Cicero

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Cicero (106-43BCE) - English pronunciation SIS-ero, IPA: /'sɪsə,rəʊ/: see also Pronunciation of Latin proper names - is the greatest of the Roman orators. His full name was Marcus Tullius Cicero, and English authors of the nineteenth and earlier centuries sometimes refer to him as Tully rather than Cicero. The adjective from Cicero is Ciceronian (with the stress on the third syllable, siserON-ian, IPA: /,sɪsə'rəʊnɪən/).

Cicero was born in Arpinum (modern Arpino, in the region of Lazio, some 50 miles to the south east of Rome) and was educated in Rome. He was a politician as well as an orator, and in addition to making speeches in the law courts - on which his fame as an orator largely rests - played, for much of his life, an active part in Roman politics, rising through the different levels of the Roman political system to become one of the consuls for the year 63. (During the Roman Republic the consuls, who were always two in number and held office for one year only, were the highest authorities in the state.) Cicero lived through one of the most turbulent periods in Roman history, as the oligarchic system of government under which Rome had been governed for centuries began to collapse, its stability threatened, on the one hand, by powerful generals at the head of great armies (e.g., Sulla, Julius Caesar, and Pompey) and, on the other, by populist politicians with revolutionary political programmes (e.g., Catiline and Clodius). Cicero himself was a moderate: he believed in the Republican constitution and, while willing to consider changes to it, was opposed to violent or revolutionary change. As consul in 63, he was instrumental in frustrating the designs of Catiline and his fellow-conspirators to implement a revolutionary programme by violent means.

When civil war between the two great generals Pompey and Julius Caesar broke out in 49, Cicero did his best to remain on good terms with both sides, but after the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 he did not hide his hostility to Caesar's 'right-hand man', Mark Antony, and in the following year when Mark Antony along with two other generals, Octavian and Lepidus, established the Triumvirate (i.e., the joint rule of three men), Cicero's hostility to Mark Antony cost him his life: he was proscribed (i.e., declared an outlaw) and murdered at his country house in Tusculum in December 43.

Of Cicero's speeches more than fifty have survived. Most were delivered in the law courts, usually on behalf of the defendant (e.g., Pro Sestio, Pro Marcello), though occasionally for the prosecution, as with the speech (In Verrem) which in 70 secured the conviction of Verres, the scandalously corrupt governor of Sicily. (Pro in Latin means: on behalf of, while in in this context means: against.) However, some of Cicero's speeches are political rather than legal, the most famous being the Philippics, the series of speeches which he delivered, some of them before the Senate, in late 44 and early 43 and in which he passionately denounced Mark Antony. The language of Cicero's speeches is usually regarded, along with that of Virgil's epic poem, the Aeneid, as definitive of the Classical Latin language.

Cicero was a prolific writer. In addition to the speeches he is the author of a number of philosophical works, many of them written towards the end of his life in 45 and 44. These include De Finibus (On Ends), De Officiis (On Obligations), and De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods). Although these works contain little original thought, they are very capable expositions and discussions of the doctrines of the Greek philosophical schools, i.e., the Academics (the followers of Plato), the Peripatetics (the followers of Aristotle), the Stoics, and the Epicureans. These works also contributed to the development of the Latin language as a medium for the discussion of philosophical topics - before Cicero Greek rather than Latin had been the language of philosophy.

Cicero was also a compulsive letter writer. Nearly a thousand of his letters survive, some written to members of his family, some to his lifelong friend Atticus. These letters not only give glimpses of Cicero's private life and personality, but provide information, invaluable to historians of the period, about public and political events.