Although men running for positions of power in the Roman Republic were deemed candidati
- ‘made shining white’, due to their artificially white togas- their methods of winning elections were oftentimes anything but. In fact, Quintus Tullius Cicero informs readers in his Commentariolum Petitionis (Little Handbook on Electioneering) that “Politics is full of deceit, treachery, and betrayal”. Within this work reflecting the events of the consular election of 64 BC, Quintus Cicero presents many ‘helpful’ techniques to use when campaigning, including promising everything to everybody, speaking with “vague generalities”, and reminding the public incessantly of the sexual scandals of which other candidates have been involved.
Just in time for the recent American election, a new edition of the Latin text has been translated and retitled How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians . Philip Freeman, the translator, has written many books pertaining to Ancient Roman history, received his PhD in Classics from Harvard University, and is currently a professor at Luther College. The title seems to have been altered by the translator to market to a modern audience, and thus reflects his view that the work is still highly relevant to the modern political scene. He is not alone in his belief, as this little-known guidebook has been compared by some to Machiavelli’s influential work, [b:The Prince|28862|The Prince|Niccolò Machiavelli|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347720934s/28862.jpg|1335445], which is valued for its modern significance. However, unlike Machiavelli, the author of the Commentariolum Petitionis is still relatively unknown in the present day. Quintus is often overshadowed by his older brother, Marcus Tullius Cicero, who is considered to be the greatest Roman orator, and also held positions of great political power. In general, the brothers had a very affectionate relationship, as shown by the writing of the Commentariolum Petitionis itself; it was intended to be read by Marcus, who was campaigning to become a Roman consul. Although this book presents many interesting and relevant pieces of advice pertaining to how to win an election, there is a lack of evidence supporting Quintus’s ideas. This prevents it from providing comprehensive information on the subject. However, history itself has demonstrated the success of much of Quintus’s advice, showing that the manipulation and strategy used in ancient times has remained as relevant today as when the book was written.
It is difficult to judge the writing quality of this book due to the fact that it is a translation. However, the manner of which it has been translated (as in, the terminology used) makes it more relevant to modern times. The ‘modern adaptation’, in a sense, makes the book more intriguing since it is obviously presented in a way that is more relatable to current political events. Despite this, the fact that Philip Freeman adapted the original text could affect the meaning of Quintus’s original words. Some people claim that the meanings do differ in some places; however, one would have to be fluent in Latin in order to confirm discrepancies. This is a short book. The advantage to having such generalized content, applicable to any election in history, is that the evidence is unnecessary in a sense; people who buy the book will still be entertained. However, the evidence is necessary for historians and for those who are trying to use the book to learn about elections in the Roman Republic in particular. This book reveals much pertaining to political campaigns, and presents many questions about ethics of campaigning, and even politics itself, that could be further explored. I definitely recommend it for those interested in politics who want a quick, interesting read.