Judging Pompey in Cicero's Speech for Milo

Christopher P. Craig

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

In January of 52 BCE, the archenemies Milo and Clodius met by chance on the Appian Way south of Rome.  In the ensuing fracas, Clodius was wounded, and Milo ordered that he be killed.  In the subsequent rioting, the Curia was burned down. Finally, martial law was declared through the expedient of appointing Pompey as sole consul and passing the Senatus Consultum Ultimum.  Cicero's speech in defense of Milo, tried under Pompey's new law against seditious violence, is widely considered his masterpiece, despite the fact that Milo was convicted.  A key debate in the recent scholarship on pro Milone has been about the intentions that underlie the orator's depiction of Pompey in the published oration, and about the inferences that can be drawn from this depiction for the circumstances of publication.  This paper will disentangle and evaluate this debate.

The prevalent view is now that argued by A.M. Stone twenty-five years ago (Antichthon 14 [1980]: 88-111): The first part of the speech, through the treatment of the question of which of the two men, Milo or Clodius, laid the ambush for other (1-66), is a fair representation of Cicero's oral pleading.  The remainder of our text Cicero will have added before publication.  Clear evidence for this is the extra causam argument that, even if Milo had killed Clodius, he should be acquitted because of the benefit to the state (72-91).  Asconius (p. 42 C), who had seen the excepta oratio purporting to report Cicero's actual remarks, and who had access to other documents lost to us, categorically states that Cicero declined to make this argument in the spoken oration.  The other strong argument that the latter part of the speech was added after presentation and before publication is the difference between sections 1-66 and 67-105 in the treatment accorded Pompey. This is clear especially in sections 67-71, where Pompey, addressed directly, is all but accused of timidity for his groundless suspicions of Milo. Stone's explanation of the differences in substantive argument and in the treatment of Pompey is that Cicero published his revised version at a time when Pompey's sole consulship was over and the great general's popularity had plummeted.  Stone locates the first publication of the text we have between late January and May of 51.

C. Steel (Reading Cicero: Genre and Performance in Late Republican Rome [2005], 116-132) has argued forcefully against this view.  Steel maintains that the strong criticism of Pompey that others have seen in the latter part of the published speech depends upon inference rather than upon any explicit statement of censure.  Steel further argues that excessive criticism of Pompey would undercut a principal goal of the published speech:  Cicero was duty-bound loyally to defend Milo, who had had a key role in his restoration from exile in 57.  But Milo was widely perceived as a violent thug, so that Cicero's defense of him put Cicero himself in a bad light.  The published speech shows Milo's interests closely aligned with those of Pompey as well as with those of Cicero.  And those interests amount to the welfare of the republic.  Thus the published speech serves as an exoneration of all three men.

The decisive passage for evaluating these contrasting readings is at sections 67-71. With the aid of a handout, this paper will closely examine this passage to argue that Stone's position is the more persuasive, but that it is deepened and strengthened by Steel's contrary reading.  Milo's exoneration partakes of a concern for the republic which he shares with Cicero and with the idealized Pompey, precisely as Steel asserts.  But this very idealizing view, in a passage laden with transparently veiled criticism, dramatizes just how far Pompey falls short in his public role; there is exoneration, but only for Cicero and Milo.

With the aid of a handout, the paper can be effectively delivered in 15 minutes.


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