Libertas in the Philippics

Author: Cowan, Eleanor
Title: Libertas in the Philippics
Review/Collection: In : Stevenson,Tom & Wilson, Marcus (Eds.), Cicero's Philippics: History, rhetoric and ideology, Polygraphia, coll. "Prudentia", Auckland, 2008, 374 p.
Year edition: 2008
Pages: 140-152
Keywords: Éloquence - Eloquenza - Eloquence, Histoire - Storia - History, Rhétorique - Retorica - Rhetorics
Description: Eleanor Cowan analyses libertas as a political concept in the Philippics. She looks upon it as the leading idea of the period, a pointer to discourse about the dangers of autocracy, and is convinced that Cicero was extremely passionate about the values he espouses. These are vital for understanding his attitude to the res publica. Roman politics was not just a matter of conflict between factions. Theoretical debate about the optimus status rei publicae was constant and sophisticated, and there was no concept more definitive of republican government than libertas. Cowan notes that Cicero only describes those who seek individual power as ‘tyrants’ in Philippics 2 and 13. In Philippics 4 and 6, in front of the Roman people, he plays down the sense of libertas as freedom ‘from kings’ and ‘from tyrants, while yet appealing to the emotive force of the word. This may seem an obvious tactic, given that the Roman people were fervent supporters of Caesar. However, Cowan links it with a development in Cicero’ thinking too: his res publica by this stage of his career could not tolerate a tyrant, but it might accommodate a wise ruler. Libertas was not a slogan but a true political concept for employment in serious debate; it was a marker of an ideological rather than ‘factional’ division between optimates and populares. [Stevenson & Wilson 2008, 15]
Author initials: Cowan 2008