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A Body of Text: Incorporating Mark Antony into the Second Philippic

Alexander Lessie

           This paper examines three places in the Second Philippic (sections 36, 76, and 84) where Cicero ostensibly records Mark Antony’s immediate physical reactions to points Cicero has raised in the speech. The few commentators on the Second Philippic who have drawn attention to these depictions of Antony’s anger and discomfort regard them as fictional details that Cicero inserts into the text primarily to keep up the pretense that the speech was actually delivered at a meeting of the Senate on 19 September 44 BC (Ramsey 2003, Peskett 1887). An important question that still remains unexplored is whether there is any rationale behind Cicero’s decision to fabricate Antony’s physical reactions in sections 36, 76, and 84 but not at other places in the speech.   

            This paper offers an answer to this question through a two-part approach. The first part of this paper performs close readings of sections 36, 76, and 84, revealing that Antony’s reactions are designed to confirm the truth of especially specious allegations or to confirm the immorality of acts that otherwise would appear morally ambiguous. The second part situates Cicero’s allusions to his opponent’s physical reactions within the broader thematic preoccupation in the Second Philippic with Antony’s physical appearance. I show how Cicero exploits his authorial control over the representation of Antony’s body by inscribing it with visual markers that signify Antony’s guilt and defects of character.

            Cicero’s first reference to a reaction by Antony occurs at 2.36, where Antony becomes disturbed (conturbatus) when Cicero implicates Antony in a plot to kill Caesar. The lack of any corroboration for this charge in a non-Ciceronian influenced source, along with the stridently insistent language Cicero employs in the passage, are indications that Cicero has fabricated the charge. Cicero notes Antony’s reaction and performs a reading of Antony’s expression, interpreting it as a sign of guilt. Cicero thus puts forward a flimsy charge and adduces Antony himself as a witness to give it substance.

            A similar rhetorical maneuver is executed at 2.76. Here, Antony appears angry (iratus) after he is accused of having worn non-traditional clothing, namely Gallic sandals (gallicae) and a travelling coat (lacerna), while traveling to and from Narbo. This is the first reference in Latin literature to a lacerna, and I argue that the novelty of the lacerna and the lack of any clear-cut cultural norm prohibiting it compel Cicero again to adduce Antony as a corroborating witness of its inappropriateness. That Roman cultural norms about clothing could be so elastic is evidenced by Cicero himself, who, as Heskel 1994 shows, is willing to attack a particular article of clothing in one speech while defending it in another, depending on the exigencies of his argument.

            At 2.84, Cicero reports that Antony becomes agitated (commotus), sweats (sudat), and grows pale (pallet) when the infamous Lupercalia of 44 BC is mentioned. Cicero attacks both Antony’s offer of a diadem to Caesar and his decision to give a speech as consul while undressed (nudus). I argue that the unprecedented nature of both of these actions require Cicero to again rely on Antony’s expression of guilt to establish their immorality beyond any doubt. 

            Recent research by Edmondson 2008, Christenson 2004, Dyck 2001, and Corbeill 1996 into the role that physical appearance plays in Ciceronian invective has uncovered an elaborate semiotics of clothing, anatomical features, and gesture that links particular visual cues to underlying character traits and emotional states. The invective of the Second Philippic is an exceptionally rich source of such cues (e.g. 2.44-45, 63, 77). As this paper demonstrates, by ostensibly performing readings of Antony’s physical reactions in real time, Cicero offers his readers a model for how the significance of Antony’s physical appearance should be interpreted elsewhere in the speech. In doing this, Cicero aims to persuade his readers that Antony’s body, as it represented in and by Cicero’s text, is the most accurate index of his character.  

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