Philippics 2.50 essay

In § 47 Cicero announced that he intends to treat the portion of Antony’s biography that falls in-between his depravities as a teenager and the role he played in the civil war cursorily: ad haec enim quae in civili bello, in maximis rei publicae miseriis fecit, et ad ea quae cotidie facit, festinat animus. Barely three paragraphs later, we reach this moment. The first half of § 50 (quaestor es factus… viri tui similis esses) traces Antony’s return to Caesar in Gaul after his election to the quaestorship in the autumn of 52 and his return to stand for election to another magistracy, the tribuneship. Antony succeeded in getting himself elected and entered office on 10 December 50. A few weeks later, on 10 January 49, Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army.

Cicero gets much invective mileage out of Antony’s role in plunging Rome into civil war. To prep his readers properly, he pauses portentously for an impassioned address to his senatorial audience (accipite nunc, quaeso… reperieties). The address, which makes up the rest of the paragraph, introduces a lengthy assessment of a decision Antony made as a tribune of the people in the increasingly convulsive negotiations over Caesar’s status (and his demands) that preceded the outbreak of war. When Antony and some of his colleagues in office, who had used their position as tribunes to represent Caesar’s interests, including the veto of certain senatorial measures designed to rein in the strongman, felt that their safety had become compromised, they fled Rome to join Caesar at Ravenna. This offered Caesar the perfect pretext to initiate hostilities — he could spin his aggression as motivated by the desire to safeguard the constitutional rights of the tribunes of the people, i.e. to defend republican traditions against the tyrannical exercise of power by an oligarchic clique around Pompey. In §§ 51–55 (not part of the set text) Cicero dwells at length on this momentous action by the pro-Caesarian tribunes, and in particular Antony, turning Antony into the ultimate cause of Rome’s collapse into civil conflict and constitutional chaos.

quaestor es factus: deinde continuo sine senatus consulto, sine sorte, sine lege ad Caesarem cucurristi: after his election, Antony ‘almost immediately’ (continuo) returned to Caesar in Gaul. Cicero represents the departure as an outrageous breach of constitutional protocols: the asyndetic tricolon, reinforced powerfully by the triple anaphora of the preposition sine (further enhanced by the alliteration with senatus and sorte) gives the impression that Antony trampled upon tradition in his rush from the city. This was not the case. To understand Cicero’s spin here requires some understanding of the procedure that governed the assignment of elected quaestors to provinces. As Linderski and Kaminska-Linderski (1974: 221) explain, quaestors could be assigned directly to a specific province by senatorial decree (senatus consultum); allocation of the remaining ones would happen by lot (sorte) on the date of their entry into the office. They accordingly reconstruct the events in 51 as follows:

  • Autumn 52: Antony gets elected to the quaestorship; Caesar requests that he be assigned to him.
  • Shortly after the election: Antony leaves Rome to join Caesar in Gaul, assuming, rightly, that his assignment to Caesar by senatorial decree is a mere formality.
  • Shortly after his departure: the senate passes a senatus consultum that indeed ratifies Antony’s assignment to Caesar’s provinces. (See Linderski and Kaminska-Linderski (1974: 220–21): ‘Cicero does not say that such a decree was not passed | at all; indeed the implication is that it was in fact carried out but only after Antonius had already left the city’).
  • 5 December 52: those quaestors as yet unassigned are distributed to provinces by lot.

The sentence thus offers a brilliant illustration of Cicero’s gift for spin, i.e. the ability to twist unobjectionable facts and harmless truths into invective, without lying outright. Antony did indeed rush to Caesar sine senatus consulto [Cicero simply fails to mention that such a decree was supplied shortly thereafter], sine sorte [true, of course, but utterly unobjectionable: Antony had no need to wait for the sortitio provinciarum since he was about to be assigned a province by senatorial decree], and sine lege [a vague phrase that is technically true, gives the impression of constitutional outrage, but does not really apply in any meaningful way to the case at hand]. What was ‘a minor constitutional impropriety’ (Antony leaving Rome without waiting for the official passing of the senatorial decree, which anyway ‘was a matter of administrative routine’: Linderski and Kaminska-Linderski 1974: 221) gets turned into eloquent outrage at Antony’s alleged depravity.