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

Ingo Gildenhard


§ 83: Antony’s Fake Auspices

Texte intégral

  • 38 See also Cicero, de Divinatione 1.29.

1In this and the following paragraph Cicero dwells on the moment Antony decided to invalidate or at least vitiate the election of Dolabella, which had just run its course, by announcing that he had become aware of a natural disturbance that signaled divine displeasure. He used the ritual phrase that calls for postponement: alio die means ‘Sorry, just got a communiqué from above: let’s reconvene to repeat the proceedings on another day’. This reiteration never happened; and hence Dolabella’s suffect consulship was technically speaking marred by a religious flaw in the electoral proceedings that would need to be referred to the augural college for discussion. A passage in Cicero’s dialogue On the Laws (de Legibus) gives a sense of the importance of augural approval (or disapproval) in the political decision-making processes of the Roman republic (2.31):38

Maximum autem et praestantissimum in re publica ius est augurum cum auctoritate coniunctum, neque vero hoc quia sum ipse augur ita sentio, sed quia sic existimari nos est necesse. quid enim maius est, si de iure quaerimus, quam posse a summis imperiis et summis potestatibus comitiatus et concilia vel instituta dimittere vel habita rescindere? quid gravius quam rem susceptam dirimi, si unus augur ‘alio <die>’ dixerit? quid magnificentius quam posse decernere, ut magistratu se abdicent consules? quid religiosius quam cum populo, cum plebe agendi ius aut dare aut non dare? quid, legem si non iure rogata est tollere…? nihil domi, nihil militiae per magistratus gestum sine eorum auctoritate posse cuiquam probari?

[But the highest and most important legal instance in the commonwealth is that of the augurs, to whom is accorded great authority. I hold this opinion not because I am an augur myself, but because it is necessary for us the augurs to be esteemed thus. For if we consider their legal rights, what power is greater than to be able to adjourn assemblies and meetings convened by the most powerful magistrates endowed with the highest imperium, or to declare null and void the acts of assemblies presided over by such officials? What is of graver import than to abandon any business already begun, if a single augur says, ‘On another day’? What power is more impressive than that of forcing the consuls to resign their offices? What right is more sacred than that of giving or refusing permission to hold an assembly of the people or of the plebs, or that of abrogating laws illegally passed?… Indeed, no act of any magistrate at home or in the field can have any validity for any person without their authority.]

2The religious flaw could be summoned as an argument in political discussion about the validity of Dolabella’s actions as consul. Indeed, it was made to backfire on Antony once he accepted Dolabella’s election to the consulship as valid: his own religious objection now also came to vitiate any action he jointly undertook with his colleague. Cicero does not fail to point this out. See Phil. 3.9, where Antony is blasted as being a worse tyrant than the kings of old (at least those respected the auspices): servabant auspicia reges; quae hic consul augurque neglexit, neque solum legibus contra auspicia ferendis, sed etiam conlega una ferente eo quem ipse ementitis auspiciis vitiosum fecerat (‘The kings observed the auspices, which this consul and augur has neglected, not only by putting through laws in defiance of the auspices, but by doing so jointly with the very colleague whose election he had flawed by falsifying the auspices’) and Phil. 5.9.

3 Confecto negotio bonus augur — C. Laelium diceres — ‘alio die’ inquit: The sentence begins with an ablative absolute (confecto negotio) that sums up the previous sentence. Cicero places the participle first to stress the aspect of completion. The verb of the main clause is inquit, which sets up the bit of direct speech that Cicero quotes (alio die). C. Laelium diceres is a parenthetical gloss on bonus augur.

4 bonus augur: sarcastic.

5[eum esse] C[aium] Laelium diceres: diceres is an indefinite second person singular (equivalent to the English ‘one’) imperfect subjunctive active, signifying potential. It introduces an indirect statement, though Cicero suppresses the subject accusative (eum) and the verb (esse), leaving only the predicative complement (C. Laelium): ‘one could have said that he was a Gaius Laelius’. C. Laelius (c. 188–129 BCE; consul in 140), who stars in Cicero’s treatise Laelius On Friendship (Laelius de Amicitia), written about the same time as Philippic 2, boasted the sobriquet Sapiens (‘the Wise’) and was a famous augur: put differently, he was everything Antony was not.

6 alio die: the augural formula that magistrates observing the sky uttered when they became aware of an unfavourable omen (such as thunder or lightening — taken to articulate Jupiter’s displeasure) to adjourn proceedings: ‘Let proceedings continue some other time!

7 o impudentiam singularem!: an accusative of exclamation. As Gibbs (2009: 59) puts it: ‘In Latin [as opposed to English where it is limited to some standard frozen phrases such as “Dear me!”], the accusative of exclamation is a productive form of speech; you can just put whatever noun phrase you want into the accusative case, and exclaim!’

8 quid videras, quid senseras, quid audieras?: a snappy rhetorical question cast as an asyndetic tricolon reinforced by anaphora of quid and homoioteleuton (-eras) to bring out the fact that Antony’s sensory input was precisely nothing. The three pluperfect verbs refer to three different types of signs: lightening (videras); haziness in the atmosphere (senseras); and thunder (audieras). Compare Phil. 5.8 where Cicero lashes out against Antony for having passed a law with all the heavens in turmoil: quam legem igitur se augur dicit tulisse non modo tonante Iove, sed prope caelesti clamore prohibente, hanc dubitabit contra auspicia latam confiteri? (‘Will he therefore hesitate to admit that a law which he, an augur, says he carried not only while Jupiter was thundering but almost against the veto of a heavenly clamour, was carried in violation of the auspices?’).

9 neque enim te de caelo servasse dixisti nec hodie dicis: the connecting logic of neque enim is as follows: ‘for you must have made some such observation, as you certainly did not declare te de caelo servasse’(Mayor 1861: 127). This harks back to the distinction between consular spectio (which involves prior announcement of intent) and augural nuntiatio (observation during the proceedings). Antony did not do the former, so he must have performed the latter. dixisti, the first of the two main verbs, refers to the time of the elections; it introduces an indirect statement with te as subject accusative and servasse (the syncopated perfect active infinitive = serva |vi| sse). hodie dicis feeds into the fiction that Philippic 2 is part of a live confrontation between Cicero and Antony on the senate floor on 19 September 44.

10 id igitur obvenit vitium quod tu iam Kalendis Ianuariis futurum esse provideras et tanto ante praedixeras: the front position of id (‘that very’), a demonstrative adjective modifying vitium, enhances Cicero’s piercing sarcasm and has a correlate in tu at the beginning of the relative clause. In the relative clause, the relative pronoun quod is both the accusative object of provideras and praedixeras and the subject accusative of the indirect statement introduced by provideras (with futurum esse as infinitive). The construction goes into English reasonably well: ‘… which already on the Calends of January you had foreseen would happen…’.

11 tanto ante: tanto is an ablative of the measure of difference modifying the adverb ante: ‘(by) so long beforehand’. It could refer either to the Calends of January or an even earlier moment in time: see above on § 81 multis ante mensibus.

  • 39 Linderski (1995: 615), with reference to Cic. Div. 2.72–73 and Servius ad Aen. 6.198.
  • 40 See Kühner-Stegmann II. 1, 410–12: this ‘resultative ablative’ tends to take the preposition cum, (...)

12 ergo hercule magna, ut spero, tua potius quam rei publicae calamitate ementitus es auspicia: (implied) subject, verb, and accusative object cluster at the end of the sentence: ementitus es auspicia: ‘you fabricated the auspices’. auspicium mentiri is ‘a standard augural expression’.39 What leads up to them is, after the connective ergo and the interjection hercule, a long phrase in the ablative that specifies the result of Antony’s blasphemy: ‘resulting, as I hope, in your grand destruction rather than the destruction of the commonwealth’.40 magna and tua both modify an implied calamitate.

13In Roman political culture, it was a key (yet open) question whether (and if so to what extent) the commonwealth was liable for the religious misdeeds of one of its functionaries. A story in Livy illustrates the issues at the stake — as well as the legalistic logic that informs Rome’s civic religion. Before a battle against the Samnites in 293 BCE, the consul L. Papirius asks his chicken-keepers to take the auspices. (The Romans used the way chicken fed as a way to ascertain the will of the gods: greedy eating was considered a good omen; it thus helped to have put the chicken on a temporary diet just before offering them auspicious food…) In this particular instance, the chicken refused to eat, but one of the chicken-keepers nevertheless reported to the consul that they had eaten greedily, thus ‘falsifying the auspices’. Consul Papirius, who was left in the dark of how the chicken actually fed, was of course delighted and got his army ready for battle, only to be told by his nephew that the auspices might have been meddled with. Papirius’reply is telling:

… ceterum qui auspicio adest, si quid falsi nuntiat, in semet ipsum religionem recipit; mihi quidem tripudium nuntiatum, populo Romano exercituique egregium auspicium est.

[He who assists at the auspices (auspicio adest) if he reports anything that is false, draws down the religio (ritual pollution) upon himself; as for me I received a report of tripudium [i.e. a very positive omen], and I take it as an excellent auspicium for the Roman People and the army (trans. Linderski 1995: 615).]

14Linderski (1995: 615) draws attention to the remarkable fact that Papirius assumes that ‘Jupiter is bound by the false announcement of a favorable auspicium’. Put differently, according to the logic of Rome’s augural law, ‘an augur who announced a prohibitive sign, even one that he had made up, was felt to bring it into existence by his very act of proclaiming it’ (Ramsey 2003: 281, with reference to Linderski 1986: 2214). Papirius proved to be right, though as an extra precaution he positioned the chicken-keepers in the front-line. Sure enough, the pullularius who had falsified the auspices got hid by an errant spear even before the battle started, which the Romans went on to win handily. In short, we have a falsified report that paradoxically establishes both (a) a legally binding contract between Jupiter and the Roman magistrate (acting on behalf of the res publica); and (b) a state of religious pollution that requires expiation. The question of interest to us is who carries the religious stigma and will become the target of divine wrath: the individual person who committed the religious transgression or the commonwealth of which he is a part? Both Livy (consider the safety-measures of Papirius who deliberately placed the pullularius in harm’s way) and Cicero (see the hedge ut spero) suggests that this was not entirely clear and may change from case to case, depending on various variables. Either the individual or his community could be punished, and Cicero of course hopes that in this particular instance divinely inflicted catastrophe would redound on the individual (Antony) rather than the res publica.

15 obstrinxisti religione populum Romanum; augur auguri, consul consuli obnuntiasti: the two alliterated verbs obstrinxisti and obnuntiasti form a weighty frame for the two clauses. Both are technical terms, which might be glossed as follows: obstringere religione = to taint with pollution through a breach in religious protocol; obnuntiare = to oppose a public act or decision with reference to an adverse sign from the gods. Together, they generate a vivid image of the chaos Antony caused, which is reflected in the inverted word-order of the first clause, the clashing polyptoton of the second clause, and the husteron proteron (obstringere is the outcome of performing an obnuntiatio on the basis of fake auspices).

16 augur auguri, consul consuli obnuntiasti: augur and consul stand in apposition to the subject of the sentence: ‘you, an augur, objected to an augur, you, a consul, objected to a consul’. The datives auguri and consuli refer to Caesar, who, like Antony, was both augur and consul at the time. (He had himself been elected to the priestly college of augurs in 47 BCE; see Crawford 1974: 494). The utter lack of solidarity between holders of the same position or office displayed by Antony is reminiscent of civil war, which pitched citizen against citizen.

17 nolo plura [dicere], ne acta Dolabellae videar convellere, quae necesse est aliquando ad nostrum collegium deferantur: nolo governs an (elided) supplementary infinitive, which takes plura as accusative object. The ne-clause is one of purpose: ‘lest I seem…’. Cicero concedes that he is walking on a tight rope — the more he lays into Antony’s conduct at the election of Dolabella, the more he undermines the legitimacy of Dolabella’s actions in office, which for present purposes he deems inopportune.

18 quae necesse est aliquando ad nostrum collegium deferantur: Cicero continues with a relative clause with acta as antecedent of quae, built into which is a substantive consecutive clause dependent on necesse est (with the ut — as often — omitted), hence the subjunctive deferantur: ‘… which must at some future time (aliquando) be referred to our college [= the college of augurs, of which Cicero was a member, hence nostrum]’, sc. to make a decision about their validity. As Denniston (1926: 149) explains: ‘It rested with the college of augurs to decide whether or not a magistrate’ s action had been “vitiated” by neglect of the auspices. … Cicero speaks of Dolabella’s acts being referred to the augural college, because the validity of his acts rested on the invalidity of Antony’s obnuntiatio to his election, and the question of the validity of the obnuntiatio would be referred to the college’.


38 See also Cicero, de Divinatione 1.29.

39 Linderski (1995: 615), with reference to Cic. Div. 2.72–73 and Servius ad Aen. 6.198.

40 See Kühner-Stegmann II. 1, 410–12: this ‘resultative ablative’ tends to take the preposition cum, but can also occur without any preposition.