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Laudatio Iuliae amitae

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The laudatio Iuliae amitae is a well-known funeral oration that Julius Caesar held in 68 BC to honor his deceased aunt Iulia. The introduction[1] of this laudatio funebris is reproduced in the work Divus Iulius by the Roman historian Suetonius:[2]

"When quaestor, he pronounced the customary orations from the rostra in praise of his aunt Iulia and his wife Cornelia, who had both died, and in the eulogy of his aunt he spoke in the following terms of her paternal and maternal ancestry and that of his own father: The family of my aunt Iulia is descended by her mother from the kings and on her father's side is akin to the immortal gods. For the Marcii Reges go back to Ancus Marcius, and the Iulii, the family of which ours is a branch, to Venus. Our stock therefore has at once the sanctity of kings, whose power is supreme among mortal men, and the claim to reverence which attaches to the gods, who hold sway over kings themselves."[3]

Analysis

The oration is a good example of how Caesar creates a speech in the genus demonstrativum as hymnic prose throughout, but with a decisive Caesarian character: His piece is of immaculate elocution and never loses its clarity and dispassion, even though the magniloquence of the topic could have easily enticed him to render it more exuberantly.

Caesar contrasts the two complexes—gods and kings—with almost mathematical precision, neither losing the systemic construct in the sentential context nor in the chosen word order, even framing his introduction with a skilled περίοδος by combining the regia and the divina gens in the last sentence and reprising the initial regibus as reges, thereby bringing the introduction to an organic conclusion.

The pneumatic and monarchic aspects are carefully emphasized by the closing metrics, which naturally induce a heroic feeling, when Caesar refers to ancient regality, and by vocal elongation, commonly associated with the sacral sphere (diis), which he seldomly contrasts with short syllables. For this reason his speech develops a monumental grandeur at times without being too presumptious.

Caesar himself abstains from using the moment to make pretentious or even vicious demands, but the oration will surely have angered many of the Roman nobility, because—as so often with Caesar—the devil is in the details: On the surface he seems to respect the division of kings and gods as well as the difference between the human and the divine sphere. But he clearly refers to Ancus Marcius, an ancient Roman king, who was said to have revived and completed the religious institutions of Numa after succeeding Tullus Hostilius.[4] Caesar skillfully harmonizes the two complexes by emphasizing the sanctitas of the kings, making them a vis-à-vis of the gods with their caerimonia. Furthermore Caesar functions not only as an orator but as the terminus of the two gentilician branches, introducing the attributes not only as family matters but as something that Caesar is entitled to by birthright. This incorporation of monarchic and divine attributes is therefore seen as an early proclamation of Caesar's aspiration for political and religious power in Rome.

Notes

  1. A good indication for the introductory character is the reference to the name of the deceased, combined with exact ancestral relations. This pattern was reiterated by Nero at the beginning of his funerary oration for Claudius antiquitatem generis, consulatus ac triumphos maiorum enumerabat (Publius Cornelius Tacitus, Annals 13.3.1). However, whether Caesar's introduction hints at a Roman funerary custom to deliver a prooemium (προοίμιον), can't be concluded, since other supporting sources are missing. (Cp. also Sanctus Ambrosius episcopus Mediolanensis, De Excessu fratris Satyri 1.1: deduximus […] fratrem meum Satyrum). In favor of the introductory character: H. Graff, De Romanorum laudationibus commentatio, Dissertation, Dorpat 1862; F. Vollmer, "De funere publico Romanorum" in: Jahrbücher für classische Philologie, Supplement volume 19, 1893, pp. 321–364; W. Kierdorf: Laudatio funebris, Meisenheim am Glan 1980
  2. Suetonius, Julius 6 = ORF3 No. 121, fragment 29 = Caes. frg. 7 KLOTZ
  3. amítae méae Iûliae [dicr]
    A1 mâtérnum génus_ab rêgibus_órtum, [cl. heroica)
    B1 patérnum cum diîs_immortâlibus coniûnctum_(e)st. [cr + mol]
    A2 nam ab_Áncô Mârciô sunt Mârciî Rêgês, [cr + tr]
    quô nômine fuit mâter; [cr + tr]
    B2 â Vénere Iûliî, [cr?]
    cûius géntis família_(e)st nóstra. [cr + tr]
    est érgô_in génere
    A3 et sánctitâs rêgum, [cr + tr]
    quî plûrim(um)_ínter_(h)óminês póllent, [cr + tr]
    B3 et caerimônia deôrum, [cr + tr]
    quôr(um)_ípsî_(i)n potestâte sunt rêgês. [cr + tr]
    (comments by Karl Deichgräber: "Elegantia Caesaris—Zu Caesars Reden und 'Commentarii'". In: Gymnasium 57, 1950)
  4. Cp. Livius 1.23 et al. Caesar himself would later as pontifex maximus of Rome supervise the religio Romana.
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