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

Ingo Gildenhard


§ 108: Swords Galore, or: Antony’s Return to Rome

Texte intégral

1Around 20 May 44 BCE, Antony returned to Rome — together with several thousand veterans settled at Casilinum and Calatia (Appian, Bellum Civile 3.5 mentions 6,000), whom he had recruited by means of evocatio (‘recall into active service’) in the course of his journey through Southern Italy. From then on, he used this army as a bodyguard and to intimidate senate and people. At Philippic 5.17–20, Cicero gives an extensive account of how the presence of Antony’s troops shaped events in September 44 (the imaginary context of Philippic 2). The sections of greatest relevance to our passage are 17–18:

An illa non gravissimis ignominiis monumentisque huius ordinis ad posteritatis memoriam sunt notanda, quod unus M. Antonius in hac urbe post conditam urbem palam secum habuerit armatos? quod neque reges nostri fecerunt neque ii, qui regibus exactis regnum occupare voluerunt. Cinnam memini, vidi Sullam, modo Caesarem; hi enim tres post civitatem a L. Bruto liberatam plus potuerunt quam universa res publica. non possum adfirmare nullis telis eos stipatos fuisse, hoc dico: nec multis et occultis. at hanc pestem agmen armatorum sequebatur; Cassius, Mustela, Tiro, gladios ostentantes sui similes greges ducebant per forum; certum agminis locum tenebant barbari sagittarii. cum autem erat ventum ad aedem Concordiae, gradus conplebantur, lecticae conlocabantur, non quo ille scuta occulta esse vellet, sed ne familiares, si scuta ipsi ferrent, laborarent. illud vero taeterrimum non modo aspectu, sed etiam auditu, in cella Concordiae conlocari armatos, latrones, sicarios, de templo carcerem fieri, opertis valvis Concordiae, cum inter subsellia senatus versarentur latrones, patres conscriptos sententias dicere.

[As a record for posterity, must we not brand with a memorial of the most severe censure by this order that in this city, since its foundation, only Mark Antony has openly kept an armed guard at his side! Neither our kings nor those who after the expulsion of the kings tried to seize the kingship ever did this. I remember Cinna, I saw Sulla, recently Caesar. These three possessed more power than the entire commonwealth since Lucius Brutus liberated the community. I cannot affirm that they were surrounded by no weapons, but this I do affirm: not by many, and they were concealed. By contrast, an armed column attended this pest. Cassius, Mustela, Tiro, brandishing their swords, led gangs like themselves through the forum. Barbarian archers had their assigned place in the column. When they reached the Temple of Concord, the steps were packed, the litters were set down — not that he wanted the shields to be hidden, but to save his friends the effort of carrying them. The most loathsome thing of all, not only to see, but even to hear of is that armed men, bandits, cutthroats were stationed in the shrine of Concord. The temple became a prison. The doors of Concord were closed, and members of the senate expressed their views while bandits were moving about amid the benches.]

2Cicero luxuriates in the chaos Antony allegedly caused — and his oratory has had a powerful impact on how later ages (including ours) have viewed his actions. It is therefore salutary to try to recover Antony’s own view, as attempted by Sumi (2005: 132):

Antonius himself no doubt would have advertised his return differently. He easily could have called himself Rome’s savior and enumerated all the reasons to justify such an appellation. We know that he did so on two other occasions. … after the senate meeting in the Temple of Tellus, Antonius appeared before a contio, wearing an armored breastplate beneath his tunic, which he showed to the crowd as an indication of the peril he faced on behalf of the Republic (App. BC 2.130.543). At a later contio, he called himself guardian of the city (custos urbis) and described his efforts to protect Rome [Phil. 3.27; 5.21]. He could have explained his recruitment of soldiers and subsequent march on Rome in the same way: he was returning to defend the Roman people, not enslave them. D. Brutus was in Gaul mustering forces; C. Trebonius was on his way to Asia where he soon would have access to enormous resources and manpower; M. Brutus and Cassius had fled from Rome but were still in Italy — and who could say whether they would attempt to regain their dignitas through force of arms? It appeared that everyone had an army except the consul who was obligated to defend the state.

3 Qui vero inde reditus Romam [erat], quae perturbatio [erat] totius urbis!: After his brief glance at Dolabella, Cicero returns to his account of Antony’s actions in May 44, focusing on his return to Rome with two exclamations. qui and quae are pronominal interrogative adjectives, modifying, respectively, reditus and perturbatio; the discourse particle vero asserts the supposedly acknowledged factual basis of Cicero’s report; and inde has a temporal sense (‘next’, ‘then’): ‘What a return was there then to Rome! What upheaval of the entire city!’ Essentially, Cicero ‘describes Antonius’ return with highly charged and colorful language that all but declares the consul an enemy of the state (hostis)’ (Sumi 2005: 132).

4 Romam: an accusative of place to which (without ad because Rome is a city). The verb of movement is implied in the noun reditus: Pinkster (2015: 1043).

5 memineramus Cinnam nimis potentem, Sullam postea dominantem, modo Caesarem regnantem videramus: Cinna, Sulla, and Caesar are a notorious trio of late-republican strongmen who resorted to violent means in the pursuit of (excessive — or, in Caesar’s case, absolute) power. Cicero uses them elsewhere in the Philippic corpus as foils for Antony: see e.g. Phil. 5.17 (cited above), 8.7 (cited below), 11.1, 13.1–2, 14.23. The sentence sports an apparent symmetry, with the two verbs memineramus and videramus emphatically placed at the beginning and the end and three accusative objects (Cinnam, Sullam, Caesarem). Each potentate comes with an attribute, which together constitute a climactic sequence: we move from an adjective (potentem) to two participles (dominantem, regnantem) that express two highly objectionable modes of wielding power, with regnare topping dominari by a tick in loathsomeness since it implies a greater degree of permanence. Once we reach modo, however, it becomes apparent that the symmetry breaks down and thereby further sharpens the climax: whereas nimis and postea go with potentem and dominantem, modo goes with videramus — and what in some ways looks like (and is) a tricolon breaks apart into two unequal halves: Cinna and Sulla are distant memories (and comparatively harmless forerunners) when set against the much more recent visual impact of Caesar’s obnoxious reign.

6The potentia of Cinna, the dominatio of Sulla, and the regnum of Caesar are three illegitimate forms of power, which Cicero adduces throughout the corpus of Philippics for his scaremongering about Antony. In his endeavour to push a reluctant senate into an armed confrontation with Antony, he casts the conflict as a new chapter in the sequence of civil wars that defined late-republican politics. Always, Antony emerges as worse than his predecessors — including Caesar. Apart from 5.17 (cited above), see in particular Philippic 8.7–8, delivered on 4 February 43, when the dice had been cast and Cicero constructs the following history of civil conflict during his lifetime:

Utrum hoc bellum non est, an etiam tantum bellum quantum numquam fuit? ceteris enim bellis maximeque civilibus contentionem rei publicae causa faciebat: Sulla cum Sulpicio de iure legum, quas per vim latas esse dicebat; Cinna cum Octavio de novorum civium suffragiis; rursus cum Mario et Carbone Sulla, ne dominarentur indigni et ut clarissimorum hominum crudelissimam puniretur necem. horum omnium bellorum causae ex rei publicae contentione natae sunt. de proximo bello civili non libet dicere: ignoro causam, detestor exitum. hoc bellum quintum civile geritur — atque omnia in nostram aetatem inciderunt —, primum non modo non in dissensione et discordia civium, sed in maxima consensione incredibilique concordia.

[Is this not a war, or rather a war such as has never been before? In other wars, and especially in civil wars, some political question gave rise to the quarrel. Sulla clashed with Sulpicius on the validity of the laws which Sulla asserted had been carried by violence; Cinna with Octavius on the votes of the new citizens; Sulla again with Marius and Carbo over the tyranny of the unworthy, and to punish the most savage slaughter of eminent men. The causes of all these wars originated from a political quarrel. Of the last civil war I do not care to speak: I do not know its cause; I detest its outcome. This is the fifth civil war that is being waged — and all have fallen on our own times — the first that has arisen, not amid civic variance and discord, but amid the utmost unison and marvellous concord.]

7Cicero thus lists the following five clashes: (i) Sulla v. Sulpicius; (ii) Cinna v. Octavius; (iii) Sulla v. Marius and Carbo; (iv) Caesar v. Pompey; (v) Everyone v. Antony. He characterizes the first three as understandable, if deplorable outbreaks of violence over legitimate political differences. He passes over the fourth civil war, unleashed by Caesar, in silence because he is unable to identify a valid cause and loathes the outcome. The fifth of the civil wars is special in a different sense: there is no dividing line to speak of — it is Antony against everyone else.

8 memineramus: first person plural pluperfect indicative active. memini (like coepi, odi, and novi) is a verb used only in the perfect system. The perfect tense has a present sense (memini: I remember) and the pluperfect a perfect sense (memineram: I remembered).

9 Cinnam nimis potentem: Cinna, an ally of Marius, bossed Rome from 87–84 BCE after Marius’death.

10 Sullam postea dominantem: Sulla returned from the war against Mithridates in 83 BCE and took charge of Rome until 79 BCE, when he resigned his dictatorship.

11 erant fortasse gladii, sed absconditi nec ita multi: ista vero quae et quanta barbaria est!: the sentence contrasts the behaviour of earlier strongmen with that of Antony, trying to bring out — also at the level of style — by how much matters deteriorated with the latter. The verbs (the imperfect erant and the present est) are strategically placed at the beginning and end to underscore the historical trajectory from bad to worse. Cicero further downplays past outrage with the adverbial hedge fortasse and instantly qualifies gladii with two provisos, trailing in predicative position (sed absconditi nec ita multi). Contrast the sharp demonstrative pronoun ista, which modifies barbaria (note the emphatic hyperbaton) and gets reinforced by the two interrogative adjectives quae and quanta, which, respectively underscore quality and quantity in an exclamation that, thematically and grammatically, recalls the opening sentence of the paragraph: ‘What and how great a barbarity this is!’ barbaria is an abstract concept that carries associations to do with geography and ethnicity as well as political ethics: it brings to mind foreign, uncivilized tribes that inhabit the wilderness at the periphery of Greco-Roman culture, are inherently savage and cruel, and (with particular reference to the East) practise despicable forms of political organization (such as autocracy). Antony had archers from Ituraea (the Greek name of a region in the Levant) in his entourage, who made him look ‘like an oriental king’ (Lacey (1986: 236); cf. Mayor (1861: 149): ‘But what an Asiatic despotism is this of yours!’). Put differently, Cicero here cast the previous tyrants in a tolerable light as far as the presence of armed bodyguards in the city of Rome was concerned. All three tried to keep the number of weapons under control and their presence out of sight. By contrast, he makes Antony’s return resemble a barbarian invasion, both in the kind and the quantity of armed troops flooding into the city. This is in line with insults found elsewhere in the Philippic corpus, where Antony routinely outdoes all other political monsters: at Phil. 3.9–11, for instance, he is more tyrannical than Tarquinius Superbus and at Phil. 14.9 he is worse than Hannibal.

  • 76 On the notion of os impurum, see Worman (2008: 322): ‘Although… Cicero seems largely to reserve im (...)

12 agmine quadrato cum gladiis sequuntur, scutorum lecticas portari videmus: two main clauses in asyndetic sequence; the subject of the first is implied in sequuntur: ‘Antony’ s men followed with their swords drawn, in battle-order; we saw litters filled with shields being carried along’. The phrase agmine quadrato (an ablative absolute) designates a marching formation in which the army has taken the baggage into the middle for protection against attacks from all sides and is ready for battle at any moment. Cicero uses the same phrase with reference to the meeting of the senate on 19 September, at which Antony delivered the speech to which Cicero’s Philippic 2 is a response (5.20): agmine quadrato in aedem Concordiae venit atque in me absentem orationem ex ore impurissimo evomuit. quod die, si per amicos mihi cupienti in senatum venire licuisset, caedis initium fecisset a me (‘he entered the Temple of Concord with his bodyguard in battle formation and vomited from that foulest of mouths a speech against me in my absence. If my friends had allowed me to come to the senate on that day as I wished, he would have started his slaughter with me’).76

13 scutorum lecticas: litters full of shields: ‘The genitive is akin to that after verbs of filling, cf. cadus vini, “a cask (full of) wine”’(Allcroft 1901: 117). The reference to shields complements the mention of swords: Antony’s troops are on the move, ready to attack or to defend themselves.

14 atque his quidem iam inveteratis, patres conscripti, consuetudine obduruimus: atque here has a slight adversative sense (OLD s.v. 9): ‘and yet’: yes, Antony outdoes anyone, but he is still part of a tradition. his… inveteratis is an ablative absolute: ‘with these things having become the norm now’, with the idea of repetition expressed by inveteratis continued with consuetudine: ‘we have become hardened by repeated experience’. With bitter resignation, Cicero diagnoses in himself and his senatorial peers (addressed directly) the weary acceptance of the abnormal (i.e. individual statesmen surrounding themselves with a private army, a military presence in the city of Rome, and the threat of violence as a factor in domestic politics) as the new normal.

15Cicero invoked the idea that repeated exposure to brutality results in a loss of sensitivity (or even humanity) already in the peroration of his speech for Sextus Roscius, delivered at the very beginning of his oratorical career (Sext. Rosc. 154: nam cum omnibus horis aliquid atrociter fieri videmus aut audimus, etiam qui natura mitissimi sumus adsiduitate molestiarum sensum omnem humanitatis ex animis amittimus: ‘For when, every hour, we see or hear of an act of cruelty, even those of us who are by nature most merciful lose from our hearts, in this constant presence of trouble, all feeling of humanity’, perhaps reworking Lysias 6.50, but broadening the idea ‘from paradox to a universal and devastating vision’: Hutchinson (2005: 190–91).) See also Att. 13.2.1 = 297 SB: iam ad ista obduruimus et humanitatem omnem exuimus (‘But I am hardened now to such treatment and have cast off all sensibility’).

16 Kalendis Iuniis cum in senatum, ut erat constitutum, venire vellemus, metu perterriti repente diffugimus: this sentence follows on somewhat incongruously from the previous one. The contrast between the cum-clause, which presents constitutional business as usual, and the abnormal reaction of Cicero and other senators in the main clause is stark. Given that dealing with armed forces and the threat of violence has become a routine occurrence, one would have thought that the senators just shrug their shoulders and get on with their daily routine. In fact, the exact opposite is the case: panic-stricken, they know how to disperse on the spot. An emergency routine kicks in, which Cicero underscores stylistically. The cum-clause comes along in a boring plod of homoioteleuta (-is, -iis; cum, -tum, -tutum) and alliteration (ve-, ve-) capturing business as usual (‘another senate-meeting’) according to Rome’s constitutional arrangements; then a subtle shift in stylistic register occurs: the four words that constitute the main clause and conclude the sentence, each on its own and in combination, paint a dark picture of constitutional chaos.

17 Kalendis Iuniis: ablative of time (‘on the calends of June’).

18 metu perterriti: seemingly tautological, but metus is a quasi-legal term (see de Officiis 1.32 with Dyck 1996: 131) that serves to justify certain courses of action also in the eyes of the law: ‘alarmed by justified fear’ — though perterreo often carries nuances of comedy, melodrama, and hyperbole: the sense is one of sheer panic, with people frightened out of their wits.

19 diffugimus: the verb (‘we dispersed’ — a.k.a. ‘ran for our lives’) is, quite deliberately, as undignified as the participial phrase metu perterriti.


76 On the notion of os impurum, see Worman (2008: 322): ‘Although… Cicero seems largely to reserve imputations of oral turpitude for his less powerful targets, the implications of the os impurum (i.e., the mouth when used especially for sex and/or excessive drinking) clearly underlies his characterization of Antony’.


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