Starting at pg. 156, Tatum discusses the importance of Greek philosophy in the assassination conspiracy of the optimates.
The importance of philosophy has had its ups and downs in both Greek and Roman civilization. In Aristophanes’ Clouds, for instance, Socrates is depicted as grubby, smelly, and self-absorbed with a subversive influence. By second century B.C., however, the Roman aristocracy embraced the investigation of philosophy, and by the late republic Roman senators usually possessed deep familiarity with philosophy.
In fact, the Latinization of Greek philosophy (it had formally been taught solely in Greek) was in part due to the politician Cicero. There were three main schools of thought in Rome.
- Epicureanism: an atomistic physics and moral philosophy that emphasized pleasure and friendship and retirement from public life; pleasure, to an Epicurean came from acting virtuously. Chief subscribers: most Roman senators, Caesar, Cassius
- Stoicism: reveled in disputation and revision. Chief subscribers: Cato
- Platonism: a close examination of the likelihood of any proposition; encouraged eclecticism. Chief subscribers: Cicero
Greek philosophy deals heavily with the idea of the tyrant. In Greek philosophy, the tyrant is synonymous with a wicked man, the chief example being Phalaris of Agrigentum in Sicily. They were evil because they put themselves above the law and suppressed the best men of their cities. Therefore, the tyrannicide became the ultimate hero, only if the assassination was for the sake of the community and not for personal advancement.
Cicero once referred to Caesar as Phalaris, but took it back after Caesar’s clemency. This brings up a dilemma for the conspirators. Caesar, by virtue of his generosity had become their friends, a valued relationship in Roman society. Also, they were too close to him to not appear as hypocrites when denouncing his tyranny. However, because of Greek philosophy, they were able to justify their evasion of friendly responsibilities and assassinate Caesar without moral compunction. Later, Cicero would write that it is a fundamental rule to terminate friendship with anyone who urges us to perform base actions. It is a conflict between what is honorable – to kalon – and what is advantageous – to sumpheron.
However, the decision to assassinate Caesar was to preserve a fundamental rule in the politics of the Roman republic: you’re not supposed to win the game. The oligarchy was meant to be a perpetual contest. Everyone wanted to achieve what Caesar had, but no one was supposed to actually accomplish this.
Chapter 8: the Evil that Men Do: Caesar and Augustus
Though the Liberators believed that they would be celebrated for their actions, the senate (who had been loyal to Caesar and rightly expected to be the next targets) fled, the people (who had loved Caesar) rioted, and the soldiers (who had fought with Caesar) were not loyal to the optimates. The conspirators had underestimated Caesars gloria and the popularity of his administrative acts and legislative reforms (easing the debt, fixing the calendar, ect.).
The outrage at his murder threw Rome into chaos. The optimates had no authority or courage to bring things back to order, so the responsibility fell to Mark Antony. He was the remaining consul and the only legal authority. He secured Caesar’s papers from Calpurnia, won over Caesar’s favorite Lepidus (who commanded Caesar’s troops), convened the senate where he rejected the Liberators as honorable but pardoned them, and proclaimed that any planned acts of Caesar had the force of law.
Mark Antony’s dignitas was solidified when he gave Ceasar’s funeral speech, which inflamed the crowd to a riot. Therefore, Cicero detested Mark Antony. Antony continued to use his influence for political gain, but he did not seek to dominate the senate quite the way Caesar had. Therefore, the republic had returned for the time being.
However, there was Caesar’s only male heir Gaius Octavius (Octavian) who he had adopted in his will on condition that the boy take on his name. At 18 years old, Octavian was sickly with a poor complexion, but he was very ambitious. He had the self-awareness that he could not gain the consulship in two decades or compete with Mark Antony’s manliness, charisma, and dignitas. However, he knew that if he could once more disturb the peace in Rome, he would have a chance.
He began to demand revenge for Caesar, who he was now calling his father, and playing into the mood of the many people who were still loyal to Caesar’s dictatorship. Like Julius Caesar, Octavian used the Roman belief in pietas to turn public support toward him. He also gained the support of Cicero, who wanted to see Mark Antony challenged and using Octavian for his own political gain. Cicero even managed to gain pardon for Octavian when the boy raised his own army (using his finances and his “father’s” veterans) which was considered a criminal act.
What perhaps solidified his power was a comet appearing at the games held in Caesar’s honor. It seemed like Caesar had become a god through apotheosis, making Octavian the son of god or divi filius. The senate again failed to maintain authority, and a Second Triumvirate arose and included Octavian, Mark Antony, and Lepidus. Lepidus soon dropped, and Rome was left to the authority of Mark Antony and Octavian who competed constantly until the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C.
Octavian became the first empire of Rome, and the senate bestowed on him the title Augustus. Augustus also referred to himself as the princeps, or the first citizen. Unlike Caesar, he managed to stay in power through one key rule: he shared the work with his inferiors, but did not share any of the actual power. He put the senate to work and awarded them with prestige and wealth. In fact, the senate under Augustus was wealthier than the republican senate. Augustus knew that peace was the other key to the sustaining the empire. He seduced the population with peace and reminded them in as many ways as possible of the chaos of the days of republic.