Comprehensive, accessible survey of the personal and political life of lawyer, politician, philosopher, and crank Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Rome's most celebrated orator and dogged protector of the constitution had “that passionate affection for Rome and its traditions that many newcomers feel when they join an exclusive club.” Understandable, as Cicero was born to the local aristocracy of Arpinum, a town 70 miles south and 3 days journey from the empire's capital. Britisher Everitt presents a picture of a privileged son of the local bourgeoisie who lives out his father's ambitions by entering public life in Rome, first as a gifted lawyer with a vicious tongue, then as a politician committed to preserving Rome's political traditions. Unfortunately for Cicero, as a contemporary of Julius Caesar, he was uniquely placed to witness the end of the senate's power. Unraveling the monstrous tangle of elections, massacres, and military campaigns that twisted through the elastic empire, Everitt exhibits a remarkably deft touch, as well as “that endearing sense of the ridiculous” he ascribes to Cicero himself. Along with the ponderous political system, Everitt discusses the mobs that ran the streets, Roman housing conditions, the art of folding a toga, religious ceremonies, Cleopatra's brief involvement with the empire, Cicero's love for his daughter, the system of patronage, and Cicero's advances and retreats in the public eye. Cicero's great literary works on oratory, Greek philosophy, and self-consolation (a lost work, written after the death of his daughter) are mentioned, but discussed in less detail than contemporary events. Most delightful is Everitt's contextualization of Cicero's everyday utterances, quoted from speeches and a lifetime of letters to his dear friend Atticus; over 2,000 years later, the words remain bitingly fresh.
Masterfully lucid and compelling; sure to be required reading in the Cicero canon.