--Reproduced in its entirety from "Introduction: I. The Life of Cicero", Select Orations and Letters of Cicero. Boston: Ginn & Company, 1902.
|I. Cicero's Life from his Birth to the Opening of his Political Career (B.C. 106-76)|
|II. From the Questorship in Sicily to the Consulship (B.C. 75-64)|
|III. Consulship (B.C. 63)|
|IV. Consulship to Banishment (B.C. 63-58)|
|V. From Cicero's Recall to the Breaking out of the Civil War (B.C. 56-49)|
|VI. From the Beginning of the Civil War to the Murder of Caesar (B.C. 49-44)|
|VII. From the Murder of Caesar to the Death of Cicero (B.C. 44-43)|
Marcus Tullius Cicero, partly on account of his natural abilities and partly on account of the times in which he lived, has left a name associated with some of the most important events in the history of the world, as well as with some of the most potent forces in our civilization. Few men have made so distinct an impression on modern literature and thought. He touched many things which he did not adorn, but there is hardly any kind of intellectual activity that is not conspicuously indebted to his precepts or his example.
Cicero was born at Arpinum, a city with the Roman
franchise (which was also the birthplace of Marius), Jan. 3, B.C. 106, of an equestrian
family. His grandfather, who had a small estate in that region, was of Volscian stock, and
thus belonged to the old virile country people of the republic. His grandmother was a
Gratidia, closely connected by adoption with the great Marius and with prominent Roman
politicians. His father, who was the eldest son, had increased the family estate by
agriculture and by the profits of a fulling-mill, so that he was among the richest of his
townsmen, and possessed the census of a Roman knight. By his marriage with Helvia, a woman
of the nobility, he became connected with many senatorial families. She was a woman of
great economic and domestic virtues, and a strong support to her husband, who was of a
somewhat weak constitution. The father was a man of cultivated mind and devoted himself to
the education of his two sons, Marcus, afterwards the orator, and the younger brother
Quintus. For this purpose he removed to the city. His ambition, like that of every Roman
of fortune, was to have his sons enter politics and so to establish a senatorial family.
He lived to see both of them succeed in this career, and the elder became one of the most
distinguished men in Rome.
Cicero himself was early stimulated by the success of Marius and the general atmosphere of Roman ambition to desire a prominent place in the state. His father's connections with men and women of rank brought the boy into contact with the great orators M. Antonius and L. Crassus, who interested themselves in his education. Among his companions were the sons of Aculeo, Lucius Cicero, his cousin, his intimate friend Atticus, L. Torquatus, C. Marius the younger, and L. Ęlius Tubero. His instructors were Greeks; but, as he had already formed the purpose of attaining office through the power of oratory, he did not confine himself to theoretical or technical learning. He frequented the Forum to hear the great orators of his day, especially Antonius and Crassus, who discoursed with him on literary subjects, so that they became in a manner his teachers. He received instruction from Archias (see Pro A. Licinio Archia, ch. I); he sought the society of L. Accius, the poet, and he studied the art of delivery in the theatre, becoming intimately acquainted with the great actors Roscius and Ęsopus. He practised many kinds of composition, but his most important means of education, as he tells us, was translation from the Greek.
At the age of sixteen (B.C. 90), Cicero received the toga virilis (the "coming out" of a Roman boy), and from that time he devoted himself to law and statesmanship as well as oratory. For this purpose he was put under the charge of Mucius Scęvola, the augur, and later he attached himself to the no less celebrated Pontifex of the same name. In B.C. 89 he served one campaign in the army under Cn. Pompeius Strabo. After this short military experience, he returned with still greater vigor to his literary and political studies. He studied philosophy under Phędrus and Philo, oratory under Molo of Rhodes, and all the branches of a liberal education under Diodotus the Stoic.
When about twenty-five years of age, Cicero began his active career. It was customary to win one's spurs by attacking some political opponent; but this was contrary to Cicero's pacifistic nature, and throughout his life he prided himself on always taking the side of the defence. His first oratorical efforts have not been preserved to us. The earliest of his orations which we possess is his defence of P. Quinctius in a civil action (B.C. 81) [Pro Quinctio]. This suit involved no political question; but no case at that time could be entirely free from the politics in one form or another, and nothing is more significant of Cicero's character than the skill with which he constantly used political bias for his client's advantage without seeming to take sides. To defend Quinctius was a bold undertaking for a young advocate; for the opposing counsel was the great orator Hortensius, backed by powerful influence on behalf of the plaintiff. The case, too, was a somewhat dry one; but Cicero's skill as an advocate is shown by the fact that he raises it above the ordinary business and technical level into a question of universal justice and the rights of common humanity.
Next year occurred the trial of Sextus Roscius of Ameria for parricide (B.C. 80) [Pro Sex. Roscio Amerino], a case growing out of the abuses of Sulla's dictatorship. Cicero showed his courage by undertaking the defence, and his forensic skill by converting his plea into a powerful attack on the accusers in the regular manner of Roman invective. In B.C. 79 he came into still more daring antagonism with Sulla in the case of a woman of Arretium. The oration has not come down to us, but from its boldness it must have added greatly to the orator's fame. The same year--either on account of his health or, less probably, from fear of Sulla--he went to Greece and the East to continue his studies; for at that time such a journey was like "going to Europe" among us. He visited the greatest orators, rhetoricians, and philosophers of the East, especially at Rhodes, then a seat of the highest culture. After an absence of two years, he returned to Rome, with an improved style of oratory, and again engaged in law cases, in which he had as opponents his two great rivals Hortensius and Cotta.
In B.C. 76 Cicero began his political career,
becoming candidate for the quęstorship (the lowest grade of the cursus honorum),
while Cotta was candidate for the consulship and Hortensius for the prętorship. All three
were elected, and Cicero's lot assigned him to the province of Sicily under Sextus
Peducęus. It was in this administration that his ability and honesty gained the favor of
the Sicilians, which gave him the great opportunity of his life in the impeachment of
Verres, in B.C. 70 [In C. Verrem].
This prosecution he undertook in the interests of his own ambition, in spite of the fact
that the Senate was as a class on the side of the accused, who was also supported by many
of the most influential men of the state. But it was, on the other hand, a popular cause,
and many of the most decent of the nobility favored it. The orator's success, by force of
talent and honest industry, against the tricks of Verres and his counsel Hortensius broke
the domination of this rival in the courts, and made Cicero the first advocate of his
In B.C. 69 Cicero became curule ędile, and in B.C. 67 he was elected praetor with great unanimity. In the latter year began the agitation for Manilian Law [Pro Lege Manilia], by his advocacy of which Cicero endeared himself to the people and gained the favor of Pompey, whose powerful support was a kind of bulwark against the envious and exclusive nobility. In his prętorship (B.C. 66) he was allotted to the presidency of the Court for Extortion, and in this, as in all his public offices, he was honest and unselfish. During all these years he had continued his career as an advocate, engaging in such cases as seemed likely to extend his political influence and advance him most rapidly in the regular succession of curule offices. [Examples include Pro Cluentio. -- Webmaster] After his praetorship he refused a province in order to remain at home and canvass for the consulship.
For the consulship of B.C. 63 there were six
candidates, but of these only Cicero, Catiline, and C. Antonius were prominent. The
contest was not merely one of personal ambition. The first and second conspiracies of
Catiline, as well as his notorious character, could have left no doubt that his aims were
treasonable. Antonius had combined with him for mutual support in securing election by
illegal means, and was himself a weak and unprincipled man. On the other hand, Cicero was
a novus homo, a champion of the Equites (though without being an enemy
of the senatorial order), and had had an unusually clean record in his office as well as
in the Forum. Thus the cause of Cicero's ambition was, at the same time, the cause of good
government against both the worthless and debauched members of the senatorial order on the
one hand, and the dregs of the people on the other. It was also the cause of the great
middle class against the patricians and the official nobility, who were so entrenched in
power that for many years no novus homo had been elected consul. The success of
Cicero unquestionably prolonged the existence of the already doomed republic. Antonius,
the less dangerous of his two rivals, was elected as his colleague.
Cicero had now reached the goal for which he had striven from his earliest youth. His administration is famous for the overthrow of the Catilinarian conspiracy, which has cast into obscurity all his other consular acts. These, however, were of such a character, in relation to the needs of the times, as to be unimportant. By birth an eques, but by virtue of his offices a member of the senatorial order, Cicero had always been eager to reconcile and unite these, the two upper classes in Roman society and politics. He failed to see that the real needs of the commonwealth, as well as its real strength, centred in the interests of the common people. His association with Pompey, and his own rise in offical rank, made him incline more and more to the side of the Senate, and he seems to have thought it his mission to restore that body, now thoroughly effete, to its former purity and political importance. The minor acts of his administration were dictated by such sentiments as these, and are significant only as illustrating his character and opinions.
The history of Catiline's conspiracy is given in the Introduction to the four Orations against Catiline, and need not be repeated here [In L. Catilinam]. The conspirators were completely thwarted, and five of them were, in accordance with a resolution of the Senate, put to death by the consul without a trial. This victory was the climax of Cicero's career, and he always regarded it as one of the greatest of human achievements. In fact, however, it marked the beginning of his downfall.
The execution of the conspirators without the forms
of law was a blunder, and grievously did Cicero answer for it. He had distinctly violated
the constitution, and thus he had laid himself open to the attacks of his enemies. At the
end of his consulate, one of the tribunes, Q. Metellus Nepos, prevented him from making
the customary speech to the people "because he had put to death Roman citizens
without a trial." The next year, when he was defending P. Sulla [Pro P. Cornelio
Sulla], the accuser (L. Torquatus) upbraided him as a tyrant, "the third foreign
king of Rome." A year later P. Clodius began to speak of him in the same
terms. Clodius, indeed, continued to pursue him till he accomplished his banishment and
the confiscation of his property. Almost the whole time from his consulship till the year
of his banishment was spent in seeking support against his enemies. He attached himself
more closely to Pompey, and pleaded causes of all kinds to win friends, but in vain.
In B.C. 60 Roman politics took a turn extremely unfavorable to Cicero. Pompey, who on his return from the East had been unfairly treated by the extreme senatorial party, allied himself with the democratic leaders, Cęsar and Crassus, in a coalition often called the First Triumvirate. As a result, the Senate became for a time almost powerless, and everything was in the hands of the popular party. The next year, Cęsar, as consul, procured the passage of an iniquitous law for dividing the fertile and populous territory of Campania among needy citizens of Rome. Cicero refused to serve on the board appointed to execute this law. Thus he not only exasperated the mob, but brought down upon himself the resentment of the triumvirs, who, though two of them, Cęsar and Pompey, still professed to be his personal friends, refused to protect him against the attacks of his enemies. Accordingly, in B.C. 58, Clodius, then tribune, brought forward a law that whoever had put to death a Roman citizen, without trial, "should be denied the use of fire and water" (the Roman formula for banishment). This bill was obviously aimed at Cicero's action in the case of the Catilinarians. Cicero at once took alarm, and after appealing in vain to the consuls of the year, L. Calpurnius Piso and A. Gabinius, as well as to Pompey, left Rome about March 20, just as the affair was coming to blows. Immediately after his departure, Clodius procured the passage of a special bill against him, forbidding him, by name, the use of fire or water anywhere within four hundred miles of Rome. At the same time his house on the Palatine and his Tusculan villa were pillaged and destroyed by a mob. Upon receiving news of these proceedings, Cicero prepared to leave Italy altogether. He embarked from Brundisium, April 29, and arrived at Thessalonica on the 23rd of May. Here he remained as the guest of his friend Plancius, then quęstor of Macedonia, until November, when he removed to Dyrrachium. His friends at Rome were constantly agitating for his recall, but without success.
The next year, however, B.C. 57, it suited the designs of Pompey, then once more inclining to the senatorial party, to allow his return. His influence with the nobility as well as with the equestrian order, was a point to be secured in the great game of politics. On the 1st of January, the consul L. Cornelius Lentulus Spinther brought forward a bill for his recall. This was vetoed by a tribune. Other attempts were made by his friends, which resulted only in riot and disorder. Finally, partly through the efforts of T. Annius Milo, who met the violence of Clodius with opposing violence, partly through the partisanship of Pompey and the Senate, which brought to the city the citizens of the Municipia and the Italian colonies ("the country members"), a law was passed, Aug. 4, B.C. 57, revoking the decree of exile. Cicero arrived in Rome September 4. His journey through Italy was like a continuous triumphal procession, and to his exalted imagination, freedom, which had departed with him, was now returned to Rome. But in fact his restoration had been merely a piece of selfish policy on the part of the great leaders. He remained the most consummate rhetorician of all time, but his prominence in the state was gone forever, except for a brief period (B.C. 43). He had never been a statesman, and now he had not the chance to be even a politician.
Upon his return he delivered two famous speeches (one
in the Senate and one before the people) [Post Reditum: i. (in senatu);
ii. (ad Quirites)], in which he thanked the state for restoring him, and lauded
Pompey to the skies. The "triumvirs" were still all-powerful at Rome, and
Cicero, like the rest, was forced to conform to their wishes and designs. In this same
year he proposed a measure which gave Pompey extraordinary powers over the provincial
grain market, for the purpose of securing the city against scarcity of provisions. Next
year (B.C. 56) he spoke strongly in favor of continuing Cęsar's proconsular authority in
Gaul [De Consularibus Provinciis]. With Crassus, the third "triumvir",
Cicero had never been on good terms, but, at the request of the other two triumvirs, he
became reconciled with him in B.C. 55, shortly before the latter set out on his fatal
expedition against the Parthians.
During these years, becoming less and less important in politics, Cicero began to devote himself more to literature, and wrote the De Oratore, the Republic, and the treatise De Legibus. He also continued his activity at the bar on his own behalf and that of his friends, as well as at the request of the powerful leaders. He secured the restoration of his property [Pro Domo Sua], and defended Sestius [Pro P. Sestio], who had been active in his recall. Toward the end of this period he also defended Milo for the murder of Clodius [Pro Milone, B.C. 52]. His defence of Gabinius and Vatinius (B.C. 54), creatures of Pompey and Cęsar respectively, was less honorable to him; but he was hardly a free agent in these matters. "I am distressed," he writes to his brother Quintus, "I am distressed that there is no longer any government nor any courts, and that this time of my life, which ought to be brilliant with the prestige of a Senator, is either worn out in the labors of the Forum, or made endurable by literature at home. Of my enemies, some I do not oppose, and others I even defend. I am not only not free to think as I will, but not even to hate as I will."
The disturbances following the death of Clodius led to the appointment of Pompey as consul without colleague (practically dictator), in B.C. 52. One of his acts was to pass a law postponing the provincial administration of consuls and prętors until five years after their year of office. The interval was to be filled by such former magistrates as had never held a province. Among these was Cicero, who therefore had to submit to the lot. He drew Cicilia, in which an inroad of the Parthians was expected.
About May 1, B.C. 51, he set out for this province. His administration was in accord with the principles expressed in his writings,--clean and honest,--a thing worthy of notice in an age of corruption and greed. He had the good fortune to escape the test of a formidable war, but he was successful in overcoming some tribes of plundering mountaineers. For this he was hailed as imperator, according to custom, and he even hoped for the honor of a triumph, the highest conventional distinction which a Roman could obtain. He returned to Rome late in B.C. 50, and was still endeavoring to secure permission to celebrate his triumph when the great Civil War between Cęsar and Pompey broke out (B.C. 49).
Cicero was now in a very difficult position. It
became necessary for every man of importance to take sides; yet he could not see his way
clear to join either party. For some time he vacillated, while both Cęsar and Pompey made
earnest efforts to secure his support. His great hope was to mediate between them; and,
after Pompey had left Italy, he remained behind with this end in view. Finally, however,
he decided for Pompey as the champion of the senatorial party, and set out, though with
great reluctance, to join him at Dyrrachium (June 11, B.C. 49). In the camp he found
things even worse than he had expected, and he gave up the cause of the Republic for lost.
On account of illness he was not present at the Battle for Pharsalia (Aug. 9, B.C. 48).
After the fate of the contest was decided, he refused to continue the struggle or to
follow the adherents of the lost cause to Africa, but returned to Italy (September, B.C.
48), to make terms with the conqueror. He remained at Brundisium until Cęsar's return
from Egypt in September, B.C. 47, when he at once sought an interview. Cęsar received him
with great kindness and respect, and allowed him once more to return to Rome.
From this time until the assassination of Cęsar in B.C. 44, Cicero remained for the most part in retirement at his Tusculan villa, absorbed in literary pursuits, though in B.C. 46 he delivered his Oration for Marcellus [Pro Marcello] (remarkable for its praise of Cęsar), and his Defence of Ligarius [Pro Ligario], and in the following year, his Defence of King Deiotarus of Galatia, charged with attempting the murder of Cęsar. The chief literary fruits of this period of leisure were three works on oratory (De Claris Oratoribus, Orator, and De Partitione Oratoria), and several philosophic works (De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, Academica, Tusculanae Questiones, De Natura Deorum, De Senectute). Meantime his domestic relations were far from happy. In B.C. 46 he had divorced his wife Terentia and married his rich young ward Publilia, from whom, however, he separated in the following year. In B.C. 45 his daugther Tullia died suddenly. Cicero was tenderly attached to her, and it was in part as a distraction from his grief that he wrote some of the works just mentioned. He now seemed to be thoroughly given over to a life of dignified literary retirement, when the murder of Caesar (March 15, B.C. 44) once more plunged the state into a condition of anarchy.
Though Cicero had no share in the conspiracy against
Cęsar, his sympathy was counted on by Brutus and Cassius, and he hailed the death of the
Dictator as the restoration of the republic. But the conspirators had made no adequate
provision for carrying on the government, and Cicero soon felt that his hopes were doomed
to disappointment. Bitterly chagrined by the disorderly scenes that followed, he retired
once more to the country, and in July, B.C. 44, set out for a journey to Greece, but,
changing his plans in consequence of better news from Rome, he returned to the city in the
following month. The chief power was now in the hands of the surviving consul, Mark
Antony, whose principal rival was Octavianus (afterwards the Emperor Augustus), Cęsar's
adopted son. Cicero appeared again in the Senate and began his celebrated series of
orations against Antony with the First Philippic (Sept. 2). Once more he took an active
part in politics, apparently assuming his old position as leader, and speaking with all
the charm and effectiveness of his earlier days. But he had fallen upon evil times; arms
could no longer yield to the gown, and it soon became clear that there could be no peace
except by the complete victory of a single aspirant for the supremacy.
Octavianus at first joined with the Senate against Antony, but he soon broke with the constitutional authorities, and, in B.C. 43, formed with Antony and Lepidus the coalition known as the Second Triumvirate. A merciless proscription at once began. Octavianus had every reason to be grateful to Cicero, but he was of a cold and ungenerous nature, and when Antony demanded his death he made no objection. Cicero's name was accordingly placed on the list of proscribed citizens. Cicero was at this time at his Tusculan villa. He made a half-hearted attempt to escape from Italy, but was overtaken near his villa at Formię by the soldiers of the triumvirs, and met his death with firmness (Dec. 7, B.C. 43). Antony satisfied his hatred by indignities to the mangled remains.
The career of Cicero is a remarkable example of a sudden rise, followed by an utter collapse and fall. His rise was the natural result of his own ability, industry, and ambition; his fall was as naturally caused by his defects, coupled with his good qualities,--a mixture that produced a certain weakness of character. Had he been less timid or less scrupulous, or, on the other hand, had he been more far-sighted, he might have remained on the pedestal to which he was proud to have raised himself and on which he was ambitious to stand. but the times needed a different kind of man, and others, far less worthy, but able and willing to cope with the contending forces in the state, supplanted him. One quality was particularly instrumental both in his rise and his fall. He excelled in forcible and witty abuse. He dearly loved a bitter jest, and he lived among a people that were constitutionally inclined to abusive language. No doubt it was this talent for invective that made him popular when it happened to be directed in accordance with the people's taste. But it also alienated his friends, and embittered his enemies. He was called a Scurra and a Cynic, and it was perhaps a pun that cost him the favor of Octavianus; certainly it was his abuse of Antony and Fulvia that cost him his life. But he was the first orator of all time, a literary worker of the rarest gifts. and accordingly to his lights a lover and servant of the state.