Page:Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) - Volume 1.djvu/727

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.

CICERO. 709

whom the Romans had been signally defeated, a few months before, and the consul P. Rutilius Lupus slain.

For upwards of six years from the date of his brief military career Cicero made no appearance as a public man. During the whole of the fierce struggle between Marius and Sulla he identified himself with neither party, but appears to have carefully kept aloof from the scenes of strife and bloodshed by which he was surrounded, and to have given himself up with in­defatigable perseverance to those studies which were essential to his success as a lawyer and ora­tor, that being the only path open to distinction in the absence of all taste or talent for martial achieve­ments. Accordingly, during the above period he first imbibed a love for philosophy from the dis­courses of Phaedrus the Epicurean, whose lectures, however, he soon deserted for the more congenial doctrines instilled by Philo, the chief of the New Academy, who with several men of learning had fled from Athens when Greece was invaded by the troops of Mithridates. From Diodotus the Stoic, who lived and died in his house, he acquired a scientific knowledge of logic. The principles of rhetoric were deeply impressed upon his mind by Molo the Rhodian, whose reputation as a forensic speaker was not inferior to his skill as a teacher; while not a day passed in which he did not apply the precepts inculcated by these various masters in declaiming with his friends and companions, sometimes in Latin, sometimes in Greek, but more fre­quently in the latter language. Nor did he omit to practise composition, for he drew up the treatise commonly entitled De Inventione Rhetorica, wrote his poem Marius and translated Aratus together with the Oeconomics of Xenophon.

But when tranquillity was restored by the final discomfiture of the Marian party, and the business of the forum had resumed, in outward appearance at least, its wonted course, the season seemed to have arrived for displaying those abilities which had been cultivated with so much assiduity, and accordingly at the age of twenty-five Cicero came forward as a pleader. The first of his extant speeches, in a civil suit, is that for P. Quinctius (в. с. 81), in which, however, he refers to some previous efforts; the first delivered upon a criminal trial was that in defence of Sex. Roscius of Ameria, charged with parricide by Chrysogonus, a freed-man of Sulla, supported, as it was understood, by the influence of his patron. No one being dis­posed to brave the wrath of the all-powerful dictator by openly advocating the cause of one to whom he was supposed to be hostile, Cicero, moved partly by compassion and partly by perceiving that this was a noble opportunity for commencing his career as a protector of the oppressed (see de Off. ii. 14), and establishing at considerable apparent but little real risk his character as a fearless champion of innocence, boldly came forward, pronounced a most animating and powerful address, in which he did not scruple to animadvert distinctly in the strongest terms upon the cruel and unjust measures of the favourite, and by implication on the tyranny of those by whom he was upheld, and succeeded in procuring the acquittal of his client. Soon after (в. с. 79) he again came indirectly into collision with Sulla; for having undertaken to defend the interests of a woman of Arretium, a preliminary objection was taken against her title to appear in court, inasmuch as she belonged to a town the inhabitants of which in the recent troubles had been deprived of the rights of citizenship. But Cicero denounced the act by which she and her fellow-citi­zens had been stripped of their privileges as utterly unconstitutional and therefore in itself null and void, and carried his point although opposed by the eloquence and experience of Cotta. It does not appear probable, notwithstanding the assertion of Plutarch to the contrary, that Cicero experienced or dreaded any evil consequences from the displeasure of Sulla, whose power was far too firmly fixed to be shaken by the fiery harangues of a young lawyer, although other circumstances com­pelled him for a while to abandon the field upon which he had entered so auspiciously. He had now attained the age of twenty-seven, but his constitution was far from being vigorous or his health robust. Thin almost to emaciation, with a long scraggy neck, his general appearance and habit of body were such as to excite serious alarm among his relations, especially since in addition to his close application to business, he was wont to exert his voice, when pleading, to the uttermost without remission, and employed incessantly the most violent action. Persuaded in some degree by the earnest representations of friends and phy­sicians, but influenced still more strongly by the conviction that there was great room for im­provement in his style of composition and in his mode of delivery, both of which required to be softened and tempered, he determined to quit Italy for a season, and to visit the great fountains of arts and eloquence. Accordingly (в. с. 79) he repaired in the first instance to Athens, where he remained for six months, diligently revising and extending his acquaintance with philosophy by listening to the famous Antiochus of Ascalon, studying rhetoric under the distinguished and experienced Deme­trius Syrus, attending occasionally the lectures of Zeno the Epicurean, and enjoying the society of his brother Quintus, of his cousin Lucius, and of Pomponius Atticus, with whom he now cemented that close friendship which proved one of the chief comforts of his life, and which having endured unshaken the fiercest trials, was dissolved only by death. After quitting Athens he made a complete tour of Asia Minor, holding fellowship during the whole of his journey with the most illustrious orators and rhetoricians of the East, — Menippus of Stratoniceia, Dionysius of Magnesia, Aeschylus of Cnidus, and Xenocles of Adramyttium, — carefully treasuring up the advice which they bestowed and profiting by the examples which they afforded. Not satisfied even with this discipline and these advantages, he passed over to Rhodes (в. с. 78), where he became acquainted with Posidonius, and once more placed himself under the care of Molo, who took great pains to restrain and confine within proper limits the tendency to diffuse and redundant copiousness which he remarked in his disciple.

At length, after an absence of two years, Cicero returned to Rome (в. с. 77), not only more deeply skilled in the theory of his art and improved by practice, but almost entirely changed. His general health was now firmly established, his lungs had acquired strength, the habit of straining his voice to the highest pitch had been conquered, his exces­sive and unvarying vehemence had evaporated, the whole form and character of his oratory both in matter and delivery had assumed a steady, subdued,