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Letter XIX: ad familiares 7.1

Rome, Oct., 55 B.C. Cicero's friend, M. Marius, to whom Fam. 7.1-4 are addressed, was confined to his villa at Stabiae by an attack of the gout (Fam. 7.4), and was therefore unable to witness the games at Rome which Pompey gave in honor of the dedication of his theatre and the temple of Venus Victrix. This theatre, which was erected on the Campus Martius, and would accommodate 40,000 people (Plin. N. H. 36.115), was the first permanent theatre constructed in Rome, and its opening was celebrated by gorgeous pageants and by combats between men and wild beasts, in which, according to Pliny, 20 elephants and 500 lions were killed. The distaste which Cicero shows for the vulgar display, and the pity which the slaughter of the unfortunate beasts excited in him, honorably distinguish him from his contemporaries. These particular venationes were so bloodthirsty that even the Roman populace was moved to pity when the elephants, seeing their escape cut off, seemed to beg for mercy: amissa fugae spe, misericordiam vulgi inenarrabili habitu quaerentes supplicavere, quadam sese lamentatione complorantes, tanto populi dolore ut oblitus imperatoris ac munificentiae honori suo exquisitae flens universus consurgeret dirasque Pompeio poenas imprecaretur, Plin. N. H. 8.21.

Stabianum ... sinum: the Italians of the present day who have villas on the lakes or seashore, often cut down the trees in front of their houses, that they may obtain an unobstructed view across the water; so Marius would seem to have cut the trees down in a line through his Stabian estate (lit. <he bored through) to the shore, and thus brought the bay into view.

lectiunculis, by reading a bit here and a bit there.

mimos: the mimus, which was introduced into Rome from Tarentum in the third century B.C., was at the outset a character presentation by dancers, but, in the second century probably, dialogue and songs were introduced. Facial expression always played an important part in it, so that the performers did not wear masks. In Cicero's time mimi were put on the stage only as afterpieces (cf. Ep. LXI. 7). The degraded taste of imperial times, however, preferred them to the drama proper, so that they practically drove the latter from the stage. Cf. also Ribbeck, Römische Dichtung, 1.217, 218.

semisomni : at this period dramatic performances began early in the day, and those for whom seats were not reserved found it necessary to be in their places several hours before the performance began. Physical fatigue, therefore, and the stupidity of the performances made the audience listless.

Sp. Maecius (Tarpa): he had charge of the plays. In Hor. Sat. 1.10.38 and A. P. 387 he is mentioned as an authorized critic.

honoris causa ... honoris causa, to honor the occasion ... to save their reputation (Tyrrell). Cf. Intr. 103.

decesse: for decessisse. A rare case of syncopation, like successe (?) for successisse (Ep. XC. 2). Similar syncopated forms occur elsewhere in colloquial Latin, e.g. detraxe, Plaut. Trin. 743; despexe, Plaut. M. G. 553; lusse, Ter. Heaut. 1001; divisse, Hor. Sat. 2.3. 169. See also Intr. 82.

deliciae tuae: Cf. nostri amores, Ep. VII. 2, and mea lux, Ep. XIII.2n.

Aesopus: elsewhere praised highly as an actor by Cicero; cf. pro Sest. 120, de Div. 1.80, etc., but in his old age his voice has failed. Cf. also Ribbeck, Römische Tragödie, 674-676.

si sciens fallo: the first words of an oath. Cf. Liv. 1.24. Ribbeck (Röm. Trag. p. 49) suggests that perhaps Aesopus played the part of Sinon in the Equus Troianus of Naevius (or of Andronicus) and that this oath was introduced in some such speech as that put into the mouth of Sinon by Vergil in Aen. 2.154.

sescenti: for an indefinitely large number; cf. miliens, Ep. V.4.

Clytaemestra: one of the plays of L. Accius

creterrarum tria milia: supposed to refer to the spoils of Troy (“crateresque auro solidi, Verg. Aen. 2.765), which were represented in a realistic way upon the stage. Compare with this whole passage the trenchant criticism which Horace passes upon the taste for realism and vulgar display upon the stage in his day (Ep. 2.1.189-207).

Protogeni: the slave who read aloud to Marius.

ne tu: cf. ne, Ep. XVI [.2 n.

Graecos aut Oscos ludos: comedy and tragedy were essentially of Greek origin, and Cicero speaks of them therefore as ludi Graeci in distinction from the fobulae Atellanae (ludi Osci), which were indigenous to Italian soil. These Atellan farces were comic representations of life with fixed characters. They were cast in dialogue form, varied by occasional songs. The action was lively, and the language the vulgar Latin. After the conquest of Campania, in 211 B.C. , these farces were introduced into Rome, given in course of time a more distinctly dramatic form, and used as afterpieces on the stage. Cf. Ep. LXI. 7; also Ribbeck, Röm. Dichtung, 1.207-217.

in senatu vestro: Marius would seem to have been a decurio, or member of the town council, probably in Pompeii, and in the deliberations of his Oscan colleagues upon petty matters of town government, he could find all the elements of an 'Oscan burlesque' without taking the trouble to come to Rome for them.

via Graeca: perhaps a road leading to his villa which Marius did not use; but the point of the jest is obscure to us.

athletas: a term applied properly to those who took part in the five contests—running, wrestling, boxing, the pentathlum (made up of five distinct games), the pancratium (boxing and wrestling). As we may infer from the text, in quibus, etc., the Roman people showed little enthusiasm for these Greek games, and this continued to be the case until they gained an artificial stimulus by receiving the approval of certain emperors. Nero in particular was very fond of them (Tac. Ann. 14.20).

gladiatores: on Cicero's own distaste for gladiatorial contests, cf. Att. 2.1.1 Kal. Iunus eunti mihi Antium et gladiatores M. Metelli cupide relinquenti, etc.

operam et oleum perdidisse: a proverbial expression probably applied originally to an article spoiled in cooking; cf. “tum pol ego et oleum et operant perdidi,Plaut. Poen. 332. The use of alliteration in such everyday expressions in all languages is well known. Cf. Intr. 93, 102.

venationes: from the introduction of the venatio at Rome in 186 B.C. , it was a favorite form of amusement with the people, and was carried to an almost incredible pitch of extravagance and barbarism by the later emperors.

venabulo: the elephants were attacked with javelins by the Gaetulians (Plin. N. H. 8.20).

misericordia: cf. introd. note.

Galli Canini: L. Caninius Gallus, as tribune in 56 B.C. , proposed that the restoration of King Ptolemy should be entrusted to Pompey (Q. fr. 2.2.3). In the year following his tribuneship (55 B.C. ) he was attacked on some political charge by the enemies of Pompey, and Cicero defended him, doubtless at Pompey's request. With some two or three exceptions (e.g. Cic. de Or. 2.253) the cognomen is never placed before the nomen in formal Latin in the Ciceronian period but this order is common enough in colloquial Latin e.g. Bassus Caecilius, Ep. LXXXVI 4 Pollio Asinius; Ep. XCVIII Cimber autem Tullius, Fam. 6 12 2 Balbi quoque Corneli, Fam 8.11.2 in Horace we read Fuscus Aristius, Musa Antonius, etc., in Livy, Gemmus Servilius, Antias Valerius, etc. In the writers of the Silver Age this innovation, like many others, was accepted without question.

ambitio: e.g. in his purpose to defend Catiline in 65 B.C. ; cf. Ep. II.1.

rogatu eorum: as when he defended Vatinius in 54 B.C. at the request of Caesar (Fam. 1.9.19), although he had bitterly attacked him in an oration delivered only two years before.

humaniter: adverbs in -iter from adjectives in -us are peculiar in this period to colloquial Latin. In Cicero of these formations we find only naviter (Ep. XVIII. 3), firmiter, humaniter and its compounds; and these forms occur only in the Letters and in those writings to which Cicero intentionally gives an archaic coloring, i.e. the de Re Publica and the Oeconomicus. This ending became so common in ecclesiastical Latin as to crowd out -e.

haec ... scripsi: apologies at the end of a letter for its length are so common as to indicate that the etiquette of letter-writing approved of them, regardless of the length of the epistle. Cf. close of Ep. XXXVII.

subinvitaras, you had hinted. Cf subrusticus, Ep. XVIII.1n .

ut ... scriberem, etc.: Cicero may therefore have exaggerated his distaste for the games.

praetermisse: for praetermisisse. Cf. decesse, 2 n.

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hide References (20 total)
  • Commentary references from this page (20):
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 1.9.19
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 6
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 7.1
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 7.4
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 1.2.1
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 2.1.1
    • Cicero, Letters to his brother Quintus, 2.2.3
    • Cicero, For Sestius, 120
    • Plautus, Poenulus, 1.2
    • Plautus, Trinummus, 3.3
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 2.154
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 2.765
    • Horace, Satires, 1.10.38
    • Horace, Satires, 2.3
    • Tacitus, Annales, 14.20
    • Terence, The Self-Tormenter, 5.2
    • Plautus, Miles Gloriosus, 2.6
    • Cicero, On Oratory, 2.253
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 24
    • Cicero, De Divinatione, 1.80
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