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Cicero and the End of the Roman Republic.

By Thomas Wiedemann. Bristol Classical Press, London, 1994. Pp. x + 92, with 19 figures and 2 maps. Paper 6.95 [pounds sterling].

This is the second title which Thomas Wiedemann has contributed to BCP's Classical World Series, and it is good to report that it shares a number of virtues with its predecessor, The Julio-Claudian Emperors (see G&R 37 [1990], 231): it takes a strong, clear line on its subject, it is trenchantly written, and it is intelligently illustrated -- again not least with some well-chosen coin images.

Once more, W. gives us a cold-eyed view of the realities of power -- how it was won, how perceived, how contested, and how controlled. For him, `Cicero and his contemporaries may not have had the untrammelled power of the later emperors, but that did not make them any less devious and self-interested. They all had blood on their hands' (p. vi). No one's motives are beyond question: even the Younger Cato comes under scrutiny. 'In November [63 B.C.] ... Cato prosecuted Murena for electoral malpractice (he did not, however, prosecute the other successful candidate Junius Silanus, who just happened to be his brother-in-law)' (p. 45). In this world of self-seeking individualists, competing with one another for a power which was constitutionally short-term and which thus encouraged short-term aims and short-term political alliances, Cicero is firmly located as a major poliltician playing to his own peculiar strengths to get into and stay in the game.

W. begins with two chapters giving an excellent conspectus of the political and cultural milieus into which Cicero was born. We see how, in addition to warfare, oratory and scholarship had increasingly become areas in which a man might demonstrate his virtue in the competition for power. And, in a changing world needing new cultural symbols, `Cicero was perhaps better than any at realizing his personal ambitions by providing what the unification of Italy called for' (p. 13).

The ensuing chapters provide a crisp account of the last sixty years of the Republic, seen increasingly from Cicero's standpoint. W. manages to weave into his narrative all Cicero's major published writings, whether speeches or works of rhetoric or philosophy, showing how each represents a particular political moment. Thus (e.g.), not only do the Verrines reflect the conflicting power interests of the late Seventies and (in their published form) a career move against Hortensius; a work like the Tusculans, with its references to the unhappiness of the tyrant and the wisdom of Laelius in only holding one consulship, can be seen to contain coded messages about Caesar's power in the mid-forties.

W.'s Cicero, however 'devious and self-interested' he may be, has a kind of heroic persistence. The switch to philosophical writing during Caesar's political supremacy is seen, not as a sign of despair about politics, but rather as a continued challenge to Caesar in an area where he could himself claim supremacy -- and as the staking of a claim to the high ground of morality (p. 66). Likewise, W. would see Cicero as consistent in arguing for the political pluralism of the Republic and for that level playing field on which he had himself been able to compete so conspicuously.

This short book is full of good insights and neat formulations ('. . . the moral high ground was only worth occupying if everyone at Rome knew about it', p. 61) and should be enjoyed by anyone studying the period. And if the view of Republican politics contained in it is tinged with cynicism, one suspects that the national and university politics of our own era may have
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Author:McAuslan, I.
Publication:Greece & Rome
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1995
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