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Letters of Marcus Tullius Cicero   By: (106 BC - 43 BC)

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Prepared by David Reed haradda@aol.com or davidr@inconnect.com

Letters of Cicero

by Marcus Tullius Cicero

Translated by E. S. Shuckburgh

THE letters of Cicero are of a very varied character. They range from the most informal communications with members of his family to serious and elaborate compositions which are practically treatises in epistolary form. A very large proportion of them were obviously written out of the mood of the moment, with no thought of the possibility of publication; and in these the style is comparatively relaxed and colloquial. Others, addressed to public characters, are practically of the same nature as his speeches, discussions of political questions intended to influence public opinion, and performing a function in the Roman life of the time closely analogous to that fulfilled at the present day by articles is the great reviews, or editorials in prominent journals.

In the case of both of these two main groups the interest is twofold: personal and historical, though it is naturally in the private letters that we find most light thrown on the character of the writer. In spite of the spontaneity of these epistles there exists a great difference of opinion among scholars as to the personality revealed by them, and both in the extent of the divergence of view and in the heat of the controversy we are reminded of modern discussions of the characters of men such as Gladstone or Roosevelt. It has been fairly said that there is on the whole more chance of justice to Cicero from the man of the world who understands how the stress and change of politics lead a statesman into apparently inconsistent utterances than from the professional scholar who subjects these utterances to the severest logica1 scrutiny, without the illumination of practical experience.

Many sides of Cicero's life other than the political are reflected in the letters. From them we can gather a picture of how an ambitious Roman gentleman of some inherited wealth took to the legal profession as the regular means of becoming a public figure; of how his fortune might be increased by fees, by legacies from friends, clients, and even complete strangers who thus sought to confer distinction on themselves; of how the governor of o province could become rich in. a year; of how the sons of Roman men of wealth gave trouble to their tutors, were sent to Athens, as to a university in our day, and found an allowance of over $4,000 a year insufficient for their extravagances. Again, we see the greatest orator of Rome divorce his wife after thirty years, apparently because she had been indiscreet or unscrupulous in money matters, and marry at the age of sixty three his own ward, a young girl whose fortune he admitted was the main attraction. The coldness of temper suggested by these transactions is contradicted in turn by Cicero's romantic affection for his daughter Tullia, whom he is never tired of praising for her cleverness and charm, and whose death almost broke his heart.

Most of Cicero's letters were written in ink on paper or parchment with a reed pen; a few on tablets of wood or ivory covered with wax, the marks being cut with a stylus. The earlier letters he wrote with his own hand, the later were, except in rare cases, dictated to a secretary. There was, of course, no postal service, so the epistles were carried by private messengers or by the couriers who were constantly traveling between the provincial officials and the capital.

Apart from the letters to Atticus, the collection, arrangement, and publication of Cicero's correspondence seems to have been due to Tiro, the learned freedman who served him as secretary, and to whom some of the letters are addressed. Titus Pormponius Atticus, who edited the large collection of the letters written to himself, was a cultivated Roman who lived more than twenty years in Athens for purposes of study. His zeal for cultivation was combined with the successful pursuit of wealth; and though Cicero relied on him for aid and advice in public as well as private matters, their friendship did not prevent Atticus from being on good terms with men of the opposite party... Continue reading book >>




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