Cicero – lawyer, statesmen, scholar, philosopher – lived an amazingly colorful and rich life for a political philosopher.  A child of Arpinum, just southeast of Rome, Cicero was born in 106 BCE.  The son of a well-to-do and well-connected equestrian, Cicero, whose name means chickpea, cicer, either owing to an ancestor with a chickpeas like cleft on his nose (according to Plutarch), or because that was the ancestral family business, upon entering politics refused to change his name, despite the advice of many, declaring that he would make Cicero more glorious than Scaurus, “Swollen-ankled” and Catalus, “Puppy” (Plutarch, Cicero, 1.3-5).  Cicero was supremely educated for his time, which meant to speak both Latin and Greek, and be immersed in the classics of Greek poetry, philosophy, history and oratory.  Eventually, Cicero will use this vast knowledge and familiarity with things Greek, to translate many of the key concepts of Greek philosophy into Latin and popularize them for a broad audience as well as coin a new Latin terms to help with their comprehension and dissemination.  We owe terms such as property, individual, morals and image in the modern European languages to his efforts.  Such a gifted student was Cicero, that his learning drew the attention of elites throughout Rome.  Eventually he goes to Rome to study Roman law under Zuintus Mucius Scaevola.

In 90 BCE- 88 BCE Cicero desiring a political career, enters the military and serves under Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo and Lucius Cornelis Sulla in the Social War.  Showing little aptitude for military matters, he returns in 83-81 BCE and takes up a career as a lawyer.  The first written record of that period is his defense of Sextus Roscius on the charge of patricide in 80 BCE.   The case is all the more remarkable insofar as it implicitly challenged the dictator Sulla, and Cicero managed to get Roscius acquitted.  In 79 BCE, fearing the wrath of Sulla, Cicero departs for Greece, Rhodes and Asia Minor.

Upon his return to Rome, Cicero takes up a political career, first serving as a quaestor in Sicily in 75 BCE, for which he became known for his honesty and integrity.  Accordingly, the Sicilians ask        him to prosecute Gaius Verres, the Roman Governor of Sicily; Cicero takes up the case and prosecutes it to great success.  It is at this time, when Cicero returns to Rome and wins the case in a series of stunning court battles that earned him the reputation as greatest orator in Rome; to beat Verres’ lawyer, Hortalus, was to beat the most prestigious lawyer in Rome, and so being neither patrician nor plebeian noble, the prestige of that victory was most useful for Cicero’s rise, which was fast and unprecedented, taking up each magistracy at the youngest possible ages from quaestor at 31 to aedile at 37 to praetor at 40, and finally a consul at 43 in 63 BCE.  That year he managed to thwart a conspiracy meant to assassinate him and overthrow the Roman Republic with the aid of the foreign force of Lucius Sergius Catilina.  In reaction, Cicero declared martial law and drove Cataline form the city, accompanied by four justly famous speeches (Cataline orations).  Following the deliberations of the Senate and the arguments of Cato, it was decided that the conspirators would face death.  Cicero had them taken to the Roman prison, the Tullanium, where they were strangled.

In 60 BCE Cicero is invited by Julius Ceaser to join him in the First Trimvirate, as the fourth member of his partnership with Pompey and Macus Licinius Crassus, but Cicero refused, fearful of undermining the Republic.  Then in 58 BCE, Cicero is the target of the tribune of plebs, Publius Clodius Pulcher, who threaten to exile anyone who executed a Roman citizen without trial; Cicero having executed the Second Catlinarian conspirators four years before without trial, and in the midst of a public battle with Clodius was the obvious target.  Unable to shore up the support of the senators and consuls, Cicero goes into exile in Thessalonica, Greece where his letters attest to a period of great depression.  Happily, following the election of Titus Annius Milo, the senate votes in favor of recalling Cicero from exile, the only vote against being case by Clodius.  And so in 57 BCE, Cicero returns to Italy and politics: first he fails to attack a bill of Ceasar’s, next he is forced by the conference at Luca to make a recantation and pledge his support of the triumvirate.  In 51 BCE, following the forced pledge, Cicero retreats into writing and a promagistracy in Cilicia.

In the contest between Pompey and Julius Ceaser, Cicero took the side of Pompey as defender of the senate and Republicanism, but was careful not to alienate Ceaser.  Upon the invasion of Italy by Ceaser in 49 BCE, Cicero fled to Rome.  Ceaser soon courted his favor, hoping for endorsement for a favorite son and senator, but Cicero fled to the camp of Pompey’s staff in Epidamnos, Illyria, with whom he marched to Pharsalus in 48 BCE, despite coming to view Pompey’s forces with grave suspicion.  Eventually, Cato gets fed up, famously remarking that he could have served the optimates better in Rome.  Following Ceaser’s victory at Pharsalus, Cicero cautiously returned to Rome and the pardon of Ceaser.

But on the ides of March, 44 BCE, Cicero was completely shocked to learn of the assassination of Ceaser by the Liberatores.  Famously, Brutus raising his blood-stained dagger, called out his name, asking Cicero to restore the republic after the assassination.   And in a famous letter to Trebonius, one of the conspirators, Cicero writes: “How I could wish that you had invited me to that most glorious banquet on the ides of March!”

With the murder of Ceaser, Cicero and Antony become the two leading men of Rome: Cicero, the voice of the Senate, and Athony that of the Consul, and executor of Ceaser’s will.  Having never been warm, their relations became outright cold; Cicero devised a plan to play Octavian, Ceaser’s heir and adoptive son, against Antony.  In a famous series of speeches, Cicero denounces Antony as he praises Octavian.  But Cicero’s schemes to drive out Antony eventually come to naught; Antony and Octavian reconcile, ally with Lepidus and form the Second Triumvirate, following victories at Forum Gallorum and Mutina.  Thereupon the Triumvirate proscribes their list of enemies and rivals, numbering Cicero and his associates as enemies of the state, the new five-year termed consular Imperium.  And this despite the fact, that as rumor has it, Octavian fought for two days to keep Cicero off the list.  Despite, or because of this, Cicero was among the most ruthlessly hunted down, and even with the broad support of the public, he was caught December 7, 43 BCE in his villa in Formiae en route to a ship set to sail for Macedonia.  Cicero’s own slaves refused to give him up to his killers, the centurion, Herennius and tribune, Popilius.  Rather it was the freed slave of his brother Quintus that led his killers to him.  His final words, Plutarch reports were, “There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly.”