THE most casual survey of the life and works of Cicero leaves us with a strong impression of his wonderful versatility. Turning easily from politics to literature, he found time, amid the manifold activities of a crowded public career, to elaborate and cast in permanent literary form his numerous orations, to make a close study of the various systems of rhetoric, to familiarize himself with the tenets of the different schools of philosophy, to make ventures even in the fields of historiography and of poetry, and to carry on a voluminous correspondence, which has survived as one of our most precious heritages from Roman antiquity.
He was born in 106 B. C. at Arpinum, an ancient city of the Volscians, already famous as the birthplace of Marius. His father was of equestrian rank, and the family seems to have been one of some local importance. He was educated at Rome, and his formative years were spent in close contact with such men as the famous orators Marcus Antonius and Lucius Crassus, the poet Archias, whose citizenship he afterwards defended, Scaevola the augur, Phaedrus the Epicurean philosopher, Philo the academic, and Diodotus the Stoic. He had already established his reputation as an orator when he went to Greece in 79 to continue his rhetorical and philosophical studies. Returning to Rome two years later, he resumed activity as an advocate. His official career began in 75, when he was sent to Sicily as quaestor; in 69 he was elected curule aedile, in 66 praetor urbanus