Authors: Cicero

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Roman orator and philosopher

January 3, 106 b.c.e.

Arpinum, Latium (now Arpino, Italy)

December 7, 43 b.c.e.

Formiae, Latium (now Formia, Italy)


What was said of John Dryden might also be said of Cicero (SIHS-uh-roh), that he converted into marble the brick of his native tongue. Cicero’s main interest in language was, however, in how to use it most effectively to persuade people; in the process he shaped it so well that Latin, which had been one of many local ancient dialects, became a universal language. In a letter to Atticus, Cicero said: “Make yourself perfectly easy about the language I employ, I have plenty at my command; but my matter is not original.” In reality he constantly increased his erudition so that he might meet his own standard of an orator: a good man skilled in speaking. Cicero served a position the newspaper, the church, and the university serve today, and his writings abundantly reveal his genius in all three functions. {$I[AN]9810000617} {$I[A]Cicero} {$I[geo]ROMAN EMPIRE;Cicero} {$I[tim]0106 b.c.e.;Cicero}


(Library of Congress)

Marcus Tullius Cicero, born four years before Caesar, was not of patrician origin, although his mother’s family contained some politicians of high rank. Reared in a country town, he was imbued with the order and stability of the knightly or mercantile class to which his father belonged. Years later, when Cicero became consul, he relied mainly on the support of this class in his attempt to maintain the stability of the Roman republic with conservative policies.

Cicero began his career as a lawyer, for which he prepared long and exactingly. It was ten years between the time he assumed the toga of manhood in 91 b.c.e. and the day he took a brief and appeared before the public. During the intervening years he studied philosophy and rhetoric under such great teachers as Philo and Molon. His tutor was Diodotus the Stoic. His military experience under Pompey’s father was brief; underweight and pale, he was not suited to carrying arms. Cicero was always against the use of force to resolve conflict.

Cicero first established his reputation as a defense lawyer (in all of his career he acted as prosecutor not more than a half dozen times). Plutarch refers to his love for praise and glory. Certainly he was ambitious. He once said the side of the defense was more honorable, but he never allowed his ambition to drive him to use his gifts to further injustice. It was as a successful defender of victims of political injustice that he rose in public esteem, and his ability to manipulate others led to his later success in the Senate. During his consulship he suppressed the Catiline conspiracy (63 b.c.e.). Banished for the execution of some members of the Catiline group, he was exiled until recalled by Pompey in 57 b.c.e. He served as proconsul in Cilicia (51–50 b.c.e.) but returned to join Pompey at the outbreak of the civil war. Although pardoned and allowed by Caesar to return to Rome in 47 b.c.e., he lived in political retirement until his delivery of the Philippics against Antony (44–43 b.c.e.). Proscribed by the triumvirate, he was put to death at Formiae on December 7, 43 b.c.e.

Cicero’s writings fall into three categories: his philosophic works, his letters, and his speeches. His theory of oratory is best revealed in On Oratory. Success in oratory is based on the general culture and philosophic depth of the orator, but the orator must suit the style to the occasion. The orations against Catiline and the Philippics best reveal his force. His defense of the poet Archias is outstanding as an example of his fusing culture with rhetoric. The important period of Cicero’s literary production in philosophy was 46–44 b.c.e. He created a philosophical vocabulary for Latin and opened up the wealth of Greek thought to his countrymen. On Duties, a manual of ethics, is the most popular of the works of this period, and it reveals his basic identity with Christianity. The letters reveal a brilliant writing style, as well as Cicero’s essential nature, that of a man of great learning, tact, and charm.

Author Works Nonfiction: De inventione rhetorica, 84 b.c.e. (Rhetoric, 1949) Ad Atticum, 68–43 b.c.e. (Epistles to Atticus, 1752) Ad familiares, 62–43 b.c.e. (The Familiar Epistles, 1620) Ad Quintum fratrem, 60-54 b.c.e. (. . . To Brother Quintus, 1561) De oratore, 55 b.c.e. (On Oratory, 1742) Oratoriae partitiones, 54? b.c.e. (Classification of Oratory, 1817) De legibus, 52 b.c.e. (On the Laws, 1841) De optimo genere oratorum, 52 b.c.e. (The Best Kind of Orator, 1852) De republica, 51 b.c.e. (On the State, 1817) Orator, 46 b.c.e. (also known as Orator ad M. Brutum, and De optimo genere dicendi; The Orator, 1776) Brutus, 46 b.c.e. (English translation, 1776) Paradoxica Stoicorum, 46 b.c.e. (The Paradox, 1540) De finibus bonorum et malorum, 45 b.c.e. (On the Definitions of Good and Evil, 1702) De divinatione, 45–44 b.c.e. (On Divination, 1848) De fato, 45–44 b.c.e. (On Fate, 1853) Topica, 45–44 b.c.e. (Topics, 1848) Tusculanae disputationes, 44 b.c.e. (Tusculan Disputations, 1561) De natura deorum, 44 b.c.e. (On the Nature of the Gods, 1683) De officiis, 44 b.c.e. (On Duties, 1534) Cato maior de senectute, 44 b.c.e. (On Old Age, 1481; also known as On a Life Well Spent) Laelius de amicitia, 44 b.c.e. (On Friendship, 1481) Academica, ca. 45 b.c.e. (The Academica of Cicero, 1874) Philippicae, 44–43 b.c.e. (Philippics, 1868) Ad Brutum, 43 b.c.e. (The Epistles of M. T. Cicero to M. Brutus, 1743) The Orations, 1741–43 (3 volumes) Orationum pro Scauro, pro Tullio, et in Clodium fragmenta inedita; pro Cluentio, pro Caelio, pro Caecina, etc. variantes lectiones, 1824 De imperio Gnaei Pompei oratio ad Quirites: Pro lege Manilia, 1879 Orationes: De provinciis consularibus, Pro L. Cornelio Balbo, In L. Calpurnium Pisonem, Pro Cn. Plancio, Pro M. Aemilio Scauro, Pro C. Rabirio postumo, 1886 Pro P. Cornelio Sulla oratio ad iudices, 1891 The Correspondence, 1901 Orationes caesarianae Pro Marcello. Pro Ligario. Pro rege Deiotaro, 1893 The Orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero, 1913 (4 volumes) M. Tulli Ciceronis Fragmenta , 1970 Poetry: Poems of Cicero, 1978 Bibliography Bailey, D. R. Shackleton. Cicero. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972. Provides a detailed biography of Cicero and discusses his writings in the context of his life. Part of the Classical Life and Letters series. Cicero. Letters of Cicero: A Selection in Translation. Compiled and translated by L. P. Wilkinson. New York: W. W. Norton, 1968. Provides translations of Cicero’s important letters from the year after his consulship to the end of his life, with an informative introduction. Classen, Jo-Marie. Displaced Persons: The Literature of Exile from Cicero to Boethius. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999. A fascinating study of the literary genre of exile narratives, discussing both the mechanics and the philosophical and rhetorical strategies of writing about the personal experience of exile. Everitt, Anthony. Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician. New York: Random House, 2002. Places Cicero’s life and career amid the context of the political intrigue and civil unrest of the Roman Republic. Everitt, Anthony. Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician. New York: Random House, 2002. A biography aimed at a general audience, focusing on Cicero’s political career. Does an excellent job of placing him in his historical and social context. Fuhrmann, Manfred. Cicero and the Roman Republic. Translated by W. E. Yuill. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1992. A political biography. Mackail, J. W. Latin Literature. Edited with an introduction by Harry C. Schnur. New York: Collier Books, 1962. Contains a chapter with literary evaluations of Cicero’s forensic oratory, political philosophy, philosophy, and epistolary prose. Includes a bibliography. May, James M. Brill’s Companion to Cicero: Oratory and Rhetoric. Boston: Brill Academic, 2002. This volume of history and criticism includes bibliography and index. Mitchell, Thomas N. Cicero: The Ascending Years. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979. The first book in Mitchell's two-volume biography, covering Cicero's early political life and philosophy. Mitchell, Thomas N. Cicero: The Senior Statesman. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991. The second book of Mitchell's two-volume biography. Considered one of the most reliable, insightful, and thorough studies available. Radford, Robert. Cicero: A Study in the Origins of Republican Thought. Atlanta: Rodopi, 2002. Presents Cicero’s philosophy of natural law and traces its influence in modern philosophy. Sihler, Ernest G. Cicero of Arpinum: A Political and Literary Biography. 1914. Reprint. New York: Cooper Square, 1969. A classicist’s approach to the study of Cicero’s life and character. Special emphasis is placed on Cicero’s writings. Steel, C. E. W. Cicero, Rhetoric, and Empire. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. A close reading of Cicero’s speeches, dissecting his rhetorical strategies, examining the role of political oratory, and placing Cicero’s attitude toward empire in the context of his contemporaries.

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