By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Cicero and The Medea of the Palatine

The Palatine was the snooty part of Rome for the richest of the rich. Medea is the evil woman of Greek tragedy. Cicero is using his "malicious wit" (see link below) to attack Clodia, the, let us say, loose woman behind the prosecution of her former boyfriend Caelius, whom Cicero is defending. Cicero goes after Clodia--trials in those days were not hampered by the modern rules of evidence that make the practice of modern trial law extremely boring in comparison to that of the ancients. Here is an English translation, found online, for whose overall accuracy I can attest:

Here I will get to the root of the matter, without mentioning any woman's name: so much I leave to be inferred. Imagine a woman with no husband who turns her house into a house of assignation, openly behaves like a harlot, entertains at her table men who are perfect strangers, and does all this in town, in her suburban places, and in the crowded vacation land around Baiae [famous resort for the beautiful people of ancient Rome]; in fine, imagine that her walk, her way of dressing, the company she keeps, her burning glances, her free speech, to say nothing of her embraces and kisses or her capers at beach-parties and banquets and yachting-parties, are all so suggestive that she seems not merely a whore but a particularly shameless and forward specimen of the profession. Well, if a young man bad some desultory relations with her, would you call him an adulterer, Lucius Herennius, or simply a lover? Would you say he was laying siege to her innocence, or simply gratifying her lust? Clodia, I am not thinking now of the wrongs you have done me. I am putting to one side the memory of my humiliation. I pass over your cruel treatment of my family while I was away. Consider that nothing I have said has been said against you. But I would like to ask you a few questions since the prosecutors say they have their evidence from you and are using you as their chief witness. If there were any such woman as I have just described, a woman unlike you, who lived and acted like a common prostitute, would you think it very disgraceful or dishonorable for a young man to have something to do with her? If you are not such a woman-and I hope indeed you are not-then what do you complain of in Caelius?

See source link.

I have no big moral lesson to impart here. Just enjoy Cicero's withering criticism of Clodia (whose brother had forced Cicero into exile and had Cicero's home burned down). Well, there may be a moral lesson: Cicero called it as he saw it. I wonder sometimes if we can still call a tart a tart. It seems today that the tart is the one who has one more sexual partner than whoever is speaking, regardless of the numbers that can be assigned to the speaker herself.

(Public domain image of Cicero as consul attacking the conspirator Catilina in 63 B.C.)