Tag Archives: Cicero

Obama, Cicero, and Sallust VS. Manning, Snowden, and Catiline

While taking in all of the news recently about the NSA and the people exposing government secrets I am, of course, looking constantly for links to the Classical World. Government corruption and secrets were pretty common in the ancient world and I think that might be too obvious a connection to point out for the purpose of this blog. What I do find interesting though is the comparisons that can be made between the language used by politicians to describe whistleblowers like Snowden and Manning and the language used to describe the conspirator Catiline. Whether you find these whistleblowers to be heroes or traitors may make you question this comparison, but remember that it is just the language used, I am not comparing the situations rather the way that politicians describe these men. My use of the word whistleblower is not to give a leaning either way, it is the easiest noun to use for them. It is also important to keep in mind that we do not have the common man’s opinion of Catiline. We only have the politicians’ and historians’ views on him. Imagine the shape of today’s debate if we took out the common person’s voice and only had record of what politicians say about these men.

First a brief rundown of Catiline and his conspiracy in case you are not familiar with this part of Roman history. The wiki is pretty good on this and while I don’t endorse wiki as a scholarly source, it is a great way to get a general understanding of most things. I will link to that at the bottom. In a short version, Catiline was a Roman Senator so someone in a position of relative power and with access to information. He didn’t like the way things were going and in the year 63BCE was to execute a plot to overthrow the republic until Cicero called attention to his plan and effectively squashed it. Catiline may not have been simply a rogue senator the way he is painted to be by historians and politicians. He had people on his side who were senators, generals, and even a former consul. He had people of power who agreed with him, just not the most important people or the ones that would end up writing it down. Remember, the victors write history. I’m not defending the actions of Catiline or claiming to know which side of that political debate I would have even been on, but it is important for me to make clear that he was not alone, he had followers and powerful ones at that who agreed with him for one reason or another.

As stated, the situation is not as important as the way he is described. Both Cicero and Sallust give accounts of Catiline’s Conspiracy and describe in detail Catiline himself and the nature of his conspiracy.  In America we have similar sides reacting to Snowden and Manning, politicians and historians (I will include some mainstream media in this category, begrudgingly), but we also have other outlets like not so mainstream media, blogs, tweets, the general public, etc. When looking at the comments of politicians and some major media the descriptions line up with the ancient ones.

Snowden has been consistently called a traitor and his acts called treasonous by politicians including President Obama, Boehner, and Feinstein. Cicero in his first oration against Catiline says, “And shall we, who are the consuls, tolerate Catiline, openly desirous to destroy the whole world with fire and slaughter?”  If we are going by position, Cicero is probably the equivalent to Catiline of Obama and Boehner to Snowden and Manning. Sallust and Cicero also attack Catiline at a personal level. Sallust points out that prior to Catiline’s political career he had done unspeakable things with a Vestal Virgin. The best is the way he calls him a madman though, “His pallid complexion, his bloodshot eyes; his gait now fast, now slow; in his face and his every glance showed him a madman” (15.5). Toobin, writer for the New Yorker, said about Snowden that he is a, “grandiose narcissist.”

Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his leaks, is seaking pardon from Obama which I find incredibly interesting given the reaction to Snowden. Obama said prior to any trial that Manning was guilty. Obama, whose speeches already sound Ciceronian, sounds very much like Cicero in the aftermath of these two leaks. He even does the self aggrandizing thing Cicero was so known for by always making it sound like he is doing everything personally and on his own to stop all of these traitors. Specifically though the video floating around (below) in which he says Manning broke the law sounds much like Cicero reacting to Catiline.

I suggest reading Cicero and Sallust as well as the wiki on the conspiracy. While it is not a perfect comparison it is an interesting one in terms of the language politicians use towards “traitors” and the way politicians view security.



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ESPN, Sports Radio, and Cicero

I watch a lot of ESPN and, even more, listen to sports radio. I don’t know if it is that I have recently had Cicero on the mind or if Ciceronian rhetoric is becoming more common in sports analysis, but I am hearing an overwhelming amount of analysts that I would swear are Cicero reincarnate. I prefer to think that these learned sportscasters have just been brushing up on their Cicero and using his techniques.  The following is a list of Ciceronian strategies and how they are being used on ESPN and sports radio shows.


This is the act of inserting extra or superfluous words just for the sake of sounding smart and elegant. I don’t have a problem with this since I like a good vocabulary in a person, but I include this as a warning more than anything. If you are not 100% sure of what the word means, what part of speech it is, or how it can and cannot be used in a sentence, please, I beg you, don’t use the word. You will sound much more intelligent if you just stick to what you know.  I applaud John Kruk for not going crazy with his vocabulary and sticking to who he is. On the other side of that I love Pardon the Interruption, but they drive me nuts with this.


The definition is as follows: To call attention to something by specifically mentioning you won’t do that (mannerofspeaking.org). This is what brought me to write this particular post. In an argument on a local sports radio station over the Eagles retiring Donovan Mcnabb’s number, I kept hearing the phrase, “I’m not even going to mention…” This is the most Ciceronian of all rhetorical skills! Cicero uses this endlessly to sound like he is above mentioning the unmentionables, but by saying this he is mentioning these things. He does this most notably in his speeches against Catiline and Marc Antony. In the Mcnabb arguments both the radio hosts and callers could not resist saying, “I won’t even mention the puking at the Super Bowl incident.” You mentioned it by saying you won’t mention it. This is one of the oldest of rhetorical devices and probably one of the most commonly used today.


ESPN thrives on this principle. Expolitio is basically attempting to make an argument stronger by restating it over and over in many different ways. The show Around the Horn is based entirely on this technique. All they do on that show is restate each other’s opinions while one person (usually Woody) disagrees with everyone else just so that the show is a little bit interesting.


As I am writing this ESPN is really harping on Dwight Howard for being indecisive and constant source of drama. Coniectura is using someone’s character or way of life as proof of something. In the Dwight Howard case they are claiming he is not as valuable of basketball player and some analysts are even questioning his skills. This questioning is all in response to the drama surrounding his potential return to the Lakers. They are using his character and indecisiveness off the court to talk about his game on the court, classic coniectura.

These are just a few of the ways Cicero can be heard in modern sports analysis, but there are so many and I really could go on forever. Of course, these techniques can also be found in political speeches and other news reporting, or just anywhere people are speaking about anything. A list of Cicero’s rhetorical devices can be found here and I’m sure if you just watch an hour of Sportscenter (wading through all of the awful Twitter reporting) you will find many of these in use.

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Cicero, Socrates, and YOLO in Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

                I just finished reading the New York Times Bestseller Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer. I picked this book up with no knowledge of the fact that it was rife with classical references. I should have known that it would have to be, but honestly in my time studying classics I had never even heard of the Ad Herennium. The book is about memory. Joshua travels through a grueling training regiment in order to compete in the USA Memory Championship; another thing I didn’t know existed. Throughout this journey the book explains the way memory works and how memory has changed from an internal process to an external process.

                When the ancients were telling stories and giving speeches they had no choice but to memorize large amounts of information. Books took a long time to compose and weren’t readily available to most of the population which was illiterate anyway. The Ad Herennium is a treatise on how to remember. There has been much debate about who wrote this mysterious work. Cicero was originally thought to be the author of this work because of his other extensive work on memorizing speeches, but this has since become commonly seen as untrue.

                The importance of the book is not in its author. Foer points out that the memory techniques in the ancient text are the same techniques used by professional mnemonists today. Yet in classrooms we avoid these techniques and choose rote memorization instead. I have read various reports and definitely heard many times (mostly from my grandparents) that each generation is getting dumber. This statistically does not seem to be the case, but I believe as far as critical thinking is concerned the difference between us and the ancients is stark. Foer makes a point that in order for connections to be made in the brain there has to be a memory of the two points being connected. This connection cannot occur when using external memory like books, internet, etc.  While he agrees that his party-trick memory skills are not really that convenient for remembering his friends’ phone numbers and keeping his to-do list, he makes it clear that there is a different way of thinking that comes with increasing the ability of one’s memory.

                This book is filled with great classical references from Cicero’s memory of speeches to Socrates’ disdain for the written word to the reason ancient epics were more epic,  and everyone should read it for that fact alone, but everyone should also read it because it shows a different way of approaching the world. In order for things to stick in our minds they must have meaning and therefore (since we are in the fad of YOLO) every second should be lived with meaning. If one fully experiences every aspect of every situation one will be a better thinker, mnemonist, and possibly the next USA champion. So to use an expression I loathe simply for the fact that it is an unnecessary acronym, YOLO, and another which is so commonly misused (post to come later), Carpe Diem. Experience everything to the fullest and remember it all at its ripest.

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