blame, late speeches, oratory

The point of no return. Cicero’s ‘Philippics.’

1. Copy of J. R. King (1878), The Philippic Orations of M. Tullius Cicero from BU Mugar Library. Annotated readers from May 1893 to April 1979.

2a. Modern depictions of Mark Antony:


2b. Silver denarius of Mark Antony, 32 BCE (RRC 543/1). Left: Antony; Armenian tiara behind portrait as an allusion to his conquests in the East. Right: Cleopatra with diadem, in front of the bust, a ship’s bow as an allusion to her war fleet. Image: CRRO. Sources on Cleopatra from CL 206.

3. Cicero, Philippics (1.14-15). Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011).

I feel great anguish that men who have enjoyed the greatest benefits the Roman people can grant did not support the leadership of Lucius Piso in his noble proposal. Did the Roman people elect us to the consulship so that, having been granted so high a position, we should consider the Republic as nothing? Not only did no ex-consul verbally support Piso, no one supported him even by a look. [15] For pity’s sake, what is this voluntary slavery? I admit you had to do something; I do not require that those who speak from the ex-consuls’ bench do as I am doing. Those whose silence I forgive are a different case from those I ask to speak out; I feel sorrow that the Roman people are beginning to think those men suspect, not because they were afraid to live up to their position (which itself would be shameful) but because they all did so for different and individual reasons. This is why I am expressing the immense gratitude I feel to Piso, a man who thought not about what he could do for the Republic, but what he personally ought to do.

4. Cicero, Philippics (1.38). Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011).

Members of the Senate, since I have reaped the rewards of my return, whatever misfortune I may encounter, I have said words which stand as testimony of my steadfastness and you have heard them with attentive kindness. And if the power to speak out frequently falls to my lot, without danger to you or me, I shall use it. If not, to the best of my ability, I shall hold myself in reserve for the Republic rather than for myself. It is enough for me that I have lived long enough for a decent lifespan and to achieve my own fame; if any extra time is granted, it will not have been granted so much to me as to you and the Republic.

5. Cicero, Philippics (2.7). Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011).

Why, the man even read out a letter, which he said that I sent to him, being completely unaware of civilized behaviour and ignorant of how people deal with each other. What man who was even marginally familiar with the way decent men behave ever made public and openly read out letters sent to him by a friend because there was now some quarrel between them?

6. Cicero, Philippics (2.10). Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011).

And even if he is in no sense a consul, either inhis life-style, his governing of the Republic or the way he was elected, I am without debate an ex-consul.

7. Cicero, Philippics (2.20). Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011). See See Cicero’s poetry.

And, dear gods, you even wished to be witty at one point, something which does not suit you. In this you should accept a certain amount of blame, for you could have acquired some wit from your mime-actress wife. ‘Let weapons yield to the toga.’ And? Surely they yielded then! But later the toga yielded to your weapons. Let us ask, therefore, whether it was better if weapons of criminals yielded to the freedom of the Roman people or our freedom to your weapons? But I shall not respond more to you about my poetry; I shall only say briefly that you do not understand it, or any literature at all. I have never failed the Republic or my friends, but in every genre of the writings I completed in odd scraps of time, I have worked so that what I wrote in hours while others slept would bring some praise to Rome and be something of use to our youth. But this is not the moment for that subject; let us look at more important subjects.

8. Cicero, Philippics (2.28-29). Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011).

Recall how that sharp man proved me guilty. ‘Right after Caesar was killed,’ he said, ‘Brutus, as he held high his bloody dagger cried out the name of Cicero and congratulated him that freedom had been restored.’ Why me in particular? Because I was in on it? Perhaps he named me because, having achieved something very like my past achievements, he wanted me in particular to witness that he had rivalled my fame. But you, since you are the stupidest man alive, do not understand that if (as you allege) it is an offence to have wished for Caesar’s killing, it is also an offence to have rejoiced at Caesar’s death. For what is the difference between someone who suggests something and someone who applauds it? What does it matter whether I wanted it done or am delighted that it was done? Is there anyone, with the exception of those who were happy that he was our king, who did not want it done or disapproved that it was done? Everyone is at fault then. Indeed, all decent men, as far as they could, killed Caesar; some may have lacked a plan, other courage, and still others the opportunity, but no one lacked the desire.

9a. Cicero, Philippics (2.63), cf. 2.50, 2.75, 84, 104; Fam. 12.2.1, 12.25.4. Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011).

But let me say no more about the activities of his more mature depravity; let me speak, rather, about the most excessive example of his lack of respect. That throat of yours, those lungs of yours, the whole body of yours with its gladiators’ strength, sucked down so much wine at Stud’s [Hippias’] wedding that you had to vomit it up in the sight of the Roman people the next day. What a revolting thing not just to see, but to hear about! If this had happened to you at a feast right in the middle of those famous giant drinks of yours, who would not have thought it disgusting? In a gathering of the Roman people, as he was dealing with public business, the master of the horse – for whom it would be disgusting even to belch – he filled his lap and the whole platform, vomiting wine mixed with chunks of putrid food! But he admits this himself, along with his other sins – so let us come to his more splendid activities.

9b. Plutarch, Life of Mark Antony (9.3-4). Translated by Thomas Browne (1920).

This course naturally made him odious to the multitude, and to men of worth and uprightness he was not acceptable because of his life in general, as Cicero says, nay, he was hated by them. They loathed his ill-timed drunkenness, his heavy expenditures, his debauches with women, his spending the days in sleep or in wandering about with crazed and aching head, the nights in revelry or at shows, or in attendance at the nuptial feasts of mimes and jesters. We are told, at any rate, that he once feasted at the nuptials of Hippias the mime, drank all night, and then, early in the morning, when the people summoned him to the forum, came before them still surfeited with food and vomited into his toga, which one of his friends held at his service.

10. Cicero, Philippics (2.116-117). Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011).

What sort of life is it fearing your own followers day and night, unless you have men bound to you by greater favors than the men Caesar had bound to him—and some of them killed him? Or is it that you are to be compared to him somehow? That man had brilliance, calculation, memory, literary ability, carefulness, thoughtfulness, precision. He was successful in a war, which, although it was disastrous to the Republic, was still great; for many years he aimed to rule and he achieved what he had planned with great effort and great risks. He softened up the ignorant masses with games, buildings, gifts and feasts. He bound his followers to himself with rewards, his opponents with the appearance of clemency. Why go on? He brought to a free state acceptance of slavery, partly through fear, partly through familiarity. Although I can compare you to him in your lust for power, you cannot be compared to him in anything else.

11. Cicero, Philippics (2.119). Translated by Siobhán McElduff (2011).

I would also freely offer up my person if my death would immediately bring back freedom to our state, so that the anguish of the Roman people would give birth to what it has been carrying within for along time. For, if almost twenty years ago I denied, in this very temple, that death could be premature for a man who had held the consulship, how much more truly will I deny it is premature for an old man. embers of the Senate, I should desire death after the political offices I have attained and the deeds I have done. I long for these two things only: one, that as I die i shall leave behind a free Roman people (there is nothing greater that the immortal gods can give to me); second that everyone will get his just rewards for his treatment of the Republic.

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Consular year

The Consular Year. ‘Cicero’s Catilinarians.’

1. 5th c. CE papyrus codex from Egypt containing a Latin-Greek word list to Cicero’s Catilinarians 2.14-15, P. Ryl. 1.61. Image: John Rylands, Manchester.

2. 9th c. Add. 47678, one of the earliest manuscripts containing Cicero’s Catilinarians. Here’s a closeup of the infamous opening (In Cat. 1.1): quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra? Image: British Library.

3a. Cicero, In Catilinam 1.16. Translated by Siobhán McElduff. Compare with Cesare Maccari’s Cicerone denuncia Catilina (1889).

What sort of life do you have these days? For I shall now so speak with you that I shall not appear to be provoked by hatred – as is my right – but by pity, not a scrap of which you deserve. A little while ago you entered the Senate. What man from this massive crowd and among you many friends and connections paid their respects? If no one has experienced this within living memory, do you wait for my insults when the momentous judgement of their silence crushes you? What shall we say of the fact that at your arrival those benches around you were emptied, that all men of consular rank (so often marked by you for murder) left your section bare and empty as soon as you sat down? Tell me, how do you think you should bear this?

3b. Cicero, In Catilinam 2.12. Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

Yesterday, citizens, a day on which I was nearly killed in my own home, I called a meeting of the Senate in the temple of Jupiter Stator and reported the whole business to the members of the Senate. When Catiline arrived, was there a senator who would use his name or greet him? Was there a single one who saw him as anything other than a ruined citizen or, should I say, as a completely vicious citizen? In fact, even the leading members of that body left the sections of benches he had approached bare and empty.

4. Cicero, In Catilinam 1.16. Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

How many times has your blade (sica) been ripped from your hands, how often has it fallen or slipped from them by some blunder! Yet you cannot live without it. I cannot imagine with what ritual it has been consecrated and dedicated that you think it necessary to plunge it into the body of a consul.

Zliten mosaic c. 200 CE: a Thraex gladiator (right) thrusts a sica into a Murmillo. Image: wikimedia commons.

5a. Cicero, In Catilinam 1.20. Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

Leave the city, Catiline, free the Republic from fear. Go – you are awaiting that word. What is it, Catiline? Are you paying any attention? Have you noticed these men’s silence at all? They permit this speech – they are silent. Why do you await their spoken command when you can clearly see their silent desire?

5b. Cicero, In Catilinam 2.13. Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

Then I, the famously violent consul, who exiles citizens with just a word, I asked Catiline whether or not he had been at the norcturnal meeting at Marcus Laeca’s. Since he, although he has plenty of nerve, was overcome by the consciousness of his guilt and was silent at first, I laid out the rest.

5c. Shane Butler, The Hand of Cicero (2002), p94. On Cicero Catilinarian 3.

‘Indeed, the careful reader detects a number of probable manipulations of the truth, such as Cicero’s repeated assertions that each conspirator, confronted with the incriminating evidence against him, subsequently “confessed.” Cicero never reports the details of these “confessions”; probably most or all were far more limited than Cicero led the crowd to suppose; otherwise he surely would have provided some of the self-incriminating words. Note, however, that Cicero misleads only by suggestion; here and generally, he takes almost maniacal legalistic care to avoid expressing a literal untruth.’

6. Cicero, In Catilinam 2.7; 2.10. Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

Is there an evil or crime which can be dreamed or thought up which he did not come up with? Can we find any gladiator, any outlaw, assassin, parricide, forger of wills, con-man, glutton, prodigal, adulterer, woman without a decent name, corrupter of the young or corrupted loser who does not confess that he was intimate friends with Catiline?…[2.10] But who could tolerate cowards plotting against the brave, idiots against the wise, the drunk against the sober and the comatose against the conscious? Men who recline at feasts, clutching whorish women, limp from wine, stuffed with food, crowned with garlands, smeared with perfumes and worn out from sex, belch out as conversation the murder of decent men and the burning of Rome.

7. Cicero, In Catilinam 1.29. Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

For if our greatest men and most prominent citizens did not so much stain as grace themselves with the blood of Saturninus, the Gracchi, Flaccus, and many before that, sure I should not fear that any hatred will overwhelm me after this murderer of his fellow-citizens is killed. But even if this should threaten me, I have always been of the mind that hatred born from a courageous act is in reality glory.

8. Cicero, In Catilinam 2.28. Translated by Siobhán McElduff.

What exactly is impeding you? Our traditions? But in this Republic even private citizens have frequently punished destructive ones with death. Or is it the laws which have been passed regarding the punishment of Roman citizens? But in this city laws have never preserved the rights of citizens who have abandoned the Republic. Maybe you fear posterity’s hatred? Naturally! Repay the remarkable favour you owe the Roman people for raising you – a man famous through his own efforts and not those of his ancestors – at such a young age through each successive political office, until you reached their apex, by neglecting the safety of fellow-citizens because you fear danger or being hated.

9. Shane Butler, The Hand of Cicero (2002), p95.

‘The letter, as later quoted by Cicero (and Sallust), does indeed urge Catiline to make use “even of the lowliest members of society,” but Volturcius’ version specifies that this means “troops of slaves,” and adds the advice that Catiline “approach the city as soon as possible with his army.” Now it is scarcely possible that Cicero would later choose to quote from the letter an excerpt that does not include these damning details. Part of the problem is that Volturcius is paraphrasing (and, to make matters worse, Cicero in turn is paraphrasing Volturcius, expanding his statement with explanatory glosses). Note, however, that Cicero does not say that this paraphrase is of the letter alone; rather, Volturcius reports the purport of the mandata (instructions) as well as the litterae (letter) he has been asked to deliver to Catiline. Mandata can be written (indeed, Cicero probably counts on this to confuse his listeners further), but in this case they surely designate oral instructions which Lentulus was circumspect enough not to trust to writing. Daring grammatical acrobatics follow. Cicero cites Volturcius citing Lentulus’ letter not, as one would expect, by a series of indirect statements but instead by two ut-clauses to be constructed with mandata et litteras (the sense being Lentulus mandavit ut…). This is followed by a third ut-clause that reports the plan to burn the city and slaughter countless citizens. But before this Cicero inserts the phrase id autem eo consilio which makes the final ut depend on consilio. Thus what appears to be a third instruction is only the “plan” that Lentulus has in mind– and probably this represents not even the speculation of the only apparently quoted Volturcius, but rather that of Cicero himself.’ 

10. John Dugan, “Cicero’s compulsion to repeat his consulate,” The Classical Journal (2014), p17:

‘Cicero proceeds to describe in more general terms the aesthetic dimensions of his narrative, asserting that he will enjoy reading about events that brought him pain in real life, while, for others who had no part in these misfortunes, the pity they feel from surveying another’s troubles is itself a source of pleasure. Cicero then expands upon the aesthetics of closure with which he began by generalizing about the greater satisfaction that a self-contained monograph treatment of a hero’s triumphs and setbacks has in comparison to an annalistic history: if it is “completed with a remarkable outcome (si vero exitu notabili concluduntur) the mind is filled with extremely delightful reading pleasure” (Fam. 5.12.5). He then proceeds to refer to such an account of his story as being “like a play” (quasi fabulam), and thus advertises the fact that his story has a plot, a coherent structure with a beginning, middle, and an extraordinary end. Here we see Cicero shaping his story to have a telos that will make it an aesthetically and psychological satisfying whole.’

Republishing the speeches three years later:

Cicero, Letter to Atticus (Att. 2.1.3) from 60 BCE:

I’ll send my little speeches, both those you ask for and some more besides, since it appears that you too find pleasure in these performances which the enthusiasm of my young admirers prompts me to put on paper. Remembering what a brilliant show your countryman Demosthenes made in his so-called Philippics and how he turned away from this argumentative, forensic type of oratory to appear in the more elevated role of statesman, I thought it would be a good thing for me too to have some speeches to my name which might be called ‘Consular.’ They are: (1) delivered in the Senate on the Kalends of January; (2) to the Assembly, on the agrarian law; (3) on Otho; (4) in defence of Rabirius; (5) on the children of persons proscribed; (6) delivered when I publicly resigned my province; (7) when I sent Catiline out of Rome; (8) to the Assembly the day following Catiline’s flight; (9) at a public meeting the day the Allobroges turned informers; (10) in the Senate on the Nones of December. There are two further short pieces, chips, one might say, from the agrarian law. I shall see that you get the whole corpus, and since you like my writings as well as my doings, the same compositions will show you both what I did and what I said. Otherwise you shouldn’t have asked—I was not forcing myself upon you.

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