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Cicero

( Originally Published Late 1800's )[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Back in the times of Rome's glory and distinction, not far from the place where the Liris and Febrinus rivers meet amid rocks and hills, Marcus Tullius Cicero was born. The event took place in 106 B. C. His parents, though of Plebeian origin, were respectable and gifted with mental powers that many a haughty Patrician might have been proud to possess. As young Cicero grew up in that country villa his parents perceived that even at a very early age he was a child of no ordinary promise. In company with his brother he was taken to Rome to procure an education, such as could not be had in a provincial town. Placed under the care of an uncle, he gained knowledge and so studiously applied himself to his labor that his abilities were soon known. But little did his teachers think that he was destined to be one of Rome's greatest men. Little did they dream that they should one day listen to his silvery-toned eloquence with eagerness and enthusiasm, nor did they know that hidden away within his breast was smoldering a fire that only needed time to convert it into a glowing flame of ambition. It is said that no one ever lived to whom the hope of future distinction furnished a stronger motive for exertion, and how often it is related that when told with such a name—it being de-rived from the word cicer, meaning bean—he could never rise to eminence, said, I will make that name more famous than the names of Scauri or Catuli," and remembering what he had said, he put forth every exertion, and in the course of a few years the name of Cicero was sounded with a greater ring of popularity than these had ever known.

Unmindful of the slighting remarks of his enemies and the discouraging words of his friends, he labored on, and was seldom seen in the places so much frequented by the young men of Rome, many of whom never placed a thought upon their future course, nor thought for a moment that some time they would be called upon to plead for their country, her people and their rights. Instead of this, their minds went with the minds of the vulgar, and were placed upon the games and worthless frivolities of the populace. Their only ambition was to use the sword with the dexterity of those whose lives were given to such exploits. Not so with Cicero. His time was spent at the lectures of the philosophers, and he was always seen taking notes of these, that he might treasure up in his mind those things that were so beneficial in his later years. He committed to memory the maxims of Scaevola, the one to whom he owed so much for his early training. Thus his mind was incessantly occupied, his appetite for knowldge by this means became insatiable and his distinction boundless. Having attained the age of thirty-one he was elected Questor, with none to say he had gained his first political honors by fraud and deceit, for it was known that the man whose life had been spent formerly without a blot to mar his character was far above doing that so universally practiced at Rome by the majority of those holding public office.

As Cicero arrived at the required age he was raised to the higher offices in turn, until, at the age of forty-three, he was made consul. Some time previous to this his time had been spent in study, that he might the more readily prepare himself to fulfill his duties as consul, and many times, were the minds of the Romans swayed by the eloquent orator and bold advocate, to whom those of rank and ability listened with as much interest as did those whose ambitions had never been aroused to gain the laurels with which he was daily being crowned. During his consulship, events were taking place at Rome which terrified the strongest hearts. There were plots against the Senate, against many of them individually and against all Italy, which called for the assistance of men who were able to defend the rights that a Roman loved so dearly, and many were the persons who laid down their lives that Rome might live. Not only these were needed, but some one who could, by his ability as an orator and popularity as a statesman, arouse to action the people of Rome. Cicero, standing at the head of the Senate, was the one looked to, and after his masterful defence of Piso, who was accused of extortion, he undertook to unearth the Catalinian Conspiracy, which is so well known to those who have read the history of the Roman republic. And as this man, "steeped in crime from his early youth," entered the Senate house, Cicero arose and attacked him with such an outburst of fury that it unstrung the nerves of him who trembled at no crime, even the murder of his own son, and having struck this chord, the orator's words poured from his lips in an inexhaustible torrent and spread over the guilty Cataline like an inundation of the Nile.

Four times did he thus plead with the people, and succeeded in causing the overthrow of the conspiracy, for which a public thanksgiving to the gods was decreed, in Cicero's name, for the services he had rendered in preserving the city from conflagration, the citizens from massacre, and Italy from war and devastation. He was heralded as father of his country, and he always looked back to his consulship as the proudest period of his life. Yet it was the beginning of infinite sorrow to himself, for in consequence of the aid he had rendered on this day he was to suffer banishment.

We fail to recognize the orator, the braye consul, and the statesman—the man who braved the fury of Cataline, and, in the evening of his lite, hurled defiance at Antony—in the weeping and moaning exile. But we would not judge Napoleon solely by his conduct at St. Helena, nor should we judge Cicero solely by his agony during his exile and his conduct during the civil war. Not long was he kept from his friends and the scenes he loved so well : for deputations came up to Rome from all Italy to intercede in his behalf, and soon that tongue, that had so often held the senate spell-bound, would again speak in behalf of what was good in Rome ; and again would that honor and respect formerly shown him be lavished upon him in such a way as to nearly blot out the sorrow that had overspread his life.

We notice him as a witness at the trial of Clodius, where the whole court arose and surrounded him, as if to protect him from assassination. Such a mark of respect, he says, was more honorable than Xenocrates received when his oath was dispensed with at Athens, and he gave evidence unsworn.

Strong times were fast approaching and he was becoming dissatisfied with almost every public man except Csar, and as Cicero's was not the hand that could guide the helm of state through the rocks and breakers with which it was surrounded, to Caesar he was certain it could be intrusted and well was it piloted until his bloody death. After Caesar's death, Cicero was left alone to battle against the hatred of Antony, who caused him to be murdered.

Thus fell Cicero, the noblest, ablest, and grandest of those who perished in the great proscription.

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