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

Ingo Gildenhard


§ 78: Caesar’s Approach to HR, or Why Antony Has What it Takes

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1In March 45, Antony left Narbo in Southern Gaul for a surprise visit to Rome that caused some consternation in the city, not least because the reasons for his arrival in the capital remained unclear. Some feared that he had come as a henchman of Caesar, perhaps to prepare the ground for reprisals or even proscriptions. Cicero comments on the situation in a letter to Atticus (12.19.2 = 257 SB, 14 March 45), mentioning that Balbus and Oppius, two of Caesar’s chief lieutenants, wrote to him with reassurances that Antony’s sudden appearance in Rome was nothing to worry about. In the event, Antony felt obliged to announce publicly that he arrived on personal business and not at the behest of Caesar. In §§ 77–78a, Cicero elaborates on what this ‘personal business’ consisted in, suggesting that Antony desired to tell his wife Fulvia that he had stopped seeing his mistress; and that he was still struggling to service his debts and wanted to prevent the selling of his sureties. (He only mentions the latter when he speculates about Antony’s motives for the surprise visit in a letter to Atticus 12.18a. 1 = 256 SB: … sed tamen opinor propter praedes suos accucurrisse —‘… but I imagine he has hurried up to save his sureties’.)

  • 22 See Ramsey (2004).

2Much of Cicero’s account — especially Antony’s confession of love to his wife Fulvia — is held in a low, comic key, and Cicero himself dismisses the affair, after emphasizing how much grievance and upset it caused to everyone else in Rome and Italy, as trifles (nugae) — a mere warm-up act for far more serious matters (maiora). The set text picks up halfway through § 78, when Antony (we are now in the summer of 45) left Rome again to meet Caesar on his way back from Spain, where he squashed the last republican resistance. Cicero alleges that there had been a cooling off in their relationship (§§ 71–77), but Antony’s ‘credentials’ (bankruptcy and moral depravity) were such that Caesar was overjoyed to re-establish friendly terms and make Antony the renewed beneficiary of his patronage. The paragraph thus also contains yet another scathing indictment of Caesar’s malign politics of friendship. It is important to note, however, that the estrangement between Caesar and Antony in 46–45 BCE (and hence also the reconciliation) is a malicious fiction put into circulation by Cicero to desparage Antony. Once we discount his invective aspersions all the evidence points to continuing excellent relations between Caesar and one of his most trusted lieutenants, who was in charge of liquidating Pompey’s assets during this period, a challenging task designed to raise much needed cash for Caesar’s military operations.22

3 Et domi quidem causam amoris habuisti, foris etiam turpiorem [causam habuisti], ne L. Plancus praedes tuos venderet: literally, ‘and at home indeed you had the excuse of love’, with amoris as a genitive of definition, though a more natural idiom in English would be to say ‘you had love as an excuse’. causam also has to be supplied with turpiorem. The comparative makes it clear that ‘love’ is no excuse at all, but a disgraceful motivation; its only redeeming feature is that there are even worse. foris plays off domi, etiam plays off quidem.

4 domi: a locative.

5 foris etiam turpiorem: causam and habuisti need to be supplied from the previous clause.

6 L. Plancus: Lucius Munatius Plancus was one of the six or eight ‘city prefects’ (praefecti urbi) to whom Caesar entrusted public business before his departure for Spain late in 46 BCE. He happened to be in charge of debt management, fulfilling a function usually performed by the praetor urbanus. He began his career as a legate of Caesar in 54, held the consulship in 42, and continued to do well under Augustus, being appointed censor in 22. In January, 27 BCE, it was Plancus who proposed the motion that the senate confer the cognomen Augustus on Caesar Octavianus. See further Watkins (1997) and Nisbet-Hubbard (1970: 90–94).

7 praedes tuos: in §§ 71–74 Cicero generates the impression that Caesar increasingly leaned on Antony to make him pay up for the property of Pompey which he had acquired at auction — which Antony struggled to do. Upon his departure for Spain, Caesar extended the deadline for payment (§ 74), but then, according to the scenario supposed here, nevertheless instructed Plancus to sell the property of those who had stood surety for Antony (praedes tuos) to recover the money.

8 productus autem in contionem a tribuno pl. cum respondisses te rei tuae causa venisse, populum etiam dicacem in te reddidisti: the sentence starts with a cum-clause (the conjunction is much delayed), into which the perfect participle productus belongs. The verb of the cum-clause, respondisses, introduces an indirect statement with te as subject accusative and venisse as infinitive. The verb of the main clause (reddidisti) takes an accusative object (populum) and a predicate (dicacem): ‘to render something/someone such and such’.

9 productus autem in contionem a tribuno pl[ebis]: only elected officials had the right to convene a public assembly (contio) and permit private citizens to speak to the people. Most likely, Antony asked the tribune to convene the meeting, but through the passive construction and the choice of verb (respondisses) Cicero makes it out as if Antony was asked by the tribune to justify his actions in front of the people.

10 rei tuae causa: we are likely dealing with another scurrilous double entendre here, with res tua referring to Antony’s ‘junk’. See Barr (1981: 422–23):

The question at once arises, can res = membrum virile be attested elsewhere? I believe it can. Cicero, in Philippic 2,77f., describing Marcus Antonius’ hasty return from Narbo in 45 to the great alarm of Italy and the city of Rome, relates how Antonius, with elaborate precautions, presented himself to his wife Fulvia and effected a tearful reconciliation. Two reasons for Antonius’return are put forward by Cicero: et domi quidem causam amoris habuisti, foris etiam turpiorem ne L. Plancus praedes tuos venderet (78). When Antonius in a contio is challenged by a tribune to explain his conduct, the unfortunate wording of his reply evidently afforded the populace an opportunity to exercise its wit: productus autem in contionem a tribuno plebis cum respondisses te rei tuae causa venisse, populum etiam dicacem in te reddidisti (78). J. D. Denniston in his edition of the speech (Oxford, 1926) ad loc. thinks the joke consists in the fact that Antonius notoriously had no res (‘property’) to speak of. What made the people dicax at Antonius’expense, however, was surely not his endowment in respect of property, but in another respect suggested by the ambiguity of res, and Cicero, unwilling to let the joke rest there, underlines the point in the neat innuendo of the formula of transition that immediately follows: sed nimis multa de nugis: ad maiora veniamus! (78).

11 dicacem: dicax, from a morphological point of view the combination of the verb stem dic-+ ax, refers to the ability to deliver witty (and often cutting) repartee. It is associated with urban sophistication from Plautus onwards. See Truculentus 682–83: iam postquam in urbem crebro commeo, | dicax sum factus (‘Now that I come into the city often, I have become witty’). But essentially populus dicax is a paradox: refinement and sophistication tend to be the preserve of an exclusive elite, fostering a culture of aesthetic distinctions grounded in (educational) privilege. It’s the same as saying a snail will make you look speedy — by comparison.

12 in te: ‘at your own expense’.

13 sed nimis multa de nugis: ad maiora veniamus: in the first clause, Cicero omits the verb (dico / dicimus: ‘but [I am talking] too much about trivialities’) and follows this up with a self-exhortation (veniamus is an exhortative subjunctive): the ellipsis is appropriate at a moment when Cicero cuts himself short: brevity is a virtue. multa (a reference to quantity) and de nugis (a reference to quality) set up ad maiora, the implication being that what Cicero has to say about the more important matters will be spot-on.

14 multa: accusative neuter plural, the accusative object of the implied verb.

15 C. Caesari ex Hispania redeunti obviam longissime processisti: the adverb obviam often governs a dative, here C. Caesari, modified by the present participle redeunti: ‘you went out further than anyone else (longissime: adverb in the superlative) to meet (obviam) Caesar on his way back from Spain’.

16 celeriter isti redisti, ut cognosceret te, si minus fortem, at tamen strenuum: isti and redisti are the contracted 2nd person singular perfect indicative active forms of eo, ire and redeo, redire (= iisti rediisti). ire redire is an idiomatic phrase meaning ‘to pass to and fro, come and go’: OLD s. v. eo 1g. ut introduces a purpose clause; its verb (cognosceret) takes te as accusative object, which is modified by fortem and strenuum in predicative position: ‘… that he might discern you as — if not brave — yet still full of energy’. Cicero himself of course engaged in a significant amount to toing and froing during the 40s, both when civil war first broke out in 49, then in the summer of 44, when he left Rome for Greece, only to return soon thereafter. In fact, Philippic 1 begins with an extensive explanation of his movements (a consilium et profectionis et reversionis meae — a slightly more elevated idiom than ire redire): see Phil. 1.1 and 6–11.

17 fortem… strenuum: at least since Cato the Elder (e.g. at de Agricultura 4: ex agricolis et viri fortissimi et milites strenuissimi gignuntur: ‘from farmers the bravest men and the most valiant soldiers are sprung’; see further Cornell (2013: 87), fortis atque strenuus are two positive qualities that work in unison — the former referring to a mental disposition, the latter to the physical ability to act on it. The attributes recur together in other writers (such as Sallust) and elsewhere in Cicero, so their disjunction here through the somewhat ‘precious’ differentiation si minus at tamen puts a mocking spin on standard idiom. Given that Cicero strips Antony of any claim to bravery (he did not participate in the campaign in Spain), his solicitous rush to meet the victorious general appears particularly preposterous.

18 factus es ei rursus nescio quo modo familiaris: the sentence might baffle at first sight (unsurprisingly, since it is meant to convey bafflement) because of the unusual word order and all sorts of seemingly complicated little fill-words in between the alliterated (and inverted) frame factus… familiaris, but is actually fairly straightforward. Antony is the (implied) subject: ‘you became (factus es) a friend (familiaris) to him (ei) again (rursus) I don’t know how / in some way or other (nescio quo modo)’. Or, less literally: ‘Somehow you managed to weasel your way back into Caesar’s friendship’.

19 habebat hoc omnino Caesar: habet hoc = ‘has this characteristic’. Commentators compare Cicero, in Pisonem 81 and Horace, Sermones 1.3.3. Ramsey (2003: 275) suggests that moris (the genitive of mos) has to be understood as part of a colloquial expression meaning ‘this was Caesar’s way’, i.e. ‘he had this trait’. The adverb omnino (‘certainly’) drips with irony.

20 quem plane perditum aere alieno egentemque, si eundem nequam hominem audacemque cognorat, hunc in familiaritatem libentissime recipiebat: Cicero here uses one verb (cognorat: the syncopated third person singular pluperfect active of cognosco = cogno |ve| rat) for both the relative clause introduced by quem (the antecedent is hunc) and the si-clause: ‘whom he found to be obviously bankrupt and destitute — if the same person was [known to him as] a morally worthless and reckless human being — this man he received with the greatest delight into his circle of friends’.

The Ethics and Politics of Friendship in Caesar’s World

21Two related aspects are worth a closer look here: (i) the kinds of characters who were attracted to Caesar; (ii) Caesar’s willingness to extend ‘friendship’ to anyone on strictly utilitarian principles, irrespective of their ‘moral worth’.

22(i) Cicero dissed half of Caesar’s supporters (just like those of Catiline in the 60s) as belonging into a basket of deplorables already before the outbreak of the civil war (Letter to Atticus 7.3.5 = 126 SB, written 9 December 50):

verum tamen haec video, cum homine audacissimo paratissimoque negotium esse, omnis damnatos, omnis ignominia adfectos, omnis damnatione ignominiaque dignos illac facere, omnem fere iuventutem, omnem illam urbanam ac perditam plebem, tribunos valentis addito Q. Cassio, omnis qui aere alieno premantur, quos pluris esse intellego quam putaram (causam solum illa causa non habet, ceteris rebus abundat).

[All the same I see this much: we are dealing with a man who fears nothing and is ready for anything. All persons under legal sentence or censorial stigma, and all who deserve the one or the other, are on his side, so are pretty well all the younger people, all the desperate city rabble, some sturdy Tribunes, Q. Cassius now included, all the debt-ridden, who I find are worth more than I supposed! — Caesar’s side lacks nothing but a cause, all else they have in abundance.]

23He was not alone in this assessment. The Caesarian loyalist Caelius, who was also on friendly terms with Cicero, also noted Caesar’s appeal to those who had little or nothing to lose. In a letter to Cicero, written on 8 August 50, he predicts that ‘all who live in present fear and small hope for the future will rally to Caesar’ (Fam. 8.14.3 = 97 SB).

24(ii) Caesar himself seems to have welcomed all and sundry with open arms into his networks of associates. An anecdote transmitted by Suetonius nicely captures his endorsement of a ‘friendship-above-all-else attitude’ (Life of Julius Caesar 72):

Amicos tanta semper facilitate indulgentiaque tractauit… iam autem rerum potens quosdam etiam infimi generis ad amplissimos honores prouexit, cum ob id culparetur, professus palam, si grassatorum et sicariorum ope in tuenda sua dignitate usus esset, talibus quoque se parem gratiam relaturum.

[His friends he always treated with pronounced kindness and consideration. … Moreover, when he was already in power, he raised some friends of the humblest background to the highest positions, and when he was blamed for it, openly declared that if he had used the help of brigands and murderers in defending his rank and standing, he would have repaid such men too in the same way.]

  • 23 Watkins (1997: 43).

25Caesar certainly offered those who would have struggled to assert themselves in a system dominated by established aristocratic families unprecedented opportunities for career advancement. But his reliance on ‘upstarts’ may in part have been due to the fact that members of the traditional ruling elite refused to cooperate:23

Caesar’s shift toward autocracy was in good part due to the refusal of many Republicans to admit defeat. Cicero had accepted Pharsalus in 48 as decisive. Had more leading senators done the same, even if reluctantly, and cooperated with Caesar, they might have saved much of their ancestral state and their own role in it. Instead, they had rallied in Africa and seen their cause defeated again. Within a few months the remnants had regrouped in Spain — with the same results. No senatorial general could defeat Caesar, no senatorial army could best his. The obstinate refusal to accept the verdict of the battlefield and to work with Caesar while they could still nudge him toward retention of the traditional forms of the res publica compelled him to rely on his subordinate officers rather than members of the old nobility. Precisely this goes far to explain the rise of men like Plancus who would not have reached the highest offices in the state had there not been a dearth of candidates from illustrious families.

26What would you have done in their stead? Would you have accepted that Caesar had trumped the old system and engaged with his regime as the new normal — not least in view of the personal benefits to be derived from playing ball with the potentate? Or would you have withdrawn your services as a matter of principle?


22 See Ramsey (2004).

23 Watkins (1997: 43).


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