence, and assign to the culprit a character to match his savage deeds. “Wild animal”, though, is just one label among a whole repertoire of stock rhetorical insults, all of which mark the target as an enemy to the public interest. There is no notion that the designation signifies a separate natural type, possessing its own consistent and well-defined psychological profile. The speakers do not claim that their opponents are vicious by natural design; instead, they accuse them of unnaturalness.

Primitive Ferocity and Civilized Humanity in Cicero’s Pro Sestio

In Pro Sestio 91-92, Cicero employs many of the notions which I have just discussed. The passage contains an account of the social development of mankind, in which the earliest humans are portrayed as animal-like. I will now examine this text and others which treat uncivilized humans as animals. I will show that the trope of the primitive and ferocious man draws upon the ideas which I elucidated above, and serves as a means to deploy them for rhetorical ends. In the Pro Sestio, Cicero uses those ideas to characterize one act of violence as acceptable, another as unacceptable. He associates the former with civilized, truly human people, and the latter with primitive, bestial people. The assimilation of human to animal arises here, as we have seen elsewhere, from the fact that they perform the same social role: they both disrupt social life through the use of self-serving violence. Here, as elsewhere, the assimilation does not presuppose a subset of humans who are naturally like wild animals. Cicero draws instead upon the same concepts which appeared in the De Officiis: wildness and domestication, irrationality and rational restraint. In fact, his argument depends on the assumption that all humans at all times – whether in the prehistoric past or in the civilized present – have the potential to act either like animals or like humans, and have a choice in the matter.
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Re: The Measure of All Things: Natural Hierarchy in Roman Re

Postby admin » Thu Oct 03, 2019 3:50 am

Part 2 of 4

The distinction between justified and unjustified violence is central to the whole premise of the Pro Sestio.85 The speech represents Cicero’s defense of Sestius, who was a tribune of the plebs in 57 B.C., and who was later brought to trial for his actions of that year. He was charged under the lex Plautia de vi, which targeted public violence, or violence “against the republic”, contra rem publicam. It applied not to any act of violence, but to acts which could be construed as undermining the civic order as a whole.86 The prosecutor accused Sestius of forming an armed gang, a point which Cicero never disputes. The real issue was the use to which that gang had been put. Did they, or did Sestius intend them to, perform violent deeds which were contrary to the public interest? In his speech, Cicero takes advantage of the vagueness inherent in the notion of contra rem publicam in order to construct a wide-ranging, politically-charged defense. The result is an oration whose content bears a notoriously loose relation to the matter under investigation. Of 147 sections, only 71-92 deal with the events of Sestius’ tribunate, but that entire segment is devoted to distinguishing between Clodius’ and Sestius’ violent undertakings. Cicero does not deny that Sestius applied force, but he maintains that it was an unavoidable and socially beneficial response to illicit force. Primitive men figure prominently in the argument.

Throughout this part of the speech, Cicero associates Sestius closely with Milo. According to Cicero, they both opposed Clodius, whose own gangs were engaged in overturning the republic through violence. Sestius and Milo raised their own armed forces only to protect themselves from Clodius. Their application of violence, as Cicero depicts it, therefore meets the criteria for acceptable violence which I identified previously. They were acting in self-defense and also in defense of the republic, since they were resisting the man who was threatening its very existence. Thus, they were fighting on behalf of social bonds which were under attack. This portrayal of Sestius’ actions places them within the bounds of what was generally considered to be justifiable use of force. It also addresses the exact terms of the charge against him. If Sestius was committing violence for the benefit of the republic, he could hardly be said to have committed violence against the republic. The reference to beasts and primitive men comes at the very end of this portion of the speech, and so represents the culmination of and period to this particular line of thought. The first half of the passage runs as follows:

Quis enim nostrum, iudices, ignorat ita naturam rerum tulisse ut quodam tempore homines nondum neque naturali neque civili iure descripto fusi per agros ac dispersi vagarentur, tantumque haberent quantum manu ac viribus per caedem ac vulnera aut eripere aut retinere potuissent? qui igitur primi virtute et consilio praestanti exstiterunt, ii perspecto genere humanae docilitatis atque ingeni dissupatos unum in locum congregarunt eosque ex feritate illa ad iustitiam atque ad mansuetudinem transduxerunt. tum res ad communem utilitatem, quas publicas appellamus, tum conventicula hominum, quae postea civitates nominatae sunt, tum domicilia coniuncta, quas urbis dicimus, invento et divino iure et humano moenibus saepserunt. Atque inter hanc vitam perpolitam humanitate et illam immanem nihil tam interest quam ius atque vis. Horum utro uti nolumus, altero est utendum… (91-92)

For which of us, judges, does not know that the nature of things has progressed in this manner, that at a certain time, when neither natural nor civil law had been written down yet, humans wandered spread out and dispersed through the lands, and they possessed only so much as they were able to seize or retain by force and violence, through slaughter and wounds. Then those men who first stood out because of their preeminent virtue and counsel, when they had perceived the character of human docility and genius, gathered the scattered people into one place and led them from that state of wildness to a state of justice and tameness. Then, after they had established possessions and activities for common utility, which we call “public”, and associations of men, which were afterward named “states”, and assembled dwellings, which we call “cities”, and after divine and human law had been invented, they enclosed these things with walls. And between this way of life, refined by our distinctively human qualities, and that savage way of life there is no difference so great as the difference between law and violence. If we do not wish to use one of these, the other must be used…


From the very first sentence, Cicero conflates uncivilized men with beasts, and does so on the basis of violent behavior. Although he never explicitly mentions animals, he includes enough suggestive detail and vocabulary to ensure that his listeners make the connection. He starts by specifying that the earliest humans wandered scattered across the earth; I pointed out in earlier chapters that wild animals were associated with a wandering, solitary lifestyle, in direct contrast to the settled, communal lifestyle enjoyed by humans. Cicero then moves on to the more pertinent item: ancient men conducted their affairs through physical force. I have spent this chapter demonstrating that violence was seen as a defining characteristic of wild animals, and as inappropriate to humans except under certain circumstances. The cumulative force of “wandering” and “violence” therefore prompts the audience to expect an account of bestial ferocity, set in opposition to civilized humanity – and that is precisely what follows. The undesirable state which mankind leaves behind is described as feritas, “wildness”, a word which, as I observed above, properly refers to the character of a wild animal. The feature which enables people to escape that animal condition is docilitas, and it is specifically labeled as humana, a human feature.

With a single sentence, Cicero sums up and distills the contrast he has been drawing. “And between this way of life, refined by our distinctively human qualities, and that savage way of life there is no difference so great as the difference between law and violence”: atque inter hanc vitam perpolitam humanitate et illam immanem nihil tam interest quam ius atque vis. I have already noted that, like feritas, immanis is a word suggestive of animal savagery. Cicero juxtaposes a lifestyle defined by such savagery with one defined by humanitas, “distinctly human qualities”.87 As the reader has been led to expect by the first sentence, he now explicitly identifies the use of violence as the salient aspect of the primitive, bestial state. In keeping with the trend that I have been following throughout this chapter, a particular kind of violence marks both wild animals and wild, animal-like men: antisocial violence. Here, the violence of primitive people is socially disruptive in that it completely prevents the existence of a cooperative society. In order for human community to form and function, the habit of violence must be abandoned for peaceful conflict resolution through legal process.

Cicero’s likening of primitive man to beast fits the pattern which I have been tracing for the last two chapters: the assimilation of a particular class of human to a particular type of animal depends primarily on a shared activity. The performance of this activity places both into the same natural and social category. Because prehistoric people behaved like animals – leading violent, solitary, wandering, and self-serving lives, inconsistent with a truly human social life – they actually were animals in a sense. Cicero assigns to them innate animal characteristics to the extent that he describes their lifestyle as bestial; words like feritas and immanis, which can be used of individuals, might prompt the reader to imagine that prehistoric men had savage minds to match their savage acts. However, Cicero definitely does not voice the idea that ancient humans were naturally and inevitably different from their civilized descendants. Instead, he utilizes the same imagery of taming and training which we saw in De Officiis 1.90. Prehistoric men were bestial in deed and thought not because they were naturally designed to be so, but because they knew no better; they eventually attained to a higher state because they possessed docilitas, the ability to be taught or trained. Their progress was an advance from feritas, a state of wildness, to mansuetudo, a state of tameness. Mansuetudo is a word that properly describes the state of domesticated animals; thus, applied to humans, it suggests that they underwent a process of domestication. 88 Cicero never explicitly says that this process entailed mental taming, the restraint and training of the mind by right reason; nonetheless, it is implied. Prehistoric life evolved from a solitary, self-serving condition to a communal one, and communal interaction requires that everyone possess the capacity for reason, and that everyone obey natural reason, which dictates correct social behavior. Moreover, submission to the law is submission to a rational proceeding.

To understand the persuasive point of Cicero’s argument it is in fact necessary to recognize that, in his version of human social development, prehistoric men do not differ intrinsically from civilized humans. Only that interpretation can explain the supposed relevance of primitive people to Sestius’ case. After relating the triumphant advent of a truly human way of life, Cicero’s account takes a dark turn. Regarding the humane rule of law and the bestial rule of violence, he says, “If we do not wish to use one of these, the other must be used”: Horum utro uti nolumus, altero est utendum. The verbs in the present tense signal that, even in the civilized Roman state, a renewed reign of bestial violence is always a possibility. The fact that he employs nolumus, “we do not wish”, suggests that the Romans’ own desires and choices decide the matter. Just as the earliest people had the capacity for both animal and human behavior, and had to choose whether or not to follow the humanizing lead of their wisest members, so modern people possess the same dual capacity and must choose which to exercise. To put it another way, both primitive and civilized people possess reason, and therefore free will. Because they have the power of free will, they can choose to adhere to human norms, or to depart from them in a way that makes their behavior more akin to that of wild animals than that of humans. When Cicero explains the lesson to be learned from primitive men, he emphasizes this choice between two opposing modes of conduct. The following passage is section 92 in its entirety:

Atque inter hanc vitam perpolitam humanitate et illam immanem nihil tam interest quam ius atque vis. Horum utro uti nolumus, altero est utendum. vim volumus exstingui, ius valeat necesse est, id est iudicia, quibus omne ius continetur; iudicia displicent aut nulla sunt, vis dominetur necesse est. hoc vident omnes: Milo et vidit et fecit, ut ius experiretur, vim depelleret. altero uti voluit, ut virtus audaciam vinceret; altero usus necessario est, ne virtus ab audacia vinceretur. eademque ratio fuit Sesti, si minus in accusando—neque enim per omnis fuit idem fieri necesse—at certe in necessitate defendendae salutis suae praesidioque contra vim et manum comparando.

And between this way of life, refined by our distinctively human qualities, and that savage way of life there is no difference so great as the difference between law and violence. If we do not wish to use one of these, the other must be used. If we wish violence to be extinguished, it is necessary that the law prevail, that is, the judicial process, which comprehends all law; if judicial process is displeasing or there is none, it is necessary that violence dominate. All see this: Milo both saw it and brought it about that he tried the law, he drove away violence. He wished to use the former, so that courage might overcome audacity; use of the latter was necessary, lest courage be overcome by audacity. Sestius’ reasons were the same, if not in making a legal accusation – for there was no need for everyone to do the same thing – yet certainly in the necessity of defending his safety and in preparing a defense against violence and force.


The text portrays the choice between law and violence as one that is relevant to the present day and even to the present case: it was the very dilemma which Milo and Sestius had to face. According to the text, moreover, law and violence are the only available means for carrying out human interactions – a fact which posed a problem for Milo and Sestius. Although the passage does not explicitly say so, in context it is understood that Clodius engaged in the sort of unbridled, self-serving violence which we should associate with uncivilized men, and which rendered law and social life inoperative. In the absence of legal recourse, what were civilized, lawful, and restrained men like Milo and Sestius supposed to do when their lives were threatened? They turned, reluctantly, to the only other option, use of force. However, while Clodius’ frenzy ushered in a new period of primitive brutality, Milo and Sestius managed to commit violence consistent with a humane, civilized way of life. They acted only in self-defense, which was always permissible, and only after exhausting other possibilities. Cicero claims that Milo wanted to bring legal action against Clodius and tried to do so. This detail signals that he rationally and responsibly explored all avenues before resorting to the undesirable, but unavoidable, contingency of physical force. The qualities which Cicero assigns to Milo and Clodius respectively, virtus and audacia, reflect the difference in their goals and states of mind. In De Officiis 1.63, as I discussed previously, Cicero says that fortitudo directed toward personal rather than communal good is not really fortitudo at all, but audacia. In the Pro Sestio, virtus has replaced fortitudo, but the distinction between true courage in action and mere audacity is the same. Clodius is characterized by audacia because he perpetrates violence to gratify his own irrational and selfish whims. Milo’s high-minded impulses, by contrast, are subject to correct reason and are therefore employed in the pursuit of correct, socially beneficial aims. He therefore displays virtus by fighting for a legitimate cause.

As the foregoing discussion indicates, Cicero’s appeal to prehistoric humans ultimately represents just one more tactic designed to differentiate between Clodius, on the one hand, and Milo and Sestius, on the other. The vilification of the former depends on denouncing his violence, but the latter also employed violence. How could Cicero blacken the one while extolling the other? As he does throughout his account of Sestius’ tribunate, Cicero here solves the difficulty by drawing on widely held ideas about what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable violence. Why, then, does he include the history of human social development, when he has already made his case with reference to recent events? I propose that the passage is a piece of rhetorical amplification, meant to accomplish three things which make it a fitting climax to the previous arguments.

I just touched upon the first goal. Cicero’s sketch of human progress affirms that by nature there are, and always have been, two and only two methods for conducting human affairs. Thus, Milo and Sestius did not undertake force frivolously; given the failure of the law, they simply had no other alternative. By portraying their dilemma as one that is fundamental to human history and the human condition, Cicero makes their cause about more than just the exigencies of the moment. It becomes a matter of universal principles.

The second aim of the passage is to establish that there was more at stake in the conflict than the interests of the actors. This is another way in which Cicero broadens the scope of the issues involved, elevating the affair above the level of a personal drama. In his depiction of human social evolution, the cohesion and operation of society depends on everyone submitting to the rule of law. However, because civilized humans are not much different from their savage ancestors, danger always menaces the community from within: anyone can decide to breach the mutual concord which binds people together, violating the agreed-upon laws and thereby threatening to undo the union of the community. Clodius was just such an individual, choosing to forgo law in favor of violence, to devastating effect. Cicero claims that legal process had entirely ceased to function due to Clodius’ activities. Since Cicero specifies that law is the primary characteristic of a civilized state, and Clodius did away with law, he implies that Clodius single-handedly threw the republic into a condition of primitive chaos and violence. Clodius therefore had to be stopped, but not just to ensure the physical safety of certain individuals. He had to be stopped in order to prevent the backsliding of an entire society into primeval savagery.

The third aim of the passage follows directly from the second: having established that the fate of the state rested upon the outcome of the struggle with Clodius, Cicero can portray Milo and Sestius as saviors of the state. Since they opposed the man who was destroying the very bonds of society, their opposition served the cause of the republic. Thus, although Cicero is careful to assert that they prepared armed force purely out of self-defense, he aligns their personal self-defense with the interests of the commonwealth. In this way, he maintains that their actions met the other criterion for the justifiable use of violence: they were protecting society itself. He makes the same point elsewhere in the Pro Sestio, but the particular details of the social history raise the stakes. Cicero represents the abolition of law and order as a descent into primitive bestiality. This strategy makes it clear to the audience that the dissolution of legal and social institutions endangers not just public entities; it also impacts their own standing as individuals by stripping them of their humanity. I have shown in previous chapters that human status was always under threat. Regardless of a person’s inner quality, performing the duties of a herd animal diminished his standing as a human, since it placed him in the same social category as a herd animal. Likewise, the passage about primitive men demonstrates that the same method of reckoning applied when there was a perceived similarity to wild animals. Regardless of a person’s innate capacity or inclinations, to live like a wild animal – without law or human communion – was to possess a rank equivalent to that of a wild animal. This, according to Cicero, is the lowly position that all would have been reduced to, if Milo and Sestius had not checked Clodius as he was negating law and social union. In this interpretation of the matter, Milo and Sestius become champions of the very humanity of every single Roman.

In his commentary on the Pro Sestio, Robert Kaster observes that sections 91-92 describe human nature in a way that is consistent with the Stoicizing views which Cicero expounds in his philosophical works.89 I myself just argued that the ideas which underlie the passage correspond to certain ideas expressed in the De Officiis. I have also discussed, however, how this portion of the speech fits into a certain line of defense which is important to the Pro Sestio as a whole: it elaborates on notions that are prevalent throughout the oration, and furthers Cicero’s objectives. It is therefore very much an organic part of his overall defense strategy, and not a piece esoteric learning dropped in merely to sound good. If he believed that the history of human social development would be an effective means of persuasion, then presumably he thought that the concepts contained therein would be familiar to and accepted by his Roman audience, or would at least seem plausible to them. I will now review some other texts which include the same model for human social progress, used for different ends. The model, as Cicero presents it, appears to have been a common rhetorical trope, which could be utilized in various contexts to support various argumentative points. Since that is the case, it is reasonable to suppose that other Romans shared in the assumptions implicit in the trope.

Accounts of human social development also appear in the De Inventione (1.2) and the De Oratore (1.33). In both cases, Cicero includes the narrative in order to praise oratory, claiming that it played an important role in the ascent from primitive savagery to civilized humanity. It was through eloquence that wise men first convinced people to come together and adopt a new mode of life. Despite the fact that these texts have a completely different aim and emphasis than the Pro Sestio passage, the constituent elements of the social history are almost the same in all three works. This fact suggests that Cicero was drawing upon a standard version, to which he made minor changes to suit his needs. The variant in the De Oratore is quite abbreviated and therefore missing some components which are present in the other two, but the longer De Inventione passage bears an especially close resemblance to the one in the Pro Sestio.

When he describes prehistoric life in the De Inventione, Cicero points out its similarity to the lifestyle of wild animals. He says that prehistoric men “wandered in the manner of beasts”: bestiarum modo vagabantur. He also maintains that they had no law, ius, and that they managed most things through physical force rather than rational thought: nec ratione animi quicquam, sed pleraque viribus corporis administrabant. Despite their bestial mode of existence, Cicero denies that they were a naturally distinct type of human. Rather, he claims that they acted in that manner through error and ignorance, propter errorem atque inscientiam. The wise man who first brought them together and civilized them did so precisely because he observed that their present way of life was inconsistent with their innate capacities. “He recognized what material there was in the minds of men, and how great a fitness for the highest undertakings, if someone could draw it out and make it better through instruction”: cognovit, quae materia esset et quanta ad maximas res opportunitas in animis inesset hominum, si quis eam posset elicere et praecipiendo meliorem reddere.

According to this statement, primitive humans had the same rational mental composition as their more refined descendants; they simply needed a teacher to set them on the path to realizing right reason and thus their full human potential. Some apparently followed this teacher’s lead willingly, others did not. The text mentions those who objected on account of insolence, propter insolentiam reclamantes, and those who listened more eagerly, studiosius audientes. This detail reveals that everyone has a choice in the way they conduct their lives; that is, they have the free will granted by the possession of reason. They can decide to engage in the sort of violent, irrational actions that mark them as beasts, or they can embrace the principles that govern social behavior, thus becoming truly human in mind and deed as well as form. Cicero declares that the father of civilization settled the violently-inclined into useful occupations. Those more amenable to his message underwent an essential transformation, not just reforming their habits, but subjecting their minds to the restraint of right reason. Cicero expresses this inner development in the same terms that he later uses in the Pro Sestio and De Officiis, as a transition from wildness to tameness. The wise man, he says, “brought his listeners from a wild and savage state to a mild and tame one”: audientes ex feris et inmanibus mites reddidit et mansuetos.

Cicero was not the only republican author to discuss the condition and progress of prehistoric humans. The longest and most developed such account appears in Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.925-1027. Lucretius’ version is far more complex, in both its execution and its ends, than any of Cicero’s, and there is no space here for more than a brief overview. In any case, Epicureanism, with its anti-teleological outlook, has nothing to do with the ideological framework which is the object of this study. It is sufficient to note that the topoi which Cicero employs in the Pro Sestio and elsewhere are also present in the De Rerum Natura. Neither Cicero nor Lucretius invented those topoi; they simply culled certain themes from a longstanding tradition of literary prehistories.90

I have already touched upon the relevant passage of the De Rerum Natura in chapter 1. It holds that the earliest humans were a kind of wild animal, since they acted like wild animals. As in Cicero’s texts, the similarity is established through a combination of explicit comparisons and suggestive details. Near the beginning, Lucretius informs the audience that primitive people “spent their lives in the manner of wide-wandering beasts”: volgivago vitam tractabant more ferarum (5.932). Throughout the text, it is emphasized that they did their wandering through mountains and woods. Because the Romans generally viewed a wandering lifestyle as proper to wild animals, and mountains and woods as their proper domain, this information probably would have been enough to evoke associations of animal savagery. Lucretius ensures the association by specifically characterizing mountains and forests as the haunt of animals. At lines 5.945-47, the same mountain streams which call to humans also invite thirsty beasts, and at lines 5.970-71, men sleep naked on the forest floor “like bristly hogs”, saetigeris pares subus. Prehistoric men often encounter beasts in this shared abode, either hunting them down (5.966-69) or being hunted down in their turn (5.982-87, 990-93).

There is in fact nothing in this early manner of life to distinguish people from wild animals – certainly not their interaction with other humans. Even their mating is carried out through force (5.964). The absence of law and community constitutes another similarity to beasts, as it does in Cicero’s accounts. “They could not look to the common good, nor did they know how to use any customs and laws between themselves. Whatever plunder fortune had offered to each, that each man carried off, having been taught to live and flourish of his own accord”: Nec commune bonum poterant spectare, neque ullis / moribus inter se scibant nec legibus uti. / Quod cuique obtulerat praedae fortuna, ferebat / sponte sua sibi quisque valere et vivere doctus (5.958-961). The phrase sponte sua, used to define primitive behavior, appears in an earlier passage, in which Lucretius uses it to define the character of wild animals. Some animals, says Lucretius, have been given the means to live by themselves “of their own accord”, sponte sua. He places this category in opposition to that of domestic animals, who must be kept safe and fed by humans, but who provide some utility in return (5.871-874). In both instances, living sponte sua is contrasted with a life spent in mutual cooperation – whether the partners in this endeavor are man and man, or man and herd animal. The words “of their own accord”, sponte sua, therefore signal a complete lack of cooperation and interdependence, an existence that is solitary, unregulated, and self-serving. Thus, Lucretius portrays prehistoric men as in no way different from the beasts with which they share the forest. Both display the distinctive trait of wild animals, living of their own accord, and that feature is incompatible with the distinctive human trait, living in a cooperative society.

Their asocial lifestyle might place them on par with beasts, but Lucretius makes it clear that – animal status notwithstanding – primitive men had as much innate potential for humanity as their civilized descendants. When he observes that they lived sponte sua, he explains that they had been taught to do so; also, they did not know how to use laws. The language is reminiscent of Cicero’s De Inventione passage, where he attributes the habits of ancient men to error and ignorance. If his prehistoric people only needed a teacher in order to tap into their human qualities, perhaps the same is true of Lucretius’ prehistoric people. In lines 5.1011-1027, communities form and people finally become differentiated from animals. As it happens, they do not have a wise or divinely inspired guide to initiate the process; they figure it out for themselves. Humans as a species discover how to use speech, and how to make shelter, clothing, and fire. Man and woman come together in cooperation for the sake of rearing children, and neighbor with neighbor for the sake of mutual protection. Thus, a general concord arises. If written laws are not yet established, a groundwork is laid, at least, for the rule of law: people learn to keep the agreements, foedera, which enable a communal and mutually beneficial lifestyle. In Lucretius’ account, all this follows directly from the earliest, most primitive stage without a sharp break or a new and intrinsically different generation replacing the old. Because the first people are inherently human, they gradually manage to improve their lot.

A change in human character does occur during the transition from one phase of development to the next, but it amounts to no more than the taming which Cicero describes. Lucretius states that, when they saw their offspring, “then the human race first began to soften”: tum genus humanum primum mollescere coepit (5.1014). Moreover, children “easily broke the proud spirit of their parents with their coaxings”: puerique parentum / blanditiis facile ingenium fregere superbum (5.1017-18). “Softening” and “breaking” differs from the taming imagery which Cicero employs, but the result is similar. The fact that Lucretius says “the human race”, genus humanum, began to soften indicates that he does indeed view prehistoric people, even before their softening, as human in the descriptive sense, with all the human capacity that entails. Their shift from a bestial to a human lifestyle reflects the dual capacity which is inherent in any person: to think and act either like an animal or like a true human. The softening and breaking represents the mental process by which they came to obey the promptings of their humane social instincts, in that same way that Cicero’s metaphor of taming or training represents the process by which people come to obey the promptings of natural reason.

Just as Cicero points out that some people choose not to submit to rational restraint, so too Lucretius acknowledges that some people do not conform to social necessity. He declares, “Nevertheless, concord could not be wholly brought about, but a good part, indeed a great part, kept their agreements with integrity”: nec tamen omnimodis poterat concordia gigni, / sed bona magnaque pars servabat foedera caste (5.1024-25). Imperfect concord and broken agreements mean that certain individuals did not adopt the human behaviors which make community and civilized living possible. Like Cicero, then, Lucretius holds that primeval savagery was due to ignorance; however, now that communal life and principles have been discovered, each individual decides whether to exercise animal selfishness or human sociableness.

Despite their disparate aims and philosophical leanings, both Cicero and Lucretius utilize the same set of ideas which appeared in the De Officiis, and which will also recur in invective passages. They assimilate man to wild animal on the basis of asocial or actively antisocial behavior, particularly violent behavior. Although violence is sometimes justifiable, unnecessary violence is always antisocial, in that it replaces and prevents the peaceful methods of conflict resolution which make civilization possible. Occasionally, acts of violence are purposefully directed against the interests of society. Cicero and Lucretius do not identify such transgressors as a separate category of human, designed by nature to function differently from other humans. In the case of prehistoric people, their aggression and reclusiveness arises from ignorance of a better, more human way to live. It seems, then, that social traits are learned traits, which are perhaps difficult to master and maintain, despite the fact that they are natural to the human animal. Everyone, including a primitive person, has the capacity for them; most even have an inclination toward them. What differs from person to person is whether they have learned and yielded to rational, social principles, and to what extent. Cicero applies the label “taming” to this process of learning and yielding; Lucretius calls it softening. They do not explain why, in a civilized state, some people successfully adapt to a truly human, communal lifestyle while others do not, although what they do say is consistent with the idea that it is reasoning capabilities which enable human deviation. We might expect them to plead ignorance on behalf of the wrong-doers, since they allow that excuse for prehistoric men. However, Cicero, at least, is harsh in his denouncement of violent methods and the unrestrained minds that prompt them. He presents the recalcitrance of certain people as a choice, a willful deviation from an established and normal mode of conduct.

Cicero and Lucretius are not definitive guides to how the Romans understood human nature and development. Prehistoric life and progress were a recurring theme in ancient thought from early Greek literature through the Roman imperial period. By Cicero’s time, there were many different models and tropes available for an author to pick from and arrange as suited his rhetorical and intellectual needs. There is also no way to tell how closely these literary accounts reflect the beliefs held by the average person. Nonetheless, Cicero and Lucretius evidently felt that the particular concepts which they utilize would resonate with their audience – even a courtroom audience, in Cicero’s case. In the next section, I will continue to explore how he deploys those concepts in forensic and political settings, by examining passages in which he portrays an opponent as a beast. He does not mention primitive men; invective had its own tradition, separate from speculation about human social evolution, with its own aims and emphases. Despite this, Cicero’s invective comparisons depend on the same attitudes about violence and human nature that I have been tracing throughout this chapter.

In addition to drawing upon the same ideas, the prehistories which I have just discussed also help to contextualize Cicero’s invective techniques by illuminating certain presuppositions about civilization. The prehistories are, after all, about social life, and invective targets people who have supposedly disrupted that life. The first relevant assumption is the belief that communities are necessary. Lucretius’ account is famously ambiguous about whether the advance from prehistoric savagery to modern refinement represents real progress or not. He does indicate, though, that cooperative associations, at least, are vital for the survival of humanity. He remarks that most people in the first settlements kept their agreements, or else the whole human race would have been destroyed right then: sed bona magnaque pars servabat foedera caste; aut genus humanum iam tum foret omne peremptum (5.1025-26). Cicero is not ambiguous at all, treating the state as an unalloyed good which it is a crime to undermine, and which must be preserved at any cost. The same line from Lucretius points to the second assumption: the communal existence upon which human lives depend is a precarious thing. All, or at least most, people must observe the mutual accord which binds individuals into a cohesive, cooperative whole, or the entire system breaks down, dragging the human race down with it. In the Pro Sestio, Cicero indicates what can happen when even one person decides not to abide by that accord. A single bad man with resources completely negated the rule of law, which all must submit to in order for society to function; he thereby inaugurated a new reign of disordered and violent savagery. In his portrayal of these events and their instigator, Cicero reveals the third assumption which is pertinent to invective: since the wrong-doer behaves so by choice, he can be held culpable for his actions.

Given these three beliefs, it is no wonder that an orator could denounce an alleged criminal in such dramatic and extreme terms. As we will see, invective often depicted the target as a willful violator of social bonds and norms. As we just saw, such a violation was understood to have ramifications for the community at large, since those bonds and norms, taken collectively, constitute the force by which society adheres together. Thus, it was a small leap of logic to construe any infringement as a blow to the very fabric of society. Cicero takes advantage of this reasoning in order to describe his opponents as public enemies, their actions as deliberately harmful to the whole commonwealth. If the rhetoric by which he does so seems exaggerated, that is only because he intends it to match the enormity of the transgression: endangering the survival of Roman society, and by extension the lives and humanity of everyone in it.

Wild Animal Comparisons in Political Invective

Scholars generally recognize that Roman invective sought to isolate the target.91 The speaker or writer maintained that his opponent was separate from and inimical to society, both because he had undertaken actions contrary to the interests of society, and because his very personality was incompatible with a communal way of life. The orator bent on such character assassination had a ready store of rhetorical commonplaces to draw upon.92 Depicting his foe as an animal was one of them.93

Like the discourse on slavery, which also employs frequent animal comparisons, invective shows a preoccupation with rank, character, and whether the two coincide. 94 Understanding the interplay of rank and character in invective aids in understanding the animal comparisons deployed there. I noted in the last chapter that the Romans tended to assign negative traits to slaves and ex-slaves, and to assume that they were, on the whole, inferior to free men. The servile stigma arose from an impulse to essentialize formal status divisions. This irrational impulse or need coexisted with and often took precedence over a more rational observation: slaves were no different from other humans, and showed no signs of constituting a distinct natural class. Invective made use of both tendencies: the tendency to believe that social station reflects, or at least should reflect, inner quality, and the tendency to recognize, on occasion, that social station and inner quality do not necessarily align. In fact, invective often exploits the tension between the two modes of thought. The speaker asserts that a man’s inner quality does not warrant his social station, and simultaneously appeals to the listeners’ sense that the situation should be rectified, so that he does occupy his appropriate place in society. Most of Cicero’s adversaries, for example, were elite citizens; theoretically, that meant they should possess a correspondingly high social and moral worth. Cicero undercuts their standing precisely by undercutting their social and moral worth. A man at odds with society, in his own mind and by his own deeds, could hardly be said to merit a lofty position in that society, by any means of reckoning. When he casts his enemies as self-made isolates, Cicero therefore implies that their status should be adjusted to match their lowly deserts.

In some cases, as in the In Pisonem, Cicero tried to diminish his foe’s standing in the minds of the audience, if not in legal reality. In other cases, as in the Catilinarians, Philippics, and Verrines, a real change of rank was at stake.95 He asserted that Catiline and Antony were public enemies, and urged his listeners to declare them so and deal with them accordingly. He brought Verres to trial on capital charges. If convicted, Verres would have been executed or, as actually happened, compelled to flee Rome into exile. Either way, he was formally removed from the Roman state, so that his official status corresponded to the outsider status which Cicero claimed was his due. The severity of the outcome that Cicero was trying to secure may have determined the virulence of his attacks on Catiline, Antony, and Verres. To justify their formal exclusion from the Roman state, he had to argue that they had already excluded themselves from communion with their fellow citizens, through their own actions and dispositions. In short, Cicero had to make the crime fit the punishment. To put it another way, he had to make the person fit the status.

Given this rhetorical strategy, it is unsurprising that wild animal comparisons appear frequently in invective passages. Cicero depicts his targets as hostile outcasts; with wild animal comparisons, he attempts to establish their likeness to the prototypical outcasts, those creatures hostile to human society by nature. We have already seen that beasts were associated with violence, and that antisocial violence often comprised the specific point of comparison between man and beast. This, too, serves Cicero’s invective aims, since he seeks to undermine his victims’ social stature by maintaining that they do violence to social bonds and accords.96 In this context, Cicero is not interested in differentiating one form of violence from another, nor in explaining human social development. It does not suit his purposes to mitigate the culpability of the perpetrator, either by pointing out that everyone is capable of such behavior, or by proposing that it might be corrected through taming and training. He mostly heaps up descriptors that portray the actions, character, and mental state of the accused in the worst possible way. They create a composite picture which suggests that the subject is enormously, even uniquely, deviant. Here, if anywhere, we might expect some mention of a separate natural type, and a clear delineation of that type’s psychological profile.

In fact, invective does not assume the existence of a special subset of humans, destined by nature to act like wild animals. The ideas which drive Cicero’s invective comparisons are not incompatible with the ideas that I have already discussed. To understand the wild animal comparisons in his invective, it will be helpful to consider his own explanation of the trope and what it is supposed to achieve. The following passage is from the De Inventione (1.103):

Octavus locus est, per quem demonstramus non vulgare neque factitatum esse ne ab audacissimis quidem hominibus id maleficium, de quo agatur; atque id a feris quoque hominibus et a barbaris gentibus et inmanibus bestiis esse remotum. haec erunt, quae in parentes, liberos, coniuges, consanguineos, supplices crudeliter facta dicentur, et deinceps si qua proferantur in maiores natu, in hospites, in vicinos, in amicos, in eos, quibuscum vitam egeris, in eos, apud quos educatus sis, in eos, ab quibus eruditus, in mortuos, in miseros et misericordia dignos, in homines claros, nobiles et honore usos, in eos, qui neque laedere alium nec se defendere potuerunt, ut in pueros, senes, mulieres; quibus ex omnibus acriter excitata indignatio summum in eum, qui violarit horum aliquid, odium commovere poterit.

The eighth topic is that through which we show that the crime under discussion is not common or frequently practiced even by the most audacious men; and it is far removed, too, from wild men and barbarian races and savage beasts. These crimes will be cruel deeds which are said to have been committed against parents, children, wives, blood relatives, and suppliants, and next if any cruel deeds are cited against elders, guests, neighbors, friends, those with whom you have lived, those in whose house you have been brought up, those by whom you have been educated, the dead, the wretched and those deserving of pity, famous men, who are well-born and have held public office, and those who are not able to harm another or defend themselves, such as children, old men, and women; the fierce indignation aroused by all of these things will be able to excite the greatest hatred against a man who has violated any of these relationships.


There are several points to be taken from the text. The first is that wild animal comparisons, with all their associated notions, were not specific to Cicero and his own preconceptions; this passage has a close parallel in the Ad Herennium (2.49). The presence of the same commonplace in two different authors indicates that the practice was standard rhetorical procedure, and was thought to reflect the views and expectations held by a typical audience. The tactic, as described, reveals the tendency of invective to isolate the target. Cicero does not recommend that the orator portray the accused as a savage, barbarian, or beast, but as an even worse entity, his crime as something that not even they would undertake. Nobody and nothing else would commit such an offense. The given purpose of this approach is to rouse the hatred of all against the singular perpetrator. Cicero lists the crimes that warrant such a severe denunciation and extreme indignation, and they all entail the use of violence against the people who have the greatest claim to humane treatment from the accused. To put it another way, they all entail the forceful violation of social bonds. Thus, the point of comparison between man and wild animal is the same here as it has been in the passages I have examined throughout this chapter. It is on this basis that Cicero groups several types of human with wild animals: audacious men, savage men, and barbarians.
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Re: The Measure of All Things: Natural Hierarchy in Roman Re

Postby admin » Thu Oct 03, 2019 3:51 am

Part 3 of 4

This grouping illustrates yet again how Roman animal comparisons generally operate. Wild animals comprise a natural category, defined by a certain activity or role which they perform in relation to human society. Various humans become assimilated to that category because they carry out the same activity and role. However, by mentioning several kinds of people, along with animals, Cicero signals that he does not have in mind a specific type of human with innate animal-like traits. He is simply adducing alternate comparanda for the speaker to choose from, any label that would suggest “violent”, “outsider”, and “enemy” to the listeners. The fact that the culprit is supposed to be worse than an animal confirms this interpretation. If he is worse than a wild animal, then he cannot actually be a wild animal, or have an animal mind. Although Cicero never uses the word natura, he implies that the target should be depicted as unnatural, since he allegedly surpasses even the beasts in cruelty – the beasts, nature’s absolute baseline for savagery. The trope therefore appeals to the belief that mankind possesses a peculiar capacity for unnatural conduct.

For the rest of the chapter, I will study passages in which Cicero puts this commonplace to use, asserting that his opponents equal or exceed wild animals in brutality. I will show that they all follow the basic principles laid down in the De Inventione. As in the De Inventione, Cicero subsumes various kinds of criminal under the category “beast”, but on the same charge in every case: each can be broadly understood to have disrupted a social connection through violence. I have organized the passages into three major subdivisions, according to the type of wrongdoer: those who have transgressed against individual relationships, those who are enemies to the entire state, and tyrants, whom Cicero describes as the enemies of all mankind. The texts shown here are only a small selection of the many such passages in the Ciceronian corpus. I have chosen these particular examples because every one of them illustrates a certain trend or trends with special clarity. I will examine each on its own, but several generalizations can be made about all of them taken together. Before I turn to the case studies, I will summarize those generalizations. Not every passage displays every idea that I am about to elucidate. Depending on his needs, Cicero employs different tactics and emphasizes different beliefs. All of his wild animal comparisons draw upon at least some of these ideas, however, and they all fit within the conceptual framework or pattern which seems to dictate the use of such comparisons in invective. When I discuss the individual texts, I will show how each corresponds to and supports the interpretation that I am now going to propose.

As I have already noted, every comparison assumes that wild animals are natural practitioners of illicit, antisocial violence. Thus, a person who perpetrates antisocial violence can be said to have the same status as an animal. “Antisocial violence” is a conveniently flexible rhetorical notion, consisting of any and every act which Cicero can depict as both forceful and contrary to the interests of society. There is a common feature throughout these depictions: the culprit has damaged or disregarded human associations, either by harming people who have social claims on him, or by negating laws and customs which govern interpersonal relationships. We saw in the Pro Sestio how individual acts which meet this criterion could be reinterpreted as assaults on the whole of society and the very foundation upon which it rests. In his invective, Cicero often amplifies the subject under discussion in the same way. A crime against one person becomes a crime against the whole Roman state, and finally a crime against all of humanity.

The amplification or magnification of the crime plays an important part in Cicero’s overall strategy, which aims to utterly isolate the accused. It is the purpose of the wild animal comparisons to make his extreme interpretation of events plausible by typing the villain as the sort of person who could and would do such monstrous things.97 Ultimately, then, the practice amounts to another instance of matching character to status, and status to character. In the rhetorical reality which Cicero creates, the wrongdoer has placed himself outside the bounds of common humanity through his own actions, so he must have a correspondingly inhuman mind. Alternately, he has an inhuman mind, so he must be guilty of the inhumane acts of which he stands accused. Under Cicero’s skillful handling, mind and status become mutually reinforcing arguments.

To the extent that he uses wild animals as a means to characterize his opponents, Cicero does portray them as innately savage or animal-like. However, the likeness between the criminal mind and the animal mind ends there. It is only a rough analogy, suggested by the fact that the two creatures supposedly undertake comparable deeds, and therefore hold a comparable rank. “Savage” or “bestial” is just one of a stock set of descriptors that Cicero applies to bad men. Taken collectively, these stock descriptors do not add up to a truly animal mental state or mode of conduct. This phenomenon is similar to one we have already seen, wherein the Romans assimilate slaves to herd animals, and often attribute to them a servile personality. Nonetheless, the full set of traits habitually assigned to slaves could hardly be said to describe a herd animal. Mendacity, for example, has no place in an ox.

The invective topoi heaped by Cicero on his targets do not indicate any definitive, rationalized theory of human and criminal psychology, nor any belief that criminals form a distinct natural type – anymore than slave stereotypes indicate a distinct natural type. The topoi do evoke deviance, deviance from a behavioral norm which is presumed to be universally, or naturally, valid.98 Herein lies the relationship of Cicero’s bestial criminal to nature: he does not occupy a separate natural category from other humans; since the ability to deviate from nature is itself unique to humans, he is descriptively human. However, insofar as he deviates from nature and thus conforms to no natural behavioral norm, he defies inclusion in any natural category at all. The De Inventione implied that the orator’s opponent should be cast as unnatural; as I am about to show, some passages explicitly claim that the accused is unnatural. Of course, Cicero helpfully defines for his audience what is natural and what unnatural, and so is able to create an impression of perfect otherness. This represents the culmination of his tendency to isolate his target: the wrongdoer appears to be absolutely isolated and unique, because he departs not just from human standards, but from everything in nature.

We should not presume that this rhetorical approach has or arises from any theoretical foundation. Its very prevalence throughout Cicero’s corpus points to the opposite conclusion: he thought the tactic would be successful with a broad audience, not just those familiar with philosophical works. A person does not require an extensive intellectual background to take a normative view of human conduct, and to describe the norm and deviance from the norm in terms of what is “natural” and “unnatural”. However, Cicero’s invective practice is compatible with ideas which we have seen in philosophical texts. Whether philosophy influenced Roman invective, or simply rationalized certain popular beliefs which happen to appear in invective, it is impossible to say; probably a little of each occurred. Both discourses hold that man is capable of acting in unnatural ways. As I discussed in the first chapter, philosophers usually attributed this ability to the possession of reason, which allows a person to choose, and so to conform to or depart from the universal dictates of natural reason. Invective does not generally give an explanation for unnatural behavior, although the notion of choice is implicit, since the speaker places the blame for bad conduct squarely on the perpetrator. In this respect, invective techniques are also compatible with the notion that I just observed in the De Officiis and Pro Sestio: every person is responsible for reining himself in and submitting to right reason.

Violators of Social Bonds

The first passage which I will examine does not actually belong to the realm of invective. It comes from the Pro Roscio Amerino, and is employed in Roscius’ defense. I include it here because it so perfectly encapsulates the form and rationale of wild animal comparisons, and demonstrates the kind of argument from character which predominates in invective.99 There is a reason why the arguments seem so closely related. Although the purpose of this particular text, defense, differs from that of invective, attack, Cicero here turns a potentially damning point against his client to his own advantage. Roscius stood accused of killing his father. This is precisely the sort of crime that would be labeled as unnatural, along with its perpetrator. When assailing an opponent, Cicero would normally assert that the accused must be unnatural to have done such a thing; moreover, he is, in fact, unnatural, so he must have done it. In this instance, Cicero claims that the accused, his client, must be unnatural to have done such a thing, but his client is not, in fact, unnatural, so he cannot have done it. This passage, with its explicit reference to natura, tells us that nature was a valid concept to employ outside of philosophical texts, in forensic speeches. It also shows us how a Roman orator might differentiate between natural and unnatural behavior in pursuing his rhetorical goals, and how wild animals might figure in such a discourse:

Magna est enim vis humanitatis; multum valet communio sanguinis; reclamitat istius modi suspicionibus ipsa natura; portentum atque monstrum certissimum est esse aliquem humana specie et figura qui tantum immanitate bestias vicerit ut, propter quos hanc suavissimam lucem aspexerit, eos indignissime luce privarit, cum etiam feras inter sese partus atque educatio et natura ipsa conciliet. (63)

Great is the force of humanity; the fellowship of blood is very powerful; nature itself cries out against suspicions of this type; it is the surest portent and monstrosity, that someone exists with human appearance and form, who has so far surpassed the beasts in savagery, that he has most shamefully deprived of light those through whom he himself has seen this sweetest light of life, when birth and rearing and nature itself makes even wild animals friendly to each other.


According to this argument, nature itself prompts people to recognize the ties and obligations of blood kinship, specifically the ties and obligations between parent and child. Conversely, it is unnatural for one of the participants in that relationship to disregard and sever the relationship. Cicero expresses the thought in a way that does not emphasize the violence of the deed – though violence did occur – but the fact that the culprit ignored the duties mandated by a close social connection, and put an end to that connection in the most forceful, disruptive way possible. Into this context comes the wild animal comparison, which reflects the pattern that I have been following throughout this chapter: wild animals are associated with violence, but more specifically, with violence committed against society or the individual social bonds of which it is comprised. However, Cicero insists that a parricide surpasses the beasts in savagery, on the grounds that even beasts enjoy some fellow feeling. He is alluding to the commonly expressed idea, which I discussed in the first chapter, that even wild animals recognize some bonds between themselves, most notably that between parent and offspring. Thus, he introduces the analogy between wrongdoer and animal suggested by the presence of antisocial violence, only to shoot it down. A parricide does not display behavior and inclinations appropriate to wild animals, so he cannot be placed in that category. He cannot be categorized as any type of human, either. Cicero specifies that the force of humanity, vis humanitatis, lies in acknowledging natural social ties; he also states that a parent-killer, who has violated such ties, and therefore the very essence of humanity, would be a human in form only. Since the parricide meets the criteria for neither human nor animal, he becomes a singular “portent” and “monstrosity”, an oddity at odds with all of nature.

This extreme view of a parricide’s crime and character corresponds in severity to the extreme method of removing a convicted parricide from the Roman state. In Cicero’s day, this method entailed tying the convict up in a sack with a dog, a cock, an ape, and a viper, and drowning him in the sea. Another passage in the Pro Roscio confirms that there was a perceived correlation between crime and punishment, moral quality and post-conviction status (71-73). Cicero describes parricides as people “whom nature itself had not been able to retain in their duty”: quos natura ipsa retinere in officio non potuisset. He goes on to praise the wisdom of the ancestors who established the penalty for such a person. “Do they not seem to have cut this man off and separated him from nature?”: nonne videntur hunc hominem ex rerum natura sustulisse et eripuisse…? Here, Cicero basically asserts that the manner of execution was meant to remove the unnatural man from all contact with nature, thus making his inner condition, characterized by separateness from nature, into a real physical condition. Cicero maintains that his own client, of course, is a solid citizen, and so ought to remain a living part of the state. Like any piece of invective, then, the passage which I just examined, as well as the Pro Roscio as a whole, plays upon the relation between personal worth and status, and the impulse to make them coincide.

In the Pro Roscio, an invective technique has been modified to serve as a defense. The next text, excerpted from the Verrines, actually is a standard, representative piece of invective, launched as a form of attack. In this case, Cicero likens his opponent to a wild animal without saying that he surpasses a wild animal. Cicero does not explicitly call Verres unnatural, either. By the end of the oration, the accumulated details of Cicero’s portrayal of Verres do indeed suggest that he is both unnatural and crueler and more destructive than any beast. This particular section, though, is helpful in that it clearly indicates the primary point of comparison between man and animal. It is not violence per se, but violence done to social connections:

Sed quid ego hospiti iura in hac immani belua commemoro? Qui Sthenium Thermitanum, hospitem suum, cuius domum per hospitium exhausit et exinanivit, absentem in reos rettulerit, causa indicta capite damnarit, ab eo nunc hospitiorum iura atque officia quaeramus? Cum homine enim crudeli nobis res est an cum fera atque immani belua? Te patris lacrimae de innocentis fili periculo non movebant; cum patrem domi reliquisses, filium tecum haberes, te neque praesens filius de liberum caritate neque absens pater de indulgentia patria commonebat? (2.5.109)

But why do I mention the laws of hospitality in connection with this savage beast? The man who entered Sthenius of Thermae, his own host, whose house he pillaged and emptied while enjoying hospitality there, into the roll of defendants while he was absent, and who condemned him on a capital charge without a hearing – from that man are we now to look for the laws and duties of hospitality? Are we dealing with a cruel man or with a wild and savage beast? Did a father’s tears for the danger of his innocent son not move you? Since you had left your father and home, and had your son with you, did your son, who was present, not remind you of the affection of children? or your absent father of a father’s indulgence?


Cicero does not linger on the victim’s death in this passage, nor on the violence of its execution. In any case, a comparison between Verres and a wild animal on the basis of this particular act of violence would be somewhat strained. Animals kill through the direct application of force in face-to-face combat, not via proxy and judicial process. Instead, Cicero focuses on the social connections that have been violated by the victim’s dispatch. In the very first sentence, he calls Verres a savage beast because Verres does not recognize the laws of hospitality, hospiti iura. The exact point of similarity, then, is the failure to recognize a social tie and the rules that govern it. Cicero repeats the word hospitium twice more in the next sentence in order to emphasize the guest-host relationship and the abuse that has been done to it. The repetition of the exact phrase hospiti iura also reflects the same concern for the law that we saw in the Pro Sestio. In this instance, Cicero is probably not referring to written laws, but to the customary and universally understood code of conduct which regulates and enables a certain form of human interaction. According to his representation of the situation, the observance of these laws, and so the preservation of this entire mode of association, takes precedence over the fate of a single person.

After he has dealt with the theme of hospitality, Cicero again calls Verres a savage beast. With the next sentence, the reason for the echo becomes clear: it serves as a means of punctuation. He has finished talking about the outrage done to one relationship, and will now talk about the outrage done to another. Here, too, the likeness between man and animal lies in the perpetration of a social outrage, not of physical violence. When he sentenced the father to death, Verres not only harmed the relation between guest and host, but also between father and son. In addition to severing the connection forever through the father’s demise, Verres failed to even acknowledge the existence of the bond. Cicero indicates that the concern and grief felt by father and son, each for the other, should have deterred Verres from his course of action. However, Verres witnessed this display of human union and affection, and was unmoved, despite having a father and son himself. Cicero does not explicitly say that Verres treats his own father and son improperly. He implies, though, that Verres, a man who has no respect for the sanctity of the relationships of others, cannot regard his own as sacred, either.

The Ad Herennium contains an extended wild animal comparison which, like the foregoing, is used to comment on deeds which do not necessarily entail physical violence. The anonymous author offers the piece as an example of descriptio, vivid description, a rhetorical figure which consists of narrating and explaining, in an impressive manner, the consequences of some act. Since the text merely illustrates an oratorical technique and has no real-life context, it is impossible to know precisely what the author imagined that context to be, except for the fact that the words clearly belong in a forensic speech. The exact crime under discussion is unspecified, though the details provided are suggestive. The wrongdoer does his wrong in the forum, and targets the fortunes and reputations of fellow citizens, as well as their lives. He is perhaps a prosecutor, or some informant in the business of leveling false accusations in the hopes of monetary reward. Thus, he is engaged, like Verres, in a kind of judicial murder. Although the passage is not meant to demonstrate an invective trope, it shares characteristics with Cicero’s invective comparisons. I include the Ad Herennium text to show that Cicero was not the only one to draw upon this particular pattern of thought:

Quodsi istum, iudices, uestris sententiis liberaueritis, statim, sicut e cauea leo emissus aut aliqua taeterrima belua soluta ex catenis, uolitabit et uagabitur in foro, acuens dentes in unius cuiusque fortunas, in omnes amicos atque inimicos, notos atque ignotos incursitans, aliorum famam depeculans, aliorum caput oppugnans, aliorum domum et omnem familiam perfringens, rem publicam funditus labefactans. Quare, iudices, eicite eum de ciuitate; liberate omnes formidine; uobis denique ipsis consulite. Nam si istum inpunitum dimiseritis, in uosmet ipsos, mihi credite, feram et truculentam bestiam, iudices, immiseritis.

But if you free that man with your votes, judges, immediately, like a lion freed from its cage or some incredibly foul beast loosed from its chains, he will move to and fro and wander about the forum, sharpening his teeth for the fortunes of every man, assaulting everyone, friend and foe, known and unknown, despoiling the reputation of some, attacking the person of others, shattering the home and entire family of still others, causing the Republic to totter from its foundations. Therefore, judges, expel him from the state: free everyone from fear; finally, take thought for yourselves. For if you release that man unpunished, believe me, judges, you will have loosed a wild and ferocious beast against yourselves.


Here, the speaker compares the culprit to a specific kind of beast, a lion. There is no particular significance to this detail. The lion in antiquity seems to have been viewed as the prototypical wild beast or the paradigmatic predator, an entity which exemplifies all wild beasts and all the associations that go with them. This lion definitely displays stereotyped traits which are normally assigned to wild animals in general. It wanders and violently attacks anything and everything human. The phrase acuens dentes, “sharpening his teeth”, carries the connotation of violence, although the accused does not appear to have physically assaulted anyone. The speaker evidently wants his audience to see a kind of violence at work in what has actually taken place, the legal destruction of citizens and their social standing. This tactic is perfectly in keeping with the trend that I have now traced through the previous two passages: the similarity between man and beast lies not in violence itself, but in violence, physical or figurative, directed against social bonds. In this case, the bonds under threat are those between the perpetrator and the fellow citizens whom he has attacked, but also those that exist between the victims and everyone else. A person’s social downfall does damage to the entire social network of which he is a part, which perhaps explains why the speaker can claim that his opponent shatters entire households and families. This ripple effect extends outwards, until the Republic itself is undermined.

The transition from single person to families to the state represents a phenomenon which I mentioned before, but which has not appeared in the two other passages I discussed. That is the tendency toward amplification in invective, by which the consequences of a limited offense are magnified until it becomes an offense against the entire commonwealth, or even all of humanity. In a single sentence, this speaker progresses from individuals to individual social units to the conglomeration of such units which constitutes a state. In the very next sentence, listeners hear the solution to the state-wide problem posed by this social menace. The villain, that enemy of the Republic, must be ejected from the Republic which he is troubling. Once again, therefore, the crime has been portrayed in such a way as to fit the punishment, and the criminal in such a way as to fit his post-conviction status. As a man who has severed all social ties and turned against the state, he has already excommunicated himself from Roman society. With a guilty verdict, the jury would only make his isolation formal, and physically remove him from the presence of people from whom he has long since alienated himself. Thus, as the passage proceeds and the scope of the crime broadens, the speaker perfects the image of the lone lion, raging against the entire human state, of the hostile outsider, lashing out at everyone and everything in a place where he does not belong. Most importantly, from the prosecutor’s point of view, this sweeping denunciation allows him to depict the accused as a threat to the judges themselves, and the text does indeed culminate with an appeal to their self-interest.

Enemies of the State

In the Philippics, Cicero employs the same image that appears in the Ad Herennium: a restrained beast, which must not be released lest it wreak terrible destruction on the whole state. As in the Ad Herennium passage, Cicero asks his audience to free everybody from fear by treating the offender, Antony, like the dangerous outsider he is. As in the Ad Herennium, moreover, this plea on behalf of the entire citizenry includes an appeal to the listeners’ own selfinterests, since Cicero claims that they are in danger along with everybody else. The greatest difference between the two texts is that Cicero does not have to try as hard to establish that his opponent’s misdemeanors affect everyone, as well as their social relationships. Antony’s actions were easily construed as impacting the Republic as a whole, and especially its constitution, which bound individual citizens together into a single civic entity. Even the threat of violence was not just figurative in Antony’s case, since he was currently in the field with his own army. Cicero’s entire speech is devoted to arguing that Antony is a public enemy, and entreating the senate to recognize that fact and deal with him accordingly. The following passage is the concluding paragraph. True to form, the animal comparison arises from the allegation that Antony does violence to society. Cicero’s particular concern here is to show that declaring Antony a public enemy is both fitting and almost redundant, because he has already made himself a public enemy through his own actions, whether or not the senate officially acknowledges it. He accomplishes this aim by maintaining that all orders of society are endangered by Antony, all are unified against him:

Sed vos moneo, patres conscripti: libertas agitur populi Romani, quae est commendata vobis; vita et fortunae optimi cuiusque, quo cupiditatem infinitam cum immani crudelitate iam pridem intendit Antonius; auctoritas vestra, quam nullam habebitis, nisi nunc tenueritis; taetram et pestiferam beluam ne inclusam et constrictam dimittatis cavete. Te ipsum, Pansa, moneo—quamquam non eges consilio, quo vales plurimum, tamen etiam summi gubernatores in magnis tempestatibus a vectoribus admoneri solent—hunc tantum tuum apparatum tamque praeclarum ne ad nihilum recidere patiare. Tempus habes tale quale nemo habuit umquam. Hac gravitate senatus, hoc studio equestris ordinis, hoc ardore populi Romani potes in perpetuum rem publicam metu et periculo liberare. (7.27)

But I warn you, senators, the liberty of the Roman people, which has been commended to you, is at stake; the lives and fortunes of all the best men are at stake, toward which Antony has for a long while been directing his infinite greed, along with his savage cruelty; your authority is at stake, of which you will have none, if you do not hold on to it now; take heed that you do not release this foul and pestilential beast, whom you now have shut up and restrained. I warn you yourself, Pansa – although you have no need of counsel, in which you are very well-endowed, nevertheless, even the best steersmen are accustomed to be warned by passengers in great storms – do not allow this preparation of yours, so great and splendid, to be cut down to nothing. You have such an opportunity as no one has ever had. With this severity of the senate, this zeal of the equestrian order, this ardor of the Roman people, you can free the Republic from fear and danger forever.


From the first sentence, Cicero takes care to assert that Antony poses a problem for all the various levels of Roman society. The freedom of the Roman people is under fire, the lives and fortunes of the best men, and the authority of the senate. With the last sentence, he proclaims that all levels of society do, in fact, recognize the danger, and regard Antony as their common enemy. If only the consul will lead the way, the full will and resources of every order – senators, equestrians, and plebs – will be ranged against the bestial foe in their midst. Thus, Antony becomes the perfect outsider, hostile to and hated by all, committing violence in the interests of no one but himself.

As Cicero depicts Antony in this way, he comments on not only Antony’s actions, but also his character. The character portrait gives rise to the other notable feature of this passage. In keeping with the tendencies and assumptions which I have already discussed, Cicero assigns to Antony negative qualities in order to portray him as the sort of person would do such heinous, antisocial things. It is debatable, however, whether or not Cicero is describing Antony as innately animal-like, despite labeling him as an animal. While “savage cruelty” might be considered a bestial characteristic, greed is a less obvious animal trait. Whether being bestial, cruel, and greedy necessarily entails being foul and pestilential, as well, is also unclear. It seems that, in defining his feral opponent, Cicero has assembled a rather haphazard collection of bad qualities. The next passage offers a more extreme example of the same phenomenon.

In this section of the Pro Sulla, Cicero seeks to stress the enormity and vileness of the Catilinarian conspiracy. He does so by stressing the enormity and vileness of the conspirators themselves. His approach here is another instance in which actions, status, and character serve as mutually reinforcing arguments. The conspirators’ despicable minds must have given rise to equally despicable deeds, and so earned them an outcast status. Conversely, their deeds were despicable and earned them an outcast status, thus they must have had despicable minds. It is not uncommon, in pursuing this strategy, for Cicero to utilize a number of different personal descriptors over the course of a speech. The following paragraph provides a condensed sample, into which Cicero crams as many descriptors as possible in order to encapsulate the full wickedness of the conspirators. Gathered together as they are, they make it easy to see that Cicero does not attribute naturally animal-like minds to his targets, though he claims that they are beasts. In fact, Cicero’s characterization does not suggest any reasoned, consistent theory of criminal psychology:

Nolite, iudices, arbitrari hominum illum impetum et conatum fuisse—neque enim ulla gens tam barbara aut tam immanis umquam fuit in qua non modo tot, sed unus tam crudelis hostis patriae sit inventus—beluae quaedam illae ex portentis immanes ac ferae forma hominum indutae exstiterunt. Perspicite etiam atque etiam, iudices—nihil enim est quod in hac causa dici possit vehementius—penitus introspicite Catilinae, Autroni, Cethegi, Lentuli ceterorumque mentis; quas vos in his libidines, quae flagitia, quas turpitudines, quantas audacias, quam incredibilis furores, quas notas facinorum, quae indicia parricidiorum, quantos acervos scelerum reperietis! Ex magnis et diuturnis et iam desperatis rei publicae morbis ista repente vis erupit, ut ea confecta et eiecta convalescere aliquando et sanari civitas posset; neque enim est quisquam qui arbitretur illis inclusis in re publica pestibus diutius haec stare potuisse. Itaque eos non ad perficiendum scelus, sed ad luendas rei publicae poenas Furiae quaedam incitaverunt. (76)

Do not think, judges, that that was an attack and attempt made by humans – for there was never a race so barbarous and so savage, that in it was discovered not only so many, but even one enemy of the fatherland so cruel – those were some kind of savage and wild beasts, born from monsters and clothed in human form. Look again and again, judges – for there is nothing which can be said too forcibly in this case – look deep within the minds of Catiline, Autronius, Cethegus, Lentulus, and the others; what lusts you will find in them, what outrages, what foulness, what great audacity, what incredible madness, what marks of villainy, what signs of parricide, what great heaps of wickedness! Out of great and long-standing and already desperate diseases of the republic, that violence suddenly burst forth, so that, when it had been overcome and driven out, the state might be able to recover and heal at last; for there is not anyone who judges that the state was able to stand any longer with those plagues still shut up in the Republic. And so some Furies drove them on, not for accomplishing their crime, but for paying the penalty to the Republic.


The two ideas which usually prompt wild animal comparisons – “violence” and “against the interests of society” – are stated explicitly here. Prior to the comparison, Cicero mentions the conspirators’ “attack” and “attempt”. Later, he will refer to the conspiracy as a vis, a force or violence that suddenly burst forth. He also calls them hostes patriae, enemies of the fatherland, which specifies that their violence was directed against the Republic as a whole. As always, it is on the basis of this action, antisocial violence, that Cicero places his opponents into the same category as beasts, who naturally, inevitably engage in that behavior. While he does create a mental profile to suit the deeds and standing which he claims for them, it quickly becomes apparent that he does not consider them naturally or innately similar to animals. The very terms of the comparison suggest that they are a great deal worse than any animal. The conspirators are only beasts “of a sort”, belvae quaedam, and they are born from monsters, ex portentis, and clothed in human form, forma hominum indutae. No animal in nature possesses a human form or has anything to do with monsters. The word I have here translated as “monsters”, portenta, appeared in the Pro Roscio passage, coupled with monstrum to designate something unnatural. Here, too, it seems to indicate something unnatural, uniting, as it does, with other qualities which should not coexist in one being.

The impression of abnormality builds throughout the text as Cicero mixes his metaphors, creating a picture of impossible, conglomerate creatures. Aside from being beasts, of a sort, born from monsters and looking like humans, the conspirators are also diseases and Fury-driven madmen. As for the long list of mental qualities which Cicero provides, they could hardly be said to describe an animal, singly or in combination. They all suggest criminality, whereas animals, who always live in accordance with nature, do not, cannot, carry out crimes. Cicero accuses the wrongdoers of parricide, for example, but, in the Pro Roscio passage I discussed, animals are cited as beings who never commit parricide. The list does not appear, either, to have any basis in psychological theory; it is simply a string of standard negatives, often deployed in invective. In short, Cicero throws everything at the conspirators but the kitchen sink. Throughout the paragraph, he employs any label that reinforces the ideas which he wants to emphasize, such as violence, threat, wickedness, and otherness. It cannot possibly be said that the people he describes are naturally animal-like, or natural at all. Although he never uses the word natura, perhaps only the concept of unnaturalness could encompass and account for these odd patchwork monsters, seemingly composed entirely of social evils. By the end of the text, then, Cicero has drawn upon the notion of man’s capacity for unnaturalness in order to achieve the ultimate goal of invective amplification. He has completely isolated his foes, marking them off from Roman society, from human society, from all of nature.

As in the Pro Sulla, Philippics 14.8 targets multiple people: Antony and two of his henchmen. Cicero closely associates Antony with his followers, so that it is understood that the actions of each man reflect on the others, and especially on the leader, Antony. Accordingly, the various details can be taken as a single characterization, applicable to all the actors in the passage. The sense of unnaturalness is not as strong in this text, nor is there such an extreme emphasis on mental qualities. Nonetheless, the passage displays two of the traits which figure prominently in the Pro Sulla passage above. It denies that the culprits can be placed in any known social category, and it isolates them from all of creation:

Bellum inexpiabile infert quattuor consulibus unus omnium latronum taeterrimus; gerit idem bellum cum senatu populoque Romano; omnibus—quamquam ruit ipse suis cladibus—pestem, vastitatem, cruciatum, tormenta denuntiat: Dolabellae ferum et immane facinus quod nulla barbaria posset agnoscere, id suo consilio factum esse testatur; quaeque esset facturus in hac urbe, nisi eum hic ipse Iuppiter ab hoc templo atque moenibus reppulisset, declaravit in Parmensium calamitate, quos optimos viros honestissimosque homines, maxime cum auctoritate huius ordinis populique Romani dignitate coniunctos, crudelissimis exemplis interemit propudium illud et portentum, L. Antonius, insigne odium omnium hominum vel, si etiam di oderunt quos oportet, deorum.

One man, the foulest of all brigands, is waging an irreconcilable war against four consuls; at the same time, he is waging war with the senate and Roman people; he is – although he himself is rushing to his own destruction – threatening all with ruin, devastation, torture, and torments; he declares that that wild and savage deed of Dolabella’s, which no barbarian nation could have acknowledged as its own, was done on his advice; and what he would have done in this city, if this very Jupiter had not repelled him from this temple and walls, he demonstrated in the disaster which befell the inhabitants of Parma. Although they were very worthy men and a most respectable people, very closely connected with the authority of this order and the dignity of the Roman people, Lucius Antonius killed them in the cruelest way – Lucius Antonius, that vile wretch and monster, the special object of the hatred of all men, or of the gods, if the gods also hate whom they ought.


The text has no explicit animal comparison, though the idea of bestiality is evoked through the use of ferus and immanis, adjectives which we have seen coupled with wild animals again and again in this chapter. Despite the absence of a comparison, I include this passage because it so perfectly illustrates the commonplace explained by Cicero in the De Inventione. The cause of his complaint here, as ever, is violence perpetrated against social bonds. The miscreants have inflicted war and murder on their fellow citizens and also on Roman allies. Cicero especially emphasizes the violation of social bonds when he mentions the fate of the inhabitants of Parma, whom he describes as very closely connected with the Roman people; when Lucius Antonius slaughtered them, he both failed to honor the connection and extinguished it. If dealing with a crime such as this, the De Inventione recommends that the orator portray the deed as something that not even audacious men, wild men, barbarians, or beasts would do. At one point in the Philippics passage, Cicero fulfills these directions to the word, declaring that no barbarian would have done what Dolabella did. Moreover, he follows the practice advised by the De Inventione in that he compares the wrongdoers to a number of different beings, each epitomizing the dangerous outcast. As I said before, ferus and immanis associate the villains with wild animals. In the first sentence, Antony is the one foulest brigand of all brigands everywhere. In the last sentence, Lucius Antonius is a portent or monster, portentum. Thus, Cicero reels through a list of possible labels, each representing a different kind of individual, but all falling under the general category of “hostile outsider”. However, by refusing to settle on any one of them, Cicero signals that none of them are sufficient for summing up Antony and his partners in crime.

In the Pro Sulla, Cicero implies through his portrayal of the conspirators’ personal traits that their mental processes did not conform to any known pattern of thought, nor their behavior to any known pattern of behavior. Here in the Philippics, Cicero does not focus on mental composition; rather, he explicitly introduces common models of behavior, only to reject each of them as not wholly appropriate for describing the men and activities under discussion. Cicero therefore takes a slightly different approach in each context, but the result is the same in both: he makes it clear that his foes are unique entities, roughly comparable to other violently antisocial outcasts, but ultimately unlike and worse than any of them. It is probably no accident in the Philippics paragraph that Cicero employs portentum last, since, as I pointed out above, the word denotes singularity and unnaturalness, and therefore comes closest to the idea that he is trying to convey.

This depiction of Antony and company is isolating in itself, because it portrays them as an oddity in nature, and a harmful one. An audience might assume that such terrible, irregular people must be enemies, not only to a certain state, but to all of mankind and, indeed, to everything good and natural. Cicero, however, leaves nothing to chance and spells it out for his listeners. At the very beginning of the paragraph, he states that Antony is the foe of the Roman consuls, senate, and people, thus ranging all of Roman society against Antony. He broadens the scope of Antony’s isolation at the end of the passage, calling Lucius Antonius an object of hatred for all humans everywhere and even for the gods. In this way, Cicero has once again amplified the impact and wickedness of his targets’ deeds, and simultaneously magnified their solitary state. He moves from the Romans to all mankind to the gods themselves, so that, when he is done, the wrongdoers seem alone in, at odds with, and despised by the entire natural world. Not even a beast could merit such loathing.

Tyrants

Republican orators frequently leveled accusations of kingship or tyranny against their opponents. J. Roger Dunkle has traced the use of regnum, dominatio, and tyrannis in first century B.C. political invective,100 and discovered that those charges were regularly employed in combination with other terms of abuse, most notably vis, superbia, libido, and crudelitas. Dunkle’s findings are relevant to the present discussion for two major reasons. The first: as Dunkle points out, the four terms of abuse associated with charges of tyranny represent stereotyped personal traits. The Romans did attack the political repressiveness of particular actions, but, in the process, they also assigned to the would-be tyrant certain mental attributes and modes of behavior, felt to be characteristic of all tyrants. Dunkle argues that, when they did so, they were drawing upon the stock type of the tyrant, imported into Rome via adaptations of Greek tragedy. The Romans had their own tradition of king-hating; thus, Roman politicians traditionally alleged kingship against their rivals. With the advent of Greek tragedy, the Greek tyrant soon melded with the Roman king, becoming one stereotype in the Roman mind. Orators then utilized this widely recognized model in order to add interest and impact to their accusations: they could now imbue their target with a colorfully evil personality, to reflect his evil pursuit of dominion.

It is not entirely clear to me that the Romans did borrow the type of the wicked king from the Greeks. In my own exploration of Roman invective, I have discussed other passages which make no mention of tyranny, and yet make it a point to depict the intrinsic immorality of the man charged with immoral deeds. Whether or not the Romans owed the Greeks for the standard list of tyrannical vices, what matters here is the fact that the technique employed with regard to tyrants corresponds to the one we have seen elsewhere. The speaker matches personal quality to the crime, in order to make his allegations more convincing, and to further his greater goal, which is to isolate his opponent by portraying him as an enemy to society.

Dunkle’s second relevant finding is this: he identifies vis as a defining characteristic of the tyrant. He maintains, probably correctly, that vis “denotes the force which the tyrant must employ to gain and hold power”.101 This is precisely the sort of violence that we would expect the Romans to view as illegitimate and therefore befitting only an animal – as indeed they must have, since vis in connection with a charge of tyranny serves as a term of abuse. The tyrant applies force not in self-defense or in defense of the state, but as a completely selfish offensive maneuver, designed to elevate him above others. In doing so, he disregards the bonds and obligations which exist between himself and his fellow citizens, he severs the bonds which exist between his murder victims and others, and he abolishes the constitution which binds everyone together into a unified social entity.

In other passages which create a personality to complement a violent deed, we have seen that animals play a part in that characterization. The deed itself is something that only an animal would do, or something that even they would not do; accordingly the person who does such a thing is intrinsically inhuman, at least from a normative standpoint. We might expect, then, to see wild animal comparisons in texts that evoke the tyrant, since that discourse places emphasis on both personality and violence. Sure enough, Dunkle, in a later article, notes that saevitia, “savagery”, also came to be associated with the unjust king. 102 He recognizes that saevitia properly refers to the ferocity of savage animals, and only metaphorically to the cruelty of humans. He suggests that the word was considered suitable to describe a tyrant, because tyrants were regarded as more animal than human. To support this contention, he cites comparisons between tyrants and beasts. He never explains, however, why tyrants were compared to animals to begin with. James May, in his article about wild animal comparisons in Ciceronian oratory, also recognizes that tyrants are sometimes portrayed as beasts, and he does propose an explanation. 103 He argues that wild animal comparisons, including those involving tyrants, signal that the target assaults the community; this activity is the exact opposite of correct human behavior, which lies in promoting the human community through speech and reason, and thus represents a falling away from humanity and human society. Wild animal comparisons reflect this perceived loss of humanity. May’s conclusions are very similar to my own, although he does not consider how ideas about nature play a role in this discourse. I will now explore the connection between tyrants and beasts in light of my own findings in this chapter, and show precisely what bestial assaults on the community consist of, and why such assaults prompt Cicero to place tyrants in the same natural category as wild animals.
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Re: The Measure of All Things: Natural Hierarchy in Roman Re

Postby admin » Thu Oct 03, 2019 3:51 am

Part 4 of 4

I will examine two texts in which Cicero likens tyrants to wild animals. I chose them because I found them to be the most illuminating of the available tyrant-animal comparisons, and the most explicit in their reasoning. Both come from philosophical works, which might require some justification in a study devoted to invective. Despite the fact that they belong to Cicero’s philosophical oeuvre, the ideas expressed in them are not unique. With regard to Cicero himself, Dunkle observes that the use of stock rhetorical terms in the invective of tyranny is not peculiar to Cicero.104 He posits that invective employing the type of the tyrant was characteristic of the period, and collects evidence from other authors to prove it. With regard to the philosophical context, although these passages do not technically qualify as invective, nonetheless they closely resemble the invective passages we have already seen, showing the same form and relying upon the same assumptions. Cicero might not be attacking a particular person here, but he is explaining why tyranny is such an objectionable form of rule. To that extent, he is inveighing against the tyrant as such, portraying the whole category in the worst possible light. That may explain why the passages are so similar to invective passages; moreover, Cicero’s political theory was probably influenced by the same stereotypes and generalizations which informed invective tropes. These two texts are unusually revealing precisely because of their theoretical character: instead of twisting real life particulars to fit the tyrant’s mold, as he would in invective, Cicero here distills and presents generalizations about tyrants per se.

Most importantly, for our purposes, the following passages betray the same understanding of natural categories that I have been tracing throughout this chapter. A tyrant holds a status equal to that of a wild animal, because, like a wild animal, he perpetrates violence contrary to the interests of society. May holds that assaults upon the community prompt comparisons between tyrants and wild animals; I will now demonstrate that such assaults consist specifically of antisocial acts of violence. Thus, tyrant-wild animal comparisons have exactly the same basis as all the other comparisons I have discussed. May does not consider whether tyrants were thought to be naturally bestial. Here again, I maintain that tyrant-wild animal comparisons operate on the same assumptions that drive all animal comparisons: like other kinds of criminal, tyrants do not constitute a distinct type of human, born with a natural inclination to behave like animals. Rather, they display the capacity for unnatural behavior which exists in all humans. This way of thinking is especially clear in De Re Publica 2.48, which, incidentally, could also serve as a textbook example of the commonplace described in the De Inventione:

Simul atque enim se inflexit hic rex in dominatum iniustiorem, fit continuo tyrannus, quo neque taetrius neque foedius nec dis hominibusque invisius animal ullum cogitari potest; qui quamquam figura est hominis, morum tamen inmanitate vastissimas vincit beluas. Quis enim hunc hominem rite dixerit, qui sibi cum suis civibus, qui denique cum omni hominum genere nullam iuris communionem, nullam humanitatis societatem velit?

As soon as this king has turned to a mastery less just, he immediately becomes a tyrant, and no being can be considered more foul, more horrible, more hateful to gods and man than the tyrant; although he has the form of a human, nevertheless he surpasses the most monstrous beasts in the savagery of his character. For who will rightly call this man a human, who wishes no community of justice, no association of humanity with his fellow citizens, and finally with the entire human race?


In De Inventione 1.103 and other passages I have discussed, Cicero listed specific crimes, and left it to the audience to recognize why that crime was incompatible with humanity. Here, he does not give a particular crime, but actually provides the underlying rationale, the reason why each of the tyrant’s many crimes strip him of human status. Once again, the pertinent feature of any action, the one aspect that all the tyrant’s inhuman deeds have in common, is the violation of social connections. Cicero maintains that tyrants display this antisocial tendency in its most extreme form, since they desire absolutely no community of justice, absolutely no association of humanity with anybody. When he excludes tyrants from the human race on those grounds, he assumes, as he does in his other wild animal comparisons, that there is at least one natural criterion which must be met for a person to qualify as a human being: living in the company of and in cooperation with other human beings. This social lifestyle requires that a person make rational decisions in his interactions with others, at all times following the laws and customs which govern such interactions. The inclusion of ius, “justice” or “law”, in his definition of the essential human quality shows the great emphasis Cicero places on law in the proper ordering of human affairs – an emphasis which we encountered in the Pro Sestio. The laws, both written and unwritten, represent the rules and procedures men have established among themselves by mutual accord, in order to regulate human conduct, and thus enable non-violent, mutually beneficial intercourse. A person who does not obey the dictates of the law does not uphold, indeed he hinders, human association, and so he does not act like a human. A person who willfully chooses not to obey the law, and thus enjoy the fellowship of other humans, does not think like a proper human. Nature itself has implanted in men the impulse to congregate with one another; to deny that impulse is to deviate from nature’s plan for the human animal.

Cicero explicitly assumes that tyrants act in a manner contrary to the interests of human society, disregarding and severing the ties that bind that society together. The assumption that tyrants accomplish this though violence is implicit, both in their alleged disregard for law, and in the very word tyrannus, which would have evoked a whole set of typical associations, including vis. Therefore, the circumstance which normally prompts wild animal comparisons, violence against social connections, prompts this one, as well. The comparison signals that the tyrant’s antisocial use of force has removed him from the category “human”, and placed him in the category “hostile outsider”, along with wild animals, who naturally inhabit that category.

The way that Cicero expresses this particular comparison puts emphasis on the animal savagery of the tyrant’s own character, not just the character of his actions. This approach is in keeping with the overall aim of the passage, which is to show that the tyrant is intrinsically inhuman in the normative sense, because he does not display the traits which nature intends for humans to display. However, the text makes it clear that he is no animal either, at least, not any fashioned by nature. Cicero, as he himself recommends in the De Inventione, claims that the tyrant surpasses beasts in savagery, which means that his disposition is not, in fact, like an animal’s. He also has a human form, which no real animal has. Moreover, the use of velit, “wishes” or “wants”, to describe the tyrant’s state of mind places the blame for his conduct on his own perverse desires, rather than natural impulses, such as those that direct animal behavior. This may reflect the idea that man’s capacity for choice has given him a capacity for unnatural choices and actions. Whatever the explanation for his deviance, one detail, especially, marks the tyrant as a singular entity, one outside of any known category: no other being is more hateful to both gods and men. The tyrant is so uniquely foul that he commands a unique hatred, beyond what an animal could inspire.

The same detail also serves the overall goal of invective, the one we have seen in action over and over again: to completely isolate the target. This particular example, like all the others, isolates the target not just from Roman society, not just from human society, but from all of nature, so that even the gods are opposed to him. What is different about this passage is the fact that Cicero does not build up to that point, amplifying the consequences of a single crime until it seems like a crime against all of humanity and nature. He just assumes from the beginning that a tyrant, by his very existence, assaults the foundation of society and offends the gods. This is due in large part, no doubt, to the virulence of the tyrant stereotype, which casts the tyrant as the perpetrator of the worst crimes imaginable, and the possessor of the worst character imaginable. However, when he says that a tyrant does not wish for any association of humanity, he does reveal an underlying rationale for the extreme portrayal. A man who violently elevates himself above his fellow citizens simultaneously, and irrevocably, separates himself from them, thereby precluding true human union. He can never again meet anyone as an equal, never again meet anyone without violence or the possibility of violence marring the interaction. A man who actually wants to live like that, without human fellowship, threatening violence to everyone he encounters, must be an enemy of all of humanity.

The next passage, like the one above, takes it for granted that the tyrant is an unnatural isolate and an enemy to the whole human race. Its emphasis differs, though. In this text, Cicero does comment on the status and character of the tyrant, but he is more concerned with proposing a punishment which suits that status and character:

Nulla est enim societas nobis cum tyrannis, et potius summa distractio est, neque est contra naturam spoliare eum, si possis, quem est honestum necare, atque hoc omne genus pestiferum atque impium ex hominum communitate exterminandum est. Etenim, ut membra quaedam amputantur, si et ipsa sanguine et tamquam spiritu carere coeperunt et nocent reliquis partibus corporis, sic ista in figura hominis feritas et immanitas beluae a communi tamquam humanitatis corpore segreganda est. (De Off. 3.32)

We have no association with tyrants, but rather the greatest discord. It is not against nature to rob, if you can, the man whom it is honorable to kill, and this entire pestilential and impious race must be exterminated from the community of mankind. For, just as certain limbs are amputated, if they themselves begin to lack blood and the breath of life, so to speak, and harm the other parts of the body, thus that wildness and savagery of a beast, clothed in human form, must be removed from what may be called the common body of humanity.


The reason for the wild animal comparison is the standard one: the culprit harms human society. Indeed, the word “harm”, nocent, makes that point clear. As usual, Cicero attributes the feritas and immanitas of a beast to the wrongdoer. He does not say, as he sometimes does, that the criminal surpasses the beasts in savagery, though he includes another familiar detail: the bestial criminal has a human appearance. Taken together, the animal-like ferocity and the human appearance form an impossible combination of features, a conglomerate entity that is neither human nor animal. Cicero is not suggesting, then, that the tyrant is a naturally animal-like human, but rather another type of creature altogether, and an unnatural one. The phrase contra naturam plainly indicates that natural and unnatural behavior is in fact under discussion. Granted, the contra naturam does not apply directly to the tyrant, but to actions taken with regard to him; nevertheless, the remark has implications for how we are to understand the figure of the tyrant. It is not against nature to rob or kill the tyrant. The reason: no association or social bond, societas, subsists between a human and a tyrant, any more than one subsists between a human and a wild animal. Therefore, no social obligation is violated if the tyrant is harmed in any way. This reasoning presupposes an idea whose ramifications I have traced throughout this chapter: social bonds and obligations exist by nature; thus, violating them normally constitutes an act contrary to nature. By an extension of logic, the tyrant’s deeds and the tyrant himself must be regarded as unnatural, since he violates all the bonds between himself and his fellow humans, thereby nullifying them. Perhaps this is another reason why murdering a tyrant is not contrary to nature: killing an unnatural creature removes it from nature, where it does not belong, anyway. We have already seen a similar thought expressed in Pro Roscio 71, where Cicero claims that a parricide’s execution is meant to eliminate all contact between that unnatural man and nature.

Although Cicero does not say, as explicitly as he does in the Pro Roscio, that an unnatural man must be removed from nature, he does assert, in no uncertain terms, that an outcast must be removed from society. The entire passage brims with vocabulary that emphasizes the tyrant’s separateness. The animal comparison achieves that goal, as well as the word distractio, which Cicero employs as an antonym for societas, in order to describe what exists between a tyrant and everyone else. He also uses words which refer to physical removal: exterminandum est, amputantur, segreganda est. These serve a dual purpose: they convey the tyrant’s intrinsic apartness, and they propose that his outsider status be actualized by physically ejecting him from the body politic, in the most extreme and permanent manner available.

I have discussed other passages which advocate the official expulsion of some citizen from the Roman state. In each case, Cicero depicts the wrongdoer as someone who has made himself an outsider by his own deeds and inclinations. Cicero’s argument inevitably leads the audience to one conclusion: a conviction and loss of civil standing would only reflect and formalize the culprit’s natural status – that is, the status he has already earned for himself through his actions toward the human community. Cicero’s comments about tyrants follow this pattern. He maintains that tyrants, who have cut themselves off from society, should be literally, physically cut off from society. The only unusual feature in his discussion of tyrants is the fact that he does not insist upon legal process, but allows for murder as a legitimate means of securing the tyrant’s elimination. Even this detail, however, can be explained with reference to the idea that underlies his entire invective strategy: the punishment should fit the crime, or, to put it another way, the formal status should match the natural status. Cicero asserts that the tyrant is an enemy to the whole human race; accordingly, he should suffer a change in standing that will forever detach him from the whole human race, and only death can accomplish that. Subjecting him to legal process would enable him to escape into exile, where he would trouble another state. Moreover, granting him due process would itself be inconsistent with the outcast status which he deserves. Since he himself has severed every social tie and relinquished every social claim, nobody owes him due process – any more than they would owe due process to a ravening lion in their midst.105

Summary

None of the invective passages I have examined, whether they deal with private malefactors, public enemies, or tyrants, suggest that the person under discussion is innately, naturally animal-like. In fact, Cicero does not deploy animal comparisons for the sole purpose of assimilating man to animal, but for a larger purpose. Wild animal comparisons ultimately serve the same overall goal as any invective trope: they isolate the target by portraying him as a hostile outsider. They usually function by establishing that the culprit engages in behavior analogous to that of wild animals, and thus occupies the same social category as wild animals. Since wild animals were considered to be enemy outcasts by nature, placing a man in that category classified him, too, as an enemy outcast. However, the comparisons do not precisely align the wrongdoer’s conduct and character with those of animals, maintaining instead that he surpasses them in savagery. The comparisons thereby aid in depicting the target as someone who warrants the extreme punishment and status downgrade proposed by the speaker. This strategy assumes that all creatures, man and animal alike, possess a natural status, determined by their role within and actions toward human society. For animals, their station within both nature and society is fixed. In the case of humans, a man’s natural status, earned through his own deeds and moral worth, can be separate from and at variance with his formal social status, though the two should ideally coincide – or be made to coincide, if they differ.

While a person may act like an animal, and therefore become an enemy of society like an animal, no one possesses intrinsic animal qualities, implanted in him by nature. This belief underlies Cicero’s portrayal of criminal humans, allowing him to claim, not that they are naturally bestial, through no fault of their own, but that they are worse than any beast, of their own inclination. This element of Cicero’s invective practice is consistent with the idea that a wrongdoer’s deviance arises from his human capacity for unnaturalness. Because humans possess reasoning capabilities, they also possess free will, which enables them to either obey the dictates of right reason and engage in natural behavior, or to stray from those dictates and engage in unnatural behavior. Each man’s own personal nature is therefore wholly his own, to develop or pervert as he decides. Thus, even the most depraved people are human in the strict sense. If they did not have the defining human attribute, reason, they could not be depraved. However, since these people choose to depart from the natural standard of humanity, perpetrating unsociable and inhumane acts, they are not humans as nature intends them to be. They are not exactly animals, either. Rather, they are something else altogether, something indefinable and outside nature.

Conclusions

In the course of this chapter, we have seen wild animal comparisons used in connection with great-souled men, audacious men, primitive men, barbarians, brigands, monsters, a demagogue, a demagogue-killer, a gang leader, a parricide, a corrupt magistrate, a corrupt prosecutor, conspirators, tyrants, a tyrannical general, and the general’s henchmen. In each instance, the basis of comparison between man and beast is violence, specifically violence which damages social bonds in some way, and so acts contrary to the interests of society. The passages I have examined place just as much or more emphasis on the social disruption as on the violence. This emphasis in wild animal comparisons reflects the Roman definition of a wild animal: an asocial being, living outside of and at variance with the human community.

I noted at the beginning of the chapter that the ancients expressed admiration for the battle prowess and physical courage displayed by wild animals; as Plutarch’s interlocutor, Gryllus, points out, authors often extolled the prowess and courage of human warriors by comparing them to animals. To my knowledge, however, there are no such comparisons in Roman republican literature. Certainly, late republican texts always employ animal comparisons to criticize elite men, never to praise them. Although the use of force was sometimes necessary and even laudable, wild animals were apparently not an acceptable model for the correct use of force. I propose that the reason for this lies in the perception that wild animals are self-serving loners, opposed to the well-being of the human community. This view meant that wild animals carried undesirable associations, because they evoked a kind of violence that was too uncontrolled, too individualistic, too self-willed and self-serving to be consistent with the republican ethos. Accordingly, antisocial violence, not violence itself, was usually the criterion for establishing a likeness between man and beast. For all those miscreants who met this qualification, and were thus subsumed under the category “wild animal”, the designation did not signify only that they were practitioners of violence. It also marked them as enemies to human society.

In the previous chapter, I explored a similar phenomenon, wherein various types of human were assimilated to a single, supposedly natural class, on the basis of a certain activity – although the class under discussion was “herd animal” rather than “wild animal”. I have now shown the underlying rationale is the same, whether texts liken a person to a herd animal or a wild animal. Herd animals and wild animals each constitute a natural category of being, defined by their function within the human community, especially their degree of usefulness or harmfulness to that community. These natural categories are also social categories, since they indicate the occupants’ relation to human society. Because humans are subject to the same universal standard of value – utility to the human community – they can belong to the same natural category as an animal, and thus hold the same social status, if they benefit or hurt society in a similar way. This explains why persons with different jobs and legal status can be lumped together in the same natural class: even if they do not formally hold that rank, they can be understood to hold it, if they meet the natural criterion for that position. Natural distinctions can therefore be separate from and transcend legal distinctions. For example, free wage-earners and plebs, as well as legal slaves, are regularly assimilated to the category “herd animal and slave”, because they labor for the enrichment of others. Likewise, Cicero relegates various men of various statuses to the rank “wild animal and dangerous outsider”, because they all disrupt social bonds in one way or another.

My examination of herd animal comparisons revealed certain tensions inherent in the Romans’ “natural” method of reckoning status. The same tensions surface in texts utilizing wild animal comparisons. I have already touched upon one source of tension: formal and natural status do not always align, although the Romans certainly thought that they should. That is to say, a person might naturally deserve a certain rank, due to his services or disservices to the state, yet legally possess another; conversely, he might possess a certain legal rank, yet find himself playing a role or suffering circumstances inconsistent with that standing. Free men, for example, like wage-earners and plebs, can find themselves in a servile position, doing the work rightly reserved for slaves and herd animals; some criminals, who have placed themselves outside the bounds of human union, like a wild animal, nonetheless live unpunished among their fellow citizens, their civil standing intact.

Another kind of mismatch provides the second source of tension: innate worth and social worth do not always align. Although legal class divisions were based on other criteria, especially wealth and occupation, Roman texts reveal a conviction that formal rank reflects, or should reflect, a person’s intrinsic quality. This belief is especially apparent in the assumption that free men are better than slaves. We have also encountered the idea that criminals and other people who subsist outside the bonds of human society, such as primitive men and barbarians, must be innately deviant. There are other manifestations of this impulse to fit character to status, which I have not touched upon in this work. Cicero, for example, often expresses the belief that the ruling elite are inherently superior to the plebs. Despite this tendency to distinguish between types of people according to social station, Roman class discourse was fraught with difficulty, inconsistency, and conflict, precisely because human capacity and behavior does not always correspond to class expectations, and the Romans knew it. They recognized, for instance, that free men could think and act like slaves, or slaves like free men. They also recognized that even men of the most exalted position could be truly lowly, possessing loathsome minds and committing vile deeds.

The Roman preoccupation with correcting status reveals a desire for fairness in status distribution. In the idea of a natural criterion of value, they found a divinely sanctioned standard for measuring social worth, and thus for determining standing and privilege. For the most part, this way of thinking probably, conveniently, served to reinforce the existing state of affairs. A Roman, however, might have seen it as a mandate and a means to place each person where he truly belonged, according to his own deserts and nature’s ordinance. They were clearly willing to make adjustments in individual cases, where it seemed to be called for, in order to fulfill the ideal of a naturally ordered social hierarchy – by manumitting worthy slaves, for example, expelling convicted criminals from the state, or ceding rights to the plebs.

However, the very fact that adjustments had to be made points to the inherent difficulties in realizing a perfectly, naturally ordered state. As I just observed, Roman texts indicate two potential points of discrepancy: that between actual merit and formal status, and that between inner quality and outward circumstances. Because they were points of discrepancy, thus they were points for potential conflict. Status was contestable where such a discrepancy was felt to exist. These challenges to the status quo reveal the limitations of the Roman discourse of natural class. The notion of a natural standard of worth justified the class distinctions themselves, but other problems had to be resolved in order for individual status assignments and the system as a whole to be regarded as legitimate. Perhaps it was possible to quantify a person’s economic value to society based on his wealth and occupation, but how was society to measure his innate capacity and character? Or ensure that he had an occupation and status suited to his capacity and character? Even if everyone did, in fact, possess the social standing that was most appropriate to both his deeds and his intrinsic quality, precisely what rights, privileges, and treatment were due to each order of society? Nature, as the Romans understood it, does not seem to have provided answers to these questions, in part because they did not take a wholly teleological view of the human race. They did not believe that nature had created separate subspecies of human, each designed to fulfill a certain function. Therefore, they had no theoretical discourse which delineated the different human types, formulated a mechanism for recognizing them, prescribed what rank each was to occupy, and described the rights owed to each rank. In the absence of such an ideology, there was no compelling reason to accept formal status designations in every instance; thus, there was always scope for dissent.

If the Romans did not think that nature differentiated between types of people, then how could they think, as they obviously did, that some people were intrinsically better or worse, more or less human than others? Answering that question would require a complete survey of contemporary psychological theory, which I will not undertake here. In this chapter, however, we encountered one possible model for understanding human psychology, which was apparently popular enough for Cicero to use in his oratory, and which allows for a broad spectrum of human behavior, ranging from brutish and servile to bestial and savage. This model is expressed most explicitly in the De Officiis and Pro Sestio, where Cicero portrays human beings as a kind of wild animal, but one that can and must be tamed by reason. The metaphor of the fierce, but trainable, human beast encapsulates both human capacities: the capacity for antisocial, inhumane violence, and the capacity for serviceable obedience. According to the De Officiis and Pro Sestio, reason is supposed to quell the former and encourage the latter. Other texts, however, give the impression that it was possible to go too far in either direction. In the previous chapter, I discussed passages in popular rhetoric that urge the plebs not to submit, like herd animals, but to fight back. These exhortations assume that human behavior can encompass an extreme of docility and tameness that is more appropriate to domestic animals than people. This chapter has dealt with human conduct that extends to the opposite extreme. Cicero’s comments about primitive men and criminals reveal a conviction that excessive force, applied for the wrong reasons, is inconsistent with humanity and undermines the very foundations of society.

The Romans seem to have regarded both halves of the human condition as needful, since circumstances sometimes call for obedience, sometimes for violence. A truly human mental state strikes a balance between the two poles. It is also, therefore, a state of constant tension, wherein reason competes with opposing impulses in an effort to hold the middle ground. A man must be able to draw upon both elements of his character, as reason dictates, without ever slipping all the way to either end of the behavioral scale. Although Roman authors seem to have viewed correct, properly moderated human conduct as something that must be learned, and as something that is difficult to maintain, they nevertheless viewed it as a universal norm established by nature. They were therefore not inclined to admit any good excuse for deviating from it.

I have concluded in the course of this chapter that deviation from nature, not nature itself, was believed to be responsible for unacceptable human activity. Such behavior could veer to extremes of servility or savagery, and these extremes were associated with herd animals and wild animals, respectively; despite that, servile and criminal personalities were not regarded as truly animal modes of thought and conduct. No thinking, talking slave, no matter how resigned to his servitude, acted like a herd animal, and stereotypes attributed qualities to slaves which are simply not found in animals. Likewise, human wrongdoers committed crimes which no beast would ever perpetrate. The association between animal and human characteristics was just that: a loose association suggested by the analogy between animal and human activities. Throughout this work, I have shown how human roles are conflated with those of animals in Roman texts; accordingly, authors often use animal imagery in discussions about status. Since they tend to align personal quality with status, it is unsurprising that, when they talk about status in animal terms, they also use animal vocabulary to describe the corresponding personal qualities. Thus, the habit of assigning bestial traits to people is an extension of the conceptual and linguistic entanglement between man and animal that marks all class discourse. While it is true that writers give some people the exact same social standing as an animal, their allegations of animal personality are more metaphorical. We have seen that they sometimes call someone a human and an animal in a single sentence. They were able to do this because they recognized that a person in any situation, performing any deed, no matter how lowly and bestial, was still fundamentally and intrinsically human, with all the potential strengths and weaknesses that implies. When people did not live up to human standards, natural, animal inclinations were not to blame, but rather, mankind’s peculiar capacity for unnaturalness.

The matter can also be expressed in terms of the distinction which I have drawn throughout this chapter: that between descriptive and normative uses of “human”. In the descriptive sense, everyone was believed to be fully human, because everyone possesses reason, as well as other distinctively human traits and capabilities. In the normative sense, some people were seen as more or less human than others, due to the supposed existence of a natural standard or norm of human behavior. By this method of reckoning humanity, those who adhered more closely to the norm in their manner of life were more truly human, because they lived as nature means for a human to live. It was this normative interpretation of humanity that allowed for a certain measure of class specificity in the discourse of human nature. Certain classes of people performed activities that were considered to be naturally unbefitting a human in some way. Thus, there was a tendency to assume that the personal character of those people deviated from the human norm in a corresponding or analogous way. This was true even for individuals who were compelled to engage in such activities through no fault of their own, like slaves and wage-earners.

The normative model for measuring a person’s humanity supported the denigration of certain social classes and the exaltation of others, but it did not do so convincingly enough to prevent civil discord. I have noted that there was always scope for dissent where social status was concerned. The final years of the Republic, the time period with which this work has concerned itself, seem to have been rife with such dissent. I have said that these disagreements arose whenever there was a perceived disjunction between formal status and intrinsic merit, and that they were frequent, due in part to the fact that the Romans did not take a teleological view of human nature. Because they did not have an established discourse which held that people had been formed by nature for their particular social roles, there was no compelling reason to believe that every individual was settled in the station where he belonged, enjoying the advantages or disadvantages which he deserved.

I will now go a step further and claim that, so far from subscribing to the notion of naturally differentiated human types, Roman authors take an almost egalitarian stance on human nature. Although the normative view of humanity worked with the utility-based assessment scheme of natural status, justifying the elevation of some humans at the expense of others, both notions coexisted with a descriptive understanding of “human” and “humanity”. The descriptive sense of “humanity” was the result and manifestation of the idea that every person, no matter how lowly, is born with human capabilities, and thus the potential to attain to the natural human norm. Therefore, as far as innate endowments are concerned, everyone basically starts with a more or less equal chance of realizing the norm in their own life and person. Circumstance and personal inclination determine how close an individual actually comes to meeting this natural goal. Observation informed the Romans that socio-economic class was, in fact, a far from perfect predictor of who would or would not fulfill their human potential, and so become a virtuous, useful, and deserving human being. Herein lies the source of the dissent and dissatisfaction which I discussed previously, and the consequent challenges to the status quo. Bitter class conflict was, perhaps, the inevitable outgrowth of the clash between two prominent aspects of Roman culture: a relatively egalitarian view of human nature, and a socio-political system that imposed low status and social disadvantages on large groups of people. Although the Romans tried to reconcile the two, they were essentially incompatible concepts.

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Notes:

78 See Dyck (1996) for a more philosophically-oriented commentary on the De Officiis. He discusses Cicero’s sources, Cicero’s own role in shaping and adding to the material inherited from Panaetius, and how the various views expressed in the De Officiis relate to Stoic theory. In preparing this chapter, I consulted Dyck’s commentary myself, though it did not significantly affect my interpretation of the pertinent passages. Because his focus is very different from my own, his comments are mostly irrelevant to the present study.

79 On the superiority of animals in Greek and Roman literature, see Lovejoy and Boas (1935) 389-420, which provides an overview of the relevant passages.

80 For Roman attitudes toward violent self-help and its place within the laws and constitution, see Lintott (1968).

81 Bannier, TLL s.v. feritas. See 6.1.519.10-70 for feritas used of beasts, where the word denotes “the nature of a wild animal of the field or forest”: natura ferae agrestis vel silvestris (6.1.519.10). See 6.1.519.71-520.71 for feritas used of humans, where the word denotes “a way of life or of conduct similar to the conduct of wild animals”: vitae, morum consuetudo consimilis moribus ferarum (6.1.519.71).

82 Labhardt, TLL s.v. immanitas. See 7.1.442.9-44 for immanitas used of animate creatures, both human and animal, where the word denotes savagery, inhumanity, or cruelty: saevitia, inhumanitas, crudelitas (7.1.442.9).

83 Bannier, TLL 5.2.201.27-71 s.v. effreno.

84 =Malcovati (1953) 68.1, pgs. 262-263.

85 See Kaster (2006) 1-41 for the background of the Pro Sestio and an analysis of Cicero’s defense strategy.

86 For this interpretation of the lex Plautia de vi, see Lintott (1968) 107-24 and Riggsby (1999) 79-84.

87 Kaster (2006) 310, commenting on Pro Sestio 92, suggests the translation “distinctively human qualities” for humanitas, literally “the quality of being human”. I have adopted Kaster’s translation because it emphasizes the fact that Cicero is ranging uniquely humans traits on one side, against bestial traits on the other. Kaster has anticipated me in this observation. He writes: “If the life proper to humanitas is to law as the ‘monstrous’ (immanis) way of life is to violence – the homology implied here – it should in principle be possible to map that correspondence onto the distinction drawn just above, between knowing ‘justice and mildness’ and being in a ‘bestial state’ (ecferitas): ‘the quality of being human’, the law, and ‘justice and mildness’ would then all occupy one side of the division, and ‘justice and mildness’ would by implication be essential – natural – traits of ‘being human’, as opposed to the ‘monstrous’ and ‘bestial’ violence on the other side.”

88 Bömer, TLL s.v. mansuetudo. See 8.0.328.54-67 for mansuetudo in its strict sense, where the word denotes “the condition of animate beings who have been estranged from a state of wildness”: de statu animantium a feritate desuefactorum. The word is applied in this sense to wild animals which have been tamed, ferae domitae (8.0.328.56-60), and to people who have been led from an uncultivated way of life to a cultivated one, homines a vita inculta ad humanitatem perducti (8.0.328.61-67).

89 Kaster (2006) on Cicero, Pro Sestio 92, pg. 310.

90 For an overview of ancient prehistories, see especially Lovejoy and Boas (1935). For additional bibliography, see Campbell (2003), who provides commentary on Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.925-1027 (pgs. 179-283). He also supplies a table of themes found in ancient prehistories (pgs. 336-353).

91 On the isolating tendencies of Roman invective, see especially Corbeill (1996); May (1988) 51-58, 148-161; May (1996).

92 For a concise list of invective tropes, see especially Nisbet (1987) 192-197 and Craig (2004) 189-192. For a longer treatment of invective tropes, see Opelt (1965) 129-164. Each author has produced a slightly different list.

93 On comparisons between man and animal in Roman invective, see especially Fantham (1972) 132-133, Opelt (1965) 143-145, Corbeill (1996) 85-95, and May (1996). Fantham merely notes that animal imagery can serve as a form of abuse in Ciceronian oratory, and cites some relevant passages. Opelt, in addition to listing relevant passages, observes that such abuse serves as a way to portray the target as a source of danger and disruption to the state, and to devalue him by denying his humanity. Corbeill discusses only Cicero’s practice of punning on animal cognomina, an issue which I will not address here. For more on Corbeill, see notes 94 and 98 below. May conducts by far the most extensive exploration of wild animal comparisons in Ciceronian invective. He shows that Cicero characterizes adversaries as beasts or inhuman monsters in speeches throughout his career, and provides yet another useful list of such passages. He also anticipates some of my own conclusions. He maintains, for example, that Cicero’s association of man with beast is not a mere rhetorical device, but a strategy essential to his line of argumentation. This strategy reflects a belief that the faculties of ratio and oratio, reason and speech, both elevate men above the beasts and serve as a bond linking all of humanity together. Accordingly, distinctly human virtues arise from the employment of reason and speech for the good of others and the community. Conversely, when someone, through the perversion of these faculties, attacks the community of justice and fellowship of society, his own humanity is diminished. In extreme cases, the culprit’s humanity degenerates to the point that it is non-existent, and he becomes a veritable beast in human form. May might not identify violence to social bonds as the specific point of comparison between man and beast, but his “attacks on the community of justice and fellowship of society” (pg. 151) comes close. Moreover, May notes that the wrongdoer’s actions, in Cicero’s reckoning, have separated him from the community and made his elimination from the state necessary. Later, I will talk more about the isolating effect of wild animal comparisons and their role in persuading the audience to remove the target from the state. There is a major difference between my conclusions and May’s, in that he does not explore the assumptions about nature and natural status categories which govern the comparisons.

94 Scholars generally recognize that invective employs attacks on character as a means of isolating the target, and as proof of a specific charge. For ad hominem attacks as an isolating mechanism, see note 91 above; for ad hominem attacks as a form of evidence, see note 97 below. Corbeill (1996) makes the most extensive study of the role of rank in such attacks. He argues that invective, while isolating the target, simultaneously defines and affirms the values and standards of Rome’s ruling elite. According to this reading, the target’s otherness lies, at least partially, in his departure from this elite code; thus, in the process of alienating the target from all of society, invective necessarily undermines his elite standing, as well. I go a step further than Corbeill, in that I see certain invective texts as calls for formal status adjustment. Invective can fulfill this function in judicial and deliberative contexts, where the audience is being asked to take actions regarding a particular individual. In such instances, Cicero does not merely label the target as other – as un-aristocratic, un-civic, un-Roman, inhuman – because it is not enough to justify his proposed course of action. He portrays the target as an outsider who is actively hostile to society, and who must be officially cut off from the body politic. Cicero therefore aims not just to exclude the offender from the elite social category, but to show that he belongs in another category with its own defining traits.

95 Riggsby (1997) 247-248 and Craig (2004) similarly distinguish between formal, free-standing invective of the type represented by the In Pisonem, and invective deployed in judicial or deliberative contexts, such as that found in the Verrines, Catilinarians, and Philippics. They maintain that, in the former case, invective is meant to inflict humiliation and loss of prestige on the target; in the latter case, invective serves as proof of a charge, in a situation where the audience must judge a question of fact and determine a course of action. They also conclude that freestanding invective was not meant to be believed, but reduced the target’s auctoritas by the very fact that someone would make such disrespectful claims publicly. Invective employed in judicial and deliberative oratory was more constrained by plausibility, because it actually served persuasive and probative purposes. Although Riggsby and Craig both focus on the differences between the two types of invective, it seems clear to me from their analyses that both types aimed at diminishing the target’s status in some way. Free-standing invective effected the target’s informal status, whereas invective deployed in judicial and deliberative contexts, if successful in swaying the audience, could bring about a change in formal status as part of the penalty imposed on the convicted man.

96 I will shortly examine some of the wild animal comparisons in Cicero’s invective, and demonstrate that the specific point of comparison is violence against social bonds and accords. I am not the only one to have identified this feature of the comparisons, and to have recognized that it is consonant with Cicero’s larger aims and strategies. For similar conclusions, see May (1996), discussed in note 93 above, and Clark and Ruebel (1985), especially pages 61-64.

97 For character as evidence in Ciceronian oratory, and the probative value of such argumenta ex persona, see especially Berry (1996) 272-275, Craig (2004), and Riggsby (2004). Riggsby (2004) is particularly pertinent to the present discussion. He concludes that Cicero’s use of character in forensic speeches presupposes the following assumption: “Past actions are manifestations of a fixed and determining character from which one can then predict other actions in the same person” (177). Because character was thought to be both fixed and predictive of behavior, an orator could adduce character as proof of some action; conversely, an action could serve as proof of character. I maintain that wild animal comparisons are a particular application of this tactic, wherein Cicero describes both the actions and the character of the accused in corresponding ways. Thus, allegations concerning the one support allegations concerning the other. Unlike Riggsby, I also maintain that action and character are made to coincide with a certain status, as well as each other.

98 Corbeill (1996) 14-56 has also identified deviance from nature as a key theme in Republican invective. He examines jokes about physical deformities, and argues that deformities were thought to arise from inner deviance, deviance from a natural human norm. Thus, an irregular exterior was believed to reflect an evil character, and a man was held morally responsible for his own physical peculiarities. Such peculiarities could therefore serve as a target for accusations and abusive jokes. Although Corbeill does not explore how these ideas relate to animal comparisons, formal status, or natural categories, his findings support my own. We both conclude that invective texts treat irregularities in human behavior as departures from one, universal, naturally determined human standard. They do not recognize different natural standards or naturally differentiated human types. Moreover, they assume that each man is personally culpable for his own deviance.

99 On arguments from character in the Pro Roscio, see Vasaly (1985). Vasaly shows that Cicero’s defense revolves around creating recognizable dramatic personas for the principle actors in the case. In the course of pursuing this line of defense, Cicero argues that only a certain type of person would commit parricide, and proceeds to paint a very different sort of portrait of his client.

100 Dunkle (1967).

101 Dunkle (1967) 168.

102 On saevitia and beasts in association with tyrants, see Dunkle (1971), especially pages 14-15.

103 May (1996) 149-152. For more on May’s conclusions, see note 93 above.

104 Dunkle (1967) 165.

105 Clark and Ruebel (1985) hold that Cicero’s “theory of tyrannicide” was founded upon contemporary Stoic ethics and political philosophy; they claim, moreover, that Cicero developed this philosophical basis for Roman political violence in the aftermath of Milo’s trial. As part of their argument, they discuss Cicero’s habit of equating tyrants with beasts, a practice which they maintain is distinctly Stoic (pgs. 61-64). Although they successfully show that there was overlap between Cicero’s professed views and Stoic doctrine, I believe it is a mistake to conclude that Stoicism alone gave rise to Cicero’s tyrant-wild animal comparisons, as well as his espousal of tyrannicide. As I have argued above, Cicero’s comments on tyrants are perfectly consistent with ideas and rhetorical techniques which appear in speeches written throughout his lifetime. May (1996) makes the same point (pg. 153 n. 33).  
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Re: The Measure of All Things: Natural Hierarchy in Roman Re

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