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Cicero, Marcus Tullius


Orator, statesman, and greatest man of letters of antiquity; b. Arpinum, Italy, Jan. 3, 106 b.c.; d. Formiae, Dec. 7, 43. He was of middle-class origin, and he received an excellent education at Rome that was completed by philosophical and rhetorical studies at Athens and Rhodes. He distinguished himself as an orator and served as quaestor in 75, as praetor in 66, and as consul in 63. His greatest political triumph was the unmasking and suppression of the conspiracy of Cataline. As an opponent of Caesar he was exiled in 58 to 57, but through Pompey's efforts he was able to return to Rome. In 51 to 50 he served as a governor of Cilicia. In the civil war he supported Pompey and the senate. Following the assassination of Caesar, he courageously defended the senatorial cause against Mark Antony. He perished as a victim, with the acquiescence of Octavian, of Antony's hatred.

Cicero was a man of peace, innately conservative in politics, who found himself deeply involved in the violence that marked the last years of the Republic. Owing to the preservation of most of his voluminous writings, especially of his letters, his life is better known than that of any other ancient personality, with the possible exception of St. augustine.

Cicero's chief extant works comprise orations, rhetorical compositions, and philosophical treatises, cast in the form of dialogues, and letters. His orations and letters, apart from their high literary place in oratory and epistolography, are invaluable sources for the history of the late Republic. His rhetorical works are primarily concerned with the theory of oratory and give precious information on the earlier Roman orators. His extant philosophical dialogues cover political theory and religion as well as philosophical themes as ordinarily understood. They are: De Republica (preserved only in part), De legibus, Academica, De finibus bonorum et malorum, Tusculanae disputationes, De natura deorum, De divinatione, De senectute, De amicitia, Paradoxa Stoicorum, and De officiis. His De consolatione and the Hortensius, which exercised such a great influence on the young Augustine, have been lost.

Cicero was not an original thinker, but as an eclectic he expounded in a beautiful literary style the basic ideas of the chief Greek schools of philosophy. In epistemology he followed the New Academy; in ethics, chiefly the Stoics. He rejected both the materialism of the Epicureans and the popular religious beliefs in the gods, but believed in a divine providence and the immortality of the soul. Cicero is the undisputed master of Latin prose style and the creator of Latin philosophical language. He was the first, for example, to employ such basic terms as essentia, qualitas, and materia in their philosophical sense.

Cicero's influence on subsequent Latin prose style was immediate and very significant because of his central place beside vergil in the ancient school tradition. Since the ancient Christian writers were trained chiefly in pagan schools, it is only natural that they should reflect Ciceronian influence in both thought and style. Cicero's treatment of Greco-Roman philosophy and religion furnished Christian apologists with arguments that were all the more effective because they were based on a universally acknowledged authority. minucius felix, arnobius the elder, and lactantius drew heavily on Cicero's De natura deorum, De divinatione, and other works. Lactantius, because of his indebtedness to Cicero for his content and style, has been called the "Christian Cicero."

St. ambrose's De officiis shows the obvious influence of Cicero in its title and in its division into three books, but in actual content it is much less dependent on its model than is usually assumed. St. jerome's dream and the style of his treatises and letters furnish ample testimony for his familiarity with the great Roman writer. The reading of the Hortensius, as already noted, marked a turning point in the life of the young Augustine. Later, Augustine found Cicero and Varro invaluable sources for his apologetic in the De civitate Dei. His definition of the pagan state, for example, is taken from Cicero. Book four of his De doctrina Christiana, a treatise on Christian rhetoric, is based essentially on Cicero's theory of rhetoric and education. boethius reflects Ciceronian influence in his style of writing rather than in his thought.

The influence of Cicero continued throughout the Middle Ages, but it was confined largely to the knowledge and use of a limited number of his philosophical works, his rhetorical treatise De inventione, and the Auctor ad Herennium, which was regarded as a Ciceronian production. Few scholars in the Middle Ages were as familiar with Cicero as Lupus of Ferrières, john of salisbury, and Peter of Blois. From the beginning of the Renaissance, with the recovery and study of his extant works, Cicero became the universally recognized, and for a time the exclusive, master of Latin prose style.

The cultivation of Ciceronian Latin in the European school tradition exercised a marked effect on the development of vernacular prose style in general. In the late 19th century Pope leo xiii gave Ciceronian Latin a basic place in his reform of papal chancery style; his own encyclicals, especially, and those of his successors exhibit the deliberate use of Ciceronian language and stylistic devices. Ciceronian thought exercised some influence throughout the modern period, but his influence in modern times has been primarily in the field of rhetorical theory and style.

Bibliography: g. c. richards, The Oxford Classical Dictionary, ed. m. cary et al. (Oxford 1949) 188191, with bibliog. k. bÜchner, "M. Tullius Cicero, der Redner (29)," Paulys Realenzkopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al. 7A.1 (1939) 8271274. c. becker, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, ed. t. klauser (Stuttgart 194150) 3:86127, with bibliog. j. w. duff, A Literary History of Rome from the Origins to the Close of the Golden Age, ed. a. m. duff (3d ed. London 1953) 255290, with bibliog. 501503. j. e. sandys History of Classical Scholarship (Cambridge, Eng.), v.1 (3d ed. 1921), v.2, 3 (2d ed. 190608); repr. (New York 1958), indices s.v. "Cicero." m. manitius, Geschischte der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelaters (Munich 191131) indices s.v. "Cicero." g. highet, The Classical Tradition (New York 1949), index s.v. "Cicero." r. r. bolgar, The Classical Heritage and Its Beneficiaries (Cambridge, Eng.1954), index s.v. "Cicero." h. hagendahl, Latin Fathers and the Classics (Göteborg 1958), index s.v. "Cicero." m. van de bruwaine, La Théologie de Cicéron (Louvain 1937). t. a. dorey, ed., Cicero (London 1965).

[m. r. p. mcguire]

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