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

Ingo Gildenhard


§ 110: Caesar: Dead Duck or Deified Dictator?

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  • 79 Bechtold (2011: 171).

1One of the most hotly contested issues after the Ides of March was Caesar’s ‘ontological status’: was he a dead mortal or had he become divine? Caesar’s religious identity was above all a political matter: whereas the senatorial oligarchy resisted any attempt to elevate Caesar to the level of a god, followers of Caesar had good reasons to push him skywards, not least once it became apparent that such a move was very much in tune with popular feelings. Earlier on in the speech, Cicero touched upon this issue when he discussed the so-called ‘false Marius’ and the altar and column spontaneously erected at the site of Caesar’s funeral, but then torn down by Dolabella and Antony: see above on § 107. After these events in March and April of 44 BCE, several developments revitalized Caesar’s claim to divine status. Octavian in particular found resonance among the people and the veterans when insisting that Caesar had become a god — and was helped by a comet that became visible in the second part of July 44 during his celebrations of games in honour of Caesar.79 The aggressive promotion of a deified Caesar by his adopted son put Antony in a double bind: to maintain his position as the leading Caesarian he could hardly boycott endeavours to honour Caesar; yet turning Caesar into a god would inevitably endow his main rival Octavian with powerful divine ancestry.

2The Philippics bear witness to earlier tussles around this matter. In the senate meeting on 1 September 44, which Cicero did not attend, Antony pushed through legislative measures which stipulated honours for Caesar that came close to turning him into a god. Specifically, Cicero offers a scathing commentary on Antony’s motion to add an extra day in honour of Caesar to all festivals of thanksgiving (supplicationes) (Phil. 1.13):

An me censetis, patres conscripti, quod vos inviti secuti estis, decreturum fuisse, ut parentalia cum supplicationibus miscerentur, ut inexpiabiles religiones in rem publicam inducerentur, ut decernerentur supplicationes mortuo? nihil dico cui. fuerit ille L. Brutus qui et ipse dominatu regio rem publicam liberavit et ad similem virtutem et simile factum stirpem iam prope in quingentesimum annum propagavit: adduci tamen non possem ut quemquam mortuum coniungerem cum deorum immortalium religione; ut, cuius sepulcrum usquam exstet ubi parentetur, ei publice supplicetur.

[Or do you think, Members of the Senate, that I would have supported the decree you passed against your will, that a sacrifice in honour of the dead should be mixed up with public thanksgivings, that sacrilege incapable of expiation should be introduced into the commonwealth, that public thanksgivings be decreed to a dead man? I don’t say for whom. Let that man be the Brutus who freed the commonwealth from regal despotism and who after almost five hundred years has left descendants to show similar courage and to achieve a similar deed. Even so, I could not have been induced to associate any dead man with the worship of the immortal gods so that a public thanksgiving should be made for him while somewhere a tomb exists at which offerings can be made.]

3Cicero accuses Antony of conflating two religious spheres that ought to be kept strictly apart: thanksgivings to the gods (supplicationes) and the parentalia, i.e. rites performed in honour of dead relatives (parentes). The results of this confusion, he stipulates, are religious pollution and divine wrath — for Cicero an absolute boundary between the divine and the human sphere exists that is not to be crossed by anybody, let alone Caesar. Caesar is D-E-A-D! Throughout Philippic 1 and 2 he never misses an opportunity to emphasize this point, most strikingly at Phil. 1.24, where he mocks Antony’s postmortem publication of Caesar’s acts: de exsilio reducti multi a mortuo, civitas data non solum singulis, sed nationibus et provinciis universis a mortuo, immunitatibus infinitis sublata vectigalia a mortuo (‘Men have been brought back from exile by a dead man; citizenship has been given, not only to individuals, but to whole tribes and provinces by a dead man; by boundless exemptions revenues have been done away with by a dead man’).

4Our passage revisits the religious politics revolving around Caesar, with a specific focus on the Catch-22 that Antony found himself in: as a leading Caesarian, he was expected to promote divine honours for the dead dictator; yet to do so could not help but have the — for Antony undesirable — consequence of empowering his main rival among the Caesarians for the leading role he coveted for himself: given Caesar’s adoption of Octavian, his deification would render Octavian the son of a god: ‘[Antony] surely had grasped that the confirmation of Caesar’ s divine status would — and indeed, did — deliver to Octavian something far grander than the name of Caesar: the appellation divi filius’ (Koortbojian 2013: 39). It is indeed telling that when in January 42 BCE the senate finally recognized Caesar’s deification and thereby turned Octavian officially into Divi Filius, the son of Divus Iulius (‘the deified Julius’), Antony, who had been flamen designate of Caesar already in 44 BCE, continued to delay his inauguratio until October 40 BCE.

5Paradoxically, just as Antony had a vested interested in downplaying Caesar’s divinity, so Cicero, because of his belief that he could instrumentalize Octavian for his variant of senatorial politics, abandoned his categorical refusal to accept Caesar’s claim to divine status as anything but blasphemy in subsequent orations, so as not to alienate Octavian — which meant that he needed to entertain, at least notionally, Caesar’s divinity. See the discussion by Cole (2014: 174): ‘Cicero’ s representation of Antony’s role as flamen in the subsequent, publicly delivered Philippics provides additional evidence for consideration along with 2.110 in an assessment of Cicero’s approach to cult for Caesar. The strategy of shaming Antony for his neglect of Caesar’s cult becomes a way to alienate Antony from Octavian and a public already embracing Caesar’s divinity. Cicero’s handling of Caesar’s honors in the First Philippic could hardly have pleased the young Octavian, who was actively promoting Divus Iulius and his singular tie to him. But Octavian would have been encouraged by the new tack in following Philippics wherein Cicero promotes the legitimacy of Octavian’s yet-unratified adoption and also insistently connects Caesar’s heir with divinity’.

6 Et tu in Caesaris memoria diligens [es], tu illum amas mortuum?: the sarcastic rhetorical question leads on from the end of the previous paragraph, where Cicero blamed Antony for plundering artistic treasures from the park that Caesar left to the Roman people. Cf. § 51, where Cicero also uses et tu (here reinforced by the repetition of tu at the beginning of the second clause) to kick-start a question brimming with sarcasm and outrage. Caesaris is an objective genitive dependent on memoria. diligens can be construed with various prepositions (OLD s.v. 2), here it is in + ablative. The verb of the first clause (es) is elided: ‘And are you attentive to Caesar’s memory, do you love him — dead as he is?’mortuum is an (exposed and programmatic) expansion of illum (note the homoioteleuton), picking up me-mor-ia in the first clause in paronomasia. The figure here carries an ideological punch: memoria, in the sense of (collective) remembrance through various means and media of commemoration, is the way Rome’s community has traditionally kept the dead (mortui) present — not deification. At the beginning of a paragraph devoted to a discussion of religious honours for Caesar, Cicero emphatically and programmatically calls the dictator dead (rather than deified), preparing for the ironic use of the formulation divus Iulius two sentences later (see below).

7 quem is honorem maiorem consecutus erat quam ut haberet pulvinar, simulacrum, fastigium, flaminem?: quem is an interrogative adjective agreeing with honorem: ‘what greater honour…’. is, the subject of the sentence (and rather squashed between quem and honorem) refers to Caesar: ‘what greater honour had this man attained than…’. ut introduces a consecutive clause after the comparative maiorem + quam. Scholars debate when the four honours Cicero here lists were actually awarded to Caesar — and whether they amount to his full-scale deification in official religious practice. According to Koortbojian, the standard here has to be the practice of a cult dedicated to the worship of Caesar deified (2013: 32): ‘which — if any — of these honors can be linked directly with the publica sacra of state cult — “those performed at public expense on behalf of the populus” — and which connote the ritual offerings (sacrificia or supplicationes) by which such cult was defined’. He explores each of the four honours in turn and reaches the conclusion that none implies Caesar’s actual godhood, even though all are symbols of divinity: they may have been designed to signal that Caesar had begun to approximate, rather than (as of yet) fully transformed into, a divine being. These fine distinctions are important, but they are fine: and while Caesar may not have officially entered Roman state cult by the time Cicero composed Philippic 2, the passage here clearly shows that some of his supporters deemed his transformation into a god successfully completed: his divinity was very much in the eyes of the beholder.

8 pulvinar, simulacrum, fastigium, flaminem: an asyndetic, climactic sequence, with the last two items related by alliteration. We move from sacred, ceremonial cushion (pulvinar), to a statue of a (quasi-) divinity (simulacrum), which on certain ritual occasions rested on a pulvinar, to a piece of temple architecture (fastigium – pediment) that would house statues of gods, to a priest responsible for the cult of a specific divinity (flamen). All of these constituted senatorial honours for Caesar, shortly before (or, in the case of the flamen, perhaps soon after) his assassination.

9 pulvinar: deriving from pulvinus, -i, m. (‘cushion’ or ‘pillow’), pulvinar (n.) has a range of meanings: ‘1) divine couch, 2) sacred marriage-bed, 3) sacred edifice or space (similar to aedes, fanum, or templum), including the Pulvinar in the Circus Maximus, and 4) lectisternium (a sacrificial meal for a god)’: van den Berg (2008: 240). Cicero here uses the term in sense 1), i.e. a cushioned, ceremonial couch on which the image of a deity — or of a person honoured like a deity — was placed for ceremonial purposes or worship. At the end of the paragraph, he uses the term again (pulvinaria), but in sense 4). Sometime in January or February 44 (?), Caesar seems to have been accorded the privilege, hitherto restricted to gods, to have a statue or image of his placed on a sacred, ceremonial couch during public festivals and processions.

10 simulacrum: the context makes it clear that simulacrum here refers to a kind of statue that implies Caesar’s divinity (or special association with the divine) (cf. OLD s.v. 3a). However, it remains unclear which statue of Caesar Cicero has in mind. Possibilities include the statue with the inscription Deo Invicto (‘To the Unconquered God’) that the senate voted to set up in the temple of Quirinus in 45 BCE; or the statue that appeared next to Victory during a circus procession that inaugurated games in honour of Caesar’s victory in the civil war, also in 45 BCE (to the displeasure, as Cicero notes with glee, of a significant portion of the audience: Att. 13.44.1). See Koortbojian (2013: 36) for discussion.

11 fastigium: fastigium here as the technical meaning of ‘pediment’, i.e. the triangular upper part of the front of a building, typically a temple. Caesar — again following a vote by the senate — added such a pediment to his house in the Forum, which gave it the appearance — but only the appearance, as Koortbojian is keen to stress — of a temple: ‘a house with a pediment was not a temple and, without an altar, no place for cult. Like all the insignia bestowed upon Caesar, this too acknowledged his new status, but that new status cannot yet be understood institutionally. Just as the ornamenta triumphalia signaled a victor’s status by likening him, visibly, to Jupiter, so too Caesar’s house might now look like a shrine, and thus liken its inhabitants to a god. But temple, altar, and cult were yet to come, and with them, only with them, the advent of cult and the institutionalization of Caesar’s divine status. No veneratio here’ (2013: 32). At the same time, Suetonius implies that for some Romans (arguably including himself) this piece of architecture (as well as the term for it) carried particularly noxious connotations of self-aggrandizement and all but turned Caesar into a tyrant — and hence fair game (Life of Julius Caesar 76.1, cited above 247–48). As Jenkyns (2013: 23) notes: ‘The word [sc. fastigium] is interesting here, for the Senate did indeed vote a fastigium for the dictator’s house; the acme — fastigium — of achievement is embodied literally at the tip of the gable. Cicero indignantly lists this ornament among the other quasi-divine honours that Julius received; the city’s profile expresses both the ups and downs of the political rat race and a kind of continuum extending from gods to men. As a fastigium crowns the pediment of a temple, so it adorns a dynast’s home. Calpurnia, Julius Caesar’s wife, was said to have dreamt before his murder that the fastigium on his house toppled down [Plut. Caes. 63.5; Suet. Jul. 81.3]. This is a symbolism close to reality’.

12 flaminem: a flamen was a special priest appointed to carry out the rites of a specific divinity. Traditionally, there were 15 flamines in all — three so-called higher ones (flamines maiores) filled by patricians for Jupiter (Flamen Dialis), Mars (Flamen Martialis), and Quirinus (Flamen Quirinalis); and twelve minor ones (flamines minores) filled by plebeians and dedicated to less important — not to say: obscure — divinities, many of whom associated with the sphere of agriculture. Only ten of them are known by name: Flamen Carmentalis (the flamen for Carmentis), Flamen Cerialis (for Ceres), Flamen Falacer (for Falacer), Flamen Floralis (for Flora), Flamen Furrinalis (for Furrina), Flamen Palatualis (for Palatua), Flamen Pomonalis (for Pomona), Flamen Portunalis (for Portunus), Flamen Volcanalis (for Vulcan), and Flamen Volturnalis (for Volturnus). Unlike the first three honours, i.e. pulvinar, simulacrum, and fastigium: the list is clearly climactic, having a flamen unequivocally means that one is a divinity.

13A scholarly debate rages over the question whether Caesar was awarded the honour of a flamen during his lifetime or after his death, with our passage figuring prominently. Here are Beard, North, Price (1998: 2.222): ‘This passage is one of the main pieces of evidence to suggest that Caesar was aiming at deification during his lifetime. … Cicero is teasing Antony by asking him why, if he was as devoted to Caesar’ s memory as he said he was, he had not yet gone through the formal ceremony of inauguration as flamen, that is special priest of Caesar’s new cult. In doing this, Cicero claims detailed knowledge of the cult — the god’s title, the priest’s title, even the new priest’s identity. In fact, the formal recognition of Caesar as a god (divus Julius) did not occur till after Cicero’s death and Antony only became flamen divi Iulii in 40 B.C. (Plutarch, Life of Antony 33.1). The only explanation for Cicero’s apparent knowledge is that he knew of detailed plans for deification drafted in Caesar’s lifetime, but only implemented in the years after his death’. Cole (2014: 173) is somewhat more circumspect: ‘The tenses in this passage… make it clear that Cicero is speaking of honors granted in Caesar’ s lifetime — honors not mentioned by Cicero until after Caesar’s death’. But does our passage really offer decisive evidence ‘for a cult of the living Caesar’? Cole rightly asks: ‘Why are there no comments on this development in letters to Atticus? Can this passage in the Second Philippic be isolated as Cicero’s principled, categorical objection to cult for Caesar?’And Koortbojian (2013: 35) argues that ‘in contrast to the fastigium and the pulvinar, the flaminate — like the simulacrum… — must have been among the posthumous honors that figured in the accommodations that the Senate enacted with the rival parties in the wake of Caesar’s assassination’.

14 est ergo flamen, ut Iovi, ut Marti, ut Quirino, sic divo Iulio M. Antonius. quid igitur cessas? cur non inauguraris? sume diem, vide qui te inauguret: collegae sumus; nemo negabit: whether the honour of a flamen was voted to Caesar while he was still alive or as a posthumous award, what primarily matters for our passage is the fact that the designated flamen Antony had not yet undergone inauguration: it is Antony’s delay in bringing the honour to fruition that Cicero singles out for sarcastic commentary. The chiastic design and the ut… sic structure of (a) flamen: (b) Iovi, Marti, Quirino:: (b) divo Iulio: (a) M. Antonius gives the (wrong) impression of a basic equivalence between the priesthoods of the flamines maiores (see previous note) and the new priesthood of divine Julius — an impression deliberately reinforced by the opening est ergo, which forcefully suggests the statement of a fact. But as the subsequent series of questions, exhortations, and encouragements makes apparent, Antony has so far fallen woefully short of putting this greatest of all honours into (cultic) practice. Cicero mockingly offers to help him out: like Antony, he was an augur (collegae sumus) and could have assisted in Antony’s inauguration as flamen.

15 o detestabilem hominem, sive quod tyranni sacerdos es sive quod mortui sacerdos es]!: Cicero shouts out an accusative of exclamation — the Latin equivalent of WRITING AN EMAIL IN CAPS. o detestabilem hominem then segues into two alternative quod-clauses (coordinated by sive… sive …: ‘be it that…, be it that…’) that conjure Antony as priest (Cicero slips from the technical flamen to the generic sacerdos) of Caesar, whether when still alive as tyrant (tyranni sacerdos) or dead (mortui sacerdos). Being the priest of either a tyrant or a dead man is of course abominable.

16 tyranni: the text is disputed: some manuscripts have Caesaris instead. One will have been a marginal gloss for the other. For the dilemma to bite, tyranni is clearly the superior option.

17 quaero deinceps num hodiernus dies qui sit ignores: quaero governs the indirect question num… ignores: ‘I next ask whether by any chance you do not know…’ ignores governs the further indirect question hodiernus dies qui sit, with the emphatic prolepsis of hodiernus dies: ‘which day today is’.

18 nescis heri quartum in circo diem ludorum Romanorum fuisse, te autem ipsum ad populum tulisse ut quintus praeterea dies Caesari tribueretur?: the main verb of the rhetorical question, nescis, introduces a twofold indirect statement linked by the adversative particle autem: quartum… diem… fuisse; te… ipsum… tulisse. ‘Don’ t you know that…?’The ut-clause specifies what Antony proposed to the people. Cicero cast Philippic 2 as a speech delivered on 19 September 44, so heri (‘yesterday’) refers to 18 September, which was the fourth day of the period of games (15–18 September) that, after a brief interval, followed on the festival of the ludi Romani (‘Roman Games’, 4–12 September). Antony, at some unspecified point in time, seems to have proposed to add a fifth day of games to the Ludi Romani, but then abandoned the plan

19Alternatively, Cicero here picks up on the motion Antony carried in the senate meeting of 1 September, namely that an extra day should be added to all festivals of thanksgiving to the gods (so-called supplicationes) in honour of Caesar: see Phil. 1.13, cited above; further Weinstock (1971: 62–64). As Lacey (1986: 238) points out, ‘It was an open question whether the Roman Games were, or were not, thanksgivings. In origin they were, but as they were held annually, and on the same date whether there were or were not any victories to celebrate, it could be thought that they were not, and “thanksgivings” meant only those voted to honour commanders for their successes, when appropriate’. Clearly, Antony did not believe that the Ludi Romani were affected by his motion on supplicationes — whereas Cicero posits that they were, and that a fifth day of games should have been added — gleefully interpreting Antony’s ‘failure’ to institute an extra day in Caesar’s honour (which would have been the 19 September) as a sign of disrespect for the dead dictator. On this reading, Cicero ‘invents’ his evidence here, on the basis of divergent interpretations of Antony’s own motion (and differing definitions of the Ludi Romani and the applicability of the label supplicatio).

20 cur non sumus praetextati? cur honorem Caesaris tua lege datum deseri patimur?: Cicero continues with two further rhetorical questions, addressed to himself and the rest of the senators or augurs (sumus, patimur), which are grounded in the claim that Antony failed to follow through on his own legislation and add an extra day of games to the Ludi Romani. If that extra day had been added, Cicero, as augur, and perhaps also other high-ranking Romans who had held curule office, would have been dressed in the toga praetexta.

21 an supplicationes addendo diem contaminari passus es, pulvinaria contaminari noluisti?: an here introduces an irritable direct question (OLD s.v. 1). The passage is obscure. Cicero seems to be saying that Antony was happy to profane supplicationes, but somehow became squeamish when it came to the pulvinaria. But given that supplicationes were carried out in front of the pulvinaria, the question arises: ‘How could Antony defile the supplicationes without also defiling the pulvinaria?’(Denniston 1926: 170). The sentence clearly presupposes that supplicationes and pulvinaria have a distinct religious identity and significance — but precise details of the scenario he has in mind elude us.

22 aut undique religionem tolle aut usque quaque conserva: Cicero concludes with two imperatives (tolle, conserva) coordinated by aut aut. His either — or (‘all or nothing’) is a false alternative.


79 Bechtold (2011: 171).