CICERO RETURNS TO ROME
News of his coming preceded him, and now, as Cicero reached the city outskirts, he was met by a massive crowd. Such were “the compliments and civilities which were paid to him at the gates and at his entry into the city,” said Plutarch, “it took up almost a fullday.”¹
Antony could not help but be aware of Cicero’s return. That night, runners did the rounds of senators’ doors announcing that the consul Antony was calling a sitting of the Senate for first thing next day. He also wrote personally to the newly arrived Cicero, summoning him to the sitting. At dawn, Antony convened this latest meeting of the Senate. But pretending ill health following his journey back to Rome, Cicero failed to put in an appearance. Antony, greatly affronted that Cicero had ignored his summons, sent Praetorian soldiers to Cicero’s Palatine Hill residence to escort him to the sitting.
Cicero refused to leave his bed. According to Plutarch, he had received reliable warning on his way back to Rome that Antony had “some design against him,” and, despite his earlier expectations and the tumultuous welcome from the general public, he was now in fear for his life.² Antony even instructed the soldiers to burn down Cicero’s residence if he refused to accompany them to the Senate. But friends of Cicero in the House interceded with Antony on his behalf, and paid sureties to him so that he would not harm Cicero. From this time forward, Cicero and Antony never spoke directly to one another again. Whenever they passed each other, be it in the Senate or in the street, neither uttered a word to the other.
That evening, Octavian visited Cicero, bringing with him his stepfather, Philippus, and his brother-in-law Gaius Claudius Marcellus, who had been a consul six years before and who had married one of Octavian’s sisters, an Octavia. By this time, Philippus had dispensed with his earlier opposition to his stepson’s political ambitions, and he and Marcellus now joined Octavian in proposing to Cicero that they all work together to deprive Antony of power. With Octavian addressing Cicero respectfully as “Father,” he promised to use his wealth and arms to protect the orator if Cicero used his “eloquence and political influence with the Senate and the people” to promote Octavian’s interests.³
The arms that Octavian referred to were those carried by ex-soldiers of Caesar who had settled in Italy. Over the past few months, Octavian had sent messengers among these soldier settlers, promising them large financial rewards if they supported him, and in return he had received pledges of loyalty from thousands of military veterans.
This proposal well suited Cicero. With Brutus and Cassius heading abroad and currently powerless to take on Antony, Cicero was confident of being able to manipulate this inexperienced youth. While protected by Octavian he could use his oratorical skills to attack Antony and make himself the most powerful player in Roman politics. Or so he thought. Cicero struck a deal, and became Octavian’s political partner. Cicero would waste no time in launching his campaign, on September 2 delivering the first of a series of public orations against Antony. Over the next six months, he would make a total of fourteen such speeches, calling them his Philippics, in imitation of famous addresses made by Greek scholar Demosthenes against King Philip II of Macedonia in times past.
The combatants prepared to do battle—Antony, his brothers, and Dolabella in one corner; Octavian, supported by Cicero, in the other; and the Senate in the middle, with neither leader as yet commanding overwhelming public sympathy. Much of that sympathy was reserved for the Liberators, and for Brutus in particular. But all that anyone at Rome knew of them now was that Brutus and Cassius had retired from the fight and were somewhere abroad.