Marcus Tullius Cicero (sometimes called "Tully" in later references), 106-43 BC, was a prominent statesmen and the preeminent orator of late Republican Rome, credited by some for being single-handedly responsible for the persistence of the ancient Greek intellectual tradition in Western culture. This is as much for the quality and content of his writings (which is quite good and interesting) as it is for its sheer volume. While by no means complete, a vast quantity of Cicero's writings and especially his letters have survived into the present day. The First Century BCE has always known to be an unusually rich era (before and afterwards) in terms of availability of information, but even in that light, Cicero stands out.
Cicero's writings in prose on a variety of subjects, provided a model for later prose writers in Latin, and thanks to being described by the Church fathers as "a righteous pagan", his writings were preserved and served as a model for prose writers in The Middle Ages to The Renaissance, during which time, Cicero's reputation as a prose stylist faded in light of Montaigne (who was not a fan of him) and Francis Bacon. Cicero's works provide a nearly day-to-day glimpse of the last days of the Roman Republic and the first days of the Empire, and several of his works serve as a model for political oratory well into the 21st Century.
Most people don't like Cicero anymore on account of his blatant snobbery, his contempt for the poor, his whining about his runaway slaves and how irritating it is, for him, to hunt them down and bring them back to servitude and other such fun things that was the mores of his tempora, but became less so in the last two hundred years or so, when Democracy and Republican institutions greatly exceeded its classical models and predecessors in its definition of liberty and freedom. Each success only made Cicero's works seem more and more obsolete at least in the context he saw himself in. Regardless of his politics, Cicero as revealed in his own writings, is a deeply compelling individual, someone who is interesting for his flaws and failures as much as he is for his insight and virtues. He was a smart man, deeply human, vacillating and politically inconsistent and yet capable of courage when he complained about the erosion of the Republic during the Second Triumvirate.
During the wars following the death of Caesar he essentially gambled on his life and lost: he re-entered the political stage attempting to play Octavian and Mark Antony against each other, which succeeded for a while but backfired when they decided to bury the hatch and launched a fresh round of proscriptions ended up joining forces in the Second Triumvirate. He denounced this alliance and spoke out against Mark Antony, which eventually led him to being added to the proscription list in 43 BC. After evading his killers for some time with help from his many sympathizers, he was eventually betrayed, by a former slave of his as it happens. He was killed, according to legend, with some amount of dignity: unable to escape or fight, he acted as a true philosopher and calmly offered his neck to the centurion's sword. He was brutally executed and dismembered, with his head and hands put on display in the Roman Forum, and left to rot for days. However, his memory and his works were preserved and published by Emperor Augustus, who probably did regret condoning his death.
Cicero provides examples of:
- A Pupil of Mine Until He Turned to Evil: Octavian, though there was mutual admiration between the two even after Octavian largely discarded him, and the future Emperor later appointed Cicero's son as his consul. He also turned a blind eye to the latter's Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Mark Antony and Antony's entire family.
- Amoral Attorney: Depends on your point of view, but he did defend a few people - some of them murderers - who he likely knew were guilty.
- Arch-Enemy: He enjoyed presenting his opponents as this. Catilina, Mark Antony and to a much lesser extent, Julius Caesar.
- Incidentally, there is evidence to suggest that he and Catilina and even Mark Antony were a little friendly early on. His disrespect for Antony was genuine because of how badly he ran his consulship when Caesar was dictator.
- With Caesar, he as an Optimate was entirely opposed to him - especially during the civil war - but they shared a grudging respect for each other. Cicero was genuinely surprised by the assassination of Caesar, though seemed to at least somewhat approve of it, praising Brutus in some of his speeches, and even remarking in one of his letters that he wished he had been present for it.
- Bilingual Bonus: His work is responsible for bringing many abstract philosophical terms from Greek into Latin, as well as for bringing abstract philosophy from Greece to Rome.
- Category Traitor: Most critical views of Cicero in history take this approach, charging that despite his humble origins, he was strongly opposed to land and class reforms in favor of plebeians. He also tended to be something of a slumlord, being anal about tenants paying their (often inflated) rents while doing little to maintain his properties. Cicero had contempt for people who worked for a living, he was a slaveowner and considering that he complained about some runaway slaves, he probably must have been quite insufferable or cruel to be around, at least for some of them. He was finally betrayed by one of them during his proscriptions.
- Caustic Critic: Whoo, boy. If you were up against him in court or on the Senate debate floor, he didn't pull any punches.
- Charm Person: The leading orator of the ancient world, and arguably one of the greatest public speakers who has ever lived.
- Courtroom Antics: Roman legal proceedings in this period were very nearly a spectator sport, and Cicero was practically an all-star quarterback. Antics Cicero got away with in court (copied from The Roman Republic page):
- Calling the prosecution's witness, who was an attempted murder victim, a shameless slut, whore, and murderess, and then saying he wasn't going to call her a shameless slut, whore, and murderess, and then calling her a shameless slut, whore, and murderess repeatedly throughout the rest of his speech.
- Accusing a political rival (Clodius) of incest in a completely unrelated case, where the sister of said rival accused her lover of attempting to poison her (see above).
- Pretending to be Rome personified (it's complicated).
- Pretending to be a long dead Roman Consul (again, it's complicated). Incidentally, he was pretending to be the Consul so he could call the attempted murder victim above a shameless slut, whore, and murderess. And being quite graphic about it.
- Telling the judge he was going to ignore all courtroom procedure for the citizenship application he was arguing for and spend the next hour discussing Greek literature. (His client was Greek.)
- Giving speaking tips to opposing counsel.
- Complimenting opposing counsel on his skill — because the counsel was once one of his students.
- Accusing opposing counsel of being sexually submissive.
- Accusing the jury of being corrupt (although this was often the case).
- Discussing fashion in the middle of a murder trial.
- Discussing town planning in the middle of a murder trial.
- Discussing highway maintenance in the middle of a murder trial.
- Discussing the inconvenient placement of Public Holidays in the middle of a murder trial.note
- Cowardly Lion: unlike most Roman politicians, he wasn't a soldier, but he was capable of being exceptionally brave, as shown by his verbal assaults on Mark Antony that led to his execution.
- Dead Guy on Display: Antony had him murdered because Cicero made a series of speeches against him. His head and his hands (which had penned the speeches) were cut off and displayed in the Forum Romanum.
- Deadpan Snarker: Notorious for being unable to keep his mouth shut. Octavian respected him, but didn't find it hard to let Mark Antony have his Roaring Rampage of Revenge upon him when Cicero joked about Octavian "We'll give him honors and decorations — and then a kick downstairs." Plutarch relates a whole paragraph of his zingers:A man accused of murdering his father with a poisoned cake: "I shall cover you with shame!"Cicero: "I'd rather have the shame than the cake."Lucius Gellius, a very old senator: "This law shall never pass while I am alive!"Cicero: "Gellius does not ask for a long postponement."Cicero: *discussing a consul who was elected on the last day of the year, and therefore served less than a day* [Caninius] was of amazing vigilance, in view of the fact that he didn't see any sleep in the whole of his consulate!
- The Ditherer: Cicero was well known for being remarkably inconsistent in his political opinions, especially in times of strife. Ironically, when he finally did take a stand — against Marc Antony — it got him killed.
- Doomed Moral Victor: against Mark Antony, where his denunciation of the Second Triumvirate's military junta (and very specifically, Antony's consulate in 43 BC) are generally characterized as his finest hour, even by historians who otherwise have an ambivalent or negative view of the man himself.
- Downer Ending: Whether you like him or not, Cicero truly believed in the Roman Republic and was assassinated for speaking out against those who were tearing it apart.
- Do Wrong, Right: His (probably apocryphal) last words: "There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly."
- Embarrassing Middle Name: Or Embarrassing Cognomen in this case: the Roman biographer Plutarch claimed that his name came from cicer or vetch, which his ancestor's nose is said to have resembled. Supposedly, his friends suggested that he change his name before he ran for office, but he decided he'd rather make the name "Cicero" honorable and glorious instead. It worked.
- Everyone Has Standards: He criticized in one of his earlier letters, Marcus Junius Brutus, for extorting a high interest rate of 48 percent, and basically hiring out goons to make poor people pay up. Cicero was no friend of the poor, but even this was a bit much for him. This of course raises questions about how seriously we can take his praise and support for Brutus after Caesar's assassination because in private, he characterized him as an asshole.
- Fauxdian Slip: In his speech in defense of Caelius, who had been accused of several crimes by his ex-lover Clodia. Clodia was the sister of one of Cicero's bitterest political enemies, and it was rumoured there was a Brother–Sister Incest relationship among the siblings. In his speech, Cicero said at one moment: "And, indeed, I would do so still more vigorously, if I had not a quarrel with that woman's husband - brother, I meant to say; I am always making this mistake."
- Foreign Culture Fetish: He developed quite an affinity for Greek philosophy and rhetoric in his youth, unsurprising considering his education in Rhodes.
- Good Parents: he loved his daughter Tullia dearly, slipping into a lengthy Heroic B.S.O.D. when she died.
- Graceful Loser: When Cicero's assassin came for him, he found him reclining on a litter reading a scroll. Cicero lowered the scroll to look at his soon-to-be-murderer and calmly said "Ah, there you are." At least that's how historians would like to frame it.
- Heel–Face Revolving Door: was well known for changing sides, something he angsted about.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: Grieved heavily when his beloved daughter Tullia died after giving birth to her second son.
- He's Back: after spending years in the shadow of Caesar, Crassus and Pompey, being used for their purposes, grieving for his daughter and fearing to speak out against Caesar, he took on Mark Antony in what was probably his finest hour.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Atticus, his co-brother-in-law.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: Traditionally, he was viewed very fondly by history (most likely because he was ultimately killed unjustly), even though, as demonstrated by the Long List of his Courtroom Antics, he practically invented the Chewbacca Defense and was known for switching sides. Likewise, despite being a Novus Homo and rising from the lower orders, Cicero was a proud optimate who refused all reforms and attempts to extend rights to the poor, he was a defender of an aristocratic republic.
- Insufferable Genius: he knew perfectly well how clever he was and had no problem letting anyone and everyone know it.
- The Last DJ: The famed Triumvirate would have been a Quadumvirate had Cicero accepted Caesar's invitation to join him, Pompey, and Crassus. Cicero turned him down out of a belief that the alliance was unconstitutional and would undermine the republic.
- Non-Action Guy: He was notable amongst his rivals and colleagues in having no military background. Even in during the civil wars, he took a mostly political role and went into exile rather than fight. This naturally must have made his critics raise a few eyebrows when he wore an armour in his famous speeches against Catilina, feeling that he was pushing it by making himself out to be a warrior.
- Perfectly Cromulent Word: Invented an awful lot of them. For instance, he is the reason "virtue" is a word. Of course, when you're trying to import a discipline with an entirely foreign vocabulary, you pretty much have to do this at some point.
- Take a Third Option: His Orator noted that oratory at the time was split into two schools: the Attic school which was formal and traditional, and the "Asiatic" style which was florid and stylish. Cicero decided to synthesize the two, and later rhetoricians such as Tacitus and Quintilian considered his novel style to be better than either of the originals.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: One of the great masters of this trope. His orations against Catilina and the Philippics he wrote against Mark Antony are some of the best examples of this."That, Senators, is what a favour from gangs amounts to. They refrain from murdering someone; then they boast that they have spared him!"
- Rousing Speech: gave these from time to time. Particularly of note was his second speech against the conspiracist Cataline, in which he exorted the Senate to stand against the army that he had raised under their noses."Besides that, there is a high spirit in the virtuous citizens, great unanimity, great numbers, and also a great body of troops. Above all that, the immortal gods will stand by and bring aid to this invincible nation, this most illustrious empire, this most beautiful city, against such wicked violence."
- Self-Made Man: Famous for being a novus homo, lacking the significant lineage of 99% of politicians at the time. He came up through the Roman law courts and was the first member of his family to be elected consul, solely on his talent. Ironically, he caught a lot of flak about this from the entrenched patrician class whose traditional rights he often had to defend against populist reformers like Catilina and Caesar.
- Simple Country Lawyer: Part of his technique was the Roman version of this: like many novi homines, he came from one of the smaller towns in Latium (in his case, Arpinium) that had been granted Roman citizenship relatively recently. And he did work his way up the legal profession to Consulship and then the Senate.
- Wants a Prize for Basic Decency: He mocks this in his Philippics, lamenting how Caesar and the Second Triumvirate were trying to build airs by not starting proscriptions right away (translated by Michael Grant):"Nevertheless, let us imagine that you could have killed me. That, Senators, is what a favour from gangsters amounts to. They refrain from murdering someone; then they boast that they have spared him! If that is a true favour, then those who killed Caesar, after he had spared them, would never have been regarded as so glorious — and they are men whom you yourself habitually describe as noble. But the mere abstention from a dreadful crime is surely no sort of favour. In the situation in which this "favour" placed me, my dominant feelings ought not to have been pleasure because you did not kill me, but sorrow because you could have done so with impunity...Still, in what respect can you call me ungrateful? Were my protests against the downfall of our country wrong, because you might think they showed ingratitude?
- Some historians have argued that Cicero even here is being hypocritical. During the Catiline Conspiracy, he presided over the judicial murder of Roman citizens, executed without trial on charges of conspiracy and invoking Emergency Authority for a plot that turned out to have been quite minor and narrow. So when Caesar and Co. were sparing Cicero and others, they really were treating their opponents better than expected, especially considering how optimates like Cicero acted when the shoe was on the other foot.
- Worthy Opponent:
- There is evidence both Julius Caesar and his nephew Octavian - thence Emperor Augustus - respected Cicero as a great man of Rome, according to Plutarch's Parallel Lives.
- After Antony fell to Octavian, the first Consul that Octavian appointed to serve with him was Cicero's son. It was Cicero the Younger who announced Marc Antony's death at Actium, and he later worked to remove Antony's entire family from political power, avenging his father's death with Augustus' approval.
- Your Mom: Older Than FeudalismMetellus Nepos: "Who is your father?"noteCicero: "In your case, your mother has made the answer to that question rather difficult."
Cicero in Fiction:
Anime and Manga
- Appears in both seasons of HBO's Rome, played by David Bamber. In the series, the soldier who assassinates him turns out to be Titus Pullo.
- Cicero turns up in Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series, employing protagonist Gordianus for various reasons, including to dig up information to help his defense of Sextus Roscius and to keep an eye on Catilina during the consular elections.
- Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series follows Cicero's career along with many other prominent players in the late Republic.
- Robert Harris' Imperium trilogy chronicles the life of Cicero from the perspective of his slave/scribe Tiro.
- He briefly appears in Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar. The conspirators also consider including him, but Brutus rejects it, saying that Cicero won't support something that wasn't his idea.