Marcus Tullius Cicero - Biography, Letters and Legacy

Marcus Tullius Cicero - Biography, Letters and Legacy

Greek philosophy and rhetoric moved fully into Latin for the first time in the speeches, letters and dialogues of Cicero (106-43 B.C.), the greatest orator of the late Roman Republic. A brilliant lawyer and the first of his family to achieve Roman office, Cicero was one of the leading political figures of the era of Julius Caesar, Pompey, Marc Antony and Octavian. A string of misjudged alliances saw him exiled and eventually murdered, but Cicero’s writings barely waned in influence over the centuries. It was through him that the thinkers of the Renaissance and Enlightenment discovered the riches of Classical rhetoric and philosophy.

Cicero: Early Life, Education, Entry into Politics

Marcus Tullius Cicero was born in the hill town of Arpinum, about 60 miles southeast of Rome. His father, a wealthy member of the equestrian order, paid to educate Cicero and his younger brother in philosophy and rhetoric in Rome and Greece. After a brief military service, he studied Roman law under Quintis Mucius Scaevola. Cicero publicly argued his first legal case in 81 B.C., successfully defending a man charged with parricide.

Cicero was elected quaestor in 75, praetor in 66 and consul in 63—the youngest man ever to attain that rank without coming from a political family. During his term as consul he thwarted the Catilinian conspiracy to overthrow the Republic. In the aftermath, though, he approved the key conspirators’ summary execution, a breach of Roman law that left him vulnerable to prosecution and sent him into exile.

Cicero: Alliances, Exiles and Death

During his exile, Cicero refused overtures from Caesar that might have protected him, preferring political independence to a role in the First Triumvirate. Cicero was away from Rome when civil war between Caesar and Pompey broke out. He aligned himself with Pompey and then faced another exile when Caesar won the war, cautiously returning to Rome to receive the dictator’s pardon.

Cicero was not asked to join the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar in 44 B.C., but he was quick to celebrate it after the fact. In the infighting that followed Caesar’s death, Cicero made brief attempts at alliances with key figures, first defending Mark Antony before the Senate and then denouncing him as a public enemy in a series of withering speeches. For some time he supported the upstart Octavian, but when Antony, Octavian and Lepidus allied in 43 to form the Second Triumvirate, Cicero’s fate was settled. Antony arranged to have him declared a public enemy. Cicero was caught and killed by Antony’s soldiers, who are said to have cut off his head and right hand and brought them for display in Rome—Antony’s revenge for Cicero’s speeches and writings.

Cicero: Writings and Oratory

Cicero was one of the most prolific Roman writers, and the number of his speeches, letters and treatises that have survived into the modern era is a testament to his admiration by successive generations. For Cicero, philosophical understanding was an orator’s paramount virtue. He was deeply influenced by his own training in three Greek philosophical schools: the Stoicism of Lucius Aelius Stilo and Didotus, the Epicureanism of Phaedrus and the skeptical approach of Philo of Larissa, head of the New Academy. Cicero usually sided with the Stoics, who valued virtue and service, over the pleasure-loving Epicureans. But his New Academic training equipped him to combine elements of the various philosophical schools to suit a given situation.

Cicero offered little new philosophy of his own but was a matchless translator, rendering Greek ideas into eloquent Latin. His other peerless contribution was his correspondence. More than 900 of his letters survive, including everything from official dispatches to casual notes to friends and family. Much of what is known about politics and society of his era is known because of Cicero’s correspondence. Few of his letters were written for publication, so Cicero gave free reign to his exultations, fears and frustrations.

Cicero’s Legacy

Cicero’s inventive command of Latin prose provided a model for generations of textbooks and grammars. The Church Fathers explored Greek philosophy through Cicero’s translations, and many historians date the start of the Renaissance to Petrarch’s rediscovery of Cicero’s letters in 1345. Enlightenment thinkers including John Locke, David Hume, Montesquieu and Thomas Jefferson all borrowed thoughts and turns of phrase from Cicero. The first century critic Quintilian said that Cicero was “the name, not of a man, but of eloquence itself.”

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Cicero - Legacy

Cicero has been traditionally considered the master of Latin prose, with Quintilian declaring Cicero was "not the name of a man, but of eloquence itself. " He is credited with transforming Latin from a modest utilitarian language into a versatile literary medium capable of expressing abstract and complicated thoughts with clarity. Julius Caesar praised Cicero's achievement by saying “it is more important to have greatly extended the frontiers of the Roman spirit than the frontiers of the Roman empire” According to John William Mackail, "Cicero’s unique and imperishable glory is that he created the language of the civilized world, and used that language to create a style which nineteen centuries have not replaced, and in some respects have hardly altered." Cicero was also an energetic writer with an interest in a wide variety of subjects in keeping with the Hellenistic philosophical and rhetorical traditions in which he was trained. The quality and ready accessibility of Ciceronian texts favored very wide distribution and inclusion in teaching curricula as suggested by an amusing graffiti at Pompeii admonishing "you will like Cicero, or you will be whipped" Cicero was greatly admired by influential Latin Church Fathers such as Augustine of Hippo, who credited Cicero's lost Hortensius for his eventual conversion to Christianity and St.Jerome, who had a feverish vision in which he was accused of being "follower of Cicero and not of Christ" before the judgment seat. This influence further increased after the Dark Ages in Europe, from which more of his writings survived than any other Latin author. Medieval philosophers were influenced by Cicero's writings on natural law and innate rights. Petrarch's rediscovery of Cicero's letters provided impetus for searches for ancient Greek and Latin writings scattered throughout European monasteries, and the subsequent rediscovery of Classical Antiquity led to the Renaissance. Subsequently, Cicero came to be regarded synonymous with classical Latin that many humanist scholars held that no Latin word or phrase was to be used unless it could be found in Cicero's works to the extent that Erasmus felt compelled to criticize such extremism in his treatise Ciceronianus. His voluminous correspondence, much of it addressed to his friend Atticus, has been especially influential, introducing the art of refined letter writing to European culture. Cornelius Nepos, the 1st century BC biographer of Atticus, remarked that Cicero's letters contained such a wealth of detail "concerning the inclinations of leading men, the faults of the generals, and the revolutions in the government" that their reader had little need for a history of the period. Among Cicero's admirers were Desiderius Erasmus, Martin Luther, and John Locke. Following the invention of the printing press, De Officiis was the second book to be printed – second only to the Gutenberg Bible. Scholars note Cicero's influence on the rebirth of religious toleration in the 17th century.

While Cicero the humanist deeply influenced the culture of the Renaissance, Cicero the republican inspired the Founding Fathers of the United States and the revolutionaries of the French Revolution. John Adams said of him "As all the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher united than Cicero, his authority should have great weight." Jefferson names Cicero as one of a handful of major figures who contributed to a tradition “of public right” that informed his draft of the Declaration of Independence and shaped American understandings of "the common sense" basis for the right of revolution. Camille Desmoulins said of the French republicans in 1789 that they were "mostly young people who, nourished by the reading of Cicero at school, had become passionate enthusiasts for liberty". Jim Powell starts his book on the history of liberty with the sentence: "Marcus Tullius Cicero expressed principles that became the bedrock of liberty in the modern world." Legitimate government protects liberty and justice according to "natural law." "Murray N. Rothbard praised Cicero as 'the great transmitter of Stoic ideas from Greece to Rome. . Stoic natural law doctrines . helped shape the great structures of Roman law which became pervasive in Western Civilization." Government's purpose was the protection of private property.

Likewise, no other antique personality has inspired venomous dislike as Cicero especially in more modern times. Friedrich Engels referred to him as "the most contemptible scoundrel in history" for upholding republican "democracy", while at the same time denouncing land and class reforms. Cicero has faced criticism for exaggerating the democratic qualities of republican Rome, and for defending the Roman oligarchy against the popular reforms of Caesar. Michael Parenti admits Cicero's abilities as an orator, but finds him a vain, pompous and hypocritical personality who, when it suited him, could show public support for popular causes that he privately despised. Parenti presents Cicero's prosecution of the Catiline conspiracy as legally flawed at least, and possibly unlawful.

Cicero also had an influence on modern astronomy. Nicolaus Copernicus, searching for ancient views on earth motion, say that he "first . found in Cicero that Hicetas supposed the earth to move."

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&ldquo What is popularly called fame is nothing but an empty name and a legacy from paganism. &rdquo
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Marcus Tullius Cicero (January 3, 106 BC – December 7, 43 BC sometimes anglicized as Tully) was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul and constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.

His influence on the Latin language was so immense that the subsequent history of prose in not only Latin but European languages up to the 19th century was said to be either a reaction against or a return to his style. According to Michael Grant, "the influence of Cicero upon the history of European literature and ideas greatly exceeds that of any other prose writer in any language." Cicero introduced the Romans to the chief schools of Greek philosophy and created a Latin philosophical vocabulary (with neologisms such as humanitas, qualitas, quantitas, and essentia)[6] distinguishing himself as a linguist, translator, and philosopher.

Petrarch's rediscovery of Cicero's letters is often credited for initiating the 14th-century Renaissance. According to Polish historian Tadeusz Zieliński, "Renaissance was above all things a revival of Cicero, and only after him and through him of the rest of Classical antiquity." The peak of Cicero's authority and prestige came during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and his impact on leading Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, David Hume, and Montesquieu was substantial. His works rank among the most influential in European culture, and today still constitute one of the most important bodies of primary material for the writing and revision of Roman history, especially the last days of the Roman Republic.

Though he was an accomplished orator and successful lawyer, Cicero believed his political career was his most important achievement. It was during his consulship that the Catiline conspiracy attempted the government overthrow through an attack on the city from outside forces, and Cicero suppressed the revolt by executing five conspirators without due process. During the chaotic latter half of the 1st century BC marked by civil wars and the dictatorship of Gaius Julius Caesar, Cicero championed a return to the traditional republican government. Following Julius Caesar's death Cicero became an enemy of Mark Antony in the ensuing power struggle, attacking him in a series of speeches. He was proscribed as an enemy of the state by the Second Triumvirate and subsequently murdered in 43 BC.

Ancient Rome

Cicero was born in 106 BC in a small town just southeast of Rome called Arpinum. He was an intelligent child from a wealthy family. He was educated by the best teachers and learned to read and write both Greek and Latin. He also learned about the Greek philosophers and poets.

As Cicero grew older, he began to get a reputation as one of the brightest youths in Rome. He continued to study Roman law and train as a speaker. At this time in Rome, being able to give a good speech (also called oratory) was considered an art. Cicero would become the greatest orator in the history of Rome.

Cicero made two lifelong friends among his fellow law students. They were Servius Rufus and Atticus. Both would play important roles advising and supporting Cicero throughout his career.

Early Political Career

Cicero was a strong believer in the Roman Republic. He wanted to climb the ladder of political office in the traditional manner called the Cursus honorum. He served for a short time in the army and then began his career as a lawyer. He quickly became famous for taking risky cases and winning them. He also incurred the wrath of the Roman dictator Sulla.

His first political office was that of Quaestor in 75 BC for the island of Sicily. He then continued up the political ladder. He became curule aedile in 69 BC, and praetor in 66 BC. Cicero became very popular. He not only won each election he entered, but always got the most votes out of the entire group of candidates. This was rarely accomplished in Ancient Rome.

When Cicero was Quaestor for Sicily, the people asked him to prosecute a case against their governor, the powerful Gaius Verres. Cicero had little chance to win. Verres was powerful and had hired the best lawyer in all of Rome, Quintus Hortensius. However, Cicero saw the case as a challenge and agreed to take it.

Cicero went to Sicily and uncovered evidence against Verres. He then proceeded to present one of the best cases ever heard in a Roman court of law. His speeches became legendary and it was during this case that he became known as the greatest orator in all of Rome. Cicero won the case making him very popular among the people of Rome.

In 63 BC, Cicero was elected to consul, the highest position in the Roman government. During his time as consul Cicero stopped a threat to overthrow the Roman republic. He was given the title Pater Patriae, meaning "Father of the Country", by the Senate for his brave efforts.

Throughout his political career, Cicero had watched the rise of Julius Caesar. Cicero was afraid of Caesar's ambition for power. When Caesar asked him to become part of a powerful alliance, Cicero refused. By doing this he made an enemy of Caesar. Not too long later, Caesar had Cicero exiled from Rome. He left Rome for a year, returning in 57 BC.

Cicero again fled from Rome when Julius Caesar fought Pompey and took control of the city becoming dictator of Rome. Caesar, however, pardoned Cicero and allowed him to return. When Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, Cicero was not disappointed. He took control of the Senate and tried to get the Roman Republic reestablished.

Cicero became a staunch opponent of Mark Antony, one of the leading men who tried to take over for Caesar. When Mark Antony, together with Octavian and Lepidus, took control of Rome, they sought out their enemies. They tracked down Cicero and had him killed. His last words were "there is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly."

A Political Life

Cicero returned to Rome from Athens in 77 BCE, and quickly rose in the ranks and made an orator in the forum. In 75 BCE he was sent to Sicily as a quaestor, returning to Rome again in 74 BCE. In 69 BCE he was made a praetor and, in that role, sent Pompey to the command of the Mithridatic war. But in 63 BCE, a plot against Rome was discovered—the Catiline Conspiracy.

Lucius Sergius Catilina (108–62 BCE) was a patrician, who had a few political setbacks and worked his bitterness into an uprising against the ruling oligarchy in Rome, dragging along other discontents in the Senate and out of it. His primary political goal was a radical program of debt relief, but he threatened one of his opponents in an election in 54 BCE. Cicero, who was consul, read four inflammatory speeches against Catiline, considered to be among his best rhetorical speeches.

Several of the conspirators were captured and killed without trial. Catiline fled and was killed in battle. The impacts to Cicero were mixed. He was addressed in the Senate as "father of his country," and there were suitable thanksgivings sent to the gods, but he made implacable enemies.

Cicero came from the “equites,” the landholder and commercial class that achieved prosperity through its business activities. Unlike the nobility, Romans expected this class to engage in trade and earn their own living. Throughout his career, Cicero’s greatest supporters were merchants, whom he in turn believed were the staunchest defenders of the Roman Republic.

Cicero famously said, “Not for ourselves alone are we born.” He dedicated his life to defending both freedom and republican government, and was willing to sacrifice his personal position and fortune to do so.

Early life and career

Cicero was the son of a wealthy family of Arpinum. Admirably educated in Rome and in Greece, he did military service in 89 under Pompeius Strabo (the father of the statesman and general Pompey) and made his first appearance in the courts defending Publius Quinctius in 81. His brilliant defense, in 80 or early 79, of Sextus Roscius against a fabricated charge of parricide established his reputation at the bar, and he started his public career as quaestor (an office of financial administration) in western Sicily in 75.

As praetor, a judicial officer of great power at this time, in 66 he made his first important political speech, when, against Quintus Lutatius Catulus and leading Optimates (the conservative element in the Roman Senate), he spoke in favour of conferring on Pompey command of the campaign against Mithradates VI, king of Pontus (in northeastern Anatolia). His relationship with Pompey, whose hatred of Marcus Licinius Crassus he shared, was to be the focal point of his career in politics. His election as consul for 63 was achieved through Optimates who feared the revolutionary ideas of his rival, Catiline.

In the first of his consular speeches, he opposed the agrarian bill of Servilius Rullus, in the interest of the absent Pompey but his chief concern was to discover and make public the seditious intentions of Catiline, who, defeated in 64, appeared again at the consular elections in 63 (over which Cicero presided, wearing armour beneath his toga). Catiline lost and planned to carry out armed uprisings in Italy and arson in Rome. Cicero had difficulty in persuading the Senate of the danger, but the “last decree” (Senatus consultum ultimum), something like a proclamation of martial law, was passed on October 22. On November 8, after escaping an attempt on his life, Cicero delivered the first speech against Catiline in the Senate, and Catiline left Rome that night. Evidence incriminating the conspirators was secured and, after a senatorial debate in which Cato the Younger spoke for execution and Julius Caesar against, they were executed on Cicero’s responsibility. Cicero, announcing their death to the crowd with the single word vixerunt (“they are dead”), received a tremendous ovation from all classes, which inspired his subsequent appeal in politics to concordia ordinum, “concord between the classes.” He was hailed by Catulus as “father of his country.” This was the climax of his career.

Tullius Cicero, Marcus, letters

Cicero's surviving correspondence is an invaluable collection of evidence for his biography, for the history of the time, and for Roman social life. The sixteen books Ad familiares were published after Cicero's death by his freedman M. Tullius Tiro . Cicero's letters to T. Pomponius Atticus were preserved (without the replies) by the latter and seen by Cornelius Nepos (Nep. Att. 16. 2–4, referring to a collection in 11 books). They were in circulation in the reign of Nero and later, but the silence of Asconius suggests that they were not available to him. Our present collection Ad Atticum consists of sixteen books, probably an augmented version of the collection known to Nepos. We also have the smaller collections Ad Quintum fratrem (including the Commentariolum petitionis) and Ad Brutum . Further collections of Cicero's letters apparently existed in antiquity. The Ad familiares collection contains, in addition to Cicero's own, letters from a variety of correspondents to him.

The letters were not in any sense written for publication as far as is known, it was not until 44 bce that Cicero thought of publishing a selection of them ( Att. 16. 5. 5 cf. Fam. 16. 17. 1), and it is not clear that this idea was ever put into practice in that form. They vary greatly in their level of formality. At the one extreme they include official dispatches and letters of a semi-public nature on matters of political importance, whose style is similar to that of the public speeches at the other may be found casual notes to members of the family and informal exchanges with Atticus, often highly allusive and colloquial. See letters, latin.

Marcus Tullius Cicero - Biography, Letters and Legacy - HISTORY

Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician by Anthony Everitt is a well-crafted, highly readable biography of Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was a lawyer, orator, prolific and popular writer, and statesman of Ancient Rome. Everitt takes his information from some 900 letters Cicero penned (most of which were to his friend Atticus) many of his speeches (revised and edited by Cicero himself) and Cicero’s books on philosophy and oratory.

Cicero (January 3, 106 B.C. – December 7, 43 B.C.) wrote about the political events of his day: the rise of Julius Caesar, his assassination, and subsequent maneuvering to power of Mark Anthony and Octavian (later known as Augustus). He also set out to write a definitive work covering “the whole field in detail” of every philosophical system. Cicero had a son, Marcus, and a much-beloved daughter Tullia (who died while giving birth). He divorced his wife Terentia after some 30 years, although it is not clear why to historians. His second marriage lasted only a few months.

Cicero was a life-long devotee of Republican government (and thus an opponent of Caesar). Ordinarily, opposing Caesar was not conducive to longevity. Cicero nevertheless lived to tell his tale for several reasons: Caesar was renown for his occasional leniency, Caesar enjoyed Cicero’s wit, and Cicero himself was a successful manipulator of people in general and alliances in particular.

Cicero longed for power, but always played a secondary role in Roman politics. He lacked the charisma of Caesar, as well as his deep understanding of politics. As Everitt observed, “Julius Caesar, with the pitiless insight of genius, understood that the constitution with its endless checks and balances prevented effective government . . .” But for Cicero, the solution to Rome’s crisis of inaction and inefficacy “lay in finding better men to run the government and better laws to keep them in order.” But a few good men were as hard to find then as they are today. Thus, Cicero’s advice and leadership, though valued by many, were bypassed by most. How well T.S. Eliot’s character of Prufrock captures Cicero!

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.”

Cicero never understood that he was wrong, nor passed by an opportunity to tout his own insight, influence, and value. Eventually Cicero was put to death after Octavian added Cicero’s name on a proscription. (This was a posting of people wanted dead by the leadership. All property was then confiscated and turned over to the state after the killer was rewarded.)

Everitt brings Ancient Rome to life as if we were contemporaries of the protagonists. Ultimately, this attribute is what makes the story so enjoyable. This is an excellent book that makes the reader eager to find out more.

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