Cicero on the Sabine Character

I always find myself looking for this quote and having to hunt it up elsewhere.  It seemed prudent just to stick it on my own blog.

My Orator—for that is the title I have given it—I have handed to your Sabinus. His nationality made me think that he was a proper person to whom to give it: unless he too has availed himself of the licence of candidates and has suddenly adopted this surname. However, the modesty of his look and the gravity of his conversation seemed to me to smack somewhat of Cures. But enough about Sabinus.

Cic. Fam. 15.20 written in April(?) 44BC to Trebonius, a good friend with whom Cicero often jokes. Latin here.

Sabinus is probably a slave, perhaps a freedman.  The name will have been given to him to indicate indigenous Italic stock.  The joke is that aspiring politicians might claim this cognomen for the same sort of associations which made it appealing to slave owners.  Cicero pushes the joke further by legitimating the ethic connotation of the man’s name by crediting him with the moral characteristics usually associated with that ethnicity.

The letter continues with another geographical ‘joke’ of sorts.  Cicero observes:

that in old days those remaining at Rome were accustomed to write on public affairs to their friends in the provinces; whereas you are now bound to write to us: for the Republic is there

Just as Sabini might not really be Sabines, so too the res publica can be separated from Rome itself.  Both allude to the anxieties of the day.


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