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Cicero Lives! (I)
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Cicero's Griefs (I)
Cicero's Griefs (II)
Cicero--On Old Age
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Cicero's Griefs I
Bill Long 11/26/07
The Losses of Life Pile Up--48-45 BCE
These two essays describe the griefs that descended on Cicero like cascading waves after Pompey's defeat at Pharsalus in August 48 BCE, griefs that didn't abate until he had fully cried his eyes out after the death of his beloved daughter Tullia in Feb. 45. A remarkable result of these prolonged griefs, however, was a literary output of enormous depth and scope, an output which had already begun late in 47/early 46 but took on a different focus after Tullia's death. It lasted until the murder of Caesar on the Ides of March 44 BCE brought Cicero back to public life.
His writing is an example of what psychologists today would call hypergraphia--the irrepressible urge to write. Cicero's bout of hypergraphia is not unknown in human life but is worth pausing on nevertheless. Possibly something about the griefs of personal loss, combined with the political instability occasioned by Pharsalus, triggered in him the deep sense that he had to retreat into the self, pour himself out into his literary production and preserve the remnants of intellectual life, even as political and personal life were crumbling around him. In these essays I will first give a chronology of this period for Cicero, then focus on his losses and response to the losses and then conclude with a description of his wonderful creativity in 46-44 BCE.
I. A Chronology
This rough chronology will help us understand the rhythm of Cicero's life in this period.
1. Mid 51-mid 50 BCE--Proconsul in Cilicia and Cyprus.
2. Late 50 BCE--Return to Italy via Greece, where he learned of the instability in Roman politics. When the Senate required both Caesar and Pompey to lay down their arms in a Dec. 1 advisory resolution, passed by a huge margin (320-22), the die was almost cast.
3. Jan.-June 49 BCE--Met with Caesar, other politicians to see if war between Caesar and Pompey was avoidable. Great uncertainty and fear throughout Italy. Many of Cicero's letters from this period survive.
4. June 49-Sept 48 BCE--Cicero leaves Italy for Greece to support Pompey. He isn't of much help because the military life is completely foreign to him. Almost nothing from Cicero survives from this period.
5. Sept. 48-Sept 47 BCE--Cicero in Brundisium, Italy, under what we might almost call "house arrest." He returned to Italy after Pharsalus and waited to meet with Caesar, who would eventually permit him to live anywhere in Italy. We have a plethora of letters from this period, most of which describe his interminable waiting. Godot could have been written with him in mind at this time.
6. Oct. 47-end of year--at Tusculum, his villa in the Alban Hills near Rome.
7. Jan 46-Fall 46--at Rome, in the Senate, as he sees what kind of help he might provide for Caesar's new government. Everything is "up for grabs," and this sense of uncertainty is augmented by Caesar's need to break off early in 46 for a battle in Africa (Thapsus) and then, at the end of 46-early 45, for a battle in Spain (Munda) with Pompey's sons and the remnants of Pompey's army. Near the end of 47/beginning of 46 Cicero begins to write treatises on academic subjects and oratory.
8. Winter (November) 46-Feb. 45 BCE--back at Tusculum. His daughter Tullia bears a child in January at Rome shortly after she has divorced her third husband Dolabella. She returns to Tusculum with her father, and dies, probably from post-partum complications, on Feb. 15, 45 BCE.
9. Feb 45-late Spring 45--Awash in grief, Cicero retreats to his villa at Astura on the Tyrrhenian Sea to contemplate, mourn and write. He writes a now-lost book, the Consolatio, which tries to deal with the loss he has experienced.
10. Spring 45-Ides of March 44--Cicero puts together an astonishing array of books, mostly on Greek philosophy and religion, translating all the concepts into Latin for the first time.
This chronology isn't, of course, everything, but it does give you a good sense of the flow of his life. Now we are ready to understand his losses.
Cicero's Griefs and Losses after Pharsalus (August 48)
Supporting the wrong side at Pharsalus would be enough to make a person as prominent as Cicero sit on pins and needles while waiting Caesar's pronouncement on his fate. But in addition to this loss, he faced the following griefs in the wake of Pharsalus.
1. A fallout with his brother Quintus, whom Cicero had pressured to support Pompey. They had always been affectionate and close, but their financial penury, combined with lingering regrets about betting on the "losing horse," caused a seemingly irrevocable rift between the brothers when they met at Patras in Greece right after the battle. To make matters worse, while Cicero was then confined at Brundisium for the next year, Quintus' son, also named Quintus, tried to ingratitate himself and his father with Caesar, blaming Cicero for their wrong choice of Pompey.
2. Cicero's divorce, after nearly 30 years of marriage, with Terentia early in 46 BCE. I will review some of his epistolary correspondence with her once he is in Brundisium in a later essay. In a word, it is peremptory and cool. He begins by telling her not to come and visit him (Ad Fam. 14.12), and finally ends the correspondence just before he leaves Brundisium about Oct. 1, 47 BCE with almost obsessive remarks about her preparations of the villa for him and his friends. Reasons for the divorce are not hard to find; most scholars think that her financial mismanagement of Cicero's holdings during his absense thrust a deep wedge between them.
After the divorce, his friends urged him to marry a woman of means, which certainly would have been possible for him. One of the candidates was the daughter of Pompey, but Cicero, realizing that this would be a political albatross, begged off. Indeed, in an unguarded moment, he let fall his view of her. Nihil vidi foedius, "I have seen nothing more shameful..." Finally, later in 46, he married Publilia, a wealthy young woman. She, however, was extremely unsympathetic to Cicero's affection for Tullia, going so far as to mock him in the wake of his great grief at Tullia's death.
And there is more, in the next essay.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long