The Life of Cicero, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter ii.

His Education.

At Arpinum, on the river Liris, a little stream which has been made to sound sweetly in our ears by Horace,1 in a villa residence near the town, Marcus Tullius Cicero was born, 106 years before Christ, on the 3d of January, according to the calendar then in use. Pompey the Great was born in the same year. Arpinum was a State which had been admitted into Roman citizenship, lying between Rome and Capua, just within that portion of Italy which was till the other day called the Kingdom of Naples. The district from which he came is noted, also, as having given birth to Marius. Cicero was of an equestrian family, which means as much as though we were to say among ourselves that a man had been born a gentleman and nothing more. An “eques” or knight in Cicero’s time became so, or might become so, by being in possession of a certain income. The title conferred no nobility. The plebeian, it will be understood, could not become patrician, though he might become noble — as Cicero did. The patrician must have been born so — must have sprung from the purple of certain fixed families.2 Cicero was born a plebeian, of equestrian rank and became ennobled when he was ranked among the senators because of his service among the high magistrates of the Republic. As none of his family had served before him, he was “novus homo,” a new man, and therefore not noble till he had achieved nobility himself. A man was noble who could reckon a Consul, a Prætor, or an Ædile among his ancestors. Such was not the case with Cicero. As he filled all these offices, his son was noble — as were his son’s sons and grandsons, if such there were.

It was common to Romans to have three names, and our Cicero had three. Marcus, which was similar in its use to the Christian name of one of us, had been that of his grandfather and father, and was handed on to his son. This, called the prænomen, was conferred on the child when a babe with a ceremony not unlike that of our baptism. There was but a limited choice of such names among the Romans, so that an initial letter will generally declare to those accustomed to the literature that intended. A. stands for Aulus, P. for Publius, M. generally for Marcus, C. for Caius, though there was a Cneus also. The nomen, Tullius, was that of the family. Of this family of Tullius to which Cicero belonged we know no details. Plutarch tells us that of his father nothing was said but in extremes, some declaring that he had been a fuller, and others that he had been descended from a prince who had governed the Volsci. We do not see why he may not have sprung from the prince, and also have been a fuller. There can, however, be no doubt that he was a gentleman, not uneducated himself, with means and the desire to give his children the best education which Rome or Greece afforded. The third name or cognomen, that of Cicero, belonged to a branch of the family of Tullius. This third name had generally its origin, as do so many of our surnames, in some specialty of place, or trade, or chance circumstance. It was said that an ancestor had been called Cicero from “cicer,” a vetch, because his nose was marked with the figure of that vegetable. It is more probable that the family prospered by the growing and sale of vetches. Be that as it may, the name had been well established before the orator’s time. Cicero’s mother was one Helvia, of whom we are told that she was well-born and rich. Cicero himself never alludes to her — as neither, if I remember rightly, did Horace to his mother, though he speaks so frequently of his father. Helvia’s younger son, Quintus, tells a story of his mother in a letter, which has been, by chance, preserved among those written by our Cicero. She was in the habit of sealing up the empty wine-jars, as well as those which were full, so that a jar emptied on the sly by a guzzling slave might be at once known. This is told in a letter to Tiro, a favorite slave belonging to Marcus, of whom we shall hear often in the course of our work. As the old lady sealed up the jars, though they contained no wine, so must Tiro write letters, though he has nothing to say in them. This kind of argument, taken from the old familiar stories of one’s childhood and one’s parents, could be only used to a dear and familiar friend. Such was Tiro, though still a slave, to the two brothers. Roman life admitted of such friendships, though the slave was so completely the creature of the master that his life and death were at the master’s disposal. This is nearly all that is known of Cicero’s father and mother, or of his old home.

There is, however, sufficient evidence that the father paid great attention to the education of his sons — if, in the case of Marcus, any evidence were wanting where the result is so manifest by the work of his life. At a very early age, probably when he was eight — in the year which produced Julius Cæsar — he was sent to Rome, and there was devoted to studies which from the first were intended to fit him for public life. Middleton says that the father lived in Rome with his son, and argues from this that he was a man of large means. But Cicero gives no authority for this. It is more probable that he lived at the house of one Aculeo, who had married his mother’s sister, and had sons with whom Cicero was educated. Stories are told of his precocious talents and performances such as we are accustomed to hear of many remarkable men — not unfrequently from their own mouths. It is said of him that he was intimate with the two great advocates of the time, Lucius Crassus and Marcus Antonius the orator, the grandfather of Cicero’s future enemy, whom we know as Marc Antony. Cicero speaks of them both as though he had seen them and talked much of them in his youth. He tells us anecdotes of them;3 how they were both accustomed to conceal their knowledge of Greek, fancying that the people in whose eyes they were anxious to shine would think more of them if they seemed to have contented themselves simply with Roman words and Roman thoughts. But the intimacy was probably that which a lad now is apt to feel that he has enjoyed with a great man, if he has seen and heard him, and perhaps been taken by the hand. He himself gives in very plain language an account of his own studies when he was seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen. He speaks of the orators of that day4: “When I was above all things anxious to listen to these men, the banishment of Cotta was a great sorrow to me. I was passionately intent on hearing those who were left, daily writing, reading, and making notes. Nor was I content only with practice in the art of speaking. In the following year Varius had to go, condemned by his own enactment; and at this time, in working at the civil law, I gave much of my time to Quintus Scævola, the son of Publius, who, though he took no pupils, by explaining points to those who consulted him, gave great assistance to students. The year after, when Sulla and Pompey were Consuls, I learned what oratory really means by listening to Publius Sulpicius, who as tribune was daily making harangues. It was then that Philo, the Chief of the Academy, with other leading philosophers of Athens, had been put to flight by the war with Mithridates, and had come to Rome. To him I devoted myself entirely, stirred up by a wonderful appetite for acquiring the Greek philosophy. But in that, though the variety of the pursuit and its greatness charmed me altogether, yet it seemed to me that the very essence of judicial conclusion was altogether suppressed. In that year Sulpicius perished, and in the next, three of our greatest orators, Quintus Catulus, Marcus Antonius, and Caius Julius, were cruelly killed.” This was the time of the civil war between Marius and Sulla. “In the same year I took lessons from Molo the Rhodian, a great pleader and master of the art.” In the next chapter he tells us that he passed his time also with Diodatus the Stoic, who afterward lived with him, and died in his house. Here we have an authentic description of the manner in which Cicero passed his time as a youth at Rome, and one we can reduce probably to absolute truth by lessening the superlatives. Nothing in it, however, is more remarkable than the confession that, while his young intellect rejoiced in the subtle argumentation of the Greek philosophers, his clear common sense quarrelled with their inability to reach any positive conclusion.

But before these days of real study had come upon him he had given himself up to juvenile poetry. He is said to have written a poem called Pontius Glaucus when he was fourteen years old. This was no doubt a translation from the Greek, as were most of the poems that he wrote, and many portions of his prose treatises.5 Plutarch tells us that the poem was extant in his time, and declares that, “in process of time, when he had studied this art with greater application, he was looked upon as the best poet, as well as the greatest orator in Rome.” The English translators of Plutarch tell us that their author was an indifferent judge of Latin poetry, and allege as proof of this that he praised Cicero as a poet, a praise which he gave “contrary to the opinion of Juvenal.” But Juvenal has given no opinion of Cicero’s poetry, having simply quoted one unfortunate line noted for its egotism, and declared that Cicero would never have had his head cut off had his philippics been of the same nature.6 The evidence of Quintus Mucius Scævola as to Cicero’s poetry was perhaps better, as he had the means, at any rate, of reading it. He believed that the Marius, a poem written by Cicero in praise of his great fellow-townsman, would live to posterity forever. The story of the old man’s prophecy comes to us, no doubt, from Cicero himself, and is put into the mouth of his brother;7 but had it been untrue it would have been contradicted.

The Glaucus was a translation from the Greek done by a boy, probably as a boy’s lesson It is not uncommon that such exercises should be treasured by parents, or perhaps by the performer himself, and not impossible that they should be made to reappear afterward as original compositions. Lord Brougham tells us in his autobiography that in his early youth he tried his hand at writing English essays, and even tales of fiction.8 “I find one of these,” he says, “has survived the waste-paper basket, and it may amuse my readers to see the sort of composition I was guilty of at the age of thirteen. My tale was entitled ‘Memnon, or Human Wisdom,’ and is as follows.” Then we have a fair translation of Voltaire’s romance, “Memnon,” or “La Sagesse Humaine.” The old lord, when he was collecting his papers for his autobiography, had altogether forgotten his Voltaire, and thought that he had composed the story! Nothing so absurd as that is told of Cicero by himself or on his behalf.

It may be as well to say here what there may be to be said as to Cicero’s poetry generally. But little of it remains to us, and by that little it has been admitted that he has not achieved the name of a great poet; but what he did was too great in extent and too good in its nature to be passed over altogether without notice. It has been his fate to be rather ridiculed than read as a maker of verses, and that ridicule has come from two lines which I have already quoted. The longest piece which we have is from the Phænomena of Aratus, which he translated from the Greek when he was eighteen years old, and which describes the heavenly bodies. It is known to us best by the extracts from it given by the author himself in his treatise, De Naturâ Deorum. It must be owned that it is not pleasant reading. But translated poetry seldom is pleasant, and could hardly be made so on such a subject by a boy of eighteen. The Marius was written two years after this, and we have a passage from it, quoted by the author in his De Divinatione, containing some fine lines. It tells the story of the battle of the eagle and the serpent. Cicero took it, no doubt (not translated it, however), from the passage in the Iliad, lib, xii, 200, which has been rendered by Pope with less than his usual fire, and by Lord Derby with no peculiar charm. Virgil has reproduced the picture with his own peculiar grace of words. His version has been translated by Dryden, but better, perhaps, by Christopher Pitt. Voltaire has translated Cicero’s lines with great power, and Shelley has reproduced the same idea at much greater length in the first canto of the Revolt of Islam, taking it probably from Cicero, but, if not, from Voltaire.9 I venture to think that, of the nine versions, Cicero’s is the best, and that it is the most melodious piece of Latin poetry we have up to that date. Twenty-seven years afterward, when Lucretius was probably at work on his great poem, Cicero wrote an account of his consulship in verse. Of this we have fifty or sixty lines, in which the author describes the heavenly warnings which were given as to the affairs of his own consular year. The story is not a happy one, but the lines are harmonious. It is often worth our while to inquire how poetry has become such as it is, and how the altered and improved phases of versification have arisen. To trace our melody from Chaucer to Tennyson is matter of interest to us all. Of Cicero as a poet we may say that he found Latin versification rough, and left it smooth and musical. Now, as we go on with the orator’s life and prose works, we need not return to his poetry.

The names of many masters have been given to us as those under whom Cicero’s education was carried on. Among others he is supposed, at a very early age, to have been confided to Archias. Archias was a Greek, born at Antioch, who devoted himself to letters, and, if we are to believe what Cicero says, when speaking as an advocate, excelled all his rivals of the day. Like many other educated Greeks, he made his way to Rome, and was received as one of the household of Lucullus, with whom he travelled, accompanying him even to the wars. He became a citizen of Rome — so Cicero assures us — and Cicero’s tutor. What Cicero owed to him we do not know, but to Cicero Archias owed immortality. His claim to citizenship was disputed; and Cicero, pleading on his behalf, made one of those shorter speeches which are perfect in melody, in taste, and in language. There is a passage in which speaking on behalf of so excellent a professor in the art, he sings the praises of literature generally. I know no words written in praise of books more persuasive or more valuable. “Other recreations,” he says, “do not belong to all seasons nor to all ages, nor to all places. These pursuits nourish our youth and delight our old age. They adorn our prosperity and give a refuge and a solace to our troubles. They charm us at home, and they are not in our way when we are abroad. They go to bed with us. They travel about with us. They accompany us as we escape into the country.”10 Archias probably did something for him in directing his taste, and has been rewarded thus richly. As to other lessons, we know that he was instructed in law by Scævola, and he has told us that he listened to Crassus and Antony. At sixteen he went through the ceremony of putting off his boy’s dress, the toga prætexta, and appearing in the toga virilis before the Prætor, thus assuming his right to go about a man’s business. At sixteen the work of education was not finished — no more than it is with us when a lad at Oxford becomes “of age” at twenty-one; nor was he put beyond his father’s power, the “patria potestas,” from which no age availed to liberate a son; but, nevertheless, it was a very joyful ceremony, and was duly performed by Cicero in the midst of his studies with Scævola.

At eighteen he joined the army. That doctrine of the division of labor which now, with us, runs through and dominates all pursuits, had not as yet been made plain to the minds of men at Rome by the political economists of the day. It was well that a man should know something of many things — that he should especially, if he intended to be a leader of men, be both soldier and orator. To rise to be Consul, having first been Quæstor, Ædile, and Prætor, was the path of glory. It had been the special duty of the Consuls of Rome, since the establishment of consular government, to lead the armies of the Republic. A portion of the duty devolved upon the Prætors, as wars became more numerous; and latterly the commanders were attended by Quæstors. The Governors of the provinces, Proconsuls, or Proprætors with proconsular authority, always combined military with civil authority. The art of war was, therefore, a necessary part of the education of a man intended to rise in the service of the State. Cicero, though, in his endeavor to follow his own tastes, he made a strong effort to keep himself free from such work, and to remain at Rome instead of being sent abroad as a Governor, had at last to go where fighting was in some degree necessary, and, in the saddest phase of his life, appeared in Italy with his lictors, demanding the honors of a triumph. In anticipation of such a career, no doubt under the advice of his friends, he now went out to see, if not a battle, something, at any rate, of war. It has already been said how the citizenship of Rome was conferred on some of the small Italian States around, and not on others. Hence, of course, arose jealousy, which was increased by the feeling on the part of those excluded that they were called to furnish soldiers to Rome, as well as those who were included. Then there was formed a combination of Italian cities, sworn to remedy the injury thus inflicted on them. Their purpose was to fight Rome in order that they might achieve Roman citizenship; and hence arose the first civil war which distracted the Empire. Pompeius Strabo, father of Pompey the Great, was then Consul (B.C. 89), and Cicero was sent out to see the campaign under him. Marius and Sulla, the two Romans who were destined soon to bathe Rome in blood, had not yet quarrelled, though they had been brought to hate each other — Marius by jealousy, and Sulla by rivalry. In this war they both served under the Consuls, and Cicero served with Sulla. We know nothing of his doings in that campaign. There are no tidings even of a misfortune such as that which happened to Horace when he went out to fight, and came home from the battle-field “relicta non bene parmula.”

Rome trampled on the rebellious cities, and in the end admitted them to citizenship. But probably the most important, certainly the most notorious, result of the Italian war, was the deep antagonism of Marius and Sulla. Sulla had made himself conspicuous by his fortune on the occasion, whereas Marius, who had become the great soldier of the Republic, and had been six times Consul, failed to gather fresh laurels. Rome was falling into that state of anarchy which was the cause of all the glory and all the disgrace of Cicero’s life, and was open to the dominion of any soldier whose grasp might be the least scrupulous and the strongest. Marius, after a series of romantic adventures with which we must not connect ourselves here, was triumphant only just before his death, while Sulla went off with his army, pillaged Athens, plundered Asia Minor generally, and made terms with Mithridates, though he did not conquer him. With the purport, no doubt, of conquering Mithridates, but perhaps with the stronger object of getting him out of Rome, the army had been intrusted to him, with the consent of the Marian faction.

Then came those three years, when Sulla was in the East and Marius dead, of which Cicero speaks as a period of peace, in which a student was able to study in Rome. “Triennium fere fuit urbs sine armis.”11 These must have been the years 86, 85, and 84 before Christ, when Cicero was twenty-one, twenty-two, and twenty-three years old; and it was this period, in truth, of which he speaks, and not of earlier years, when he tells us of his studies with Philo, and Molo, and Diodatus. Precocious as he was in literature, writing one poem — or translating it — when he was fourteen, and another when he was eighteen, he was by no means in a hurry to commence the work of his life. He is said also to have written a treatise on military tactics when he was nineteen; which again, no doubt, means that he had exercised himself by translating such an essay from the Greek. This, happily, does not remain. But we have four books, Rhetoricorum ad C. Herennium, and two books De Inventione, attributed to his twentieth and twenty-first years, which are published with his works, and commence the series. Of all that we have from him, they are perhaps the least worth reading; but as they are, or were, among his recognized writings, a word shall be said of them in their proper place.

The success of the education of Cicero probably became a commonplace among Latin school-masters and Latin writers. In the dialogue De Oratoribus, attributed to Tacitus, the story of it is given by Messala when he is praising the orators of the earlier age. “We know well,” says Messala, “that book of Cicero which is called Brutus, in the latter part of which he describes to us the beginning and the progress of his own eloquence, and, as it were, the bringing up on which it was founded. He tells us that he had learned civil law under Q. Mutius Scævola; that he had exhausted the realm of philosophy — learning that of the Academy under Philo, and that of the Stoics under Diodatus; that, not content with these treatises, he had travelled through Greece and Asia, so as to embrace the whole world of art. And thus it had come about that in the works of Cicero no knowledge is wanting — neither of music, nor of grammar, nor any other liberal accomplishment. He understood the subtilty of logic, the purpose of ethics, the effects and causes of things.” Then the speaker goes on to explain what may be expected from study such as that. “Thus it is, my good friends — thus, that from the acquirement of many arts, and from a general knowledge of all things, eloquence that is truly admirable is created in its full force; for the power and capacity of an orator need not be hemmed in, as are those of other callings, by certain narrow bounds; but that man is the true orator who is able to speak on all subjects with dignity and grace, so as to persuade those who listen, and to delight them, in a manner suited to the nature of the subject in hand and the convenience of the time.”12

We might fancy that we were reading words from Cicero himself! Then the speaker in this imaginary conversation goes on to tell us how far matters had derogated in his time, pointing out at the same time that the evils which he deplores had shown themselves even before Cicero, but had been put down, as far as the law could put them down, by its interference. He is speaking of those schools of rhetoric in which Greek professors of the art gave lessons for money, which were evil in their nature, and not, as it appears, efficacious even for the purpose in hand. “But now,” continues Messala, “our very boys are brought into the schools of those lecturers who are called ‘rhetores,’ who had sprung up before Cicero, to the displeasure of our ancestors, as is evident from the fact that when Crassus and Domitius were Censors they were ordered to shut up their school of impudence, as Cicero calls it. Our boys, as I was going to say, are taken to these lecture-rooms, in which it is hard to say whether the atmosphere of the place, or the lads they are thrown among, or the nature of the lessons taught, are the most injurious. In the place itself there is neither discipline nor respect. All who go there are equally ignorant. The boys among the boys, the lads among the lads, utter and listen to just what words they please. Their very exercises are, for the most part, useless. Two kinds are in vogue with these ‘rhetores,’ called ‘suasoriæ’ and ‘controversiæ,’” tending, we may perhaps say, to persuade or to refute. “Of these, the ‘suasoriæ,’ as being the lighter and requiring less of experience, are given to the little boys, the ‘controversiæ’ to the bigger lads. But — oh heavens, what they are — what miserable compositions!” Then he tells us the subjects selected. Rape, incest, and other horrors are subjected to the lads for their declamation, in order that they may learn to be orators.

Messala then explains that in those latter days — his days, that is — under the rule of despotic princes, truly large subjects are not allowed to be discussed in public — confessing, however, that those large subjects, though they afford fine opportunities to orators, are not beneficial to the State at large. But it was thus, he says, that Cicero became what he was, who would not have grown into favor had he defended only P. Quintius and Archias, and had had nothing to do with Catiline, or Milo, or Verres, or Antony — showing, by-the-way, how great was the reputation of that speech, Pro Milone, with which we shall have to deal farther on.

The treatise becomes somewhat confused, a portion of it having probably been lost. From whose mouth the last words are supposed to come is not apparent. It ends with a rhapsody in favor of imperial government — suitable, indeed, to the time of Domitian, but very unlike Tacitus. While, however, it praises despotism, it declares that only by the evils which despotism had quelled could eloquence be maintained. “Our country, indeed, while it was astray in its government; while it tore itself to pieces by parties and quarrels and discord; while there was no peace in the Forum, no agreement in the Senate, no moderation on the judgment-seat, no reverence for letters, no control among the magistrates, boasted, no doubt, a stronger eloquence.”

From what we are thus told of Cicero, not what we hear from himself, we are able to form an idea of the nature of his education. With his mind fixed from his early days on the ambition of doing something noble with himself, he gave himself up to all kinds of learning. It was Macaulay, I think, who said of him that the idea of conquering the “omne scibile,”— the understanding of all things within the reach of human intellect — was before his eyes as it was before those of Bacon. The special preparation which was, in Cicero’s time, employed for students at the bar is also described in the treatise from which I have quoted — the preparation which is supposed to have been the very opposite of that afforded by the “rhetores.” “Among ourselves, the youth who was intended to achieve eloquence in the Forum, when already trained at home and exercised in classical knowledge, was brought by his father or his friends to that orator who might then be considered to be the leading man in the city. It became his daily work to follow that man, to accompany him, to be conversant with all his speeches, whether in the courts of law or at public meetings, so that he might learn, if I might say so, to fight in the very thick of the throng.” It was thus that Cicero studied his art. A few lines farther down, the pseudo-Tacitus tells us that Crassus, in his nineteenth year, held a brief against Carbo; that Cæsar did so in his twenty-first against Dolabella; and Pollio, in his twenty-second year, against Cato.13 In this precocity Cicero did not imitate Crassus, or show an example to the Romans who followed him. He was twenty-six when he pleaded his first cause. Sulla had then succeeded in crushing the Marian faction, and the Sullan proscriptions had taken place, and were nominally over. Sulla had been declared Dictator, and had proclaimed that there should be no more selections for death. The Republic was supposed to be restored. “Recuperata republica * * * tum primum nos ad causas et privatas et publicas adire c[oe]pimus,”14 “The Republic having been restored, I then first applied myself to pleadings, both private and public.”

Of Cicero’s politics at that time we are enabled to form a fair judgment. Marius had been his townsman; Sulla had been his captain. But the one thing dear to him was the Republic — what he thought to be the Republic. He was neither Marian nor Sullan. The turbulence in which so much noble blood had flowed — the “crudelis interitus oratorum,” the crushing out of the old legalized form of government — was abominable to him. It was his hope, no doubt his expectation, that these old forms should be restored in all their power. There seemed to be more probability of this — there was more probability of it — on the side of Sulla than the other. On Sulla’s side was Pompey, the then rising man, who, being of the same age with Cicero, had already pushed himself into prominence, who was surnamed the Great, and who “triumphed” during these very two years in which Cicero began his career; who through Cicero’s whole life was his bugbear, his stumbling-block, and his mistake. But on that side were the “optimates,” the men who, if they did not lead, ought to lead the Republic; those who, if they were not respectable, ought to be so; those who, if they did not love their country, ought to love it. If there was a hope, it was with them. The old state of things — that oligarchy which has been called a Republic — had made Rome what it was; had produced power, civilization, art, and literature. It had enabled such a one as Cicero was himself to aspire to lead, though he had been humbly born, and had come to Rome from an untried provincial family. To him the Republic — as he fancied that it had been, as he fancied that it might be-was all that was good, all that was gracious, all that was beneficent. On Sulla’s side lay what chance there was of returning to the old ways. When Sulla was declared Dictator, it was presumed that the Republic was restored. But not on this account should it be supposed that Cicero regarded the proscriptions of Sulla with favor, or that he was otherwise than shocked by the wholesale robberies for which the proscription paved the way. This is a matter with which it will be necessary to deal more fully when we come in our next chapter to the first speeches made by Cicero; in the very first of which, as I place them, he attacks the Sullan robberies with an audacity which, when we remember that Sulla was still in power, rescues, at any rate, in regard to this period of his life, the character of the orator from that charge of cowardice which has been imputed to him.

It is necessary here, in this chapter devoted to the education of Cicero, to allude to his two first speeches, because that education was not completed till afterward — so that they may be regarded as experiments, or trials, as it were, of his force and sufficiency. “Not content with these teachers”— teachers who had come to Rome from Greece and Asia —“he had travelled through Greece and Asia, so as to embrace the whole world of art.” These words, quoted a few pages back from the treatise attributed to Tacitus, refer to a passage in the Brutus in which Cicero makes a statement to that effect. “When I reached Athens,15 I passed six months with Antiochus, by far the best known and most erudite of the teachers of the old Academy, and with him, as my great authority and master, I renewed that study of philosophy which I had never abandoned — which from my boyhood I had followed with always increasing success. At the same time I practised oratory laboriously with Demetrius Syrus, also at Athens, a well-known and by no means incapable master of the art of speaking. After that I wandered over all Asia, and came across the best orators there, with whom I practised, enjoying their willing assistance.” There is more of it, which need not be repeated verbatim, giving the names of those who aided him in Asia: Menippus of Stratonice — who, he says, was sweet enough to have belonged himself to Athens — with Dionysius of Magnesia, with [OE]schilus of Cnidos, and with Xenocles of Adramyttium. Then at Rhodes he came across his old friend Molo, and applied himself again to the teaching of his former master. Quintilian explains to us how this was done with a purpose, so that the young orator, when he had made a first attempt with his half-fledged wings in the courts, might go back to his masters for awhile16.

He was twenty-eight when he started on this tour. It has been suggested that he did so in fear of the resentment of Sulla, with whose favorites and with whose practices he had dealt very plainly. There is no reason for alleging this, except that Sulla was powerful, that Sulla was blood-thirsty, and that Sulla must have been offended. This kind of argument is often used. It is supposed to be natural, or at least probable, that in a certain position a man should have been a coward or a knave, ungrateful or cruel; and in the presumption thus raised the accusation is brought against him. “Fearing Sulla’s resentment,” Plutarch says, “he travelled into Greece, and gave out that the recovery of his health was the motive.” There is no evidence that such was his reason for travelling; and, as Middleton says in his behalf, it is certain that he “continued for a year after this in Rome without any apprehension of danger.” It is best to take a man’s own account of his own doings and their causes, unless there be ground for doubting the statement made. It is thus that Cicero himself speaks of his journey: “Now,” he says, still in his Brutus17, “as you wish to know what I am-not simply what mark I may have on my body from my birth, or with what surroundings of childhood I was brought up — I will include some details which might perhaps seem hardly necessary. At this time I was thin and weak, my neck being long and narrow — a habit and form of body which is supposed to be adverse to long life; and those who loved me thought the more of this, because I had taken to speaking without relaxation, without recreation with all the powers of my voice, and with much muscular action. When my friends and the doctors desired me to give up speaking, I resolved that, rather than abandon my career as an orator, I would face any danger. But when it occurred to me that by lowering my voice, by changing my method of speaking, I might avoid the danger, and at the same time learn to speak with more elegance, I accepted that as a reason for going into Asia, so that I might study how to change my mode of elocution. Thus, when I had been two years at work upon causes, and when my name was already well known in the Forum, I took my departure, and left Rome.”

During the six months that he was at Athens he renewed an early acquaintance with one who was destined to become the most faithful, and certainly the best known, of his friends. This was Titus Pomponius, known to the world as that Atticus to whom were addressed something more than half the large body of letters which were written by Cicero, and which have remained for our use.18 He seems to have lived much with Atticus, who was occupied with similar studies, though with altogether different results. Atticus applied himself to the practices of the Epicurean school, and did in truth become “Epicuri de grege porcus.” To enjoy life, to amass a fortune, to keep himself free from all turmoils of war or state, to make the best of the times, whether they were bad or good, without any attempt on his part to mend them — this was the philosophy of Titus Pomponius, who was called Atticus because Athens, full of art and literature, easy, unenergetic, and luxurious, was dear to him. To this philosophy, or rather to this theory of life, Cicero was altogether opposed. He studied in all the schools — among the Platonists, the Stoics, even with the Epicureans enough to know their dogmas so that he might criticise them — proclaiming himself to belong to the new Academy, or younger school of Platonists, but in truth drawing no system of morals or rule of life from any of them. To him, and also to Atticus, no doubt, these pursuits afforded an intellectual pastime. Atticus found himself able to justify to himself the bent of his disposition by the name of a philosopher, and therefore became an Epicurean. Cicero could in no way justify to himself any deviation from the energy of public life, from its utility, from its ambition, from its loves, or from its hatred; and from the Greek philosophers whom he named of this or the other school, received only some assistance in that handling of so-called philosophy which became the chief amusement of his future life. This was well understood by the Latin authors who wrote of Cicero after his own time. Quintilian, speaking of Cicero and Brutus as writers of philosophy, says of the latter, “Suffecit ponderi rerum; scias enim sentire quæ dicit.”19—“He was equal to the weight of the subject, for you feel that he believes what he writes.” He leaves the inference, of course, that Cicero wrote on such matters only for the exercise of his ingenuity, as a school-boy writes.

When at Athens, Cicero was initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries — as to which Mr. Collins, in his little volume on Cicero, in the Ancient Classics for English Readers, says that they “contained under this veil whatever faith in the Invisible and Eternal rested in the mind of an enlightened pagan.” In this Mr. Collins is fully justified by what Cicero himself has said although the character thus given to these mysteries is very different from that which was attributed to them by early Christian writers. They were to those pious but somewhat prejudiced theologists mysterious and pagan, and therefore horrible.20 But Cicero declares in his dialogue with Atticus, De Legibus, written when he was fifty-five years old, in the prime of his intellect, that “of all the glories and divine gifts which your Athens has produced for the improvement of men nothing surpasses these mysteries, by which the harshness of our uncivilized life has been softened, and we have been lifted up to humanity; and as they are called ‘initia,’” by which aspirants were initiated, “so we have in truth found in them the seeds of a new life. Nor have we received from them only the means of living with satisfaction, but also of dying with a better hope as to the future.”21

Of what took place with Cicero and Atticus at their introduction to the Eleusinian mysteries we know nothing. But it can hardly be that, with such memories running in his mind after thirty years, expressed in such language to the very friend who had then been his companion, they should not have been accepted by him as indicating the commencement of some great line of thought. The two doctrines which seem to mark most clearly the difference between the men whom we regard, the one as a pagan and the other as a Christian, are the belief in a future life and the duty of doing well by our neighbors. Here they are both indicated, the former in plain language, and the latter in that assurance of the softening of the barbarity of uncivilized life, “Quibus ex agresti immanique vita exculti ad humanitatem et mitigati sumus.”

Of the inner life of Cicero at this moment — how he ate, how he drank, with what accompaniment of slaves he lived, how he was dressed, and how lodged — we know very little; but we are told enough to be aware that he could not have travelled, as he did in Greece and Asia, without great expense. His brother Quintus was with him, so that cost, if not double, was greatly increased. Antiochus, Demetrius Syrus, Molo, Menippus, and the others did not give him their services for nothing. These were gentlemen of whom we know that they were anxious to carry their wares to the best market. And then he seems to have been welcomed wherever he went, as though travelling in some sort “en prince.” No doubt he had brought with him the best introductions which Rome could afford; but even with them a generous allowance must have been necessary, and this must have come from his father’s pocket.

As we go on, a question will arise as to Cicero’s income and the sources whence it came. He asserts of himself that he was never paid for his services at the bar. To receive such payment was illegal, but was usual. He claims to have kept himself exempt from whatever meanness there may have been in so receiving such fees — exempt, at any rate, from the fault of having broken the law. He has not been believed. There is no evidence to convict him of falsehood, but he has not been believed, because there have not been found palpable sources of income sufficient for an expenditure so great as that which we know to have been incident to the life he led. But we do not know what were his father’s means. Seeing the nature of the education given to the lad, of the manner in which his future life was prepared for him from his earliest days, of the promise made to him from his boyhood of a career in the metropolis if he could make himself fit for it, of the advantages which costly travel afforded him, I think we have reason to suppose that the old Cicero was an opulent man, and that the house at Arpinum was no humble farm, or fuller’s poor establishment.

1 Hor., lib. i., Ode xxii.,

“Non rura quæ; Liris quieta

Mordet aqua taciturnus amnis.”

2 Such was the presumed condition of things at Rome. By the passing of a special law a plebeian might, and occasionally did, become patrician. The patricians had so nearly died out in the time of Julius Cæsar that he introduced fifty new families by the Lex Cassia.

3 De Orat., lib. ii., ca. 1.

4 Brutus, ca. lxxxix.

5 It should be remembered that in Latin literature it was the recognized practice of authors to borrow wholesale from the Greek, and that no charge of plagiarism attended such borrowing. Virgil, in taking thoughts and language from Homer, was simply supposed to have shown his judgment in accommodating Greek delights to Roman ears and Roman intellects.

The idea as to literary larceny is of later date, and has grown up with personal claims for originality and with copyright. Shakspeare did not acknowledge whence he took his plots, because it was unnecessary. Now, if a writer borrow a tale from the French, it is held that he ought at least to owe the obligation, or perhaps even pay for it.

6 Juvenal, Sat. x., 122,

“O fortunatam natam me Consule Romam!

Antoni gladios potuit contemnere, si sic

Omnia dixisset.”

7 De Leg., lib. i., ca. 1.

8 Life and Times of Henry Lord Brougham, written by himself, vol. i., p. 58.

9 I give the nine versions to which I allude in an Appendix A, at the end of this volume, so that those curious in such matters may compare the words in which the same picture has been drawn by various hands.

10 Pro Archia, ca. vii.

11 Brutus, ca. xc.

12 Tacitus, De Oratoribus, xxx.

13 Quintilian, lib. xii., c. vi., who wrote about the same time as this essayist, tells us of these three instances of early oratory, not, however, specifying the exact age in either case. He also reminds us that Demosthenes pleaded when he was a boy, and that Augustus at the age of twelve made a public harangue in honor of his grandmother.

14 Brutus, ca. xc.

15 Brutus, xci.

16 Quintilian, lib. xii., vi.: “Quum jam clarum meruisset inter patronos, qui tum erant, nomen, in Asiam navigavit, seque et aliis sine dubio eloquentiæ ac sapientiæ magistris, sed præcipue tamen Apollonio Moloni, quem Romæ quoque audierat, Rhodi rursus formandum ac velut recognendum dedit.”

17 Brutus, xci.

18 The total correspondence contains 817 letters, of which 52 were written to Cicero, 396 were written by Cicero to Atticus, and 369 by Cicero to his friends in general. We have no letters from Atticus to Cicero.

19 Quintilian, lib. x., ca. 1.

20 Clemens of Alexandria, in his exhortation to the Gentiles, is very severe upon the iniquities of these rites. “All evil be to him,” he says, “who brought them into fashion, whether it was Dardanus, or Eetion the Thracian, or Midas the Phrygian.” The old story which he repeats as to Ceres and Proserpine may have been true, but he was altogether ignorant of the changes which the common-sense of centuries had produced.

21 De Legibus, lib. ii., c. xiv.

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