December 07, 2002
Another Anniversary

Today is not only the 61st anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor but the 2,044th anniversary of the murder of Cicero. Here is Livy's obituary, as quoted by the Elder Seneca:

Marcus Cicero had taken his departure from the city shortly before the arrival of the triumvirs; he was convinced of what was actually the case, that he could no more be saved from the clutches of [Mark] Antony than Cassius and Brutus could be from those of [Octavius] Caesar. First he fled to his Tusculan estate, thence he set out by cross-country routes for his place at Formiae, for he planned to take ship at Caieta. From that port he put out to sea several times, but sometimes contrary winds drove him back, and again he was unable to bear the tossing of the ship, as erratic waves heaved it. Finally a weariness both of flight and of life came upon him; he went back to his upper country house, which is a little more than a mile from the sea, and said, "Let me die in the fatherland I have so often saved". It is definitely known that his slaves were ready to fight bravely and loyally, but he bade them set down the litter and endure without rebellion what a hostile fortune forced upon them. As he thrust his head out of the litter and held his neck steady, he was decapitated. Nor was this enough for the brutish cruelty of the soldiers. They also cut off his hands, reproaching them for having written something against Antony. Thus the head was brought back to Antony and by his order placed between the two hands on the Rostra. There Cicero in his consulship, and again often as ex-consul, and again that very year in opposing Antony, had been heard with admiration for his eloquence such as had never been accorded to another human voice. People could hardly raise their eyes for their tears, in order to look at his butchered parts.

He lived sixty-three years, so that if he had suffered no violence, his death would not have seemed to be even untimely. His nature was fortunate both in its achievements and in its rewards for achievement; he enjoyed a long-continued good fortune and a prolonged state of prosperity, yet was from time to time smitten with severe blows, his exile, the downfall of the party he represented, the death of his daughter, and his own sad and bitter end. None of his adversities did he bear in a manner worthy of a gentleman except his death; and this, if one weighs the matter accurately, might seem the less undeserved, because he suffered from a victorious personal enemy nothing crueler than he would himself have done, had he attained to the same success. However, if one balances his faults against his virtues, he was a man of greatness, energy, and distinction -- a man, the complete exposition of whose merits would demand a Cicero as eulogist.

This is from Book CXX of Livy's history of Rome from the earliest beginnings up to his own times. Except for Books I-X and XXI-XLV, only fragments of the 142 books survive. This one was quoted by the Elder Seneca, rhetorician and uncle of the better-known Younger Seneca, philosopher and tragic poet. It is from his Suasoriae, VI.17. The translation is from the last volume (XIV) of the Loeb facing text edition of Livy, and is by Alfred C. Schlesinger, with a few slight changes for clarity.

Cicero was murdered on December 7th, 43 B.C., but it's still only been 2,044 years, not 2,045, because there was no year 0.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at December 07, 2002 06:05 PM

Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.

Posted by: Mike Orris on December 8, 2002 07:22 PM

There is much more to Cicero than the Oratio Prima in Catilinam that we all studied in high school and a few references about his death. His essays and letters are still worth reading, if hard to locate. (I suggest finding a library that has a set of the Loeb Classical Library--Latin on one page, English on the facing.) His reconciliation of piety and freedom has application for our time, as do his views on law and reason.

Posted by: Lou Gots on December 8, 2002 08:32 PM

Good lord, I love this weblog.

Posted by: Dean Esmay on December 10, 2002 07:54 AM

I still think Cicero's letters are the finest political handbook you can find. All the tricks of the trade are therein. I shudder to think how republican Roman politicians would have used television...

Posted by: Iain Murray on December 10, 2002 02:29 PM