[114] Quod sī sē ipsōs illī nostrī līberātōrēs ē cōnspectū nostrō abstulērunt, at exemplum factī relīquērunt. illī quod nēmō fēcerat fēcērunt. Tarquinium Brūtus bellō est persecūtus, quī tum rēx fuit cum esse Rōmae licēbat; Sp. Cassius, Sp. Maelius, M. Mānlius propter suspīciōnem rēgnī appetendī sunt necātī: hī prīmum cum gladiīs nōn in rēgnum appetentem, sed in rēgnantem impetum fēcērunt. quod cum ipsum factum per sē praeclārum est atque dīvīnum, tum expositum ad imitandum est, praesertim cum illī eam glōriam cōnsecūtī sint quae vix caelō capī posse videātur. etsī enim satis in ipsā cōnscientiā pulcherrimī factī frūctūs erat, tamen mortālī immortālitātem nōn arbitror esse contemnendam.

Caesar’s Assassination: A Deed of Unprecedented Exemplarity

The paragraph falls into two halves. In the first (Quod si se  … impetum fecerunt), Cicero looks back: he assesses the assassination of Caesar against similar events in Roman history, reaching the conclusion that the recent act of tyrannicide outshines all precedents. In the second (quod cum ipsum factum … esse contemnendam), he explores the future implications of what the liberators did: they set an example for others to imitate and will reap immortality through everlasting glory as a reward for their deed. Both topics — exemplarity and immortality through memory — warrant some comments. [more] [study questions]

Quod si se ipsos illi nostri liberatores e conspectu nostro abstulerunt, at exemplum facti reliqueruntquod as connecting particle — here introducing a simple conditional clause stating a fact (hence the indicative) — often has an adversative force: ‘But if…’. The main clause begins with the particle at, which ‘after negative or [as here] virtually negative conditional clauses’ (OLD s.v. at 13b) means ‘at least’, ‘at any rate’, ‘yet’. The si-clause contains stylistic touches, such as alliteration (si seipsos illi) and chiasmus (nostri liberatores – conspectu nostro), and a deluge of pronouns or pronominal adjectives (seipsosillinostrinostro), which only partly compensates for the fact that Cicero here expresses a truth he considers awkward and unfortunate: to preserve peace, the liberators had left the capital. But they did leave behind a ‘benchmark of excellence ready for imitation’ or, more succinctly, a ‘precedent’ (exemplum): the killing of the tyrant (facti: genitive singular of the perfect passive participle of facio dependent on exemplum), lit. ‘the example of the deed’ (= of that which has been done).

liberatores: Cicero’s standard term for the conspirators throughout the Philippics, starting with 1.6. The label turns Caesar into a tyrant who had enslaved the Roman people. This view was by no means consensual — quite the contrary: ‘In the immediate aftermath of his death, Caesar alternated between tyrant, martyred popular politician, and god, but a solution was not quickly found’ (Flower 2006: 108).

illi quod nemo fecerat feceruntfecerat is pluperfect, fecerunt perfect: ‘they did what no-one had (ever) done (before)’. The sentence neatly picks up on the phrase exemplum factifecerat and fecerunt form a polyptoton with facti (see also below: impetum feceruntquod … ipsum factumpulcherrimi facti); and Cicero’s assertion that the killing of Caesar was unprecedented reinforces exemplum. There were other attacks on (would-be) tyrants (as Cicero goes on to explain), but they all differed in important respects from what the liberators achieved.

Tarquinium Brutus bello est persecutus, qui tum rex fuit cum [regem] esse Romae licebat: the oldest and most famous instance of opposition to tyranny was the expulsion of the last of the legendary kings of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, by Lucius Iunius Brutus, which initiated a period of warfare (bellum) between Rome and the supporters of Tarquinius, as he tried to regain his throne. (Cicero here conflates the act of expulsion with the subsequent warfare.) But the parallel is not precise: Tarquinius’ reign belongs to a period back when (tum … cum) kingship still happened to be an acceptable form of government at Rome, which it ceased to be afterwards.

Extra information, courtesy of John Henderson:

The idea that Brutus was repeating historical destiny by ‘regicide’ was lurking in his family self-image all along, and the important distinction that Tarquin wasn’t assassinated in the ‘regifuge’, so the libera res publica wasn’t born in civil bloodshed, was blurred right away, as in Horace’s version of what he claims became a popular anecdote about the showdown between the liberators and the second triumvirate, Satires 1.7.33–35: ‘per magnos, Brute, Deos te oro, qui reges consueris tollere, cur non hunc Regem iugulas? operum hoc, mihi crede, tuorum est’ (‘By the great gods, I implore you, Brutus, since it is in your line to take off kings, why not slay this Rex? This, believe me, is the task of your family’). Didn’t both Brutuses ‘get rid of kings’!

Tarquinium Brutus bello: the inversion of accusative object and subject places the emphasis on the tyrant and yields an alliteration (Brutus bello).

cum [regem] esse Romae licebatlicebat is an impersonal verb (‘it was permitted…’), taking the infinitive (regemesse as subject. (regem needs to be supplied from the previous clause; for the accusative, see Gildersleeve & Lodge 420: ‘The Infinitive, when it stands alone, involves an indefinite Accusative Subject, and the Predicate of that Subject is … in the Accusative Case’. Hence: regem esse = to be king.)

Romae: locative (‘in Rome’).

Sp. Cassius, Sp. Maelius, M. Manlius propter suspicionem regni appetendi sunt necati: hi primum cum gladiis non in regnum appetentem, sed in regnantem impetum fecerunt: Cicero moves on to the classical trio of so-called adfectatores regni (‘men aiming for kingship’), who all came to a sticky end: see above § 84. hi refers to the liberatores. Spurius Cassius (thrice consul, twice triumphator, suspected of royal ambition, hence killed — in 485 BCE), Spurius Maelius (a plebeian suspected of using his wealth to install himself as king — hence killed in 439 BCE by the Master of the Horse Gaius Servilius Ahala), and Marcus Manlius Capitolinus (consul in 392 BCE, rescued Rome from the Gauls in 390/387 BCE, helped by the geese — hence Capitolinus, killed in 384 BCE for harbouring royal ambition) were all still in the process of striving for kingship (cf. regnum appetentem — ‘someone striving for kingship’, which applies to all three). By contrast, the liberators attacked someone who was already ruling as king (regnantem).

The three exempla Cicero mentions form an ‘authoritative and canonical’ set of Roman citizen traitors from early republican times (Flower 2006: 45), who acquired new relevance in the wake of 133 BCE (the year Scipio Nasica killed Tiberius Gracchus and many of his supporters under suspicion of tyranny: see above). As Flower (2006: 46) explains:

… the final versions [of their stories] produced in the late Republic, which are the only ones now extant, had been substantially recast to reflect the political conflicts and the violence of contemporary Rome. While this observation affects much of the account of the early Republic, it applies in a very special way to these three incidents, which had also come to be associated with each other in an ahistorical manner. It was precisely the stories of the disgraced traitors that took on a completely new relevance with the death of the Gracchi and throughout the series of conflicts that marked the most prominent stages of the Republic’s decay, from the introduction of the senatus consultum ultimum to justify the attack on Gaius Gracchus and his associates, to the civil carnage under Marius and Sulla, to the outlawing of Catiline and the summary execution of his supporters. Assassination and judicial murder became commonplace in a development that could only be made sense of with reference to ancestral precedents.

propter suspicionem regni appetendi: the genitive dependent on suspicionem, here the gerundive phrase regni appetendi, expresses the evil suspected (OLD s.v. 1b). The gerundive (a verbal adjective) is passive, so a literal translation would be ‘because of the suspicion of kingship to-be-aspired-to’ = of aspiring to kingship. (The equivalent gerund expression would be … regnum appetendi, with regnum the accusative object of the verbal noun appetendi.)

sunt necati: = necati sunt (third person plural perfect indicative passive).

hi … non in regnum appetentem, sed in regnantem impetum fecerunt: Cicero uses the idiom impetum facere in + accusative, which here consists of the two present active participles appetentem and regnantem. So the first in goes with appetentem and not with regnum (which is the accusative object of appetentem). As Mayor (1861: 155) notes: ‘Genitives and adverbs are often interposed between the preposition and its case; occasionally the object governed by an adjective or [as here] participle comes between it and the preposition on which it depends’.

primum: the adverb (‘for the first time’) underscores that the liberators were setting a precedent.

cum gladiis: Cicero equips the assassins with proper swords (onward Roman soldiers…) rather than the daggers they will have used, perhaps in part to counter the label sicarii (‘murderers that use daggers to stab innocent victims in the back’) that some attached to the conspirators. In addition, as John Henderson points out to us, this phrase has been a pulse throughout the speech — since § 8, let alone 19, and goes straight to the ‘point’ that this scenario may look like it’s a normal meeting of the senate but actually it’s a war zone in a city that’s a war zone, where the gunfree zone of metropolis and temple are tellingly violated.

quod cum ipsum factum per se praeclarum est atque divinum, tum expositum ad imitandum est, praesertim cum illi eam gloriam consecuti sint quae vix caelo capi posse videaturquod is a connecting relative (= et id), modifying ipsum factum: ‘and this very deed…’. cum does not introduce a subordinate clause, but correlates with tum: this adverbial cumintroduces ‘one of two co-existing or co-ordinate circumstances of actions’, with tum indicating ‘the more particular or noteworthy circumstance’: OLD s.v. cum2 14: ‘not only’, ‘as well as’. In the main clause (quod … est) Cicero plods along heavily and emphatically with homoioteleuton in -umc-umips-umfact-umpraeclar-umdivin-umt-umexposit-umimitand-um, before lifting (his prose) off into the sky from praesertim cum onwards. In this and the following sentence Cicero outlines two different kinds of reward that Caesar’s assassins received for their deed: external recognition that manifests itself in quasi-deification; and internal satisfaction deriving from the awareness of having performed an act of outstanding heroism.

praeclarum … atque divinum: The semantics of divinus range from the literal (in the sense of ad deum, divinitatem pertinens a deo originem ducens) to the metaphorical. In the latter sense divinus loses its essential association with the divine and becomes synonymous with more mundane markers of distinction such as praeclaruseximius, or mirabilis. Suggestive ambiguities arise when the adjective is made to refer not to the gods, but to human beings, their capacities, or their deeds (as is the case here). In those instances it remains unclear whether the literal or the metaphorical meaning of the attribute is in force. The ambiguity appealed to Cicero, both here and elsewhere in his oeuvre: it enabled him to evoke the possibility of deification or association with the divine in the literal sense, without committing himself to a mode of religious elevation to which he strongly objected. See further Gildenhard (2011: 266–67).

expositum ad imitandum estfactum continues to be the subject, expositum … est is the verb: the deed ‘has been put on display for imitation / to be imitated’. The preposition ad (followed by a gerundive) expresses purpose.

illi: the liberatores.

quae vix caelo capi posse videatur: the antecedent of quae is eam gloriam, ‘which seems scarcely able to be contained within the vault of heaven’ (Lacey). Cicero underscores the hyperbole via alliteration (caelo capi) and qualifies it with his favourite hedge (videatur). Cf. Att. 14.6.2 = 360 SB (12 April 44), cited below. In his correspondence with Atticus, he is much more outspoken and calls the liberators ‘heroes’ (= semi-divine; see Att. 14.4.2 = 358 SB: nostri autem ἥρωες quod per ipsos confici potuit gloriosissime et magnificentissime confecerunt — ‘Our heroes achieved all that lay with themselves most gloriously and magnificently’) or even ‘gods’ (14.11.1 = 365 SB, cited below). This (Greek) idiom would have been inappropriate in an oration. (Despite the fact that Philippic 2 was not delivered, Cicero tends to abide by the protocols of the genre, partly to maintain the fiction of live performance.)

etsi enim satis in ipsa conscientia pulcherrimi facti fructus erat, tamen mortali immortalitatem non arbitror esse contemnendam: the subject of the etsi clause is satis, which governs — across a massive hyperbaton — the partitive genitive fructûs. The hyperbaton entails the thematically appropriate juxtaposition of facti and fructus, reinforced by alliteration. The verb of the main clause is non arbitror which introduces an indirect statement with immortalitatem as subject accusative and esse contemnendam as infinitive. mortali is a dative of agency with the gerundive. Its placement right next to immortalitatem produces yet another figura etymologica in this paragraph. immortalitas glosses gloria (‘eternal fame’) from the previous sentence.

in ipsa conscientia pulcherrimi facti: in his philosophical writings and orations, Cicero invested much in the notion of conscience (conscientia) — understood as an instance that assesses innocence and guilt in absolute, objective terms and rewards the former while punishing the latter. Here the liberators reap the benefit of knowing that they performed a ‘most beautiful’ deed — or so Cicero asserts, ignoring those for whom the murder might have looked suspect, erroneous, or even criminal.

Extra information:

Cicero’s correspondence with Atticus from April and May 44 BCE bears eloquent witness to how divided the Romans were over Caesar’s assassination. Some constituencies are portrayed as being overjoyed. See e.g. Att. 14.6.2 = 360 SB (12 April 44):

nihil enim tam σóλοικον quam tyrannoctonos in caelo esse, tyranni facta defendi. sed vides consules, vides reliquos magistratus, si isti magistratus, vides languorem bonorum. exsultant laetitia in municipiis. dici enim non potest quanto opere gaudeant, ut ad me concurrant, ut audire cupiant mea verba de re <publica>.

[It is the acme of incongruity that the tyrannicides should be lauded to the skies while the tyrant’s actions are protected. But you see our Consuls and the rest of our magistrates, if these people are magistrates, and the apathy of the honest men. In the country towns they are jumping for joy. I cannot tell you how delighted they are, how they flock to me, how eager they are to hear what I have to say on the state of the country.]

In Rome, however, people were hard at work singing the praises of the dead dictator and condemning his murderers (Att. 14.11.1 = 365 SB; 21 April 44):

ἀκολασíαν istorum scribis. an censebas aliter? equidem etiam maiora exspecto. cum [equidem] contionem lego de ‘tanto viro,’ de ‘clarissimo civi,’ ferre non queo. etsi ista iam ad risum. sed memento, sic alitur consuetudo perditarum contionum, ut nostri illi non heroes sed di futuri quidem in gloria sempiterna sint sed non sine invidia, ne sine periculo quidem. verum illis magna consolatio conscientia maximi et clarissimi facti; nobis quae, qui interfecto rege liberi non sumus? sed haec fortuna viderit, quoniam ratio non gubernat.

[You write about the licence of these people. What did you expect? I look for still worse to come. When I read a public speech about ‘so great a man,’ ‘so illustrious a Roman,’ I can’t stomach it. Of course this sort of thing has become a joke. But remember that is how the habit of pernicious speech-making grows, so that those heroes, or rather gods, of ours will no doubt be glorious to all eternity, but not without ill will or even danger. However they have a great consolation in the consciousness of a grand and glorious deed. What have we, who are not free though the king is slain? Well, we must leave all this to chance since reason has no say.]

In a letter from 22 April 44, he expresses his worries about the Caesarians in the company of Caesar Octavianus and counterbalances their threats by resorting to the same language of external renown and immortality in memory as well as internal bliss on account of the conscientia of their deed as here (Att. 14.12.2 = 366 SB):

ita multi circumstant, qui quidem nostri<s> mortem minitantur, negant haec ferri posse. quid censes cum Romam puer venerit, ubi nostri liberatores tuti esse non possunt? <qui> quidem semper erunt clari, conscientia vero facti sui etiam beati.

[There are too many around him (sc. Octavian). They threaten death to our friends and call the present state of things intolerable. What do you think they will say when the boy comes to Rome, where our liberators cannot go safe? They have won eternal glory, and happiness too in the consciousness of what they did.]

But the lives of the assassins continued to be in danger. By the beginning of May, he praises Dolabella for his intervention against Caesarian rioters and ps-Marius’ monument to Caesar (above 349–50) (Att. 14.15.1 = 369 SB, 1 May 44):

sustulisse mihi videtur simulationem desideri, adhuc quae serpebat in dies et inveterata verebar ne periculosa nostris tyrannoctonis esset.

[He seems to me to have quashed that affectation of regret for Caesar which was spreading from day to day. I was afraid it might become a danger to our tyrannicides if it took root.]

Julius Caesar had made sure he was an indispensable part of the future — so many directly owed him so much.

līberātor –ōris m.: deliverer, liberator

cōnspectus conspectūs m.: view, range of sight; aspect, appearance, look; perception, contemplation, survey

Tarquinius –a –um: Tarquinian; the designation of the Roman gens to which belonged Tarquinius Priscus and Tarquinius Superbus; subst., Tarquinius, ii, Tarquinius or Tarquin

Brūtus –ī m.: Brutus, a surname of the Junian gens, derived from Lucius Junius Brutus, the patrician leader who delivered Rome from the Tarquins

persequor persequī persecūtus sum: to follow up, pursue; overtake; attack; take vengeance on; accomplish

Rōma Rōmae f.: Rome

Spurius –ī m.: Spurius (a name)

Cassius –iī m.: Cassius (a Roman cognomen)

Maelius –iī m.: Maelius (a name)

Marcus Marcī m.: Marcus

Mānlius –iī m.: M. Manlius Capitolinus, who saved the Capitol from the Gauls, and was afterwards condemned to be cast from the Tarpeian rock for alleged treason

suspīciō suspiciōnis f.: suspicion; mistrust

appetō appetere appetīvī appetītus: to seek/grasp after, desire; assail; strive eagerly/long for; approach, near

necō necārī necāvī necātus: to kill

rēgnō rēgnāre rēgnāvī rēgnātus: to rule, reign

praeclārus –a –um: very clear; splendid; famous; bright, illustrious; noble, distinguished

dīvīnus –a –um: divine, of a deity/god, godlike; sacred; divinely inspired; supernatural; prophetic

expōnō expōnere exposuī expositus: to set/put forth/out; abandon, expose; publish; explain, relate; disembark

imitor imitārī imitātus sum: to imitate

praesertim: especially; particularly

etsī: although

cōnscientia cōnscientiae f.: awareness, conscience

immortālitās –ātis f.: exemption from death, immortality, endless life

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Suggested Citation

Ingo Gildenhard, Cicero: Philippic 2.44–50, 78–92, 100–119. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2020. ISBN: 978-1-947822-12-2.