Caesar's Legacy in the De Officiis

Jonathan P. Zarecki

Illinois State University

Through a philological analysis of the description of the rector rei publicae in the De Republica and the portrait of Caesar presented in the De Officiis, and drawing on similar passages in the first two Philippics, I will demonstrate that Cicero's final indictment of Caesar in the De Officiis is not a result of Caesar assuming the role of monarch in Rome, but rather his complete failure to govern in a manner consistent with the ideals of the rector rei publicae

The rector rei publicae, the ideal statesman presented in the De Republica, has been largely ignored by modern scholarship.  However, I would argue that the concept of the rector is a central component to understanding Cicero's political philosophy.  The rector is the premier statesman of Cicero's reformed Roman state.  Occupying an unelected position of authority, the rector would function as a gubernator (Rep. 2.51) and a moderator (Rep. 2.69), and would ensure political harmony and justice for all citizens. 

Cicero's comments at De Officiis 2.2-3 reveal that the orator believed Rome had veered dangerously from the ideals of traditional patriotism towards a kind of egotistical quest for glory and self-enrichment, one that had led to the permanent establishment of tyranny in Rome.  Caesar's cordiality in 46 and 45 (Att. 13.20.1, 13.46.2) had given Cicero reason to hope that Caesar, by now in a position of almost unparallel power and authority, would become a benevolent monarch, ruling in a manner consistent with the principles of the rector rei publicae. 

But instead of becoming the embodiment of the idealized rector or even another Numa, Cicero's paradigm for a just king, Caesar became a tyrannus and a dominus.  Cicero's final judgment of Caesar as presented in the De Officiis presents him as the antithesis of the rector rei publicae described in the De Republica.  In that work, Cicero had laid down the essential attributes that the rector must possess.  These qualities include aequabilitas, moderatio, prudentia, and utilitas.  Yet Caesar, whose primacy was not necessarily anticipated by Cicero with the trepidation most scholars assign to him, would exhibit none of these traits.  Though Cicero later acknowledged that Caesar had numerous admirable qualities (Phil. 2.116), it was through his temeritas, libido, and even his clementia that Caesar was able to become monarch.  Through the application of a consistent political philosophy which spanned the last ten years of his life, Cicero places these traits, and Caesar himself, in direct opposition to the concept of the ideal statesman, and it is Caesar's failure to rule according to the Ciceronian precepts, not his one-man rule in itself, that is the source of the hatred for Caesar that Cicero presents in the De Officiis


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