A Judgmental Ancestor (Pro Caelio 33)

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2016


Kevin McCann analyzes a section of Pro Caelio in which Cicero uses a technique called prosopopoeia, taking on the role of Appius Claudius Caecus, one of Clodia’s most famous ancestors, in order to chastise her for her moral failings. His analysis includes discussions of Roman history, rhetorical technique, and Cicero’s use of humor.

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Latin Text

Sed tamen ex ipsa quaeram prius utrum me secum severe et graviter et prisce agere malit, an remisse et leniter et urbane. Si illo austero more et modo, aliquis mihi ab inferis excitandus est ex barbatis illis, non hac barbula qua ista delectatur sed illa horrida quam in statuis antiquis atque imaginibus videmus, qui obiurget mulierem et qui pro me loquatur ne mihi ista forte suscenseat. Exsistat igitur ex hac ipsa familia aliquis ac potissimum Caecus ille; minimum enim dolorem capiet qui istam non videbit. Qui profecto, si exstiterit, sic aget ac sic loquetur: ‘Mulier, quid tibi cum Caelio, quid cum homine adulescentulo, quid cum alieno? Cur aut tam familiaris fuisti ut aurum commodares, aut tam inimica ut venenum timeres? Non patrem tuum videras, non patruum, non avum, non proavum, non abavum, non atavum audieras consules fuisse?


However I will first ask that woman whether she prefers that I deal with her in the olden ways of severity, or more like the hip new way of lenience. If she chooses the older manner, I will need assistance from someone who is already long passed; from the time when they had full beards, as we see in the old statues, not like the ones with small, pathetic beards that she would take a liking to. The person I am going to summon shall speak through me to rebuke her, lest she become angry with me. Perhaps we should call upon someone from her own family: the very Caecus that you all know; for his blindness will save him from having to gaze upon that horrible woman. And if he should rise from the dead, he would say something like this: “Woman, what are you doing with Caelius, a boyish young man, and a strange man? Why were you so intimate that you had to provide gold, or so vile that you would fear poisoning? Had you not seen your father as consul? Did you not hear about your uncle being consul? Your grandfather being consul? Your great-grandfather? Your great-great grandfather? Your great-great- great grandfather, all of whom were consuls?


Austin, R. G., ed. M. Tulli Ciceronis Pro M. Caelio Oratio. 3rd ed. New York; Oxford: Clarendon, 1988.

Keitel, Elizabeth, and Jane Crawford, eds. Cicero: Pro Caelio. Newburyport, MA: Focus, 2010.

Osgood, Josiah. “Cicero’s Pro Caelio 33–34 and Appius Claudius’ Oratio de Pyrrho.” Classical Philology 100 (2005): 355-358.

Volpe, Michael. “The Persuasive Force of Humor: Cicero’s Defense of Caelius.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 63 (1977): 311-323.

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