Cicero Additional Biography


(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Roman orator and rhetorician{$I[g]Roman Republic;Cicero} With courageous and principled statesmanship, Cicero guided Rome through a series of severe crises. While he was not able to save the Republic, he transmitted its political and cultural values in speeches and treatises that became models of style for posterity.

Early Life

Marcus Tullius Cicero (SIHS-ur-oh), the elder son of Marcus Tullius Cicero and Helvia, was born a few miles from Arpinum, a small town in Latium, southeast of Rome. Long established in the district, his family had, like many other Roman families, a rather undignified source for its name: Cicer is Latin for chickpea, or garbanzo. According to one story, “Cicero” originated as the nickname of a wart-nosed ancestor. The Tullius clan was of equestrian, or knightly, rank—that is, they were well-to-do but their members had never served in the senate. Cicero was to be the first in the family to attain nobility as a magistrate.

Centuries earlier, Arpinum had been a stronghold of the Volscians in their unsuccessful struggle to avoid subjugation by Rome. For nearly one hundred years before Cicero’s birth, however, the people of Arpinum had enjoyed full Roman citizenship. Cicero took pride in his local origins as well as in his Roman citizenship, and he sometimes referred to his “two fatherlands.” His description in Cato maior de senectute (44 b.c.e.; On Old Age, 1481) of the slow, well-regulated growth of Arpinum’s figs and grapes suggests the influence of his birthplace on his politics at Rome: He was a lifelong defender of order and gradual change, an enemy of both mob violence and aristocratic privilege.

Cicero’s first exposure to learning came through the papyrus scrolls in his father’s library at Arpinum. While still very young, both Cicero and his brother, Quintus, showed such zeal to study philosophy and oratory that their father took them to Rome to seek the best instruction available. This move to Carinae Street in the capital, coinciding with his father’s retirement from active life, presented young Cicero with an opportunity to excel academically and advance socially.

Latin literature had yet to come into its own. Early Roman poets such as Livius Andronicus and Quintus Ennius simply did not compare well with Homer, and the educators of the day made heavy use of Greek poetic works to teach elocution and rhetoric. One of Cicero’s teachers was the Greek poet Aulus Licinius Archias, who had gone to Rome in 102 b.c.e. and whom Cicero afterward credited with having sparked his interest in literature. Cicero adapted the cadences of Greek and Latin poetry to his original orations, developing a complex but supple rhetorical and literary style that became a standard for his own time and for the Renaissance, fifteen hundred years later. In retrospect, however, Cicero faulted the education of his youth for not teaching how to obtain practical results through rhetoric—a problem he set himself to solve through legal studies.

In 89 b.c.e., at age seventeen, he interrupted these studies to serve on Rome’s side in the Social War, a rebellion by Rome’s Italian allies. His brief role in this disastrous ten-year conflict aroused in him a lifelong hatred of military service. He became more convinced than ever that his success would lie in progressing through the prescribed sequence of public offices, as it had for his models at the time, the orators Lucius Licinius Crassus and Marcus Antonius Creticus (grandfather of Marc Antony). He continued to study rhetoric and also resumed his legal studies under Quintus Mucius Scaevola, the augur (priest of the state religion), who had been consul some twenty-eight years previously.

Life’s Work

Among Cicero’s important achievements was a series of celebrated orations in connection with legal cases. His oratorical skills aided him in the pursuit of public office and helped secure his place in history as the savior of Rome.

Cicero launched his career as an orator and advocate in 81 b.c.e., during the dictatorship of Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Under that regime no one’s life was safe; to become conspicuous through forensics was especially dangerous. Not only did Cicero confront this risk, but from his earliest cases onward he also often bravely opposed the established leaders. Pro Quinctio (81 b.c.e.; For Publius Quintius, 1741), his first speech in a court of law, had little importance in itself; in taking on this case, however, Cicero pitted himself against the leading advocate of the day, Quintus Hortensius Hortalus.

The following year, in Pro Roscio Amerino (80 b.c.e.; For Sertus Roscius of Ameria, 1741), Cicero defended a young man accused of parricide by Chrysogonus, a favorite of Sulla. After the father of Roscius was murdered, Chrysogonus had fabricated a charge to get the dead man’s name on Sulla’s list of proscribed citizens—those banished from Rome for certain offenses. By law the property of a proscribed person, dead or alive, was put up at auction; Chrysogonus wanted to buy the dead father’s property cheaply. He later conspired to make Roscius appear responsible for the murder. It was a bold and dangerous step to reveal in a public speech this evil scheme of Sulla’s favorite. However, Cicero resolutely undertook the defense of Roscius and carried it off so effectively that his reputation was immediately established. Suddenly his services as advocate were in great demand, and Cicero sought to capitalize on this trend by publishing some of his forensic speeches.

Apparently Sulla bore Cicero no ill will; in...

(The entire section is 2344 words.)


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Author Profile

Cicero stands forth as one of the greatest writers and politicians of Rome’s republican era. Born into a wealthy and prestigious Italian family, he was educated in philosophy and rhetoric at Rome, Athens, and Rhodes. After returning to Rome around 76 b.c.e. he pursued a career in the courts and in politics. He was elected to several prestigious governmental posts and soon came to be regarded as one of the most eloquent and determined defenders of the republic.

Cicero developed a long-standing opposition to Julius Caesar and actively supported Caesar’s rival, Pompey. Nevertheless, he was pardoned and allowed to return to nonpolitical pursuits. However, following Caesar’s...

(The entire section is 707 words.)


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Author Profile

The author and orator Cicero was one of the most eloquent exponents in the Roman world of the stoic belief that there is an inherent natural order in the universe and that this order requires human beings, as rational creatures, to follow natural law. This natural law, which can be apprehended through a calm and philosophical survey of the world, clearly indicates that humans are morally obliged to conform to the universal rule of reason. This is particularly true in social relationships, since Cicero shares the Greek belief in the natural brotherhood and equality of man; this belief makes serving the common good of humanity the highest duty of every individual. For Cicero, enlightened patriotism...

(The entire section is 556 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Marcus Tullius Cicero (SIHS-uh-roh), the son of a Roman knight, was born in Arpinum, Latinum (now Arpino, Italy), on January 3, 106 b.c.e. He was the elder son of Marcus Tullius Cicero and Helvia. He was also one of several famous Romans, such as Gaius Marius, who made the Latium region of Italy famous. His family was upper-middle-class, and he was well educated in law, rhetoric, and Greek literature and philosophy, attending schools in both Rome and Greece. In 89 b.c.e., he commenced military training under Pompeius Strabo, the father of Pompey the Great, the Roman general who became the rival of Julius Caesar; he also served with Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who was the...

(The entire section is 1122 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Charles Sears Baldwin, a Columbia University professor of rhetoric in the 1920’s, noted that Cicero sympathized with the views of both Antonius and Crassus: Both orators are right in almost all of their views, which are actually complementary. Further, Baldwin believed that book 1 of On Oratory has been the volume studied most by readers because ithas most of the Ciceronian message which can be summarized rather easily: The effective speaker is the well-educated individual who has studied the speeches of the great orators of the past, has studied the component parts of the oration and their requirements, and has practiced diligently to strengthen wit, voice, and bodily delivery—always remembering that any good speech must be adapted to both the occasion and the audience.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

What was said of John Dryden might also be said of Cicero (SIHS-uh-roh), that he converted into marble the brick of his native tongue. Cicero’s main interest in language was, however, in how to use it most effectively to persuade people; in the process he shaped it so well that Latin, which had been one of many local ancient dialects, became a universal language. In a letter to Atticus, Cicero said: “Make yourself perfectly easy about the language I employ, I have plenty at my command; but my matter is not original.” In reality he constantly increased his erudition so that he might meet his own standard of an orator: a good man skilled in speaking. Cicero served a position the newspaper, the church, and the university serve...

(The entire section is 671 words.)