The 1st century BC in Rome was the age of change. It was the age of the Dictator Julius Caesar, of his Master of Horse Mark Antony, and his nemesis, the great republican politician Marcus Tullius Cicero. The 70s through to the 40s and beyond was an era which saw such political turbulence, such heights of oratory, and such lows of bloody violence that it is arguably the most engaging of periods in Roman history to study.
Pupils taking A level Latin and/or Classical Civilisation (who are studying Cicero for their exams) were fortunate on Monday to hear Dr Kathryn Tempest from the University of Roehampton in London talk about the methods Cicero employed to verbally attack his political enemies. Dr Tempest’s research focuses on Cicero, Roman Oratory and Roman Republican history, and she has written a number of academic books, as well as appearing on the Netflix series ‘Roman Empire’!
In our modern age in which we are culturally sensitive - some would say hypersensitive - to causing offence, and in which whoever controls the language controls the argument, Cicero’s wholesale use of invective which aimed below-the-belt sucker punches at his opponents’ dress sense, facial appearance, sexual tastes and even their excessive love of cosmetics and toiletries might seem shocking in the extreme; Dr Tempest told the audience that nothing was off limits; make your opponent a laughing stock, and you had him on the ropes.
Cicero’s wit, bile and acidic tongue bought him enemies, and would eventually cost him his life; after his assassination, his head and hands were nailed on the Speaker’s Platform in the Roman Forum; a mute but eloquent message from Mark Antony to all who considered speaking out against him.
Many thanks to Dr Tempest for travelling up from Surrey to deliver such a punchy, passionate and thought-provoking talk.
Head of Classics