The Second Philippic as a Rhetorical Artifact – and Invective Oratory

Oratory at Rome | Invective | Cicero's Antony: Or How to Other a Peer

As we have seen, then, Philippic 2 is anything but an impromptu outburst by an irate orator who had just been raked over the coals and ridiculed in front of his peers. It is, rather, a deliberate and highly literary act of retaliation, composed (and revised) over several weeks and released in cold blood at an opportune moment (when Antony was no longer present in Rome). Despite the craftsmanship, the overall structure of the speech, however, is deceptively simple and straightforward:

§§ 1–3: exordium[= preface, introduction]

§§ 3–41: Cicero’s defence of himself

§§ 42–43: Transition (attack on Antony as orator)

§§ 44–114: Attack on Antony

§§ 115–119: peroratio[= conclusion]

After the exordium, Cicero responds to the abuse that Antony heaped on him in the speech of 19 September. We can gather from his rebuttal that Antony seems to have charged him with a lack of honour that manifested itself not least in his failure to live up to the obligations of friendship and his ingratitude towards Antony, who claimed to have saved Cicero’s life (cf. Phil.2.3–10). Cicero’s consulship must have come in for ridicule — as well as the epic poetry he afterwards composed about it (cf. Phil.2.11–20). Antony even seems to have found a way to blame Cicero for the death of Clodius, the outbreak of civil war, and the assassination of Caesar (cf. Phil.2.21–36). And he mocked the low level of esteem in which (he claimed) Cicero was held in Roman society (cf. Phil.2.40–42). After a lengthy rebuttal of this battery of charges and a brief transition, Cicero turns the tables on Antony: what Antony blamed on him, he now blames on Antony — and more. The speech concludes with a defiant peroration, in which Cicero expresses his unconditional commitment to weather the crisis of the commonwealth caused by Antony’s perceived power grab — albeit by sacrificing his life for the sake of Rome’s freedom.

Throughout, Cicero keeps his text aligned with the fiction that it is a spontaneous response to Antony’s discourse (cf. Steel 2006: 59). In generic terms, Philippic 2 follows the conventions of oratory with a strong invective bent. Both of these terms — oratory and invective — are worth a closer look.

2.1 Oratory at Rome

The orator, operating in the domestic political sphere (domi), complemented the imperator, who was in charge of affairs outside the city (militiae). While military accolades, in particular the celebration of a triumph, outshone any other achievement, to be an esteemed public speaker was part of the portfolio of distinctions to which members of Rome’s ruling elite aspired. Pliny’s summary of the speech that Quintus Caecilius Metellus gave for his father Marcus in 221 BCE includes the assertion that dad could lay claim to the ten greatest and best achievements, which men with smarts spend their lives pursuing (Pliny the Elder, Natural History7.139–40):[1]

Q. Metellus in ea oratione quam habuit supremis laudibus patris sui L. Metelli pontificis, bis consulis, dictatoris, magistri equitum, xvviri agris dandis, qui primus elephantos ex primo Punico bello duxit in triumpho, scriptum reliquit decem maximas res optumasque in quibus quaerendis sapientes aetatem exigerent consummasse eum: voluisse enim primarium bellatorem esse, optimum oratorem, fortissimum imperatorem, auspicio suo maximas res geri, maximo honore uti, summa sapientia esse, summum senatorem haberi, pecuniam magnam bono modo invenire, multos liberos relinquere et clarissimum in civitate esse.

[Quintus Metellus, in the speech that he delivered as the funeral oration of his father Lucius Metellus the pontiff, who had been consul twice, dictator, master of the horse and land-commissioner, and who was the first person who led elephants captured in the first Punic War in a triumph, has left it in writing that his father had achieved the ten greatest and highest objects in the pursuit of which wise men pass their lives: for he had made it his aim to be a most outstanding warrior, a supreme orator and a very brave commander, to be in charge of operations of the highest importance, to enjoy the greatest honour, to be supremely wise, to be deemed the most eminent senator, to obtain great wealth in an honourable way, to leave many children, and to achieve supreme distinction in the civic community.]

However, what exactly constituted a good public speaker remained controversial. Was (for instance) superior rhetorical skill more important than sound moral conviction? Under the influence of Greek rhetorical thought, the tension between technical proficiency and authoritative ethics acquired a cross-cultural complexion. When Cato the Elder (234–149 BCE) defined the orator as ‘a good man who knows how to speak’ (vir bonus dicendi peritus) he polemically asserted that the ability to coruscate with words was of secondary importance to the moral fiber of the speaker: no amount of sparkle, brilliance, and sophistication in the use of language can elevate a wordsmith to the status of an orator if he lacked proper ethics. In another adage — ‘stick to the topic, the words will follow’: rem tene, verba sequentur — Cato suggests that no formal training in rhetoric at all was needed to be a public speaker of substance.

To what extent he was representative of the first half of the second century BCE is difficult to determine, but by the late republic training in Greek and Latin rhetoric, including study trips to Greece, were part and parcel of an elite Roman education (Corbeill 2007 offers a good account).

Still, Greek rhetorical theory and technique retained their potentially problematic quality in Roman oratorical practice. In Cicero’s dialogue On the Ideal Orator (de Oratore), written in the mid-50s BCE, one of the characters, Antonius (the grandfather of Mark Antony) maintains that any semblance of learning is best avoided, especially in speeches addressed to a wider public. Cicero himself, throughout his life, was invested in rhetorical education and the figure of the ideal orator (summus orator), who in his view combined wisdom (sapientia) with eloquence (eloquentia) and was equally versed in the best that Greek culture had to offer (in both rhetoric and philosophy) as well as the ancestral traditions of Rome. (Indeed, the way he put it, the best insights of Greek philosophy, especially in matters of ethics and statesmanship, were simply the articulation in discourse of what the Roman ancestors had previously realized and enacted in practice.) Even though Cicero argued that his engagement with Greek cultural resources happened in the spirit of imperial co-option and emulation, his ‘intellectual’ preferences rendered him vulnerable to scorn. In his Anti-Cato, a treatise written in response to Cicero’s praise of the republican hero Cato the Younger (95–46 BCE), Caesar included a plea to the reader (Plutarch, Life of Julius Caesar3.4):[2]

And thus, at a later time, Caesar himself, in his reply to Cicero’s Cato, begged that the discourse of a soldier not be judged by the standards of clever eloquence achieved by a rhetor who was naturally gifted and had plenty of free time to pursue his studies.

Caesar here brings into play the antithesis between himself, a man of action and of the army, and the ‘born rhetor’ Cicero. In Rome, the pinnacle of glory resided in military success, and Caesar thus implies that his antagonist, unlike himself, is a vir non vere Romanus (‘not a genuine Roman man’). He tops his slyly offensive characterization of Cicero as a clever man of the word by suggesting that his own rise to power, which coincided with the cessation of republican politics, created the perfect condition for Cicero to do what he does best. With him in charge, Cicero had the necessary leisure to pursue his natural calling, which Caesar locates in the field of rhetoric and literature, rather than politics or the military. He thereby maliciously insinuates that Cicero’s retirement from politics, while perhaps stripping him of the trappings of his Roman identity, has brought him back in touch with his true nature. The larger cultural polarity between the Roman doer and the Greek thinker gives added force to these polemics. In effect, Caesar’s characterization of Cicero as a ‘born’ rhetor brands the former pater patriae and senatorial colleague as someone who is, in essence, a Greek. Shakespeare picks up on this, when he makes Cicero pretentiously speak Greek — and hence remains incomprehensible to an uneducated Roman like Casca, to whom everything Cicero said was, indeed, Greek.

Antony, too, was an orator of distinction, who received the traditional training of a member of Rome’s ruling elite — and who also continued to hone his rhetorical talents through special tuition later in life.[3]In a letter to Q. Thermus (Fam. 2.18 = 115 SB, early May 50), Cicero himself refers to him and his two brothers as summo loco natos, promptos, non indisertos (‘of the highest birth and no mean qualities of enterprise and eloquence’) — not people one would want to cross needlessly. Antony certainly knew how to excite a crowd — as he proved when he delivered the funeral oration for Caesar (See below, § 91). This may well count as ‘the apogee of Antony’s oratory’ for those with a soft spot for Shakespeare, who re-imagines the performance as follows (Julius Caesar3.2.73–107):[4]

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

The evil that men do lives after them; 

The good is oft interred with their bones;

So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus 

Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:

If it were so, it was a grievous fault, 

And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.

Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest –

For Brutus is an honourable man; 

So are they all, all honourable men —  

Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral. 

He was my friend, faithful and just to me; 

But Brutus says he was ambitious; 

And Brutus is an honourable man. 

He hath brought many captives home to Rome 

Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill;

Did this in Caesar seem ambitious? 

When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept: 

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff: 

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious; 

And Brutus is an honourable man. 

You all did see that on the Lupercal

I thrice presented him a kingly crown,

Which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition?

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious; 

And, sure, he is an honourable man.

I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke, 

But here I am to speak what I do know. 

You all did love him once, not without cause: 

What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him? 

O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts, 

And men have lost their reason. Bear with me; 

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar, 

And I must pause till it come back to me.

Oratory is one of the main battlegrounds in Philippics 2. Cicero claims that Antony falls woefully short of the ideal, despite investing an enormous amount of money in substandard tuition. He mocks him for lack of natural ability and the hiring of second-rate teachers, who nevertheless get rewarded handsomely from the public purse. Put bluntly, he wants to shut him up for good.

2.2 Invective

Ancient rhetorical theory distinguishes three branches of oratory: forensic or judicial (employed in court, as part of a trial), deliberative (used to sway an audience on a matter of public policy; in Rome the two primary settings were the Forum and the senate), and epideictic (a ceremonial verbal display, often with the purpose of dispensing blame or praise — as in a funeral oration). This rough-and-ready grid is useful as a basic orientation — but does not get us all that far with such an idiosyncratic text as Philippic 2: a written pamphlet that pretends to be the record of an epideictic (or deliberative?) speech delivered in the senate, put into circulation to persuade other members of Rome’s ruling elite to pursue a specific course of political action. To come to critical terms with this particular ‘oration’ it is arguably more promising to focus on the dominant ‘mode of discourse’, rather than the genre of oratory that Cicero chose for the occasion, i.e. invective. Invective is best defined by its primary purpose: character assassination through verbal abuse.[5]

Invective speech operates across genres: as a means of discrediting opponents, it can (and does) occur in all three branches of oratory (as well as other literary forms: it is, for instance, prevalent in old comedy and satire, but also appears in other types of poetry and prose).

Invective’s truth

Invective speech has a complex relationship with reality, especially in a culture without libel laws as that of ancient Rome. The principle ‘anything goes’ applied: as in contemporary ‘roast comedy’ any kind of insult and incrimination, however untrue, outrageous, or defamatory, was generally speaking fair game. Unlike contemporary roasting shows, however, the point of the abuse was to degrade the target for real — though (and here the roast parallel holds again), the most potent form of abuse managed to combine hard-hitting humiliation with (a nasty sense of) humour. Thus in the speech on behalf of Caelius, which contains a similar invective assault as Philippic 2 (directed against Clodius’ wife Clodia, who was a witness for the prosecution), Cicero distinguishes between boorish abuse and the urbane sophistication of a creative tongue-lashing. Those prosecuting his client, he suggests, are guilty of the former. By implication, he considered himself second to none in delivering the latter  (see pro Caelio 6).

Cicero was fully cognizant of the important contribution the eliciting of laughter can make to effective communication — and had a reputation for his merciless mocking and poisonous (if entertaining) put-downs.[6]Indeed, ‘murderous wit’ is one of the qualities that Stockton identifies as hallmarks of Ciceronian invective — together with ‘coarse raillery’, ‘pained incredulity’, ‘destructive logic’, and ‘moral fervour’.[7] 

While much invective, then, is gleefully mendacious as it opts for the sleazy, the sensational, and the scandalous in its pursuit of vituperative s/laughter, it nevertheless operates under the pretence that it tells the truth. Invective discourse postures as a particular form of free speech — one that tears away veneers of respectability to expose and ridicule the hidden reality underneath. To some extent it is therefore pointless to enquire into the referential value of invective assertions designed not to give an accurate depiction of an individual’s life or character, but to turn him into a kind of person you would not want to have in your community. Credibility in invective has little to do with checking facts or vetting evidence: a semblance of plausibility is all that is needed for even the most outrageous (and uproarious) insults to go forward: it is above all a creative, not primarily a representational mode of discourse. At the same time, invective mud sticks better if there is some connection with established facts. The abuse that Cicero attracted, for instance, tended to play off his relatively humble social background and place of origin (a new man from Arpinum), his actions as consul (the illegal executions of Roman citizens without trial), his endeavours to aggrandize himself, be it through the purchase of a magnificent villa on the Palatine, or through the insistent self-praise in his poetry.[8]

 So ‘rather than saying that the truth of invective allegations is irrelevant, we may more accurately say that it is of secondary importance’ (Craig 2004: 196). Even so, by flouting standards of discursive decency, feeding on preconceptions, and pandering to prejudices, invective generates its own reality in and through rhetoric. And it is up to the audience, i.e. you, whether you want to buy into it or rather insist on a quick ‘fact check’, so as not to succumb to ‘fake news’ and incendiary spin… 

Invective’s impact

Given the highly conventional and plainly imaginary elements of political invective in republican Rome, one may wonder to what extent verbal attacks, however vile and vitriolic, permanently dented anybody’s reputation. Perhaps the consequences of unleashing aspersion upon an aristocratic peer happened to be relatively minor: a jeer and chuckle here, some rise in blood pressure and temporary irritation there, but overall a routine part of the political game, a ritual flyting exercise that consisted in the anodyne traffic of predictable insults that had the status of tired clichés and yawn-inducing commonplaces. The ‘no hard feelings’ attitude may well have prevailed in some cases. But to imply, as some scholars have done, that invective never did any significant damage arguably underestimates its ability to leave a mark on inner-aristocratic interactions. Its conventional nature does not exclude impact (not least since many blows in these verbal punch-ups were designed to land below the belt). As John Henderson (2006: 142–43) puts it:

Invective is all about getting retaliation in first — pinch, punch, and no returns! Reliant on expected moves, and on their anticipation, this lobbing of rotten tomatoes is expressive behaviour, semi-un-trammelled by the constraints of ‘proper conduct’, and risking real enough social-political ‘face’ in the clubhouse of Roman prestige: the casement of epideictic braggadocio cushioned plenty, but nevertheless however playfully traded clichés could at (all) times land wounds, brand butts, kick ass.

How could a speaker know that he was not playing with fire — about to start a feud, go beyond the pale, or, indeed, sign his death sentence?[9]Language matters. 

Invective’s (dys-)function

By purporting to diagnose deviance, invective discourse illuminates the norms, values, and expectations of a civic community — as well as associated fears and anxieties. It stigmatizes difference and ostracizes those whom it perceives to fall short of community standards. As such, one could argue that invective had an important role to play in policing the boundaries of a civic community — as much recent scholarship has done, ably summarized by Arena (2007a: 154).

Invective also had the potential to reshape and remodel the ethical and political code of society by expelling its deviant elements (or at least by trying to do so; see Ruffell 2003). As Corbeill (1996) argues, through his use of invective the orator acts as a definer of his society’s moral code. Indeed, given Roman society’s lack of canonical moral texts, invective had an important social function to play through its highlighting of virtue and vice. Although it was designed to humiliate the opponent in front of the community, invective also helped, through its enumeration of negative qualities, to shape examples of virtues (cf. e.g. Rhet. Her.3.11).

True, a speaker will always portray his decision to abuse as being motivated by concerns for the community, civic welfare, and a commitment to the truth: anything else would be counterproductive. The target has to be shamed, ostracized, or indeed killed for the common good. But it is important to bear in mind that invective invents just as much as it represents: it is part of a struggle over the definition of reality. We should therefore not necessarily presuppose that invective is always functional, that such muscular managers of meaning as Cicero who define who is in and who is out do a service to their community in identifying ‘deviant elements’ within that ought to be expelled. In light of our earlier discussion, we should perhaps also entertain the possibility that invective brings deviance into being — and in doing so can be dysfunctional, insofar as it aggravates tensions and divisions within a civic community. After all, character assassination is a mode of (verbal) warfare. As Icks and Shiraev (2014b: 1) put it in their introduction to a volume on this phenomenon:

Throughout history, people have used the torch, the pitchfork, the bullet, the cannon, and (recently) the missile to damage, destroy, and kill. To protect themselves from attacks, people have built shields, armor, trenches, and fortresses, established military doctrines, and launched counterattacks. This book discusses attacks and defenses. Yet we have turned our attention to the destructive power of a different kind: words and images. Across countries and time, people have used images and words to harm, devastate, and completely destroy other people’s reputation, status, and character.

Viewed in this light, invective becomes the rhetorical equivalent of civil warfare. Cicero’s oratory arguably helped pave the way for an (even) ‘nastier, more divided’ Rome.

2.3 Cicero’s Antony: Or How to Other a Peer

The ‘identity’ of a person is a composite and multifaceted phenomenon — despite the etymology of the term (identitas= ‘the quality of being always the same’). Some aspects of who we are (or perceive ourselves to be) are generic (gender, ethnicity, nationality, legal status), others unique (family background, biography, or personal traits). Despite undeniable elements of continuity, our identity is under continual negotiation — both for ourselves and for others: indeed, identities are just as much a matter of self-perception as how we are perceived by others: and the two perspectives need not necessarily (indeed rarely do) fully coincide. Identities can be negotiated and challenged in discourse — and that is where invective rhetoric, and its potentially transformative power, comes in: it tries to strip the individual under attack of the positive aspects of their identity — of who they are in their own eyes and those of others.

The identity sapping of invective discourse can take various forms. In the Philippics, Cicero opts for a combination of remorseless ridicule and drastic demonization. Antony is a fool — but a dangerous one: to be laughed at, savagely, but then to be terminated. As Hall (2002: 288) observes, perhaps downplaying the demonizing that is also part of Philippic 2:

Antony is portrayed through this rhetoric of crisis as a violent, dangerous man who must be vigorously resisted. On other occasions, however, Cicero sets out to undermine Antony’s moral and political authority through mockery. The most famous examples appear in the invective of Philippic 2, where the principal aim is to characterize Antony not as dangerous but as ridiculous; as a man of unparalleled levitas, quite unworthy of respect or admiration.

Antony is at the same time monstrous and malevolent, preposterous and pathetic. And at the heart of Cicero’s verbal assault on Antony is a systematic ‘othering’ of his adversary, a transformation of a member of Rome’s ruling elite, an aristocratic peer, into the veritable opposite:

Identity Facet

Historical Facts

Invective Fiction

Family pedigree


degenerate offshoot of a distinguished family

Degree of intelligence

high IQ, gifted political and military operator

doltish dim-wit (stultus)

Rhetorical ability

distinguished orator

a stammering failure (balbulus)

Habitual disposition

(by and large) sober (sobrius)

alcoholic (vinolentus) with emetic tendencies (vomitator)

Mental qualities and moral outlook

compos mentis | vir bonus | in (rational) control of his self

furiosus; creature of base instincts and appetites: gluttony, gambling, drinking, debauchery; vir turpis


Male (vir)

Effeminized / female (cinaedus; meretrix, matrona)

Ethnic background



Religious position / status


perpetrator of impieties (sacrilegus)

Legal status

Roman citizen (civis Romanus)

external enemy (hostis)

Socio-political roles

patronus and consul

tyrannus / rex

Network of acquaintances

other members of Rome’s ruling elite; clients

latrones (‘brigands) and lenones (‘pimps’), mime actors and mime actresses > scum



subhuman monster (belua)

Cicero questions Antony’s morals, masculinity, and maleness (virvirtus) by imagining a lurid past as toy-boy (puer) and male prostitute (cinaedusmeretrix). In sharp contrast to his role as augur (a priestly office), he charges him with the perpetration of impieties. Rejecting his identity as a Roman (Romanus), he highlights his affiliation with barbarians (barbarus). Instead of a sober senator exercising the self-control expected of a member of Rome’s ruling elite, Antony comes across as a permanently intoxicated alcoholic (vinolentus), with strong emetic tendencies also in public (vomitator). Given the kind of person he is, the company he keeps is unsurprisingly equally depraved. He consorts with scum, ‘attends birthday parties of professional clowns’ (Hall 2002: 289 on Phil.2.15) and has a love affair with the mime-actress Cytheris. Far from being a well-trained public speaker (orator), he is a linguistically challenged failure who stammers along (balbulus) and is stupid to boot (stultus). Yet, despite all of these personal failings, he is, technically speaking, consul, a high magistrate of the Roman people: in other words, he is an empowered pervert, whom Cicero identifies and outs not just as spitting counter-image of a member of Rome’s ruling elite, but its mortal enemy. His verbal annihilation of Antony is not an end in itself: Cicero turns the skewering of the would-be tyrant who beleaguers the city with his soldiers into a rousing cry for (senatorial) freedom.

Much of Cicero’s invective operates at the level of personal insults: Antony, he argues, is plain stupid and devoid of (oratorical) talent, but the focal point of his attack is an overall lack of self-control, which manifests itself in all areas where appetites are involved, in particular food, drink, and sex. Antony is a creature of base instinct, leading a life devoted to gluttony, gambling, drinking, and debauchery. A paradox emerges: a Roman man and magistrate ought to exercise legitimate power over others (the potestasof a paterfamilias and consul); but Antony is not even able to exercise power over himself. Cicero renders the paradox explicit at Phil.6.4, where he mocks the notion that someone like Antony would listen to a senatorial embassy:

Facile vero huic denuntiationi parebit, ut in patrum conscriptorum atque in vestra potestate sit, qui in sua numquam fuerit! quid enim ille umquam arbitrio suo fecit? semper eo tractus est, quo libido rapuit, quo levitas, quo furor, quo vinulentia; semper eum duo dissimilia genera tenuerunt, lenonum et latronum; ita domesticis stupris, forensibus parricidiis delectatur, ut mulieri citius avarissimae paruerit quam senatui populoque Romano.

[He will no doubt readily obey this intimation, so as to submit to the conscript fathers and your power — a man who has never had himself in his power! For what has that man ever done on his own initiative? He has always been dragged where lust, where levity, where frenzy, where intoxication, has dragged him; two different classes of men have always held him in their grip, pimps and brigands. He so enjoys lecheries at home and murders in the forum that he would sooner obey a most avaricious woman than the senate and the Roman people.]

As this and other similar passages (not least from Philippic 2) are designed to illustrate, any ability Antony may have had to assert himself is severely compromised by base appetites, emotions, or character faults (sexual desire, fickleness, insanity, alcohol-addiction) and the ill-reputed company he keeps (pimps, brigands, a depraved wife). Since Antony is unable to exercise the requisite power (potestas) over his instincts and associates, he is unwilling to accept the legitimate power (potestas) of the senate and the people of Rome — instead, he remains beholden to the wrong people, a weak-kneed slave of his desires. Moreover, the depravity of Antony manifests itself in equal measure in the domestic sphere (in the form of acts of sexual transgressions: stupra) and the civic realm (murders in the forum: parricidia).

In Cicero’s view, to have someone like Antony as consul (and, soon, pro-consul) poses an existential threat to the senatorial tradition of republican government. According to him, Antony has forfeited his right to be a member of Rome’s ruling elite, indeed to be a part of Roman society or even the human species. The attack on the mainstays of Antony’s identity — his status as virnobilisoratoraugurconsulcivis Romanus — culminates in Cicero’s denial of his humanity. As Santoro L’Hoir (1992: 26) observes: 

Cicero fires his ultimate blast of vitriol in his glorious last stand against Antony. Like his predecessors Verres and Clodius, Antony is a homo amentissimus (Phil.2.42; 5.37; cf. 3.2), and a homo audacissimus (2.78; 5.13; 6.2). He is, furthermore: h. acutus (2.28); h. adflictus et perditus (3.25); h. detestabilis (2.110); h. impotentissimus (5.42); h. ingratissimus (13.41); h. nequam and nequissimus (2.56; 61; 70; 78); h. numquam sobrius (2.81); h. perditissimus (5.13); h. profligatus (3.1); h. sceleratus (4.12); h. simplex (2.111); h. stupidus (3.22); h. turpissimus (2.105); h. vehemens et violentus (5.19), among others. At one point, Antony ranks even lower than a homoNon est vobis res, Quirites, cum scelerato homine ac nefario, sed cum immani taetraque belua! (Phil.4.12: ‘You have not now to deal, Romans, with a man merely guilty and villainous, but with a monstrous and savage beast’).

Like his other adversaries (Verres, Catiline, Clodius, Piso and Gabinius, occasionally also Caesar) Cicero thus dehumanizes Antony. He casts him as a monstrous, amoral pervert, hell-bent on subverting Rome’s social institutions and its political culture. He turns Antony into a repellent beast to instigate and rationalize drastic political action against him, turning him into an outlaw, foreigner, enemy, subhuman, who has lost the protection afforded by law, by his status as a Roman citizen, and by being human.


[1]Cf. Pliny the Elder, Natural History7.100: Cato primus Porciae gentis tres summas in homine res praestitisse existimatur, ut esset optimus orator, optimus imperator, optimus senator(‘Cato of the Gens Porcia is deemed to have exemplified first the three supreme human achievements, excelling alike as orator, as general and as senator’).

[2]The following is adapted from Gildenhard (2007: 39–40).

[3]For Antony as orator see Huzar (1982), Mahy (2013) and van der Blom (2016), Ch. 8: ‘Career-making in a time of crisis: Marcus Antonius’ oratory’.

[4]The quotation is from Huzar (1982: 650). She notes: ‘Even more than the first compromising speeches to the Senate, this address wrenched popular sentiment from the claims of the tyrannicides to sympathy for Caesar, hence leadership for Antony’.

[5]On invective (often conceived in generic terms), see Nisbet (1961); Koster (1980); Ruffell (2003); Craig (2004); Powell (2006); Arena (2007a); Manuwald (2011).

[6]His dialogue On the Ideal Oratorcontains a disquisition on humour in oratory (de Orat.2.216–90). On Roman laughter see further Beard (2014).

[7]Stockton (1971: 313), cited by Hall (2002: 293, n. 43).

[8]For Cicero as target of invective himself see Arena (2007a) 153 and van der Blom (2014).

[9]Compare and contrast Nisbet (1961) and Henderson (2006).


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