Patrick J. Burns

Postdoc at the Quantitative Criticism Lab | Formerly ISAW Library | Fordham PhD, Classics | CLTK contributor

Abstract for paper delivered at Exegi Monumentum Aere Perennis: Self-promotion in the Ancient World

Classics Department of SUNY at Buffalo Graduate Student Conference October 20, 2012


As Cicero considers the earliest period of Roman oratory in Brutus, he calls attention to the laudatio—the Roman funeral speech—as a possible source for his oratorical history. He writes that evidence for Roman oratory before the mid-2nd century is virtually non-existent, but that laudationes are the exception, because, to paraphrase Cicero, they are useful reminders of a family’s past glories. (Br. 62) Scholars have long acknowledged elements of laudatio in Brutus itself. The dialogue is often read as a eulogy written for the death of oratory. For example, A.E Douglas writes that, in light of Brutus’ call for political acquiescence to Caesar in the turbulent final years of the republic, Cicero believed it was time to “write the obituary notice of Roman oratory…with an account of its infancy and growth to its glorious maturity in Hortensius and Cicero himself.” (Oxford 1966, xi.) Building on the tradition of reading Brutus as a laudatio, this paper will consider the strategies by which Cicero inserts himself into the eulogistic narrative. At the beginning of the dialogue, he positions himself as one speaking on the occasion of his contemporary Hortensius’ death, but the emphasis of the dialogue―despite self-conscious statements to the contrary―shifts to Cicero in such a way that Brutus can be read as a laudatio written by Cicero on his own behalf. He presents himself as a member of an oratorical “family” from an established oratorical “ancestry” who, when confronted with the death of his art, takes it upon himself to commit the achievements of both himself and his family to posterity.

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