In fact, this “Handbook on Electioneering” is rather more complicated than it appears. There has long been some doubt on whether it really was written by the second-rate Quintus, attempting to instruct his much smarter elder brother in how to reach the consulship. Why, after all, would it have been preserved? And why did Marcus need Quintus’ advice? Many critics have suspected that it was a nostalgic fiction—or rhetorical exercise—of the early imperial period, written decades after popular elections had ended under Roman autocratic rule. But at the same time, most critics have imagined that it nevertheless represented much of the reality of Roman political competition; and that’s partly because it can seem so close to our own.
Where Freeman thinks the work is not Rovian enough, he Roves it up. Quintus, for instance, says, “See to it, given an opportunity, that report circulates of any crime, lust or bribery warranted by your rivals’ behavior.” Freeman translates part of that as “Smear these men at every opportunity.” Quintus tells Marcus to remember that he is an orator (he forgot?), so he must use those factors that aid his skill (facultatis adiumenta) at speaking. But Cicero in his writings followed the Elder Cato’s famous definition of the orator as “a man of good character trained to eloquence” (vir bonus dicendi peritus). Quintus tells him that he must either turn down impossible requests gently or not turn them down at all, since “the former marks a man of good character” (vir bonus) and “the latter is the mark of a good candidate” (petitor bonus). Freeman does not record that distinction at all. He just writes that always saying yes is “a path often taken by political candidates.”
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