To whisper his name reminds us of the greatest transitions in history the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the world’s most magnificent empire. The name of Cicero cannot be separated from the image of ancient Rome. The age-old debate remains: Are man’s excellence and political greatness a product of the historical time in which he exists or does man determine and direct the events of history through his nobility, action, and achievement? Examining the life and times of the world’s greatest lawyer, Marcus Tullius Cicero, can illuminate the facets of this question The glory of Cicero is unveiled not only by his accomplishments but also the way he lived his life.
Above all, Cicero was Roman by virtue and blood. “Civics Romanus Sum” or “I am a Roman Citizen” was the oath by which he led his life. The Romans were loyal and just people. The brightest periods of Rome’s history were marked by amazing respect and dedication to their constitutional system. By nature, Cicero was devoted to Rome and its constitutional structure; he cherished his citizenship in the same way that one would cherish the life of their children. From the young age of 25, Cicero gave constant service to Rome and her people. Throughout his life, he was a statesman who served the people of Rome to the best of his ability. By profession, he was a lawyer. He chose the path of defense counselor as a means to administer justice. Cicero’s service as a lawyer was marked by great success. While other lawyers were taking bribes and payment for their service, Cicero refused to take any money for his service because he believed payment to be a form of corruption within the legal profession.
Later, he ascended to the level of Roman Counsel. No matter what stage Cicero was at in his life, he was able to impassion a crowd through his eloquent rhetoric and oratory proficiency. It is obvious from his career as a lawyer that Greek philosophy and thought strongly influenced Cicero’s presentation to the public. Fine speeches and oratory was a characteristic that Cicero cultivated until his dying days.
Privately, Cicero was one of the few philosophers in history who led and regulated his life by the precepts he asserted. Politics and public service became the most noble pursuit that any Roman citizen could possibly undertake. This is one of the reasons why Cicero saved philosophy for the twilight years of his life; he did not want to spend his days writing and reflecting until he made his contribution to Rome as a lawyer and statesmen. By all measurable standards, Cicero possessed a deep knowledge of humanity and a comprehension of the law that is unparalleled in human history.
Cicero’s success as a lawyer came at a very young age. He cultivated a philosophy of the “Summa Lex” or the “highest law.” Coupled with an understanding of human nature, Cicero’s philosophy of law enabled him to move and impassion a crowd of Roman citizens. He once remarked, ‘All that purple I so often use to decorate my speeches-the passages about fire and sword-you know the paints I have on my pallet. You know how I can thunder!”
Throughout his life, Cicero was concerned about the law and its function within civil society. He would constantly travel from Rome to Athens in order to learn from the greatest philosophers of the time and in doing so became highly influenced by Greek thought. Perhaps Cicero believed Greek philosophy was just as superior to Roman thought. Regardless, Greek philosophy influenced Cicero to create a new science of law, which involved an eternal understanding of the Just and Unjust, Prudent and Imprudent, Good and Bad, Noble and Ignoble.
To Cicero, there was an ever-present Moral order to all things. Even among the vicissitudes and decay of earthly objects, Cicero maintained a strong conviction in a divine presence and order. In a sense, he transcended the bounds ascribed to his humanity through his exploration of the law. A marvel both in mind and spirit, Cicero’s devotion to the law was supported by his faith in the Roman constitution. This is evident because Cicero refrained from playing a major role during the First Triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. Yet, even with the temptation of power so easily within his grasp, Cicero found it necessary to resist a role, which could have brought him laurels and rewards in Pindaric proportions. Cicero was a champion for the Republic and until his tragic death, he protected Rome from the dangers of an uncontrolled democracy, and all his actions sought the end of protecting the Republic from peril.
Cicero’s possession of accelerated reason did not temper his life completely. It is remarked that Cicero felt his wisdom might be better than the rest. His great legal mind; his superior sense of duty; his pursuit of eternal justice; all of these virtues did not prevent Cicero from appearing self-righteous. However, he possessed a few downfalls. His triumphs shine as watermarks of a glorious and fleeting Roman Republic. Perhaps, that is where glory is found, in the transient and temporal nature of all human experiments. Tis true, the theatre of man is versed with the tales of empires gained and empires lost, of conquerors made kings through courage, victory, and war, of genius lost by the temptation of silence, of human frailties expressed by the record of human joy and loss, of all that could be but is not because fear and apprehension. We reflect on the Roman people, and the greatest of all Romans, Cicero, and are reminded how small and frail our endeavors are. The cosmos is immeasurable, and man’s time on earth is but an infinitely small portion of that incalculable universe, our acts, and deeds are rendered trivial compared to the vast overflow of the life that surrounds us. We cannot expect our luminosity is without end, we cannot secure immortality through civic greatness and military conquest, our only hope for meaning is that any contribution we make will pass on through the generations of mortals inhabiting the earth henceforth. Our meaning is defined not only by what we hope to accomplish but also how our descendants remember our triumphs and shallow seas. Cicero’s contribution can be seen from the heavens and stars above, his life was marked by the tragic fall of the Roman Republic. In a sense, Cicero was the medium between ancient and modern legal philosophy. St. Augustine and many other philosophers were heavily influenced by Cicero’s legal thought. To Cicero, the law is the highest reason. While civil law had its utility by governing the actions of the Roman people, the universal laws of nature were intended to forever guide the construction and interpretation of the law. He endeavored to master an understanding of the origins of law and justice. Behind every law, there exists a natural force and standard that measures justice and injustice.
. Perhaps, that is where glory is found, in the transient and temporal nature of all human experiments. This true, the theatre of man is versed with the tales of empires gained and empires lost, of conquerors made kings through courage, victory, and war, of genius lost by the temptation of silence, of human frailties expressed by the record of human joy and loss, of all that could be but is not because fear and apprehension. We reflect on the Roman people, and the greatest of all Romans, Cicero, and are reminded how small and frail our endeavors are. The cosmos is immeasurable, and man’s time on earth is but an infinitely small portion of that incalculable universe, our acts, and deeds are rendered trivial compared to the vast overflow of the life that surrounds us. We cannot expect our luminosity is without end, we cannot secure immortality through civic greatness and military conquest, our only hope for meaning is that any contribution we make will pass on through the generations of mortals inhabiting the earth henceforth. Our meaning is defined not only by what we hope to accomplish but also how our descendants remember our triumphs and shallow seas. Cicero’s contribution can be seen from the heavens and stars above, his life was marked by the tragic fall of the Roman Republic. In a sense, Cicero was the medium between ancient and modern legal philosophy. St. Augustine and many other philosophers were heavily influenced by Cicero’s legal thought. To Cicero, the law is the highest reason. While civil law had its utility by governing the actions of the Roman people, the universal laws of nature were intended to forever guide the construction and interpretation of the law. He endeavored to master an understanding of the origins of law and justice. Behind every law, there exists a natural force and standard that measures justice and injustice
During Cicero’s life, he endured many political hardships and challenges. A few years after he earned the Roman Consulship, he was the subject of an assassination plan designed by Cataline. Cicero’s vocal support of Roman constitutionalism would label him an enemy to both Caesar and Cataline. Cicero interrupted Cataline’s conspiracy and prevented his own assassination. The conspirators were caught and held for sentencing. Cicero recommended to the Roman Senate that the conspirators were killed. The Senate followed Cicero’s advice and took the bodies outside of Rome for execution.
Later when Caesar and Pompey became the paramount authorities in Rome, Caesar believed Cicero was a danger to his political agenda, thus he exiled Cicero from the province of Rome. Cicero’s property and assets were seized by the state. While in exile, Cicero constructed two works of paramount importance: De Legibus and De Republica. His writings in exile express the precepts of a man who dedicated himself to the Republican principles of government and law. Throughout any of his adversities, Cicero maintained his support of a republican form of government.
Cicero knew that the fall of the Roman Republic was systematically taking its course. Usurpations of political power were abounding within the Senate. Mob rule and corruption plagued the once stable constitutional structure of Rome.
The final assault to the Republic occurred in 49 B.C. when Caesar stood at the Rubicon with his troops and engaged in a civil war with Pompey; Cicero knew that the end was near. The Rubicon was the limit of military forces on Italian terrain. Crossing the Rubicon would signify defiance of the Roman constitution. After close introspection, Caesar crossed the Rubicon and entered Rome with his army close behind. Suetonius remarks that Caesar, after much deliberation, finally remarked, “the die is cast.” He then crossed the Rubicon. All Romans knew that a change in regime was about to take place. The Praetor, whose purpose it was to administer justice to the city was no match for Caesar’s loyal troops, and he was quickly disposed of. The First Roman Triumvirate was displaced. Pompey fled Rome for fear of his life. The Senators left the treasury for Caesar’s reward. Cato a friend of Cicero’s and defender of the Republic, fled with a small force to Utica, near Carthage. While there he awaited imminent death from the sword of Caesar. At Utica, the aggressive and forthright Cato began preparations for his own death. During the night before his death, Cato engaged in philosophical inquiry and read Plato’s Phaedo-a book on the immortality of the soul. That night Cato sharpened his sword in preparation for the events to come. When dawn broke, he called his freed slave and doctor into his room. Cato then vanquished his own life by placing his sword into his belly. As his physician began to patch up the wound Cato lay on the floor and reopened the wound with his bare hands, thus severing his life from Rome forever. Caesar would not get the best of Cato. His death reminds us that all glory is fleeting. The greatness of the Roman Republic would become a forgotten shadow of a once magnificent civilization. The measure of what was lost would not be known until distant mortals would study the record of events. A Republic slipped away into the annals of history while an Empire was created out of the remnants of a vanquished time. During all this, “Caesar held the sword, Cicero held the scales of justice.” Until his death, Cicero maintained the universality of the law was paramount to any successful administration of justice.
After Caesar’s assassination, which Cicero did not participate in, Cicero began a strong sweeping campaign to energizeRoman constitutionalism. Marc Anthony was Cicero’s chief rival in this campaign. Cicero’s only armor he could use against the changing regime was his words and legal precepts. The events that transpired led Cicero to make a final campaign for the Republic. Anthony’s quest for political power left Cicero standing alone to make his last contributions for the Republic. The end of the republic grew near. The end of the greatest civilization in human history was about to take place. We reflect on Rome and wish we could have seen it in all its might and wonder. We inquire about the lives of Ceaser, Marcus Aurelius, Cicero, and Cato because their lives are extraordinary. Where have all the statesmen gone, have they disappeared from the modern realm of politics? No, they have not, they simply, have not been revealed because, in the modern age, the principle has been displaced by practice and pragmatism, the law has been supplanted by expediency, and justice has been dispelled as a rumor or consequence of young naive legal minds. Modernism forces conformity upon the young lawyer’s mind. Dare we, like Cicero and all the great statesmen before us, cultivate our own precepts of law against that which has been expressed to us as the mainstream mode of thought? Today, those noble souls who believe they study law are convinced that eternal legal maxims are incompatible with the role of a lawyer. Like the Roman constitutional structure, our written Constitution is eroded at and undermined daily, students of law posit themselves in a realm of legal usefulness in order to get the best results for their clients. In other words, they seek only to win or to do what may work in the court system rather than cultivating an understanding of the letter and spirit of the law. There is a great deal of learning going on today but there is not much understanding. “Like the Roman I see the river Tiber foaming with much blood.”
In any event, the modern world seems trivial compared to what transpired in Rome during the time of Cicero. With Anthony making progress Cicero knew he had to counteract Anthony’s political agenda, thus, Cicero wrote a series of speeches entitled Philippics. In this oration, Cicero expressed his support of the Roman Republic. Cicero’s attempt to reestablish a strong republic was futile. The Second Triumvirate was formed and Marc Anthony had Cicero captured, killed, and dismembered. Cicero’s head was decapitated and taken to the Senate. Thus ended Cicero’s life and with it, the Republic’s as well.
Cicero’s fate was sealed along with that of the republic. It is evident from this brief history of Cicero‘s life that no man could have prevented the fall of the republic. Not even the death of Caesar could preclude the greatest transition in history from resulting in the collapse of a great and majestic republic. Their lives are remembered, their deeds will forever remain locked in our minds, and the question of whether man controls the direction of history or does history make the lives of mortal men appear extraordinary goes on to be one of life’s greatest political questions.
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