CICERO – his life
Marcus Tullius Cicero was born on January 3rd, 106 BC in Arpinum on the Liris. His father belonged to the rank of knights. Together with his brother he first enjoyed a careful education in Rome, where the great orator L. Licinius Crassus & the jurist Q. Mucius Scaevola were his most important teachers. After Cicero finished his first military service in the Confederate War, he devoted himself to further rhetorical, juridical & philosophical studies during the civil war between Marius & Sulla. Under Sulla’s dictatorship (82-79 BC), Cicero enjoyed his first great successes as a lawyer & advanced to become an influential jurist. From 79-77 BC he undertook an extended educational journey to Greece, studying philosophy in Athens & rhetoric on Rhodes with the famous orator Apollonios Molon.
From 76 to 63 BC Cicero began a strong political rise; in 75 BC he held the first essential office (quaestur, financial administration of western Sicily). In this position he successfully fought corruption, his main opponent was the governor C. Verres, whom he defeated in trial, so that the latter was sent into exile; thus Cicero gained further power, prestige & influence. In 68 B.C. Cicero became curular aedile (supervisor of state games), in 66 B.C. praetor (presiding judge) & was thus only one step away from the highest office, the consulship. As praetor, he won the favor of Pompey, who was one of the most powerful men in Rome.
In 63 BC, Cicero was at the destination of his dreams & was appointed consul, particularly proud to be a homo novus (i.e. he did not come from a politically influential gens), and that he held all offices suo anno (i.e. at the earliest time possible). As a consul, Cicero had significant opponents & was subjected to constant attacks from the populares (representatives of the “people’s party”). His most important achievement as a consul was to uncover & crush the conspiracy of Catilina. The latter’s attempted coup was put down, and Cicero was celebrated as the savior of the fatherland (pater patriae).
From 62 BC, in the years following his consulship, Cicero’s influence on politics dwindled to the same extent as Caesar & Pompey gained more & more power. Due to the 1st Triumvirate between Caesar, Pompey & Crassus (60 BC) Cicero got more & more into a fateful isolation, his fiercest opponent at this time was the people’s tribune Clodius. Cicero finally had to flee into exile to Northern Greece & Dyrrhachium. There he suffered a lot, but was honorably recalled to Rome in 57 BC. Political influence, however, he had no more, so he devoted himself completely to his life as a writer.
In 52 BC Clodius, the great adversary of Cicero, was assassinated. Cicero took over the defense of the accused & lost this trial. At the suggestion of Pompey, Cicero went to Asia Minor the following year as a proconsul. Upon his return, civil war between Pompey & Caesar was imminent. Cicero tried to mediate, failed, and finally decided to join Pompey. After Pompey’s defeat in 48 BC, Cicero went to Brundisium, where he was treated with great kindness & finally pardoned by Caesar.
Despite his generosity, Cicero found the years that followed under Caesar’s sole rule extremely oppressive. Cicero persistently demanded that Caesar reintroduces the “res publica” & thus angered him more & more. The death of his beloved daughter Tullia in 45 BC hit Cicero hard, and from then on he devoted himself more than ever to his literary works.
When Caesar was assassinated on 15th March 44 BC, Cicero saw an opportunity to rebuild the old-style republic. He intervened in politics once more & wanted to have Marcus Antonius, in whom he saw an unscrupulous power monger, declared an enemy of the state. This fight against Antony finally cost Cicero his life: after Antonius had concluded the so-called 2nd Triumvirate with Octavianus & Lepidus, he had Cicero’s name put on the proscription lists as the first entry, whereby Cicero was publicly ostracised & considered outlawed. On the run, Cicero was caught & barbarically murdered by a gang of Antonius on his estate Formianum near Rome on 7th December 43 BC.
Example of a speech by Cicero
Up to this day, the speeches against Catilina are considered an example of consummate rhetoric:
Try to translate this very famous piece of text!
Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra? Quamdiu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? quem ad finem sese effrenata iactabit audacia? Nihilne te nocturnum praesidium Palatii, nihil urbis vigiliae, nihil timor populi, nihil concursus bonorum omnium, nihil hic munitissimus habendi senatus locus, nihil horum ora vultusque moverunt?
Patere tua consilia non sentis, constrictam iam horum omnium scientia teneri coniurationem tuam non vides? Quid proxima, quid superiore nocte egeris, ubi fueris, quos convocaveris, quid consilii ceperis, quem nostrum ignorare arbitraris?
O tempora, o mores! Senatus haec intellegit, consul videt; hic tamen vivit. Vivit? Immo vero etiam in senatum venit, fit publici consilii particeps, notat et designat oculis ad caedem unum quemque nostrum. Nos autem fortes viri satis facere rei publicae videmur, si istius furorem ac tela vitamus. Ad mortem te, Catilina, duci iussu consulis iam pridem oportebat, in te conferri pestem, quam tu in nos omnes iam diu machinaris.