Cicero /
Philippic 2.44–50, 78–92, 100–119

Edited by Ingo Gildenhard

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Philippics 2.116 essay

Cicero continues to insist that Antony ought to be very much afraid for his life if he continues his pernicious politics of fear. His bodyguard, meant to keep would-be assassins at bay, will not help him in the long run — or, indeed, much longer: even those close to him will sooner than later rise up against him. What renders this apparently counterintuitive claim plausible is the spectre of Caesar: those who did him in included some who had benefitted most from his benevolence. Built into the fate of Caesar is an a-fortiori caution: if even someone like him ran foul of people who ought to have been beholden to him, Antony is all the more likely to meet a nasty end, inferior to the dead dictator as he is in every conceivable respect. Cicero drives home the point that Antony is no Caesar by launching into an enumeration of the qualities of the dead dictator, carefully tempering praise with blame. As in the de Officiis (1.26, cited above 418), Cicero figures Caesar as an outstanding talent who ended up deploying his abundant gifts to the detriment and destruction of Rome’s civic community — and so then got what he had coming.97

A key issue that Cicero struggles with in this paragraph is Caesar’s preternatural ability to render others beholden to him — through personal charm, exceptional generosity, or services rendered that put others in social and financial debt to him. Roman political culture was much invested in reciprocal relations, captured in idiom and imagery of duties, services, gratitude, expectations of reciprocity, as well as binding obligations and loyalties (beneficiumgratiaamicitiafidesofficiaobligare, etc.). Social and financial debts blurred into each other. Those who loaned out money exercised a significant degree of influence over the borrower, who was duty bound to oblige his business associate in other respects as well — beyond the repayment of the debt.98

Caesar purported to perform within this traditional paradigm when he distributed favours and largesse to his friends, acquaintances, and the people more generally and exploited the opportunity to generate social and financial debt through interest free loans to the hilt.99 But the most extreme form of ‘obliging’ someone is to exercise leniency towards a (conquered) enemy and spare his life. This scenario, which could only arise in situations of civil conflict, wrecked republican conventions: there is no way to ever properly pay back someone who has saved one’s life — one is forever indebted to (and hence metaphorically beholden, perhaps even enslaved, and certainly resentful of) this person.100

How did aristocrats deal with Caesar’s willingness to spare their lives when caught fighting against him? Some simply ignored it and returned to battle — until they were captured again. Caesar mocks such repeat captives badly in his Bellum Civile. Cato, a man of principle, resorted to a more drastic action: terminal withdrawal from the dictator. In Plutarch’s Life of Cato the Younger Cato categorically rejects the notion of begging Caesar for mercy, either directly or through intermediaries — even though he does not force others to adopt the same uncompromising stance: ‘If I were willing to be saved by grace of Caesar, I ought to go to him in person and see him alone; but I am unwilling to be under obligations to the tyrant for his illegal acts. And he acts illegally in saving, as if their master, those over whom he has no right at all to be the lord’ (66).101

This prehistory to the Ides of March generated the awkward paradox that many of the assassins had their own lives previously spared by the very person whom they murdered. Cicero invested a lot of effort in formulating an ethics of murder, which legitimized the deed as justified — indeed required — tyrannicide, rather than the cold-blooded and ungrateful killing of a lenient benefactor. A large part of his case rests on the denial that a tyrant can engage in meaningful socio-political relationships, let alone an economy of reciprocal obligations. He stands outside any form of human community, indeed is a wild beast that is human in appearance only — a monster that ought to be killed as a matter of civic ethics. See On Duties (de Officiis) 3.32.

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