Cicero's Public Life and Contemporary Politics.
Cicero's Early Life and the Cursus Honorum.
(Aet. 1-44. B.C. 106-63. Epist. I.-II.)
1. M. Tullius Cicero was born at Arpinum, Jan. 3, 106 B.C.
His father's family removed to Rome while Cicero was still a boy,
and here, like other boys of the period, Cicero pursued the study of Greek and Latin literature, rhetoric, and,
somewhat later, philosophy and jurisprudence. His studies were interrupted in 89 B.C.
by a year's service in the Social War,
but at its close they were taken up again with his old vigor. His chosen profession was that of the
law, and in 81 B.C. he made his first appearance at the bar in
defending P. Quinctius. A far more important event was his defense of Sex.
Roscius of Ameria in the following year. Some political significance attaches
to the trial, as Cicero's real antagonist, Chrysogonus,
was a favorite of the dictator Sulla.
2. Possibly to escape the consequent displeasure of Sulla, but more probably
for the sake of his health, Cicero left Rome and spent nearly two years at
Athens, Rhodes, and in Asia Minor, 5
being mainly engaged in the study of
philosophy and oratory. Cicero's study of philosophy during this period
determined his subsequent philosophical attitude, while his work under Molon of
Rhodes enabled him to Cultivate a less florid style of oratory than that which
characterized his earlier orations. At Athens he also made the acquaintance of
T. Pomponius Atticus.6
3. Cicero's marriage to Terentia, a woman of some property and of good family,
must have taken place soon after his return to Rome, or just before his
departure from the city.7
Two years after his return, in 76 B.C., he was quaestor, and had charge of Western Sicily, with Lilybaeum as his headquarters.
His achievements in Sicily made little impression at Rome,8 but the intimate
acquaintance which he gained with the island and its people served him in good
stead when he made his first real appearance in politics six years later as the
prosecutor of Verres.
Verres, who had been governor of Sicily from 73 to 71 B.C., was charged
by the Sicilians with extortion and cruelty. Cicero, who conducted the
prosecution, presented the facts in such a masterly way that Hortensius, the
advocate of Verres, withdrew from the case, and Verres himself went into
4. His prosecution of Verres as well as his defense of Roscius Amerinus (80
B.C.) and of Cornelius Sulla (in 62 B.C.) have caused much discussion of
Cicero's political tendencies during this early period. All three of these
cases had a pronounced political character, and in all three Cicero was the
advocate of democratic interests. He defended Roscius against the attacks of
Sulla's favorite, during the lifetime of that champion of the aristocratic
cause. He prosecuted Verres without mercy, although Verres was
backed by the entire senatorial party, which felt that its prestige and its
privileges were at stake in the trial. He defended Cornelius Sulla against the
charge of having taken part in the Catilinarian conspiracy, although it is
probable that Sulla at least sympathized with the purposes of the democratic
leader.10 It may be said, and perhaps with truth, that in all three cases
Cicero appeared as a lawyer and not in any sense as a politician. We cannot
help feeling, however, that in Cicero's day, as would be the case in our own
time, in a legal contest involving political interests, the advocates on either
side of the question must have belonged in most instances to the political
party whose interests would be promoted by the success of that side. What could
be more natural than that Cicero, belonging to the equestrian class, whose
rights and privileges had been so seriously curtailed in the aristocratic
reaction of Sulla, should oppose the aristocracy at some points? The aid which
his action gave to the democratic cause does not, however, stamp him as a
5. As a candidate for the aedileship for 69 B.C., and for the praetorship for
66 B.C., Cicero led all of his rivals at the polls.11
Both offices he
filled with distinction, and although as praetor he showed, as in earlier
years, slight democratic tendencies,
12 his personal integrity and his intimate
knowledge of the law made his administration of the office wise and honorable.
Throughout this period, even during his incumbency of the two offices just
mentioned, Cicero followed unremittingly his profession of the law, appearing
in defense, among others, of Fonteius, Caecina, and Cluentius.
6. The personal admiration which Cicero felt for Pompey, his political sympathy
with that leader, and perhaps his
desire to link his own fortunes with those of Pompey, led Cicero to approve of
the Gabinian law,
and to lend his active support to the Manilian law in 66
B.C. In supporting the latter measure Cicero delivered his first political
speech, and notwithstanding the united opposition of the Optimates, who
appreciated the danger which threatened the oligarchical principles and policy
from placing such autocratic power in the hands of a single man, the bill
became a law.
7. At the conclusion of his praetorship Cicero declined a province,
devoted all his energy to his candidacy for the consulship. Cicero's political
attitude underwent a slight change in the two or three years preceding his
consulship. He had never been an out and out democrat, but had opposed the
abuses of the aristocratic system rather than that system in its entirety. The
subsidence of that spirit of opposition which often characterizes youth, his
political ambitions, and the growth of a radical faction in the democratic
party with anarchical tendencies, all conspired to draw him nearer to the
Optimates. Both Marcus and his brother Quintus felt that the support of the
senatorial party was essential, and that all suspicion of a democratic leaning
on the part of Marcus must be removed, as is indicated by a significant passage
in a political pamphlet which Quintus addressed to his brother at this time:
Hi rogandi omnes sunt diligenter et ad eos adlegandum est
persuadendumque iis nos semper cum optimatibus de re publica sensisse, minime
popularis fuisse; si quid locuti populariter videamur, id nos eo consilio
fecisse, ut nobis Cn. Pompeium adiungeremus,
etc. The Optimates at first
saw in Cicero only the novus homo, the prosecutor of Verres, and the
advocate of the Manilian law
16 ; but the revolutionary purposes
of Catiline and his party drove the aristocracy to the support of Cicero,
and he was elected by a good majority with C. Antonius as his colleague.
8. Throughout his consulship Cicero's policy was that of a moderate member of
the senatorial party. He opposed the proposition made by the tribune, Rullus,
to divide the ager publicus in Campania; he opposed a measure to relieve
the children of those proscribed by Sulla; he defended the law of Otho which
reserved certain seats in the theatre to the knights; he defended C. Rabirius
on the charge of murder brought against him by the democrats,
and he suppressed the Catilinarian conspiracy; but it was significant of the future
that, when Cicero retired at the end of this year of office, the tribune Q.
Metellus Nepos forbade him to make a parting speech
on the ground that in
punishing the Catilinarian conspirators he had put Roman citizens to death
without a trial.