Cicero: that strong pillar of iron

8 Jun

Time: 50 B.C

Place: Rome

The Republic is long gone, at least practically. Theoretically, the republic lasts until 27 B.C. Now dictators rule, Cinna today, Surda tomorrow, Carbo the day after. Each one is murdered by their successor. They offer free games for the populace, and food. The mobs are kept content. They love their leaders, but their bellies more. They do not work for a living, aren’t they Romans, who are free to not take up work that could be demeaning to them? Aren’t they entitled to free food, by virtue of their citizenship?

Law. What is that? Somebody sneers. More games! More grain! They shout.

Julius Caeser is scheming endlessly. His loyalties shift with the wind, a more sly man never did exist. He keeps friends for his own ambitious purposes, though he treats them as real friends. Cicero is important to him, because he is a man of honour. He has him under his protection.

Cicero is a virtuous man, an “old” Roman, whose yea is yea. He is also prosperous from his law practice, although his wife Terentia thinks that he could be more prosperous if he hanged out with the powerful people. Like Julius Caesar, or Pompey, Crassus etc.

Somebody once said that a nation deserves the leaders it gets. The roman people and their vices are reflected in their leaders. Scheming, ravenous, lustful, deep in the pit of debauchery; their lives is a litany of vices. Today they adore Caesar, the vivacious, flamboyant and fashionable Caesar, tomorrow Catilina, whose beauty makes them go mad and cry. When he dies, they forget him within a week, and sing praise to Clodius, who now provides free grain and sport.

Marcus Tullius Cicero calls attention. He is like the conscience of the people and of the Senate, that august body whose members have long ceased to think they have one. As a young man, he studied hard. He is upright, even chaste. His law tutor, the famous Scaevola is stupefied, calls him naïve. When he takes up law cases, people flock to the Forum and the Basilica of Justice to hear his trumpet voice. As Consul, his four orations against Catiline, accused of treason, are world-famous. Here is how the first oration begins:

Cicero denounces Catiline. Fresco by Cesare Maccari 1882-1888

“How long, Catiline, will you carry your abuse of our forbearance? How much longer will your reckless temper baffle our restraint? What bounds will you set to this display of your uncontrolled audacity? Have you not being impressed by the nightly guards upon the Palatine, by the watching of the city by sentinels? Are you not affected by the alarm of the people, by the rallying of the loyal citizens, by the convening of this Senate in this safely guarded spot, by the looks and the expressions of all assembled here? Do you not perceive that your designs are exposed…?”

Cicero is like a white spot in a black background. The people drink in his words and fancy that their leaders are virtuous men, because Cicero is seen with them. But in the end, Cicero speaks out and none pay attention. Rome eventually falls. Only posterity hails him as a pillar of iron.

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2 Responses to “Cicero: that strong pillar of iron”

  1. ablestmage December 4, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Do you still have a copy of this book? I am seeking a photograph (or xerox, etc) of a certain page for a report I’m working on, as a reference, and no library in my city has a copy..

    • mary December 9, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

      I am sorry, I don’t have a copy. Good luck with your report.

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