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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"Laceratio famae" : invective as facework in Cicero's "In Pisonem". Trankner, Mark Andrew


Recent discussions of Cicero’s In Pisonem have approached the functioning of invective in the speech mainly in terms of the orator’s ability to fashion rhetorical weapons from the audience’s social biases and, consequently, have focused on evidence of his success in injuring his opponent’s reputation and dignity. That Piso, his opponent, had an equal opportunity and success in fighting back against Cicero’s attacks is, as I will argue, a crucial factor in determining the possible outcomes of this contest. I argue that when the In Pisonem is viewed as a 'character contest', the conflict between Piso and Cicero appears to have been both unavoidable and yet inconclusive, despite evidence of Cicero's victory in the speech itself. While Cicero's attack on Piso displays superior rhetorical skill, humour and poise, the fact that Piso responded to the publication of the In Pisonem by publishing his own speech demonstrates that he was able to continue his side of the battle beyond Cicero's apparent victory. Although Cicero can claim a victory as the 'manifest outcome' of the Senate debate, it is clear that 'interpretological outcomes' came into play on both sides. Piso's persistence in the quarrel permits him a secondary claim to victory when Cicero, believing he has already won, decides not to respond. Comparison with Cicero's handling of Clodius' victory in the Bona Dea scandal, reinforces the importance of interpretation in determining the outcomes of invective contests. Win or lose, Roman orators will put the best face on their performance and emerge relatively unscathed from the 'character contests' in which their careers seem to hang in the balance. Piso's success in the conflict is seen as well in his continuation as Caesar's father-in-law, a role that Cicero clearly attempted to put in jeopardy in his attack. In this regard, Goffman's account of 'character contest' proves a reliable guide to understanding the grey areas which obscure the outcome of the conflict.

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