death

Killing Cicero.

1a. Pavel Svedomsky, ‘Fulvia with the head of Cicero,’ c. 1880. Image: wikimedia.

1b. ‘Killing Cicero’:

2a. A history of violence. Cicero, De Oratore (3.10): the murder of Marcus Antonius (cos. 99 BCE; Mark Antony’s grandfather) in proscriptions, 87 BCE. Translated by E. W. Sutton, H. Rackham (1942).

Marcus Antonius, on the very platform (in eis ipsis rostris) on which as consul he had most resolutely championed the cause of the state and which as censor he had decorated with the trophies of his military command, laid down the life that had preserved the lives of many men; and indeed at no great distance from that spot lay the head of Gaius Julius, betrayed by the crime of his Tuscan host, side by side with the head of his brother Lucius Julius, so that Gaius, who did not witness these events, may be deemed to have spent his life with the republic still living and to have passed out of existence together with her passing.

2b. Seneca, De Ira (3.18). Proscriptions. Murder of Marius’ nephew, Marius Gratidianus by Catiline. Translated by John W. Basore (1928).

Marcus Marius, to whom the people erected statues in every street, whom they worshipped with offerings of frankincense and wine—this man by the command of Lucius Sulla had his ankles broken, his eyes gouged out, his tongue and his hands cut off, and little by little and limb by limb Sulla tore him to pieces, just as if he could make him die as many times as he could maim him. And who was it who executed this command? Who but Catiline, already training his hands to every sort of crime? He hacked him to pieces before the tomb of Quintus Catulus, doing violence to the ashes of that gentlest of men, above which a hero—of evil influence, no doubt, yet popular and loved not so much undeservedly as to excess—shed his blood drop by drop. 

2c. Lucan, De Bello Civili (2.166-193). Proscriptions, including murder of Marius’ nephew, Marius Gratidianus (by Catiline). Translated by J. D. Duff (1928).

When the heads, dissolving in corruption and effaced by lapse of time, had lost all distinctive features, their wretched parents gathered the relics they recognised and stealthily removed them. I remember how I myself, seeking to place on the funeral fire denied them the shapeless features of my murdered brother, scrutinised all the corpses slain by Sulla’s peace: round all the headless bodies I went, seeking for a neck to fit the severed head. Why tell of the bloody atonement made to the ghost of Catulus? A Marius was the victim who paid that terrible offering, perhaps distasteful to the dead himself, that unspeakable sacrifice to the insatiate tomb. We saw his mangled frame with a wound for every limb; we saw every part of the body mutilated and yet no death-stroke dealt to the life; we saw the terrible form taken by savage cruelty, of not suffering the dying to die. The arms, wrenched from the shoulders, fell to the ground; the tongue, cut out, quivered and beat the empty air with dumb motion; one man cut off the ears, another the nostrils of the curved nose; a third pushed the eye-balls from their hollow sockets and scooped the eyes out last of all when they had witnessed the fate of the limbs. Few will believe such an atrocity, or that a single frame could be large enough for so many tortures. Such are men’s limbs when broken and pounded under the huge weight of a fallen building; and the dead, who have perished in mid-ocean and drifted to the shore, are not more disfigured. What made them waste their advantage and obliterate the features of Marius, as if they were of no account? They ought to have been recognisable; then the crime would find favour with Sulla and the murder would be proved.

3. Fragment of Livy in Seneca the Elder, Suasoriae 6.17. Translated by Michael Winterbottom 1974:

Livy says: “Marcus Cicero had left the city at the approach of the triumvirs, rightly regarding it as certain that he could no more be rescued from Antony than Cassius and Brutus from Caesar. First he had fled to his estate at Tusculum, then cross-country to his house at Formiae, intending to take ship at Caieta. He put out to sea several times, but sometimes the winds were against him and forced him back, sometimes he himself could not put up with the tossing of the vessel as it rolled on the dark ground-swell. Finally he grew weary of flight and of life, and, returning to the inland villa, which is little more than a mile from the sea, he said: ‘I shall die in the country I so often saved.’ There is no doubt that his slaves bravely and loyally showed readiness to make a fight of it; and that it was Cicero himself who ordered them to put down the litter and suffer calmly the compulsions of a harsh fate. He leaned from where he sat, and offered his neck without a tremor; his head was struck off. The soldiers, in their stupid cruelty, were not satisfied. They cut off the hands, too, cursing them for having written attacks on Antony. The head was taken back to Antony, and, on his orders, placed between the two hands on the rostra, where as consul, and often as ex-consul, and in that very year attacking Antony, he had been heard amid such admiration for his eloquence as had rewarded no other human voice. The Romans could scarcely bear to lift eyes wet with tears to look on his mutilated body.”

4. Fragment of Livy (Livy’s “epitaph” for Cicero) in Seneca the Elder, Suasoriae 6.22. Translated by Michael Winterbottom 1974:

“But during the long flow of success he was from time to time afflicted with great wounds, exile, the collapse of his party, the death of his daughter and his own grievous and bitter end. Yet all of these disasters he faced none but his death as becomes a man: and even that to a truthful critic might have seemed less undeserved in that he suffered at the hands of his victorious enemy no more cruelly than he would have acted had he himself enjoyed that good fortune. But, weighing his virtues against his faults, he was a great and memorable man: and to sing his praises one would need a Cicero for eulogist.”

5. Dio Cassius, Roman History (47.8). Translated by Earnest Cary, Herbert B. Foster 1917:

But Antony killed savagely and mercilessly, not only those whose names had been posted, but likewise those who had attempted to assist any of them. 2 He always viewed their heads, even if he happened to be eating, and sated himself to the fullest extent on this most unholy and pitiable sight. And even Fulvia also caused the death of many, both to satisfy her enmity and to gain their wealth, in some cases men with whom her husband was not even acquainted; 3 at any rate, when he saw the head of one man, he exclaimed: “I knew not this man!” When, however, the head of Cicero also was brought to them one day (he had been overtaken and slain in flight), Antony uttered many bitter reproaches against it and then ordered it to be exposed on the rostra more prominently than the rest, in order that it might be seen in the very place where Cicero had so often been heard declaiming against him, together with his right hand, just as it had been cut off. 4 And Fulvia took the head into her hands before it was removed, and after abusing it spitefully and spitting upon it, set it on her knees, opened the mouth, and pulled out the tongue, which she pierced with the pins that she used for her hair, at the same time uttering many brutal jests. 5 Yet even this pair saved some persons from whom they got more money than they could expect to obtain by their death; and in order that the places for their names on the tablets might not be empty, they inscribed others in their stead. Indeed, with the exception of releasing his uncle at the earnest entreaty of his mother Julia, Antony performed no praiseworthy act.

6. Appian, Civil Wars (4.19-20). Translated by Horace White 1913:

Cicero, who had held supreme power after Caesar’s death, as much as a public speaker could, was proscribed, together with his son, his brother, and his brother’s son and all his household, his faction, and his friends. He fled in a small boat, but as he could not endure the sea-sickness, he landed and went to a country place of his own near Caieta, a town of Italy, which I visited to gain knowledge of this lamentable affair, and here he remained quiet. While the searchers were approaching (for of all others Antony sought for him most eagerly and the rest did so for Antony’s sake), ravens flew into his chamber and awakened him from sleep by their croaking, and pulled off his bed-covering, until his servants, divining that this was a warning from one of the gods, put him in a litter and again conveyed him toward the sea, going cautiously through a dense thicket. Many soldiers were hurrying around in squads asking if Cicero had been seen anywhere. Some people, moved by good-will and pity, said that he had already put to sea; but a shoemaker, a client of Clodius, who had been a most bitter enemy of Cicero, pointed out the path to Laenas, the centurion, who was pursuing with a small force. The latter ran after him, and seeing slaves mustering for the defence in much larger number than the force under his own command, he called out by way of stratagem, “Centurions in the rear, to the front!”

Thereupon the slaves, thinking that more soldiers were coming, were terror-stricken, [20] and Laenas, although he had been once saved by Cicero when under trial, drew his head out of the litter and cut it off, striking it three times, or rather sawing it off by reason of his inexperience. He also cut off the hand with which Cicero had written the speeches against Antony as a tyrant, which he had entitled Philippics in imitation of those of Demosthenes. Then some of the soldiers hastened on horseback and others on shipboard to convey the good news quickly to Antony. The latter was sitting in front of the tribunal in the forum when Laenas, a long distance off, showed him the head and hand by lifting them up and shaking them. Antony was delighted beyond measure. He crowned the centurion and gave him 250,000 Attic drachmas in addition to the stipulated reward for killing the man who had been his greatest and most bitter enemy.

7. Fragment of Cornelius Severus in Seneca the Elder, Suasoriae 6.25-26. Translated by Michael Winterbottom 1974:

But none of all these eloquent men lamented the death of Cicero more finely than Cornelius Severus:

[26] “The heads of great-hearted men, still almost breathing,
Lay on the rostra that were theirs: but all were swept away
By the sight of the ravaged Cicero, as though he lay alone.
Then they recalled the great deeds of his consulship,
The conspiracy, the wicked plot he uncovered,
The aristocrat’s crime he smothered; they recalled
Cethegus’ punishment, Catiline cast down from his impious hopes.
What availed his popularity with the mob, his years
Full of honour, his life adorned by sacred arts?
One day took away the glory of an age, and struck by grief
The eloquence of the Latin tongue grew dumb with sadness.
Once the sole guard and saviour of the distressed,
Always the glorious leader of his country, champion
Of the senate, bar, laws, ritual, civil life,
Voice of the public—now silenced for ever by cruel arms.
The defaced countenance, white hairs horribly sprinkled
With blood, the sacred hands, that had served such great works,
His countryman threw down and trampled with haughty feet,
In triumph, not thinking of fate’s slipperiness
Or the gods. Antony will never pay in full for this.
Victory was kind, and never did such a thing
To Emathian Perses, dire Syphax or our enemy Philip.
When Jugurtha was led in triumph, there was
No mockery, and when fierce Hannibal fell to our wrath
He took unharmed limbs down to the shades of Styx.”

8a. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria (12.1.14). Translated by Donald A. Russell 2002:

Nor do I think Cicero in any way lacked the right attitudes of a good citizen. For evidence, I cite his magnificent consulship, his honourable administration of his province, his refusal of a place on the Commission of Twenty, and the fact that, in the dreadful civil wars which fell within his lifetime, neither hope nor fear deterred him from supporting the right side, that is to say the Republic. Some think him cowardly: he replied to this charge very well himself, by saying that he was “not a timid person when confronting peril, but timid in foreseeing it.” (Fam. 6.21.1) He proved his point again by his death itself, which he bore with outstanding courage.

8b. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria (12.1.15). Translated by Donald A. Russell 2002:

In the ordinary sense of the words Cicero was a perfect orator—just as we ordinarily speak of our friends as good and truly prudent men, though this is not strictly true of anyone but the perfect sage. On the other hand, if I have to speak strictly and in accordance with rigorous standards of truth, I shall go on looking for the true orator whom Cicero also was looking for.

9. Plutarch, Life of Cicero (49.5-6). Translated by Bernadotte Perrin (1919):

 (5) I learn that Caesar, a long time after this, paid a visit to one of his daughter’s sons; and the boy, since he had in his hands a book of Cicero’s, was terrified and sought to hide it in his gown; but Caesar saw it, and took the book, and read a great part of it as he stood, and then gave it back to the youth, saying; “A learned man, my child, a learned man and a lover of his country.” (6) Moreover, as soon as he had finally defeated Antony, and when he was himself consul, he chose Cicero’s son as his colleague in the honors that had been paid him, and decreed besides that no Antony should have the name of Marcus. Thus the heavenly powers devolved upon the family of Cicero the final steps in the punishment of Antony. 

10. Amy Richlin, “Cicero’s head.” Constructions of the Classical Body (1999), p194:

“Thus a central Roman legal metaphor: a person whose civil status is diminished is said to undergo deminutio capitis, “lessening of the head.” This process is expressed in terms of freedom, citizenship, and family: the highest degree (maxima) occurs when a person looses freedom and citizenship by becoming a slave; the middle degree (minor or media) occurs when a person loses citizenship but retains freedom, mainly by going into exile; the lowest degree (minima) occurs when a person keeps citizenship and freedom but undergoes some change in relation to his or her family– leaving the jurisdiction of  one of the paterfamilias for the of another or for none.”

11. Amy Richlin, “Cicero’s head.” Constructions of the Classical Body (1999), p195.  

“The orators liked to stress that Cicero’s murderer was a former client and liked to say that Laenas had been defened by Cicero on a capital charge, parricide; Cicero thus had saved Laenas’ caput, had kept him a Roman citizen. But decapitation really effected a change in caput for the decapitated themselves, whose bodies were treated like those of less-than-citizen, the tainted.”

12. Amy Richlin, “Cicero’s head.” Constructions of the Classical Body (1999), p195:

“Indeed, the use of hooks points to another anomaly in the beheading of the proscribed: even execution in the carcer normally was carried out by strangling with a noose, not by beheading. The axes in the fasces— the bundles of rods carried by the consuls’ bodyguard as a mark of power over bodies– had been removed for use inside the city walls in the early Republic. The only ones to have had their throats cut (iugulari) were gladiators– and sacrificial animals; hence the appropriateness of the gesture Valerius Maximus attributes to Brutus Damasippus, who had the heads of the proscribed senators mixed with those of sacrificial animals (hostiarum).”




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