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Cicero, Philippic 2, 44–50, 78–92, 100–119

Ingo Gildenhard


§ 44: A Glance at Teenage Antony: Insolvent, Transgendered, Pimped, and Groomed

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1Since OCR invites us to parachute right into the middle of Philippic 2, here is a quick orientation of where exactly in the text we are when we reach § 44: after his opening statement (§§ 1–2) and his rebuttal of Antony’s attack on him (§§ 3–41), Cicero spends the following two paragraphs inveighing against his adversary’s skills as a public speaker, with particular reference to Antony’s oratorical efforts in the period immediately after Caesar’s assassination. This transitional section (§§ 42–43) helps to set up the second main part of the speech, which begins here in § 44: it features a prolonged and systematic assault on Antony. This portion is of prodigious length (§§ 44–114) and will bring us right up to the concluding peroration (§§ 115–19). Still, Cicero alleges at the end of § 43 that in detailing Antony’s depravities he will proceed selectively, so as to have something in reserve for future jousts (nec enim omnia effundam, ut, si saepius decertandum sit, ut erit, semper novus veniam). Shortage of subject matter won’t be a problem: after all, Antony’s vices and misdeeds are legion (quam facultatem mihi multitudo istius vitiorum peccatorumque largitur).

2One theme that offers continuity across §§ 40–44 is ‘inheritance and bankruptcy’. Cicero concludes his self-defence by debunking Antony’s slur that bequests do not come his way (§ 40: hereditates mihi negasti venire), before noting, at the beginning of § 42, that this line of attack is a bit rich coming from someone like Antony who refused to accept his father’s estate because it was loaded with debts (quamquam hoc maxime admiratus sum, mentionem te hereditatum ausum esse facere, cum ipse hereditatem patris non adisses). Antony senior died debt-ridden around 71 BCE, when Antony junior was eleven or twelve years old, and Cicero chooses this shameful loss of family fortune as the point of departure for his obloquy in § 44. It enables him to suggest that Antony comes from a disreputable branch of the gens Antonia and lacks filial pietas on top (since he chose to disown his father). And it dovetails nicely into his main line of attack in the opening paragraph, Antony’s shockingly disgraceful sex-life, including the willingness to earn money as a male prostitute before ending up as Curio’s toy-boy.

Moment in time: This and the following three paragraphs (45–47) detail, or allude to, events that allegedly (! Cicero freely mixes fact and fiction) took place in the late 70s and early to late 60s BCE.

3Visne igitur te inspiciamus a puero?: Cicero began the previous paragraph with a direct address to his wider (imaginary) audience (43: at quanta merces rhetori data est! audite, audite, patres conscripti, et cognoscite rei publicae vulnera —‘But what a fee was given to Antony’ s teacher in rhetoric! Hear, hear, senators, and learn about the wounds inflicted on the commonwealth!’). By contrast, he opens § 44 with a rhetorical question addressed specifically to Antony, who is also imagined in attendance: vis is the 2nd person singular of volo, velle, attached to which is the enclitic interrogative particle -ne. Verbs of will and desire are followed either by an accusative-plus-infinitive (visne… nos te inspicere…?) or a subordinate clause introduced by ut or ne — though ‘when the idea of Wishing is emphatic, the simple Subjunctive, without ut, is employed’ (Gildersleeve and Lodge 347). This is the construction here. In the English translation, an infinitive might be a good way of linking vis and inspiciamus: ‘would you like us to examine you…?’

4igitur: the conjunction here serves to introduce the promised topic: Antony’s depravity (see OLD s. v. 4): ‘So then’.

5a puero: puer means ‘boy’, and the ablative phrase indicates a point of origin in time, i.e. ‘from boyhood’.

6Extra information:

7The precise reference of Roman age-terms is often difficult to determine. In his dialogue Cato Maior de Senectute 33, Cicero outlines the ‘race-course of life’ as involving the following four stages:

  • the weakness of childhood (infirmitas puerorum): c. 3–16 (following infancy?)
  • the fierceness of youth (ferocitas iuvenum): c. 17–30
  • the seriousness of settled age (gravitas constantis aetatis): c. 30s and 40s
  • the maturity of old age (senectutis maturitas): c. 50s–

8For further details, see Parkin (2003) and Cokayne (2003).

9sic opinor: sic here means ‘yes’ and opinor in response to a question ‘I think so’. Cicero answers his own rhetorical question with a colloquial affirmation that gives his discourse a snarky flavour: he clearly relishes the prospect of going through Antony’s imaginary CV.

10a principio ordiamur: ordiamur is an exhortative subjunctive (‘Let us…’). The hiatus here, i.e. the collocation of vowels at the end of one word (principi-o) and the beginning of another (o-rdiamur), is unusual: in good prose style, ‘the juxtaposition of the same long vowels should be avoided’ (Kirchner 2007: 191). One is therefore left wondering whether Cicero here deliberately breaches stylistic conventions, perhaps to feign distaste at the material he is about to delve into. The phrase a principio reiterates and fortifies a puero in a mock-serious tone designed to suggest meticulous attention to detail, reminiscent of the Sound-of-Music principle ‘Let’ s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start’ or Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland: ‘“Begin at the beginning”, the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop”’. (And — nice irony — it must have been the cue for OCR to jump in here!)

11tenesne memoria praetextatum te decoxisse?: another rhetorical question held in the 2nd person singular, again with the verb (tenes) upfront and the enclitic interrogative particle -ne tagged on. tenes… memoria (= meministi) introduces an indirect statement with te as subject accusative and the intransitive decoxisse as verb. ‖ decoquo is a culinary term, meaning ‘to diminish the volume of a liquid by boiling (coquo) it down (de)’. Metaphorically, it was used to refer to squandering resources (the Latin equivalent to our ‘to burn through money’) as well as the outcome thereof: ‘to become insolvent’, which is its meaning here. The waste of Antony’s patrimony and its toxic consequences are key themes in the paragraph, reinforced through lexical repetition: see decoctoribus, decoxisse. praetextatum stands in predicative position to te: ‘when you (still) wore the toga praetexta’, i.e. ‘when you were a boy’. Cicero’s use of praetextatus as age-label (rather than puer, iuvenis, or adulescens) prepares the ground for the sartorial satire to follow.

  • 1 For the technique of impersonation see Rhetorica Ad Herennium 4.65; Silva Rhetoricae,http://rhetor (...)

12‘patris’, inquies, ‘ista culpa est’: Cicero imagines Antony’s response to the charge of bankruptcy to be a ‘It’ s all me dad’s fault’. inquies is 2nd person singular future indicative active. ‖ The sentence well illustrates the power of dramatic word order. Stripped of rhetorical amplification, the Latin might read: culpam esse patris dicet (‘He will say that it is the fault of his father’). Instead of any such bland and boring pronouncement, Cicero offers up a rhetorical gem. To start with, we get an instance of so-called sermocinatio or ‘dialogue’, as Cicero switches from direct address (visne…?) to impersonation:1 he acts out what he imagines to be Antony’s reply to the charge of insolvency. The use of direct (instead of indirect) speech adds drama to the occasion and also enables Cicero ‘to perform Antony’. It further conveys the impression that Antony is under cross-examination, and what he (according to Cicero) comes up with in a moment of stress is not pretty: in a shocking act of shameless disloyalty, he blames his father. The exposed position of the genitive patris, further emphasized by the inset inquies, enacts Antony’s willingness to leave his father hung out to dry, to deflect responsibility from himself.

13patris: Rome’s political culture, with its emphasis on the emulation of forebears and commitment to the preservation of ancestral customs (mores maiorum), was much invested in the figure of the father and the notion of paternal discipline (patria potestas), in particular their role in transmitting standards of behaviour and adherence to social norms across the generations. Cicero here intimates that Antony, lacking a proper father figure, was set adrift early on with disastrous consequences. His biological father, the disreputable Marcus Antonius Creticus, was strikingly unsuccessful as a military commander, had a nasty reputation for large-scale provincial exploitation, and died in bankruptcy. And his stepfather, Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sura, joined Catiline’s conspiracy and was among those executed by Cicero in 63 BCE. (In § 14, Cicero explicitly blames Antony for choosing Lentulus as role model rather than a morally more upright relative; cf. also § 17.)

14ista culpa: there is a hidden agenda in Cicero’s use of the demonstrative pronoun ista. It implies a sense of relief, coupled with an admission of guilt, on Antony’s part: in this particular instance, he is able to shift the blame onto someone else, and does so gladly even if it amounts to a betrayal of his progenitor; yet the over-emphatic demonstrative suggests a guilty conscience — a nervous awareness that further charges are bound to stick. In a mere five words, Cicero thus sketches out a nuanced character profile of Antony: fretting, disloyal, guilty, stupid.

15concedo: concedo means something like ‘granted’ and is designed to surprise: why does Cicero concede a point to the opponent? But as we read on, it becomes apparent that the quasi-conciliatory tone in fact prepares the way for a sucker punch:

16etenim est pietatis plena defensio: etenim sets up the sarcastic quip that Cicero only lets him off the hook since Antony anyway impales himself: his imaginary line of defence (shifting blame onto his father) manifests a shocking lack of pietas. Cicero again uses extraordinary word order to highlight the key lexeme: just as patris, the genitive pietatis takes pride of place. The correlated fronting of both patris and pietatis (words further linked by alliteration) energizes Cicero’s sarcasm stylistically. (Contrast the ‘unmarked’ variant: etenim defensio est plena pietatis.) Antony here violates a fundamental Roman value: ‘the father/son relationship was bilateral in nature, including devotion and affection on the part of the sons and consideration and respect on the part of the fathers. The Latin word pietas, used to describe moral and social duty of both sons and fathers, encapsulated this dual set of emotional obligations’(Cantarella 2003: 286).

17etenim: the conjunction is used for ‘adding something in explanation or corroboration of what has been said or implied’ (OLD s. v.).

18plena: for plenus + genitive see Gildersleeve & Lodge 239: ‘Of adjectives of Fulness, with the Genitive, only plenus, repletus, inops, and inanis are classical and common;… Plenus occurs very rarely with the Abl. in Cicero and Caesar, more often in Livy’.

19illud [est] tamen audaciae tuaequod sedisti in quattuordecimordinibus, cum esset lege Roscia decoctoribus certus locus constitutus, quamvis quis fortunae vitio, non suo decoxisset: the main verb of the sentence (est) is understood. audaciae tuae is a genitive of characteristic. The substantive quod-clause (in the indicative: Cicero claims to be reporting a fact) elaborates on — and stands in apposition to — illud. The subsequent cum- and quamvis-clauses explain why Cicero objects to Antony having taken a seat in the theater in the front fourteen rows. At Rome, ‘seating arrangements at the games were a reflection and reaffirmation of the social hierarchy’ (Edwards 1993: 111), and in 67 BCE the tribune of the people Lucius Roscius Otho passed the lex Roscia theatralis, which reserved the first fourteen rows (the quattuordecim ordines) behind the orchestra in the Roman theatre for the ‘knights’ (equites)—a social rank based in part on the assessment of wealth, i.e. property and possessions worth at least 400,000 sesterces. (We play the same games of privilege, eg John Lennon at the Royal Variety Performance, ‘For our last number I’ d like to ask your help. Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewelry’.) Roscius’law stipulated that those whose fortune dipped below this level lose the privilege of special seating — even if (as Cicero goes on to stress in the quamvis-clause) the insolvency was not their fault, but a stroke of bad luck. See further Rawson (1987: 102).

20audaciae tuae: audacia (‘recklessness’), which might be a useful quality in battle, ‘is exclusively negative in Cicero’ s works’(McDonnell 2006: 59). audax and audacia are common slurs in Cicero’s political invective, referring generally ‘to those who oppose the boni with disregard for the law’ (Grillo 2015: 124), with reference to Wirszubski (1961) and Weische (1966: 28–33), and Cicero, de Inventione 1.5); yet ‘the intensive application within [the second speech against Catiline] associates them specifically with the conspirators’ (Hutchinson 2005: 185). In Philippic 2, Cicero comes back to the thematic link between Catiline and audacia right away, calling Antony ‘more reckless than Catiline’ (audacior quam Catilina) in the programmatic opening paragraph. audacia remains a hallmark of Antony throughout the speech: see §§ 4 (o incredibilem audaciam), 9 (audaciae tuae), 19 (Antony takes pride in his audacia, though certain of his seemingly reckless acts should rather be ascribed to his stupidity), 43 (homo audacissime), 64 (Antony’s audacia tops that of everyone else), 68 (o audaciam immanem), 78 (nequam hominem audacemque), 90 (audacia). Here we might capture a sly dig at Antony’s stepfather (see above on patris), who passed on his wicked disposition to his impressionable charge. Words ‘of the audeo, audax, audacia family’also occur frequently in Roman comedy to refer to improper or outrageous behaviour: see Sussman (1998: 117, n. 8). The two frames of reference — political invective and comedy — are clearly not mutually exclusive.

21decoctoribus certus locus constitutus: this is the first of three instances of the attribute certus, -a, -um in the paragraph, all mockingly alliterated. (In addition to decoctoribus certus locus constitutus, see certa… merces and cito Curio in matrimonio… certo collocavit below.) The collocation certus locus would seem to imply that Roscius’ law, on top of depriving the insolvent of the privilege to sit with their rank, allocated them to a special area (of shame?), though our sources are silent on what that area might have been.

22quamvis quis fortunae vitio, non suo [vitio] decoxisset: the law did not differentiate between those who became insolvent owing to circumstances beyond their control such as parental mismanagement (= fortunae vitio, where fortuna means something akin to ‘bad luck’) and those who were personally responsible for their family’s loss of wealth.

23sumpsisti virilem, quam statim muliebrem togam reddidisti: after dealing with one instance of teenage delinquency, Cicero moves on to the moment when Antony came of age, which in Rome was marked by the ritual change of the toga praetexta (the boyhood toga) for the toga virilis (the manhood toga). Cicero’s syntax suggests that Antony instantly perverted the garment — turning it into something suitable for a person the exact opposite of a man with citizenship status, i.e. a woman (mulier) for sale (as the next sentence shows): the noun that virilem modifies, i.e. togam, which also serves as antecedent to the relative pronoun quam, has been sucked into the relative clause to keep close company with muliebrem: ‘you assumed the toga of manhood, which you instantly turned into the outfit worn by female prostitutes’. This is humiliation not by cross-dressing but by trans-gendering: ‘Accusations of men wearing women’ s clothing are a well-attested form of invective and there are repeated examples of this within Cicero’s speeches. In this passage, however, it is not that Antony has made himself effeminate by wearing women’s clothes, he has instead worn the toga muliebris and so has become a scortum, a prostitute’(Dixon 2014: 302). (In fact, Cicero puts it the other way around, claiming that Antony as soon as he came of age, prostituted himself and thereby transformed his brand-new toga virilis, which ought to have been a badge of pride, into a toga muliebris, a mark of shame.) ‘Woman’ is a common aspersion in the hypermasculine, testosterone-fuelled world of Roman politics, which often coincides with charges of sexual licentiousness: in one of his speeches against Verres (2.2.192), for instance, Cicero suggests that it is impossible to find a man lazier and more cowardly, more a man among women and a contemptible woman among men than his adversary (homo inertior, ignavior, magis vir inter mulieres, impura inter viros muliercula proferri non potest); and in the speech on his house (de Domo sua 139), his archenemy Clodius is said to have violated religious sensibilities by being a woman among men and a man among women (contra fas et inter viros saepe mulier et inter mulieres vir). Interestingly enough, Curio Pater is supposed to have quipped about Caesar that he was ‘every woman’ s man and every man’s woman’ (Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar 52.3: omnium mulierum virum et omnium virorum mulierem).

  • 2 See further Strong (2016), esp. 11: ‘While Roman texts sometimes used scortum and meretrix interch (...)

24primo [eras] vulgare scortum: the original meaning of scortum is ‘leather’ or ‘hide’, but it is also a word for both male and female prostitute from Plautus onwards, presumably on account of a fantasised connection between the working of leather and sexual intercourse: see Adams (1983), who also notes that scortum was a more pejorative term than meretrix.2 So scortum vulgare = ‘a whore — and a common one to boot’. (In fact, the underlying idea might be that the scortum is like an ‘old boot’, supposedly worn ‘hard’ — and worn out — by too much sex.) The practice of prostitution carried a heavy social stigma in republican Rome and included ‘the exclusion of prostitutes and pimps from the senatorial order, the equestrian order, the roll of judges (album iudicum), the decurionate, and the army’ — as well as a host of other civic disabilities (McGinn 1998: 26). The accusation of prostitution is a standard topos of political invective: ‘Not surprisingly, prostitutes provided fuel for the fires of Roman invective, both in the courtroom and out, and an accusation of prostitution was a handy weapon to use against both male and female opponents’ (Williams 2010: 36). Cicero liked the slur. In the pro Caelio, he turns Clodia into a quasi-prostitute. In the speech on his house (Dom. 49), he calls her brother Clodius a scortum populare (‘everybody’ s favourite slut’) and in the speech for Sestius (Sest. 39) a scurrarum locupletium scortum (‘a whore for rich idlers’). See also in Catilinam 2.6, where Cicero implies homoerotic bonds between Catiline and his fellow-revolutionaries. Many prostitutes, male or female, were slaves — a connection Cicero does not fail to make: see the subsequent paragraph.

25primo: an adverb (‘initially’).

26certa [erat] flagitii merces nec ea [merces erat] parva: having joined the oldest profession in the world in the attempt to restore the family’s fortune, Antony (so Cicero suggests) made himself sexually available at a fixed rate (certa… merces), which amounted to a considerable sum (nec ea parva). The lexeme merces hints at the etymologically related term meretrix (‘woman who earns, paid woman’, from mereo ‘to receive one’ s wage’, ‘earn’, or, more specifically, ‘to earn money by prostitution’); cf. also a meretricio quaestu in the following sentence.

27flagitii: flagitium means ‘disgrace’, ‘infamy’ and can also refer to outrageous behaviour, esp. (as here) to a disgraceful act of sexual misconduct (OLD s. v. 4c). Cicero associates Antony with flagitium at various points throughout the oration: see §§ 24, 45, 47, 57, 58, 76 (+ 15 and 35 for the adjective flagitiosus).

28sed cito Curio intervenit, qui te a meretricio quaestu abduxit et, tamquam stolam dedisset, in matrimonio stabili et certo collocavit: The blow-by-blow (cf. statim, primo, cito) of Cicero’s ‘travesty’ reaches its coup de grâce: Curio comes to the rescue (intervenit is highly ironic), collecting (or ‘abducting’) Antony from plying his trade in Rome’s redlight district and making an honest wo/man out of him: the stola was the garb worn by legally married Roman matrons. The elements of this scenario are easy to parallel in New Comedy: ‘Like the young lover in numerous Roman comedies, Curio rescues his beloved from the threat of a life of prostitution to make her his wife’ (Edwards 1993: 64).

29Curio: C. Scribonius Curio (c. 84–49 BCE) is a curious character and constant companion throughout the first half of the speech (see §§ 3, 4, 11, 45–46, 48, 50–51, 58). Born just a couple of years before Antony, he became quaestor in 54, tribune of the people in 50, and praetor in 49, before dying in the same year fighting on Caesar’s side against King Juba I (a supporter of Pompey) in North Africa. Like his father he was well-connected and a reasonably talented orator, being in cahoots with, or entertaining friendly relations with, such varied characters as Antony, Clodius (whom he supported in the context of the Bona Dea scandal), and Caesar (quite belatedly, after years of opposition, persuaded, it seems, by a handsome financial reward). In a letter to Atticus from 13 February 61, in which he details resistance against the senatorial effort to pass a bill against Clodius on account of his religious transgression at the Bona Dea festival, Cicero refers to ‘the whole Catilinarian gang with little Miss Curio at their head’ (Att. 1.14.5 = 14 SB: totus ille grex Catilinae duce filiola Curionis). Despite the fact that Cicero did not always see eye to eye with Curio filius or Curio pater (for whom see § 45 below), he entertained friendly relations with the family, the occasional bust-up notwithstanding (Cicero’s letters ad Familiares 2.1–7 are addressed to Curio Junior).

30Cicero drops hints about the relationship between Antony and Curio from the end of the exordium onwards. In response to Antony’s accusation that Cicero turned his back on him after an initial phase of support, Cicero rejects the idea that young Antony was ever under his influence: however salutary that may have been, Curio would not have tolerated any such interference (Phil. 2.3):

at enim te in disciplinam meam tradideras — nam ita dixisti — domum meam ventitaras. ne tu, si id fecisses, melius famae, melius pudicitiae tuae consuluisses. sed neque fecisti nec, si cuperes, tibi id per C. Curionem facere licuisset.

[You had given yourself over to my instruction (as you put it), had frequented my house. If indeed you had done so, you would have taken better care of your reputation and your virtue. But you neither did so nor, had you wished, would Gaius Curio have let you.]

31As Shackleton Bailey (1982: 219) points out, we are here dealing with ‘a hit at Antony’ s subservience to a possessive lover’. This opening gesture to their smutty affair (as filthy as fabricated) finds full elaboration in §§ 44–46.

32qui te a meretricio quaestu abduxit: meretricius quaestus is synonymous with flagitii merces in the previous sentence. abducere can imply seduction: Cicero relishes the paradox that Curio ‘seduces’ Antony the ‘seductress’ away from his métier of seduction.

33tamquam stolam dedisset: tamquam introduces a comparative clause, in which Cicero is speaking figuratively and counterfactually (hence the subjunctive): ‘as though he had given you a stola’, i.e. ‘as if he had turned you into an honourable woman’.

34in matrimonio stabili et certo collocavit: at the moment Antony is supposed to become a vir, he loses the plot of growing up. His period as a free-lance prostitute segues into a ‘stable’ love affair with one particular suitor that resembles a proper marriage, thus completing the process of transforming Antony from fledgling man to full-blown woman.

35By construing collocare with in + ablative, Cicero tweaks the standard idiom in matrimonium collocare = ‘to give in marriage’ (OLD s. v. 9). Here the meaning of collocare is rather ‘to put/place (into a situation or condition)’: OLD s. v. 7. Part of the fun here is that he describes the relationship with full irony as a proper marriage rather than using another term that would have flagged up the perverse nature of the liaison, such as matrimonium iniustum, a union in which the partners wanted to be married but lacked conubium, i.e. ‘the capacity to marry legally’, or concubinatus, partners living together but with one or both lacking the desire to be married (see Treggiari 1991: 49–52 or Hersch 2010: 19–22). The repetition of certus reinforces the irony: Antony has moved from selling his sexual favours for a fixed price tag to a firm and stable marriage (though, as the next paragraph shows, his mercenary motives remained very much alive).


Digging Deeper: Fashion and Fornication in Late-Republican Rome

36In his opening salvo, Cicero traces Antony’s transition from childhood to wo/manhood via a series of references to Roman dress, which he correlates with hints at various sexual depravities. To appreciate the invective punch in the story he tells about this formative period of Antony’s life, we thus need to take a closer look at ‘fashion’ and ‘fornication’ in late-republican Rome.


37The first item on display in Cicero’s fashion show is unisex childwear (… praetextatum te …, a reference to the toga praetexta, worn by citizen children of both sexes), before gender-specific teenage attire gets showcased: the garment of manhood, the toga virilis, makes an alltoo-brief appearance, with Antony, seemingly still half in déshabillé, dropping it again to dress himself up in truly grown-up finery, the toga muliebris or prostitute’s outfit. After this excursion into the haute couture of the demi-monde, the show concludes with a return to respectability (of sorts): in his final appearance on Cicero’s catwalk Antony sports fashion suited for a properly married woman, the stola.

38As we do today, the Romans used attire to assert and promote values and distinctions — not least of age, gender, social rank, and civic status. As Edmondson (2008: 22) explains:

Roman citizens, therefore, both male and female, were marked by their entitlement to wear what was construed as distinctively Roman civic dress, or, to use Suetonius’term, habitus patrius et civilis (Calig. 52.1; cf. Tib. 13.1). By wearing the toga or stola on civic occasions, they demonstrated their membership in a defined and bounded community, the gens Romana; they laid claim to a shared Roman identity and the cultural traditions with which each of these garments was invested. Roman public dress helped to delineate precisely what it meant to be Roman.

39This is especially true since the use of the toga was restricted to Roman citizens: ‘the right to wear the toga was withheld by law from noncitizens, foreigners as well as slaves, rendering it an exclusive badge of citizenship and the sartorial manifestation of Roman identity’ (George 2008: 95). In Virgil’s Aeneid, Jupiter famously calls the Romans ‘masters of the world and the people who wear the toga’ (1.286: Romanos, rerum dominos gentemque togatam). The outfit thus included and excluded. And despite Augustus’ edict that all citizens are to wear the toga when visiting the Forum (Suetonius, Life of Augustus 40.5), we ought not to imagine that the garment erased (rather than reinforced) social distinctions also within Rome’s civic community:

Togas, like the Romans who wore them, were not created equal; citizenship at Rome did not entail membership in an undifferentiated collective, but in a highly stratified social system in which elements on visible display such as dress assumed enormous significance. As a powerful cultural symbol, the toga was a means to an end whose significance varied according to status. The wealthy embraced its positive connotations of civic engagement, or moral righteousness, and, more fundamentally, of Roman identity as part of their social entitlement. Other status groups, clients and others, who profited less easily from it, could regard the toga more realistically, without the roseate glow of social privilege (George 2008: 107).

  • 3 Further bibliography includes Heskel (1994), esp. 140–41 on Phil. 2.44: Vout (1996), who encourage (...)

40In order to see how Antony manages to pervert the signifying codes of Roman dress in Cicero’s sartorial satire, we need to have a look at the ideologies woven into the fabric of all the garments that Cicero parades before us. For each was designed to broadcast a specific meaning and message about its wearer.3

(i) The toga praetexta

41Cicero’s first gesture to dress comes in the form of the age-label praetextatum (‘while you wore the toga praetexta’, i.e. ‘while you were still a boy’). The prepubescent dress was unisex, or, to put this differently, boys too wore purple:

Roman boys and girls were distinguished from adult Roman citizens by their wearing of a purple-bordered toga (the toga praetexta). Such togae praetextae marked children out early as members of the Roman civic body and helped to socialize them into the traditions of their community, but interestingly did not differentiate them by gender. Before puberty their incipient Romanness, their membership in the gens togata, was much more crucial than whether they were male or female (Edmondson 2008: 26).

42Children were not the only ones who wore the toga praetexta; it was also the garment of those with special responsibilities for the (religious) wellbeing of the commonwealth (generals, magistrates, some priests and priestesses) and other social groups when involved in the performance of certain sacrifices. The garment therefore possessed a ‘sacral aura’ —which extended to its use by children, protecting them from any kind of (polluting) sexual overture: ‘the toga praetexta functioned as an insignia of free-birth and free condition (insignia ingenuitatis et libertatis) to advise adults to avoid any expression of sexuality of any kind toward or around the child’(Sebesta 2005: 115), who goes on to explain the sacred protection that the garment was meant to extend to its wearer (116):

That the praetexta indicated a special social category is shown by its etymological meaning ‘woven first/woven before’. This etymology derives from the weaving technique required by the warp-weighted loom originally used by the Romans. … As the verb praetexere is used in the sense of protecting and defending…, so the praetexta denoted the weaving of a religious garment, as well as protecting the act of its weaving from religious pollution by warning by-standers to refrain from sacrilegious words, gestures, or activity.

(ii) The toga virilis

43Around the age of sixteen or seventeen, i.e. after reaching sexual maturity, a Roman male would undergo a ritual exchange of clothing that signified his entry into adulthood:

The ritual exchange of the bulla [sc. the protective amulet of the freeborn boy] and toga praetexta for the toga virilis was a defining moment in the life of a freeborn Roman boy as it marked the end of his boyhood and the beginning of his adult years. In setting aside the bulla and praetexta, the boy divested himself of the symbols of his boyhood, which represented a degree of venerability and vulnerability as well. Donning the toga virilis, he assumed a new identity, his white toga communicating his achievement of adulthood with its attendant freedoms (Dolanksy 2008: 58).

44As its attribute suggests, the toga vir-ilis marked its wearer as a vir, a lexeme that has a range of meanings. Most basically, it refers to an ‘adult male’, but it can also mean ‘husband’ or ‘soldier’: ‘The term also designates a position of authority and responsibility: the adult is enfranchised, while the child (or slave) is not; the man rules his wife in the household; the soldier is the defender of the safety of the state. In short, the term evokes more than mere gender’ (Gunderson 2000: 7). Gunderson goes on to cite Maria Wyke (1994: 136): ‘In the practices of the Roman world, the surface of the male body is thus fully implicated in definitions of power and civic responsibility’.

45Nothing is further removed from the image of the vir as an independent agent performing roles of responsibility within the household (as paterfamilias) and the commonwealth (as patron, magistrate, general, or senator) than the pathic passivity of a professional prostitute, which Cicero claims Antony became when reaching adulthood. Arguably, Cicero’s invective here taps into deep-seated Roman anxieties that ‘growing up’ can go awry as he homes in on a key moment in the journey of an upper-class Roman youth from boyhood to adulthood: upon assuming the toga virilis, he would have started a period of ‘apprenticeship’ in civic life under the guidance of an older male, often a close friend of the family, the so-called tirocinium fori. But the charge was potentially vulnerable (or perceived to be vulnerable) to sexual powerplay that would compromise his status and reputation as a vir, though it is important to emphasize that the Romans did not evolve practices of homoerotic bonding à la Grecque (see further below on fornication). As Stroup (2010: 143) explains:

Cicero’s acerbic reference to the toga muliebris — the ‘woman’ s toga’ prescribed for registered prostitutes [NB: that is uncertain: see below] — hints at the pathic connotations that might have accompanied any ritual training of the young by the old…. The goal of this passage, and indeed the whole of the Philippics, is to destroy Antony’s character by any means necessary. But this is no empty vituperation: the harsh innuendo of the tirocinium joke would fall flat did it not capitalize on an already deeply embedded social understanding of the act as one that, if bungled, could effectively ‘unmake’ the men it sought to produce.

46In the pro Caelio, Cicero struggles mightily with the problem that the defendant, a former protegé of his, had (so far) not really turned out the way he was supposed to given Cicero’s educational influence.

(iii) The toga muliebris

47Cicero pretends that Antony, right after doffing the toga praetexta for the toga virilis, turned it into a toga muliebris, which here clearly refers to a garment associated with prostitutes. Given that Philippic 2.44 is our ‘earliest clear and explicit testimony that the prostitute’ s hallmark was a toga’ (McGinn 1998: 159) it is not easy to reconstruct the cultural norms and practices that enabled this invective punch — since it is difficult to judge how much can be built on the Ciceronian evidence. As McGinn goes on to say, ‘the point of the remark concerning the muliebris toga assumes the exclusive identification of the wearing of the “female” toga with prostitutes’ (159). A note of caution is in order here: ‘Given Cicero’ s masterful use of Roman Comedy in his rhetoric, his reference to the prostitute’s toga does not rule out comic usage as the source of the practice but proves nothing by itself’(159–60). Further (if later) evidence that associates prostitutes with the wearing of the toga includes Horace, Satires 1.2.61–63 and 80–82 (see the discussion in Gowers (2012: 104–05); cf. Dixon (2014: 302–04) for a slightly more skeptical view of the evidence), Tibullus 3.16.3–4, and Martial 2.39 (with Vout 1996: 215). But it remains unclear, especially for Cicero’s times, to what extent the donning of a (darkened?) toga by prostitutes — as Dixon (2014: 302–04) notes, a rather impractical garment in which to ply their trade — was a social norm (or even legally enforced) or rather proverbial (akin to the idiom ‘to wear the trousers’).

(iv) The stola

48If Roman boys when coming of age exchanged the toga praetexta for the toga virilis and entered public life, Roman girls had no such career prospects. For them, the defining watershed in their transition from childhood to adulthood was getting married (often in their early teens) — a change of status that also coincided with a change in clothes, the donning of the so-called stola: ‘The stola indicated that the wearer was married in a iustum matrimonium (a legal marriage between two citizens) and was therefore a mark of honor, a way to distinguish sexual and social rank in broad fashion’ (Olson 2008: 27). As Edmondson (2008: 24) explains, ‘the dress of the matron was designed to shield its wearer both physically and morally from the prying gaze of disreputable males who might impugn her chastity’. The dress carried associations of chastity — Antony has stopped whoring around town, now that he has become Curio’s lawfully wedded wife.


  • 4 Further readings include Thorp (1992), Weeks (1991) (2001), Davidson (1998) (2001) (2007).

49Historically speaking, Greek and Roman attitudes to sexual matters have often been a significant source of embarrassment for classical educators and scholars alike, to the point that they often gingerly sidestepped or even censored the evidence. Over the past few decades, however, the rich visual and verbal legacy of ancient erotics has become a vibrant field of study, sweeping away the inhibitions of earlier centuries. First impulses for serious scholarly study of the historical nature of sexual experience came from feminist thought and practice in the 1960s and 1970s. Then, in 1976, the French savant Michel Foucault published the first instalment of his multi-volume History of Sexuality (The Will to Knowledge / La volonté de savoir) with a focus on the institutional and discursive construction of sexual experience in the early modern period. Foucault argued that sexuality is not a given, something one is born with; rather sexualities get formed within specific cultural contexts. Sexual preferences (and prejudices) thus emerge at least in part as the product of socio-historical and cultural circumstances. This means, among other things, that seemingly identical acts may have radically different meanings from one culture to the next — as well as within any one culture. An early case study of this phenomenon was Greek Homosexuality (first published in 1978) by the British Hellenist Kenneth Dover. He showed that the Greeks cultivated certain forms of (male) same-sex desire that defy our categorical distinction between ‘homosexuality’ and ‘heterosexuality’. The volumes by Foucault and Dover became landmark publications, not least since other scholars soon intertwined the works and thereby amplified their arguments. Dover’s work was also one of the inspirations behind Michel Foucault’s second and third volumes of his History of Sexuality, which appeared in 1984 and looked at Greek texts from the fifth-century BCE and the early imperial period (2/3rd century CE). Foucault is particularly keen on highlighting discontinuities between ancient and modern ways of construing the sphere of the erotic (including such categories as sex and gender, sexual preferences, sexual practices, and associated discourses of morality and desire etc.).4

  • 5 See Richlin (1983/1992) (1991) (1992b) (1993) and Williams (1999/2010), further Edwards (1993), th (...)

50For some time, ancient Rome played second fiddle as scholars focused on the Greek experience; but from the 1990s onwards a series of studies by Amy Richlin and Craig Williams (among others) began to redress the balance.5 As Martha Nussbaum (2010: xiii) puts it:

First published in 1999, Craig Williams’ Roman Homosexuality does for the Romans what Dover did for the Greeks. … Williams argues convincingly that for Romans over quite a long period spanning the republic and the early empire, same-sex desire was regarded as perfectly ordinary and unproblematic — for males. … A freeborn Roman male would be expected in the normal course of things to desire other males and to act on this desire — in contexts carefully restricted by the status of the parties. Sex (on the part of males) with male (and female) slaves or prostitutes was seen as unproblematic, even for married men — though wives at times complained. Sex with freeborn males, by contrast, was strongly discouraged. Thus same-sex acts typically involved asymmetrical power relations.

  • 6 On penetration see e.g. Richlin (1992) xviii and, more recently, Kamen and Levin-Richardson (2015) (...)

51The same principle of historical specificity applies — which means that the Roman approaches to erotic experience differed in important ways from those found in ancient Greece (and our own). Thus no culture of pederasty developed in Rome that revolved around the relationship between a young freeborn male and an older male companion; but like the Greeks, the Romans tended to associate masculinity quite forcefully with performing penetration (which entailed the inverse corollary, i.e. the shameful loss of masculinity if one suffered penetration).6

  • 7 Corbeill (1996: 149). See also Edwards (1993: 64).

52When Cicero impugns Antony as Curio’s toy boy (or lawfully married wife), he thus draws on his culture’s normative preconceptions about gender (masculinity) and sexual experience, casting his opponent as the lowest of the low: a man who revels in the role of passive partner in homoerotic encounters (the Greek term for this is cinaedus), which suggests that he has lost any claim to being a man: ‘The ultimate degradation of the passive partner lies in equating not only his behavior but also his sex to that of a woman; later in the same speech, Curio is described as Antonius’ husband (vir; Phil. 2.50)’.7 Cicero’s focus on what Antony does with his body has a political discontent. Throughout the speech, he pushes an analogy between the physical body and the social body: a depraved individual, who indulges in a repulsive lifestyle and detestable practices will infect the body politic, the civic community conceived as a corporeal entity:

  • 8 See further Langlands (2006: 306): ‘Antony allowed himself to come under the influence of the very (...)

This charge, which would read as libellous in our own culture, offers Cicero a way to insult and explain simultaneously. His portrayal of Antony as decadent and soft is tied inextricably to what Cicero sees as his moral and political failings. Mollitia is not an excuse, but an analysis: surely a man this degenerate and wrong-headed must desire to engage in the worst of sexual depravities. His status as cinaedus is deftly tied to lack of piety and financial profligacy (Manwell 2010: 115).8

  • 9 Suetonius, Life of Augustus 68–69.

53Cicero was not the only one who pandered to such prejudices: Antony and his brother Lucius accused Octavian of the same thing (prostituting himself to Julius Caesar and Aulus Hirtius).9


1 For the technique of impersonation see Rhetorica Ad Herennium 4.65; Silva Rhetoricae, ‘Speaking dramatically in the first person for someone else, assigning language that would be appropriate for that person’s character (and for one’s rhetorical purpose)’.

2 See further Strong (2016), esp. 11: ‘While Roman texts sometimes used scortum and meretrix interchangeably, scortum has a much stronger association with prostitutes of low status…’

3 Further bibliography includes Heskel (1994), esp. 140–41 on Phil. 2.44: Vout (1996), who encourages us to ‘think about the toga not as a garment but as a cultural symbol’; Dyck (2001); Olson (2003); the papers collected in Cleland, Harlow, and Llewellyn-Jones (2005); Davies (2005); and the papers collected in Harlow and Nosch (2014). For a recent, sophisticated study of body, dress, and identity in ancient Greece, see Lee (2015), and for a trailblazing modern take on ‘the language of clothes’ see Lurie (1981/2000), a Pulitzer Prize winning publication ‘about a subject everyone is obsessed with — especially those who claim they aren’t’(as it says on the cover) — or Jennifer Baumgartner, You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You, Da Capo Press, 2012.

4 Further readings include Thorp (1992), Weeks (1991) (2001), Davidson (1998) (2001) (2007).

5 See Richlin (1983/1992) (1991) (1992b) (1993) and Williams (1999/2010), further Edwards (1993), the papers in Hallet and Skinner (1997), Clarke (1998), Skinner (2005), Langlands (2006), Vout (2013), and Chrystal (2015).

6 On penetration see e.g. Richlin (1992) xviii and, more recently, Kamen and Levin-Richardson (2015). For the notion of masculinity in contemporary culture, see for instance the papers in Adams and Savran (2002) and Whitehead and Barrett (2001).

7 Corbeill (1996: 149). See also Edwards (1993: 64).

8 See further Langlands (2006: 306): ‘Antony allowed himself to come under the influence of the very worst kind of men, with the inevitable consequences for his sexual and then civic development’. Kelly (2014) explores the portrayal of Antony (and his questionable but also alluring masculinity) in modern popular culture, in particular the cinema.

9 Suetonius, Life of Augustus 68–69.


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