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What was Marcus Tullius Cicero really like?

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)


Marcus Tullius Cicero is considered a great politician, thinker, philosopher, lawyer, and above all a speaker and defender. His main occupation was defence and prosecution before Roman courts. Without even realizing it, many repeat his sayings or famous parems, and young lawyers learn to speak from his speeches.

From his letters, however, we learn that he was a melancholic, and maybe even a hypochondriac. He constantly felt sorry for himself and for his fate no less than for the fate of the republic. He complained of poverty, although researchers cannot count his real estate. There could be even a dozen of them, as is known from his letters, incl. in Formia, Frusinum, Tusculum, Venusia, Kume, Arpinum, Gaetas, or on the Palatine. He bought this house from Marcus Crassus himself.

Although in a letter to a friend of Atticus he mentioned that he was not interested in “these things” when he feasted with the actress Cytheris, he was fond of feminine charms. While looking for “material” for his second wife, he was supposed to say about one of the ladies, “I haven’t seen anything uglier.” When he was accused of marrying a virgin in his old age (60), he said about his chosen one, eighteen-year-old Publilia, “Tomorrow will be a woman”. While his secretary Tiro insisted that he only marries her for money and not lust, his opponents, including Sallust and Quintus Fufius Calenus, argued to the contrary. The latter, in a defensive speech in favour of Mark Antony, accused Cicero of “abandoning his wife in his old age, with whom he lived his life”, that “he wrote letters to the youngster” and that “he was his daughter’s lover”.

The same allegations, although unconfirmed, emerge from the speech attributed to Gaius Sallust. Well, he claimed that Cicero “treated his daughter as a wife”. Or is it just slander and revenge from the abandoned Terentia, who would later become Sallust’s wife? Or was Cicero really an unheard of hypocrite to use the lightest term?

Author: Izabela Henning (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • M.T. Cycero, Listy do Attyka
  • Kasjusz Dio, Historia Rzymska, XLVI
  • Plutarch, Życie Cycera
  • G. Sallustius, Invectiva or Declamatio in Ciceronem

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