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

Ingo Gildenhard


§ 47: Hitting ‘Fast-forward’, or: How to Pull off a Praeteritio

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1After wrapping up his opening anecdote in his imaginary biography of Antony, Cicero continues with a transitional paragraph that lays out his approach to the rest of the material. As in § 43, he stresses that he has to leave out a lot. Some of the stuff that Antony got up (or down) to is simply beyond the pale: the sort of X-rated material no person with any sense of decency would be able to put into words. And there is also a feeling of urgency: Cicero is loath to linger too long on Antony’s youthful depravities in his hurry to get to his conduct during the civil wars, which is of greater relevance in the here-and-now (even though it is also more familiar to his audience — or so Cicero claims). The paragraph is therefore highly reflexive in outlook, as Cicero comments explicitly on some of the moral and rhetorical considerations and contextual coordinates (such as the purported degrees of familiarity of his audience with different aspects of his subject matter) that shape his discourse.

2The technical terms for gesturing to material without treating it fully are occultatio (‘obfuscation’) or praeteritio (‘a passing by and over’; paralipsis in Greek). An excellent ancient discussion of this useful ploy can be found in the so-called Rhetorica ad Herennium, a rhetorical treatise written in the early first century BCE (4.37):

Paralipsis / Praeteritio occurs when we say that we are passing by, or do not know, or refuse to say that which precisely now we are saying, as follows: ‘Your boyhood, indeed, which you dedicated to intemperance of all kinds, I would discuss, if I thought this the right time. But at present I advisedly leave that aside. This too I pass by, that the tribunes have reported you as irregular in military service. Also that you have given satisfaction to Lucius Labeo for injuries done him I regard as irrelevant to the present matter. Of these things I say nothing, but return to the issue in this trial’. Again: ‘I do not mention that you have taken monies from our allies; I do not concern myself with your having despoiled the cities, kingdoms, and homes of them all. I pass by your thieveries and robberies, all of them’. This figure is useful if employed in a matter which is not pertinent to call specifically to the attention of others, because there is advantage in making only an indirect reference to it, or because the direct reference would be tedious or undignified, or cannot be made clear, or can easily be refuted. As a result, it is of greater advantage to create a suspicion by Paralipsis / Praeteritio than to insist directly on a statement that is refutable.

3Compare the more recent discussion found in Farnsworth (2011: 166–67):

The usual purposes that the device serves include these: a. To gain credit — though not too much — for discretion or propriety while still setting loose an indiscretion or impropriety. … b. To leave the substance of a sentiment, or a piece of it, to the listener’s imagination, and so enhance its force. The fantasy of what the complete version of the thought would have been may be more powerful than a plain statement of it. … c. To limit debate over a controversial utterance by offering it as only halfsaid; when the speaker denies fully saying it, he hopes to make a rebuttal seem uncalled for, and to assign himself a relaxed burden of proof. … d. Amusement. The paradox inherent in a good use of praeteritio can be a source of humor and charm, at least when it does not take itself too seriously.

4All four aspects identified by Farnsworth are in play in our passage: (a) Cicero comes across as a paragon of propriety (his commitment to verbal restraint stands in explicit contrast to Antony’s sexual and rhetorical incontinence) by not delving into the sordid details of his adversary’s sex life, while at the same time cashing in on the allure of scandal with his lurid insinuations of unspeakable filth. (b) He thereby invites the audience to indulge their imagination — not least in conjuring up and putting together the organs and orifices he passes over in silence: any scenario they can think of, however lewd, Antony is bound to have acted out. The result is insinuation porn, which enables him to keep his mouth squeaky clean and the minds of his audience satisfyingly dirty. (c) Given that Cicero here operates with artistic license rather than sound empirical evidence, the mode of intimation renders him less vulnerable to the objection that he is making it all up. (d) He also benefits from the humour inherent in the ‘gossip’ s trope’ — which he combines with a serious message:

  • 10 Johnson (1969: 173). For occultatio in Cicero see further Usher (1965).

Cicero has just told an unusually gross (but plausible) lie about Antony’s sexual habits as a young man. The decorum, the tact, and the modesty of the speaker, compounded with the hint that this sort of material is endless, are audacious and funny, but the sexual depravity is presented as being only a prelude to perversions of the political intelligence, a theme which again offers inexhaustible material. Here moral indignation is coupled with decorum — it is the perfection of gravitas. Or rather, it is gravitas mimed, a droll imitation of the real thing, an action designed to irritate the victim and amuse the audience, for if praeteritio is not urbane, casual, mocking or witty — as it always is when Cicero has his wits and his nerve — it is nothing.10

5Throughout Philippic 2, Cicero uses the sexual as code for the political. According to the logic that leopards don’t change their spots, Antony’s erotic escapades prefigure his behaviour in civic life: there is no reason to assume that someone who so conspicuously lacks the virtues expected of a Roman statesman in his youth miraculously acquired them later on. As Cicero goes on to argue, the juvenile delinquent indeed grew up into an uninhibited creature of inordinate appetites who lusts after drink and sex, money and power — the more the better. Antony is not just a menace to morals but to society at large.

6Sed iam stupra et flagitia omittamus: iam (‘now’) refers to this particular moment in Cicero’s discourse: the time has come to move on from Antony’s youthful depravities. omittamus is an exhortatory subjunctive (‘Let us…’), introducing a rather lengthy praeteritio.

  • 11 For the semantics of flagitium see Thomas (2007: 179–214).

7stupra et flagitia: while the term stuprum can be applied to label any shameful conduct, without specific reference to sexual practices, for the most part (including here) it refers to ‘the offense consisting in the violation of the sexual integrity of freeborn Romans of either sex’ (such as pederasty or adultery) (Williams 1999: 96). He goes on to point out that the concept is implicated in how Roman society was set up: ‘At stake here is the fundamental distinction between freeborn and slave, which in turn bolsters the self-identifying practices of the freeborn by promoting the ideal of the physical inviolability of the free Roman citizen’(106). flagitium, which Cicero already used in §§ 44 and 45, also has a more general meaning (‘any shameful act that causes infamy and disgrace’), but here specifically evokes forms of sexual transgression.11

8sunt quaedam quae honeste non possum dicere: quaedam is neuter plural and antecedent of quae (‘there are certain things that…’). Cicero engages in the conceit of self-censorship, in apparent deference to standards of decency: the implication is that the (undefined) things Antony did are literally ‘unspeakable’ for any honourable member of Roman society. Self-censorship can be a serious problem when it enforces a code of silence over actual abuse of power; here it is a posture designed to titillate the (salacious) imagination of his audience (that includes me — and you!) with unspecified acts of sexual transgression on Antony’s part and at the same time highlight his own good sense and finely tuned sensibilities of what is and what is not acceptable to put into words in civil society. He thereby signals concern over public morality: it is a question of taste and decency to veil Antony’s more outrageous sexual escapades in a shroud of silence.

9The question of course arises: what does Cicero pass over in silence? Scholars suspect that the reference here is to oral intercourse. This was a difficult area for the public orator (unlike a poet such as Catullus), insofar as he would involve himself in a performative contradiction were he to talk about it: he would, in a sense, befoul his own mouth by putting filth into words. Corbeill (1996: 105) identifies ‘the two principal rhetorical considerations that characterize Roman invective involving sexual practices and the os’ as follows: ‘First, the orator must limit himself to double entendres, vague references that allow him to cast aspersions on an opponent while maintaining his own dignity as a public speaker. Second, the orator cannot directly accuse his more prominent opponents of improper social and sexual activity’. And with this in mind Richlin (1983/1992: 15) answers the question ‘what can he be leaving out?’ as follows: ‘Without giving a graphic description of Antony’ s intercourse with the younger Curio, he has implied that it was habitual and passionate. The ultimate insult was to accuse someone of indulgence in oral intercourse, and presumably Cicero means to imply this for Antony. But the weight of the sentence is on the neat paradox, “You have done things that a man of good morals cannot even name”, and on the contrast between Cicero, who is honestus and verecundus, and Antony, who is not’. Antony knows no boundaries — neither for himself nor for others. Cicero by contrast exercises restraint and abides by the protocols of public discourse: he prefers playing coy to being gratuitously gross. Internal self-regulation is a prized attribute in a Roman aristocrat — and precisely what Antony lacks.

10honeste: the adverb here refers to ‘moral integrity’; it is a key concern of Cicero’s (late) philosophy. See in particular his On Duties (de Officiis).

11tu autem eo liberior [es] quod ea in te admisisti quae a verecundo inimico audire non posses: the main verb (es) has to be supplied. The basic meaning of liber is ‘free’, i.e. possessing the social and legal status of a free man, as opposed to a slave; but it can also refer specifically to ‘free speech’, either in a positive sense (‘outspoken’, ‘frank’, ‘candid’) or in a negative sense (‘showing lack of restraint’). This is the meaning of the comparative liberior here: Cicero refers back to the verbal abuse (see on maledicta, above 165) Antony showered on him and relates it back to his enemy’s sexual track-record: in light of what has gone into Antony’s mouth, the filth that comes out of it hardly surprises.

12eo: an ablative of respect (‘in this regard’).

13quod ea in te admisisti: quod is causal here: Cicero explains why Antony can be more outspoken when it comes to verbal abuse than he is. Not that Cicero is particularly reticent — though he continues in the mode of double entendre that enables him to have his cake and eat it:

The phrase ‘allowed to be done to yourself’ (in te admisisti), with its apparently neutral overtones, seems to continue Cicero’s pose of discreet reticence. But other occurrences of the verb admitto indicate that Cicero is further incriminating Antonius at the very moment he claims to be exercising discretion. This verb ‘was the technical term for the bringing of one animal to the other (usually the male to the female)’; more significantly, admitto can refer euphemistically to a pimp allowing his prostitute access to a man. The portrayal of Antony pimping for himself as a young male whore coincides with imagery Cicero employed earlier in the speech (2.44–45)’ (Corbeill 1996: 106, with quotation and reference to Adams 1982: 206–07).

14This is a rather complicated (though quite plausible) scenario, but the invective punch here might also be much more straightforward. The basic meaning of admitto is ‘to allow to enter’ (also in the specific sense of allowing enemies to enter into, with in + acc.), and Cicero might again refer to the fact that Antony gave up his corporal inviolability as a male citizen by allowing his bodily orifices to be penetrated.

15quae a verecundo inimico audire non posses: Antony’s lewd behaviour is such that he could not hear about it even from a personal enemy (inimicus) if that enemy has any sense of shame (verecundia). audire here means ‘to hear said with respect to oneself’: OLD s.v. 5. Cicero rephrases non possum dicere from the previous sentence in chiastic order, shifting from speaking to listening.

16a verecundo inimico: the phrase harks back to the exordium: Cicero began the speech by pondering why Antony had decided to make him his personal enemy (inimicus) and reached the conclusion that each hostis (public enemy) of the res publica in recent memory also happened to be his personal enemy (inimicus).

17sed reliquum vitae cursum videte, quem quidem celeriter perstringam: Cicero invites his readers (addressed directly with the imperative videte: another sop to the fiction that Cicero is delivering an oration) to take a bird’s eye view of the rest of Antony’s biography. This invitation to synoptic autopsy serves as counterpoint to the relative clause where he announces that he will cover the following years quickly (celeriter) and superficially (perstringere is here used figuratively in the sense of ‘barely scratching the surface’). The particle quidem has a concessive sense (‘admittedly’).

18perstringam: first person singular future indicative active.

19ad haec enim quae in civili bello, in maximis rei publicae miseriis fecit, et ad ea quae cotidie facit, festinat animus: standard word order would be animus ad haec, quae… et ad ea, quae… festinat. There might be an element of enactment in the unusual placement of the subject (animus) at the very end of the sentence: the animus has indeed ‘hurried on’, even overtaking the verb (festinat). The alliterated sequence of verb — fecit: facit: festinat — also generates an impression of speed.

20(Note how festinat also recapitulates the vowels of the previous two verbs.)

21quae in civili bello, in maximis rei publicae miseriis fecit: in maximis rei publicae miseriis stands in apposition to, and glosses, in civili bello. The reference is to the conflict between Caesar and the senate, initially with Pompey as leading general, that broke out in 49 and lasted until c. 46 BCE. Traditionally, the lexeme bellum referred to a properly declared state of war with another people. bellum civile (‘civil war’) is a paradoxical phrase that brings together the sphere known as militiae, where bellum refers to violent confrontation with a foreign enemy, and the civic sphere of domestic and more or less peaceful politics (domi); it emerged in the last century of the republic to capture the suicidal in-fighting that broke out among Rome’s ruling elite from c. 133 BCE onwards (see Introduction 9–10). In a political culture much invested in consensus and concordia (at least according to Cicero), civil war is indeed ‘the greatest of all evils’ (note the plaintive alliteration maximis… miseriis.

22quae peto ut, quamquam multo notiora vobis quam mihi sunt, tamen, ut facitis, attente audiatis: quae is a connecting relative (= ea), picking up haec and ea from the previous sentence. Syntactically, it is the accusative object of audiatis, i.e. it belongs into the first ut-clause (dependent on peto): ‘as far as these matters are concerned, I ask that you listen to them attentively — as you do now — even though they are much better known to you than to me’. It is not entirely clear what periods Cicero has in mind and why he insists on stressing that Antony’s conduct during these times is significantly better known to his audience than to himself. He ‘perhaps refers to his absences from Rome and Italy during the Civil War and after Caesar’ s death’(Denniston 1926: 126–27), i.e. 7 June 49–autumn 48 and 7 April–31 August 44. It is rather unlikely (pace Ramsey 2003: 230) that he is also referring to his stay in Brindisi from autumn 48–autumn 47, after he had been pardoned by Caesar and was permitted to return to Italy but not to Rome, because he spent those excruciating months under the direct jurisdiction of Antony. In fact, his implicit claim to have been absent (unlike others) at least until after Pharsalus and the death of Pompey subtly reinforces his credentials as a republican resistance fighter, glossing over his early return to Caesaroccupied Italy in the autumn of 48, well before the hot phase of the civil war was over.

23multo: an ablative of the degree of difference with the comparative notiora, literally ‘more well known by much’.

24ut facitis: a parenthetical comment on the conduct of his imaginary audience. It lessons the force of the exhortation: Cicero simply asks his audience to continue to do what they are anyway already doing.

25debet enim talibus in rebus excitare animos non cognitio solum rerum sed etiam recordatio: the word order is again highly wrought. Stripped of rhetorical manipulation the sentence might run: in talibus enim rebus non solum cognitio sed etiam recordatio rerum animos excitare debet. The reshuffle involves an inversion of the usual sequence subject – verb, with the verb here placed up front; the anastrophe of the preposition in (in talibus rebus > talibus in rebus); and the inverted order of excitare animos. The design is therefore just as ‘excited’ as Cicero wants the minds of his audience to be; and it ensures that the emphasis falls heavily on the very last word of the sentence: recordatio. Cicero here tries to counter the well-known phenomenon that the motivating force of anger fades over time: something that triggers an acute emotion of being wronged at the first instance of recognition and the willingness to lash out and do something about the injustice suffered might not do so years after the fact. Conventional wisdom and consolatory literature even hold that painful experiences may over time turn into pleasant memories: forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit, as Virgil’s Aeneas has it ‘perhaps it will one day be pleasing to remember even these hardships’ (Aeneid 1.203). Cicero has to argue the opposite: he dredges up stuff from history and tries to render it relevant for present purposes, by generating a sense of outrage at the recollection of both Antony’s past and present misdeeds.

26excitare animos: what can easily get lost in stereotypical images of the Romans as emotionally controlled is the fact that emotions are an important part of politics in general and public oratory in particular. In his philosophical writings, Cicero often endorses the proto-Stoic figure of the completely impassionate, rational agent; but in rhetorical contexts he recognizes the productive force and overriding importance of emotions. A good speaker will rouse his audience not just with arguments but also with emotive appeals to adopt a particular outlook or course of action.

27non cognitio solum rerum, sed etiam recordatio: Cicero has a certain fondness for abstract nouns, not least in his philosophical writings, but also in his speeches. cognitio denotes ‘the act of getting to know’, i.e. refers to those matters that Cicero’s audience is as of yet unfamiliar with and learns through his discourse; recordatio means ‘recollection’ and thus refers to matters already known to his audience — he only needs to trigger their memory. The genitive rerum stands apo koinou, i.e. goes with both nouns.

28etsi incidamus, opinor, media ne nimis sero ad extrema veniamus: when etsi, as here, introduces a main clause it has the sense of ‘and yet’, limiting the preceding sentence (Gildersleeve & Lodge 391). But this causes difficulties: the preceding sentence refers to material Cicero intends to cover in depth, i.e. Antony’s behaviour in the run-up to, and during, the civil war and, more recently, in the aftermath of Caesar’s assassination. One would therefore have expected an affirmative, rather than a concessive link-up.

29incidamus… media: without indication of vowel length, many of the forms of incîdo (from in + caedo, with a long -i; basic meaning: to cut), and incido (from in + cado, with a short -i; basic meaning: to fall) are indistinguishable. Here Cicero is saying: ‘Let’ s cut the middle part (media: neuter acc. plural) short’, referring to the period from c. 58–50 BCE, to be covered briefly in §§ 48–50a.

30ne nimis sero ad extrema veniamus: ne introduces a negative purpose clause (‘lest’). Like media, extrema is an adjective used as a noun, in the neuter accusative plural — ‘the last, i.e. most recent, matters’ in line with his preference for vague generic neuter pronouns throughout this (transitional) paragraph: quaedam; ea; haec enim quae…; ea quae…; quae… notiora.


10 Johnson (1969: 173). For occultatio in Cicero see further Usher (1965).

11 For the semantics of flagitium see Thomas (2007: 179–214).


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