I am Spartacus!, wait, wait, I mean, I am Orestes…

So if you don’t get this image.  Google it.  It’s rather a touchstone of modern cinema.  I was delighted to come across this passage of Cicero in my readings today and learn that the dramatic scene has a classical antecedent on the Roman stage!   I must learn more about the Dulorestes of Pacuvius, in which Thoas, King of the Tauri, wishes to kill whichever of the two captives brought before him was Orestes.  Cicero writes in the de Finibus:

Do we forget the strong emotion that we feel when we hear or read of some deed of piety, of friendship or of magnanimity? But I need not speak of ourselves, whose birth, breeding and education point us towards glory and towards honour; think of the uneducated multitude, — what a tempest of applause rings through the theatre at the words:

I am Orestes,

and at the rejoinder:

No, no, ’tis I, I say, I am Orestes.

And then when each offers a solution to the king in his confusion and perplexity:

Then prithee slay us both; we’ll die together:

as often as this scene is acted, does it ever fail to arouse the greatest enthusiasm? This proves that all men without exception approve and applaud the disposition that not only seeks no advantage for itself, but is loyal and true even to its own disadvantage.

Earlier in the same work he’d introduced the moral dilemma of the two friends in this manner:

or being Pylades will you say you are Orestes, so as to die in your friend’s stead? or supposing you were Orestes, would you say Pylades was lying and reveal your identity, and if they would not believe you, would you make no appeal against your both dying together?

2 thoughts on “I am Spartacus!, wait, wait, I mean, I am Orestes…”

  1. FYI: Cicero was so impessed with this scene that this same example appears in his essay De Amicitate (On Friendship). The speaker Laelius remarks “What cheers there were, for instance, all over the theatre at a passage in the new play of my friend and guest Pacuvius; where, the king not knowing which of the two was Orestes, Pylades declared himself to be Orestes, that he might die in his stead, while the real Orestes kept on asserting that it was he. The audience rose en masse and clapped their hands.”

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