Philippics 2.45 essay

At the end of the previous paragraph, we left Antony seemingly safely ‘married’ to a contemporary of his, young Curio, who is said to have transformed the scoundrel from a disreputable prostitute into a honourable wife. But this touching scene of domestic bliss is not destined to last as Cicero moves on to explore the corrosive impact of the ‘marriage’ on the Curio-family. Two interrelated semantic fields dominate the paragraph: sexual passion (libidinis causahortante libidineflagitiaamore ardensdesiderium); and ‘the Roman household’. The latter includes references to architectural features (limenper tegulas), ways and means of exit (eiecit) and entry (intraresdemitterere), and furniture (in lecto). More importantly, Cicero relies on the household as an ideological institution: it is the place of residence of the Roman familia, with the paterfamilias as dominus exercising his patria potestas, i.e. the (legal) power he held over the other members of his household, such as wife, children (cf. filius), or slaves (cf. puer). The patresfamilias are in many ways the domestic analogues to the senators (called patres conscripti) in the civic sphere; and breakdown of domestic discipline and dissolute morals at home were thought to impact on the fitness to perform public duties in the service of the commonwealth.

Cicero already lamented Antony’s pollution of hallowed property through sexual mischief in the opening portion of the speech, when he portrayed him as ‘wallowing in every kind of vice in a virtuous house [that of Pompey the Great, which Antony acquired when it was put up for sale after Pompey’s defeat and death in 48 BCE], exhausted by drink and debauchery’ (Phil. 2.6: … cum omnis impuritates pudica in domo cotidie susciperes vino lustrisque confectus). In § 45, we get the youthful prelude to this more recent outrage. The scenario Cicero conjures up features plot elements of romantic New Comedy, suitably blackened, with the youthful libertine (Curio Junior) and his lover (Antony) running foul of Curio Senior, who, playing the strict father familiar from the comic stage, repeatedly chucks his son’s homeboy out of the house — to no avail. Antony keeps climbing straight back in over the roof, fired up by lust and lucre, and finally causes the paterfamilias to undergo a psychological breakdown that reduces him to a whimpering wretch unwilling to get out of bed.

And who is called upon to clean up the mess? Cicero himself. When the time came for Curio Junior to fess up that he also stood surety for Antony for the sweet sum of six million sesterces that he in turn needed to secure from his father, he turned to Cicero for support, confessing his undying love for Antony in the process. As Campanile (2017: 58) puts it:

Soon we find ourselves right in the middle of a comedy: there is the golden-hearted prostitute who falls in love, a free-born maiden of noble and important origins forced by poverty into this trade (Mark Antony), along with the young tearaway who wants to marry her (Curio); then there is the durus pater (Curio Senior), who fails to comprehend how all this could have befallen his son and reacts violently, putting the ‘maiden’ out of the door (still Mark Antony), and then barring it with guards. … The only thing missing here is a mitis senex who might act as a go-between. And sure enough he soon appears: Cicero, the old family friend who arrives on the scene and tries to make everyone see sense in order to restore peace to the family.

With Antony, then, (Greek) literature has come to (Roman) life — though despite Cicero’s protestation that he has first-hand knowledge of the wayward affair, we should not take the sordid picture he paints of the Curio household at face value.

Likewise, the presence of ‘comic scripts’ ought not to be misconstrued to mean that we are just dealing with light-hearted fun. While the plot might derive from the genre of comedy, acting it out for real is highly scandalous (however entertaining). Antony compromises the integrity of the household as an architectural unit, threatens the relationship that forms the backbone of a Roman aristocratic family, i.e. that between father and son, and perverts the values that define Roman domestic life and discipline. Already in his youth, he emerges as an agent of destruction of anything sound and moral in Roman society. His infiltration of the Curio household results in its disintegration. He is a repugnant and toxic individual, morally unfit to be involved in affairs of state. The paragraph is both uproariously funny and deeply disturbing.