Style in Sallustian Speeches:
a close look at the speeches of Caesar and Cato
Lenaeus, a freedman of Pompey and one of Sallust’s harshest critics, called him “priscorum Catonisque verborum ineruditissimum furem”, and Velleius Paterculus named him “aemulum Thucydidis”. Quintilian praised the historian for his painstaking “labor”; Gellius, for “elegantia orationis”. We think of him as a careful composer of short but sinewy monographs which display
a love of archaism and a penchant for brevitas. This characteristic Sallustian style cannot be mistaken even for that of his
greatest imitator, Tacitus, but how far does it go? Where does Sallust abandon his archaic language and condensed phrasing, and why?
One of the most the striking scenes in Sallust’s first monograph consists of the speeches of Caesar and Cato, but McGushin in
his commentary authoritatively states: “We cannot say with certainty how closely these speeches, composed in a thoroughly
Sallustian style, are related to the speeches which actually were delivered.” McGushin’s sentiment is echoed by other scholars who unanimously declare the language
of the speeches Sallustian. Now, this view is understandable, since themes and particular vocabulary found
in Sallust’s narrative also appear in these speeches. Sallustian style, however, needs a more detailed definition—for a careful reader of these speeches will find that there are lexical and other
differences from the historian’s usual narrative style. Some of these differences are shared with Sallust’s authorial statements; others are not to be seen elsewhere in Sallust except
in other speeches and letters.
A careful analysis of the frequency of specific terms and modes of expression
is necessary in order to discover exactly how the style of Caesar and Cato’s speeches differs from Sallust’s narrative. These speeches, when carefully analyzed, do not display the same traits as the
narrative but contain unusually high proportions of certain dialogical particles
such as videlicet, equidem, enim, and postpositive igitur. Furthermore, Sallust’s Caesar and Cato employ words such as severior, dignitas, mansuetudo, iracundia, and misericordia, which are seldom or never found elsewhere in Sallust and are not only particularly
resonant for contemporary Roman thought but also specifically associated
with Caesar or Cato. Through close inspection of lexical data, I will show how Sallust has altered
his style for these speeches by adopting a vocabulary suitable for presenting
a vivid image of the two great men. Clearly, though the speeches owe their expression to Sallust, they speak a language
which is foreign to his narrative and has been adopted consciously by the
author in order to paint a more compelling picture and set this scene out
from its surroundings.