3. Q. Roscius
, the most celebrated comic actor at Rome, was a native of Solonium, a small place in the neighbourhood of Lanuvium. His sister was married to Quintius, whom Cicero defended in B. C. Bl. (Cic. pro Qttint.
A tale was told, that in his infancy he was found in the folds of a serpent, and that this foreshadowed his future eminence. His extraordinary skill in acting procured him the favour of many of the most distinguished Roman nobles, and, among others, of the dictator Sulla, who presented hint with a gold ring, the symbol of equestrian rank. Like his celebrated contemporary, the tragic actor Aesopus, Roscius enjoyed the friendship of Cicero, who constantly speaks of him in terms both of admiration and affection, and on one occasion calls him his amores ct deliciae.
Roscius paid the greatest attention to his art, and obtained excellence in it by the most careful and elaborate study.
It is to this that Horace alludes, when he says (Ep.
2.1. 82) :
Quae gravis Aesopus, quae doctus Roscius egit.
So careful and assiduous was he in his preparations, that even in the height of his reputation, he did not venture upon a single gesture in public which he had not previously well considered and practised at home.
But notwithstanding all this study, no mannerism or affectation appeared in his acting; every thing he did was perfectly natural to the character he represented; and he himself used to say that decere
was the highest excellence of the art.
He was considered by the Romans to have reached such perfection in his own profession, that it became the fashion to call every one who became particularly distinguished in his own art, by the name of Roscius.
In his younger years Cicero received instruction from Roscius; and at a later time he and Roscius often used to try which of them could express a thought with the greatest effect, the orator by his eloquence, or the actor by his gestures. Macrobius, who relates this anecdote, goes on to say that these exercises gave Roscius so high an opinion of his art, that he wrote a work in which he compared eloquence and acting. Like Aesopus, Roscius realized an immense fortune by his profession. Macrobius says that he made a thousand denarii a day, and Pliny relates that his yearly profits were fifty millions of sesterces.
He died in B. C. 62, as Cicero, in his oration for Archias (100.8), which was delivered in that year, speaks of his death as a recent event. (Cic. de Div.
1.36, 2.31, de Orat.
1.27-29, 59, 60, 2.57, 59, 3.26, 59, de Leg.
84; Plut. Cie.
5 ; Macr. 2.10
; V. Max. 8.7.7
; Plin. Nat. 7.39. s. 40
A scholiast on Cicero gives the cognomen Gallus to Q. Roscius, but it does not occur elsewhere, as far as we know. (Schol. Bob. pro Arch.
p. 357, ed. Orelli.)
In B. C. 68 Cicero pleaded the cause of his friend in a civil suit before the judex C. Piso.
It appears that a certain C. Fannius Chaerea had a slave of the name of Panurgus, whom he entrusted to Roscius for instruction in his art, on the agreement that whatever profits the slave might acquire should be divided between them. Panurgus was murdered by one Q. Flavius of Tarquinii, and accordingly an action was brought against him for damages, by Fannius and Roscius.
Before the case came on for trial, Roscius received from Flavius a farm, which Fannius valued at 100,000 sesterces : Roscius maintained that this farm was simply a compensation for his own loss; but Fannius asserted that Roscius had no right to make terms for himself alone, and that according to the original agreement he was entitled to half of the compensation.
The dispute was referred for arbitration to C. Piso, who did not give any formal decision, but at his recommendation Roscius consented to pay Fannius a certain sum of money for the trouble he had had, and Fannius, on the other hand, promised to give Roscius the half of whateverhe might receive from Flavius. Fannius now sued Flavius ; the case came on before the judex C. Cluvius, a Roman eques, who sentenced Flavius to pay 100,000 sesterces.
According to the statement of Roscius he himself never received any part of this sum although he was entitled to half of it. Some years afterwards, when Flavius was dead, Fannius sued Roscius for 50,000 sesterces, as the half of the value of the estate given to Roscius on the death of Panurgus, and appealed to the agreement made before C. Piso, in support of his claim.
The case came on for trial before the same C. Piso, who now acted as judex, and Cicero defended his friend in an oration, which has come down to us, though with the loss of the opening part.
The date of the oration is doubtful; we have adopted the one given by Drumann, who discusses the matter at length (Geschichte Roms,
vol. v. pp. 346-348).
The subject of the oration has afforded matter for considerable discussion to modern jurists and scholars.
See Unterholzner, Ueber die Rede des Cicero f¨r den Schauspieler Q. Roscius,
in Savigny's Zeitschrift,
vol. i. p. 248, &c.; München, Oratio M. T. C. pro Q. R. C. juridice deposita,
Coloniae, 1829; and Schmidt, in his edition of the oration, Lipsiae, 1839.