Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.11.28

John T. Ramsey (ed.), Cicero. Philippics I-II. Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics.   Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2003.  Pp. xxix, 349.  ISBN 0-521-41106-8.  $70.00 (hb).  ISBN 0-521-42285-X.  $26.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Gesine Manuwald, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg (

This commentary on Cicero's Philippics 1-2 (with Latin text) by John T. Ramsey (Professor of Classics, University of Illinois at Chicago) continues a course of renewed interest in the Philippics: two Italian commentaries on speeches 3 and 13 respectively have appeared recently,1 and Brill's Companion to Cicero. Oratory and Rhetoric, which includes a chapter on the Philippics, was published last year.2 During the past few decades, however, the Philippics have not been studied closely very often. That means, as Ramsey himself remarks (p. ix), that his edition is the first edition with commentary on Philippics 1-2 since J.D. Denniston's of 1926 (reprinted several times since).3 In the meantime, Philippic 2 on its own has been edited with brief commentary by W.K. Lacey for Aris & Phillips in 1986; this edition, however, is fairly limited in scope.4 Thus, Ramsey's commentary on Philippics 1-2 is to be welcomed as a valuable contribution to Ciceronian scholarship (Philippics 1-2 being the first of Cicero's speeches available in the 'Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics' series). Without doubt, its helpful notes, particularly on historical details and difficult points of grammar, will make this important text more accessible to all students concerned with the ancient world; and it is explicitly aimed at university students (p. x).

So far Ramsey has distinguished himself as an expert on the history of the late Republican period.5 Accordingly, his approach to the Philippics is mainly historical in nature. However, in the preface Ramsey states that it "is the aim of this new edition of the First and Second Philippic to present these two masterpieces of Cicero's mature style in a way that will make them accessible to readers who may wish to study them either as works of literature or as historical sources"; thus he sets himself apart from J.D. Denniston, who "explicitly aimed at supplying mainly historical notes" (p. x). Accordingly, Ramsey provides a brief overview of the Philippics as a work of literature in the introduction (pp. 14-20) and explains points of grammar in the commentary, which contributes to a quick comprehension of the speeches. But on the whole, the ambitious goal to deal with literary problems as well as with historical ones seems not to have been met throughout: on the one hand Ramsey presents a wealth of historical information, lacking in a number of more literary-oriented commentaries, and scholars will be grateful for this helpful tool. On the other hand, however, readers interested in philological, literary and rhetorical details might occasionally desire a more thorough treatment, which could contribute to a fuller appreciation of the speches as works of literature as well.

Conforming to the general outline of the series, Ramsey first gives a general introduction (pp. 1-28); then follow the text of the speeches (pp. 29-80) and the commentary (pp. 81-337). The book is rounded off by indexes at the end (pp. 339-349) as well as a bibliography (pp. xiii-xxiii), two maps (pp. xxiv-xxvii) and a calendar of events (pp. xxviii-xxix) at the beginning. The commentary itself (Phil. 1: pp. 81-155; Phil. 2: pp. 155-337) first presents an introduction to each speech giving its historical circumstances, date, themes and structure; a line-by-line commentary follows, in which short sections (more detailed than those established in the introduction) are marked and preceded by brief summaries of their contents.

The general introduction (pp. 1-28) is divided into five main parts. In its first section, entitled '1. Historical background' (pp. 1-10), Ramsey relates the course of events from Caesar's assassination to Cicero's death, giving more details of those events that triggered Philippics 1 and 2. His narration is lively and easy to follow, but at some points might give the impression, especially to readers not completely familiar with the historical problems of the period, that all ancient evidence could be relied on. As a complement to this part of the introduction Ramsey appends a 'Calendar of events of 44 BC' (pp. xxviii-xxix), which provides a concise and well-structured overview (for the period from March to September 44 BC). Another addition to the presentation of the historical background is '2. Survey of the primary sources', the second section of the introduction (pp. 11-14); in it Ramsey enumerates and briefly characterizes the ancient authors on whose writings knowledge of the period is based. This useful device enables the reader to put the information given by Cicero in his speeches into context. Ramsey's complete command of all important parallel sources becomes apparent also through his references to them in the commentary. Another well thought-out addition is provided by the two maps (pp. xxiv-xxvii), which help to identify Cicero's allusions to geographical locations.

When Ramsey goes on to discuss the Philippics with regard to 'content', 'title', 'Demosthenes as a model' and 'aim and style' in the third section of the introduction ('3. The Philippics', pp. 14-20), he gives the essential facts on these issues, but his approach makes this section appear somewhat unsatisfactory to readers interested in the Philippics as a work of literature. For example, when Ramsey talks about content and structure of the corpus, its title and the Demosthenic model, the novel theory put forward by W. Stroh6 (and taken up in Der Neue Pauly7) that in Cicero's view Philippics 3-14 alone constitute the corpus of the Philippics proper is not mentioned (nor is it in other non-German recent publications). Irrespective of whether one agrees with Stroh or not, this idea does not concern an irrelevant matter which might safely be disregarded, but one that affects key issues, like the structure of the whole corpus, Cicero's possible concept of it, the relevance of individual speeches and the transmission of the text. Thus this theory at least needs to be discussed; in a commentary on Philippics 1-2 (entitled thus) the fact that, according to some scholars, these speeches are not proper Philippics in Cicero's view and were not part of the corpus originally might have been mentioned. Ramsey on his part stresses the historical importance of these two speeches and states that they provide "a sweep of history" and that they invite the reader "to compare the way in which Cicero ventured to criticize Mark Antony" (p. ix).

Within the general introduction, Ramsey gives finally a brief introduction to prose rhythm and the different types of clausulae ('4. Prose rhythm', pp. 20-22) as well as an overview of the textual tradition and his choice of text ('5. The text', pp. 23-28). It has to appreciated that he obviously intends to provide the reader with information on textual matters as well; therefore it is unfortunate that he makes so little use of Fedeli's edition (2nd ed. 1986), whose apparatus is, as Ramsey himself says, "the most detailed and authoritative to date" (p. 24).8 For his text Ramsey follows the version D.R. Shackleton Bailey established for his bilingual edition of 1986.9 In his edition of the Philippics Shackleton Bailey based his text entirely on the evidence in Fedeli's Teubner edition with its full apparatus (1986, xv); and, as is well known, he makes heavy use of conjectures and thus points out a number of difficult passages in the text, without, however, always adopting the only possible solution or providing full explanations for his decisions. What Ramsey chooses in a number of places where he departs from Shackleton Bailey, agrees with Fedeli's reading; in some of these cases Fedeli even provides explanatory references in his apparatus criticus (cf. e.g. Phil. 1.13; 1.28; 1.29; 1.30; 2.2; 2.31; 2.92). That makes it somewhat disappointing for the reader interested in textual matters that Ramsey does note (pp. 24-28) departures from Shackleton Bailey and from A.C. Clark's OCT (2nd. ed. 1918),10 but not from Fedeli's edition. The preceding overview of the textual tradition (pp. 23-24) is largely a summary of common opinion based on the fundamental work of Clark around 1900 and of Shackleton Bailey's view on more recent work.

Ramsey's handling of the text ties in with a preference for literature written in English and published in English-speaking countries, which becomes apparent by a glance at his bibliography (pp. xiii-xxiii). Further, bias towards English-language books seems not be the only restriction: the bibliography consists mainly of general reference books, historical works and earlier editions and commentaries of the Philippics (going back to the 16th century). But hardly any works on rhetoric, on Demosthenes, on Demosthenic influence in the Philippics or on specific problems or passages in the Philippics are mentioned. There is certainly not a great deal of literature in the latter two categories, but for these particular speeches specific publications do exist. This selection of secondary literature, however, can be viewed as indicative: close literary and interpretative study of the speeches does not play a large part in the general introduction or in the commentary, either. Even if the commentary is aimed at an audience of English-speaking students, it would profit if the information presented was based on a wider range of recent scholarship.

In the commentary itself Ramsey provides an introduction to each speech, presenting all important factual information and setting the frame for a closer reading. In analyzing the speeches' genre and structure Ramsey relies on rhetorical theory and uses terminology established mainly for forensic speeches (outlined briefly), although he is aware of the problems of applying them to the Philippics (and does not discuss such issues in the general introduction). This method enables him to employ handy labels for the individual sections, but it remains open to discussion whether these classifications can properly be transferred to the Philippics.

Apart from the introductions to each speech Ramsey does not take up questions of their interpretation much in the detailed commentary, as he rarely considers how Cicero's thoughts are organised, how he makes his point, what wording he uses etc. When Ramsey deals with matters of language, that usually means that he explains difficult points of grammar or highlights rhetorical figures, but he seldom asks why they might be used. He mainly concentrates on factual issues of Roman history and Roman institutions; notes on these points are indispensable especially when they are as well-informed as Ramsey's are. Quality and usefulness of Ramsey's explanations become especially apparent in his commentary on the Second Philippic, where Cicero reviews his own and Antony's career; sufficient information to understand Cicero's allusions to a number of historical events is given.

However, additional comments on literary and rhetorical matters at some points would have made the commentary an even more helpful tool. For instance, when Cicero singles out Antony's having abolished dictatura, praises him for this deed and enhances his praise by relating in detail how he has carried it out (Phil. 1.3), Ramsey has a fine note on the institution of dictatura (giving a survey of its development in Roman history) as well as on the date and the means of ratification of Antony's proposal (p. 89), but he says nothing about why this incident is mentioned, why Cicero puts it as he does and what he might want to achieve thereby. And Ramsey sometimes seems to miss Cicero's irony and sarcasm: when Cicero succinctly describes Antony's way of ruling by ... multa et magna per populum et absente populo et invito (Phil. 1.6), Ramsey well explains the date and details of the legislative procedures, but he terms the statement per populum "paradoxical" because of the following ablative absolute (pp. 94-95).

A telling example of Ramsey's approach is his treatment of Cicero's description of the Lupercalia of 44 BC when Antony offered a diadem to Caesar (Phil. 2.84-87). In Cicero's view that is the most obvious and most important incident (rem unam pulcherrimam, Phil. 2.84) from which to deduce Antony's real beliefs and intentions, i.e. to become sole ruler after Caesar's death, and which shows his depraved character as he made a speech in public in his capacity as a magistrate while being scantily clothed as a Lupercus. Cicero therefore comes back to these Lupercalia in various contexts (Phil. 3.12; 13.17; 13.31; 13.41) and gives his own version of what happened, which departs from some other ancient sources. In the commentary on this passage (pp. 282-289), Ramsey provides helpful notes on all factual details, e.g. festival of the Lupercalia, position of the Rostra, honours having been voted to Caesar, function of Antony etc., and states that scholarly opinion is divided over what really went on (p. 285), but he does not ask whether the incident of the Lupercalia is a recurring theme in the Philippics, why Cicero could single it out or why he might give the version of the incident he does. Although historical information is very much needed to understand what happened and what Cicero wants to say, some additional hints about Cicero's probable reasoning might help students to understand Cicero's method in the Philippics, where he often deliberately selects pieces of information and puts them in a way which need not be historically exact, but is best suited to his goal.

Anyway, one always tends to wish for more. What really does make this commentary a valuable tool even to more advanced scholars, are its concise explanations of historical facts when it comes to details. Thereby a quick grasp of circumstances and facts underlying Cicero's statements is possible. The commentary thus is a useful and handy aid to working on the text as it facilitates and quickens understanding of the speeches and their background; and it provides the reader interested in the history of the period with lots of information on the speeches as historical sources. It is to be hoped for that this commentary will make the Philippics more widely read and more closely worked on among all university students and scholars of the ancient world.


1.   Cf. Ciro Monteleone, La "Terza Filippica" di Cicerone. Retorica e regolamento del Senato, legalità e rapporti di forza, Fasano 2003 (Biblioteca della ricerca, Philologica 4). -- Costanza Novielli, La retorica del consenso. Commento alla tredecesima Filippica di M. Tullio Cicerone, Bari 2002 (Scrinia 19).
2.   Cf. Jon Hall, The Philippics, in: James M. May (ed.), Brill's Companion to Cicero. Oratory and Rhetoric, Leiden / Boston / Köln 2002, 273-304. -- Reviewed by Andrew R. Dyck, BMCR 2003.01.17.
3.   Cf. M. Tulli Ciceronis in M. Antonium orationes Philippicae prima et secunda. Edited, with Introduction, Notes (mainly historical) and Appendices, by J.D. Denniston, Oxford 1926, several reprints.
4.   Cf. Cicero: Second Philippic oration. Edited with translation and notes by W.K. Lacey, Warminster 1986.
5.   Cf. The senate, Mark Antony, and Caesar's legislative legacy, CQ 44, 1994, 130-145. -- 'Beware the Ides of March!': an astrological prediction?, CQ 50, 2000, 440-454. -- Did Mark Antony Contemplate an Alliance with His Political Enemies in July 44 B.C.E.?, CPh 96, 2001, 253-268. -- Did Julius Caesar temporarily banish Mark Antony from his inner circle?, CQ (forthcoming). - John T. Ramsey / A. Lewis Licht, The Comet of 44 B.C. and Caesar's Funeral Games, Atlanta (GA) 1997 (American Philological Association, American Classical Studies, Number 39).
6.   Cf. Wilfried Stroh, Ciceros demosthenische Redezyklen, MH 40, 1983, 35-50. -- Christoph Schäublin, Ciceros demosthenische Redezyklen: ein Nachtrag, MH 45, 1988, 60-61.
7.   Cf. Jürgen Leonhardt, Cicero. II. Cicero als Redner und Schriftsteller, DNP 2, 1997, 1196-1202, esp. 1197.
8.   Cf. M. Tulli Ciceronis scripta quae manserunt omnia. Fasc. 28. In M. Antonium orationes Philippicae XIV, edidit Paulus Fedeli, Leipzig 1982, 19862 (Teubner).
9.   Cf. Cicero. Philippics. Edited and translated by D.R. Shackleton Bailey, Chapel Hill / London 1986.
10.   Cf. M. Tulli Ciceronis orationes. Vol. II. Pro Milone, pro Marcello, pro Ligario, pro rege Deiotaro, Philippicae I-XIV, recognovit brevique adnotatione critica instruxit Albertus Curtis Clark, Oxford 19011, 19182, several reprints (OCT).

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