Saturday, October 04, 2008

Cicero in Sicily

Preparing to teach Cicero's In Verrem V for next year, I came across a passage where Cicero reflects upon the time he spent in Sicily as a quaestor. Cicero is deservedly known for his arrogance and high opinion of himself, but in this passage we get to glimpse a rare side of his character; a less serious, and more self deprecatory side.
non vereor ne mihi aliquid, iudices, videar adrogare, si de quaestura mea dixero... vere me hercule hoc dicam: sic tum existimabam, nihil homines aliud Romae nisi de quaestura mea loqui. frumenti in summa caritate maximum numerum miseram; negotiatoribus comis, mercatoribus iustus, mancipibus liberalis, sociis abstinens, omnibus eram visus in omni officio diligentissimus; excogitati quidam erant a Siculis honores in me inauditi. itaque hac spe decedebam ut mihi populum Romanum ultro omnia delaturum putarem.

I’m not of afraid of appearing to boast, gentlemen, if I speak about my quaestorship… Indeed, by Hercules, I will say this; at that time I imagined that people at Rome were talking about nothing else, apart from my quaestorship. I had sent a huge amount of grain when prices were high; I was friendly with the businessmen, fair to the merchants, generous to the contractors, honest with the allies, I appeared to be most diligent in every job for everyone; certain unheard of honours were devised for me by the Sicilians. And so I left Sicily with such hope that I thought that the Roman people would confer upon me everything of their own accord.
Cicero starts true to form- he's not afraid tell people about all the things he achieved in Sicily, and his high opinion of himself is clear from the reception he expected when he arrived home in Rome. But things weren't quite as he imagined, as an encounter in Puteoli proved:

at ego cum casu diebus eis itineris faciendi causa decedens e provincia Puteolos forte venissem, cum plurimi et lautissimi in eis locis solent esse, concidi paene, iudices, cum ex me quidam quaesisset quo die Roma exissem et num quidnam esset novi. cui cum respondissem me e provincia decedere: 'etiam me hercule,' inquit, 'ut opinor, ex Africa.' huic ego iam stomachans fastidiose: 'immo ex Sicilia,' inquam. tum quidam, quasi qui omnia sciret: 'quid? tu nescis,' inquit, 'hunc quaestorem Syracusis fuisse?' quid multa? destiti stomachari et me unum ex eis feci qui ad aquas venissent.

But in those days when, as I was leaving the province, I happened by chance to come to Puteoli for the sake of making a journey, when a lot of fashionable people were accustomed to be there, I almost died, gentlemen, when someone asked me on what day I had left Rome and whether there was any news. I replied to him that I had come from the provinces: ‘Of course, by Hercules!’ he said, ‘from Africa, if I remember rightly.’ Getting annoyed now, I said pedantically to him: ‘No, from Sicily.’ Then someone else, like some kind of know-it-all, said ‘What? Didn’t you know he’d been quaestor at Syracuse?’ What else could I do? I stopped getting annoyed, and pretended that I was one of those who’d come to enjoy the waters.

(Pro Plancio 64-5)

There were two quaestors assigned to the province of Sicily, one based at Syracuse, the other at Lilybaeum- Cicero had been at Lilybaeum. Despite what Cicero had imagined, people at Rome were oblivious to his achievements.
The word Cicero uses for 'getting annoyed' is a great one- stomachor. Obviously it's related to the word 'stomach' and reflects how Cicero felt physically as well as emotionally. I suppose we mean a similar thing when we say that we find something 'hard to stomach'.


Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Hi Sir!

Two questions:

1 - In your translation of section IXB (Virgil), you've translated "Mulciber" as "THE Vulcan".

...must we? You have to know the thought of "THE Vulcan" brings images of men with pointed ears and 3-pronged hands to my addled mind. Is it okay just to call him "Vulcan"?

2 - If I were to, hypothetically, drop in at some point this week with some unseens, would you be able to mark them for me? Preferably before next Wednesday?

Hope you had a good holiday!