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Cicero's Pro Caelio Notes

Classics Notes > Latin Literature of the 1st Century AD Notes

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Is it wrong to take Catullus as an illustration of the social behaviour which Cicero describes in his defence of Caelius?
The portrayal of female social behaviour in Cicero is concentrated around the invective directed against Clodia so is, of course, mostly negative. She, in his defence of Caelius, serves as the pinnacle of feminine wickedness and good social behaviour can be inferred from her, as it is essentially the opposite of whatever she does. His attacks on her are wide-ranging, brutal and cunning in their harshness. Essentially he makes her out as a paradigm of vice and debauchery, who has abandoned all the traditional Roman virtues and most importantly her role in society as a matrona. Her primary sin is her promiscuousness, which Cicero makes much of. From the very beginning of the speech she is a "meretriciis" (PC.1) and an "amicam omnium" (PC.32), which is implying she is everyone's whore. He takes on the voice of one her ancestors to even more damningly accuse her of, "incestuous debauches" and that she frequents the roads "with a train of other women's husbands." (PC.34) Cicero makes her out as a woman whose desires cannot be satisfied with any amount of men, saying she, "openly had some special lover everyday...a frisky widow living frivolously, an amorous widow living a loose life" (PC.38) He says that she has had so many lovers she can create a statue covered in souvenirs collected from them, "that Venus of yours, the despoiler of your other lovers"(PC 52) Outbursts against her such as "o immoderata mulier", help to complete the picture of a most depraved woman which Cicero is trying to create. A final example of her unbridled promiscuity is the way Cicero puts her trips to Baiae at the climax to a list of her indiscretions, which is particularly rhetorically powerful as it, "marks her out not just as a whore, but as a particularly brazen whore" (Griffin, page 90) He stresses this so strongly because he seems to see it as a representation of a downturn of society as a whole. No more are the stern morals of men such as the Camilli and Curii by which Rome was made great, "but virtues of this kind are no longer to be found in our manners, indeed rarely in our books." (PC.39) Lyne, page 13, says, "as the Hellenizing life of pleasure grew and prospered, some ladies started to want their cut." Wives and high born Roman women began to act in manners more applicable to courtesans than ladies. Another example of this beside Clodia was the Sempronia of the Gracchi family in Sallust. She was able to sing and dance more than was proper for a lady and it was even said that she went hunting after male lovers. Also it is known that in 52 BC at a party for Mettellus Scipio 2 aristocratic ladies were prostituted 1. This depiction of Clodia is particularly damning when seen in the context of Roman society, what it expected of its woman and how it dictated they should act. According to Valerius Maximus the highest excellence a woman could achieve was loyalty to her husband, following the example of people such as Tertia Aemilia who refused to prosecute her husband Scipio Afircanus for his affair with a slave girl 2. Marriages in Roman high society were about convenience and not love. Furthermore excessive passion was forbidden between husband and wife and moderation between them was called for. A lady was not supposed to be about leisure but producing good male heirs, an affair with a slave girl was an acceptable indulgence for men who wanted more than this. By tradition 1 2

Lyne, page 15 Lefkowtiz, page 22

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