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5. M. Tullius Cicero, the orator, eldest son of No. 2. In what follows we do not intend to enter deeply into the complicated political transactions of the era during which this great man flourished, except in so far as he was directly and personally interested and concerned in the events. The complete history of that momentous crisis must be obtained by comparing this article with the biographies of ANTONIUS, AUGUSTUS, BRUTUS, CAESAR, CATILINA, CATO, CLODIUS PULCHER [CLAUDIUS], CRASSUS, LEPIDUS, POMPEIUS, and the other great characters of the day.

1. Biography of Cicero.

M. Tullius Cicero was born on the 3rd of January, B. C. 106, according to the Roman calendar, at that epoch nearly three months in advance of the true time, at the family residence in the vicinity of Arpinum. No trustworthy anecdotes have been preserved with regard to his childhood, for little faith can be reposed in the gossiping stories collected by Plutarch of the crowds who were wont to flock to the school where he received the first rudiments of knowledge, for the purpose of seeing and hearing the young prodigy; but we cannot doubt that the aptitude for learning displayed by himself and his brother Quintus induced their father to remove to Rome, where he conducted their elementary education according to the advice of L. Crassus, who pointed out both the subjects to which their attention ought chiefly to be devoted, and also the teachers by whom the information sought might be best imparted. These instructors were, with the exception perhaps of Q. Aelius, the grammarian (Brut. 56), all Greeks, and among the number was the renowned Archias of Antioch, who had been living at Rome under the protection of Lucullus ever since B. C. 102, and seems to have communicated a temporary enthusiasm for his own pursuits to his pupil, most of whose poetical attempts belong to his early youth. In his sixteenth year (B. C. 91) Cicero received the manly gown, and entered the forum, where he listened with the greatest avidity to the speakers at the bar and from the rostra, dedicating however a large portion of his time to reading, writing, and oratorical exercises. At this period he was committed by his father to the care of the venerable Q. Mucius Scaevola, the augur, whose side he scarcely ever quitted, acquiring from his lips that acquaintance with the constitution of his country and the principles of jurisprudence, and those lessons of practical wisdom which proved of inestimable value in his future career. During B. C. 89, in accordance with the ancient practice not yet entirely obsolete which required every citizen to be a soldier, he served his first and only campaign under Cn. Pompeius Strabo (father of Pompeius Magnus), then engaged in prosecuting with vigour the Social war, and was present at the conference between his commander and P. Vettius Scato, general of the Marsi, by whom the Romans had been signally defeated, a few months before, and the consul P. Rutilius Lupus slain.

For upwards of six years from the date of his brief military career Cicero made no appearance as a public man. During the whole of the fierce struggle between Marius and Sulla he identified himself with neither party, but appears to have carefully kept aloof from the scenes of strife and bloodshed by which he was surrounded, and to have given himself up with indefatigable perseverance to those studies which were essential to his success as a lawyer and orator, that being the only path open to distinction in the absence of all taste or talent for martial achievements. Accordingly, during the above period he first imbibed a love for philosophy from the discourses of Phaedrus the Epicurean, whose lectures, however, he soon deserted for the more congenial doctrines instilled by Philo, the chief of the New Academy, who with several men of learning had fled from Athens when Greece was invaded by the troops of Mithridates. From Diodotus the Stoic, who lived and died in his house, he acquired a scientific knowledge of logic. The principles of rhetoric were deeply impressed upon his mind by Molo the Rhodian, whose reputation as a forensic speaker was not inferior to his skill as a teacher; while not a day passed in which he did not apply the precepts inculcated by these various masters in declaiming with his friends and companions, sometimes in Latin, sometimes in Greek, but more frequently in the latter language. Nor did he omit to practise composition, for he drew up the treatise commonly entitled De Inventione Rhetorica, wrote his poem Marius, and translated Aratus together with the Oeconomics of Xenophon.

But when tranquillity was restored by the final discomfiture of the Marian party, and the business of the forum had resumed, in outward appearance at least, its wonted course, the season seemed to have arrived for displaying those abilities which had been cultivated with so much assiduity, and accordingly at the age of twenty-five Cicero came forward as a pleader. The first of his extant speeches, in a civil suit, is that for P. Quinctius (B. C. 81), in which, however, he refers to some previous efforts; the first delivered upon a criminal trial was that in defence of Sex. Roscius of Ameria, charged with parricide by Chrysogonus, a freedman of Sulla, supported, as it was understood, by the influence of his patron. No one being disposed to brave the wrath of the all-powerful dictator by openly advocating the cause of one to whom he was supposed to be hostile, Cicero, moved partly by compassion and partly by perceiving that this was a noble opportunity for commencing his career as a protector of the oppressed (see de Off. 2.14), and establishing at considerable apparent but little real risk his character as a fearless champion of innocence, boldly came forward, pronounced a most animating and powerful address, in which he did not scruple to animadvert distinctly in the strongest terms upon the cruel and unjust measures of the favourite, and by implication on the tyranny of those by whom he was upheld, and succeeded in procuring the acquittal of his client. Soon after (B. C. 79) he again came indirectly into collision with Sulla; for having undertaken to defend the interests of a woman of Arretium, a preliminary objection was taken against her title to appear in court, inasmuch as ihe belonged to a town the inhabitants of which in the recent troubles had been deprived of the rights of citizenship. But Cicero denounced the act by which she and her fellow-citizens had been stripped of their privileges as utterly unconstitutional and therefore in itself null and void, and carried his point although opposed by the eloquence and experience of Cotta. It does not appear probable, notwithstanding the assertion of Plutarch to the contrary, that Cicero experienced or dreaded any evil consequences from the displeasure of Sulla, whose power was far too firmly fixed to be shaken by the fiery harangues of a young lawyer, although other circumstances compelled him for a while to abandon the field upon which he had entered so auspiciously. He had now attained the age of twenty-seven, but his constitution was far from being vigorous or his health robust. Thin almost to emaciation, with a long scraggy neck, his general appearance and habit of body were such as to excite serious alarm among his relations, especially since in addition to his close application to business, he was wont to exert his voice, when pleading, to the uttermost without remission, and employed incessantly the most violent action. Persuaded in some degree by the earnest representations of friends and physicians, but influenced still more strongly by the conviction that there was great room for improvement in his style of composition and in his mode of delivery, both of which required to be softened and tempered, he determined to quit Italy for a season, and to visit the great fountains of arts and eloquence. Accordingly (B. C. 79) he repaired in the first instance to Athens, where he remained for six months, diligently revising and extending his acquaintance with philosophy by listening to the famous Antiochus of Ascalon, studying rhetoric under the distinguished and experienced Demetrius Syrus, attending occasionally the lectures of Zeno the Epicurean, and enjoying the society of his brother Quintus, of his cousin Lucius, and of Pomponius Atticus, with whom he now cemented that close friendship which proved one of the chief comforts of his life, and which having endured unshaken the fiercest trials, was dissolved only by death. After quitting Athens he made a complete tour of Asia Minor, holding fellowship during the whole of his journey with the most illustrious orators and rhetoricians of the East,-- Menippus of Stratoniceia, Dionysius of Magnesia, Aeschylus of Cnidus, and Xenocles of Adramyttium, -- carefully treasuring up the advice which they bestowed and profiting by the examples which they afforded. Not satisfied even with this discipline and these advantages, he passed over to Rhodes (B. C. 78), where he became acquainted with Posidonius, and once more placed himself under the care of Molo, who took great pains to restrain and confine within proper limits the tendency to diffuse and redundant copiousness which he remarked in his disciple.

At length, after an absence of two years, Cicero returned to Rome (B. C. 77), not only more deeply skilled in the theory of his art and improved by practice, but almost entirely changed. His general health was now firmly established, his lungs had acquired strength, the habit of straining his voice to the highest pitch had been conquered, his excessive and unvarying vehemence had evaporated, the whole form and character of his oratory both in matter and delivery had assumed a steady, subdued, composed, and well-regulated tone. Transcendant natural talents, developed by such elaborate and judicious training under the most celebrated masters, stimulated by burning zeal and sustained by indomitable perseverance, could scarcely fail to command success. His merits were soon discerned and appreciated, the prejudice at first entertained that he was a mere Greekling, an indolent man of letters, was quickly dissipated; shyness and reserve were speedily dispelled by the warmth of public applause; he forthwith took his station in the foremost rank of judicial orators, and ere long stood alone in acknowledged pre-eminence; his most formidable rivals, Hortensius, eight years his senior, and C. Aurelius Cotta, now (B. C. 76) canvassing for the consulship, who had long been kings of the bar, having been forced, after a short but sharp contest for supremacy, to yield.

Cicero had now reached the age (of 30) at which the laws permitted him to become candidate for the lowest of the great offices of state, and although comparatively speaking a stranger, and certainly unsupported by any powerful family interest, his reputation and popularity already stood so high, that he was elected (B. C. 76) quaestor by the votes of all the tribes. The lot decided that he should serve in Sicily under Sex. Peducaeus, praetor of Lilybaeum. During his tenure of office (B. C. 75) he executed with great skill the difficult and delicate task of procuring large additional supplies of corn for the relief of the metropolis, then suffering from a severe dearth, and at the same time displayed so much liberality towards the farmers of the revenue and such courtesy towards private traders, that he excited no jealousy or discontent, while he maintained such strict integrity, rigid impartiality, and disinterested self-denial, in all branches of his administration, that the delighted provincials, little accustomed to the exhibition of these virtues in the person of a Roman magistrate, devised unheard-of honours to testify their gratitude. Some of the leading weaknesses in the character of Cicero, inordinate vanity and a propensity to exaggerate extravagantly the importance of his services, now began to shew themselves, but they had not yet acquired such a mastery over his mind as to prevent him from laughing at the disappointments he encountered. Thus we find him describing with considerable humour in one of his speeches (pro Planc. 26) the exalted idea he had formed at this period of his own extraordinary merits, of the position which he occupied, and of the profound sensation which his proceedings must have caused at Rome. He imagined that the scene of his duties was, as it were, the stage of the world, and that the gaze of all mankind had been watching his performances ready to condemn or to applaud. Full of the consciousness of this celebrity he landed at Puteoli (B. C. 74), and intense was his mortification when he discovered that even his own acquaintances among the luxurious crowd who thronged that gay coast were absolutely ignorant, not only of what he had been doing, but even of where he had been, a lesson, he tells us, which though severe was most valuable, since it taught him that, while the eyes of his countrymen were bright and acute their ears were dull, and pointed out the necessity of mingling with the people and keeping constantly in their view, of frequenting assiduously all places of general resort, and of admitting visitors and clients to his presence, under any circumstances, and at all hours, however inconvenient or unseasonable.

For upwards of four years after his return to Rome in the beginning of B. C. 74, the life of Cicero presents an entire blank. That he was actively engaged in the courts of law is certain, for he himself informs us, that he was employed in a multitude of causes (Brut. 92), and that his powers had now attained to the full vigour of maturity ; but we know not even the name of one of these orations, except perhaps that, " Pro M. Tullio." some important fragments of which have been recently brought to light. Meanwhile, Lucullus had been pressing the war in the East against Mithridates with great energy and the happiest results; the power of Pompey and of Crassus at home had been steadily increasing, although a bad feeling had sprung up between them in consequence of the events connected with the final suppression of the servile war of Spartacus. They, however, discharged harmoniously the duties of their joint consulship (B. C. 70), and seem to have felt that it was necessary for their interests to control the high aristocratical faction, for by their united exertions the plebeian tribunes recovered the vital privileges of which they had been deprived by Sulla, and the equites were once more admitted to serve as judices on criminal trials, sharing this distinction with the senate and the tribuni aerarii. In this year Cicero became candidate for the aedileship, and the issue of the contest was if possible more triumphant than when he had formerly solicited the suffrage of the people, for he was chosen not only by a majority in every tribe, but carried a greater number of votes than any one of his competitors. A little while before this gratifying demonstration of public approbation, he undertook the management of the most important trial in which he had hitherto been engaged--the impeachment preferred against Verres, for misgovernment and complicated oppression, by the Sicilians, whom he had ruled as praetor of Syracuse for the space of three years. (73-71.) Cicero, who always felt much more inclined to appear in the character of a defender than in the invidious position of an accuser, was prevailed upon to conduct this cause by the earnest entreaties of his provincial friends, who reposed the most perfect confidence in his integrity and good-will, and at the same time were fully alive to the advantage that would be secured to their suit from the local knowledge of their advocate. The most strenuous exertions were now made by Verres, backed by all the interest of the Metelli and other powerful families, to wrest the case out of the hands of Cicero, who, however, defeated the attempt; and, having demanded and been allowed 110 days for the purpose of collecting evidence, instantly set out, accompanied by his cousin Lucius, for Sicily, where he exerted himself so vigorously, that he traversed the whole island in less than two months, and returned attended by all the necessary witnesses and loaded with documents. Another desperate effort was made by Hortensius, now consul-elect, who was counsel for the defendant, to raise up obstacles which might have the effect of delaying the trial until the commencement of the following year, when he counted upon a more favourable judge, a more corrupt jury, and the protection of the chief magistrates; but here again he was defeated by the promptitude and decision of his opponent, who opened the case very briefly upon the fifth of August, proceeded at once to the examination of the witnesses, and the production of the depositions and other papers, which taken together constituted a mass of testimony so decisive, that Verres gave up the contest as hopeless, and retired at once into exile without attempting any defence. The full pleadings, however, which were to have been delivered had the trial been permitted to run its ordinary course were subsequently published by Cicero, and form, perhaps, the proudest monument of his oratorical powers, exhibiting that extraordinary combination of surpassing genius with almost inconceivable industry, of brilliant oratory with minute accuracy of inquiry and detail, which rendered him irresistible in a good cause and often victorious in a bad one.

The most important business of his new office (B. C. 69) were the preparations for the celebration of the Floralia, of the Liberalia, and of the Ludi Romani in honour of the three divinities of the Capitol. It had become a common custom for the aediles to lavish enormous sums on these shows, in the hope of propitiating the favour of the multitude and securing their support. Cicero, whose fortune was very moderate, at once perceiving that, even if he were to ruin himself, it would be impossible for him to vie in splendour with many of those who were likely to be his rivals in his upward course, with very correct judgment resolved, while he did nothing which could give reasonable offence, to found his claims to future distinction solely on those talents which had already won for him his present elevation, and accordingly, although he avoided everything like meanness or parsimony in the games presented under his auspices, was equally careful to shun ostentation and profuse expenditure.

For nearly three years the history of Cicero is again a blank, that is, until the close of B. C. 67, when he was elected first praetor by the suffrages of all the centuries, and this on three several occasions, the comitia having been twice broken off in consequence of the disturbances connected with the passing of the Cornelian law. The duties of this magistracy, on which he entered in January, B. C. 66, were two-fold. He was called upon to preside in the highest civil court, and was also required to act as commissioner (quaestor) in trials for extortion, while in addition to his judicial functions he continued to practise at the bar, and carried through single-handed the defence of Cluentius, in the most singular and interesting cause célèbre bequeathed to us by antiquity. But the most important event of the year was his first appearance as a political speaker from the rostra, when he delivered his celebrated address to the people in favour of the Manilian law, maintaining the cause of Pompey against the hearty opposition of the senate and the optimates. That his conduct on this occasion was the result of mature deliberation we cannot doubt. Nor will it be difficult to discern his real motives, which were perhaps not quite so pure and patriotic as his panegyrists would have us believe. Hitherto his progress, in so far as any external obstacles were concerned, had been smooth and uninterrupted; the ascent had been neither steep nor rough; the quaestorship, the aedileship, the praetorship, had been gained almost without a struggle but the great prize of the consulship, on which every ambitious hope and desire had long been fixed, was yet to be won, and he had every reason to anticipate the most determined resistance on the part of the nobles (we use the word in the technical Roman sense), who guarded the avenues to this the highest honour of the state with watchful jealousy against the approach of any new man, and were likely to strain every nerve to secure the exclusion of the son of an obscure municipal knight. Well aware that any attempt to remove or soften the inveterate prejudices of these men would be met, if not by open hostility and insult, most surely by secret treachery, he resolved to throw himself into the arms of the popular faction, whose principles he detested in his heart, and to rivet their favour by casting into the scale of their idol the weight of his own influence with the middle classes, his proper and peculiar party. The popularity of the orator rose higher than ever; the friendship of Pompey, now certainly the most important individual in the commonwealth, was secured, and the success which attended the operations in the East smothered if it did not extinguish the indignation of the senatorial leaders. Perhaps we ought not here to omit adding one more to the almost innumerable examples of the incredible industry of Cicero. It is recorded, that, during his praetorship, notwithstanding his complicated engagements as judge, pleader, and politician, he found time to attend the rhetorical school of Antonius Gnipho, which was now rising to great eminence. (Suet. de Illustr. Gramm. 7; Macr. 3.12.)

During the eighteen months which followed (65-64), Cicero having declined to accept a province, kept his eye steadily fixed upon one great object, and employed himself unceasingly in watching every event which could in any way bear upon the consular elections. It appears from his letters, which now begin to open their treasures to us, that he had six competitors, of whom the most formidable were C. Antonius, a nephew of the great orator, who perished during the Marian proscription, and the notorious Catiline. The latter was threatened with a criminal prosecution, and it is amusing to observe the lawyer-like coolness with which Cicero speaks of his guilt being as clear as the noon-day sun, at the same time indicating a wish to defend him, should such a course be for his own interest, and expressing great pleasure at the perfidy of the accuser who was ready to betray the cause, and the probable corruption of the judices, a majority of whom it was believed might be bought over. Catiline was, however, acquitted without the aid of his rival, and formed a coalition with Antonius, receiving strenuous assistance from Crassus and Caesar, both of whom now began to regard with an evil eye the paxtizan of Pompey, whose splendid exploits filled them with increasing jealousy and alarm. That Cicero viewed this union with the most lively apprehensions is evident from the fragments of his address, In Toga candida, in which he appears to have dissected and exposed the vices and crimes of his two opponents with the most merciless severity. But his fears proved groundless. His star was still in the ascendant; he was returned by all the centuries, while his colleague Antonius obtained a small majority only over Catiline. The attention of the new consul immediately after entering upon office (B. C. 63) was occupied with the agtarian law of Rullus, with regard to which we shall speak more fully hereafter; in quelling the tumults excited by the enactment of Otho; in reconciling the descendants of those proscribed by Sulla to the civil disabilities under which they laboured; in defending C. Rabirius, charged with having been concerned in the death of Saturninus; in bringing forward a measure to render the punishment of bribery more stringent; in checking the abuses connected with the nominations to a

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hide References (15 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (15):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 12.20
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 12.23
    • Polybius, Histories, 6.3
    • Polybius, Histories, 6.6
    • Polybius, Histories, 6.7
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 9, 4.41
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 11, 1.73
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 12, 3.10
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 10, 5.2
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 11, 1.24
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 1.22
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 13.19
    • Plutarch, Cicero, 2
    • Plutarch, Cicero, 6
    • Plutarch, Caesar, 8
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