Cicero, Philippic II

Cicero, Philippic II, A Selection, ed. Christopher Tanfield, Bloomsbury 2018, ISBN 978-1-3500-1023-9, Paperback, £15.29

This book is endorsed by OCR for the Latin AS and A-Level* prescription of Cicero's Philippic II, sections 44–50 and 78–92, and the A-Level prescription of sections 100–119, giving the full Latin text, a commentary and full vocabulary, with an introduction that also covers the prescribed text to be read in English for A Level.

Resources are available on the Companion Website

For modern readers, even for those with a good command of Latin, Cicero’s Second Philippic, perhaps more so than the other 13 Philippics, is not an easy read. It is the longest of the Philippics, and unlike the other 13 it was not actually delivered in the senate, but was circulated by Cicero to his friends and supporters as a political pamphlet, full of well-honed rhetoric and carefully prepared invective. To understand the content one has to be well informed about the events in the six months following Julius Caesar’s assassination on 15 March in 44 BC, and also about the senatorial procedures and the social and political setting of the time. In fact, it may well be true to say that many of the first readers of Cicero’s Second Philippic (it was probably circulated in December 44 BC), though they probably all to some extent were witnesses to the events described, did not fully understand every reference and every insinuation in the text.

So AS and A level students and their teachers are faced with quite a task in tackling the Second Philippic. But for anybody with an interest in politics (and a fair knowledge of Latin) it is worth the effort. The Second Philippic is acknowledged to be the best example of political invective from the Roman world. Marcus Antonius, against whom it was directed, was not the most honourable of Romans, and sources other than Cicero mostly agree. But much of what Cicero says cannot be verified from other sources, and sometimes what he says is contradicted by other sources. But such is invective; it was then and it still is.

Christopher Tanfield guides his readers through all this complexity with great skill. The Introduction covers the Historical Background succinctly but clearly, and the section on Oratory includes the structure of different kinds of speech, notes on rhetorical style, a fairly comprehensive list of rhetorical terms (I certainly couldn’t think of anything omitted), and notes on clausulae with which Cicero ended so many of his sentences. Two maps follow, one of the Roman World in 50 BC and the other of Rome in the Late Republic.

Then the Latin text. I don’t like the use of lower case letters at the beginning of sentences (it seems to me artificial to follow modern practice in the use of upper case only for names and not for the beginning of sentences), but that is a personal preference.

And then the commentary, 85 pages of it for just 15 pages of text, but that is what is needed for this particular text, and it is well done and very elegantly laid out, with section numbers clearly displayed to make quick reference easy. There is some help with translation, but the focus is mainly on the complex business of understanding the constant references to Antony’s actions. There is plenty of detail here, but the level is always appropriate to the needs of AS and A level students. The vocabulary at the end of the book is spaciously laid out and easy to use.

I noticed only a couple of typographical errors: on p 5, in the first line of the lower paragraph, I think ‘of’ should read ‘and’; and on p 86 in the note on ‘a nobis populoque Romano mandatum’ in the 4th line ‘says’ should be deleted.

Cicero’s Second Philippic is a challenging book for AS and A level students, but for those who wish to tackle these selections from the work this book is unquestionably the best help one can find.


John Thorley


*OCR is an examination board that sets examinations and awards qualifications.  AS or A (Advanced) Level is the public examination taken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland at the end of school for entrance to university at around 18 years.