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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A philippic is a fiery, damning speech, or tirade, delivered to condemn a particular political actor. The term originates with Demosthenes, who delivered several attacks on Philip II of Macedon in the 4th century BC.

Cicero consciously modeled his own series of attacks on Mark Antony, in 44 BC and 43 BC, on Demosthenes's speeches, and if the correspondence between M. Brutus and Cicero is genuine [ad Brut. ii 3.4, ii 4.2], at least the fifth and seventh speeches were referred to as the Philippics in Cicero's time. They were also called the Antonian Orations by Aulus Gellius.

They were named after a series of speeches that failed to effectively warn the Greeks of the danger of Philip of Macedon. (Philip's son was Alexander the Great, one of the greatest conquerors of all time. After the death of Caesar, Cicero privately expressed his regret that the murderers of Caesar had not included Antony in their plot, and he bent his efforts to the discrediting of Antony. Cicero even promoted illegal action, such as legitimatizing Octavian's private army. In all, Cicero delivered 14 Phillipics in less than two years. Cicero's focus on Antony, however, would contribute to his downfall as he failed to recognize the threat of Octavian to his republican ideal.

Cicero's attacks on Antony were neither forgiven nor forgotten, with the result that he was subsequently proscribed and killed in 43 BC. His head and hands were publicly displayed in the Roman Forum to discourage any who would oppose the new Triumvirate of Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus. Cicero's fate stands in marked contrast to that of Demosthenes, who suffered no punishment for his philippics. Philip and Alexander, as conquerors of Greece, could have had Demosthenes killed - but they were not that vindictive, and did not punish anyone for mere words. However, Demosthenes later committed suicide rather than be captured by Alexander's men, who were not as forgiving, and wanted him dead for his leadership in Athens' rebellion.

According to Tacitus, the well-known Roman historian, this work, together with the Pro Milone, In Catilinam, and In Verrem, made Cicero's name, and much of his political career sprang from the effect of these works. Others would have it that the Pro Ligario, in which Cicero defends Ligarius before Caesar, was the vehicle of his renown.

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