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

Ingo Gildenhard


§ 45: Desire and Domesticity: Antony’s Escapades as Curio’s Toy-Boy

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1At the end of the previous paragraph, we left Antony seemingly safely ‘married’ to a contemporary of his, young Curio, who is said to have transformed the scoundrel from a disreputable prostitute into a honourable wife. But this touching scene of domestic bliss is not destined to last as Cicero moves on to explore the corrosive impact of the ‘marriage’ on the Curio-family. Two interrelated semantic fields dominate the paragraph: sexual passion (libidinis causa, hortante libidine, flagitia, amore ardens, desiderium); and ‘the Roman household’. The latter includes references to architectural features (limen, per tegulas), ways and means of exit (eiecit) and entry (intrares, demitterere), and furniture (in lecto). More importantly, Cicero relies on the household as an ideological institution: it is the place of residence of the Roman familia, with the paterfamilias as dominus exercising his patria potestas, i. e. the (legal) power he held over the other members of his household, such as wife, children (cf. filius), or slaves (cf. puer). The patresfamilias are in many ways the domestic analogues to the senators (called patres conscripti) in the civic sphere; and breakdown of domestic discipline and dissolute morals at home were thought to impact on the fitness to perform public duties in the service of the commonwealth.

2Cicero already lamented Antony’s pollution of hallowed property through sexual mischief in the opening portion of the speech, when he portrayed him as ‘wallowing in every kind of vice in a virtuous house [that of Pompey the Great, which Antony acquired when it was put up for sale after Pompey’ s defeat and death in 48 BCE], exhausted by drink and debauchery’(Phil. 2.6:… cum omnis impuritates pudica in domo cotidie susciperes vino lustrisque confectus). In § 45, we get the youthful prelude to this more recent outrage. The scenario Cicero conjures up features plot elements of romantic New Comedy, suitably blackened, with the youthful libertine (Curio Junior) and his lover (Antony) running foul of Curio Senior, who, playing the strict father familiar from the comic stage, repeatedly chucks his son’s homeboy out of the house — to no avail. Antony keeps climbing straight back in over the roof, fired up by lust and lucre, and finally causes the paterfamilias to undergo a psychological breakdown that reduces him to a whimpering wretch unwilling to get out of bed.

3And who is called upon to clean up the mess? Cicero himself. When the time came for Curio Junior to fess up that he also stood surety for Antony for the sweet sum of six million sesterces that he in turn needed to secure from his father, he turned to Cicero for support, confessing his undying love for Antony in the process. As Campanile (2017: 58) puts it:

Soon we find ourselves right in the middle of a comedy: there is the golden-hearted prostitute who falls in love, a free-born maiden of noble and important origins forced by poverty into this trade (Mark Antony), along with the young tearaway who wants to marry her (Curio); then there is the durus pater (Curio Senior), who fails to comprehend how all this could have befallen his son and reacts violently, putting the ‘maiden’ out of the door (still Mark Antony), and then barring it with guards. … The only thing missing here is a mitis senex who might act as a go-between. And sure enough he soon appears: Cicero, the old family friend who arrives on the scene and tries to make everyone see sense in order to restore peace to the family.

4With Antony, then, (Greek) literature has come to (Roman) life — though despite Cicero’s protestation that he has first-hand knowledge of the wayward affair, we should not take the sordid picture he paints of the Curio household at face value.

5Likewise, the presence of ‘comic scripts’ ought not to be misconstrued to mean that we are just dealing with light-hearted fun. While the plot might derive from the genre of comedy, acting it out for real is highly scandalous (however entertaining). Antony compromises the integrity of the household as an architectural unit, threatens the relationship that forms the backbone of a Roman aristocratic family, i.e. that between father and son, and perverts the values that define Roman domestic life and discipline. Already in his youth, he emerges as an agent of destruction of anything sound and moral in Roman society. His infiltration of the Curio household results in its disintegration. He is a repugnant and toxic individual, morally unfit to be involved in affairs of state. The paragraph is both uproariously funny and deeply disturbing.

6Nemo umquam puer emptus libidinis causa tam fuit in domini potestate quam tu [fuisti] in [potestate] Curionis: puer here has the technical sense of ‘slave-boy’, as Cicero compares Antony’s ‘marriage’ to Curio to that of a boy bought for the single purpose of sexual gratification. tam and quam correlate the comparison; Cicero can afford to be elliptical in the quam-clause since the missing verb (fuisti) and noun (potestate) are easily supplied from what precedes. ‖ Slaves, considered property under Roman law, were almost entirely at the mercy of their masters, subject to physical punishment, sexual exploitation, torture, and execution. ‘Neither society nor the law recognized slaves as legal persons: they belonged to their master, who could use them for his own sexual needs or hire them out for the pleasure of others’ (Fantham 2011: 118) or, as Cantarella (1992: 99) puts it, ‘the Roman paterfamilias was an absolute master,… he exercised a power outside any control of society and the state. In this situation why on earth should he refrain from sodomising his houseboys?’ Within his invective agenda, the invitation to compare the relationship between Antony and Curio to the situation of a sex-slave does three things: it emasculates Antony (transforming him from a vir back into a puer); it relocates him from the highest to the lowest stratum of Roman society, turning a civis into a servus; and it reinforces the idea that he was the passive partner in the relationship. In the course of the paragraph, Cicero ups the ante: Antony and Curio are both animated by passion (libido) for each other; and Antony is as much enslaved to Curio financially and physically, as Curio is to Antony emotionally.

7nemo… puer: nemo is here used as an adjective modifying puer (‘no slave-boy’).

8libidinis causa: the post-positive preposition causâ governs the genitive. The phrase is to be construed with the participle emptus: normal word order would be puer libidinis causa emptus. libido is inherently negative: it designates (excessive) lust and conveys the impression that whoever experiences it is in thrall to his sexual desires — rather than keeping such urges under control with his rational self.

9in domini potestate: the reference here is to patria potestas of the paterfamilias or dominus. The legal power a Roman father had over his household was virtually absolute, including the so-called ius vitae necisque (‘the power over life and death’). We need not —indeed should not — imagine that all Roman fathers were brutal authoritarians, ready to punish their offspring harshly at the slightest transgression. Real life is always more complex than ideological constructs, institutional norms, and legal arrangements. Nevertheless, the scope for drastic action existed and gave Cicero a frame of reference. Paternal discipline and filial obedience are at the heart of the Roman domus or familia, which was thought to form the backbone of the Roman commonwealth (the res publica).

10quotiens te pater eius domu sua eiecit, quotiens custodes posuit ne limen intrares! cum tu tamen nocte socia, hortante libidine, cogente mercede, per tegulas demitterere: Cicero begins with two main clauses in asyndeton marked by anaphora (quotiens… eiecit, quotiens… posuit), followed by a negative purpose clause (ne… intrares) and a temporal cum-clause (cum… demitterere), which does not introduce a new topic but fleshes out the circumstances of the action given in the main clause, here with an adversative sense (cf. tamen), hence the subjunctive (Kühner-Stegmann II, 342; and cf. Phil. 13.19: ingressus est urbem quo comitatu vel potius agmine! cum dextra sinistra gemente populo R. minaretur dominis, notaret domos, divisurum se urbem palam suis polliceretur ‘He entered the city, and with what a following, or rather line of battle! when, amid the groans on right and left of the Roman people, he threatened householders, marked their houses, and openly promised to portion out the city among his supporters’).

11pater eius: Curio Senior (or Curio pater) was born around 125 BCE, held the consulship in 76 (when Cicero was a candidate for the quaestorship), and celebrated a triumph probably four years later, in the wake of his proconsulship in Macedonia (75–72 BCE). Cicero praises him in his pro lege Manilia (delivered in 66) as one of four consulares supportive of the bill that would give Pompey the command against Mithridates (Man. 68). A passage in Cicero’s dialogue Brutus (280) seems to suggest that Curio handed over responsibility for the training of his son in oratory to Cicero (McDermott 1972: 402) in the late 60s — just when relations hit a rough spot since Curio led the defence of Clodius who stood accused of disrupting the festival of the Bona Dea disguised in women’s clothes. Cicero attacked the defendant together with his advocate in the senate in 61, in an invective speech entitled in Clodium et Curionem, and a written version of it leaked out inopportunely in 58, much to Cicero’s consternation: he was in exile at the time and could ill afford to alienate a possible ally in his pitch for a recall (see Crawford 1984: 9–10). Despite the contretemps, Curio came to support Cicero’s return to Rome and also proved himself a staunch opponent of Caesar before dying in 53 — though his death at least ensured that he did not have to witness his son joining Caesar in the run-up to the civil war (though might also have enabled it). For the most part, he comes across as a principled disciplinarian in our sources — very much in contrast to his extravagant and spendthrift offspring. But irrespective of his actual character, the role he plays here is that of a stock figure from New Comedy — the stern father vainly trying to impose discipline upon a wayward son.

12domu sua eiecit: domu sua is an ablative of separation with eiecit. (Remember that domus is a fourth declension noun of feminine gender; the ablative singular is either domo or (as here) the archaic domu.)

13nocte socia, hortante libidine, cogente mercede: Cicero uses three ablative phrases to specify how and why Antony managed to circumvent the measures of Curio Senior to keep him out of his house: he used the cover of darkness (nocte socia), egged on as he was by lust (hortante libidine) and the need for money (cogente mercede). Cicero varies the asyndetic tricolon, moving from a nominal ablative absolute consisting of two nouns (the non-existent participle of sum, esse needs to be supplied) in the first colon to present participles (hortante, cogente) and nouns (libidine, mercede) in the second and third.

14hortante libidine, cogente mercede: note that Antony (according to Cicero) prostitutes himself for personal pleasure as well as material gain: he is in desperate financial straits, but also urged on by depraved lust.

15per tegulas demitterere: demitterere is the alternative 2nd person singular imperfect subjunctive passive form of demitto (= demittereris), here perhaps best taken in a middle sense (‘you let yourself down through the roof’, trans. Shackleton Bailey). The scenario brings to mind a comparable scene in Terence’s Eunuch where a mythological painting is described as follows (584–89, Chaerea speaking):

ibi inerat pictura haec, Iovem
quo pacto Danaae misisse aiunt quondam in gremium imbrem aureum. egomet quoque id spectare coepi; et, quia consimilem luserat iam olim ille ludum, impendio magis animus gaudebat mihi, deum sese in hominem convortisse atque in alienas tegulas venisse clanculum per impluvium fucum factum mulieri.

[There was the following painting: it depicted the story of how Jupiter sent a shower of gold into Danae’s bosom. I began to look at it myself, and the fact that he had played a similar game long ago made me all the more excited: a god had turned himself into human shape, made his way by stealth on to another man’s roof, and come through the skylight to play a trick on a woman (trans. Barsby).]

16Barsby (1999: 197) explains the architecture involved: ‘the atrium of a Roman house had a rectangular opening in the roof (compluuium) and a similarly shaped basin underneath to catch rainwater (impluuium)’ — and it is this opening through which we ought to imagine Antony climbing back in.

17quae flagitia domus illa diutius ferre non potuit: quae is a connecting relative (= ea). Cicero personifies the household (domus illa). ‖ It is not easy to see how this sentence fits into the argument, especially since its elimination would provide a much more seamless transition between the image of Antony entering secretly through the roof and Cicero’s explication why he is so remarkably well informed about these shenanigans (scisne…). In addition, the claim ferre non potuit remains strangely inconsequential.

18scisne me de rebus mihi notissimis dicere?: a reader might wonder how Cicero knows all these intimate details, and he preempts any skepticism by explaining how he acquired inside knowledge of what was most likely a freely invented (or at the very least richly embellished) scenario.

19recordare tempus illud cum pater Curio maerens iacebat in lecto: recordare is the second person singular present imperative passive form of the deponent recordor, with tempus illud as accusative object. The phrase sets up a temporal cum-clause (in the indicative). maerens is a circumstantial participle (‘grief-stricken’), correlating thematically and syntactically with lacrimans in the following sentence.

20filius se ad pedes meos prosternens, lacrimans, te mihi commendabat: after Cicero has reduced Curio Senior to a state of emotional wretchedness, he turns his attention to the son. As noted above, Brutus 280 suggests that Curio had become part of Cicero’s entourage in the late 60s BCE or as McDermott (1972: 402) puts it: ‘Curio filius seems to have served a tirocinium fori with Cicero at about the time he was serving a tirocinium libidinis with Antonius’. He dates the interview mentioned here to 61 BCE or thereabouts: ‘Plutarch’ s account of Antonius’ association with Curio and Clodius (Ant., 2, 3–4) and Antonius’ departure for the east in 58 suggest a date for this interview not far from the time of the trial of Clodius’(401). filius correlates with pater, the son is in tears like his father (lacrimans, a circumstantial participle, correlates with maerens), and both father and son are prostrate (iacebat in lecto ~ se ad pedes meos prosternens). Through his penchant for submission, Antony paradoxically managed to lay low both Curiones as well: the elder lies in bed, sick with disgust; the younger lies at Cicero’s feet, pleading on behalf of his chum.

21Ancient supplications were highly formalized involving the following four steps: (i) an approach to a person or place; (ii) a gesture of submission on the part of the suppliant (such as throwing oneself at the feet or grasping the knees of the person to be supplicated); (iii) the verbal request; (iv) the response of the supplicandus (see Naiden 2006: 4). Within this standard pattern, we may note two interesting tweaks. First, Cicero had a choice of how to phrase the gesture of supplication; and with se ad pedes meos prosternens he opted for an extreme form of abjection used elsewhere of defeated enemies asking for mercy (OLD s. v. prosterno 3b). And secondly, Curio’s plea comes in two parts: first, he commends Antony to Cicero’s care (te mihi commendabat — a formulation perhaps reminiscent of New Comedy: see Sussman (1998: 124, with n. 30); and secondly, he asks for Cicero’s assistance in pumping his dad for the six million sesterces which he gave to Antony (orabat ut…). This is touching: clearly, what is foremost on Curio Junior’s mind is the well-being of his beloved, which he feels is most secure in Cicero’s keeping — only after taking care of Antony does he worry about himself and the looming confrontation with his father.

22lacrimans: a circumstantial participle (‘in tears’), analogous to maerens above. Welling up can be a powerful emotive gesture, and tears drop copiously not least in those rhetorical contexts (such as law courts or pleas for mercy on the battlefield) in which the performer is trying to elicit sympathy and pity. In and of itself, public weeping is thus not necessarily effeminizing: in Livy and elsewhere, many a Roman father resorts to crying to generate support for their accused sons (see 1.26.12, 8.33.23 with de Libero 2009: 212). Yet Curio Junior throwing himself at Cicero’s feet while crying him a river on behalf of Antony seems preposterously OTT.

23orabat ut se contra suum patrem, si sestertium sexagiens peteret, defenderem: the ut after orabat (‘a verb of beseeching’) introduces a final object clause; se, the third-person singular reflexive pronoun and accusative object of defenderem, as well as the possessive adjective suum, refer to Curio Junior, the subject of the principal clause. Curio calls on Cicero’s help because he anticipates a massive bust-up with his dad in case he has to come clean on how much money he stood surety for on Antony’s behalf. Apparently, he had not cleared this with his father beforehand — a risky move: in Rome, all family-wealth belonged to the paterfamilias, and Curio pater could have decided to let Antony hang out to dry when asked by his son to stump up for his lover’s debts.

24si sestertium sexagiens peteret: at issue are six million sesterces. The full phrase, in regular order, would be: sexagiens (60 times) centena millia (100,000) sestertium (of sesterces). The omission of centena millia is unremarkable; but numerical adjectives such as sexagiens usually precede the noun they modify since they tend to carry emphasis (Allen & Greenough 598b). Why, then, has Cicero here inverted the usual word order? Arguably, the si-clause is focalized via Curio Junior, who tries to hide the embarrassingly large sum at issue (sexagiens) by tugging it in behind the noun (sestertium): a sly piece of characterization.

25tantum enim se pro te intercessisse dicebat: dicebat introduces an indirect statement with se (i.e. Curio) as subject accusative and intercessisse as infinitive. intercedo here means ‘to intervene as guarantor’ ‘stand surety’ (OLD s.v. 4b) with tantum (referring back to sestertium sexagiens) as the accusative of the sum guaranteed. se pro te correlates antithetically with se contra suum patrem in the previous sentence: Curio’s loyalties rest with his lover rather than his father, a clear violation of filial pietas.

26ipse autem amore ardens confirmabat, quod desiderium tui discidi ferre non posset, se in exilium iturum: confirmabat introduces an indirect statement with se as subject accusative and iturum (sc. esse) as (future) infinitive (from eo, ire). Curio’s confessions continue: hopelessly infatuated with Antony (the a-alliteration in autem amore ardens gives mock-acoustic expression to his passionate yearning), he claims to be unable to bear a state of separation: if Antony were to go into exile to avoid punishment for defaulting on his debts, he would join him. ardens is another circumstantial participle: Curio is ‘on fire with love’. (Livy uses the same phrase to capture Sextus Tarquinius’mental state before his rape of Lucretia.) Overall, the relationship between Antony and Curio is difficult to classify: both are on fire with passionate love (libido), though Antony also seems to be receiving significant financial compensation for services rendered — which in turn is difficult to reconcile with his condition of enslavement.

27quod desiderium tui discidi ferre non posset: a very condensed expression. Curio said that he would be unable to bear ‘the overwhelming longing (sc. for you, Antony) caused by your sudden or forcible separation’. tui discidi is an objective genitive dependent on desiderium. discidium can also refer to the ‘estrangement of lovers’ or ‘divorce’ (OLD s.v. 2b) and thereby continues the marriage-metaphor of the previous paragraph. Cicero construes an inversion of the usual scenario where an exile feels desiderium patriae: Curio is so enthralled to Antony that he would gladly give up his patria and suffer ‘social death’ in exile as long as he can be around his chum.

28Extra information:
Libido and flagitium are unequivocally negative terms. But burning passion (cf. amore ardens) and passionate longing (cf. desiderium) for an absent friend are not per se inappropriate feelings in the context of male-male relationships in late-republican Rome. In fact, Cicero had used much the same idiom half a decade earlier to express his sentiments about Pompey, after deciding not to follow him out of Italy on his flight from Caesar when civil war broke out (Letter to Atticus 9.10.2 = 177 SB):

Amens mihi fuisse a principio videor et me una haec res torquet quod non omnibus in rebus labentem vel potius ruentem Pompeium tamquam unus manipularis secutus sim. vidi hominem xiiii Kal. Febr. plenum formidinis. illo ipso die sensi quid ageret. numquam mihi postea placuit nec umquam aliud in alio peccare destitit. nihil interim ad me scribere, nihil nisi fugam cogitare. quid quaeris? sicut ἐν τοῖς ἐρωτικοῖς alienat quod immunde, insulse, indecore fit, sic me illius fugae neglegentiaeque deformitas avertit ab amore. nihil enim dignum faciebat quare eius fugae comitem me adiungerem. nunc emergit amor, nunc desiderium ferre non possum, nunc mihi nihil libri, nihil litterae, nihil doctrina prodest. ita dies et noctes tamquam avis illa mare prospecto, evolare cupio.

[I think I have been out of my senses from the start, and the one thing that tortures me is that I have not followed Pompey like any private soldier in his drift or rather plunge to disaster. I saw him on 17 January, thoroughly cowed. That very day I realized what he was at. Thereafter he was never to my liking. He went on blundering now here now there. Meanwhile not a line to me, not a thought except for flight. In short, just as en choses d’amour, anything uncleanly, uncouthly, unsuitably done alienates, so the ugliness of his flight and discourtesy turned me from my affection. Nothing in his conduct seemed to deserve that I should join him as his companion in flight. But now my affection comes to the surface, the sense of loss is unbearable, books, writing, philosophy are all to no purpose. Like Plato’s bird I gaze out over the sea day and night, longing to take wing.]

29Despite the erotic terminology, there is nothing sexual about Cicero’s sentiments — he is using the idiom to convey the depth of his affection and attachment to a person, about whose character and policy-decisions he was profoundly conflicted, in a way that was conventional in Roman epistolary discourse: see Williams (2012: 222) on the language of amor, desiderium, and burning as conventional expressions in the letters.


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