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

Ingo Gildenhard


§ 80: Antony Augur, Addled and Addling

Texte intégral

  • 29 The following paragraph draws on Gildenhard (2011: 246–54).

1In the run-up to the election of Dolabella as suffect consul, Antony seems to have announced that he would try to prevent the election of Dolabella to the consulship by making use of a religious veto that he could issue in his capacity as augur. In the event, he made good on his threat. Over the next few paragraphs, Cicero rakes him over the coals for this. To understand his lines of attack, we need to come to terms with some technicalities of Rome’s civic religion. This dimension of Roman culture is not easy to get one’s head around: its ‘cultural logic’ is in many ways quite alien to our own religious intuitions.29

  • 30 This distinction is best worked out in Bendlin (2000). It is also implied in Feeney’s (1998) criti (...)

2For our concerns, it is important to distinguish between Roman religion tout court (in the sense of any religious thought and practice in republican Rome) and ‘Rome’ s civic religion’, i.e. the religious dimension of Roman politics.30 Religious and political practices and procedures were therefore mutually implicated: changes in the field of power could not help but have repercussions for Rome’s civic religion and, conversely, reconfigurations or innovations in the handling of religious material were bound to be politically sensitive. The enmeshing of religious and political concerns that we capture in our late-republican sources and that has often been taken as evidence for a decline in religion was in fact co-extensive with the Roman commonwealth. Much of the communication that Rome’s civic community entertained with the divine sphere revolved around apparent signs from the gods, which manifested themselves in atmospheric phenomena (thunder and lightening, esp. when the sky was otherwise clear), the entrails of sacrificial victims, or monstrous occurrences that violated the natural order of things (such as the birth of a double-headed calf). Elaborate protocols regulated how such signs were to be identified and processed: who was entitled to report or look for them, what they meant and who was charged with interpreting them. Since Rome’s civic religion co-evolved with the political culture of the republican commonwealth and formed an integral part of it, it should not surprise that its peculiar outlook suited the needs of a society whose gravitational center was the senatorial oligarchy. The religious communication that formed part of Rome’s public sphere was designed to promote, not least, a politics rooted in consensus: the possibility of a religiously motivated veto by a magistrate or priest against any course of action constituted a strong incentive to ensure widespread acceptance and collaboration ahead of any major decision. This set-up helped to keep the willful politics of maverick power brokers in check — but it of course also opened the possibility that an individual with the right to communicate with the gods could (ab-)use his religious veto to obstruct political proceedings or decisions he disliked for purely personal reasons.

3In 44, Antony held two positions that gave him the right to interact with the divine sphere — though in two slightly different ways:

  1. As consul he had the right of spectio: he could actively look for divine signs (of disapproval) before an event and even announce that he would do so. Since the assumption was that anyone seeking an unfavourable divine sign would also find it, events were cancelled or postponed as soon as a magistrate announced that he would exercise his right of spectio.
  2. As augur — a priesthood he held since 50 BCE — he was able to report adverse signs that materialized during the course of the actual event (= nuntiatio), such as thunder or lightening.31

4During the election of Dolabella to the suffect consulship Antony seems to have conflated consular spectio and augural nuntiatio: he announced he would make use of his religious veto ahead of the election; the election went ahead nevertheless; but towards the end he pronounced the augural formula that rendered the proceedings invalid from a religious point of view. Or, in the words of Linderski (1986: 2198):

  • 32 See also Santangelo (2013: 273) and Berthelet (2016), both with further bibliography.

In his description of Antonius’ obnuntiatio against the election of Dolabella as consul in 44, Cicero contrasts the spectio of the magistrates and the nuntiatio of the augurs (Phil. 2.81): Nos enim nuntiationem solum habemus, consules et reliqui magistratus etiam spectionem. The augurs could report only oblative signs, and oblative signs had to be observed entirely by chance. It was not possible to predict that one would see them. And according to the rule of vinculum temporis … governing the observation and interpretation of oblative signs, the augurs could announce only such oblative signs that occurred after the beginning of the comitia. The magistrates had on the other hand both spectio and nuntiatio: the right to take impetrative auspices and to announce adverse omens. They could proclaim in advance that they would watch the skies; however, as the magisterial nuntiatio was exclusively based on impetrative auspices, the magistrate had to make the announcement of an adverse omen before the beginning of the comitia. Antonius, who was consul and augur, had proclaimed in advance se Dolabellae comitia… prohibiturum auspiciis, thus implying that he would block Dolabella’s election by means of the announcement of adverse auspices based upon his right to spectio. However, when he actually reported an adverse omen, he did it in his capacity as augur, for he uttered the ritual formula alio die after the beginning of the comitia or, more exactly, shortly before the conclusion of the gathering. He obnuntiated on the basis of an oblative sign, the occurrence of which it was impossible to predict, and hence Cicero was justified in contending that it must have been a fake.32

5According to Cicero, Antony was plain stupid (end of § 80: stupiditas) for reasons specified in § 81: he would have been much smarter to object on religious grounds in his office of consul (rather than as augur); and also shameless (§ 81: impudentia).

6Hic autem iratus quae dixit, di boni!: the deictic hic refers to Antony, who, incensed by Dolabella’s diligently prepared, if hard-hitting, show of eloquence, responded with some frightful verbiage of his own. The word order of the exclamation again creates a vivid image of the situation: pulled up front we get ‘angry Antony’ (hic… iratus) — here objectified, in the third person, put on show, like a distasteful (yet fascinating) insect, for a case study in emotional incontinence and rhetorical idiocy. The laconic quae dixit teases the imagination. And with di boni, Cicero turns to the gods in mock-fear at recalling Antony’s outburst: ‘This exclamation clearly originated as a cry for help: a person suddenly faced with some horrible sight or anything threatening him invokes instinctively the help and protection of the gods. A Roman Catholic will cry out “Jesus Maria”, …’ (Fraenkel 1957: 441) — and an atheist ‘Jeez-us!’. The effect is therefore different from the moments of import, pathos, and, more generally, high emotions, that Cicero underscores by invocations such as per deos immortales or o/pro di immortales, which belong to a higher stylistic register.

7primum cum Caesar ostendisset se, priusquam proficisceretur, Dolabellam consulem esse iussurum — quem negant regem, qui et faceret semper eius modi aliquid et diceret — sed cum Caesar ita dixisset, tum hic bonus augur eo se sacerdotio praeditum esse dixit ut comitia auspiciis vel impedire vel vitiare posset, idque se facturum esse asseveravit: the opening adverb primum sets up the expectation that Cicero here launches into a catalogue of all the outrageous things Antony spluttered at the meeting; but after ‘first’ (primum), we never get a ‘second’ (deinde) — rather, we get another primum at the end of the paragraph! What follows is a complex period, best taken bit by bit:

  • cum Caesar ostendisset se, priusquam proficisceretur, Dolabellam consulem esse iussurum: the verb of the cum-clause (ostendisset) introduces an indirect statement with se as subject accusative (referring back to Caesar) and iussurum (esse) as infinitive, which in turn governs a further indirect statement with Dolabellam as subject accusative, esse as verb and consulem as predicative complement. (Note that the esse in the text is the infinitive of the indirect statement dependent on iussurum, which in its turn is the periphrastic future active infinitive (with esse elided) of the indirect statement dependent on ostendisset: ‘… when Caesar made it known that he (se) would issue an order (iussurum) that Dolabella be (esse) consul…’) Embedded within the cum-clause is a further temporal subordinate clause with Caesar as subject (priusquam proficisceretur: the reference is to his planned departure for Parthia— proficisci here has the sense of ‘to set out on campaign’).
  • quem negant regem, qui et faceret semper eius modi aliquid et diceret: at this point, Cicero steps outside his period for a parenthetical gloss on Caesar’s highhanded conduct. The main verb is negant, which introduces an indirect statement with quem (a connecting relative = et eum) as subject accusative, an (implied) fuisse as verb, and regem as predicative complement, followed by a relative clause. (The imperfect subjunctives faceret and diceret are concessive: people deny that Caesar was a despot even though his words and deeds provide ample proof that he was.)
  • sed cum Caesar ita dixisset: the parenthesis necessitates a brief recapitulation: sed cum ita dixisset essentially repeats, summarily, cum Caesar ostendisset … iussurum, as Cicero finds his feet again in his period after the parenthetical gloss.
  • tum hic bonus augur eo se sacerdotio praeditum esse dixit ut comitia auspiciis vel impedire vel vitiare posset, idque se facturum esse asseveravit: the bipartite main clause follows, with dixit and asseveravit as verbs (linked by the -que after id). Each of them governs an indirect statement: se… praeditum esse; se facturum esse. The ut-clause is consecutive.
  • 33 A classic passage is Livy 27.9.4 (Scipio speaking): regium nomen, alibi magnum, Romae intolerabile (...)

8regem: Rome was founded by kings and even though the last king, Tarquinius Superbus, abused his power and was driven from the city, the term rex retained (at least some) positive connotations in early and mid-republican sources — though it became increasingly tarnished, not least through its assimilation to the Greek tyrannus (‘tyrant’), which the Romans imported as a loanword. While some authors adopted a neutral position towards ‘kingship’ as a form of government and preferred to work with the distinction between a ‘good king’ v. a ‘bad king’, others — among them Cicero — came to see any kind of autocratic regime as irreconcilably at variance with republican principles such as (oligarchic) libertas. Meanwhile, power-brokers, and especially Caesar, tested the waters on how far they could go in assuming the trappings of monarchy (recognizing the significant amount of goodwill and symbolic capital to be acquired from refusing royal honours). This cluster of issues underwrites Cicero’s account of the Lupercalia (coming up in § 84).33

9semper eius modi aliquid: Cicero is rather fond of the ‘characterizing semper’, used to pin down the essence of a person. Compare On Duties (de Officiis) 3.82, again with reference to Caesar: ipse autem socer in ore semper Graecos versus de Phoenissis habebat…: ‘The father-in-law [= Caesar] always had Greek verses from Euripides’ Phoenissae on his lips…’that proved him to be a tyrant at heart. The point is that Caesar’s conduct after his victory in the civil wars was invariably and systematically — rather than just occasionally — that of an autocrat, with no regards for traditional republican institutions or procedures in either deeds or words.

10tum hic bonus augur eo se sacerdotio praeditum esse dixit: bonus is cutting and condescending; dixit introduces an indirect statement with se as subject accusative, esse as verb, and praeditum as predicative complement, which governs the instrumental ablative eo sacerdotio: ‘this excellent augur here said that he was endowed with this priestly office…’ sacerdotium refers to Antony’s augurship, which he assumed in 50 BCE.

11ut comitia auspiciis vel impedire vel vitiare posset: comitia refers to the electoral assembly that would vote Dolabella into his consulship. Antony announced that he would use his powers of religious objection either to prevent them from taking place (impedire) or, if they proceeded, to cast religious doubt over — or invalidate altogether — the outcome (vitiare). The basic meaning of vitiare is ‘to cause faults or defects in’, ‘to impair’, but it also had the technical sense of ‘to invalidate political proceedings or public business because of some technical fault that violated religious protocols’. In our case, the vitium marring the comitia would be Antony’s augural pronouncement that he spotted signs of divine displeasure with the proceedings.

12idque se facturum esse asseveravit: asseveravit introduces an indirect statement with se as subject accusative and facturum esse as infinitive. id refers back to Antony’s reminder in the ut-clause that he could obstruct and/or invalidate the consular elections. It is the accusative object of facturum esse. Antony does not simply remind his audience that as augur he has the power to obstruct the elections; he feels obliged to assert emphatically (asseveravit) that he would actually do so.

13in quo primum incredibilem stupiditatem hominis cognoscite: in quo is another connecting relative (= et in eo), picking up the entirety of Antony’s statement in the previous sentence. primum is again adverbial (‘first of all’).


29 The following paragraph draws on Gildenhard (2011: 246–54).

30 This distinction is best worked out in Bendlin (2000). It is also implied in Feeney’s (1998) critique of religion or culture as a ‘monolithic’ meaning system. Further bibliography includes Beard, North, and Price (1998), Rosenberger (1998), Rüpke (2007), Santangelo (2013), and Scheid (1998/2003).

31 See Broughton (1991: 51) for the election of Antony (and Cicero) to the augurate, in, respectively, 50 and 53 BCE.

32 See also Santangelo (2013: 273) and Berthelet (2016), both with further bibliography.

33 A classic passage is Livy 27.9.4 (Scipio speaking): regium nomen, alibi magnum, Romae intolerabile esse. See further Berry (1996: 177).


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