Roman, 106–43 BCE
Few writers succeed in becoming an eponym for writing itself. There is no doubt that Cicero is one of those few. To be called a”Cicero” is to be dubbed a master of the periodic sentence and the clausula. Quintilian declared Cicero the name “not of a man, but of eloquence itself.” Throughout Europe, from his own century (or at least from Quintilian’s) until ours, Cicero’s letters and orations became the premier model for prose style, not only in Latin, but in modern European languages as well.
Cicero’s prose composition is actually oratorical composition: it is written to be declaimed, to imitate the cadences of formal speech before a public body. Perhaps this is not as much of a distinction as it first appears, for to some extent all prose style imitates speech. Yet the speech patterns Cicero’s prose records are those of his speeches in the Roman Senate. It would be another generation, the generation of Tacitus and Seneca, before Roman writers would turn to the rhythms of conversational speech for models.
Though the essay as we know it is largely a product of the Renaissance, Cicero’s prose works imitating orations on various subjects certainly qualify as essays in the widest sense, even those which were actually declaimed in the Senate or cast in the form of dialogues. Certainly many of our modern essays were first delivered as lectures or speeches. Cicero’s treatises, whatever form, touch on as many subjects, general and specific, as Montaigne’s essays: oratory itself (De oratore, Brutus, De inυentione), old age (De senectute), prophecy (De divinatione), political science (De re publica), law (De legibus), duty (De officiis), friendship (De amicitia).
The hallmarks of Cicero’s prose style are the period and the rhythmic clausula. The period is a long, stately sentence which suspends the verb until the end (a natural tendency in Latin style) with chains of subordinate clauses and balanced antitheses.
Because the clauses and phrases between subject and predicate can vary in length, the periodic sentence is capable of a variety of rhythmic effects. The clausula or cursus, the rhetorical term for the closing words of a sentence, is another rhythmic device for Cicero.
Whether the sentence is short or long, Cicero’s control of its final cadence almost invariably follows a specific metrical pattern. Thus the cadence at the end of the period gives to the ear the same sense of closure as the grammatical resolution of the sentence gives to the understanding.
As famous as the more stately effects of period and clausula are in Ciceronian style, Cicero was just as capable of short, swift, staccato rhythms which set his longer sentences into relief. As Cicero himself put it, he could use the dagger (pugiunculus) as well as the broadsword. His most quoted phrase is not only itself a simple vocative phrase, but is also followed by equally simple two- and three-word clauses: “o tempora, o mores!
Senatus haec intelligit, consul videt: hic tamen vivit” (“O the times, o the mores! The Senate knows these things, the consul sees them; yet this man lives”) (first oration, In Catalinam).
Furthermore, what makes Cicero’s use of rhythmic techniques so effective is that they appear to be unstudied, though of course they must be consciously crafted. Though his treatises on rhetoric make clear that he distinguished the composition of oratory from that of the written word, all writing for Cicero should appeal to the ear. Petrarch reported that he fell in love with Cicero’s prose by hearing it declaimed, charmed by the sound, long before he could understand what the words meant. Yet euphony at the expense of meaning was anathema to Cicero. He criticized precisely that as a fault of the “Asianist” style of some of his contemporaries. Cicero’s choice of a word may depend on its sound value, but it is always found to be precisely the right word in meaning as well.
The direct influence that Cicero has had on modern European prose style is tremendous. Yet indirectly he also influenced virtually every Christian writer of the Middle Ages, for having been St. Jerome’s stylistic guide in translating the Bible. In fact, in a fevered nightmare Jerome saw himself at the gates of heaven, begging entrance as a devout Christian, only to be told he was not a Christian but rather a Ciceronian. Though Jerome felt guilty for the association with the pagan writer, few stylists after his day gave it a second thought. Cardinal Newman called Cicero “the only master of style I have ever had.” That is what he has represented for many essayists over the centuries: a master of style—a Cicero.
See also Classical Influences
Marcus Tullius Cicero. Born 3 January 106 BCE in Arpinum (now Arpino, central Italy).
Served in the army of Pompeius Strabo, 89. Appeared in courts as a lawyer, from 81.
Married Terentia, 80 (divorced, 47): one daughter and one son. Quaestor (financial administrator) in western Sicily, 75; praetor (judicial officer), 66; consul, 63: exposed Catiline’s conspiracy to carry out uprisings in Italy and arson in Rome; declared an exile by Clodius, 58, and lived in Thessalonica and Illyricum, but recalled with the help of Pompey, 57; reluctantly allied himself with triumvirate of Pompey, Caesar, and Crassus, 56, and retired from public life until 51; elected augur of the college of diviners, 53; governor of Cilicia, Asia Minor, 51–50; allied with Pompey in civil war, 49–48: after Pompey’s defeat Cicero’s safety was guaranteed by Caesar. Married Publilia (divorced, 45). After Caesar’s assassination, 44, supported general amnesty (delivered 14 Philippic orations against Antony, 44–43); the triumvirate of Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus put Cicero on the execution list, 43: he was captured and killed in Formiae (now Formia), 7 December 43 BCE.
Brutus, edited by H.Malcovati, 1963, and A.E.Douglas, 1966; translated by H.M.Poteat, 1950
De amicitia, edited by H.E.Gould, 1983; as On Friendship, translated by Benjamin E.Smith, 1897, and edited and translated by J.G.F.Powell, 1990
De divinatione, edited by Arthur S.Pease, 4 vols., 1920–23; translated by William Arthur Falconer, 1922; as On Divination, translated by H.M.Poteat, 1950
De domo sua, edited by R.G.Nisbet, 1939
De finibus, edited by J.N.Madvid, 1876; part edited by J.S.Reid, 1925
De inυentione, edited and translated by H.M.Hubbell (Loeb Edition), 1949
De legibus, with De re publica, translated by Clinton Walker Keyes (Loeb Edition), 1928; Book I edited by Niall Rudd and Thomas Wiedemann, 1987
De natura deorum, edited by A.S.Pease, 2 vols., 1955–58; as On the Nature of the Gods, translated by H.M.Poteat, 1950, and H.C.P.McGregor, 1972
De officiis, edited by P.Fedeli, 1965; as On Duties, translated by H.M.Poteat, 1950, John Higginbotham, 1967, Harry G. Edinger, 1974, M.T.Griffin and E.M.Atkins, 1991, and M.Winterbottom, 1994
De oratore, edited by H.Rackham, translated by E.W.Sutton (Loeb Edition), 2 vols., 1959–60
De re publica, with De legibus, translated by Clinton Walker Keyes (Loeb Edition), 1928; as On the Commonwealth, translated by G.H. Sabine and S.B. Smith, 1929; selections as Res Publica, translated by W.K.Lacey and Harry G.Edinger, 1974; selections edited by James E.G.Zetzel, 1995
De senectute, edited by Leonard Huxley, revised edition, 1923, Ioannes Salanitro, 1987, and J.G.F.Powell, 1988; translated by William Armistead Falconer, 1922; as On Old Age, translated by Frank Copley, 1967
Epistulae ad Atticum: Letters to Atticus, edited by W.S.Watt, 2 vols., 1961–65; edited and translated by D.R.Shackleton Bailey, 7 vols., 1965–70
Epistulae ad familiares, edited by D.R.Shackleton Bailey, 2 vols., 1977, and W.S.Watt, 1982; translated by D.R.Shackleton Bailey, 1978
Epistulae ad Quintum frateum et M.Brutum, edited by W.S.Watt, 1958, and
D.R.Shackleton Bailey, 1980; translated by D.R. Shackleton Bailey, 1978
In Catalinam, edited by H.Bornecque, 1963
In Pisonem, edited by R.G.Nisbet, 1961
In Vatinium, edited by L.F.Pocock, 1926
Kerrines II, translated by T.N.Mitchell, 1986
Laelius, edited by Frank Stock, revised edition, 1930; as On Friendship, translated by Frank Copley, 1967, and J.G.F. Powell, 1990
[Letters], edited by R.Y.Tyrrell and L.C.Purser, 7 vols., 1899–1918; selections as Letters, translated by L.P.Wilkinson, 1949; Selected Letters, translated by D.R.Shackleton Bailey, 1980
Philippics I-II, edited by J.D.Denniston, 1939, and D.R. Shackleton Bailey, 1986
Pro M.Caelio, edited by R.G.Austin, 1960
Somnium Scipionis, as The Dream of Scipio, with Nine Orations, translated by Smith P.Bovie, 1967, Percy Bullock, 1983, and J.G.F.Powell, 1990
Tusculanae disputationes, edited by Thomas W.Dougan and Robert M.Henry, 2 vols., 1905; as Tusculan Disputations (Loeb Edition), translated by J.E.King, 1927; part translated by A.E. Douglas, 1990
Selected Works, translated by Michael Grant, 1960
The Caesarian Orations, translated by G.J.Acheson, 1965
Nine Orations and the Dream of Scipio, translated by Smith P. Bovie, 1967
Selected Political Speeches, translated by Michael Grant, 1969; revised edition, 1973
On the Good Life (selections), translated by Michael Grant, 1971
Murder Trials (selected orations), translated by Michael Grant, 1975
Back from Exile: Six Speeches upon His Return, edited and translated by D.R.Shackleton
Caesarian Speeches, edited by Harold C.Gotoff, 1993
On Government, translated by Michael Grant, 1993
The Fragmentary Speeches, edited by Jane W.Crawford, 1994
Collected works edition: Works (Loeb Edition; bilingual), translated by C.Macdonald, 28 vols., 1977.
Douglas, Alan Edward, “The Intellectual Background of Cicero’s Rhetorica,” in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, vol. 2, edited by Hildegard Temporini, Berlin: de Gruyter, 1973
Gotoff, Harold C., Cicero’s Elegant Style: An Analysis of the “Pro Archia”, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979
Haskell, H.J., This Was Cicero: Modern Politics in a Roman Toga, Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawcett, 1964 (original edition, 1942)
Hunt, H.A.K., The Humanism of Cicero, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1954
Johnson, Walter R., Luxuriance and Economy: Cicero and the Alien Style, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971
Laurand, Louis, Études sur le style des discours de Cicéron, Paris: Hachette, 1928 (original edition, 1907)
Mitchell, Thomas N., Cicero: The Ascending Years, New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1979
Petersson, Torsten, Cicero: A Biography, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1920
Rawson, Elizabeth, Cicero: A Portrait, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, and Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, revised edition, 1983 (original edition, 1975)
Shackleton Bailey, D.R., Cicero, London: Duckworth, 1971; New York: Scribner, 1972
Stockton, David L., Cicero: A Political Biography, London: Oxford University Press, 1971
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