Another Lesson in Latin and Roman History From California’s Governor (Annotated)

California’s governor holds a 1961 degree in classics from the University of California at Berkeley.

Invariably, at some point during encounters with the press he offers some bit of Latin or allusion to Roman history in order to prove it.

(There has been some grumbling among the Greco-philes of the Capitol Press Corps about the Fairness Doctrine.)

Brown’s December 27 offering included a quote from Marcus Tullius Cicero, the famed orator, author, statesman and consul fromthe Roman Republic.

Brown said the phrase came to mind while jogging a few days before.

The line: “O tempora, o mores.”

Translated: “Oh what times. Oh what customs.”

It’s from the first of a series of speeches by Cicero  given in 63 BC to the Roman Senate denouncing a plot by Lucius Sergius Cataline to overthrow the government. 

Cicero is bewailing, among other things, the turpitude of the era.

For the edification of the assembled reporters, Brown also relayed the high points of Cicero’s beheading on the order of Mark Anthony on December 7, 43 BC, including the placement of Ciero’s severed head on the Senate rostrum.

After Julius Caesar’s death, Cicero tried to play Anthony off against Octavius, Caesar’s  heir.

Cicero gave a series of speeches critical of Anthony known as the Philippics.

Ocatavius and Anthony weren’t amused. 

Cicero, 63, was beheaded.

Brown did not tell reporters that following the beheading, Anthony ordered Cicero’s hands be cut off  because they’d written the Philippics.

From Plutarch’s Lives, not the most factual classical source but certainly one of the best written:

“And Cicero, perceiving Herennius running in the walks, commanded his servants to set down the litter; and stroking his chin, as he used to do, with his left hand, he looked steadfastly upon his murderers, his person covered with dust, his beard and hair untrimmed, and his face worn with his troubles.

Cicero in the Senate

“So that the greatest part of those that stood by covered their faces whilst Herennius slew him. And thus was he murdered, stretching forth his neck out of the litter, being now in his sixty-fourth year.

“Herennius cut off his head, and, by Antony’s command, his hands also, by which his Philippics were written; for so Cicero styled those orations he wrote against Antony, and so they are called to this day.

“When these members of Cicero were brought to Rome, Antony was holding an assembly for the choice of public officers; and when he heard it, and saw them, he cried out, ‘Now let there be an end of our proscriptions.’

(Anthony) commanded (Cicero’s) head and hands to be fastened up over the Rostra, where the orators spoke; a sight which the Roman people shuddered to behold, and they believed they saw there not the face of Cicero, but the image of Antony’s own soul.”

Brown noted that a “woman adversary” also stuck her hatpin in Cicero’s tongue. 

The woman adversary was Anthony’s wife, Fulvia, who — according to Cassius Dio — pulled out Cicero’s tongue and jabbed it repeatedly with her hairpin, her revenge for Cicero’s unkind remarks about her husband in the Philippics.


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