There's No Place (Not) Like Home: Domestic Space and Political Identity in Cicero's de domo sua

Gillian E. McIntosh

Calvin College

In 58 B.C., Cicero fled from Rome. No sooner had he left than Clodius demolished Cicero's Palatine domus. In 57, once he had returned, Cicero delivered the de domo sua ad pontifices oratio before the high-priests of Rome; his objective was to have his house restored at public expense.

The de domo speech has received comparatively little attention.[1] It is mentioned in ancillary ways,[2] but an analysis of the speech in its own right is needed. My objective is to take seriously "The Case of The House," and think through the logic of place and person that it assumes and espouses. For there is, in this speech, a sense of equivalence—between home and self—that Cicero uses as a rhetorical opportunity, seized to effect domestic restitution, a return to health for the republic, the humiliation of his arch-rival Clodius, and, of course, legal victory.

In order to illuminate the ties between self and home as well as the broader implications involved, I address two aspects of the speech: (1) the 'real' conditions that precede the speech; (2) the symbolic aspects of the house. I conclude with observations about Cicero's underlying logic and rhetorical strategy.

(1) The conditions under which Cicero purchased his Palatine home were suspect. Furthermore, the size, location, and pedigree of the house signified a political dignitas that some might find beyond the station of a novus homo. Clodius later argued as much (vid. Ad Fam.5.6.2; Ad Att. 1.13.6; 1.16.10); and his demolition of Cicero's home bespoke a sense of space and its relation to man: by doing away with the house, he was confirming that Cicero was gone. Cicero spins this sense of equivalence to his advantage within the de domo.

(2) The 'real' conditions mobilize a symbolic relationship between Cicero and his home. To explore the implications of such symbolism, I address such questions as: what does the domus signify? What does its razing stand for? When it is gone, what supplements that emptiness? In brief, the home signifies Cicero. Cicero presents himself as the city's guardian (7), as the ultimate citizen (85), as the city's only salve (12; 17; 64), and as the father of Rome (94). With the house gone, Cicero is gone; and when Cicero is absent, Rome suffers until its guardian pater returns. Cicero's presence is important to the republic.

In lieu of Cicero, Clodius inserts himself. In lieu of the razed home, Clodius consecrates the space, and imports a shrine to Libertas. Each replacement is problematic. Clodius is demens, a man for whom Cicero must set aside the regular order of things (3; see also 18-26), a man of non-speech (3), of illegitimacy (26), of non-tribune-ship (34), an oozing pustule (12), and more. As Clodius replaces Cicero, he inverts all order (religious, political, legal, familial, and Roman: 38; 63). As for the shrine, it was imported contra religionem (109), and was not Libertas, but a pilfered prostitute from outside Rome (111). 'Freedom' is actually 'Slavery' (130-131).

Cicero sets up a tripartite subject –domus/Cicero/Rome—and posits that subject against another, inverse set – home-in-ruins/Clodius/city-in-crisis. In "The Case of the House", then, Cicero asks that we look back at his house and realize that it did not just stand there on a hill as a piece of property, but rather he wants us to understand that this structure was a stand-in that 'housed' a wealth of broader concerns of both the domestic and political sort.

[1] W. Allen (1944); B. Berg (1997).

[2] For instance: R. Saller (1984); W. Rundell (1979); W. H. Lacey (1974); S. Treggiari (1998).


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