Rome through the eyes of Cicero

The last many days have been reading the Letters of Marcus Tullius Cicero a  Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul and constitutionalist [106 BCE- 43BCE] that he wrote to his relations, friends and colleagues for a period stretching close to twenty or more years. The letters give a glimpse, to the reader, of  Rome at it’s highest and the beginning of the downfall of the Republic. As a general comment, this fine gentleman was quite an affectionate man especially if one looks at the tone of his letters to Atticus his closest friend, to Pompey, to Caesar and to Quintus his brother.

On politics, it mattered if you knew someone and the more powerful the better for you. This is actually obvious when one looks at the elaborate introductory letters Cicero writes when he desires a favor for anyone he knew. In this regard, Cicero believes himself to be of great influence to the people to whom he is making introductions. Another peculiar thing still related to politics regards bribery. Politicians would bribe their way to power or even to get acquittals as they do now, these guys don’t get better. Towards the end of his letters in this volume, Cicero appears to have lost all – almost all- hope in the Republic. He talks of rumours of a dictator and these are around the person of Pompey who through his cronies is rumoured to want to rule as a dictator. Political lobbying did not start recently, there was a great deal lobbying even at the time of Cicero. And as politicians are wont to do, there are those who had rogues to help get their means others like Cicero relied on rhetoric and gentle persuasion.

These were men of taste. Cicero talks about buying town properties and having estates out-of-town elaborately designed for a man of power to rest. They seemed to be collectors of statues, books and literature from other previous civilizations like the Greek and the Egyptians. Cicero spent time writing a few books I think one Oration and on The Republic after Plato’s dialogues.

On law and jurisprudence, these Romans were quite advanced in Law. They had trial by jury, they had several legal committees to deal with so many matters. It is interesting to note that, when one was faced with criminal proceedings and was a man of means, then you’d go on exile to such a place as was prescribed by law but where any of your enemies could kill you. Cicero himself went to exile on accusation of killing a citizen without following due process of law during which time most of his property was demolished and plundered under orders of Clodius. Cicero defended so many Consuls, talks highly of his speeches-this are not part of the letters- and appears to have been in good terms with the powers that be.

Interest rates could go up from 4% to 8% depending on the political climate.

Those in government were actually concerned with Land rights and grain. In several letters that Cicero writes to his friend Atticus, he does mention the laws that have been made in regards to these matters. The senate also allowed sums of money for buy grain from outlying lands for the use by the people.

Education was an important part in the lives of the nobles. Cicero talks so highly of his education, the education his and Quintus’ son are getting and offers to teach the young lads during his free time which ,however, he says is something he doesn’t have.

He doesn’t write so many letters to his wife who they separated with later but in the few letters to her, he is as affectionate as he is in his letters to Atticus who by the way most of the letters were addressed.

Having said all these, Cicero was a man of honour, he loved deeply, was sometimes, in my opinion, too full of himself especially in the introductory letters he writes. I need to add here that in these letters, whenever he was asking for a favour he made it look like the guy from who he was asking the favour was much more indebted to him and should grant his favour. The parallel I can draw is similar to one I read in 48 Laws of Power where Machiavelli observes that when you need something, present it in such a way that the person of whom you are asking feels so indebted to you that he can’t refuse it. Make it appear that he benefits by granting your favour and Cicero does this so well.

If you have the time, please find time to read some of the letters, apart from being interesting, they give you a glimpse into the Rome of Cicero and makes it possible for one to see Cicero’s relationships through his own eyes and how he felt in the whole picture.

In all I enjoyed the book.