BMCR 2022.04.14

Reading Cicero’s final years: receptions of the post-Caesarian works up to the sixteenth century – with two epilogues

, , Reading Cicero's final years: receptions of the post-Caesarian works up to the sixteenth century - with two epilogues. Cicero – Studies on Roman Thought and Its Reception 3. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2020. Pp. xiii, 298. ISBN 9783110715064 $91.99.

Open Access

For a long time, Tadeusz Zielinski’s Cicero im Wandel der Jahrhunderte was the sole book devoted to Cicero’s reception. This is changing, first with Manuwald 2016 and 2018, and now with this collection, devoted to Cicero’s “final years,” specifically from the Ides of March 44 to his death on December 7, 43. In view of space restrictions, I shall comment on the chapters selectively.

One sympathizes with the need to reduce the potentially vast topic to manageable size, but the strategy of delimitation and justification adopted in the Introduction is problematic. Here the editors introduce “Spätwerk” as a term for Cicero’s work at this period (pp.7–8 with n. 27), with reference to Scheidegger Lämmle 2016. This is a term that is at home in German criticism and involves work that “walks in the footsteps” of the author’s earlier work and does not refer to absolute chronology (cf. Scheidegger Lämmle 2016, 65). Most readers will, however, be unfamiliar with this background and take “Spätwerk” simply and literally as “late work” (only on pp. 181 and 183–84 does Pieper offer clarification of the special sense of “Spätwerk”). But in the sense theorized by Scheidegger Lämmle and others, other works of Cicero’s besides those after the Ides of March would qualify, above all the Brutus and Orator, with their concern with fixing Cicero’s place in the oratorical canon. Nor are all the works of 44–43 considered here, the Topica and De amicitia being notable omissions. So there is at the heart of the project a conflict between the avowed focus on “Spätwerk” in a special sense and the de facto focus on works of 44–43 (with omissions). Now it could be argued that the works of this period, the Philippics in particular, had an outsize influence on Cicero’s reputation in antiquity (and the editors make the interesting point that the “rapid political decontextualization” of Cicero’s death led to the failure of his attempt to mould his legacy in those speeches: p.13). But in general, a more carefully thought-through theoretical grounding for the project would have been welcome.

In Chapter 1, Thomas J. Keeline continues from his 2018 book (esp. pp.105–107) reflections on the relation of the Philippics to Cicero’s death, a question raised by rhetoricians of the next generation who had their students declaim on whether Cicero should burn his writings in order to save his life (Sen. Suas. 7), the implicit assumption being that this would assuage Antony’s anger. As in 2018, Keeline doubts that the speeches were fatal to Cicero and points out that this analysis of events elides the role of Octavian/Augustus. Certainly the latter should also be held accountable. Cicero himself, however, saw the potential of his oratory to inflict wounds (cf. Phil. 2.86: lacerat, haec cruentat oratio). Perhaps Antony would have been so high-minded as to ignore this aspect, but such high-mindedness tends either to result from innate nobility of character (which is not usually attributed to Antony) or to be forced by superior power on the other side, which Cicero, at this juncture, did not possess. The placement of Cicero’s name on the first list of the proscribed, to whom assassins were to be sent without warning, certainly looks like implacable vengeance (App. BC 4.6.21).

Caroline Bishop’s contribution is an outlier in this collection. She focuses not so much on the reception of Cicero’s Philippics (though at the end she looks at the way the declaimers of the next generation reacted to them) as on the formation of the anti-tyrannical ideology of Cicero’s corpus under the influence of the homonymous Demosthenic one via the reception of Demosthenes’ themes in exercises used in Hellenistic rhetorical schools. She claims, after others, that Cicero himself selected the speeches included in the original Philippics corpus (i.e., Phil. 3–14) and opines that “one criterion for inclusion … was whether the speech in question had raised the possibility of failure” (p.48). This latter point may be overstated (she cites support from only four of the speeches), but it might gain traction if formulated more cautiously and with the stipulation that the selection was made (and communicated to Tiro or whoever took charge of publishing the corpus) after the failure of Cicero’s policy, i.e., in the interval between August and December 7, 43.

Andrew James Sillett offers a reading of some passages of the Aeneid as an “early document of the reception of Cicero’s final fight” (p.73). An oddly mixed picture emerges. On the one hand, the mutilated Deiphobus encountered by Aeneas in the underworld (Aen. 6.494-97) is said to echo the orator’s punishment at the hands of Antony and hence shows Virgil’s empathy for Cicero’s fate (58–60). On the other hand, Sillett follows Donatus (apud Serv. Aen. 6.623) in identifying Cicero as the figure punished in Tartarus for corrupting his own daughter and then marrying her (6.623–24). There are insinuations about an excessively close relationship to Tullia in the pseudo-Sallustian Invectiva in Ciceronem 2 and an accusation of outright adultery with her in Dio (46.18.6). But Cicero never married Tullia, and none of his detractors raised that claim. A much more plausible candidate for the incestuous father is Catiline, who is in fact expressly mentioned as a denizen of Tartarus (Aen. 8.668). Cicero denounced Catiline for corrupting and then marrying his own daughter in his Speech in a White Toga (Asc. 91-92C). This point, then, a central element of Sillett’s reconstruction and appealed to repeatedly (72, 73, 77), cannot stand; the essential arguments were made already by Berry 1992, cited but not countered by Sillett (63 n31). After others (cf. McDermott 1980), Sillett claims that Virgil borrowed some features of Cicero’s opposition to Antony for his portrayal of Drances. Sillett seeks to confirm this point by comparing the description of Drances’ “fugitive feet” (pedibus … fugacibus) at Aen. 11.390 with the same trait assigned to Cicero (pedes fugaces) at Pseudo-Sallust 5. But the terminus ante quem for the Invective is Quintilian (Inst. 4.1.68, 9.3.89). It is more plausible that both authors have borrowed the trait from the handbook of the Augustan rhetorician Rutilius Lupus (1.18, translating from the Greek of Lycurgus: pedes ad fugam sc. appositissimi). Besides his fluency of speech, typical of orators, Drances’ prime characteristic is his spite (invidia: Aen. 11.337), in this resembling Cicero’s opponent Fufius Calenus (cf. Phil. 10.1-2 and 17 on Pansa’s lack of envy, an implicit criticism of Calenus with his different attitude), who, like Drances, and unlike Cicero, was promoting peace. If the above is correct, there emerges a more interesting picture of Virgil the recipient — a highly sensitive reader of the Philippics who is not taken in by a scurrilous caricature.

Noting that, though Augustine’s concept of free will has clear parallels in Epictetus, the saint had no knowledge of Greek, Lex Paulson explores the possibility that De fato was his source. His paper falls into three parts: (1) the historical circumstances that helped to shape Cicero’s and Augustine’s concern with the problem of fate and free will; (2) Cicero’s doctrine of free will and its sources; (3) Augustus’ relation to Cicero. Under (1), Paulson misapprehends the circumstances of Cicero’s dialogue when he claims, “political urgency … launches their [Cicero’s and Hirtius’] examination of fate” (110); rather, Cicero makes a point of saying that he and Hirtius discussed the political situation before going on to discuss fate (Fat. 3: quibus actis), just as, at De orat. 1.26–27 the interlocutors first discuss politics before turning to rhetoric. And Paulson misinterprets Att. 14.20 (Shackleton Bailey 374).4 in claiming that it shows “Hirtius’ will is hesitating between Caesarians and liberators” (110); rather, the letter shows that Cicero is deeply skeptical of Hirtius in spite of what he says (optime loquitur). As to Cicero’s doctrine (2), every expression in which Cicero uses voluntas is not necessarily relevant. Thus ex sua voluntate at Agr. 2.64 (cited p.111) is merely an idiom meaning “according to (one’s) wish” (OLD s.v. voluntas 2d). Though Paulson mostly frames his remarks on Augustine (3) with reference to the Confessions, one wishes that he had addressed the claim of Hagendahl 1967, 25–35, that Augustine fundamentally misrepresents the content of De fato at Civ. 5.9. Despite these reservations, Paulson’s conclusion that “the qualities of voluntas proposed by Augustine are striking in their similarities to Cicero and illuminating in their departures” (114) is important, and his paper deserves to be studied by anyone interested in the relation of these two authors on the problem of free will.

De officiis is an original blend of ethical precepts, political commentary, and advice to young strivers such as Cicero himself had once been. It had a rich and varied “afterlife,” one aspect of which is explored here by Barbara Del Giovane. Marc-Antoine Muret (1526-85) was for many years admired as the greatest master of Neolatin style. While pronouncing Muret “an extraordinary figure” (197), Del Giovane provides little support for that claim, merely contextualizing him within the contemporary debates about Ciceronianism prior to discussing the praelectio he delivered on De officiis as Professor of Rhetoric in Rome in November 1574. We are not told how he obtained that Chair in Italy, hardly an expected move for a sixteenth-century French scholar. Indeed, a remarkably bland portrait of the man emerges, with no hint of the charges of homosexuality and Protestantism that led to his fleeing first Paris and then Toulouse or that he advanced his career in Italy inter alia with an oration praising the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. I hope that, toward the end of his life, the wily careerist experienced a genuine change of heart that led to his ordination in 1580. But if so, was it, as Del Giovane suggests, his engagement with De officiis that helped spur the move? (She speaks of his having “learnt the lesson of Cicero’s De officiis,” 219.) Here one must beware of post hoc reasoning. De officiis is not the Hortensius, nor was the elderly Muret the nineteen-year-old Augustine, who was turned to God by his study of the latter work (Conf. 3.4.7-8; similarly Vit. Beat.  4). There is room for a fresh appraisal of Muret and his career, but it should delve a bit more deeply than this one does.


Berry, D.H. 1992. “The Criminals in Virgil’s Tartarus: Contemporary Allusions in Aeneid 6.621-4.” CQ 42.2: 416-20.
Hagendahl, H. 1967. Augustine and the Latin Classics. Gothenburg.
Keeline, T.J. 2018. The Recepton of Cicero in the Early Roman Empire. The Rhetorical Schoolroom and the Creation of a Cultural Legend. Cambridge.
Manuwald, G., ed. 2016. The Afterlife of Cicero. London.
Manuwald, G. 2018. Reviving Cicero in Drama. From the Ancient World to the Modern Stage. London/New York.
McDermott, W.C. 1980. “Drances/Cicero.” Vergilius 26: 34-38.
Scheidegger Lämmle, C. 2016. Werkpolitik in der Antike. Studien zu Cicero, Vergil, Horaz und Ovid. Munich.
Zielinski, T. 1929. Cicero im Wandel der Jahrhunderte. 4th edn. Leipzig.

Authors and titles

Summary of the Chapters
Christoph Pieper and Bram van der Velden, Introduction
Thomas J. Keeline, Were Cicero’s Philippics the Cause of His Death?
Caroline Bishop, The Thrill of Defeat: Classicism and the Ancient Reception of Cicero’s and Demosthenes’ Philippics
Andrew James Sillett, Ille regit dictis animos: Virgil’s Perspective on Cicero’s Final Years
Giuseppe La Bua, Man of Peace? Cicero’s Last Fight for the Republic in Greek and Roman Historical ‘Fictions’
Lex Paulson, Libera uoluntas: The Political Origins of the Free Will Argument in Cicero’s De fato and Augustine’s Confessions
Bram van der Velden, Ciceronian Reception in the Epistula ad Octauianum
Carole Mabboux, Can It Ever be Wise to Kill the Tyrant? Insights from Cicero in the Debate on Rightful Government during the Middle Ages (Especially in the 13th–14th Centuries)
Leanne Jansen, Bruni, Cicero, and their Manifesto for Republicanism
Christoph Pieper, Multilayered Appropriation(s): Josse Bade’s Edition of Cicero’s Philippicae tribus commentariis illustratae
Barbara Del Giovane, Marc-Antoine Muret and his Lectures on Cicero’s De officiis
Epilogue 1: Gesine Manuwald, Dramatic Representations of the Final Years of Cicero’s Life
Epilogue 2: Christoph Pieper and Bram van der Velden, Scholarly Appraisals of Cicero’s Final Years