Cicero of Arpinum: A Political and Literary Biography Being a Contribution to the History of Ancient Civilization and a Guide to the Study of Cicero's Writings

By E. G. Sihler | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

ONE often encounters a curious desire in many professional writers on classical subjects, and an itch in historians of eminent personalities, to clothe their valuations in epigrammatic or other brilliant forms. Artificial modernization also is much resorted to. Almost as frequently do we meet, at the very threshold, another fault. At least I consider it a fault. It is the manner of delineating the entire character at the very beginning, and at once to emphasize or accentuate those traits which are sympathetic to the writer, or those which he dislikes or condemns. Thus does literary ambition or a certain predilection or prejudice over and over interfere with impartial historiography, and the slower and more patient study of the career and unfolding of an extraordinary personality becomes quite impossible. This is eminently so when we are to begin to relate the life-history of Marcus Tullius Cicero of Arpinum. But is he really still important? In our own generation the faculty of writing Latin has reached so low an ebb, that the smothering obsession of a single great model has long ceased to be a matter of universal concern. Such indeed was the case in that movement which we call the Humanism of Italy, and the long period from Petrarch to Erasmus. Those fervid joys of rediscovery and the dominant influence of Ciceronianism cannot prevail again: they certainly cannot happen now, when Cicero in a small and elementary way for many generations has been furnishing drill-matter to immature pupils. Is it the hard and heavy pressure then of mere scholastic and didactic tradition which makes worth while a deep or searching study of his entire life and his entire production? Of Caesar's importance or of that of figures like Cromwell, Napoleon, Frederick, Washington or Lincoln, we would probably entertain no smaller opinion, if no particle of their letters had reached us. Cicero however is the unique personality of Roman antiquity, presented largely by his own pen, revealing his innermost self with a liveliness and fulness not found again in the entire range of our knowledge of classical antiquity. Furthermore Cicero is the

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