112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Tongue-Tied: Reconstructing Cicero's Pro Titinia Cottae

Katherine Sutor, University of Toronto (Canada)

In his no longer extant Pro Titinia Cottae, Cicero defended his client against the charge of "spells and incantations." While this speech no longer exists, Cicero's InVatinium and Apuleius' Apologia offer insight into Cicero's potential arguments, providing more understanding of elite views of magic in an undocumented time period.


In his work Brutus, written in 46 BCE, Cicero recalls one of his early speeches, the Pro Titinia Cottae, in which he acted as advocate for a woman accused of poisoning under the lex Cornelia de sicariis et veneficiis. Cicero's opponent, Curio, appears to have lost track of his argument and blamed his lapse in memory on Titinia's "spells and incantations" (Brutus 217). While many scholars remark upon this speech as the first example of a Roman ritual binding spell, no one has commented on the lackluster nature of Cicero's reaction to Curio: he simply writes off the excuse as ridiculous. Did Cicero respond to Curio in his actual oration? Why or why not? If he did, what were his arguments? By examining Cicero's only other speech that treats communication with the supernatural, In Vatinium, and Apuleius' Apologia, the second century orator's self-defense against the accusation of magic, this paper willshow why Cicero found Curio's statement so invalid and reconstruct the likely arguments of the missing Pro Titinia Cottae: that a proper, educated Roman elite woman would never participate in such illicit activities.

In his extant speeches Cicero mentions the supernatural to enhance his arguments. One might be tempted to deduce that Cicero found "religious" argumentation valid, but "magical" ones invalid. Such reasoning, however, is problematic. Firstly, in 56 BCE, Cicero delivered his In Vatinium, in which he inveighs against a Pythagorean who conducted strange nocturnal rites, which a modern reader would classify as magic. Secondly, "magic" was not a term Cicero would have recognized as its own category. In his philosophical works, Cicero refers to magi exclusively as Persian priests(De divinatione 46). Vatinus could not be a magician, nor could Titinia be to Curio, because magus was strictly an ethnographic term. Cicero's reticence in this case would then have to be more specific: Cicero might reject Curio's assertion because he did not believe that in this situation this sort of activity would have any effect in the human sphere.

If Cicero did respond to Curio, what sort of arguments would he have used? Extrapolating from his own arguments in In Vatinium, Cicero could have argued that Titinia participated exclusively in rituals socially acceptable for her gender and social status. In the same vein, Apuleius' Apologia contrasts the beliefs of the "vulgar" and of the well-educated upper class, with the lower-class often applying magical motives to aspects of elite life they cannot understand. Again, Cicero's rhetoric would focus on bolstering Titinia's public image. Exploring Cicero's potential arguments in the Pro Titinia Cottae has implications for a modern understanding of what "magic" meant in this time period, for which there is scanty evidence. It is unlikely that Cicero would have made arguments that would not have persuaded the majority of his audience -- otherwise, he would not win the case --, so an investigation of possible techniques provides a deeper understanding of what other elite Romans might have believed or at least wanted to appear to believe.