The Pastoral Effect in Cicero’s Pro Caelio: A study in
semantics and ideology

Samantha L Marsh (University of Florida)

In 56 BC, on the first day of the Ludi Megalenses, L. Sempronius Atratinus prosecuted M. Caelius Rufus on the charges of borrowing gold from Clodia in order to fund an attempt on Dio’s life, as well as attempting to poison Clodia herself. This trial had serious political charges and it was necessary for Cicero, in order to effectively defend Caelius, to deter the jury from dwelling on these politics. Many studies have focused on Cicero’s use of invective and comedy to accomplish this distraction. In particular, Geffcken has persuasively argued that Cicero’s use of comedy and stock figures enables him to distract the jury, while discrediting Clodia, and excusing Caelius (Comedy in the Pro Caelio, 1995).

In this paper I argue that Cicero also uses vegetation imagery in opposition with military and urbane diction to achieve a pastoral theme that, when contextualized, treads similar ideological ground as the later satiric writers. This imagery has three primary effects. First, by employing vegetation diction in descriptions of Caelius and urbane, military diction in those of Clodia, Cicero projects the physical aspects of particular features onto the opposing parties of the trial. This evokes different emotions from the jury and functions to reveal the inner character of both Caelius and Clodia. Secondly, this imagery creates a subtle framework for the entire trial. In addition to becoming a stock figure, the scorned lover, of comedy, Caelius also becomes a bucolic herdsman whose simple life has been corrupted by a horrid love affair. Finally, when contextualized in the historical events, namely the decline of the republic, this pastoral effect reveals an ideological theme emerging or reemerging in Rome: the filth of the city is the direct antithesis for the purity of the country.

This paper examines these three effects in succession. I first focus on the specific diction used within the trial and the ways in which it functions to project positive and negative features on Caelius and Clodia. In turn, I use fundamental ideas of physiognomy as a parallel to relate how these physical features reveal the inner character of each opponent. Next I briefly examine the pastoral tradition and Cicero’s relation to pastoral poetry and themes. Here I also employ Salzman’s study of how the Ludi Megalenses affect the trial (Salzman,“Cicero, the Megalenses and the Defense of Caelius,” 1982). I argue that the myth behind these celebrations also particularly pertains to a pastoral theme. Finally I examine the use of this specific diction in the context of the decline of the Republic. Although the idea of tension between country and city does not explicitly emerge until a generation after Cicero in the satires of Horace and Juvenal, and the Eclogues and Georgics of Virgil, I argue that this theme was already embedded in the ideology of Rome during the trial of Cicero. These three effects together further enabled Cicero to successfully defend Caelius.

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