Greek scholarship and interpretation in the works of Cicero

Caroline B Bishop, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation examines Cicero’s engagement with Greek scholarly and interpretive material in his poetic, philosophical, and rhetorical works. Throughout his career Cicero demonstrated an interest in composing works that would rival the great literary classics of the Greeks: in his youth he translated Aratus’ Phaenomena; his De Re Publica, De Legibus, and De Oratore are patterned on Plato’s dialogues; and the title of the Philippics constitutes a deliberate comparison of his oratorical career with Demosthenes. This study argues that Cicero’s decision to emulate these particular authors was motivated by their prominence in the Greek scholarly and literary tradition. Chapter One demonstrates that Cicero used the scholarly literature on Aratus’ Phaenomena in a strategic fashion, altering certain passages so that they would be more likely to secure a positive reception. It is suggested that the choice to take Aratus as his model was similarly motivated; the scholarly response to Aratus in antiquity was both uncommonly robust and almost universally positive, and Cicero desired a similar reception for the Aratea. Chapter Two demonstrates the importance of Plato’s interpretive tradition for Cicero. In the three dialogues of the 50s Cicero seeks to recreate not just Plato’s philosophical content, but also his historical significance, and it is shown that Plato’s ability to inspire philosophical debate was an important part of this significance. Chapter Three considers Cicero’s interaction with Demosthenes. In Brutus, De Optimo Genere Oratorum, and Orator, Cicero sets up a deliberate comparison between himself and Demosthenes. His desire to be the Roman version of Demosthenes is also reflected in the title of the Philippics, and indicates how concerned Cicero was with controlling his posthumous reputation. This concern is explored further in Chapter Four, which considers the quotation of Cicero’s poetry in De Natura Deorum and De Divinatione. It is argued that in presenting these two very different interpretations of his poetry, Cicero finally gives voice to concerns that had been implicit since the Aratea; namely, his ability (or lack thereof) to preside over the interpretation of his corpus.

Subject Area

Classical studies|Classical Studies|Ancient history

Recommended Citation

Bishop, Caroline B, "Greek scholarship and interpretation in the works of Cicero" (2011). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3462996.