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Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician

Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician - Anthony Everitt I am not sure it was a good idea to read Cicero’s biography, by a historian, right after reading a fictionalized account by a reporter and novelist (especially if the fictionalized account is not yet complete –only two volumes of the trilogy have been published – [a:Robert Harris|575|Robert Harris|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1242903284p2/575.jpg]). A great deal of the curiosity awakened in my ignorance has been damped. But it has also been gratifying to compare views and strengthen notions.Although an academic, Anthony Everitt knows how to represent drama. The opening of the book is certainly brilliant. He starts with an engrossing account of Julius Caesar assassination in which the attending Cicero is the only one who is innocent of the bloody plot and yet for whom, and for what he represented, is the deed done. This is the sort of opening to which one goes back to reread after finishing the book.In this account, Everitt does a good job in showing Cicero’s complex nature. He was someone who had to juggle between his ideas and his political role. And it was precisely this wavering which put his life at risk several times. It was not always clear to his friends and foes, whether it was the theoretical expositions or the Realpolitik practice, which were enlightening or dangerous. Cicero was essentially a conservative who firmly believed that by persuasion and negotiation the former and idyllic Republic could come back to Rome and a healthy democratic society could be reinstated. And yet, in his politics he more than once supported and sided with the autocrats whose aim was precisely to do away with the Republic and the traditional political structures.Following his life has provided me with a useful framework in which to place his writings, and indeed the chapters in which Everitt discusses these were for me more interesting than following the political intrigue. From the earlier transcriptions of the political speeches that Cicero composed as a youngish and aspiring politician, he moved at a somewhat later stage to more meditative musings on a balanced life, duty, and friendship, bequeathing to posterity his accumulated wisdom. And in his more advanced age, when his personal interests and emotional ties had loosened, he summoned the courage to produce the final acerbic, consistent and continuous attack on the Republic’s latest enemy. The fourteen Philippicae chant the swan song of a disappearing epoch in the history of Rome and of Cicero’s own life.It seems Everitt’s main aim in writing this was to recover the central place that Cicero has had until relatively recently in the education of the layman. I wonder whether he will succeed in this ambitious aim, but he certainly has awakened my interest in this author. Through his pen Cicero emerges as a likeable and closer figure from whom we have a great deal to learn today, and who should stay out of the Olympus of Forgotten Figures and of the Myth of the Boring Classics.“Caesar remarked that Cicero had won greater laurels than those worn by a general in his Triumph, for it meant more to have extended the frontiers of Roman genius than of its empire”

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