Tax Avoidance: Hortensia’s Efficacious Diversions
Hortensia’s speech aims to convince the triumvirs that women should not pay taxes. The tropes and schemes employed by Hortensia help her conduct a political project limited by her illegitimacy as a woman. Hortensia compels by directing the audience’s attention away from women and towards the triumvirs, by creating a space for critique, and finally by delivering her view. She succeeds through her use of figurative language. Aware of her status, she uses figures to disrupt her prescribed illegitimacy, enabling her communication with those that may dismiss her at any moment.
Hortensia controls the attention of her audience by dexterously using tropes and schemes. She distracts when discussing women and exaggerates when talking about the triumvirs. Using litotes, she says, “If you claim that you have in any way been wronged by us, as you were by our husbands, proscribe us as you did them.” The husbands were proscribed with death; to replace “kill us” or any other explicit term with “proscribe us” reduces the severity of the punishment Hortensia asks for as a bluff. Likewise, Hortensia uses ellipses when discussing the donation made by the mothers at the time of the Carthaginian threat: “They gave willingly…” The omitted direct object here disables the triumvirs from projecting what the women should rightfully give. Such understatements allow Hortensia to shift the audience’s attention from the topic of women as potential taxpayers, to a critique of the triumvirs themselves.
Hortensia uses figurative language to exaggerate the qualities of the Republic to initiate critique of the triumvirs. Hortensia magnifies the failure of the triumvirs using hyperbole: “Why should we pay taxes when we have no part in public office or honours or commands or government in general, an evil you have fought over with such disastrous results?” Such explicit negative qualities communicate Hortensia’s opinion that the government is failing. Hortensia also uses the scheme of polysyndeton, not only in the previous quote, with the use of “or” emphasizing all the areas of government women are absent from, but earlier as well: “…you will set us into a state unworthy of our family and manners and our female gender.” She also uses it later: “They gave willingly, not from their land or their fields or their dowry or their households…” Hortensia overuses conjugations to emphasize the many rights women do not have. The final form of exaggeration appears in Hortensia’s use of climax: “We did not pay taxes to Caesar or to Pompey, nor did Marius ask us for contributions, nor Cinna nor Sulla, even though he was a tyrant over this country.” The final apposition is the peak of the climax Hortensia aims for; the scheme emphasizes the fact that not even tyrants asked women to pay taxes. Directing the public’s attention to the mistakes and faults of the government allows her to transform the dialogue from a defense of women to critique of the triumvirs. Her statement begs the triumvirs the rhetorical question, do you wish to act as tyrants? She answers this in her final, concluding statement, “And you say that you are reestablishing the Republic!” Her answer is that if the triumvirs act as tyrants, they at once demolish the very Republic they aim to establish with their taxation. Hortensia’s diversion and critique create the opportunity for her to offer her own opinion on the triumvirs and the Republic.
Hortensia uses rhetorical questions to move her speech from qualifying the triumvirs to one directly challenging them. Her use of erotema from the first paragraph to the second paragraph signifies the transition where Hortensia asserts women will abstain from paying taxes to a failing Republic. She enters the political apolitically through the implementation of paradox: “But if there should a war against the Celts or Parthians, we will not be less eager for our country’s welfare than our mothers. But we will never pay taxes for civil wars, and we will not cooperate with you against each other.” Hortensia claims women are not political and hence do not pay taxes: “Why should we pay taxes when we have no part in public office or honours or commands or government?” Then she says that women will also not pay taxes for civil wars, but this is an explicit political action – a boycott. If Hortensia wants to be political by boycotting then by her own definition, she should pay taxes, since the right to be political requires paying taxes. Hortensia uses paradox to assert that women will avoid taxes as a boycott against the project of a failing Republic. This final figure completes her process of diverting attention, centering the triumvirs as subjects of critique, and asserting her political stance of boycotting taxation.
The reasons to dismiss Hortensia are many: she is a woman, she is demanding women do not pay taxes, she calls the triumvirs tyrants, and humiliates their attempt at establishing the Republic. The implicit nature of figurative language allows Hortensia’s inappropriate speech to be effectively communicated rather than dismissed. Although the triumvirs try to drive her out of the forum, they fail to do so because the public legitimizes her as a speaker, “the lictors were stopped by the shouts of the crowd outside and the triumvirs postponed the proceedings till the next day.” Hortensia’s subversion comes to fruition and her critique is legitimized by the public because she effectively implemented figures to conceal the disruptive nature of her speech.