The Rhetorical Technique of Self-Blame in Cicero’s
First Catilinarian Oration

Tiffany A. Lee (University of Missouri, Columbia)

Cicero’s first oration to the Senate on the Catilinarian Conspriacy is notable for its criticism of Catiline and praise of Cicero’s own actions against Catiline’s conspiracy. In this speech, the orator intends to show the Senate that he is a shrewd and skillful guarding of the republic. The instincts honed through his rhetorical training and in his political career, however, must warn him to avoid the excessive self-praise that could be considered arrogance and would not be likely to bring support to his case. Even though he has been very successful as a politician, Cicero still is a novus homo and faces the prejudices of some senators who must see him as an interloper into the upper circles of political life in Rome. Hence, to obtain the support of the Senate, the orator must balance this desire to praise himself with a concentrated effort to show that, despite his great political accomplishments, he has not become overly proud. Cicero achieves this result by strategically including throughout the oration passages in which he blames himself for real or imagined shortcomings and failures. Through these passages, he strives to portray himself as a modest man who has struggled in deciding the best course of action during this crisis, while still giving the overall impression that he is a capable, even brilliant consul. Cicero’s use of self-blame as a method of self-praise is a recognizable technique based on standard rhetorical doctrine but refined by the orator himself is supported by evidence from Cicero’s own rhetorical works (e.g., De Oratore).

Selected Bibliography:

Fantham, Elaine. The Roman World of Cicero's De Oratore. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Kennedy, George. The Art of Rhetoric in the Roman World. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972.

May, James M. Trials of Character, The Eloquence of Ciceronian Ethos. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Paterson, J. Self-Reference in Cicero's Forensic Speeches. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Wilkins, A.S. M. Tulli Ciceronis Rhetorica vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951.

Clark, A. C. Orationes: Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993

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