Bryn Mawr Classical Review 96.11.5


M.M. Willcock, Cicero: The Letters of January to April 43 B.C. Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1995. Pp. 154. ISBN 0-85668-632-8 (pb); 0-85668-631-X (hb).


Reviewed by Ronald Cluett, Pomona College, rcluett@pomona.edu.

43 B.C. was a watershed year both in Roman politics and in Cicero's life. The year opened with Marc Antony besieging Decimus Brutus at Mutina, and Antony's brother Gaius on his way to his province of Macedonia. Both actions were simultaneously constitutional -- provincial governors proceeding to their assigned provinces -- and in direct violation of the senate's resolutions of December 20, 44, which, at Cicero's urging, had instructed the provincial governors of 44 to retain their provinces until further notice and had specifically approved Decimus' edict refusing to give way to Antony. Cicero delivered his Fifth Philippic on January 1, 43, in which he not only continued his attack on Antony, proposing that a state of tumultus be declared in response to Antony's siege of Decimus (XII. 32), but also heaped praise upon the young Octavian, recommending that he be given imperium with the title of propraetor (XVI. 45), admitted to the senate (XVII. 46), and be allowed to stand for higher office without regard to his age (XVII. 46). Cicero, the great and self-proclaimed defender of the Roman constitution, began the year acting against the previous consul in support of a youth not yet old enough for the quaestorship, who also happened to be the adopted heir of the dictator in whose assassination Cicero had openly rejoiced.

The Roman political scene was no less disturbed at year's end. Antony had been forced by the end of April to give up the siege of Mutina, but both consuls for 43, Hirtius and Pansa, had died in the fighting. Antony's brother Gaius had been taken prisoner in Macedonia by Marcus Brutus, who assumed control of the province. The lex Pedia had given legal sanction to vengeance upon Caesar's assassins. Antony and Octavian, along with Lepidus, Caesar's master of the horse, had reached a pact of reconciliation at Bononia; unlike the First Triumvirate of 59 B.C., it received legal recognition, in the lex Titia of November 27. One of the first acts of the triumvirs was the proscription of their political enemies, senatorial and equestrian. Among those outlawed and condemned to death was Cicero, whom Octavian sacrificed to Antony's desire for revenge. Cicero died at the hands of Antony's troops on December 7. During the last year of his life, he had continued his opposition to Antony, delivering ten Philippics in 43 B.C. alone and corresponding with many of the major political players of the time, from Marcus and Decimus Brutus to Cassius, Asinius Pollio, Trebonius, and Munatius Plancus. Few years in Roman history witnessed such an extraordinary series of political upheavals; and few years were of equal importance to Cicero, either personally or politically.

Those interested in the intersection of Cicero's written work and political efforts, on the one hand, and the tumultuous events of this year, on the other, have previously had to rely on studies of Cicero and of the late Republic combined with reading of the last ten Philippics and extraction of the relevant correspondence from the letters Ad familiares and Ad Brutum (Cicero's correspondence with Atticus does not continue beyond November of 44 B.C.). Since the letters Ad fam. are arranged by correspondent and not chronologically, this task is rarely undertaken by the casual reader and usually abandoned by all but the most dedicated undergraduates. Any work which seeks to present Cicero's correspondence of 43 B.C. in chronological order, and to introduce and comment on it within the context of the principal political developments of the year, is therefore most welcome. And I am happy to report that it is difficult to imagine a more felicitous combination of scholarship and accessibility than one finds in Willcock's recent Cicero: The Letters of January to April 43 B.C.

The core of this work is text, translation, and commentary on the thirty-three letters of Ad fam. and Ad Brut. from January to April, 43, both those by Cicero to others and those written to him. Nearly sixty further letters survive from the period April through July, as Willcock acknowledges (p. 148), but the rationale for this selection is obvious and defensible: they cover the period of Antony's siege of Decimus Brutus, and of Cicero's support of Octavian in Decimus' defense. The text itself is essentially that of Shackleton Bailey and/or Watt (see p. 14). Where Willcock differs, as at Ad Brut. I 2a, 2 (accepting animo over otio), he both notes and intelligently defends his textual choice. He does the same when differing with or seeking greater precision about the dates for individual letters assigned by Shackleton Bailey or others (as at Ad fam. XII 5, Ad Brut I 2a, II 5). A short introductory section presents the manuscript tradition for Cicero's letters and a survey of the printed editions of the last century (pp. 12-14). The translations, which in Loeb fashion are on the page facing the Latin text, are accurate enough to aid the student struggling with translation of the Latin, while remaining smooth and readable in English for the reader without Latin, or the one who will only check individual passages or phrases in Latin. The commentary will be of use to this reader, as well, since, except for specific textual and grammatical references (e.g., ad Ad fam. X 8, 3; 31, 4; XII 4, 2; 5, 2; 6, 2), it cites phrases from the English translation rather than from the Latin text.

Indeed, it is in the commentary that this work really shines. Capsule biographies of each correspondent precede his first appearance as writer or addressee of a letter. Discussions of individual passages in the letters include useful supplementary information, such as the list Willcock provides ad Ad fam. XII 14, 1 (egregios consules) of which consulars were "theoretically available in Rome" in early 43. Detailed historical information includes a note on "dates of Letters and Senate meetings in the period from the End of February to March 20th" (ad Ad fam. XII 29) and an account of Decimus Brutus' timetable from April 21st through 29th, 43 (ad Ad fam. XI 9). Other comments provide more general historical information of assistance to student and scholar alike, whether concerning meeting days of the senate (ad Ad fam. XII 25, 1), the politics of the Roman tribal divisions (ad Ad fam. XII 25, 3), or the use of a reference to the Minotaur as a joke about Calvisius and Taurus in the senate (ad Ad fam. XII 25, 1). Willcock also references and quotes from other works of Cicero, whether speeches (ad Ad fam. XII 29, 1), philosophical works (ad Ad fam. IX 24, 3), or letters not included in this selection (ad Ad fam. XI 9, 2). More specialized discussions are also included: at Ad fam. XII 25, 5, Willcock compares Cicero's text with Terence Andria 189. Clearly, both specialists and non-specialists can learn from this commentary.

The commentary is rounded out by introductory sections on "Cicero's life and times", "events in Roman history from the Ides of March through the beginning of 43", and the Roman calendar, as well as appendices outlining "the later fates of those named in the correspondence" and "the eighteen months following 43 B.C.", maps of the Roman Empire in 43 B.C. and of Cisalpine Gaul, and a concordance. One unfortunate omission is any separate discussion devoted to the last ten Philippics; although they are referenced throughout the commentary, they are included in the chronology of Cicero's writings provided on pages 4-5 only as "last ten Philippics". A more detailed chronology, and some separate discussion of their relationship to the letters of January to April 43 B.C., would round out what is otherwise a very complete survey of Cicero's life and work during these four months. After all, focus on the period of January to April is justified precisely because it is the period of Antony's siege of Decimus Brutus at Mutina, of Cicero's vocal and public opposition to Antony, and of his expression of that opposition not only in his letters but in the Philippics as well.

This work will be of use to students of Roman history interested in detailed discussion of this crucial period but with little or no Latin; students of Latin and of Cicero's letters who wish to read a chronologically organized and historically coherent selection of Cicero's letters; and to historians of the late Republic who desire a quick and intelligent reference about one of the main sources of information for a complex, eventful, and controversial period. Although Willcock is admittedly selective, and more concerned with providing useful and accurate commentary than with weighing in on the many disputes about the larger historical forces at work in 43 B.C., he is also refreshingly independent in his perspective. One small example will suffice: ad Ad fam. XI 27, he refers to Sextus Pompeius as "the able son of Pompey". For those of us who have long desired to witness the historical rehabilitation of this figure, much maligned by Octavian, then Augustus, and then his successors (see E. Gabba, "The Perusine War and Triumviral Italy", HSCP 75 [1971], pp. 139-60; A. Powell, "The Aeneid and the Embarrassments of Augustus [Roman Poetry and Propaganda in the Age of Augustus; London, 1992], pp. 152-8), this single phrase will serve to indicate the thoughtfulness and intelligence of Willcock's work.