Cicero : biography

January 3, 106 BC – December 7, 43 BC

During this period in Roman history, to be considered "cultured" meant being able to speak both Latin and Greek. Cicero, like most of his contemporaries, was therefore educated in the teachings of the ancient Greek philosophers, poets and historians. The most prominent teachers of oratory of that time were themselves Greek.Rawson, E.:"Cicero, a portrait" (1975) p.8 Cicero used his knowledge of Greek to translate many of the theoretical concepts of Greek philosophy into Latin, thus translating Greek philosophical works for a larger audience. It was precisely his broad education that tied him to the traditional Roman elite.Everitt, A.:"Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician" (2001) p.35

According to Plutarch, Cicero was an extremely talented student, whose learning attracted attention from all over Rome,Plutarch, Cicero affording him the opportunity to study Roman law under Quintus Mucius Scaevola.Plutarch, Cicero Cicero’s fellow students were Gaius Marius Minor, Servius Sulpicius Rufus (who became a famous lawyer, one of the few whom Cicero considered superior to himself in legal matters), and Titus Pomponius. The latter two became Cicero’s friends for life, and Pomponius (who later received the nickname "Atticus") would become Cicero’s longtime chief emotional support and adviser.

Cicero wanted to pursue a public career in politics along the steps of the Cursus honorum. In 90 BC–88 BC, he served both Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo and Lucius Cornelius Sulla as they campaigned in the Social War, though he had no taste for military life, being an intellectual first and foremost. Cicero started his career as a lawyer around 83–81 BC. His first major case, of which a written record is still extant, was his 80 BC defense of Sextus Roscius on the charge of patricide.Rawson, E.: "Cicero, a portrait" (1975) p.22 Taking this case was a courageous move for Cicero; patricide was considered an appalling crime, and the people whom Cicero accused of the murder, the most notorious being Chrysogonus, were favorites of Sulla. At this time it would have been easy for Sulla to have the unknown Cicero murdered. Cicero’s defense was an indirect challenge to the dictator Sulla, and on the strength of his case, Roscius was acquitted.

In 79 BC, Cicero left for Greece, Asia Minor and Rhodes, perhaps because of the potential wrath of Sulla.Haskell, H.J.: "This was Cicero" (1940) p.83 Cicero traveled to Athens, where he again met Atticus, who had become an honorary citizen of Athens and introduced Cicero to some significant Athenians. In Athens, Cicero visited the sacred sites of the philosophers, but not before he consulted different rhetoricians in order to learn a less physically exhausting style of speech. His chief instructor was the rhetorician Apollonius Molon of Rhodes. He instructed Cicero in a more expansive and less intense form of oratory that would define Cicero’s individual style in years to come.

Cicero’s interest in philosophy figured heavily in his later career and led to him introducing Greek philosophy to Roman culture,De Officiis, book 1, n. 1 creating a philosophical vocabulary in Latin. In 87 BC, Philo of Larissa, the head of the Academy that was founded by Plato in Athens about 300 years earlier, arrived in Rome. Cicero, "inspired by an extraordinary zeal for philosophy",Rawson:"Cicero, a portrait" (1975) p.18 sat enthusiastically at his feet and absorbed Plato’s philosophy. He admired especially Plato’s moral and political seriousness, but he also respected his breadth of imagination. Cicero nonetheless rejected Plato’s theory of Ideas. Cicero said of Plato’s Dialogues, that if Zeus were to speak, he would use their language.

Notable fictional portrayals

Ben Jonson dramatised the conspiracy of Catiline in his play Catiline His Conspiracy, featuring Cicero as a character. Cicero also appears as a minor character in William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar.