Marcus Tullius Cicero Essay, Research Paper
Cicero is credited with being the greatest of the Roman orators. He was born at Arpinum 106 BC, the same year which gave birth to Pompey the Great. His family was ancient, and of equestrian rank, but had never taken part in public affairs at Rome, though both his father and grandfather were persons of consideration in the part of Italy in which they resided. His father determined to educate his two sons, Marcus and Quintus, on an enlarged and liberal plan, and to fit them for the prospect of public employment, which his own weak state of health incapacitated him from seeking. One of his earliest masters was the poet Archias, whom he defended afterwards. Soon after he assumed the toga virilis, he was placed in the care of Scaevola, the celebrated lawyer, whom he introduces in several of his philosophical dialogues. Cicero took the opportunity of serving a campaign under the consul Pompeitis Strabo, father of Pompey the Great. He returned to the study of philosophy under Philo the Academic. But his chief attention was reserved for oratory, to which he applied himself with the assistance of Molo, the most skilled rhetorician of the day. Diodotus the Stoic also exercised him in the argumentative subtleties for which the disciples of Zeno were known.
Cicero was the first Roman who found his way to the highest dignities of the State with no other recommendation than his powers of eloquence and his merits as a civil justice. The first case of importance which he undertook was the defense of Roscius Amerintis, in which he distinguished himself by his courageous defense, of his client, who had been accused of parricide, by Chrysogonus, a favorite of Stilia’s. This obliging him, however, according to Plutarch, to leave Rome from Prudential motives, the power of Sulla being at that time paramount, he traveled for two years under pretense of his health. At Athens he met with Pomponius Atticus, whom he had formerly known at school, and attended the lectures of Antiochus, who, under the name of an Academic, taught the dogmatic doctrines of Plato and the Stoics. Though Cicero at first showed considerable dislike, for his philosophical views, he seems afterwards to have adopted the sentiments of the Old Academy and not until late in life to have. He then reverted into the skeptical teachings of his earlier instructor Philo.
After visiting the principal philosophers and rhetoricians of Asia, he returned at the age of thirty to Rome, so strengthened that he soon eclipsed in speaking all his competitors for public favor. Five years after his quaestorship Cicero was elected aedile. After the customary interval of two years, he was returned at the head of the list as praetor, and now made his first appearance on the Rostra in support of the Manilian law. At the expiration of his praetorship, he refused to accept a foreign province, the usual reward of that position. Instead, he sought the consulship. His consulate was succeeded by the return of Pompey from the East, and the establishment of the First Triumvirate. This disappointed his hopes of political greatness, and he resumed forensic and literary occupations. After four years, he was involved in a scandal that resulted in his voluntary exile. He later returned from exile, and five years later held command of the government of Cilicia. He resigned his command, and returned to Italy. With the assassination of Caesar, he hoped to regain political influence, but Antony took Caesar’s place, and Cicero favored Octavianus instead. This association proved uncomfortable, and, after several attempts at
escape, he was captured and assassinated. His head and hands were cut off, and carried to Rome and displayed at the Rostra.
PHILOSOPHICAL WRITINGS. The speech De Legibus has reached us in an imperfect state, only three books remaining, and these disfigured by numerous chasms that cannot be supplied. It traces the philosophic principles of jurisprudence to their remotest sources, sets forth a body of laws conformable to Cicero’s idea of a well-regulated State, and is supposed to have treated in the books that are lost of the executive power of magistrates and the rights of roman citizens. The treatise De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum is written after the manner of Aristotle, and discusses the chief good and the chief evil (summum bonum et summum malum); in it
Cicero explains the several opinions entertained on this subject by the philosophers of antiquity. The Academicae Quaestiones relates to the Academic philosophy, whose tenets Cicero himself had embraced. It is in account and defense of the doctrines of the Academy. In the Tusculanae Disputationes, five books are devoted to as many different questions of philosophy, bearing the most strongly on the practice of life, and involving topics the most essential to human happiness. The Paradoxa contains a defense of six paradoxes of the stoics. The work De Natura Deorum, in three books, examines the various theories of the Greeks and Romans on the nature of the gods, to which the treatise De Divinatione may be seen as a supplement. The essay De Officiis, on moral duties, has sometimes been called the Roman Whole Duty of Man; the dialogues De Senectute and De Amicitia have been regarded as among the most highly finished performances of which any language can boast. We have to lament the loss of the treatises De Consolatione, De Gloria, and the one entitled Hortensius, in which last Cicero undertook the defense of learning and philosophy, and left to his illustrious competitor the task of arraigning them. It was this book which first led St. Augustine to the study of Christian philosophy and the doctrines of Christianity. The treatise De Republica has been in part rescued from the destroying hand of time by the labors of Mai. Except the works De Inventions and De Oratore, this was the earliest of Cicero’s literary productions. It written in 53 BCE, just before its author set out for his proconsular government in Cilicia. He was then 53. The object and spirit of the work were highly patriotic. He wished to bring the constitution back to its first principles by an impression expositive of its theory; to inflame his contemporaries with the love of virtue by portraying the character of their ancestors in its primeval purity; and while he was raising, a monument to all future ages of what Rome had been, to inculcate upon his own times what it ought till to be. We know it to have been his original purpose to make it a voluminous Work, for he expressly tells his brother that it was to be extended to nine books.
PHILOSOPHICAL VIEWS. Cicero, as a philosophers belongs to the New Academy. It has been disputed whether be was really attached to this system, or had merely resorted to it as being the best adapted for furnishing, him with oratorical arguments suited to all occasions. At first its adoption was subsidiary to his other plans. But, towards the conclusion of his life, when lie no longer maintained the place he was ,wont to hold in the Senate or the Forum, and when philosophy formed the occupation “with which,” to quote his own words, “life was just tolerable,
and without which it would have been intolerable,” he doubtless became convinced that the principles of the Now Academy, illustrated as they had been by Carneades and Philo, formed the soundest system which had descended to mankind from the schools of Athens. The attachment, however, of Cicero to the Academic philosophy was free from the exclusive spirit of sectarianism, and hence it did not prevent his extracting from other systems what lie found in them conformable to virtue and reason. His ethical principles, in particular, appear eclectic, having been in a great measure formed from the opinions of the Stoics. Of most of the Greek sects he speaks with respect and esteem. For the Epicureans alone he seems, not withstanding his friendship for Atticus, to have entertained a decided aversion and contempt. The general purpose of Cicero’ philosophical works was rather to give a history of the ancient philosophy, than dogmatically to inculcate opinions of his own. It was his great aim to explain to his follow-citizens, in their own language, whatever the sages of Greece had taught on the most important subjects, in order to enlarge their minds and reform their morals. His peculiar merit as a philosophical writer lay in his luminous and popular exposition of the leading principles and disputes of the ancient schools, and no works transmitted from antiquity present so concise and comprehensive a view of the opinions of the Greek philosophers. The most obvious peculiarity of Cicero’s philosophical writings is their form of dialogue.