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Treatises on Friendship and Old Age   By: (106 BC - 43 BC)

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By Marcus Tullius Cicero

Translated by E. S. Shuckburgh


MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO, the greatest of Roman orators and the chief master of Latin prose style, was born at Arpinum, Jan. 3, 106 B.C. His father, who was a man of property and belonged to the class of the "Knights," moved to Rome when Cicero was a child; and the future statesman received an elaborate education in rhetoric, law, and philosophy, studying and practising under some of the most noted teachers of the time. He began his career as an advocate at the age of twenty five, and almost immediately came to be recognized not only as a man of brilliant talents but also as a courageous upholder of justice in the face of grave political danger. After two years of practice he left Rome to travel in Greece and Asia, taking all the opportunities that offered to study his art under distinguished masters. He returned to Rome greatly improved in health and in professional skill, and in 76 B. C. was elected to the office of quaestor. He was assigned to the province of Lilybarum in Sicily, and the vigor and justice of his administration earned him the gratitude of the inhabitants. It was at their request that he undertook in 70 B. C. the Prosecution of Verres, who as Praetor had subjected the Sicilians to incredible extortion and oppression; and his successful conduct of this case, which ended in the conviction and banishment of Verres, may be said to have launched him on his political career. He became aedile in the same year, in 67 B.C. praetor, and in 64 B. C. was elected consul by a large majority. The most important event of the year of his consulship was the conspiracy of Catiline. This notorious criminal of patrician rank had conspired with a number of others, many of them young men of high birth but dissipated character, to seize the chief offices of the state, and to extricate themselves from the pecuniary and other difficulties that had resulted from their excesses, by the wholesale plunder of the city. The plot was unmasked by the vigilance of Cicero, five of the traitors were summarily executed, and in the overthrow of the army that had been gathered in their support Catiline himself perished. Cicero regarded himself as the savior of his country, and his country for the moment seemed to give grateful assent.

But reverses were at hand. During the existence of the political combination of Pompey, Caesar, and Crassus, known as the first triumvirate, P. Clodius, an enemy of Cicero's, proposed a law banishing "any one who had put Roman citizens to death without trial." This was aimed at Cicero on account of his share in the Catiline affair, and in March, 58 B. C., he left Rome. The same day a law was passed by which he was banished by name, and his property was plundered and destroyed, a temple to Liberty being erected on the site of his house in the city. During his exile Cicero's manliness to some extent deserted him. He drifted from place to place, seeking the protection of officials against assassination, writing letters urging his supporters to agitate for his recall, sometimes accusing them of lukewarmness and even treachery, bemoaning the ingratitude of his' country or regretting the course of action that had led to his outlawry, and suffering from extreme depression over his separation from his wife and children and the wreck of his political ambitions. Finally in August, 57 B. C., the decree for his restoration was passed, and he returned to Rome the next month, being received with immense popular enthusiasm. During the next few years the renewal of the understanding among the triumvirs shut Cicero out from any leading part in politics, and he resumed his activity in the law courts, his most important case being, perhaps, the defence of Milo for the murder of Clodius, Cicero's most troublesome enemy. This oration, in the revised form in which it has come down to us, is ranked as among the finest specimens of the art of the orator, though in its original form it failed to secure Milo's acquittal... Continue reading book >>

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