Fragmentary tragic poetry in Cicero

Alexander Buzick, Fordham University


Cicero is not only our chief source for the reception of Greek and Roman tragedy in the late republican theater, but he also provides our most important testimony as to its cultivation and consumption by the educated élite. Though several late republican authors referenced tragedy in a number of genre types, Cicero is our best example of a single writer deploying tragedy in so wide a variety of genre contexts. His citatory practice generally mirrors an analysis we find in Quintilian, namely that Cicero quotes poetry to delight, to decorate, to demonstrate his education, and to appeal to the authority of the ancient poetry. Quintilian's assessment does not, however, describe many of the functions of tragic citations in all of the contexts into which Cicero introduces such references. Citations in the speeches are rare and indicate that Cicero actually avoided quoting poetry in the forum. Certain forensic quotations, however, raise the speech's dramatic register, metaphorize political figures or simply report performances from the contemporary stage. The quotations in the letter collection evince a range of functions not imagined by Quintilian and demonstrate how Roman gentlemen cultivated an appreciation of tragedy throughout life by reading and quoting it to one another. A retreat from political life brought on by the ascendance of Julius Caesar compelled Cicero, beginning with the death of his daughter in February 45, to decorate the many works of Greek philosophy he translated into Latin with an abundance tragic citations. Those citations serve to demonstrate Cicero's allegiance to the skeptical Academy of Philo of Larissa, while they simultaneously assert the literary and scholarly nature of Cicero's essays in philosophy. And the tragic quotations in the rhetorical works are tools Cicero deploys in an effort to show the way to a burgeoning orator. In general, Cicero's deployment of tragedy is part of a conservative identity he constructs in which he wields tragic poetry in defense of his political, poetic, philosophical and rhetorical ideals.

Subject Area

Classical studies|Comparative literature|Classical Studies

Recommended Citation

Buzick, Alexander, "Fragmentary tragic poetry in Cicero" (2014). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3643051.