Cicero's Letters, A Selection (III)
Bill Long 12/1/07
Down in the Boondocks--in Brundisium
Cicero was stuck in Brundisium until he could receive some word from Caesar regarding his future. Cicero wasn't just any old guy, as we probably know. He had served as consul, had exposed a conspiracy against the state, had been the most eloquent and well-known statesman/orator in Rome and had, because of his political opponents, suffered exile about five years after his consulship. He represented a tie to the old order, even though he wasn't a member of a patrician family. Thus, Caesar thought it advantageous to try to establish a positive relationship with Cicero.
But Cicero didn't know this while he was in Brundisium. Caesar had, after Pharsalus, taken off in hot pursuit of Pompey to Egypt. After Pompey's head was presented to him in a basket, Caesar decided to clean house in Egypt, installing Cleopatra in power. He then got, hm..., "engaged" with her until he dashed off to inner Asia Minor in the Spring/Summer of 47 to face a rebellious vassal in the mountains. Only then, in late Sept. 47, did he visit Southern Italy and meet briefly with Cicero. What was Caesar doing in the meantime? Waiting "on the rack," as XIV.19 says. But we can say more.
Beginning in June 47 BCE Cicero anticipates Caesar's visit to see him. Indeed, he mentions in one letter (XIV.11) that he was planning to send his son Cicero and another person to visit Caesar. Perhaps the reason for this was to try to rebut charges that his brother's son, Quintus, was bringing against Cicero before Caesar--to the effect that Cicero had instigated them to oppose Caesar and favor Pompey, etc. In any case, a few days later, Cicero calls this off (XIV.15) because he says, "concerning the arrival of him (i.e., Caesar), we have heard nothing."
Then, as the summer wears on, he has little more to say. On August 11, in XIV. 24 he writes to Terentia, "I have no certain information as yet either about Caesar's arrival or about the letter which Philotinus is said to have in his hands." I don't know the source of his hope/expectation that Caesar actually would see him/visit him, but as of yet, there still is nothing. Waiting further.
Finally, the next day, there is a breakthrough. He says:
"Redditae mihi tandem sunt a Caesare litterae satis liberales.."
"A letter has at last been handed me from Caesar, quite handsomely worded," (XIV.21).
The word "liberales" deserves a word or two. It can also profitably be translated "generous" or "gracious." It is derived from the noun liber, which means "a free man," and thus something liberal is something "befitting a free man." Caesar's letter to Cicero, no doubt, gave him hope for a positive resolution to his long and dark night. But then, like a school girl going to the prom, Cicero is uncertain:
"cui utrum obviam procedam, an hic eum exspectem, cum constituero, faciam te certiorem."
"When I have made up my mind whether to go out and meet him, or wait for him here, I shall let you know."
The selected letters I am reading don't say anything about Cicero's reminiscences or thoughts about the actual meeting with Caesar. I don't think anything on that subject survives. They met near the end of September, and Cicero was then "free to move about the country."
Further Problems--With His Wife Terentia
Just as we aren't precisely clear on why Cicero felt the way he did about his daughter's life, so we aren't crystal clear about why Cicero wanted to divorce his wife of nearly 30 years, Terentia. These 10 letters from the school book don't give us a clue, but all except for the last end with the stereotypical phrase "Take particular care of your health" ("Valetudinem tuam cura diligenter"), or a related phrase. It seems that either Terentia was chronically sick or Cicero was just trying to finish the letter on a traditional note. As I said earlier, it is interesting to me that even though Tullia came to visit Cicero in June 47 that Terentia never did. Perhaps she wasn't invited. Perhaps the estrangement was so significant by this time (Cicero suspected that she, along with others, had mismanaged his estates while he had largely been absent since mid-51 BCE), that Cicero really wouldn't have wanted to see her.
The latest letter we have from him to her in our readings comes from Oct. 1, 47. Notably, he doesn't even mention in the letter the fact that he just met with Caesar. All he does is give her instructions to make sure that his beloved Tusculan home is ready for him and his friends when he descends on the place.
"I think I shall arrive at my Tusculan villa either on the 7th inst (of this month) or on the day after. See that everything is ready there; for perhaps I shall have several others with me, and I expect we shall stay there for some considerable time. If there is no basin in the bath, see that there is one, and so with everything else necessary for everyday life and health. Good-bye."
He doesn't wish her good health here, nor does he make any personal comments at all. His ending is abrupt, his plans seem to include her in no way--except that she be sure that the bathroom is fixed and provisions are available, he tells her nothing about his "big meeting" with Caesar. This marriage, like that of Tullia to Dolabella, was also going down the tubes.
I needed all these essays just to be able to read these 10 brief letters completely and with understanding. That ought to be the role of teachers and historians for the present/future--to paint the context of an issue, problem, or text so clearly and widely that the full import of the communication or idea is crystal clear. When this is done, we discover a great number of human issues that speak to us across the centuries. And Roman history will never be dull again.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long