Sons of a wealthy landowner from Arpinum, Cicero (SIH-suh-roh) and his brother, Quintus Tullius Cicero, were educated to become Roman senators. A junior officer in the Social War (91-87 b.c.e.), Cicero served with young men such as Catiline and Pompey the Great under Pompey’s father and Lucius Cornelius Sulla from 90 to 89 b.c.e. Avoiding civil wars between Sulla and Gaius Marius, he studied law and oratory and married the wealthy, well-born Terentia.
Cicero approved of conservative reforms under the dictatorship of Sulla, but not his excesses. In two early speeches, backed by some of Sulla’s supporters, he defended victims of Sulla’s regime (80 b.c.e.). Not a strong speaker, he went to Athens, Asia Minor, and Rhodes for further training after Sulla retired (79-77 b.c.e.). He returned much improved, resumed speaking in court, and started up the political ladder. As quaestor (75 b.c.e.), he helped important provincials and Romans in Sicily and obtained needed grain for Rome.
In 70 b.c.e., Cicero brilliantly prosecuted Gaius Verres, a corrupt former governor of Sicily, whom many nobles, including the famous orator Quintus Hortensius Hortalus, defended. He also sought favor with Pompey, who had become a general but was disliked by many nobles. As praetor (66 b.c.e.), Cicero backed the Manilian Law, which gave Pompey command of the Third Mithradatic War. When Marcus Licinius Crassus and Julius Caesar were becoming strong and supported Catiline for consul, Cicero helped block them and was elected consul himself for 63 b.c.e.
After another defeat, Catiline hatched a desperate conspiracy to seize power. Cicero’s In Catilinam (60 b.c.e.; Orations Against Catiline in The Orations, 1741-1743) exposed the plot, drove Catiline to death in premature battle, and obtained the execution of other conspirators without trial (63 b.c.e.). Hailed as “father of his country,” Cicero glorified himself excessively and alienated even Pompey. When he refused to help the unofficial First Triumvirate of Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar dominate Rome, they supported the violent popular tribune Publius Clodius Pulcher against him. Clodius had Cicero exiled for illegally executing the Catilinarian conspirators (58 b.c.e.) and then attacked Pompey, who supported Cicero’s recall (57 b.c.e.). Cicero recovered his confiscated property but divorced Terentia. He then married and soon divorced his young ward Publilia.
Cicero tried to detach Pompey from Crassus and Caesar. They renewed their alliance and forced him to cooperate (56 b.c.e.). Abandoning politics, he tried to reform the Republic through philosophical writings but was interrupted by his unwelcome appointment as governor of Cilicia (52 b.c.e.).
After Crassus’s death (53 b.c.e.), rivalry between Pompey and Caesar became civil war (49 b.c.e.). Cicero vacillated, joined Pompey, became disillusioned, and accepted Caesar’s pardon in 48 b.c.e. The death of his daughter, Tullia, paralyzed him with grief (45 b.c.e.). Although not involved, Cicero welcomed Caesar’s assassination (44 b.c.e.). In the Philippicae (44-43 b.c.e.; Philippics, 1869), he opposed Marc Antony, who allied himself with Caesar’s heir, the future Augustus, and had Cicero killed (43 b.c.e.). Nevertheless, Cicero’s son, Marcus Tullius Cicero, became consul under Augustus (30 b.c.e.).
Cicero’s surviving speeches, letters, and philosophical works are valuable historical sources for the late Roman Republic. His style and thought have influenced countless orators, writers, thinkers, and statesmen.
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.
Mitchell, Thomas N. Cicero: The Senior Statesman. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991. This two-volume biography is 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.