He was widely acclaimed as the most famous and greatest orator of ancient Rome, Marcus Tullius Cicero. His words and writings still inform contemporary politicians.
Cicero was born on the 3rd of Januarius, 106 BCE southeast of Rome in a prosperous family of the lower order of the two aristocratic classes of the Roman Republic. He began his legal career around 82 BCE. He was the defense lawyer for Sextus Roscius, who had been charged with patricide. Cicero, in turn, charged a favorite of the tyrant dictator, Sulla, Chrysogonus with the murder an indirect challenge to the dictator. The charges against Roscius were dropped.
Soon, thereafter, probably in fear of retribution by Sulla, Cicero left Rome to live in Greece, Rhodes, and Asia Minor. It was during this period that Cicero studied the various aspects of oratory and rhetoric. His main teacher was Apollonius Molon of Rhodes. It was Apollonius’ methodology that shaped Cicero’s famous style.
Cicero was very interested in philosophy. He studied under the head of Plato’s Academy, Philo of Larissa. Cicero was an enthusiastic student and absorbed everything Philo had to teach him.
“The evil implanted in man by nature spreads so imperceptibly, when the habit of wrong-doing is unchecked, that he himself can set no limit to his shamelessness.”
Cicero first served in a public capacity as one of the twenty annual Quaestors. His territory was Western Sicily in 75 BCE. His constituents came to admire Cicero’s integrity and honesty. In turn, they requested that Cicero try the case of the governor of Sicily, Gaius Verres, who had plundered the island. Cicero returned to Rome and successfully prosecuted the case in a series of court battles.
“In so far as the mind is stronger than the body, so are the ills contracted by the mind more severe than those contracted by the body.”
In 63 BCE Cicero was elected Consul for the year. Cicero headed off a conspiracy to kill him and overthrow the Roman Republic led by Senator Lucius Sergius Catilina. Cicero obtained a declaration of martial law and argued against Catilina with four speeches, the “Catiline Orations”. These speeches are still studied as prime examples of rhetorical style.
The conspirators were ultimately found guilty. They were taken to the Tullianum prison, where they were strangled. It was for this action that he was given the honorific title, Pater Patriae. Even though Cicero was popular among the people, he was exiled because the conspirators were not given a proper, civic trial.
“Men decide far more problems by hate, love, lust, rage, sorrow, joy, hope, fear, illusion, or some other inward emotion, than by reality, authority, any legal standard, judicial precedent, or statute.”
After an aborted attempt to reenter politics, Cicero returned to writing. It was in the collection of these works that he is credited with transforming the Latin language from a simple utilitarian communication into the medium that expresses complicated abstract thoughts with clarity of style. He has been praised as helping to forge the language used by the civilized world.
Cicero found himself back in politics and involved in the struggle between General Pompey and Julius Caesar. Cicero favored the general. After Caesar’s entry into Rome, Cicero slipped away to where Pompey’s staff was situated in Illyria.After the Emperor’s victory at Pharsalus, Cicero again returned to the capital city where Caesar pardoned him.
Cicero was taken by surprise, on the Ides of Martius, 44 BCE when Caesar was assassinated. Later, Cicero wrote to one of the co-conspirators, “How I could wish that you had invited me to that most glorious banquet on the Ides of March.” This attitude placed Cicero in direct opposition to Mark Antony, who had been planning revenge upon Caesar’s killers.
The two leading figures of Rome became Cicero, the spokesman for the Senate and Consul Mark Antony the unofficial executor of Caesar’s public will. The two enemies’ relationship only became more heated after Cicero opined that he believed Antony was taking unfair liberties. Cicero went further by plotting to play Caesar’s adopted son and heir, Octavian against Mark Antony.
In the series of speeches called “The Philippics”, Cicero praised Octavian as a young man of honor and integrity. The speeches catapulted Cicero into the greatest heights of public acclaim and popularity.
“There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly.”
However, Cicero’s plans failed miserably. Octavian and Antony reconciled and formed, with Lepidus, the Second Triumvirate. Immediately the Triumvirate proscribed their enemies and rivals. Cicero was placed onto the list. The philosopher-politician was doggedly hunted down by the soldiers. He was captured on December 7, 43 BCE. The soldiers decapitated Cicero then cut off his hands. These were nailed onto the Rostra in the Forum Romanum.
The historian Cassius Dio, said the hands were displayed because they had written the Philippic speaches against Mark Antony. Fulvia, Antony’s wife, allegedly pulled the tongue from Cicero’s head and jabbed it with her hairpin to avenge the orator’s power of speech.
Cicero’s legacy has endured the ages. He was a tireless opponent of dictatorship and tyranny. His speeches and poetry have been influential in literature and philosophy, and his influence of the Latin language made it the international language of science and medicine.
The Blue Jay of Happiness draws our attention to this observation of Cicero’s, “The man who backbites an absent friend, nay, who does not stand up for him when another blames him, the man who angles for bursts of laughter and for the repute of a wit, who can invent what he never saw, who cannot keep a secret – that man is black at heart: mark and avoid him.”
Always been a fan of Cicero.