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_Ancient Classics for English Readers_

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I have to acknowledge my obligations to Mr. Forsyth's well-known 'Life of
Cicero', especially as a guide to the biographical materials which abound
in his Orations and Letters. Mr. Long's scholarly volumes have also been
found useful. For the translations, such as they are, I am responsible. If
I could have met with any which seemed to me more satisfactory, I would
gladly have adopted them.







When we speak, in the language of our title-page, of the 'Ancient
Classics', we must remember that the word 'ancient' is to be taken with
a considerable difference, in one sense. Ancient all the Greek and Roman
authors are, as dated comparatively with our modern era. But as to the
antique character of their writings, there is often a difference which
is not merely one of date. The poetry of Homer and Hesiod is ancient, as
having been sung and written when the society in which the authors lived,
and to which they addressed themselves, was in its comparative infancy.
The chronicles of Herodotus are ancient, partly from their subject-matter
and partly from their primitive style. But in this sense there are ancient
authors belonging to every nation which has a literature of its own.
Viewed in this light, the history of Thucydides, the letters and orations
of Cicero, are not ancient at all. Bede, and Chaucer, and Matthew of
Paris, and Froissart, are far more redolent of antiquity. The several
books which make up what we call the Bible are all ancient, no doubt; but
even between the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel and the Epistles of St.
Paul there is a far wider real interval than the mere lapse of centuries.

In one respect, the times of Cicero, in spite of their complicated
politics, should have more interest for a modern reader than most of what
is called Ancient History. Forget the date but for a moment, and there
is scarcely anything ancient about them. The scenes and actors are
modern - terribly modern; far more so than the middle ages of Christendom.
Between the times of our own Plantagenets and Georges, for instance, there
is a far wider gap, in all but years, than between the consulships of
Caesar and Napoleon. The habits of life, the ways of thinking, the family
affections, the tastes of the Romans of Cicero's day, were in many
respects wonderfully like our own; the political jealousies and rivalries
have repeated themselves again and again in the last two or three
centuries of Europe: their code of political honour and morality, debased
as it was, was not much lower than that which was held by some great
statesmen a generation or two before us. Let us be thankful if the most
frightful of their vices were the exclusive shame of paganism.

It was in an old but humble country-house, neat the town of Arpinum, under
the Volscian hills, that Marcus Tullius Cicero was born, one hundred
and six years before the Christian era. The family was of ancient
'equestrian'[1] dignity, but as none of its members had hitherto borne
any office of state, it did not rank as 'noble'. His grandfather and his
father had borne the same three names - the last an inheritance from some
forgotten ancestor, who had either been successful in the cultivation of
vetches (_cicer_), or, as less complimentary traditions said, had a
wart of that shape upon his nose. The grandfather was still living when
the little Cicero was born; a stout old conservative, who had successfully
resisted the attempt to introduce vote by ballot into his native town, and
hated the Greeks (who were just then coming into fashion) as heartily as
his English representative, fifty years ago, might have hated a Frenchman.
"The more Greek a man knew", he protested, "the greater rascal he turned
out". The father was a man of quiet habits, taking no part even in local
politics, given to books, and to the enlargement and improvement of the
old family house, which, up to his time, seems not to have been more than
a modest grange. The situation (on a small island formed by the little
river Fibrenus[2]) was beautiful and romantic; and the love for it, which
grew up with the young Cicero as a child, he never lost in the busy days
of his manhood. It was in his eyes, he said, what Ithaca was to Ulysses,

"A rough, wild nurse-land, but whose crops are men".

[Footnote 1: The _Equites_ were originally those who served in the
Roman cavalry; but latterly all citizens came to be reckoned in the class
who had a certain property qualification, and who could prove free
descent up to their grandfather.]

[Footnote 2: Now known as Il Fiume della Posta. Fragments of Cicero's
villa are thought to have been discovered built into the walls of the
deserted convent of San Dominico. The ruin known as 'Cicero's Tower' has
probably no connection with him.]

There was an aptness in the quotation; for at Arpinum, a few years before,
was born that Caius Marius, seven times consul of Rome, who had at least
the virtue of manhood in him, if he had few besides.

But the quiet country gentleman was ambitious for his son. Cicero's
father, like Horace's, determined to give him the best education in his
power; and of course the best education was to be found in Rome, and the
best teachers there were Greeks. So to Rome young Marcus was taken in
due time, with his younger brother Quintus. They lodged with their
uncle-in-law, Aculeo, a lawyer of some distinction, who had a house in
rather a fashionable quarter of the city, and moved in good society; and
the two boys attended the Greek lectures with their town cousins. Greek
was as necessary a part of a Roman gentleman's education in those days as
Latin and French are with us now; like Latin, it was the key to literature
(for the Romans had as yet, it must be remembered, nothing worth calling
literature of their own); and, like French, it was the language of
refinement and the play of polished society. Let us hope that by this time
the good old grandfather was gathered peacefully into his urn; it might
have broken his heart to have seen how enthusiastically his grandson
Marcus threw himself into this newfangled study; and one of those letters
of his riper years, stuffed full of Greek terms and phrases even to
affectation, would have drawn anything but blessings from the old
gentleman if he had lived to hear them read.

Young Cicero went through the regular curriculum - grammar, rhetoric, and
the Greek poets and historians. Like many other youthful geniuses, he
wrote a good deal of poetry of his own, which his friends, as was natural,
thought very highly of at the time, and of which he himself retained the
same good opinion to the end of his life, as would have been natural to
few men except Cicero. But his more important studies began after he had
assumed the 'white gown' which marked the emergence of the young Roman
from boyhood into more responsible life - at sixteen years of age. He then
entered on a special education for the bar. It could scarcely be called a
profession, for an advocate's practice at Rome was gratuitous; but it was
the best training for public life; - it was the ready means, to an able and
eloquent man, of gaining that popular influence which would secure
his election in due course to the great magistracies which formed the
successive steps to political power. The mode of studying law at Rome bore
a very considerable resemblance to the preparation for the English bar.
Our modern law-student purchases his admission to the chambers of some
special pleader or conveyancer, where he is supposed to learn his future
business by copying precedents and answering cases, and he also attends
the public lectures at the Inns of Court. So at Rome the young aspirant
was to be found (but at a much earlier hour than would suit the Temple or
Lincoln's Inn) in the open hall of some great jurist's House, listening
to his opinions given to the throng of clients who crowded there every
morning; while his more zealous pupils would accompany him in his stroll
in the Forum, and attend his pleadings in the courts or his speeches on
the Rostra, either taking down upon their tablets, or storing in their
memories, his _dicta_ upon legal questions.[1] In such wise Cicero
became the pupil of Mucius Scaevola, whose house was called "the oracle
of Rome" - scarcely ever leaving his side, as he himself expresses it; and
after that great lawyer's death, attaching himself in much the same way to
a younger cousin of the same name and scarcely less reputation. Besides
this, to arm himself at all points for his proposed career, he read logic
with Diodotus the Stoic, studied the action of Esop and Roscius - then the
stars of the Roman stage - declaimed aloud like Demosthenes in private,
made copious notes, practised translation in order to form a written
style, and read hard day and night. He trained severely as an intellectual
athlete; and if none of his contemporaries attained such splendid success,
perhaps none worked so hard for it. He made use, too, of certain special
advantages which were open to him - little appreciated, or at least seldom
acknowledged, by the men of his day - the society and conversation of
elegant and accomplished women. In Scaevola's domestic circle, where the
mother, the daughters, and the grand-daughters successively seem to have
been such charming talkers that language found new graces from their lips,
the young advocate learnt some of his not least valuable lessons. "It
makes no little difference", said he in his riper years, "what style of
expression one becomes familiar with in the associations of daily life".
It was another point of resemblance between the age of Cicero and the
times in which we live - the influence of the "queens of society", whether
for good or evil.

[Footnote 1: These _dicta_, or 'opinions', of the great jurists,
acquired a sort of legal validity in the Roman law-courts, like 'cases'
with us.]

But no man could be completely educated for a public career at Rome until
he had been a soldier. By what must seem to us a mistake in the Republican
system - a mistake which we have seen made more than once in the late
American war - high political offices were necessarily combined with
military command. The highest minister of state, consul or praetor,
however hopelessly civilian in tastes and antecedents, might be sent to
conduct a campaign in Italy or abroad at a few hours' notice. If a man was
a heaven-born general, all went well; if not, he had usually a chance of
learning in the school of defeat. It was desirable, at all events, that he
should have seen what war was in his youth. Young Cicero served his first
campaign, at the age of eighteen, under the father of a man whom he was to
know only too well in after life - Pompey the Great - and in the division of
the army which was commanded by Sylla as lieutenant-general. He bore arms
only for a year or two, and probably saw no very arduous service, or we
should certainly have beard of it from himself; and he never was in camp
again until he took the chief command, thirty-seven years afterwards,
as pro-consul in Cilicia. He was at Rome, leading a quiet
student-life - happily for himself, too young to be forced or tempted into
an active part - during the bloody feuds between Sylla and the younger

He seems to have made his first appearance as an advocate when he was
about twenty-five, in some suit of which we know nothing. Two years
afterwards he undertook his first defence of a prisoner on a capital
charge, and secured by his eloquence the acquittal of Sextus Roscius on an
accusation of having murdered his father. The charge appears to have been
a mere conspiracy, wholly unsupported by evidence; but the accuser was a
favourite with Sylla, whose power was all but absolute; and the innocence
of the accused was a very insufficient protection before a Roman jury of
those days. What kind of considerations, besides the merits of the case
and the rhetoric of counsel, did usually sway these tribunals, we shall
see hereafter. In consequence of this decided success, briefs came in upon
the young pleader almost too quickly. Like many other successful orators,
he had to combat some natural deficiencies; he had inherited from his
father a somewhat delicate constitution; his lungs were not powerful,
and his voice required careful management; and the loud declamation and
vehement action which he had adopted from his models - and which were
necessary conditions of success in the large arena in which a Roman
advocate had to plead - he found very hard work. He left Rome for a while,
and retired for rest and change to Athens.

The six months which he spent there, though busy and studious, must have
been very pleasant ones. To one like Cicero, Athens was at once classic
and holy ground. It combined all those associations and attractions which
we might now expect to find in a visit to the capitals of Greece and
of Italy, and a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Poetry, rhetoric, philosophy,
religion - all, to his eyes, had their cradle there. It was the home of
all that was literature to him; and there, too, were the great Eleusinian
mysteries - which are mysteries still, but which contained under their
veil whatever faith in the Invisible and Eternal rested in the mind of an
enlightened pagan. There can be little doubt but that Cicero took this
opportunity of initiation. His brother Quintus and one of his cousins were
with him at Athens; and in that city he also renewed his acquaintance with
an old school-fellow, Titus Pomponius, who lived so long in the city, and
became so thoroughly Athenian in his tastes and habits, that he is better
known to us, as he was to his contemporaries, by the surname of Atticus,
which was given him half in jest, than by his more sonorous Roman name. It
is to the accidental circumstance of Atticus remaining so long a voluntary
exile from Rome, and to the correspondence which was maintained
between the two friends, with occasional intervals, for something like
four-and-twenty years, that we are indebted for a more thorough insight
into the character of Cicero than we have as to any other of the great
minds of antiquity; nearly four hundred of his letters to Atticus, written
in all the familiar confidence of private friendship by a man by no
means reticent as to his personal feelings, having been preserved to us.
Atticus's replies are lost; it is said that he was prudent enough, after
his friend's unhappy death, to reclaim and destroy them. They would
perhaps have told us, in his case, not very much that we care to know
beyond what we know already. Rich, luxurious, with elegant tastes and
easy morality - a true Epicurean, as he boasted himself to be - Atticus had
nevertheless a kind heart and an open hand. He has generally been called
selfish, somewhat unfairly; at least his selfishness never took the form
of indifference or unkindness to others. In one sense he was a truer
philosopher than Cicero: for he seems to have acted through life on that
maxim of Socrates which his friend professed to approve, but certainly
never followed, - that "a wise man kept out of public business". His
vocation was certainly not patriotism; but the worldly wisdom which
kept well with men of all political colours, and eschewed the wretched
intrigues and bloody feuds of Rome, stands out in no unfavourable contrast
with the conduct of many of her _soi-disant_ patriots. If he declined
to take a side himself, men of all parties resorted to him in their
adversity; and the man who befriended the younger Marius in his exile,
protected the widow of Antony, gave shelter on his estates to the victims
of the triumvirate's proscription, and was always ready to offer his
friend Cicero both his house and his purse whenever the political horizon
clouded round him, - this man was surely as good a citizen as the noisiest
clamourer for "liberty" in the Forum, or the readiest hand with the
dagger. He kept his life and his property safe through all those years of
peril and proscription, with less sacrifice of principle than many who
had made louder professions, and died - by a singular act of voluntary
starvation, to make short work with an incurable disease - at a ripe old
age; a godless Epicurean, no doubt, but not the worst of them.

We must return to Cicero, and deal somewhat briefly with the next few
years of his life. He extended his foreign tour for two years, visiting
the chief cities of Asia Minor, remaining for a short time at Rhodes
to take lessons once more from his old tutor Molo the rhetorician, and
everywhere availing himself of the lectures of the most renowned Greek
professors, to correct and improve his own style of composition and
delivery. Soon after his return to Rome, he married. Of the character of
his wife Terentia very different views have been taken. She appears to
have written to him very kindly during his long forced absences. Her
letters have not reached us; but in all her husband's replies she is
mentioned in terms of apparently the most sincere affection. He calls
her repeatedly his "darling" - "the delight of his eyes" - "the best of
mothers;" yet he procured a divorce from her, for no distinctly assigned
reason, after a married life of thirty years, during which we find no
trace of any serious domestic unhappiness. The imputations on her honour
made by Plutarch, and repeated by others, seem utterly without foundation;
and Cicero's own share in the transaction is not improved by the fact of
his taking another wife as soon as possible - a ward of his own, an almost
girl, with whom he did not live a year before a second divorce released
him. Terentia is said also to have had an imperious temper; but the
only ground for this assertion seems to have been that she quarrelled
occasionally with her sister-in-law Pomponia, sister of Atticus and wife
of Quintus Cicero; and since Pomponia, by her own brother's account,
showed her temper very disagreeably to her husband, the feud between the
ladies was more likely to have been her fault than Terentia's. But the
very low notion of the marriage relations entertained by both the later
Greeks and Romans helps to throw some light upon a proceeding which would
otherwise seem very mysterious. Terentia, as is pretty plain from the
hints in her husband's letters, was not a good manager in money matters;
there is room for suspicion that she was not even an honest one in his
absence, and was "making a purse" for herself; she had thus failed in
one of the only two qualifications which, according to Demosthenes - an
authority who ranked very high in Cicero's eyes - were essential in a wife,
to be "a faithful house-guardian" and "a fruitful mother". She did not die
of a broken heart; she lived to be 104, and, according to Dio Cassius, to
have three more husbands. Divorces were easy enough at Rome, and had the
lady been a rich widow, there might be nothing so improbable in this
latter part of the story, though she was fifty years old at the date of
this first divorce.[1]

[Footnote 1: Cato, who is the favourite impersonation of all the moral
virtues of his age, divorced his wife - to oblige a friend!]



Increasing reputation as a brilliant and successful pleader, and the
social influence which this brought with it, secured the rapid succession
of Cicero to the highest public offices. Soon after his marriage he was
elected Quaestor - the first step on the official ladder - which, as he
already possessed the necessary property qualification, gave him a seat in
the Senate for life. The Aedileship and Praetorship followed subsequently,
each as early, in point of age, as it could legally be held.[1] His
practice as an advocate suffered no interruption, except that his
Quaestorship involved his spending a year in Sicily. The Praetor who
was appointed to the government of that province[2] had under him two
quaestors, who were a kind of comptrollers of the exchequer; and Cicero
was appointed to the western district, having his headquarters at
Lilybaeum. In the administration of his office there he showed himself a
thorough man of business. There was a dearth of corn at Rome that year,
and Sicily was the great granary of the empire. The energetic measures
which the new Quaestor took fully met the emergency. He was liberal to
the tenants of the State, courteous and accessible to all, upright in his
administration, and, above all, he kept his hands clean from bribes and
peculation. The provincials were as much astonished as delighted: for Rome
was not in the habit of sending them such officers. They invented honours
for him such as had never been bestowed on any minister before.

[Footnote 1: The Quaestors (of whom there were at this time twenty) acted
under the Senate as State treasurers. The Consul or other officer who
commanded in chief during a campaign would be accompanied by one of them
as paymaster-general.

The Aediles, who were four in number, had the care of all public
buildings, markets, roads, and the State property generally. They had also
the superintendence of the national festivals and public games.

The duties of the Praetors, of whom there were eight, were principally
judicial. The two seniors, called the 'City' and 'Foreign' respectively,
corresponded roughly to our Home and Foreign Secretaries. These were all
gradual steps to the office of Consul.]

[Footnote 2: The provinces of Rome, in their relation to the mother-state
of Italy, may be best compared with our own government of India, or such
of our crown colonies as have no representative assembly. They had each
their governor or lieutenant-governor, who must have been an ex-minister
of Rome: a man who had been Consul went out with the rank of
"pro-consul", - one who had been Praetor with the rank of "pro-praetor".
These held office for one or two years, and had the power of life and
death within their respective jurisdictions. They had under them one or
more officers who bore the title of Quaestor, who collected the taxes and
had the general management of the revenues of the province. The provinces
at this time were Sicily, Sardinia with Corsica, Spain and Gaul (each in
two divisions); Greece, divided into Macedonia and Achaia (the Morea);
Asia, Syria, Cilicia, Bithynia, Cyprus, and Africa in four divisions.
Others were added afterwards, under the Empire.]

No wonder the young official's head (he was not much over thirty)
was somewhat turned. "I thought", he said, in one of his speeches
afterwards - introducing with a quiet humour, and with all a practised
orator's skill, one of those personal anecdotes which relieve a long
speech - "I thought in my heart, at the time, that the people at Rome must
be talking of nothing but my quaestorship". And he goes on to tell his
audience how he was undeceived.

"The people of Sicily had devised for me unprecedented honours. So I left
the island in a state of great elation, thinking that the Roman people
would at once offer me everything without my seeking. But when I was
leaving my province, and on my road home, I happened to land at Puteoli
just at the time when a good many of our most fashionable people are
accustomed to resort to that neighbourhood. I very nearly collapsed,
gentlemen, when a man asked me what day I had left Rome, and whether there
was any news stirring? When I made answer that I was returning from my
province - 'Oh! yes, to be sure', said he; 'Africa, I believe?' 'No', said
I to him, considerably annoyed and disgusted; 'from Sicily'. Then somebody
else, with the air of a man who knew all about it, said to him - 'What!
don't you know that he was Quaestor at _Syracuse_?' [It was at
Lilybaeum - quite a different district.] No need to make a long story of
it; I swallowed my indignation, and made as though I, like the rest, had
come there for the waters. But I am not sure, gentlemen, whether that

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