Philippics 2.91 essay

Paragraph 91 falls into two parts: in the first, devoted to Caesar’s funeral, Antony plays Mr Hyde — a subversive monster out to destroy the city and murder its best citizens; in the second, which revisits senatorial business in late March / early April conducted in the spirit of the compromise reached between Caesarians and liberators on 17 March, Antony has a moment as Dr Jekyll — a high magistrate who conducts affairs of state with sense and sensibility. Cicero singles out for appreciation two aspects from Antony’s early collaboration with the senate: his initial restraint in the use of Caesar’s unpublished state papers; and his apparent aversion to any future form of autocracy at Rome. All three topics (Caesar’s funeral; Caesar’s unpublished state papers; anti-autocratic politics) can benefit from some context.

Caesar's Funeral | Dealing with Caesar's Unpublished Papers | Anti-Autocratic Politics

(i) Caesar’s Funeral (c. 20 March)

In ancient Rome, the funeral of a former magistrate was a key political occasion. Ordinarily, the family of the deceased would be in charge of the ritual. It would hire a troupe of actors who would put on the wax-masks (the so-called imagines) awarded to those members of the clan who had reached public office in the past and don the appropriate official garb and then march the corpse to the forum (= pompa funebris), where the son or another close relative would deliver a eulogy, praising in turn each of the ancestors (impersonated by the actors) who had helped shape public affairs, down to the recently deceased (= laudatio funebris). Beyond this (ephemeral) ritual, the families that made up Rome’s ruling elite would display records of former office holders in the atria of their houses, in the form of tituli (short inscriptions detailing the most significant achievements, such as offices, military victories, or triumphs) and stemmata, below little shrines containing the corresponding wax-mask (imago). This constant advertisement of past success helped to ensure that current and future generations of the same family enjoyed a significant advantage in terms of name recognition during elections. Overwhelmingly, elected officials in Rome hailed from families who had a track record of public service — so-called ‘new men’ (homines novi = men without any ancestral consular wax-mask in the family) were far and few between.

Given the central role of the aristocratic funeral in the political culture of republican Rome and the charged nature of the occasion, Caesar’s funeral was of momentous importance as it afforded an ideal opportunity to influence public opinion — not least concerning the perception of the deceased (tyrant or benefactor?) and his killers (criminals or liberators)? As Lacey (1986: 223–24) observes, ‘Atticus, one of the shrewdest political observers of the day, warned Cicero against the senate agreeing to a public funeral…, and predicted the result — which Antony probably also desired — which was to show the assassins that the people regarded their act as unforgivable’. The passage from the letter to Atticus to which Lacey refers is worth citing in full (Att. 14.10.1 = 364 SB; 19 April 44):

meministine te clamare causam perisse si funere elatus esset? at ille etiam in foro combustus laudatusque miserabiliter servique et egentes in tecta nostra cum facibus immissi.

[Do you remember how you cried out that the cause was lost if he had a public funeral? Well, he was actually cremated in the Forum with a pathetic eulogy, and slaves and beggars were sent with firebrands to attack our homes.]

What actually happened on the day is difficult to ascertain since our main sources differ in significant details, not least with respect to the role that Antony played. Here is Suetonius (Life of Julius Caesar 84):

Funere indicto rogus extructus est in Martio campo iuxta Iuliae tumulum et pro rostris aurata aedes ad simulacrum templi Veneris Genetricis collocata; intraque lectus eburneus auro ac purpura stratus et ad caput tropaeum cum veste, in qua fuerat occisus. Praeferentibus munera, quia suffecturus dies non videbatur, praeceptum, ut omisso ordine, quibus quisque vellet itineribus urbis, portaret in Campum. Inter ludos cantata sunt quaedam ad miserationem et invidiam caedis eius accommodata, ex Pacuvi Armorum iudicio: ‘men servasse, ut essent qui me perderent?’ et ex Electra Acili ad similem sententiam. Laudationis loco consul Antonius per praeconem pronuntiavit senatus consultum, quo omnia simul ei divina atque humana decreverat, item ius iurandum, quo se cuncti pro salute unius astrinxerant; quibus perpauca a se verba addidit. Lectum pro rostris in forum magistratus et honoribus functi detulerunt. Quem cum pars in Capitolini Iovis cella cremare pars in curia Pompei destinaret, repente duo quidam gladiis succincti ac bina iacula gestantes ardentibus cereis succenderunt confestimque circumstantium turba virgulta arida et cum subselliis tribunalia, quicquid praeterea ad donum aderat, congessit. Deinde tibicines et scaenici artifices vestem, quam ex triumphorum instrumento ad praesentem usum induerant, detractam sibi atque discissam iniecere flammae et veteranorum militum legionarii arma sua, quibus exculti funus celebrabant; matronae etiam pleraeque ornamenta sua, quae gerebant, et liberorum bullas atque praetextas.

[When the funeral was announced, a pyre was erected in the Campus Martius near the tomb of Julia, and on the rostra a gilded shrine was placed, made after the model of the temple of Venus Genetrix; within was a couch of ivory with coverlets of purple and gold, and at its head a pillar hung with the robe in which he was slain. Since it was clear that the day would not be long enough for those who offered gifts, they were directed to bring them to the Campus by whatever streets of the city they wished, regardless of any order of precedence. At the funeral games, to rouse pity and indignation at his death, these words from the Contest for the Arms of Pacuvius were sung: ‘Saved I these men that they might murder me?’ and words of similar purport from the Electra of Atilius. Instead of a eulogy the consul Antonius caused a herald to recite the decree of the Senate in which it had voted Caesar all divine and human honours at once, and likewise the oath with which they had all pledged themselves to watch over his personal safety; to which he added a very few words of his own. The bier on the rostra was carried down into the Forum by magistrates and ex-magistrates; and while some were urging that it be burned in the temple of Jupiter of the Capitol, and others in the Hall of Pompey, suddenly two persons with swords by their sides and brandishing a pair of darts set fire to it with blazing torches, and at once the throng of bystanders heaped upon it dry branches, the judgment seats with the benches, and whatever else could serve as an offering. Then the musicians and actors tore off their robes, which they had taken from the equipment of his triumphs and put on for the occasion, rent them to bits and threw them into the flames, and the veterans of the legions the arms with which they had adorned themselves for the funeral; many of the women too, offered up the jewels which they wore and the amulets and robes of their children.]

In Suetonius, then, Antony’s role is minimal: as consul he presides over the event and adds a very few words (perpauca verba) himself, but the major part of the eulogy for Caesar is delivered by a herald. By contrast, Plutarch’s account in his Life of Antony grants Antony a much larger part in the proceedings (14.3–4):

Now, it happened that when Caesar’s body was carried forth for burial, Antony pronounced the customary eulogy over it in the forum. And when he saw that the people were mightily swayed and charmed by his words, he mingled with his praises sorrow and indignation over the dreadful deed, and at the close of his speech shook on high the garments of the dead, all bloody and tattered by the swords as they were, called those who had wrought such work villains and murderers, and inspired his hearers with such rage that they heaped together benches and tables and burned Caesar’s body in the forum, and then, snatching the blazing faggots from the pyre, ran to the houses of the assassins and assaulted them.

Thirdly, there is the elaborate account of Appian, The Civil Wars 2.143–47, which perhaps derives from the historical narrative of Asinius Pollio (a contemporary and supporter of Caesar), though no doubt interspersing facts with fiction. It is worth citing in full, despite its length since it contains a suggestive re-imagining of Antony’s incendiary rhetoric:

When Piso brought Caesar’s body into the forum a countless multitude ran together with arms to guard it, and with acclamations and magnificent pageantry placed it on the rostra. Wailing and lamentation were renewed for a long time, the armed men clashed their shields, and gradually they began to repent themselves of the amnesty [granted to the assassins]. Antony, seeing how things were going, did not abandon his purpose, but, having been chosen to deliver the funeral oration, as a consul for a consul, a friend for a friend, a relative for a relative (for he was related to Caesar on his mother’s side), resumed his artful design, and spoke as follows:

‘It is not fitting, citizens, that the funeral oration of so great a man should be pronounced by me alone, but rather by his whole country. The decrees which all of us, in equal admiration of his merit, voted to him while he was alive — the Senate and the people acting together — I will read, so that I may voice your sentiments rather than my own.’ Then he began to read with a severe and gloomy countenance, pronouncing each sentence distinctly and dwelling especially on those decrees which declared Caesar to be superhuman, sacred, and inviolable, and which named him the father, or the benefactor, or the peerless protector of his country. With each decree Antony turned his face and his hand toward Caesar’s corpse, illustrating his discourse by his action, and at each appellation he added some brief remark full of grief and indignation; as, for example, where the decree spoke of Caesar as ‘the father of his country’ he added ‘this was a testimonial of his clemency’; and again, where he was made ‘sacred and inviolable’ and ‘everybody else was to be held unharmed who should find refuge with him’ — ‘Nobody,’ said Antony, ‘who found refuge with him was harmed, but he, whom you declared sacred and inviolable, was killed, although he did not extort these honours from you as a tyrant, and did not even ask for them. Most lacking the spirit of free men are we if we give such honours to the unworthy who do not ask for them. But you, faithful citizens, vindicate us from this charge of lacking the spirit of free men by paying such honours as you now pay to the dead.’

Antony resumed his reading and recited the oaths by which all were pledged to guard Caesar and Caesar’s body with all their strength, and all were devoted to perdition who should not avenge him against any conspiracy. Here, lifting up his voice and extending his hand toward the Capitol, he exclaimed, ‘Jupiter, guardian of this city, and you other gods, I stand ready to avenge him as I have sworn and vowed, but since those who are of equal rank with me have considered the decree of amnesty beneficial, I pray that it may prove so.’ A commotion arose among the senators in consequence of this exclamation, which seemed to have special reference to them. So Antony soothed them again and recanted, saying, ‘It seems to me, fellow-citizens, that this deed is not the work of human beings, but of some evil spirit. It becomes us to consider the present rather than the past, since the greatest danger approaches, if it is not already here, lest we be drawn into our former civil commotions and lose whatever remains of noble birth in the city. Let us then conduct this sacred one to the abode of the blest, chanting over him our accustomed hymn and lamentation.’

Having spoken thus, he gathered up his garments like one inspired, girded himself so that he might have the free use of his hands, took his position in front of the bier as in a play, bending down to it and rising again, and first hymned him as a celestial deity, raising his hands to heaven in order to testify to Caesar’s divine birth. At the same time with rapid speech he recited his wars, his battles, his victories, the nations he had brought under his country’s sway, and the spoils he had sent home, extolling each exploit as miraculous, and all the time exclaiming, ‘You alone have come forth unvanquished from all the battles you have fought. You alone have avenged your country of the outrage put upon it 300 years ago, bringing to their knees those savage tribes, the only ones that ever broke into and burned the city of Rome.’ Many other things Antony said in a kind of divine frenzy, and then lowered his voice from its high pitch to a sorrowful tone, and mourned and wept as for a friend who had suffered unjustly, and solemnly vowed that he was willing to give his own life in exchange for Caesar’s.

Carried away by an easy transition to extreme passion he uncovered the body of Caesar, lifted his robe on the point of a spear and shook it aloft, pierced with dagger-thrusts and red with the dictator’s blood. Whereupon the people, like a chorus in a play, mourned with him in the most sorrowful manner, and from sorrow became filled again with anger. After the discourse other lamentations were chanted with funeral music according to the national custom, by the people in chorus, to the dead; and his deeds and his sad fate were again recited. Somewhere from the midst of these lamentations Caesar himself was supposed to speak, recounting by name his enemies on whom he had conferred benefits, and of the murderers themselves exclaiming, as it were in amazement, ‘Oh that I should have spared these men to slay me!’ The people could endure it no longer. It seemed to them monstrous that all the murderers who, with the single exception of Decimus Brutus, had been made prisoners while belonging to the faction of Pompey, and who, instead of being punished, had been advanced by Caesar to the magistracies of Rome and to the command of provinces and armies, should have conspired against him; and that Decimus should have been deemed by him worthy of adoption as his son.

While they were in this temper and were already near to violence, somebody raised above the bier an image of Caesar himself made of wax. The body itself, as it lay on its back on the couch, could not be seen. The image was turned round and round by a mechanical device, showing the twenty-three wounds in all parts of the body and on the face, that had been dealt to him so brutally. The people could no longer bear the pitiful sight presented to them. They groaned, and, girding up their loins, they burned the senate-chamber where Caesar was slain, and ran hither and thither searching for the murderers, who had fled some time previously.

It is impossible to reconstruct which version captures what happened most faithfully.53 Pelling (1988: 153–54) argues that ‘perceptive scholars follow Suetonius and believe that Antony’s speech was restrained’ — though makes allowance for the possibility that Plutarch and Appian may have based their accounts on a very good source (Pollio). In addition, we ought to consider that Antony’s disappearance act in Suetonius is part of a conspiracy of silence in Augustan and imperial literature that systematically diminishes Antony’s status and significance in the historical events after the death of Caesar: see Gotter (1996: 267). And it was indeed an easy task to rile up popular outrage against the conspirators. As Koortbojian (2013: 26) notes: ‘Caesar, like Clodius, had received the tribunicia sacrosanctitas, and so the assault on each of them was not only a violation of religious law, but one that called for the perpetrators to suffer the penalty of death. Thus, Antony’s calculated display of Caesar’s wounds (or merely of his bloody toga) was meant to rouse the people against the conspirators despite the amnesty voted by the Senate, in a time-honored call for vengeance’.

(ii) Dealing with Caesar’s Unpublished State Papers

Soon after this emotional occasion, the senatorial elite and the presiding magistrates, republicans and Caesarians alike, returned to the tricky business of governance on the basis of the compromise reached on 17 March (amnesty for the assassins; validation of Caesar’s already established arrangements, appointments, and policies). One of the most urgent and potentially explosive issues concerned the question of what to do with Caesar’s unpublished state papers and policies that were still work in progress. Caesar’s sudden demise had resulted in a messy situation: as the person who ultimately had pulled all the strings in Roman politics, he left behind a full slate of unfinished business, including oral promises and guarantees, draft papers, incomplete negotiations etc., which had all orbited around him as the reigning dictator and depended on his whim and will. Antony had managed to get hold of Caesar’s unpublished state papers, which put him in the driver’s seat, but in the spirit of collaboration he agreed to subject them to an orderly review. Soon after 20 March and before 7 April (Ramsey 1994: 133, n. 12), Servius Sulpicius was tasked to draft a senatorial decree ‘to arrange for the orderly review and selective publication of Caesar’s commentarii’ (Ramsay 1994: 144). Ramsey’s reconstruction, based not least on the two references to this decree in the Philippics (1.3 and 2.91), is as follows (1994: 138):

(senatus decreuit) ne qua tabula post Idus Martias ullius decreti Caesaris aut benefici figeretur <prius quam consules> de Caesaris actis <cum consilio> cognossent, statuissent, iudicassent.

[The Senate decreed that no tablet containing any decree of Caesar after the Ides of March, or any grant, was to be posted before the consuls, with their consilium, had reviewed, decided and passed judgment on Caesar’s acta.]

It seems that all parties involved supported this motion — including Antony and Cicero. As Ramsey (1994: 139–40) explains: ‘Antony had in his possession the archives in which many genuine, unpublished decreta Caesaris were to be found; Atticus and other important Romans will have desired some of these documents to be registered. On the other hand, the Senate could take comfort in the expectation that Antony’s colleague Dolabella and the consilium would serve as a watchdog on Antony’s activities’. In the event, the constitution of such a consilium and the formal and systematic vetting of Caesar’s state papers, however, were delayed until June — though the consuls submitted select documents to the senate for ratification in the meantime. This arrangement left plenty of room for manipulation and forgery. And Cicero soon grew deeply suspicious of Antony. In a letter to Cassius, written on 3 May 44, he complained specifically of the fast and loose way in which Antony had started to handle state documents (ad Familiares 12.1.1 = 327 SB):

nam ut adhuc quidem actum est, non regno sed rege liberati videmur. interfecto enim rege regios omnis nutus tuemur, neque vero id solum, sed etiam quae ipse ille, si viveret, non faceret, ea nos quasi cogitata ab illo probamus. nec eius quidem rei finem video. tabulae figuntur, immunitates dantur, pecuniae maximae discribuntur, exsules reducuntur, senatus consulta falsa referuntur, ut tantum modo odium illud hominis impuri et servitutis dolor depulsus esse videatur, res publica iaceat in iis perturbationibus in quas eam ille coniecit.

[As things have gone so far, it appears that we are free of the despot, but not of the despotism. Our king has been killed, but we are upholding the validity of his every regal nod. And not only that, but we sanction measures which he himself would not be taking if he were alive on the pretext that he had them in mind. I see no end to the business. Laws are posted up, exemptions granted, large sums of money assigned, exiles brought home, decrees of the Senate forged — it seems we are merely rid of the disgust we felt for an abominable individual and of the mortification of slavery, while the state still lies in the chaotic condition into which he flung it.]

In Philippic 2.92–100 Cicero also makes a big deal of Antony’s forgeries. But in § 91, which is designed to set up this prolonged treatment, he recalls the moment of conciliatory honesty he already lauded at the opening of Philippic 1 (§ 2–3):

Praeclara tum oratio M. Antoni, egregia etiam voluntas; pax denique per eum et per liberos eius cum praestantissimis civibus confirmata est. atque his principiis reliqua consentiebant. ad deliberationes eas quas habebat domi de re publica principes civitatis adhibebat; ad hunc ordinem res optimas deferebat; nihil tum nisi quod erat notum omnibus in C. Caesaris commentariis reperiebatur; summa constantia ad ea quae quaesita erant respondebat. num qui exsules restituti? unum aiebat, praeterea neminem. num immunitates datae? ‘Nullae,’ respondebat. Adsentiri etiam nos Ser. Sulpicio, clarissimo viro, voluit, ne qua tabula post Idus Martias ullius decreti Caesaris aut benefici figeretur.

[Marcus Antonius made a fine speech on that occasion and also showed outstanding goodwill. Finally, through him and his son, peace with our most distinguished fellow citizens was established. And the rest tallied with these beginnings. Antonius regularly brought the leaders of our community into the deliberations on the commonwealth that he was in the habit of holding at his home. He laid admirable proposals before this body. Nothing at that time was discovered in Gaius Caesar’s memoranda except what was common knowledge. He replied to questions with perfect consistency. Had any exiles been restored? He mentioned just one, nobody else. Had any exemptions from taxes been granted? ‘None,’ he replied. He even wanted us to vote for a motion by Servius Sulpicius, a most distinguished man, the terms of which were that no tablet inscribed with any order or grant of Caesar’s should be posted after the fifteenth of March.]

(iii) Anti-Autocratic Politics

In the immediate aftermath of the initial compromise between Caesarians and conspirators, Antony proposed a law that eliminated the dictatorship from Roman politics.54 It was an act of symbolic politics, no doubt designed to underscore his republican credentials and commitment to collaboration with the senate. Cicero acclaims the act at the beginning of the first Philippic right after praising Antony for his sensible handling of Caesar’s papers (Phil. 1.3–4):

dictaturam, quae iam vim regiae potestatis obsederat, funditus ex re publica sustulit; de qua ne sententias quidem diximus. scriptum senatus consultum quod fieri vellet attulit, quo recitato auctoritatem eius summo studio secuti sumus eique amplissimis verbis per senatus consultum gratias egimus. lux quaedam videbatur oblata non modo regno, quod pertuleramus, sed etiam regni timore sublato, magnumque pignus ab eo rei publicae datum, se liberam civitatem esse velle, cum dictatoris nomen, quod saepe iustum fuisset, propter perpetuae dictaturae recentem memoriam funditus ex re publica sustulisset.

[The dictatorship, which had already usurped the might of royal power, he removed completely from the commonwealth. We did not even debate the subject. Antonius brought the draft of a decree that he said he wished the senate to pass. As soon as it had been read aloud, we followed his authority with the utmost enthusiasm and by a decree voted him our utmost thanks. It seemed as though a light of sorts had dawned, with the removal not only of the monarchy which we had endured, but even of the fear of its recurrence; it seemed as though Antonius had given the commonwealth a mighty pledge of his desire for a free community when, because of the memory of the recent ‘Dictatorship for Life’, he completely removed from our commonwealth the office of dictator, even thought it had often been legitimate.]

And he returns to it towards the end (Phil. 1.32):

Proximo, altero, tertio, denique reliquis consecutis diebus, non intermittebas quasi donum aliquod cotidie afferre rei publicae, maximum autem illud, quod dictaturae nomen sustulisti. haec inusta est a te, a te, inquam, mortuo Caesari nota ad ignominiam sempiternam. ut enim propter unius M. Manli scelus decreto gentis Manliae neminem patricium Manlium Marcum vocari licet, sic tu propter unius dictatoris odium nomen dictatoris funditus sustulisti.

[The next day and the next and the following and onwards, one day after another you brought the commonwealth a daily gift, so to speak; the greatest of all, when you abolished the name of dictatorship. Thereby you — yes, you — branded Caesar in his grave with everlasting infamy. Because of a crime committed by one of its members, Marcus Manlius, no patrician belonging to the Manlian clan may be called Marcus; so the clan decreed. Just so you totally abolished the name of dictator because of the hatred felt for one particular dictator.]

The dictatorship was a traditional magistracy that the Romans resorted to in moments of crisis that called for extraordinary measures. The imperium of the dictator, who was always appointed for a strictly limited period of time only, outranked even that of a consul. But in the wake of Sulla (who had himself appointed dictator to restore the commonwealth) and Caesar (who was killed shortly after assuming the dictatorship for life), the office had become tainted with autocratic associations. Cicero’s appreciation of the move, both in Philippics 1, 2.91, and elsewhere (see 2.115 below), suggests the shrewdness of Antony’s symbolic politics: the motion gained him credit with the republican contingent in the senate, while it also managed to imply that those senators who voted in favour of Caesar’s perpetual dictatorship were accountable for his murder and the subsequent malaise.