City of the Seven Hills - S. B. Harding

Cicero, the Orator

At the time that the war with Jugurtha was coming to an end, a boy was born at Marius's old home near Rome, who was to become as famous as Marius, but in a better and nobler way. He was to be a great orator and writer, and rule the state by his speaking as others ruled it by force of arms. As it takes more training to be great in this way than it does to be great as a soldier, perhaps you would like to hear how this boy was educated for his task. We will start with him as, a tiny baby and follow him until he is a grown man.

First of all came the naming of the boy. This always took place on the eighth day after its birth, if the baby was a girl, but on the ninth day if the baby was a boy. So on the ninth day our baby was named, and he was given the name of his father and called "Marcus Tullius Cicero." The day was made a day of rejoicing in the family, and little gifts were hung about the baby's neck for him to play with.

After that the little fellow grew as most babies grow, and in time he learned to walk, and to talk in childish Latin. Perhaps,, too, he began to speak Greek, even this early, from listening to the talk of some old slave or nurse of that country, for the Roman boys and girls of this time often learned Greek in their homes just as American children sometimes learn German.

During his earliest years it was the child's mother who had the most to do with his education, just as you have seen Cornelia training her children. From his mother the boy learned to be pure in heart, and to be saving, modest, brave, earnest and obedient; and stories were told him of his forefathers, and of the ancient heroes who had made Rome great because they possessed these virtues.

When he became a little older and did not need the care of his mother so much, the father also began to take part in the education of young Marcus. Often he would take the little fellow with him, as he walked about to see that the slaves were cultivating his fields properly; and when he went to the house of a friend, and even sometimes when he went to the Forum of the little town where he lived, he would let the boy go with him. He taught the boy, too, manly exercises such as wrestling, riding and swimming. And when prayers were said to the gods by the father, and when sacrifices were offered on the family altar, the little boy stood by, or perhaps took some part in them; and so he learned about the gods that the Romans worshiped.

When Marcus Cicero became six or seven years old, it was time for him to begin to go to school. Because the schools in Rome were better than the schools in the country town where his parents lived, the boy was now taken to Rome to live with his uncle's family, and to go to school with his cousins.

The Roman schools were very different from the schools you go to. They began at sunrise, and in order not to be tardy the children had to be up and ready before daybreak. They carried lanterns with them to light their way, and slaves went with them to and from school to see that no harm befell them.

[Illustration] from City of the Seven Hills by S. B. Harding


In the schoolroom, the schoolmaster sat on a raised platform at one end of the room, while the boys and girls sat on stools and benches in front of him. Around the walls there were lyres, or harps, to be used in the music lessons, and also pictures of the gods or of scenes from the history of Rome. On one of the walls a board was hung on which were written the names of all absent or truant pupils. Above the master's bench there was a great stick, and many of the boys looked tremblingly at it when they did not know their lessons.

In this lowest school, the children learned to read and to write. Instead of slates or sheets of paper, they had wooden tablets covered with wax; and on these they wrote with a sharp-pointed instrument called a stylus. The other end of the stylus was blunt, so that when a pupil made a mistake in his writing, he could smooth it out in the soft wax with this end, and then try again.

Here the children also learned arithmetic. Perhaps you think that the arithmetic which you have to learn is hard; but think how much harder it must have been for the Roman boys. They did not have the plain and easy figures which you use, but had only what we still call the "Roman numerals." If you want to see how much harder it is to use these, try to find the answer to

and then see how much easier it is when it is written
24 times 87.

Because their arithmetic was so hard, each Roman boy carried with him to school a counting-frame to help him. This was a wooden frame divided into lines and columns, and he did his sums with it by putting little pebbles in the different columns to represent the different denominations.

After Cicero had passed out of this school, he went to what was called a grammar school. There he studied Greek grammar, and read some of the famous books of that day, both Greek and Latin. Of course these were not printed books, for printing was not invented till fifteen hundred years after this. The books of that time were all written with a pen, on smooth white skins called parchment, or on paper made from the papyrus plant which grows in Egypt; and instead of being bound as our books are, the pages of these books were all pasted into one long strip, side by side, and #fin rolled tightly around a stick.

In this school young Cicero studied until he was fifteen years old. When a Roman boy became fifteen or sixteen years old, a great change usually came in his life. Up to that time he wore the "boyish toga" with its narrow purple border, and carried a "bulla" or charm about his neck to ward off the evil eye. After he passed that age, he put off the boyish toga and the bulla, and put on for the first time a toga all of white, such as the men wore. This, too, was made a day of festival, and after the change was made, the young man went with his father and his friends into the Forum, and there his name was written in the list of Roman citizens. After this he might be called upon to serve in war, and he had the right to vote and to do anything that the grown men were allowed to do. This was the change which came to Marcus Cicero when he was fifteen; and you can imagine how proud he felt as he went with his father from the Forum to the temples on the Capitol to offer sacrifices to the gods in honor of the day.

All Roman boys of good families followed the course of training which you have been reading about, up to the time when they put on the manly toga. After that, if they intended to train themselves for war, they entered the camp of some general and attached them-selves to him; but if they intended to train themselves for the law, and become speakers, they attended the law courts in the Forum. Cicero's father wished him to be trained for the law, so he put the lad in charge of one of the great judges and lawyers of that time. In his company and under his direction, Cicero attended the law courts day after day, and listened to the best speakers, and took notes on all that he saw and heard. In this way he came, in the course of time, to know the laws of his country and the ways in which the courts did business; and by constant attention and practice, he also came to be a good speaker.

After a number of years spent in this way, Cicero at last had a chance to show the Roman people what good use he had made of his time in the law courts. During the terrible civil war between Marius and Sulla, a young Roman was charged most unjustly with the murder of his father, but all the lawyers of Rome were afraid to defend him, for it was known that whoever did so might anger Sulla, who was then ruling Rome, and so bring a sentence of death on himself. Cicero, however, was willing to risk the danger. He defended the young man before the court, and the cause was so good, and Cicero spoke so well and fearlessly in his defense, that the young man was at once released. This gave Cicero a good deal of fame at Rome; but he did not dare to remain there after that, for fear of the wrath of Sulla. So he went to Greece, and there he passed his time in studying under Greek masters, and learning how to speak and to write still better.

At last news came that Sulla was dead, and Cicero returned to Rome. Then he entered politics; and though the nobles looked upon him with scorn because he was a man of low birth that is, because none of his family had ever held the office of consul at Rome—Cicero was such a good speaker, and so learned in the laws, and so honest, that he was elected to one office after another at the very lowest age that he could hold them.

Though he now held public offices, Cicero did not cease to come before the law courts whenever there was need. At one time a mars named Verres was charged with greatly abusing the people of Sicily and unlawfully taking great sums of money from them while he was governor in that island. This had come to be a very common thing; indeed, people would often say that a Roman governor had to make three fortunes out of his province during the time that he was in office: one to pay off the debts he had made to get the office, another to bribe the judges at Rome in case they should try to punish him for his dishonesty, and a third to live on after he returned to Rome. So, although Verres was much worse than governors usually were, few people expected to see him punished. But Cicero took hold of the case, and he managed it so skillfully that in spite of all Verres could do he was forced to leave Rome and go into exile. This won for Cicero the praise of all honest citizens, but it is believed that it did not make the Roman governors very much better.

When Cicero had held all of the offices below that of consul, it happened that a plot was made at Rome which nearly overturned the government, and to prevent this from succeeding, Cicero was elected consul.

The common people and the nobles had by this time again begun their quarrels, which had been stopped during the time of Sulla's stern rule. A ruined noble, named Catiline, now put himself forward as the leader of the common people, and with their support he tried to gain the consulship. But all good men distrusted him, because of the crimes which were charged against him and because it was known that he was deeply in debt and ready to do anything to get money. So the moderate men among both the common people and the nobles united in supporting Cicero for consul against Catiline, and Cicero was elected.

[Illustration] from City of the Seven Hills by S. B. Harding


Then Catiline determined to secure by force what he could not get by the vote of the people. He got together a number of ruined nobles like himself, and planned to murder the consuls and then seize the city and burn and rob as they chose.

Cicero got news of these plans; but he did not dare to arrest Catiline, for he had powerful friends and Cicero did not yet have clear proof of the plot. He decided to try to anger and frighten Catiline so that he would openly show his plans and all people would be convinced of them. Accordingly, Cicero got up in the Senate, while Catiline was there, and made a powerful speech against him.

"How long, Catiline," he cried, "will you abuse our patience? When will this boldness of yours come to an end? Do not the guards which are placed each night on the Palatine hill alarm you? Do not the watchmen posted throughout the city, does not the alarm of the people and the union of all good men, do not the looks and expressions of the Senators here, have any effect upon you? Do you not feel that your plans are known? What did you do last night or the night before that you think is still unknown to us? or where did you meet, and who were there, and what plans did you adopt, that we do not know?"

Then Cicero went on to tell all the plans of Catiline, and showed him that so much was known of them that Catiline, in fright and rage, got up and left the temple in which the Senate was at that time meeting, and rode hastily away from the city to join some soldiers that he had raised. Then everyone was sure that what Cicero had said about Catiline was true. An army was sent against the troops of Catiline, and they were easily overcome and Catiline was slain; and his followers in the city were arrested and put to death.

For Cicero's wise government of Rome at this time men of both parties honored him, and he was publicly called "the father of his country." But it was not long before the influence which he had gained in this way was greatly weakened.

Rome had grown, as you have seen, from a little city-state, to be a great empire; but the form of the government was still the same that it had been in the old days. This was bad, for a great empire cannot be ruled in the same way that a single city can. It was not only unjust, but it was unwise to let a few thousand greedy, selfish men at Rome choose the officers and make the laws that were to rule all the millions of people that were governed by Rome. But nobody knew the true way to remedy the trouble, for nobody had then thought of what we call "representative government," that is, a government in which the people of each city or district elect men to represent them at the capital of the country, and make laws for the whole land. The Romans knew only two ways of governing a great empire: one was to let the people of the chief city rule over all the rest as Rome was doing; the other was to give up free government altogether, and let a king or despot rule over the whole according to his will.

Many people thought that the government by the Senate and people of Rome could still be kept up. Cicero was one of these, and he tried to build up a party in support of this idea. But the task was too great. The Senators were selfish and short-sighted; the rich men were greedy and corrupt; and the common people were ready to support anyone who would only give them bread to eat and amuse them with circus races and wild-beast fights. Besides this, several powerful men had now arisen, each of whom was trying to make himself master of Rome.

[Illustration] from City of the Seven Hills by S. B. Harding


So Cicero failed in his task. First he was exiled from Rome, on a charge of unlawfully punishing some of the followers of Catiline. Then, after he had been allowed to return to Rome, civil war broke out between the different men who were trying to get the chief power; and the wars continued until at last the Republic came to an end, and Julius Caesar whose story you will read in the next two chapters gathered up all the offices of the government in his own hands, and made himself sole ruler of the whole Roman empire. In this time of terrible civil war, Cicero could have no place, for he was a peaceful man who tried to rule men by persuading them, instead of commanding them by force. And after the old government had been overthrown, he no longer took an interest in politics. After that, he spent his time in studying and writing; and the books which he wrote at this time may still be read by those who understand the Latin language, indeed, it is not too much to say, that they have done more to make the name of Cicero famous than anything else that he ever did.

But before many years had passed in this way, Caesar was slain by some of his enemies, and new struggles began for the mastery of the Roman world. Cicero now thought that perhaps the government by the Senate and people might be restored, and he spoke and wrote in order to bring this about. But it was in vain. The attempt to restore the old government failed, and Cicero lost his own life by it. His writings had angered some of the great men of Rome, and at last they ordered that he should be put to death.

The soldiers who were sent to carry out the order found Cicero at his pleasant country home by the sea. His faithful slaves wished to defend him against the soldiers, but Cicero knew that this could not save him; so he commanded them not to resist the soldiers, and then calmly submitted to his fate.

Long after this, one of the men who had given the order for Cicero's death, found his nephew with a book in his hand, which the boy tried to hide under his gown. He took the book from the boy's hand, and then saw that it was one of Cicero's works. For a long time he stood and read in the book; then, as he gave it back to him, he cried:

"My child, this was a learned man, and one who loved his country well."