Antony’s Funeral Oration

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Mark Antony gave a rousing “Funeral Oration” for Julius Caesar shortly after he was assassinated in 44 BC. Caius Trebonius had purposely detained Antony outside of Pompey’s Hall while Caesar was inside, being assassinated by Brutus, Cassius and a small band of senators. In the ensuing chaos, Antony left the scene immediately. He’d told people later that he thought the conspirators wanted to kill him too. However, that evening he had dinner with Cassius. And Lepidus, the Master of the Horse, had dinner with Brutus. Then, instead of arresting the assassins, Antony called for a meeting of the senate the next day to let them decide what to do about Caesar’s assassination. In the meantime, pro-Caesar sentiment was building among the citizens of Rome and the soldiers who loved Caesar. When he became aware of this shift in public opinion, Antony changed his tactic. Instead of continuing to side with the conspirators and their allies iin the senate, Antony gave a pro-Caesar funeral oration in the Roman Forum. Some of it is recounted here:

Excerpt
“Is this what we citizens do? Decree honors on people who don’t ask for them, then murder them because they have them? But, by at least showing him honor at this moment, we’re defending ourselves against the accusation that we’ve all lost our senses.”

He stretched his hand up at the Capitoline Hill, raised his voice, and said, “Oh, Jupiter, god of our ancestors, and ye other gods, for my own part I’m prepared to defend Caesar according to my oath and the terms of the curse I called down upon myself.

“But since it’s the view of my equals that it’s best that we give amnesty to the murderers of Caesar, I pray that it’s truly for the best.

“We must attend to the present instead of the past, because our future, and indeed our present, is poised on a knife-edge of great dangers. We risk being dragged back into our previous state of civil war.

“Let us then conduct Caesar, this sacred person, to join the blessed, and let us sing over him the customary hymn and dirge.” He gathered his garments like a man inspired and girded himself so that he would have free use of his hands. He took his position in front of the bier with Caesar’s lifeless body lying on it. Then, as if he were in a play, he bent down to it, rose again, and sang as if he were singing to a celestial deity.

He spoke of Caesar’s god-like origin, his victories, and the spoils he brought to Rome. He exclaimed, “You alone, Caesar, came forth undefeated from all the battles you fought. You alone have avenged your country of the outrages put upon it three hundred years ago by the tribes from Gaul. You brought them to their knees, these savage tribes, the only ones who ever broke into the city and burned Rome.”

At this point, Antony uncovered Caesar’s body, stripped the bloody toga off, lifted it up on the top of a spear, and waved it in the air so that all in the crowd could see that it was pierced with dagger thrusts.

Someone yelled, “What makes me the angriest is that Decimus was named as a second heir in Caesar’s will. He was one of the assassins!”

While the people were in this mood and near violence, a wax effigy of the body of Caesar was raised straight up in the air near the bier so that all could see it. Caesar’s body itself was still lying on its back on the bier and wasn’t visible.

The people didn’t see Antony smile at Piso.

The effigy was turned in every direction by a mechanical device, and the twenty-three wounds savagely inflicted could be seen on every part of the body and face.

This sight was so pitiful that the people began running in every direction, looking for the murderers. Someone called out, “There’s Cinna. Let’s get him.”

As they grabbed him, Cinna screamed, “You have the wrong Cinna! I’m the tribune, Helvius Cinna, not the praetor, Cornelius Cinna!”

The people didn’t listen. They tore the wrong man to pieces like wild beasts. Then they set his head on a spear and paraded it through the streets.

When the people found out that the assassins had already fled the city during Antony’s oration, they carried fire to the houses of Brutus and Cassius. They would’ve burnt them down, but the servants bravely fought them off, and the neighbors begged them to leave. One of the crowd shouted, “We’ll leave, but we’ll be back with weapons tomorrow.”