The Importance of Cicero (Handout)

The Importance of Marcus Tullius Cicero


Cicero, taken from


Brief timeline of Cicero

106B.C.: born in Arpinum

81: Cicero writes Topics for Speechesand begins his profession as an Advocate (lawyer)

79: Cicero marries

79-77: Tours Greece and Asia Minor

75: Becomes a Senator

63: Elected Consul; had to stop—and did—Cataline’s radical revolutionary movement

58-57: Cicero exiled to Greece

52-42: Cicero writes On the Law

45: Cicero writes On Good and Evil; The Nature of the Gods

44: Cicero writes On Duties

43: Triumvirs (the Second Triumvirate) massacred 300 Senators and 2,000 equites (representatives), including Cicero.


Importance of Cicero

  1. Most important figure of his day. Historians refer to the era of his life as “The Ciceronian Age.”  He was, in essence, the embodiment of the Republic.  As Russell Kirk has written, “With Cicero fell the Republic.” [Kirk, Roots, 107]
  2. Perhaps the greatest orator who ever lived. Gave 106 famous orations.
  3. Perhaps the greatest Latin prose stylist, ever. Several books and 900 of his letters survive.
  4. Arguments for the Natural Law, beauty, decorum, and republican government (the four issues are inseparable, one from another) are some of the best ever articulated.  “True law is right reason in agreement with Nature. . . . it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrong-doing by its prohibitions. And it does not lay its commands or prohibitions upon good men in vain, although neither have any effect upon the wicked.  It is a sin to try and alter this law, nor it is allowable to attempt to repeal a part of it, and it is impossible to abolish it entirely. We cannot be freed from its obligations by Senate or People, and we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it.  And there will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and for all times, and there will be one master and one rule, that is, God, over us all, for He is the author of this law, its promulgator, and its enforcing judge.”
  5. “A human being, [sic] was endowed by the supreme god with a grand status at the time of its creation.  It alone of all types and varieties of animate creatures has a share in reason and thought, which all the others lack.  What is there, not just in humans, but in all heaven and earth, more divine that reason?  When it has matured and come to perfection, it is properly named wisdom. . . reason forms the first bond between human and god,” the Roman Republican Cicero wrote in On the Laws[Cicero, On the Laws, Book 1].
  6. The single most influential Roman on the Church fathers: Sts. Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine.
  7. The single most influential Roman for the American Founding Fathers.  One can trace the American conception of Natural Rights directly to Cicero’s understanding of the Natural Law.  John Adams once admitted in his diary that he loved reciting Cicero’s orations as much as anything: “The Sweetness and Grandeur of his sounds, and the Harmony of his Numbers give Pleasure enough to reward the Reading if one understood none of his meaning.  Besides, I find it a noble Exercise.  It exercises my Lungs, raises my Spirits, opens my Porrs, quickens the Circulation, and so contributes to [my] Health” [Richard, Twelve Greeks and Romans, 187]. Charles Carroll of Carrollton considered him the greatest of ancients.  After the person and teaching of Jesus Christ, he once wrote, give me the words of Cicero.  He considered Cicero a constant companion in his life.
  8. Cicero considered himself a “New Academician,” allied with the Stoics, though he became increasingly stoic with age, especially in ethics, law, and metaphysics.

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