The Cicero You Never Knew 2

Educated Romans knew Greek. It was the language of culture. You needed it to talk about art, literature, philosophy.

The greatest ancient poet: Homer, quoted for a thousand years.  Roman copy of a lost Hellenistic original of the 2nd c. BC. From Baiae, Italy (public domain photo by JW1805)

They had real Greeks around as tutors, some as slaves, some as celebrities like Polybius and Plutarch;  and they spoke Greek even with their friends and at society gatherings.

Both Cicero and Caesar were fluent in Greek.  And both went over to Greece as young men to study and perfect themselves. Caesar was there for more than a year and Cicero for almost three.

Greece was full of professors with varied reputations and Roman students went to study with one or another of them on recommendation.  Some had schools, like Plato’s or Aristotle’s academies, but most taught privately.  Cicero studied with several and even travelled to Asia Minor and Rhodes to find the best ones. He had a good mind and was enthusiastic about every facet of philosophy, literature, and art.  He was ambitious too.  His great aim was to become a great advocate in Rome.  For that he needed to improve his oratory.

Cicero addressing the Roman Senate (public domain photo)

His Rhodes teacher, Apollonius, didn’t speak any Latin and asked Cicero to declaim for him in Greek, which Cicero was glad to do.  He delivered his speech and impressed everyone with his fine style. They all ran up to congratulate him afterwards—all except the teacher Apollonius.  He hadn’t shown any signs of approval during Cicero’s performance and now, amid the general applause, he just sat there looking displeased. Cicero couldn’t take that.  He thought he had done well. He was the kind of man who later actually bawled people out for not showing their appreciation for him.
Finally, all apprehensive, he went up to Apollonius.  “Didn’t you like my delivery?”
“Oh, yes,” said Apollonius, glumly. “You were wonderful. My congratulations. I’m just sorry for Greece. The only glories that were left to us were our culture and our eloquence. Now I see that even these two are going to pass to Rome through you.”

Cicero went on to become the most important orator in Roman history. He couldn’t have done it without his training in Greek rhetoric.

[Apollonius next had Caesar as his student.  They say Julius was the second best orator in all of Roman history, so old Apollonius must have fallen into actual depression when he heard  Roman Number Two work out at the podium.]

This story is from Plutarch’s Life of Cicero

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6 Responses to The Cicero You Never Knew 2

  1. Pingback: The Cicero You Never Knew | Great Names in History

  2. 100swallows says:

    Thanks, Chump. Don’t you wonder why Octavian saved any of Cicero’s writings, given their anti-autocrat theme? Carcopino wrote a book with the thesis that Octavian published the letters to damage Cicero’s reputation.
    Initially it was his friend Atticus, a keen businessman with a publishing house (slave copyists), and Cicero’s devoted secretary Tiro, who made them public.
    Atticus never wanted to be a public figure; and anyway one can presume his letters to Cicero contained a lot of compromising remarks on the civil war and Octavian, so why should he publish them? Isn’t it funny how HE stayed out of trouble all through the civil war and after?

    Perhaps there WERE copies of Cicero’s letters in several monasteries around Europe but no one thought any more truth could come from Cicero and saw no reason to dig into the pile of manuscripts. It took someone who was looking for biography, great personality–a Renaissance notion–to go to the trouble.

  3. chump says:

    The story of the survival of Cicero’s letters (and other works) would be worth reading. (Writing?) There seems to be a certain randomness as to what made it through the “Dark Ages” and what didn’t. The role of Arab scholars in preserving Greek learning is fairly well known. Not so for the Latin side. We are no doubt in debt to a lot of hard-working Bendictine monks, holed-up in their retreats, but the bigger picture is a mystery to me. Were most Romans, like Cicero’s correspondent Atticus, simply more prudent in seeing to the destruction of their own letters?

  4. andreaskluth says:

    And in re the connection between the Roman and Greek orators: Weren’t Cicero’s speeches attacking Mark Antony called “philippics”, after the speeches of Demosthenes attacking Philip of Macedon three centuries earlier?(I think Plutarch pairs D and C….)

  5. 100swallows says:

    Erika: In fact Vasari reminds me all the time of Plutarch, who must have been a model for him. I know the stories are fairy tales. But this one is good to show Rome’s deep respect for Greek culture at that time.

  6. erikatakacs says:

    Good Cicero story, but reminds me a bit of some of Vasari’s tall tales. :) Never mind me, it’s really good. And your sidenote is worthy of old Apollonius’ words!

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