The paragraph falls into two halves: in the first (Quid ego … cliens esse), Cicero continues to belabour the theme of Antony’s maltreatment of local communities in Italy that happened to pique his anger, though the praeteritio-mode he now adopts suggests that he is starting to run out of steam. Halfway through, his focus turns back to Rome (interea dum tu abes … ut dissimilis esset sui), and he homes in on an event that happened in the capital during Antony’s absence: Dolabella’s destruction of the altar to Caesar erected by Amatius. The thematic link between the two halves consists in the invocation of the persons and policies that support Cicero’s republican politics.
Roman aristocrats functioned as patrons of local communities both in Italy and beyond. The patronage system tied patrons and clients together in a reciprocal, if hierarchical economy: ‘Patrons were expected to provide a range of services: To mediate when dissension broke out, to defend the interests of the town before Senate and magistrates, to provide significant material benefactions. Some were involved in the foundation of the community; others were coopted because they owned significant estates in the territory of the client. In return, patrons expected their clients to support them at elections, to enhance their prestige, to serve as a base for recruiting soldiers and to provide bodyguard in emergencies’ (Nicols 2014: 70). These arrangements became a highly sensitive issue in the wake of Caesar’s assassination. Some evidence suggests that one of the honours proposed to Caesar before his death was the title of patron (prostates) of the City and of the whole Empire (Cassius Dio 44.48.1–2 with Nicols 2014: 65–66), which would have highlighted his autocratic monopolization of oligarchic structures of power. After the Ides of March, others vied for similar innovative nomenclature to validate their position and prestige (see e.g. Phil. 6.12). Conversely, local communities faced the tough political choice whether to side with the liberators or leading Caesarians, in the full knowledge that request for support and patronage extended to one party would alienate others, with potentially dire repercussions. Still, many Italian townships seem to have greeted the assassination of Caesar with delight — or so Cicero suggests, in a letter to Atticus (Att. 14.6.2 = 360 SB; 12 April 44):
exsultant laetitia in municipiis. dici enim non potest quanto opere gaudeant, ut ad me concurrant, ut audire cupiant mea verba de re <publica>.
[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.]
Cicero’s report should obviously be taken with a grain of salt: it is not surprising that those local notables who interacted with him expressed unalloyed enthusiasm. Still, the dominant factions among the Sidicini and the inhabitants of Puteoli clearly sympathized with the liberators and sought out Cassius and the two Bruti as patrons, thereby coming into the (verbal) firing line of Antony.
Meanwhile, in Rome, the jostling for position in a post-Caesarian world manifested itself not least in tussles over his post-mortem status. The person who took the lead in pushing the envelope here is the curious figure of Amatius, a.k.a. as Pseudo-Marius, Herophilus (a Greek speaking name), or Chamates. He claimed descent from C. Marius, Sulla’s opponent and kinsman of Caesar, and took the lead in fomenting religious worship of the dead (but, he argued, deified) dictator, around a column and an altar erected on the site of Caesar’s funeral pyre (Koortbojian 2013: 26–27). We can glean the considerable degree of popularity he and his cultic veneration of divus Iulius started to command from the fact that Antony had him executed shortly before his departure for Southern Italy. This pleased the republicans and Cicero just as much as it was designed to shore up Antony’s position among the Caesarians through the elimination of a rival to the prestige and affection of the people of Rome and Caesar’s veterans. Yet he left the altar and the column — as a monument to Caesar’s memory — intact, and during his sojourn away from Rome Dolabella deemed their destruction a useful symbolic gesture to enhance his own standing with the republicans (and thereby also to increase his leverage with his fellow consul Antony). Cicero already recalled this sequence of events at Philippic 1.5. Elsewhere in the speech he condemns any attempt to conceive of Caesar as a deified human to be honoured with cultic worship in the strongest possible terms — and lambasts Antony for a change of tack, triggered by the significant appeal (exploited to the utmost by Caesar Octavianus) the notion of divine Caesar commanded among the populace and the veterans. If in April Antony had pseudo-Marius executed, in early September he himself pushed through a decree that added an extra day to every supplicatio (‘thanksgiving for public successes’) dedicated to offerings to the deified Caesar.
Cicero’s strictures against the idea that Caesar had become a god presuppose the strict divide between the human and the divine within Rome’s civic religion. Attempts at crossing the boundary, in whatever form, while feasible in theory (there existed, in principle, no religious objections to humans becoming gods — in literary texts, it happened all the time), were politically incorrect moves in the field of power, a potential threat to the republican tradition of senatorial government:68 elevating one individual, albeit post mortem, to the status of a god violated fundamental principles of oligarchic equality. Still, already long before Caesar outstanding aristocrats found it tempting to explore the boundary between human and divine (for instance by claiming a special relationship with a supernatural being) for reasons of self-promotion. Inspiration came from the Greek East, in both theory and practice. Poets and other litterateurs domesticated a variety of literary genres that explored different forms of divinity and deification; in Ennius’ oeuvre, for instance, apotheosis (of Romulus in the Annals), Pythagorean metempsychosis (the reincarnation of Homer in Ennius himself), and Euhemerism all find an airing — as well as (in the Scipio) the idea of a living (or recently deceased) Roman noble ascending to the stars.
In the context of imperial expansion, the Romans also encountered cults that bestowed religious honours upon living rulers — a practice that had started to proliferate in the wake of Alexander the Great. The perceived divinity of (royal) power had little to do with the proclivity of eastern subjects to emote irrationally about their kings, as some ancient sources, including Cicero, imply. Rather the Hellenistic ruler cult constituted an ideological form and social practice by which kings justified their reign and cities negotiated their existence within the domineering presence of ‘a supra-poliadic power’. Given that the award of cultic honours to (potential) benefactors was part and parcel of city diplomacy, it is hardly surprising that Romans, too, received religious adulation.
The civil conflicts of the late republic accelerated the development of novel forms of religious self-promotion. The Gracchi claimed religious prerogatives and special divine favours for their careers and policies, and they received posthumous honours—as did Marius and Gratidianus. Matters came to a head with Sulla. His claim to permanent felicitas was incompatible with fundamental tenets of Rome’s civic religion since it signalled a privileged and personal relationship with the gods. In his autobiography, Sulla suggested that he could sidestep the protocols of Roman religio, such as collective negotiation of the meaning of divine signs; statements such as that he liked to converse in private with a daimon by night made a mockery of this principle. His rise to the dictatorship demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that a darling of the gods did not fit into the political culture of the republic. At the same time, his maverick self-promotion as the recipient of special supernatural support raised the stakes in the game of competitive emulation: any aristocrat who did not lay claim to similar privileges would implicitly concede that he was only second best. Others followed in pushing the boundaries of the acceptable, not least Caesar, who, in the funeral oration for his aunt, proclaimed descent from gods and kings. Pompey, too, promoted himself as enjoying special divine favours, deploying what had long been part of strategic diplomacy in the East as a political argument at Rome. And Cicero, in particular in his speeches against Catiline and the epic poem he wrote about his consulship (the de Consulatu Suo) also asserted privileged relations with the supernatural sphere.