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Narrative Knowledge – Anecdotal Strategies in Cicero’s Writings

25.10.2019 - 26.10.2019

International workshop organised by the project B07 „The Anecdote as a Form of Knowledge“ (Head: Prof. Dr. Melanie Möller)


This workshop aims to investigate the role of the anecdote in Cicero’s œuvre as a whole. The main objective is to complement one of our research group’s subprojects which focuses on the application of this narrative device in Cicero’s philosophical and rhetorical writings. Due to the fact that these writings are mostly conceived of as dialogues and therefore include a large number of distinct speakers, this workshop is also meant to broaden our perspective by paying particular attention on texts that contain Cicero’s personal voice, such as his letters and public speeches.

Can we assume that there is a logical connection between Cicero’s employment of different characters and how the anecdotes told by them feature in his texts? Are we able to detect a direct impact on the speakers’ specific ways of practicing philosophy, rhetoric, or politics? What about Cicero’s own position? Is he prone to the usage of this miniature narrative form and does his usage bring about a particular narrative tone or even change the classification of the text’s genre?

Starting from these premises, we want to suggest a strategic use of anecdotes in Cicero’s theoretical and practical writings, both to fashion a Ciceronian theory of this narrative form of its own and, further on, to inductively extrapolate Cicero’s view of a rhetoric of the anecdote to which he seems to attribute specific argumentative powers and peculiar narrative potentials. Are we allowed to apply Nietzsche’s famous suggestion that it is possible to reconstruct a complete system of philosophy and a philosopher’s life as a whole from (not more than) three anecdotes, even if in one instance a rather sceptical than eclectic Cicero tells his own readers not to do so (cf. Cic.Tusc. 5, 31: non igitur ex singulis vocibus philosophi spectandi sunt – “don’t judge philosophers by just one of their remarks”)? Might we treat even this reflection on the (in)significance of a singular anecdotal dictum as being part of a subcutaneous, yet detectable theory of the anecdote in Cicero’s writings?

The assumption of an argumentative and rhetorical importance of the anecdote within Cicero’s œuvre leads us to the issue of the epistemological dimension of this narrative device. Thus, we want to engage with our collaborative research center’s crucial questions on the transfer of knowledge and inquire into the epistemic implications of the Ciceronian usage of anecdotes. Can they achieve a particular epistemic consolidation and validity by virtue of the fact that they are iterated and retold in different contexts? What about the contexts themselves? Do anecdotes have an influence on the readers’ perception and, thus, on the epistemic status of the framing text? Can we also ascribe to them the capacity to incorporate a narrative knowledge per se which contains instructions for a practical know-how of narrative techniques and rhetorical skills like in passages about the convenient employment of facetiae and exempla? Here, questions of a plausible and useful distinction between anecdote and example might enter the discussion and help us to give the anecdote (the undoubtedly less studied narrative form in Classics) its long overdue theorization, accompanied by a systematic characterization based on the phenomena of Cicero’s texts.                  


Friday, 25/10/2019

15:00 Welcoming


(Melanie Möller, Berlin)


Demosthenes on the Beach: The Function and Tradition of Demosthenic Anecdotes in Cicero

(Henriette van der Blom, Birmingham)

17:00–17:30 Coffe break

Cato maior de senectute and Laelius de amicitia as Re-Enactments of Cicero’s Theory of ‘Wit’. On Anecdote, Style, and Knowledge.

(Matthias Grandl, Berlin)


Two Anecdotes in Cicero’s Pro Sexto Roscio Amerino: Moving beyond Ancient Rhetorical Theory

(Ann Vasaly, Boston)

19:30 Reception


Saturday, 26/10/2019


Chronos and Kairos in Cicero’s Anecdotes

(Fabian Zuppke, Berlin)


Writer, Addressee, and Anecdotes in Cicero's Epistulae ad Familiares

(Serena Cammoranesi, Manchester)

12:00–13:00 Lunch

Anecdotes in Cicero’s Letters to Friends: Creating a Shared Past?

(Catherine Steel, Glasgow)

14:30–15:00 Roundup

Zeit & Ort

25.10.2019 - 26.10.2019

Sitzungsraum der SFB-Villa, Schwendenerstraße 8, 14195 Berlin-Dahlem

Weitere Informationen

Um Anmeldung bei Matthias Grandl (magrandl@zedat.fu-berlin.de) wird gebeten.