Letter of note


Dear friends, here below is a letter written to Cicero by one of his friends on the loss of his daughter Tullia where he is told not to grieve for his daughter. I don’t know about you, but I find the letter truly inspiring and inspiring even if in some places it appears harsh. I think it is one such that would bring a smile to your face even in the face of grief and such calamity.

In the letters of Cicero as I had indicated in an earlier post, we see the political intrigues that were at play during his time, the jostling for power, the state of the economy and the relationship between master and slave, between teacher and tutor and especially how Cicero the man related with others whom he considered his appears as well as how he sees himself in all these.

The extant letters of Cicero show him to be a great courtesan, he appeals to the emotions of others for example when in his many letters he tells them he is honored that they love him. He also has a lot of confidence in his relationships with the powers that be and especially Pompey and Ceasar whom he talks of in very high esteem. 

Having said this, I share here the letter that I mention in the first paragraph and please do share your take on the letter.

WHEN I received the news of your daughter Tullia’s death, I was indeed much grieved and distressed as I was bound to be, and looked upon it as a calamity in which I shared. For, if I had been at home, I should not have failed to be at your side, and should have made my sorrow plain to you face to face. That kind of consolation involves much distress and pain, because the relations and friends, whose part it is to offer it, are themselves overcome by an equal sorrow. They cannot attempt it without many tears, so that they seem to require consolation themselves rather than to be able to afford it to others. Still I have decided to set down briefly for your benefit such thoughts as have occurred to my mind, not because I suppose them to be unknown to you, but because your sorrow may perhaps hinder you from being so keenly alive to them.

Why is it that a private grief should agitate you so deeply? Think how fortune has hitherto dealt with us. Reflect that we have had snatched from us what ought to be no less dear to human beings than their children–country, honour, rank, every political distinction. What additional wound to your feelings could be inflicted by this particular loss? Or where is the heart that should not by this time have lost all sensibility and learn to regard everything else as of minor importance? Is it on her account, pray, that you sorrow? How many times have you recurred to the thought–and I have often been struck with the same idea–that in times like these theirs is far from being the worst fate to whom it has been granted to exchange life for a painless death? Now what was there at such an epoch that could greatly tempt her to live? What scope, what hope, what heart’s solace? That she might spend her life with some young and distinguished husband? How impossible for a man of your rank to select from the present generation of young men a son-in-law, to whose honour you might think yourself safe in trusting your child! Was it that she might bear children to cheer her with the sight of their vigorous youth? who might by their own character maintain the position handed down to them by their parent, might be expected to sta~id for the offices in their order, might exercise their freedom in supporting their friends? What single one of these prospects has not been taken away before it was given? But, it will be said, after all it is an evil to lose one’s children. Yes, it is: only it is a worse one to endure and submit to the present state of things.

I wish to mention to you a circumstance which gave me no common consolation, on the chance of its also proving capable of diminishing your sorrow. On my voyage from Asia, as I was sailing from Aegina towards Megara, I began to survey the localities that were on every side of me. Behind me was Aegina, in front Megara, on the right Piraeus, on my left Corinth: towns which at one time were most flourishing, but now lay before my eyes in ruin and decay. I began to reflect to myself thus: “Hah! do we mannikins feel rebellious if one of us perishes or is killed–we whose life ought to be still shorter–when the corpses of so many towns lie in helpless ruin? Will you please, Servius, restrain yourself and recollect that you are born a mortal man?” Believe me, I was no little strengthened by that reflection. Now take the trouble, if you agree with me, to put this thought before your eyes. Not long ago all those most illustrious men perished at one blow: the empire of the Roman people suffered that huge loss: all the provinces were shaken to their foundations. If you have become the poorer by the frail spirit of one poor girl, are you agitated thus violently? If she had not died now, she would yet have had to die a few years hence, for she was mortal born. You, too, withdraw soul and thought from such things and rather remember those which become the part you have played in life: that she lived as long as life had anything to give her; that her life outlasted that of the Republic; that she lived to see you–her own father–praetor, consul, and augur; that she married young men of the highest rank; that she had enjoyed nearly every possible blessing; that, when the Republic fell, she departed from life. What fault have you or she to find with fortune on this score? In fine, do not forget that you are Cicero, and a man accustomed to instruct and advise others; and do not imitate bad physicians, who in the diseases of others profess to understand the art of healing, but are unable to prescribe for themselves. Rather suggest to yourself and bring home to your own mind the very maxims which you are accustomed to impress upon others. There is no sorrow beyond the power of time at length to diminish and soften: it is a reflexion on yea that you should wait for this period, and not rather anticipate that result by the aid of your wisdom. But if here is any consciousness still existing in the world below, such was her love for you and her dutiful affection for all her family, that she certainly does not wish you to act as you are acting. Grant this to her–your lost one! Grant it to your friends and comrades who mourn with you in your sorrow! Grant it to your country, that if the need arises she may have the use of your services and advice.

Finally–since we are reduced by fortune to the necessity of taking precautions on this point also–do not allow anyone to think that you are not mourning so much for your daughter as for the state of public affairs and the victory of others. I am ashamed to say any more to you on this subject, lest I should appear to distrust your wisdom. Therefore I will only make one suggestion before bringing my letter to an end. We have seen you on many occasions bear good fortune with a noble dignity which greatly enhanced your fame: now is the time for you to convince us that you are able to bear bad fortune equally well, and that it does not appear to you to be a heavier burden than you ought to think it. I would not have this to be the only one of all the virtues that you do not possess.

As far as I am concerned, when I learn that your mind is more composed, I will write you an account of what is going on here, and of the condition of th. province. Good-bye.

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.