Cicero 106–43 B.C. Roman Statesman and Orator

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106–43 b.c.
Roman statesman and orator

Cicero was an ancient Roman statesman whose writings had a significant impact on Renaissance thought and literature. Scholars of the Middle Ages had known Cicero mainly for his philosophical works, including On Duties and On the Nature of the Gods. They were also familiar with some of his works on rhetoric*, such as On Invention. However, in the mid-1300s, Italian scholar and poet Petrarch discovered many of Cicero's letters and formal speeches, or orations. Over the course of the next 100 years, scholars recovered nearly all of Cicero's works.

Many Renaissance humanists* admired and imitated Cicero's writing style. They saw him as the best of all ancient writers. By the mid-1400s all the leading teachers of classical* style were modeling their use of Latin after his. However, some intellectuals of the time criticized these "Ciceronians." The Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus mocked them in several writings, most notably The Ciceronian (1528). He thought it was foolish to copy the style of ancient pagan* Rome to write about Christian Europe in the 1500s. However, he did express his respect for Cicero as a philosopher.

Scholars continued to draw on Cicero's ideas throughout the Renaissance. Printers published thousands of editions of and commentaries on Cicero's works. By the year 1600, Cicero was one of the most published authors of the time. His works also dominated Latin education and the study of rhetoric for centuries after the Renaissance.

(See alsoClassical Antiquity; Classical Scholarship; Humanism; Latin Language and Literature; Rhetoric. )

* rhetoric

art of speaking or writing effectively

* humanist

Renaissance expert in the humanities (the languages, literature, history, and speech and writing techniques of ancient Greece and Rome)

* classical

in the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome

* pagan

referring to ancient religions that worshiped many gods, or more generally, to any non-Christian religion