Cicero used his knowledge of Greek to translate many of the theoretical concepts of Greek philosophy into Latin, thus translating Greek philosophical works for a larger audience.
Bust of Cicero

Cicero

Cicero was born on January 3rd, 106 BC in Arpinum, a hilltop settlement located southeast of Rome. His father was part of the equestrian order, which was the second most elite group of property-based classes in Rome. Little is known about Cicero’s mother, Helvia, though it’s likely that she was responsible for managing the home. Quintus, Cicero’s brother, would become a Roman statesman and military leader.

Since Cicero came from a wealthy family, his education was top-notch. He spoke Greek, and Latin, and studied the teachings of Greek philosophers, poets, and historians.  Cicero’s interest in philosophy figured heavily in his later career and led to him providing a comprehensive account of Greek philosophy for a Roman audience, including creating a philosophical vocabulary in Latin. Cicero’s primary schooling in philosophy came from Philo of Larissa, one of the great teachers of Platonism.

According to Plutarch, Cicero was an extremely talented student. He studied Roman law under Quintus Mucius Scaevola, an authority on Roman law at the time. It was during this era that Cicero would also make life-long friends with the likes of Titus Pomponius (more famously known as Atticus). In 79 BC, Cicero left Rome for Greece, Asia Minor, and Rhodes. There he would continue his study of Platonic Philosophy and hone his skills as an orator.

As wealthy and respected as Cicero was, even he couldn’t escape life without periods of heart-wrenching tragedy. Cicero married his wife, Terentia, in 79 BC. Their marriage would last for nearly 30 years before divorcing in 51 BC. While it’s unknown exactly why the divorce occurred, Cicero confided in close friends that it was a betrayal that split them apart. Just six years later, Cicero’s beloved daughter Tullia would become ill shortly after giving birth to her first child. The experience of losing his firstborn child was the hardest Cicero had ever endured. After the death of his daughter, he spent time with Atticus in an attempt to lift himself from the depressed state he was in. Cicero famously read everything in Atticus’ library from the ancient Greeks, most of which had to do with overcoming grief. Some of those works possibly belonged to the Stoics. After reading everything he could, Cicero would still admit, “my sorrow defeats all consolation.”

Cicero would go on to become one of the most influential political figures in Roman antiquity. As consul, he suppressed an attempted overthrow of the Roman government by executing five of its primary conspirators. During the erratic latter half of the 1st century BC, which was characterized by war and the dictatorship of Julius Caesar, Cicero campaigned for a return to the traditional republican government. Following Caesar’s death, Cicero became the mortal enemy of Mark Antony in a very public power struggle, attacking him in a series of speeches. He was deemed an enemy of the state and consequently executed by soldiers.

Notable Works & Suggested Readings:
Cicero’s wide variety of responsibilities in ancient Rome makes his work that much more interesting. Politician, Philosopher, Orator—it’s no wonder he was one of the most recognizable figures at the peak of his career. Fortunately, much of Cicero’s original works have survived the ages. It is believed that eight works of philosophy, six on public speech, and 58 of his orations survive today. Here are a few of our favorites from Cicero:

On Old Age (How to Grow Old) is a beautifully written rebuttal to the ideas that old age 1) withdraws us from active pursuits; 2) makes the body weaker; 3) deprives us of almost all physical pleasures, and 4) is not far removed from death. On Old Age presents aging as a gift rather than a curse—because it is. Even Cicero the Platonist (Who was heavily influenced by Stoicism) knew the value of Memento Mori. He knew that while the youth maintained their physical vigor, the elderly held wisdom. While the youth enjoyed the excitement of physical pleasures, the elderly find joy in watching youth chase after such pleasures, just as they once had. Young or old, wise or fool-hearted—death comes for us all. We must be prepared for it, and On Old Age does just that regardless of the age of the reader.

On Duties (On Obligations) is divided into three books, in which Cicero brilliantly expands on the best way to live, behave, and observe moral obligations or duties. The work discusses what is honorable (Book I), what is advantageous (Book II), and what to do when honor and personal gain conflict (Book III). For the first two books, Cicero was almost entirely dependent on the Stoic philosopher Panaetius but wrote more original content in the third book. On Duties is filled with nuggets of wisdom and has become a popular read for those who wish to enter leadership positions or politics.

On Friendship (How to Be a Friend) is a humble reminder of what it means to be a good friend. When Cicero’s first-born child died shortly after she gave birth, Cicero was beyond distraught. It was his dear friend Atticus, though, who was the first to offer him a place to stay and heal in the weeks following Tullia’s death. The best part about works of wisdom is that a thousand years can go by, and if the work was truly wise, it will remain relevant today.

THE HALL OF STOIC PHILOSOPHERS

Junius Rusticus

Seneca

Marcus Aurelius

Epictetus

Statue of Thrasea Paetus

Thrasea Paetus

Lucius Annaeus

Diotimus

Publius Rutilius Rufus

Porcia of Cato

Cicero

Posidonius

Panaetius of Rhodes