Cicero Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


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...

(The entire section is 994 words.)