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Cicero's Boyhood and Education

Still Cicero was a novus homo, and the jealous exclusiveness of the great families at Rome might yet prevent his attainment of the highest office of all. When the correspondence opens he is a candidate for the praetorship, which he obtained without difficulty, at the head of the poll. But his birth might still be a bar to the consulship. His father, M. Tullius, lived at Arpinum, an ancient city of the Volscians and afterwards of the Samnites, which had long enjoyed a partial, and from B.C. 188 a complete, Roman franchise, and was included in the Cornelian tribe. Cicero's mother's name was Helvia, of whom we know nothing but the one anecdote told by Quintus (Fam. 16.26), who says that she used to seal the wine jars when they were emptied, so that none might be drained without her knowing it—a testimony to her economy and careful housewifery. His father had weak health and resided almost entirely in his villa at Arpinum, which he had considerably enlarged, much devoted to study and literature (de Leg. 2.1). But though he apparently possessed considerable property, giving him equestrian rank, and though Cicero says that his family was very ancient, yet neither he nor any of his ancestors had held Roman magistracies. Marcus and his brother Quintus were the first of their family to do so, and both had to depend on character and ability to secure their elections. But though the father did nothing for his sons by holding curule office himself, he did the best for their education that was possible. Cicero calls him optimus et prudentissimus, and speaks with gratitude of what he had done for his sons in this respect. They were sent early to Rome to the house of C. Aculeo, a learned jurisconsult, married to a sister of Helvia; and attended—with their cousins, the sons of Aculeo—the best schools in the city (De Orat. 2.1-2). The young Marcus showed extraordinary ability from the first, and that avidity for reading and study which never forsook him. As a young man he diligently attended the chambers of renowned jurisconsults, especially those of the elder and younger Scaevola, Crassus, and Antonius, and soon found that his calling in life was oratory. It was not till he was twenty-eight years old, however—when he had already written much and pleaded many cases—that he went on a visit of between two and three years to Greece, Asia, and Rhodes, to study in the various schools of rhetoric and philosophy, and to view their famous cities (B.C. 79—77). It was after his return from this tour that his age (he was now thirty-one) made the seeking of office at Rome possible From that time his election to the several offices—quaestorship, aedileship, praetorship, consulship—followed without any repulse, each in the first year of his age at which he was legally capable of being elected.

He had doubtless made the acquaintance of Titus Pomponius, afterwards called Atticus, early in life. But it seems that it was their intimacy at Athens (B.C. 79), where Atticus, who was three years his senior, had been residing for several years, that began the very close and warm friendship which lasted with nothing but the slightest and most passing of clouds till his death. His brother Quintus was married to Pomponia, a sister of Atticus; but the marriage turned out unfortunately, and was a strain upon the friendship of Cicero and Atticus rather than an additional bond. This source of uneasiness meets us in the very first letter of the correspondence, and crops up again and again till the final rupture of the ill-assorted union by divorce in B.C. 44. Nothing, however, had apparently interrupted the correspondence of the two friends, which had been going on for a long time before the first letter which has been preserved.


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