Cicero, Marcus Tullius

born 106 BCE, died 43 BCE

Greatest Roman orator, famous also as a politician and a philosopher.


Cicero studied law and philosophy at Rome, Athens, and Rhodes. His political posts included those of curule aedile (69 BC), praetor (66 BC), and consul (63 BC). He was always a member of the senatorial party, and as party leader he successfully prosecuted Catiline. Later he was unable to prove that he had legal sanction to execute five members of Catiline's group, and on the charge of illegality he was exiled (58 BC) by his personal enemy, Clodius. He was recalled by Pompey the following year and was hailed as a hero.

Strongly opposed to Julius Caeser, Cicero was a leader of the party that caused him to convene (56 BC) the triumvirate at Lucca. In 51 BC he was governor of Cilicia, and on his return he joined Pompey against Caesar. After the civil war Caesar forgave Cicero, and he lived in honor at Rome under the dictatorship. He did not take part in the assassination of Caesar, but he applauded it. He and Marc Antony were bitter enemies, and Antony attacked Cicero in the senate. Cicero replied in the First Philippic and the Second Philippic, in which he sought to defend the republic. When Octavian (later Augustus) took Rome, he allowed Antony to put Cicero's name among those condemned, and Cicero was put to death on Dec. 7, 43 BC


To the modern reader probably the most interesting of Cicero's voluminous writings are his letters to Atticus, his best friend; to Quintus, his brother; to Brutus, the conspirator; to Caelius, another close friend; and to miscellaneous persons. They reveal more of Roman life and political manners than does any other source. His philosophical works, which are generally stoical, include De amicitia [on friendship]; De officiis [on duty]; De senectute [on old age], or Cato Major; De finibus [on ends], a dialogue on the good; The Tusculan Disputations; and De natura deorum [on the nature of the gods], an attack on various philosophies, especially Epicureanism.

Cicero's rhetorical works are of less general interest. De oratore, addressed to his brother, is a kind of handbook for the young orator; Brutus is an account of Roman oratory; and Orator is a discussion of the ideal orator. The most widely read of Cicero's works are his orations, which have become the standard of Latin. The most famous of these are the Orations against Catiline, on the occasion of the conspiracy, and the Philippics against Antony. Other famous speeches are Against Verres, On the Manilian Law, On Behalf of Archias, On Behalf of Balbus, and On Behalf of Roscius. Cicero's literary and oratorical style is of the greatest purity, and his reputation as the unsurpassed master of Latin prose has never waned.

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