Rhetorical Strategies of Identity-Construction in Juvenal’s Satire VI and Cicero’s Catiline Orations

March 28, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Satire VI and In Catilinam I and II, Juvenal and Cicero both make attacks on their enemies’ personal conduct to construct a Roman identity while appealing to “Roman values.” Their projects are indeed very similar; both raise questions of class, expressing fear at the way in which wealth and luxury are changing traditional values. Yet while Juvenal uses predominantly overt ad hominem attacks and misogyny throughout his satire, Cicero’s two orations demonstrate a slightly more complex range of tactics for constructing identity.The logic that Juvenal follows in his satire is perhaps crystallized in his analysis of the relationship between wealth and morality: “filthy lucre it was that first brought loose foreign morals amongst us, effeminate wealth that with vile self-indulgence destroyed us over the years” (l. 298-300). The language employed in this passage recalls and anticipates themes that he develops throughout the satire. Firstly, the passage recalls Juvenal’s opening sentence (“during Saturn’s reign I believe that Chastity still lingered on earth” (l. 1-2)) in its assumption that there was once a golden age of morals that has been supplanted by corruption. This assumption is necessary if one is to say that wealth (or anything else, for that matter) “first brought loose foreign morals amongst us,” since one could not distinguish a precise moment at which immorality took hold if there were not a moral age to stand in comparison. The passage thus points to the importance of Juvenal’s first sentence as the premise upon which much of his argument is based.Moreover, Juvenal makes an appeal to Roman national identity in describing the “loose morals” as “foreign,” implying that if Rome were true to its traditional values, immorality would not be as rampant. This word choice helps to subtly reinforce the audience’s identification with traditional Roman values by positioning anyone who thinks of himself as a true Roman on the side of morality. Invoking foreignness is a tactic that launches a cyclical process of identity construction by which Juvenal appeals to Roman identity while simultaneously defining that identity.In the first Catiline oration, Cicero seems to construct Roman identity in a somewhat similar way. “There is not here outside that conspiracy of ruined men a single person who does not fear you, not one who does not hate you” (p. 47), he says, addressing Catiline in front of the Senate. Cicero here creates a binary opposition between Catiline’s co-conspirators and all other senators. Like Juvenal, who opposes ‘true’ Roman values to the corrupted morals of his time, Cicero leaves no room in his binary for those who might not be in agreement with his accusations; in Cicero’s logic, if one is an upstanding senator, one must fear and hate Catiline—just as for Juvenal, if one has true Roman values, one will be critical of the immorality of the contemporary period.Juvenal further constructs his version of Roman identity in calling the corrupting wealth “effeminate.” This description positions morality on the side of masculinity, underlining the ‘moralist as misogynist’ theme that runs throughout the satire. The text is indeed littered with misogyny: Juvenal advocates suicide or homosexuality over marriage with a woman and describes in detail the immorality to which women are prone, including detailing their sexual indiscretions. In using the word “effeminate” in this passage, however, Juvenal makes explicit a cyclical association between women and corruption: women are not only perverted by wealth, it seems, but also somehow inextricably associated with that contaminating force. This association thus positions women, along with wealth, on the anti-Roman side of the binary, and Roman identity becomes bound up with normative male identity as well as traditional values.Juvenal returns repeatedly to this theme in his text, characterizing women as immoral through descriptions of their supposed sexual deviance and impropriety. His account of the Bona Dea’s festival exemplifies Juvenal’s positioning of women on the side of immorality: “…if they can’t track [the water-carrier] down either, and men are in short supply, [the women] are ready and willing to go down on all fours and cock their dish for a donkey. Would that our ancient rituals (at the very least in their public observances) were untouched by such nastiness!” (334-7). In this passage, Juvenal’s reference to bestiality demonstrates his female characters’ unbridled lust; they are so unrestrained and imprudent that they are willing even to have sex with animals in order to satisfy their desires. This lack of self-restraint is one example of the “vile self-indulgence” that Juvenal says wealth and luxury have fostered in the Roman people. Moreover, his exclamation following the description of the women’s immoral behavior (“would that our ancient rituals…”) reinforces the opposition between corruption and traditional Roman values. He appeals explicitly to a common Roman identity in referring to “our ancient rituals,” reminding his audience that they should identify with his critique of luxury, that they should conceive of themselves as being on the moral, prudent, masculine side of the binary. Yet his personal attacks on these women and their lifestyle choices has nothing to do with the behavior of actual Roman women; the women are simply characters that Juvenal constructs in order to appeal to and define Roman identity. It is through these overt attacks that he makes his case for traditional Roman values.Cicero’s first oration, in contrast, is significantly more reserved than Juvenal’s satire in its use of ad hominem attacks and misogyny; in fact, it explicitly refuses to attack Catiline on personal grounds:”I pass over the total ruin of your fortune which you will feel hanging over you on the coming Ides; I come to the events which are not concerned with the disgrace brought upon you by the scandals of your private life or with the poverty and shame of your family, but with the supreme interests of the State and the life and safety of us all” (p. 47).Here Cicero positions himself as being concerned with the law and the well-being of the state instead of with petty personal attacks, and in this posturing he seems to distance himself from Juvenal’s tactics. Whereas Juvenal goes into detail about people’s deviant sexual behavior, Cicero claims to forgo these kinds of attacks out of respect for the state. This claim seems to have been a wise move for Cicero when speaking before the Senate, since senators would have been more likely to condemn Catiline for criminal behavior and conspiracy against the state than for lifestyle choices; thus Cicero seems to behave out of a senatorial decorum.Nevertheless, this refusal to make ad hominem attacks is a rhetorical strategy, and Cicero does in fact preface the refusal with several such attacks:”What mark of family scandal is there not branded upon your life? […] What young man that you had ensnared with the allurements of your seduction have you not provided with a weapon for his crime or a torch for his passion? Or again, shortly after you had made room for a new bride by murdering your former wife, did you not compound this deed with yet another crime that defies belief?” (p. 47).Cicero accuses Catiline of specific personal transgressions just before saying that he will not attack Catiline’s person. This strategy allows him to appear dignified and above the fray while still subtly inserting ad hominem attacks in order to increase animosity toward Catiline. In this way, Cicero’s tactic seems to be slightly more complex than Juvenal’s use of personal attacks.Cicero’s second Catiline oration also attacks Catiline personally, yet without as much constraint; in this way, it seems to parallel more closely Juvenal’s methods of constructing identity. In this second oration, Cicero addresses the general populace instead of the more elite Senate, and he delivers the oration after Catiline has already been exiled; his tone is therefore less one of justification than in the first oration, and he is able to attack Catiline more viciously. He does so by associating Catiline with individuals that his audience would agree are dangerous or undesirable—gladiators, gamblers, adulterers, parricides—and by describing their personal behavior in detail. Catiline’s band exemplifies the immorality that accompanies luxury: “reclining at their banquets, embracing their whores, stupefied by wine, stuffed with food, crowned with garlands, reeking with scent, enfeebled by debauchery, they belch out in their conversation the murder of the loyal citizens and the firing of Rome” (p. 79). They are characterized as luxuriant (“reclining at their banquets”), lustful (“embracing their whores”), drunken (“stupefied by wine”), gluttonous (“stuffed with food”)—in short, excessive, profligate, imprudent, as well as murderous. This characterization parallels Juvenal’s condemnation of luxury and demonstrates a similar fear of its effects. But perhaps more importantly, this passage is one of several in this oration that seems geared to convince the urban plebs, who largely supported Catiline, to abandon him. Depicting Catiline and his followers as immoral, excessive and murderous is a good way to make the audience dissociate themselves from Catiline; and the plebs in particular would likely feel distanced by this characterization. Catiline had appealed to them by positioning himself as their senatorial protector and by capitalizing on their discontentment; but if he is gluttonous, lecherous, and careless with his money, he does not represent their concerns, does not have much in common with the way they live. Thus, in In Catilinam II, Cicero employs tactics similar to Juvenal’s in order to create an opposition between two groups.In the Catiline orations, however, the political stakes are higher than in Juvenal’s satire. The lives of the Roman citizens are at stake in Cicero’s orations, as he points out repeatedly: “if [Catiline] alone is removed out of all this band of brigands, we shall appear perhaps to have gained a short respite from anxiety and fear, but the danger will remain and be set deep in the veins and vitals of the Republic” (I., p. 65). This emphasis on the consequences of not exiling Catiline and this creation of a high-stakes situation is perhaps part rhetorical strategy and part natural reaction to a real danger. But whatever the degree of truth here, the fact that these orations were delivered in a political context plays an important role in the rhetorical tactics that Cicero uses. It is this context that demands the use of subtlety in employing ad hominem attacks in the first oration and necessitates an appeal to the urban plebs in the second. Ultimately, then, it is perhaps this context that lends the Catiline orations their complexity.

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