Marcus Tullius Cicero was murdered on 7 December 43 BC: Rome's most famous orator, off-and-on defender of Republican liberty and thundering critic of autocracy. He was finally hunted down by lackeys of Mark Antony, a member of Rome's ruling junta and principal victim of Cicero's dazzling swansong of invective: more than a dozen speeches called the Philippics, after Demosthenes' almost equally nasty attacks on Philip of Macedon, three centuries earlier. The chase had degenerated into an elaborate, occasionally comic game of hide-and-seek, with Cicero torn between holing up in his villa to wait for the inevitable knock on the door and making a speedy getaway by sea. Eventually the assassins caught up with him in his litter en route for the coast, slit his throat and packed off his head and hands to Antony and his wife Fulvia, as proof that the deed had been done. When the gruesome parcel arrived, Antony ordered that the remnants be displayed in the Forum, nailed to the spot where Cicero had delivered many of his devastating tirades; but not before Fulvia had taken the head on her lap, and - so the story goes - opened the mouth, pulled out the tongue and stabbed it again and again with a pin taken from her hair.
LRB 23 August 2001 | PDF Download