Antony as ‘Tyrant’ in Cicero’s First Philippic

Author: Stevenson, Tom
Title: Antony as ‘Tyrant’ in Cicero’s First Philippic
Review/Collection: Ramus, Volume 38, Issue 2
Year edition: 2009
Pages: 174-186
Keywords: Éloquence - Eloquenza - Eloquence, Histoire - Storia - History, Politique - Politica - Politics
Description: This paper is concerned with the impact made on Mark Antony by Cicero's First Philippic. Although the speech outwardly maintains a conciliatory attitude, it certainly upset Antony. Scholars have noted criticism of Antony in the First Philippic, both political and personal in character, which would not have pleased him. The following discussion argues that there are numerous associations with the stock figure of the ‘tyrant’ which would have been displeasing too. Such a vein of criticism in effect bridges the personal and political dimensions in potentially devastating fashion. The First Philippic was delivered in difficult circumstances. Brutus and Cassius sent a letter to Antony on 4 August 44 BCE and concluded with a stark warning: neque, quam diu uixerit Caesar, sed quam non diu regnarit, fac cogites (‘keep in mind not the length of Caesar's life but the short time he ruled [sc. as a tyrant]’, Cic. Fam. 11.3). On 1 September, the senate met to consider a proposal which would have seen an extra day in honour of the deified Caesar added to all public thanksgivings (Cic. Phil. 1.13, 2.110). Antony was angered by Cicero's failure to attend the meeting. He apparently left Rome later that day for Tibur. His consular colleague Dolabella summoned a meeting of the senate ‘for the next day, and this time Cicero attended. It was at the meeting of 2 September that Cicero delivered his First Philippic. In comparison to later speeches in the Philippics corpus, the First Philippic has seemed to many a moderate and polite speech that concentrated upon Antony's political behaviour and left the door ajar for future cooperation. It certainly contrasts greatly with the Second Philippic, which is well known for its bitter and sustained personal invective. Nonetheless, the First Philippic was enough to make Antony angry and it is worth re-examining the reasons for this reaction. In particular, allusions in Philippic 1 to Antony as a tyrant and to death as the fate of tyrants, especially in the wake of Caesar's assassination, were probably interpreted by contemporaries as more sinister threats than they have generally been recognised to be by modern readers. [Author]
Author initials: Stevenson 2009