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Cicero, Great Statesman Or Over-rated

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This merely for the sake of discussion. I have not recently read anything to inspire such a discussion, but since we often debate the merits of Caesar, Cato, Pompey, the Conspirators, etc., its also appropriate to give some attention to Cicero...

 

We all know of Cicero's many reported assets such as his exceptional skill at oration (related to his abilities in the courts) and his lead role in quelling the Cataline Conspiracy, but does Cicero truly deserve his generally accepted station as one of history's great politicians? Even some of his greatest orations were in a failing cause (Pro Milo) for instance.

 

Most of his career seems to have spent either in an attempt to fit in with the old and honored contemporary families around him, or playing middle ground between the two major factions. While this role (that of a more compromising moderator) should not be overlooked for its benefits to the system, the fact is that in the end he was unable to succeed in his attempts for compromise.

 

It is interesting to me, that perhaps his greatest achievement of taking a lead role in the settling of political affairs following the assassination of Caesar, his own support of Octavian (in a clearly misguided attempt to use the popularity of Caesar while underestimating his heir) against Antonius led not only to his own eventual demise but obviously that of the Republic itself. In his defense, at least he was one of a few leading statesmen who made an attempt at compromise. However, would Antonius have had the power or the political wherewithal to develop a singular or collective (perhaps a triumvirate involving other members) government without Octavian's role in agitating the compromise which allowed for the legal amnesty of the conspirators.

 

While Cicero will clearly be remembered for his brilliant oratory and his reputation as a politician, it is perhaps only because Cicero's written works were fortunate enough to survive to the present day that he has such a fine reputation. Yes, he was a fantastic writer and an invaluable contributor to our knowledge of the turbulent time period in which he lived as well as to the workings of the Republican government, and he was clearly well known and respected among the citizenry of the day, but without Cicero's surviving works, would his name be much more than a blip on the radar of ancient history?

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If we didn't have surviving works, Scipio and Hannibal might also be blips.

In my opinion, Cicero pushed himself a bit much. "Father of His Country." Rhetoric, in addition to oration, was his strong point in the courts.

Again, in my opinion, he tried to sit in both houses before and after Caesar's murder. I think that Augustus tolerated rather than loved him.

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If we didn't have surviving works, Scipio and Hannibal might also be blips.

 

Agreed, but what I meant specifically was Cicero's own rather self-glorifying works. There are no such works from men like Scipio and Hannibal, and despite the same self promoting words of Caesar there were still plenty of others left to glorify his history (Plutarch, Appian, etc..) though our perspective and detail might be considerably different.

 

In Cicero's case, there are also surviving accounts by other writers, just as there are accounts of men such as Lepidus, but (just as an example) Lepidus is often an after-thought compared to other prominent contemporaries. Cicero, without having left his own legacy through the written word, may be no more prominent than many other far more obscure names.

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The thing I love about Cicero is the first hand accounts of the little humanisms of our favorites (or not). He describes M. Antonius when tribune, puking from drunkeness while in mid speech on the rostrum. How Caesar used to scratch his head with one finger so as not to disturb his hair. And his (Cicero's) unbridled love for his daughter, his un-roman mourning at her death, etc..

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Despite my personal affection for Cicero and admiration for some of his political goals, I think his statesmanship was so drastically undercut by his promiscuous compromises that he ultimately undid most of what he achieved.

 

Nevertheless, I don't think we overestimate his influence merely because of the survival of his writings. His writings survived because Augustus published them, and Augustus published them because of Cicero's role at the nexus of Roman politics. For Augustus, Cicero's writings were a boon. Who could read the work of Cicero and come away with any remaining respect for Antony? Or believe that the Liberators deserved the mantle of government? Or even consider Augustus to be less worthy than Caesar? If Cicero had been a do-nothing nobody, no one would have cared what he had to say about these issues; but Cicero wasn't a nobody; people did care; and that's why Augustus chose to have them published.

 

Note too what did NOT survive of Cicero's, including his pamphlet on behalf of Cato and almost any correspondence from Cato to Cicero. To my mind, our perspective is biased--not by what did survive--but by what did NOT survive.

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Despite my personal affection for Cicero and admiration for some of his political goals, I think his statesmanship was so drastically undercut by his promiscuous compromises that he ultimately undid most of what he achieved.

 

Nevertheless, I don't think we overestimate his influence merely because of the survival of his writings. His writings survived because Augustus published them, and Augustus published them because of Cicero's role at the nexus of Roman politics. For Augustus, Cicero's writings were a boon. Who could read the work of Cicero and come away with any remaining respect for Antony? Or believe that the Liberators deserved the mantle of government? Or even consider Augustus to be less worthy than Caesar? If Cicero had been a do-nothing nobody, no one would have cared what he had to say about these issues; but Cicero wasn't a nobody; people did care; and that's why Augustus chose to have them published.

 

Note too what did NOT survive of Cicero's, including his pamphlet on behalf of Cato and almost any correspondence from Cato to Cicero. To my mind, our perspective is biased--not by what did survive--but by what did NOT survive.

I agree with the meat of your response. But I don't on your condemnation of Cicero's willingness to bend for political accommodation. Isn't that what government should be about, compromise to suit the common good, not the needs of a fanatical faction? In this, Cicero shared the moderate Caesarian ideal.

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While I agree with Cato that without Cicero, there very well may not have been an Augustus, but that partly illustrates my point that he was overrated. Clearly his intention was never such a development, but it happened in spite of him, and indeed with his aid. I suppose I should not knock him for failing in his attempts to re-establish Republican rule, but I can't help but let it influence my opinion. Cato at least fell on his sword for his beliefs (whether we agree or disagree on his position), though I suppose such a stand is so dramatic because it is relatively uncommon.

 

Note too what did NOT survive of Cicero's, including his pamphlet on behalf of Cato and almost any correspondence from Cato to Cicero. To my mind, our perspective is biased--not by what did survive--but by what did NOT survive.

 

Indeed we also have the unique responsibilty of thanking Catholicism for declaring Cicero as a righteous pagan and thereby preserving his work for posterity.

 

By the by, like Clodius mentioned, I admire Cicero for the honest humanity in his writing and for the incredible perspective those words give us.

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MPC, I believe that you are on target. Yet Augustus did not love Cicero. He used him.

In your last paragraph, you seem to imply that Augustus had the Cicero-Cato intercourse maliciously destroyed on Caesar's account. If I am correct, is there any evidence for this implication?

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MPC, I believe that you are on target. Yet Augustus did not love Cicero. He used him.

In your last paragraph, you seem to imply that Augustus had the Cicero-Cato intercourse maliciously destroyed on Caesar's account. If I am correct, is there any evidence for this implication?

You're most certainly right on the 'use' of Cicero. Octavian was the consumate politician, surrounded by expert advisors. As for the Augustan regime squashing material. One has to remember this may have been the case with The Cato, but not so in most other cases I think. Atticus was the principle editor of Cicero's legacy. He had teams of slaves/freedmen collecting Cicero's writings/letters from all over and carefully published that which we know today.

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As I have written here before, IMHO Cicero was a fart, a windbag, self-publicising, self-deceiving, and pusilanimous. He has few good points. If we had a more balanced selection of ancient sources, we'd see that that was how he was perceived then.

 

Mildly!!

 

Phil

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I've noticed that somebody is yet to mention Cicero's reputation in the law courts.

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I've noticed that somebody is yet to mention Cicero's reputation in the law courts.

 

His reputation in the courts was well appreciated and he was sought after.

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