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

Ingo Gildenhard


§ 79: The Art of Nepotism

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  • 24 On the clash between Antony and Dolabella in 47 BCE, see further Welch (1995).
  • 25 Denniston (1926: 165–66).

1After his victory in the civil war, Caesar, while nominally upholding republican traditions, effectively exercised autocratic powers and could determine whom to reward when with what position in the state. As Denniston (1926: 144) puts it: ‘After the victory of Munda the senate voted Caesar, among other honours, the right to appoint the magistrates. Outwardly he declined the privilege, but by “recommending” certain persons to the people for election he accepted the substance of it (Dio, xliii 45, 1; Suet. Iul. 41)’. This distribution of favours did not always happen without friction among his faithful. Cicero here homes in on a tussle between Antony and Dolabella over appointments to the consulship for 44 BCE. Despite the fact that both benefitted from Caesar’s patronage, the two had a fractious history: in 47, Antony clamped down violently on Dolabella’s attempt to push through a debt cancellation, and there were also rumours (picked up by Cicero in § 99) that Dolabella had committed adultery with Antony’s then-wife Antonia.24 Cicero dwells at length (§§ 79–84a) on this contretemps between Antony and Dolabella. Dolabella, despite being his former son-in-law, remained a puzzle for Cicero: ‘Before the end of April Cicero had already reason to believe that Antony and Dolabella were hand in glove (Att. 14.14.4 = 368 SB; 28 or 29 April: rumour of an extended provincial command for both consuls). And on 9 May, in the very midst of his rhapsodies about the overturned pillar, he accuses Dolabella of sharing with Antony the spoils from the temple of Ops (Att. 14.18.1 = 373 SB). Cicero’s unbalanced and volatile temperament is strikingly illustrated by the correspondence of the first half of May, which shows clearly that he did not know what to make of Dolabella’.25

2In order to understand what happened, we need to distinguish between consules ordinarii, i.e. the two consuls who were initially elected and took office at the beginning of the year, and consules suffecti, i.e. ‘substitute consuls’ who replaced the elected consuls if they died or were otherwise incapacitated during their time in office. (Even being a suffect consul was a great honour, though people thought Caesar made a mockery of it when the consul Quintus Fabius Maximus died on 31 December 45 BCE and he appointed Gaius Caninius Rebilus as suffect consul for the last few remaining hours of the year.)

3For the consulship of 44 BCE, Cicero implies the following timeline:

4 Sometime in 45:

Caesar promises the two consulships for 44 to Antony and Dolabella.
Antony manages to prevail upon Caesar to change his mind, break his promise to Dolabella, and take up the second consulship himself.
As consolation prize, Caesar designates Dolabella consul suffectus upon his departure for Parthia (scheduled for 18 March), when he would have stepped down from his consulship.
This irritates Antony, who announces that he would try to thwart Dolabella’s election. (The date when Caesar designated Dolabella as consul suffectus remains vague—though in § 81 Cicero implies that it happened some time ago: Antony made his objections known ‘many months before’ (multis ante mensibus) the actual election.)

5 January 44:

An irritated Dolabella expresses his annoyance with Antony in a speech to the senate.

6 Mid-March:

During the election of Dolabella to the suffect consulship, Antony voices religious objections

7 14 March:

Caesar gets murdered.

8 17 March:

Antony accepts Dolabella as his colleague in the consulship.

9It is not entirely straightforward to sift facts from fiction here. Sometime in 45 BCE, Caesar indeed must have decided that Antony and himself should be the consules ordinarii for 44, with Dolabella becoming a consul suffectus upon his departure for the campaign against Parthia. Likewise, there is no reason to doubt that Antony vigorously opposed the plan to make Dolabella suffect consul. Conversely, however, there is no evidence to corroborate Cicero’s assertion that Caesar initially designated Dolabella as one of the two consules ordinarii and then, at the advice of Antony, changed his mind. This vacillation, which makes Caesar look feeble and Antony treacherous, is most likely a Ciceronian construct. He milks it for all it is worth, at seemingly excessive length (§§ 79–84a), partly to drive a wedge between the two prominent Caesarians who jointly held the consulship at the time Cicero composed Philippic 2, partly because it enables him to suggest that Antony’s conduct has been at variance with Rome’s civic religion, out of ignorance and/or impudence.

10 His igitur rebus praeclare commendatus iussus es renuntiari consul et quidem cum ipso: the subject of the sentence is Antony, whom Cicero continues to address directly. After the past participle commendatus (modifying an implied tu), we get the main verb in the passive (iussus es) followed by a passive infinitive (renuntiari), yielding the somewhat contrived ‘you were ordered to be declared (elected) consul’ — instead of the far more straightforward ‘Caesar ordered you to be declared (elected) consul’. The two passives constitute a sly dig at the obfuscated agent, i.e. Caesar. By turning Antony into the passive subject of Caesar’s act of ordering, rather than the (more natural) subject accusative of an indirect statement, Cicero manages to convey syntactically the utter lack of transparency in the way Caesar and his favourites wielded their power, not least in filling offices (such as the consulship).

  • 26 See Kunkel (1995: 182).

11 renuntiari: renuntiare is a technical term of Rome’s political culture, referring to the act of announcing (or rather re-porting) the results of an election by the presiding magistrate in the voting assemblies (the comitia and the concilium plebis). The prefix re- captures the fact that the magistrate reported back to the assembly what the people in the assembly had themselves decided in casting their votes; compare and contrast pro-nuntiare, which refers to acts of announcing a decision to somebody not involved in making it.26 In order to fully appreciate the sarcasm and outrage at Caesar’s and Antony’s perversion of the appointment process to Rome’s highest magistracy that Cicero packs into this sentence, a few words on the practice of renuntiatio (= the presiding magistrate announcing the results of the consular elections for the following year) is in order. The opening of Cicero’s pro Murena affords a good example of what this moment traditionally meant (or could be taken to mean) (Mur. 1):

Quae precatus a dis immortalibus sum, iudices, more institutoque maiorum illo die quo auspicato comitiis centuriatis L. Murenam consulem renuntiavi, ut ea res mihi fidei magistratuique meo, populo plebique Romanae bene atque feliciter eveniret, eadem precor ab isdem dis immortalibus ob eiusdem hominis consulatum una cum salute obtinendum, et ut vestrae mentes atque sententiae cum populi Romani voluntatibus suffragiisque consentiant, eaque res vobis populoque Romano pacem, tranquillitatem, otium concordiamque adferat.

[On that day, judges, on which, after taking the auspices, I announced Lucius Murena’s election as consul to the centuriate assembly, I prayed to the immortal gods according to the custom and tradition of our ancestors that his event should bring good fortune to myself, the reliable discharge of my office and to the people and the plebs of Rome. Today I address the same prayer to those same immortal gods to preserve the consulship and at the same time the welfare of the same man, that your minds and your verdict may concur with the wishes and the votes of the Roman people and that this concurrence may bring peace, tranquillity, calm, and harmony to yourselves and to the Roman people.]

  • 27 Kunkel (1995: 85, n. 111); he also argues that before the official renuntiatio the successful cand (...)

12Cicero embeds recall of the moment in which he announced the outcome of the consular elections for 62 BCE within a past and present prayer. The agents and institutions involved include: the immortal gods (and their goodwill towards the commonwealth), ancestral customs, the voting assemblies, the presiding consul, the consular elections and the consulship (Rome’s highest magistracy) itself, the Roman people and their popular will as expressed in (free) elections, and civic welfare, peace, and domestic harmony guaranteed by proper civic procedures and divine benevolence. Renuntiatio guarantees annalistic continuity as the reigning consuls announce their successors, a handing over of power crucial for the functioning of a political culture grounded in oligarchic equality, managed not least by means of annual elections to public office. The act occurred on a tribunal marked out as a sacred precinct (templum).27 By contrast, in Caesar’s Rome, this hallowed ritual, which constituted an essential element of the senatorial tradition of republican government, has become a perverse manifestation of Caesar’s power and cronyism. The dictator remained committed to the constitutional forms and procedures of the republican commonwealth, such as renuntiatio, but his control of the proceedings and the personnel rendered them meaningless charades.

13 his… rebus: the instrumental ablative phrase sums up the catalogue of Antony’s vices (or, from Caesar’s point of view, virtues) detailed in the previous sentence, i.e. being in debt, impoverished, worthless, and reckless. res is here perhaps best understood in the sense of ‘qualities’.

14 praeclare commendatus: clearly dripping with irony. For such sarcastic use of praeclare, see also Phil. 7.3.

15 et quidem cum ipso: ‘and what’ s more with himself [ipso refers to Caesar] as your colleague’. The particle quidem here sets up a further heightening of the sense of outrage Cicero is trying to generate. The fact that Antony managed to weasel himself into the consulship is particularly obnoxious since Caesar continued to monopolize one of the two high magistracies. See OLD s.v. quidem 5 (adding a reinforcement or afterthought): ‘And what is more’, ‘and — at that’, often preceded by et.

  • 28 See most recently Martelli (2016).

16 nihil queror de Dolabella qui tum est impulsus, inductus, elusus: Publius Cornelius Dolabella was the one-time husband of Cicero’s daughter Tullia, whom he married in the summer of 50 but divorced in November 46, when Tullia was already pregnant with their second child. She died from the consequences of childbirth at Dolabella’s house in February of 45, plunging Cicero into deep despair. His letters from this period are stricken with grief — a good% age of it in mourning the Republic and his own status in it — to the point that many of his correspondents exhorted him to pull himself together.28 This personal experience resonates in nihil queror de Dolabella: it is not that he has any particular sympathy for his former son-in-law. This, however, does not change the fact that he was made the innocent butt of Antony’s ability to pull strings with Caesar. The asyndetic tricolon of verbs that conclude the relative clause re-enacts the way in which he was jerked around and made a fool of.

17 nihil: the indeclinable neuter noun nihil (‘nothing’) is here used adverbially. See OLD s.v. 11: ‘in no respect’, ‘not at all’.

18 qua in re quanta fuerit uterque vestrum perfidia in Dolabellam quis ignorat?: qua is a connecting relative (= ea). The phrase qua in re belongs inside the indirect question introduced by quanta, which is an interrogative adjective modifying perfidia. The phrase is an ablative of description (‘of how much treachery’). The main clause comes at the end (quis ignorat?): ‘Who does not know (quis ignorat) of how much treachery (quanta… perfidia) in this matter (qua in re) each one of you (uterque vestrum) was towards Dolabella (fuerit in Dolabellam)?’ — or, more elegantly: ‘Who does not know how treacherously each of you behaved towards Dolabella in this matter?’

19 uterque vestrum: vestrum is the (partitive) genitive plural of the second person personal pronoun, dependent on uterque.

20 ille induxit ut peteret, promissum et receptum intervertit ad seque transtulit: ille is Caesar, who is the subject of three main verbs: induxit, intervertit, and transtulit. The first and the second clash in asyndeton, the second and third are linked by the -que after se. The design is thematically appropriate, enacting the break of Caesar’s promise: induxit clashes with intervertit and transtulit. The implied accusative object of peteret, intervertit, and transtulit is consulatum, which also governs the two perfect passive participles promissum and receptum, which are adversative in sense (‘he revoked the consulship even though it had been promised and accepted’).

21 ut peteret: sc. consulatum. The implied subject of the ut-clause is Dolabella. The common verb peto can have the technical sense of ‘to be a candidate for, seek a magistracy’ (with accusative object of the office sought, at times — as here — implied) or, generally, ‘to be a candidate for office, stand for election’: see OLD s.v. 9.

22 tu eius perfidiae voluntatem tuam ascripsisti: the meaning of ascribo here is ‘to attribute, assign’ an accusative object [here: voluntatem tuam] ‘to a cause or origin’ in the dative [here: eius perfidiae]: see OLD s.v. 5. Cicero ‘is accusing Antony of trying to shift the blame to Caesar for what was, in fact, Antony’ s own desire (to block Dolabella’s advancement): “you attributed… your wish to Caesar’s perfidy” (and yet you were the one who caused Caesar to change his mind about giving the consulship to Dolabella)’(Ramsey 2003: 276). If in the previous sentence, Cicero attributes treachery (perfidia) to both Caesar and Antony, here he singles out Antony’s alone — indeed suggests that Caesar’s ‘treachery’ is one in appearance only, an impression generated by Antony.

23 eius: refers to Caesar.

24 veniunt Kalendae Ianuariae: the Romans called the first day of every month ‘calends’ (related to kalendarium = accounting-book for debts due at the beginning of each month; whence our ‘calendar’). On ‘the calends of January’, i.e. the beginning of the year, elected magistrates entered their offices.

25 cogimur in senatum: phrases such as senatum cogere (‘to summon the senate’) or senatum in curiam cogere (‘to summon the senate into the Curia’) are standard; the phrasing that Cicero uses here — aliquem in senatum cogere (‘to summon someone into the senate’) — is not. In its passive variant, this formulation hints at an element of coercion (it’s a round up — ‘we were herded’) and hence a disjunction or non-identification between the recipients of a dictatorial order (individual senators, among whom Cicero counts himself: ‘we’) and ‘Caesar’ s senate’. The chosen idiom thus articulates a sense of Cicero’s republican resistance to Caesar’s manipulation of this institution (including enforced attendance).

26 invectus est copiosius multo in istum et paratius Dolabella quam nunc ego: in the passive, inveho means ‘to attack verbally’. The word order (or rather ‘dis-order’) enacts the blast of Dolabella’s verbal onslaught: Cicero puts the verb (invectus est) up front, places multo, an ablative of the measure of difference, which usually stands before the comparative, behind it, and disjoins the two comparative adverbs copiosius and paratius, which, in this order, also constitute a husteron proteron (see below), through the insertion of in istum. Put differently, the sentence climaxes in the middle (with in istum), before petering out from et onwards.

27 copiosius multo… et paratius: ‘with much greater fullness of expression and much better preparation’. Both copiosius and paratius are technical terms in Roman rhetorical discourse. copiose refers to the ability to speak eloquently and at length (copia = fullness of expression), parate to being well-prepared. (See e.g. de Oratore 1.150, Brutus 241, Divinatio in Caecilium 47.) The placement of copiosius ahead of paratius constitutes a husteron proteron (‘an inversion of the natural / logical sequence’) since the latter is a precondition of the former.

28 in istum: a contemptuous reference to Antony, now that Cicero has switched to a third-person perspective.

29 quam nunc ego: however much Cicero waxes rhetorically, he is usually keen to come across as exercising self-restraint, at least comparatively speaking. At the same time, he is clearly writing tongue-in-cheek here: there is no way that Dolabella’s speech was fuller and better prepared than Philippic 2.


24 On the clash between Antony and Dolabella in 47 BCE, see further Welch (1995).

25 Denniston (1926: 165–66).

26 See Kunkel (1995: 182).

27 Kunkel (1995: 85, n. 111); he also argues that before the official renuntiatio the successful candidates swore an oath to do with the execution of his office: 93 n. 146.

28 See most recently Martelli (2016).


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