Wednesday, August 24, 2011


A review of Anthony Everitt's Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician (2001)

(Rating 5 of 5)

Anthony Everitt's biography of Marcus Tullius Cicero is an enjoyable book to read. Everitt has an interesting writing style. In some ways he is something of the throw back, which I like in certain respects and in others I don't care as much. I like the way he capitalizes titles. Many writers do not do that anymore (Robin Seager hardily capitalizes anything) but it is something that I like to see. Unfortunately, he does not have any footnotes in the main text, that would please Theodore Roosevelt if he reading this book, but I prefer them. He is well researched and all his sources are listed in the back and identified line by line, but I prefer footnotes because they are easier to use.

Everitt takes the reader on a guide though one of the more interesting lives in one of the most interesting times. It is amazing how great events seem to be surrounded by such colorful figures. During his career Cicero would meet and interact with Marcus Crassus, Cato the Younger, Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar, Marcus Brutus, Mark Antony, and Emperor Augustus. In an age where every politician wanted to be a warrior, Cicero makes a name for himself in the Forum as an orator and advocate instead of commander of legions.

(Marcus Tullius Cicero)

The reader follows Cicero's career as he climes the cursus honorum. It is hard for a 'new man'--one who does not have a senator in his family—to clime the ranks of Rome's offices. But he becomes consul and saves the Republic he loves from the forces of Catalina. However saving the Republic is short lived because its problem was institutional, which—as Everitt points out— was something Cicero could not see. To Cicero, Rome's problems were personal. Cicero felt if the Republic had better men to lead it then its problems would be solved.

“Having thought the matter over Cicero convened a meeting of the Senate early the next morning. It may have occurred to him that Crassus, rattled by Catalina's behavior and to avoid the being implicated in some wild adventure, had himself arranged for the mysterious letters to be written and 'delivered.' That did not matter; the important thing was that he at last had something that looked like proof. Once the Senate had assembled, Cicero handed the letters to their recipients, who read them aloud to the meeting. They all contained information about a plot. Next a report was given on the formation of regular bands of soldiers in Etruria; it was claimed that Manlius would take the field on October 28. The Consul asked to be given emergency powers.” (p.102)

(Cicero saves the Republic)

As time goes on, Rome sees the rise of the First Triumvirate, which he refused to join, and his own life get torn apart by his archenemy Clodius. Cicero recovers just in time for the civil war, an event which angers him to no end. He hated the people on one side and the cause on the other. During the reign of Caesar, Cicero becomes just a sarcastic voice in the Senate.

When the Ides of March come, Cicero career gets immediately revived, and he plays a huge role trying to bring down Mark Antony. But to no avail, the rise the Second Triumvirate ends his dreams and his life.

I really enjoyed this book it tells the tale of relatively minor player, but a great one nonetheless, in one of the more fascinating periods in the history of the world. I would recommend this book for anyone for it is extremely well done.

Video was posted on YouTube by Frasergray95 scenes from the HBO hit series Rome}

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