Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 BCE) has long been considered to be one of the Roman Republic’s greatest orators, whose surviving writings influenced the Latin language through the 19th century. The scion of a wealthy Roman family, Cicero introduced Greek philosophy to Rome, and he became an important influence in the European Enlightenment.
When doing a research paper on Cicero, you may want to focus on the following questions concerning his oration.
How did Cicero identify the human relationship to God(s)?
Two points are striking about man’s relationship to the Divine in Cicero’s “Dream”. The first is the emphasis placed upon man’s political nature. The dream starts off by predicting future political events that are to occur in the Roman Republic and there then follows the statement that a place is set apart in heaven for those who “save, aid, or extend their country". It is further stated that the Supreme Deity views with the greatest favor “associations or communities of men, styled commonwealths, based on constitutional rights”. There is something similar to this in “the vision of Er” at the end of Plato’s Republic—the work on which Cicero based his “dream”--but in Plato’s work the love of God for man’s political works is not so forcefully stated. The political emphasis placed upon man’s relationship to the Divine seems to reflect the characteristic preoccupation of the Romans with politics.
A second important point that is made about the human-Divine relationship is that God has destined man to people the earth for a period of time that He prescribes. Suicide is prohibited because to take one’s own life is to “shirk a plain duty assigned by God to man”. God means for man to endure the “shackles” of having his spirit placed in a body; it is for God, and God alone to set a term to that confinement. The soul-body concept here is Platonic. The notion of God imposing a duty on man, a duty to live for a time on earth, seems to resemble Christianity in some respects and is at odds with the Roman practice of committing suicide for reasons of state.
How did Cicero portray human beings in terms of their relationship to society?
Here again, two things seem important.
- First, personal ethics, those prevailing between one individual and another are subordinated to the ethics that pertain to an individual’s relationship to society. One’s first duty is not to one’s kin, but to the state. Again, we see the political emphasis that the Romans were so fond of.
- Second, and more interestingly, there is a strong stoical element here, an element reflecting Cicero’s eclectic nature and his willingness to borrow ideas from other ancient philosophers.
One fulfills one’s duties on earth, duties that are principally social and political in nature, not for fame or glory—for such are swallowed up in the immensity of the earth and the duration of time—but simply because virtue demands it. The world’s judgement of one’s acts are unimportant because they are uncertain and fleeting; the stoical performance of one’s duty, irrespective of results, is all that matters. This is, again, very Roman. The notion of duty, duty to society and duty to virtue, is something deeply embedded in the Roman self-image.
How did Cicero identify humans in terms of their perceptions of their inner selves?
The true, inner self is something separate and apart from one’s physical nature. The physical is lower in nature than the spiritual; the body dies, the soul is immortal. “Your spirit is your true Self, not that figure which can be pointed out with a finger.” Just as the Deity rules the world, so one’s spirit should rule one’s body.
The above constitutes the drawing of an analogy between the universe and man. That which rules the universe is the self-moving first mover. This power to initiate and transmit movement is an aspect of Divinity with respect to the universe as a whole. In man, who is a kind of little universe, the soul has this function with respect to its relationship to the body. In both cases this function is linked to immortality.
The inner man, the true man, the true self, the soul, will be most happy if he tames and subjugates the wishes of the body. Those who cannot do so will suffer an enduring imprisonment. After death they will not arise to heavenly heights, but will be doomed to “prowl about the earth”. This too is typically Roman. Throughout the luxurious times of the Empire, men would look back with a kind of envy and longing to the physical austerities of the early period of the Republic. At a later time than Cicero, they will long for the simple life that was lived in the time before Cicero.
Cicero's Greatest Accomplishments
Cicero, from youth on, was aligned to be one of the great educators of Rome:
- Cicero, as a wealthy Roman, was educated in the Greek philosophers, historians and poets.
- In his youth he translated many Greek works into Latin before studying law, first attracting attention in 80 BCE as the defender of a man accused of patricide.
- In 63 BCE, Cicero was elected consul for the first time, helping to defeat a conspiracy to overthrow the Republic.
- In four speeches known as the Catiline Orations, Cicero produced supreme examples of his oratory style, still recognized as brilliant today.
Cicero's Later Years
Cicero was invited by Julius Caesar to rule Rome in what became the First Triumvirate, but Cicero refused, instead continuing to support the Republic. He was exiled to Greece in 58 BCE, returning the following year and eventually supporting Pompey over Caesar in the Civil War. Following Caesar’s assassination, Cicero became a central figure in Roman politics. Although he was not a conspirator in Caesar’s death, Cicero’s opposition to Mark Antony led to his being named an enemy of the state. Cicero was killed on 7 December 43 BCE trying to flee his villa.