M. Tullius Cicero

Marcus Tullius Cicero, one of the few men ever to break into the Roman aristocracy — not only from outside the aristocracy but even from outside Rome — was a gifted and prolific speaker, and rose on the strength of those gifts through the ranks to achieve the consulship in 63 B. C. — two years before the first of these letters was written. During the turbulent and extraordinary last years of the Roman republic, he brought the art of rhetoric to its highest level, and was at the helm of the state when the conspiracy of Catiline was uncovered. Though once standard fare in high school Latin courses, the four speeches he prepared on that occasion are atypical. The Catilinarian orations are great ringing denunciations of the traitor, so effective and overpowering, in fact, that the last three were never delivered: Catiline fled Rome after the first. Most of the surviving speeches of Cicero are legal defenses, rather than prosecutions, and marked with a range of emotion running from pathos to sly humor. Ever mindful of his place in history, though, Cicero made sure that the remaining Catilinarian orations were published later, even though they were never delivered.

Cicero is often seen as Caesar’s opposite, and there is something to the comparison. Where Caesar was a member of the oldest of patrician clans, and was cool, controlled, and confident, Cicero was pathologically insecure of his place, and could be flighty, vain, and self-conscious. Always aware that he was an outsider, Cicero could read a world of meaning into a social situation, and detect all manner of slights and offenses in the slightest gestures. Watching him cope with his own preoccupation with his place is sometimes a little embarrassing, but the fine precision of his observation, and his keen analysis, is extraordinary nevertheless. This dichotomy can be seen in the writing styles of the two men as well. Even in an informal context like a letter, Cicero crafts and sculpts his words to match a complex and precise sense, going over and around an idea with many words, subtly shaping, shading, modifying, and balancing his prose. Caesar is content to be blunt and often a little cryptic.

While best known for his speeches, it is perhaps in his letters to those closest to him that Cicero’s contradictory characteristics come out most clearly. Between these two letters there is a great difference in tone and style. Try to put your finger on what that difference is. And try to identify those things about either one that seem familiar. For in many ways his style and his attitude would be throughly at home in twentieth-century America. It is instructive to compare Cicero’s way of looking at his world with our own, and to note the vast difference between these writings and the grittily realistic world of Thucydides. Cicero’s world is thoroughly social, and his notion of the hero — a model he tried in his own way to fulfil — was the great man of civic affairs — the thoughtful statesman, always attempting to achieve the concordia omnium bonorum — the concord of all the good people.

After the death of Caesar in 44 B.C., the Roman state largely fell apart, and Cicero became one of the victims in the process — put to death at the special request of Marcus Antonius, whom he had maligned in a speech. His head and hands — the speechmaking parts of him, Antony reasoned — were cut off and put on public display.

The following selected letters are translated by the Rev. G. E. Jeans, M.A., F.S.A.

Letter to Atticus (Ad Att. 1.13) Jan. 25, 693 A.U.C. (61 B.C.)

On the night of Dec. 3 or 4, when the festival of the “Good Goddess” from which all males were rigorously excluded, was being celebrated at the house of Caesar, then praetor and pontifex maximus, Clodius was discovered to have made his entrance, disguised in woman’s clothes. In January, 61 B. C., the Senate directed the consuls, Marcus Pupius Piso and Marcus Valerius Messalla, to prepare a bill for bringing Clodius to trial for sacrilege before a special court, to be composed of jurors nominated by the praetor, instead of being selected by lot in the usual way. Piso strongly disapproved. Pompeius, as usual, would not commit himself to a definite approval of the prosecution...Eventually the trial took place in the ordinary way, and Clodius was acquitted by a majority of six.

I have now had three letters from you; one through Marcus Cornelius, which I presume you gave him at the Three Taverns; a second which was forwarded to me by your host at Canusium; and now this makes the third, which you tell me you wrote on board a rowing-boat, as your ship had already weighed her anchor. All of them were, as a schoolboy rhetorician might say, ‘not only relieved with polished wit, but distinguished by all the marks of affection.’ These three letters have certainly been an incentive to me to write back ere this; but the fact is that I have got somewhat behindhand, from not finding a safe messenger. How few men there are indeed who can carry a somewhat weighty letter without lightening their load by mastering its contents! Another reason is that it is not always of any use to me when somebody is starting for Epirus; for I imagine that having now done due sacrifice before your Amalthea, you have started forthwith to lay siege to Sicyon. And yet I am not quite clear even about the date when you are to go to Antonius, or how much time you propose to give to Epirus, so I am afraid to entrust a somewhat confidential letter to any Greek or Epirot fellows. Since your departure, indeed, events have happened well worth a letter from me, but then it is one which must not be exposed to any such risk as that of being lost, or opened, or intercepted.

Now Canosa, where Atticus stopped on his way to Brundisium.

Atticus called a shrine at Buthrotum his "Amaltheum" (Letter viii, ad fin.), either, as Mr. Watson says, from its being decorated with pictures from the story of Amalthea, or, as Mr. Pretor prefers, simply from the abundant fertility of the place, in allusion to Amalthea’s "horn of plenty." Cicero humorously assumes that Atticus has sacrificed like a general at his favourite shrine, before commencing his campaign against his debtors at Sicyon.

Gaius Antonius, Cicero’s colleague in the consulship, was now Governor of Macedonia.

To begin with the, let me tell you that I was not asked my opinion first in the Senate, precedence over me being given to the peacemaker from Gaul, though there were murmurs from the house at this proceeding. I myself however am far from displeased, being now freed from paying any further attention to a crotchety person, and at liberty to assert my proper position in spite of him; while, after all, the second place in the order of speaking has little less influence than the first, and leaves one’s feelings unfettered by any very special obligation to the consul. Third comes Catulus; fourth — if you care to go so far down — Hortensius. As for the consul himself, he is a man of a narrow and perverse mind, fond of making retorts of the sullen kind which raise a laugh without any wit at all, because he is laughed at more for his expression than his expressions; one who never consults the wishes of his country, and keeps aloof from our constitutional leaders: a man to whom you may safely look never to do the country any good, because he has not got the inclination, nor harm, because he has not got the courage. His colleague, however, is not only most complimentary to me, but an enthusiastic champion of his party, and on the right side. Between them the disagreement at present is slight, but I fear this infection when it has once got hold may spread; for of course you have heard that when they were offering a national sacrifice at Caesar’s house a man dressed in woman’s clothes made his way in. Also that after the Vestal Virgins had performed the sacrifice afresh Quintus Cornificius called the attention of the Senate to the matter; — that he was the first to do so I mention lest you should assume it was any one of my own standing — and that after this the house decided to refer the matter to the Vestal Virgins and the Pontifical College, who decided it to be sacrilege; — that hereupon the consuls introduced a bill in accordance with the vote of the Senate; and that Caesar has served a notice of divorce on his wife.

The presiding consul was entitled to call on the ex-consuls (after the consuls-elect and the princeps senatus) to express their opinions in any order he pleased, but it was usual to keep to the same order all the year. Cicero had probably been called on first during the consulship of Silanus and Murena, in the previous year, and was evidently nettled that Piso now gave precedence to his relative, Gaius Calpurnius Piso, consul 67 B.C., who had just quelled a slight revolt of the Allobroges in Gallia Narbonensis.

Quintus Lutatius Catulus — not to be confused with the poet Gaius Valerius Catullus — was a senator of impeccable reputation.

Quintus Hortensius was considered the greatest orator until Cicero’s day.

Marcus Valerius Messalla Niger.

Pompeia, the grand-daughter of Sulla. His celebrated saying that "Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion" was in answer to some who argued that the divorce implied an acknowledgment of the guilt of Clodius.

In this question, Piso, instigated by his friendship for Clodius, is straining every nerve to secure that this measure, though introduced by himself, introduced moreover in accordance with a decree of the Senate, and on a question of sacrilege, shall be thrown out. Messalla, so far, is strongly in favour of rigorously pressing the matter. Respectable people are being induced by Clodius’s entreaties to take no part in the question, and they are getting hired rowdies together. I myself, though I had been a veritable Lycurgus at first, now feel my indignation every day subsiding. Cato is foremost in insisting on stern measures. To make a long story short, I feel that this scandal, being treated with indifference as it is by our respectable citizens, and backed up by the vicious, may prove a source of much danger to the State. As to that great friend of yours (you know whom I mean?), about whom you wrote me word that he was now beginning to praise only when he found he could not venture to blame, he is ostensibly very fond of me: he devotes himself to me, loves me like a brother, and is loud in my praises before my face; in his heart (but still enough to be plain on the surface) he is jealous of me. There is no courtesy, no candour, no highmindedness in the man — just like a politician! — nothing dignified, resolute, or generous. But I will write to you of this on a future occasion more in detail; for at present I have not got fully to the bottom of it, and I cannot venture to trust a letter on matters of such importance to this son of the soil, when goodness knows who he may be.

Pompeius (Pompey) the Great.

The praetors have not yet drawn for the provinces. Everything is just as it was when you left. That “orientation” of Misenum and Puteoli which you say is wanted I will make a point of introducing in my speech. I had already noticed that the 3rd of December was an incorrect date. The points you select for praise in my speeches I liked already, I warrant you; but now that my Atticus has approved them I find in them far more of the Attic “salt”. To the Reply of Metellus I have made some additions; a copy shall be sent to you, since your partiality for me has made you such an admirer of the rhetorical art. Have I anything new to tell you? Let me see — yes, I have. Our consul Messalla has bought Autronius’s house for £120,000. What is that to me? you will say. Only that his purchase proves that I made a good bargain; and people are beginning to see that it is quite legitimate to borrow the money for buying from one’s friends as a help to a good position. That business of the “Trojan Dame” (Teucris) still drags on, but the matter is not hopeless. Mind you finish your part. If you wait, you shall have a less reserved letter from me.

What this is referring to is unclear.

Letter to C. Scribonius Curio (Ad Fam. 2.6), July 701 A.U.C. (51 B.C.)

Curio the younger, afterwards Caesar’s ablest lieutenant, though he is contemptuously spoken of in Letter vii, sect. 5, was about this time one of Cicero’s most favoured correspondents. This rather ponderous yet characteristic letter is sent to meet him at once on landing from Asia, where he had been quaestor, and enlist his sympathies for Milo in the coming election of consuls. Milo would probably have been elected but for an affray between himself and Clodius, with their retainers, on the Appian Road, on Jan. 17, in which the latter was killed. This led to such fierce rioting at Rome that Pompeius was created Dictator, but in order to avoid the name he was only entitled “Sole Consul”. Pompeius was at this time proconsul of Spain with an army there, and he still had the supreme control of supplies. Thus his position was quite unconstitutional, and to all appearance far more powerful than Caesar’s. It is epigrammatically described by Tacitus, Annals, iii, 28. Milo, though defended by Cicero, was condemned to banishment in April; and in July Pompeius resigned his virtual dictatorship by accepting his father-in-law, Quintus Metellus Scipio, as his colleague in the consulship.

I have not yet received any news of your arrival in Italy at the time of despatching the bearer of this letter — Sextus Villius, an intimate acquaintance of my friend Milo — to meet you; but though it is thought your arrival may now be expected at any time, and we are assured that you have already left Asia en route for Rome, the importance of my object has relieved me from any fear about writing with undue haste, since I am extremely anxious for these lines to reach you as soon as possible.

As for these services of mine, my dear Curio, if you were the only recipient, and if they were really as important as you are good enough to represent them rather than as they are estimated by myself, I for my part should have greater scruples in pressing upon you a request for any considerable favour; because it is unpleasant to a man of any delicacy to ask anything of importance from one whom he regards as under an obligation to himself, lest he should seem to be demanding it more of right than of grace, and counting it rather a debt to be paid than a kindness to be conferred. But since those too which you have rendered to me have been either done in the sight of all men, or become famous by the very strangeness of my experiences, and since it is the test of a generous disposition, if you owe much to your friend, to wish that to him your obligations could be multiplied, I have had no hesitation in writing to ask a favour of you which to me would be the very greatest possible, indeed almost of the last importance, for I have felt no fear of not being able to bear the weight of all the things you may do for me, however countless; especially as I was confident that no favour could be so great but that while my heart would be enlarged in the receiving, it would be able so to heap up the interest in repaying as to glorify it in the sight of all.

Now all my hopes, all my energies, care and thought, and assiduity — in a word my whole soul — I have concentrated on a single investment — the consulship of Milo; and I have decided that in his case it is my bounden duty not only to seek the solid fruits of such service as I can render, but also some distinction for true affection; and really no one, I think, ever set such a value on his own life or fortunes as I do on this high place for him, on whom it is my settled belief that all my hopes are staked. To him I perceive that you above all people have it in your power, if you choose to exercise it, to render such material assistance that we need look no further. We have on our side all the following points, — the support of every right-minded citizen, which he has secured ever since his tribuneship, as I hope you perceive, by having been my champion; — of the populace and the lower classes, thanks to the magnificence of the shows he has given them, and his generous disposition; — the sympathy of our young bloods, and all the people who are most influential in getting votes, thanks to his own remarkable influence, or perhaps it is rather his activity in that line; — my own vote and interest, which if not so powerful as the rest has at least stood some trial, and is his right and due, and may therefore even carry some weight. What we absolutely require is a leader and a guiding mind — one who will know how to use these winds I have been describing, and be as it were our pilot. Now had we to select one man for our purpose out of all the world, there is nobody we could even name beside you. Therefore if you can believe that I am unforgetful, if a true and grateful man to my friends — which the fact that I am working so earnestly for Milo perhaps may show — if, in short, you deem me a worthy recipient for your kindness, this is the favour I have to ask: help me in this anxiety of mine, and devote your support now to the side on which my honour, or, to tell the plain truth, I may almost say my safety, is involved. As to Titus Annius Milo himself, I can promise you this much, that you will not find a man anyhwere of more resolution, earnestness, consistency, or if you will but espouse his cause, more gratitude: while as for me, you will be heaping upon me such an honour, and such a distinction, that I shall readily recognise in the building up of my reputation the same hand that once worked for my preservation. I would write at greater length did I not feel sure that you perceive, from my saying thus much to you, how deeply I am pledged, and how I must exert myself on Milo’s behalf in this contest, not only straining every nerve, but also meeting every encounter. I now only commend the matter and his cause to you, and together with it surrender my very self into your hands. Of this at least be well assured: that when you have granted me this favour, I shall feel my debt to you to be almost greater than to Milo himself: for my own preservation, which I owe in so large a degree to him, is scarcely so dear to me as the thought is pleasant that I may now show my affection by returning his kindness. And for this I fully believe I need only your concurrence to insure success.