Playful Quotation: Cicero's Fam. and Republican Drama

Sarah L. Jacobson (Brown University)

In April 54, Cicero's friend C. Trebatius Testa, armed with a recommendation letter addressed to Caesar from Cicero himself (Fam. VII.5th ; SB 26), left Rome to join Caesar in Gaul. From Cicero's letters it is clear that Trebatius had a difficult time adjusting to life outside of Rome. To lift Trebatius' spirits and encourage him to make the most of his time abroad Cicero includes a few lines from Ennius' Medea Exul in one of his letters (VII.6; SB 27). These lines dwell on Medea's status as a foreigner and the possibilities of life abroad (VII.6.1). What fragments of Ennius' tragedy are extant vary from Euripides' in their preoccupation with exile and the status of foreigner's abroad. Cicero picks up on this theme. Citing one of Rome's most illustrious foreign-born citizens, Cicero playfully urges Trebatius to follow the author's example (clearly not that of Medea herself) and profit from his time abroad.

Over the course of the next year Cicero wrote twelve more letters to Trebatius. These letters chronicle Trebatius' reactions to life in Gaul – from his excessive longing for the city and urban lifestyle to his eventual enjoyment of his post and its rewards. Cicero sprinkles quotations from Republican drama throughout these letters. This paper will explore how Cicero uses Republican drama as playful commentary in his communications with Trebatius.

For example, Trebatius, even with Ennius' lines in mind, at first continues to complain and is consequently censured by Cicero in an uncharacteristically serious letter that lacks literary quotations (VII.17; SB 31). However, as Trebatius accustoms himself to a military lifestyle, Cicero treats him to a line about becoming wise from either Livius Andronicus or Naevius' Equo Troiano (VII.16; SB 32). This quotation is characteristic of Cicero's playful style. Fam. VII.6 left off with a quotation from Medea about the wise man. By referencing another dramatist Cicero now acknowledges that his earlier Ennian advice has been heeded.

This series of letters provides an interesting case study in how Cicero employs literary quotations in his letters. In the case of Trebatius quotation is a playful exercise designed to provide helpful examples and witty commentary.

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