[89] Ō mea frūstrā semper vērissima auguria rērum futūrārum! dīcēbam illīs in Capitōliō līberātōribus nostrīs, cum mē ad tē īre vellent ut ad dēfendendam rem pūblicam tē adhortārer, quoad metuerēs, omnia tē prōmissūrum; simul ac timēre dēsīssēs, similem tē futūrum tuī. itaque cum cēterī cōnsulārēs īrent redīrent, in sententiā mānsī: neque tē illō diē neque posterō vīdī neque ūllam societātem optimīs cīvibus cum importūnissimō hoste foedere ūllō cōnfirmārī posse crēdidī. post diem tertium vēnī in aedem Tellūris et quidem invītus, cum omnīs aditūs armātī obsīderent.

No Compromise with a Public Enemy!

Cicero here revisits the tense period right after Caesar’s assassination, 15–17 March. Here is a brief blow-by-blow account of the most important developments over these action-packed few days: 

15 March: c. 11 a.m.

murder of Caesar; Antony and other Caesarians flee from the senate house; the conspirators march to the Capitoline Hill; when they test public opinion later in the day, they are greeted with a significant level of hostility; start of negotiations with Antony (as consul) and Lepidus (Caesar’s Master of the Horse).

Night of 15/16 March

Antony, acting either on his own or together with Lepidus, summons some of Caesar’s troops into the city; Caesar’s widow Calpurnia hands over Caesar’s state papers to him, as well as funds (4000 talents according to Plutarch, Life of Antony 15). Antony also secures the war chest Caesar had deposited in the temple of Ops for his campaign against the Parthians (see also Phil. 2.35 and 93).

16 March

tense negotiations between Antony and the conspirators, who fear for their safety; as surety, Antony and Lepidus hand over their sons as hostages (see Phil. 2.90 below; also Phil. 1.31).

17 March

senate meeting in the Temple of Tellus; Caesar’s veterans surround the building; the outcome is a compromise: amnesty for the assassins (still holed up on the Capitoline Hill) on a motion by Cicero in return for the en-bloc ratification of Caesar’s already published acts and arrangements. (According to Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar 82.4, the conspirators would have preferred to chuck Caesar’s corpse into the Tiber, confiscate his property, and declare all his political arrangements null and void (= acta rescindere)).

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O mea frustra semper verissima auguria rerum futurarum!: Cicero starts the paragraph with an exclamatory sentence consisting for the main part of a noun phrase in the nominative (o mea… verissima auguria… !), a device he also elsewhere uses in contexts of desperate pathos (cf. pro Milone 94: o frustra, inquit, mei suscepti labores, o spes fallaces, o cogitationes inanes meae!, where Cicero reports Milo deploring the loss of prospects for his political career; see Pinkster (2015: 367). The adverb semper, placed deftly in-between the adverb frustra and the adjective verissima, goes with both (apo-koinou): Cicero claims that his predictions were always absolutely (note the superlative) spot-on — and always in vain. He casts himself as a Cassandra-figure, i.e. someone who has a clear sense of a dismal future, but is unable to get his voice heard so as to affect the course of events for the better. The posture of the prophet who has special insight into the future appealed to Cicero — and he adopts it in several of his speeches and letters. The first speech against Catiline for instance ends with a powerful prediction about divine action taken on behalf of the commonwealth and the fourth speech against Catiline concludes with the affirmation that his care and insight will secure the Roman people a prosperous future (providebo). Closer to home (and the passage here), in a letter to Atticus (10.8.6 = 199 SB) Cicero claims to have foreseen the full trajectory of the civil war — though his prediction in 49 BCE that Caesar’s reign would not last longer than six months, owing to the self-destructive tendencies he believed to be inherent in tyranny (following Plato), was off by several years. And in two letters to Atticus, he recalls his own take on the aftermath of the Ides of March, when the conspirators were holed up on the Capitoline Hill protected by a bodyguard of gladiators and he dispensed advice that was not followed (Att. 14.10.1 = 364 SB; 19 April 44; cf. Att. 14.14.2 = 368 SB; 28 or 29 April).

dicebam illis in Capitolio liberatoribus nostris, cum me ad te ire vellent ut ad defendendam rem publicam te adhortarer, quoad metueres, omnia te promissurum; simul ac timere desisses, similem te futurum tui: the sentence consists of two main elements, with further constructions attached:

  • a main clause (dicebam… nostris) followed by a bipartite indirect statement dependent on dicebam; each of the two parts involves a temporal subordinate clause (a) quoad metueresomnia te promissurum (esse); (b) simul ac timere desissessimilem te futurum (esse) tui.
  • a circumstantial cum-clause with vellent as verb and the (implied) liberators as subject. vellent governs an indirect statement with me as subject accusative and ire as verb, followed by the purpose clause ut… adhortarer.

In his interactions with the liberators holed up on the Capitoline Hill, Cicero is predicting two things about Antony: that he would promise anything at all while he was afraid for his life; and that he would revert to being his old self as soon as he was no longer afraid.

dicebam: Latin can use the imperfect with verbs of saying to narrate a past action that the speaker remembers (Kühner-Stegmann 1.124, listing our passage as an example). But there may be a bit more edge to dicebam if we take it to refer to a repeated action in the past: Cicero kept reiterating his convictions, sticking to his guns (cf. in sententia mansi below), but the liberators would not listen: the tense thus picks up on the preceding exclamation.

liberatoribus nostris: as noted above, the assassination of Caesar met with a bipolar reception, which registers in the labels that the assassins attracted. As Leber (2018: 1) puts it:

The enormity of Caesar’s assassination provided an opportunity to use a plethora of terms for the conspirators, most conspicuously seen in Cicero’s treatment of Cassius and Brutus following the death of Caesar. The act itself had a polarizing effect. On one side were the invective terms for assassins, murderers and parricides (sicariihomicidaeinterfectoresparricidae). On the other side were the favourable terms, such as liberators (liberatores), heroes (heroes) and tyrannicides (tyrannoctoni). Cicero also included in his correspondence Greek words, as well as their transliterations into Latin. Each word would seem to have its own subtle characteristics, focussing on different aspects and interpretations of the conspirators and their act of tyrannicide or political murder.

The uneasy truce that emerged right after the event did little to resolve the status of the assassins: their political identity has remained a matter of controversial debate even after the battle of Philippi in 42 BCE, when the Caesarian triumvirate of Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus triumphed over the republicans Cassius and Brutus. Already by the time Cicero penned the Philippics they had been put on the defensive, forced to leave Rome since their personal safety could no longer be guaranteed, and Cicero uses the speeches as a means to assert his view of history as the right one. Early on in Philippic 1, he laments the fact that the liberators of Rome had been driven from the city they had set free (1.6: patriae liberatores urbe carebant ea, cuius a ceruicibus iugum seruile deiecerant…: ‘the liberators of their country were exiles from the city from whose neck they had struck off the yoke of slavery…’). And at Phil. 2.30–31, he exposes Antony to the dilemma that the killers of Caesar are either heroic freedom fighters to be held in the highest esteem or the lowest scum on earth, as basis for arguing that Antony’s own behaviour proves that he endorses the former position.

ad defendendam rem publicam: after the assassination of Caesar, various parties tried to claim to represent the commonwealth. The fact that Antony as consul was technically speaking the official representative of the res publicamade the situation tricky for the conspirators. For the notion of res publica in the political discourse of republican Rome see further Hodgson (2017).

simul ac timere desissesdesisses is 2nd person singular pluperfect subjunctive active in indirect speech, representing a future perfect: ‘as soon as you will have ceased from fear, you will be your old self again’.

similem te futurum [esse] tuite is subject accusative, similem the predicative complement; the genitive of the personal pronoun tui, delayed for point and punch, depends on similem: ‘you will be like yourself’. See Gildersleeve & Lodge 229: ‘similis is said to be used with the Genitive when the likeness is general and comprehensive; with the Dative when it is conditional or partial’. The absence of fear, an emotion that for some time caused uncharacteristically sound comportment on Antony’s part, entails a re-centering of his self in the old criminal mold. Antony is a coward and a criminal.

itaque cum ceteri consulares irent redirent, in sententia mansi: at this time in Roman history, not too many former consuls who could act as go-betweens were still alive: much of the traditional ruling elite had been wiped out in the civil war. And — so Cicero’s message here — only one among this illustrious group had sufficient foresight and backbone to remain unmoved by the alluring delusion of a possible compromise with Antony. ‖ ire redire means ‘to go to and fro’. As Mayor (1861: 132) notes, ‘asyndeton is very common in the case of words of opposite signification’.

neque te illo die neque postero [die] vidi neque ullam societatem optimis civibus cum importunissimo hoste foedere ullo confirmari posse credidi: two main clauses linked by the third neque (… vidi neque ullam…), with vidi and credidi as verbs. The latter introduces an indirect statement with ullam societatem as subject accusative and posse as verb: ‘I did not see you on either that day or the next nor did I believe that…’ confirmari is supplementary present passive infinitive with posse.

Cicero here digs deep into the charged lexicon of Rome’s political culture to ostracize Antony from the civic community. The phrases are extremely weighty: ullam societatem ‖ optimis civibus ‖ cum importunissimo hoste ‖  foedere ullo: the first and the last form a chiastic frame (ullam societatem :: foedere ullo), the central two constitute a powerful antithesis reinforced by the superlatives optimis and importunissimo. In what amounts to a rhetorical enactment of civil war, he strips a Roman citizen and magistrate (Antony is civis and consul) of his legal status and his (Roman) identity and transforms him into the exact opposite, an enemy (hostis) of the Roman people, with whom any association or relationship (societas), any formal bond or agreement (foedus) is impossible and the only conceivable condition of co-existence is terminal warfare.

illo die … postero [die]: 15 and 16 March on the Julian calendar instituted on 1 Jan 45…

ullam societatemsocietas and related terms (sociussociare), which refer to social relationships grounded in trust, respect for law, and mutual advantage and extending from a partnership to all of civic society, play a key role in Cicero’s political thought. See, for instance, On the Commonwealth (de Republica) 1.49:

ex utilitatis varietatibus, cum aliis aliud expediat, nasci discordias; itaque cum patres rerum potirentur, numquam constitisse civitatis statum; multo iam id in regnis minus, quorum, ut ait Ennius, ‘nulla [regni] sancta societas nec fides est’. quare cum lex sit civilis societatis vinculum, ius autem legis aequale, quo iure societas civium teneri potest, cum par non sit condicio civium?… quid est enim civitas nisi iuris societas civium?

[discord arises from conflicting interests, where different measures are advantageous to different citizens. Therefore they maintain that when aristocrats were in power, the condition of the citizenry has never been stable, and that such stability is less attainable by far in kingdoms, in which, as Ennius says, ‘No sacred partnership or honour exists’. Therefore, since law is the bond of civic association, and the justice enforced by law is the same for all, by what justice can an association of citizens be held together when there is no equality among the citizens?… For what is a citizenry if not an association of citizens committed to justice?]

Cicero penned On the Commonwealth in the late fifties. As the quoted passage shows, even before Caesar’s rise to the dictatorship he insisted on the mutual incompatibility of civil society and autocracy. In On Duties (de Officiis), written after the death of Caesar at the same time as the Philippics, he reiterates and radicalizes this principle with specific reference to recent and contemporaneous events, elevating tyrannicide into an ethical duty (3.32):

Nulla est enim societas nobis cum tyrannis et potius summa distractio est, neque est contra naturam spoliare eum, si possis, quem est honestum necare, atque hoc omne genus pestiferum atque impium ex hominum communitate exterminandum est. etenim, ut membra quaedam amputantur, si et ipsa sanguine et tamquam spiritu carere coeperunt et nocent reliquis partibus corporis, sic ista in figura hominis feritas et immanitas beluae a communi tamquam humanitatis corpore segreganda est.

[we have no ties of association with a tyrant, but rather the sharpest separation; and it is not against Nature to rob, if one can, a man whom it is morally right to kill: all that pestilent and abominable race should be exterminated from human society. As certain limbs are amputated if they show signs of being bloodless and virtually lifeless and thus jeopardize the health of the other parts of the body, so those fierce and savage monsters in human form should be cut off from what may be called the common body of humanity.]

foedere ullo: an ablative of means. Like societas, the term foedus carries weighty ideological connotations. It refers to any kind of formalized socio-political bond or alliance grounded in ritual and hence invoking a sense of cosmic order. See further Gladhill (2016).

post diem tertium veni in aedem Telluris et quidem invitus, cum omnis aditus armati obsiderent: the force of the particle (etquidem here is adversative, expressing a partial concession ‘to confirm the preceding statement and at the same time to offer another which in part undermines the first’ (Solodow 1978: 82): ‘after the third day I did come to the temple of Tellus — and yet against my will because…’. The subject of the causal cum-clause are the armatiomnis (= omnesaditûs is the accusative object of obsiderent. Cicero refers to the veterans of Caesar, whom Antony and/or Lepidus had summoned to the city to exert pressure on the senate and the assassins.

post diem tertium: ‘on the third day after’ (sc. the assassination of Caesar), i.e. 17 March since the Romans counted both the start-day and the end-day in a sequence. With the adverbs ante (‘before’) and post (‘after’) one might expect an ablative of measure of difference (paucis diebus post = a few days after), but the accusative can also be employed (as here): see Gildersleeve & Lodge 260. Ironically, the 17 March was the day of the Liberalia, a festival in honour of Liber Pater (literally: ‘The Free Father’), an ancient god of fertility and wine, who came to be identified with the Greek god Bacchus / Dionysus.

in aedem Telluris: the temple of Tellus (built in 268 BCE) was situated on the Esquiline Hill.

ō: O

augurium argurī(ī) n.: augury, prophecy

futūrus –a –um: about to be; future (> sum)

Capitōlium –iī n.: the Capitol

līberātor –ōris m.: deliverer, liberator

adhortor –ārī –ātus sum: to urge on

quoad: as long as, until

simulac or simul ac: as soon as, the moment that

cōnsulāris cōnsulāris cōnsulāre: consular, of/proper to a consul; of a consular rank; proposed/governed by consul

societās societātis f.: society; alliance/partnership; trading company; fellowship, communion; joint pursuit/enjoyment/possession; connection, affinity; conjugal union

importūnus –a –um: troublesome, uncivilized

foedus foederis n.: treaty, agreement, contract; league; alliance

cōnfīrmō –āre: to strengthen, develop, build up (w/troops); make secure/firm; reassure; secure; assert positively; declare, prove, confirm, support; sanction; encourage

invītus –a –um: reluctant; unwilling; against one's will

aditus aditūs m.: approach, access; attack; entrance; chance, opportunity, means, way; beginning

armātī –ōrum m.: armed men, warriors (> armo)

obsideō obsidēre obsēdī obsessus: to blockade, besiege, invest, beset; take possession of

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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.