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Marcus Tullius Cicero




 



Marcus Tullius Cicero


 

 

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Roman statesman, scholar, and writer
English byname Tully
born 106 bc, Arpinum, Latium [now Arpino, Italy]
died Dec. 7, 43 bc, Formiae, Latium [now Formia]

Main
Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar, and writer who vainly tried to uphold republican principles in the final civil wars that destroyed the republic of Rome. His writings include books of rhetoric, orations, philosophical and political treatises, and letters. He is remembered in modern times as the greatest Roman orator and innovator of what became known as Ciceronian rhetoric.

Cicero was the son of a wealthy family of Arpinium. Admirably educated in Rome and in Greece, he did military service in 89 under Pompeius Strabo (the father of Pompey) and made his first appearance in the courts defending 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 Catulus and leading Optimates (the conservative element in the Senate), he spoke in favour of conferring on Pompey command of the campaign against Mithradates, king of Pontus. 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 spoke for execution and 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.

At the end of 60, Cicero declined Caesar’s invitation to join the political alliance of Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey, which he considered unconstitutional, and also Caesar’s offer in 59 of a place on his staff in Gaul. When Publius Clodius, whom Cicero had antagonized by speaking and giving evidence against him when he was tried for profanity early in 61, became tribune in 58, Cicero was in danger, and in March, disappointed by Pompey’s refusal to help him, fled Rome. On the following day Clodius carried a bill forbidding the execution of a Roman citizen without trial. Clodius then carried through a second law, of doubtful legality, declaring Cicero an exile. Cicero went first to Thessalonica, in Macedonia, and then to Illyricum. In 57, thanks to the activity of Pompey and particularly the tribune Milo, he was recalled on August 4. Cicero landed at Brundisium (Brindisi) on that day and was acclaimed all along his route to Rome, where he arrived a month later.

In winter 57–56 Cicero attempted unsuccessfully to estrange Pompey from Caesar. Pompey disregarded Cicero’s advice and renewed his compact with Caesar and Crassus at Luca in April 56. Cicero then agreed, under pressure from Pompey, to align himself with the three in politics, and he committed himself in writing to this effect (the “palinode”). The speech De provinciis consularibus marked his new alliance. He was obliged to accept a number of distasteful defenses, and he abandoned public life. In the next few years he completed the De oratore (55) and De republica (started in 54, finished in 52) and began the De legibus (52). In 52 he was delighted when Milo killed Clodius but failed disastrously in his defense of Milo (later written for publication, the Pro Milone).

In 51 he was persuaded to leave Rome to govern the province of Cilicia, in south Asia Minor, for a year. The province had been expecting a Parthian invasion, but it never materialized, although Cicero did suppress some brigands on Mt. Amanus. The Senate granted a supplicatio (a period of public thanksgiving), although Cicero had hoped for a triumph, a processional return through the city, on his return to Rome. All admitted that he governed Cilicia with integrity.

By the time Cicero returned to Rome, Pompey and Caesar were struggling for complete power. He was in the outskirts of Rome when Caesar crossed the Rubicon and invaded Italy in January 49. Cicero met Pompey outside Rome on January 17 and accepted a commission to supervise recruiting in Campania. He did not leave Italy with Pompey on March 17, however. His indecision was not discreditable, though his criticism of Pompey’s strategy was inexpert. In an interview with Caesar on March 28, Cicero showed great courage in stating his own terms—his intention of proposing in the Senate that Caesar should not pursue the war against Pompey any further—though they were terms that Caesar could not possibly accept. He disapproved of Caesar’s dictatorship; yet he realized that in the succession of battles (which continued until 45) he would have been one of the first victims of Caesar’s enemies, had they triumphed. This was his second period of intensive literary production, works of this period including the Brutus, Paradoxa, Orator in 46; De finibus in 45; and Tusculanae disputationes, De natura deorum, and De officiis, finished after Caesar’s murder, in 44.

Cicero was not involved in the conspiracy to kill Caesar on March 15, 44, and was not present in the Senate when he was murdered. On March 17 he spoke in the Senate in favour of a general amnesty, but then he returned to his philosophical writing and contemplated visiting his son, who was studying in Athens. But instead he returned to Rome at the end of August, and his 14 Philippic orations (so called in imitation of Demosthenes’ speeches against Philip II of Macedonia), the first delivered on Sept. 2, 44, the last on April 21, 43, mark his vigorous reentry into politics. His policy was to make every possible use of Caesar’s adopted son Octavian, whose mature intelligence he seriously underestimated, and to drive the Senate, against its own powerful inclination toward compromise, to declare war on Antony, who had controlled events immediately following Caesar’s death and who now was pursuing one of the assassins in Cisalpine Gaul. No letters survive to show how Octavian deceived Cicero in the interval between the defeat of Antony in Cisalpine Gaul on April 14 and Octavian’s march on Rome to secure the consulship in August. It was in May that Octavian learned of Cicero’s unfortunate remark that “the young man should be given praise, distinctions—and then be disposed of.” The triumvirate of Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus was formed at the end of October, and Cicero was soon being sought for execution. He was captured and killed near Caieta on December 7. His head and hands were displayed on the rostra, the speakers’ platform at the Forum, at Rome.

In politics Cicero constantly denigrated his opponents and exaggerated the virtues of his friends. As a “new man,” a man without noble ancestry, he was never accepted by the dominant circle of Optimates, and he attributed his own political misfortunes after 63 partly to the jealousy, partly to the spineless unconcern, of the complacent Optimates. The close political association with Pompey for which he longed was never achieved. He was more ready than some men to compromise ideals in order to preserve the republic, but, though he came to admit in the De republica that republican government required the presence of a powerful individual—an idealized Pompey perhaps—to ensure its stability, he showed little appreciation of the intrinsic weaknesses of Roman republican administration.

From Cicero’s correspondence between 67 and July 43 bc more than 900 letters survive, and, of the 835 written by Cicero himself, 416 were addressed to his friend, financial adviser, and publisher, the knight Titus Pomponius Atticus, and 419 to one or other of some 94 different friends, acquaintances, and relatives. The number obviously constitutes only a small portion of the letters that Cicero wrote and received. Many letters that were current in antiquity have not survived; for instance, the account of the suppression of Catiline’s conspiracy, mentioned in the Pro Sulla and Pro Plancio, which Cicero sent to Pompey at the end of 63; Pompey hardly as much as acknowledged it, and Cicero was mocked about it in public later. Many letters were evidently suppressed for political reasons after Cicero’s death.

There are four collections of the letters: to Atticus (Ad Atticum) in 16 books; to his friends (Ad familiares) in 16 books; to Brutus; and, in 3 books, to his brother (Ad Quintum fratrem). The letters constitute a primary historical source such as exists for no other part of the ancient world. They often enable events to be dated with a precision that would not otherwise be possible, and they have been used, though with no very great success, to discredit the accuracy of Caesar’s commentaries on the civil war. On the other hand, his reporting of events, naturally enough, is not objective, and he was capable of misremembering or misrepresenting past events so as to enhance his own credit.

Cicero is a minor but by no means negligible figure in the history of Latin poetry. His best known poems (which survive only in fragments) were the epics De consulatu suo (On His Consulship) and De temporibus suis (On His Life and Times), which were criticized in antiquity for their self-praise. Cicero’s verse is technically important; he refined the hexameter, using words of two or three syllables at the end of a line, so that the natural word accent would coincide with the beat of the metre, and applying rhetorical devices to poetry; he is one of those who made possible the achievement of Virgil.

Cicero made his reputation as an orator in politics and in the law courts, where he preferred appearing for the defense and generally spoke last because of his emotive powers. Unfortunately, not all his cases were as morally sound as the attack on the governor of Sicily, Gaius Verres, which was perhaps his most famous case. In his day Roman orators were divided between “Asians,” with a rich, florid, grandiose style, of which Quintus Hortensius was the chief exponent, and the direct simplicity of the “Atticists,” such as Caesar and Brutus. Cicero refused to attach himself to any school. He was trained by Molon of Rhodes, whose own tendencies were eclectic, and he believed that an orator should command and blend a variety of styles. He made a close study of the rhythms that were likely to appeal to an audience, especially in the closing cadences of a sentence or phrase. His fullness revolutionized the writing of Latin; he is the real creator of the “periodic” style, in which phrase is balanced against phrase, with subordinate clauses woven into a complex but seldom obscure whole. Cicero’s rhetoric was a complex art form, and the ears of the audience were keenly attuned to these effects. Of the speeches, 58 have survived, some in an incomplete form; it is estimated that about 48 have been lost.

Cicero in Brutus implicitly gives his own description of his equipment as an orator—a thorough knowledge of literature, a grounding in philosophy, legal expertise, a storehouse of history, the capacity to tie up an opponent and reduce the jury to laughter, the ability to lay down general principles applicable to the particular case, entertaining digressions, the power of rousing the emotions of anger or pity, the faculty of directing his intellect to the point immediately essential. This is not an unjust picture. It is the humanitas of the speeches that turns them from an ephemeral tour de force into a lasting possession. His humour is at its best in his bantering of the Stoics in Pro Murena in order to discredit Cato, who was among the prosecutors, and at its most biting when he is attacking Clodia in Pro Caelio. His capacity for arousing anger may be seen in the opening sentences of the first speech against Catiline and, for arousing pity, in the last page of Pro Milone. His technique in winning a case against the evidence is exemplified by Pro Cluentio, a speech in an inordinately complex murder trial; Cicero later boasted of “throwing dust in the jurymen’s eyes.”

Cicero studied philosophy under the Epicurean Phaedrus (c. 140–70 bc), the Stoic Diodotus (d. c. 60 bc), and the Academic Philo of Larissa (c. 160–80 bc), and thus he had a thorough grounding in three of the four main schools of philosophy. Cicero called himself an Academic, but this applied chiefly to his theory of knowledge, in which he preferred to be guided by probability rather than to allege certainty; in this way, he justified contradictions in his own works. In ethics he was more inclined to dogmatism and was attracted by the Stoics, but for his authority he looked behind the Stoics to Socrates. In religion he was an agnostic most of his life, but he had religious experiences of some profundity during an early visit to Eleusis and at the death of his daughter in 45. He usually writes as a theist, but the only religious exaltation in his writings is to be found in the “Somnium Scipionis” (“Scipio’s Dream”) at the end of De republica.

Cicero did not write seriously on philosophy before about 54, a period of uneasy political truce, when he seems to have begun De republica, following it with De legibus (begun in 52). These writings were an attempt to interpret Roman history in terms of Greek political theory. The bulk of his philosophical writings belong to the period between February 45 and November 44. His output and range of subjects were astonishing: the lost De consolatione, prompted by his daughter’s death; Hortensius, an exhortation to the study of philosophy, which proved instrumental in St. Augustine’s conversion; the difficult Academica (Academic Philosophy), which defends suspension of judgement; De finibus, or The Supreme Good (Is it pleasure, virtue, or something more complex?); and De officiis (Moral Obligation). Except in the last book of De officiis, Cicero lays no claim to originality in these works. Writing to Atticus, he says of them “They are transcripts; I simply supply words, and I’ve plenty of those.” His aim was to provide Rome with a kind of philosophic encyclopaedia. He derived his material from Stoic, Academic, epicurean, and Peripatetic sources. The form he used was the dialogue, but his models were Aristotle and the scholar Heracleides Ponticus rather than Plato. Cicero’s importance in the history of philosophy is as a transmitter of Greek thought. In the course of this role, he gave Rome and, therefore, Europe its philosophical vocabulary.

John Ferguson
John P.V. Dacre Balsdon
 



 


Cesare Maccari
Cicero Denounces Catiline



 


ORATIONS
 

Type of work: Speeches
Author: Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.)
First transcribed: 80-43 B.C.

 

When one thinks of the greatness of Rome and especially of its government, the name of Cicero is likely to come to mind. While a figure like Julius Caesar may symbolize the military greatness of imperial Rome, Cicero is a symbol of Roman justice and law, of the Roman Senate and its traditions, and of Roman greatness in philosophy and literature. Cicero is important in literature primarily for his orations and his numerous writings about oratory and rhetoric. As the author of these writings Cicero set a pattern in public speaking that is still alive in European culture. More than that, because of what he wrote and said and because of the viewpoints he held and defended, even dying for them, Cicero became historically one of the great advocates of culture and conservatism.
Cicero took ten years to prepare himself as a lawyer before he appeared on behalf of a client in public. In those years of preparation he held, as he did all his life, that a thorough education is necessary for success in any activity. There have been exponents of oratory who claim that manner is everything; Cicero disagreed, believing that matter is as inescapably a factor in oratorical success as is manner. In the Orator, one of his most mature pieces of writing on the art of oratory, Cicero wrote that his own success, like that of any orator, was more to be credited to his study of the philosophers than to his study of earlier rhetoricians, and that no one can express wide views, or speak fluently on many and various subjects, without philosophy. Although Cicero tried to make a science of rhetoric and saw profit in his own attempts at its systemization, he also realized that no simple set of formulas could ever make a great orator. As he put it, an eloquent man should be able to speak "of small things in a lowly manner, of moderate things in a temperate manner, and of great things with dignity."
In Cicero's time there were two prevalent styles in oratory, the Attic and the Asian. In the latter type, Cicero himself discerned two varieties, the one epigrammatic and euphuistic, dependent upon artful structure rather than importance of content, and the other characterized by a swift and passionate flow of speech in which choice of words for precise and elegant effect was a dominant factor. Cicero found both styles wanting in some degree and built his own style upon an eclectic combination of the two.
Fifty-eight speeches by Cicero are still extant, although not all have complete texts. The number of his speeches is unknown, but more than forty are known to have been lost. Not all the speeches Cicero wrote were delivered; sometimes he wrote them for an occasion which did not occur. His second Philippic is an example of such a speech. Marcus Antonius was so enraged by Cicero's first speech against him after the death of Julius Caesar that Cicero's friends persuaded the orator to leave the city of Rome temporarily. While absent from Rome, living at a villa near Naples, Cicero wrote the second Philippic, which was not spoken in the Senate or even published immediately. A copy was sent, however, to Brutus and Cas-sius, who enjoyed its invective against their enemy.
Not all of Cicero's speeches are of equal interest to a modern reader. His earliest extant oration, containing relatively little of interest, was delivered in a law court on behalf of Publius Quinctius. Cicero appeared for the defense, as he usually did, and spoke against Quintus Hortensius, the greatest lawyer in Rome at the time. Although Cicero won his case, it is difficult for a modern reader to retain interest in a case decided two thousand years ago when the stuff of the argument is largely points of law. But this speech, along with other early efforts, provided the opportunity for Cicero to prove himself. He made such a reputation that he was chosen to prosecute Caius Verres, who was accused of tyranny and maladministration in Sicily. Once again the famous Hortensius was Cicero's legal opponent. In the second oration he made against Verres, Cicero managed to produce such overwhelming evidence against the defendant that he went voluntarily into banishment. The evidence included chicanery designed to prevent the case from coming to trial, and even Hortensius could find little to say for the defendant. Although Cicero had no occasion to deliver five additional speeches he had written for the trial, scholars have judged that they are among Cicero's best and have found them excellent sources for material about Sicilian government, history, and art. Another of Cicero's noteworthy speeches is the one given in defense of Aulus Cluentius, who was tried and acquitted on a charge of having poisoned his father-in-law, who had tried a few years before to poison Cluentius.
Cicero's intent was to move his hearers, and his devices to ensure victory in court were not always above reproach, as his speech in defense of Lucius Flaccus indicates. The defendant was accused of extortion while an administrator in Asia, and apparently Cicero could find little to say in his client's defense beyond impugning the Jews and Greeks who were witnesses against him, members of groups not much in favor in Rome. Of even greater interest is Cicero's defense of Aulus Licinius Archias, a poet of Greek descent whose status as a Roman citizen had been questioned. In this oration Cicero developed a long passage in praise of literature, saying that literature and its creators are of paramount interest to a nation because they afford excellent material for speeches, because they make great deeds immortal by preserving them in writing, and because they give readers a useful and refreshing pastime.
Not all of Cicero's speeches were intended for courtroom presentation. Some were written for delivery in the Senate and some with a view to Cicero's own benefit. In 58 B.C. Cicero was exiled temporarily as a result of his activities in crushing the conspiracy of Catiline. When Pompey recalled him to Rome a year later, he thanked the Roman Senate in one speech for his recall; in another he thanked the Roman people generally; and in a third he made a request to the Senate for the return of his home, which had been taken over by Clodius for the state.
The most famous of Cicero's speeches are those he wrote against Marcus Antonius after the death of Julius Caesar. Cicero, a conservative, had not been favorable to the autocracy of Caesar and rejoiced when Caesar was assassinated. During an eight-month period in 44-43 B.C., when Marcus Antonius presumed to try to succeed Caesar, Cicero directed fourteen orations against him. These orations, passionate and sincere, are called the Philippics, after the famous speeches of Demosthenes against Philip, the father of Alexander the Great. In his first speech, Cicero spoke with some moderation, speaking only of Antonius' public life and appealing to his sense of patriotism. In later speeches, especially the second Philippic, he made all sorts of attacks on Antonius' private life, accusing him of almost every conceivable type of immorality. Eventually Antonius had his revenge: when he, Lepidus, and Octavianus formed their triumvirate, Cicero was put to death.
Perhaps Cicero's most significant legacy was his formulation of the principles of rhetoric. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, rhetoric played a vital part in the curriculum, which remained strongly based in oratory, and Cicero's influence on this discipline was great.

 

 
     
         
 

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