Letter Writing and Leadership
Chapters 4 and 5 discussed two of the epistolary topics that Cicero and his peers employed variously to cajole, compliment, or criticize one another or to aggrandize themselves. Advice giving and literary talk serve on the whole to smooth the give-and-take of social life. They are among the routines that enabled members of the elite to interact positively while always competing with one another. This chapter concerns letters that Cicero wrote at a rare moment in his life when he was able to take charge in the public sphere and was trying to bring about a realignment of political forces. More was at stake here than smooth relations: the cause for which Cicero sought to enlist or consolidate support entailed serious costs for everyone who rallied to it. My purpose is to examine how Cicero’s private letters contributed to his efforts in support of a broad public objective.
The published correspondence gives lavish coverage to letters written in the years 44 and 43, following the assassination of Julius Caesar. Letters of this period fill the last three books of the Atticus series, which breaks off enigmatically in the middle of it, in November 44. The one book of correspondence with Marcus Brutus that survives contains letters from the spring and summer of 43—evidently the last letters of that series. Books 10, 11, and 12 of the Letters to Friends contain exchanges with other governors and army leaders of the period (Plancus, Decimus Brutus, Cassius, Cornificius, Trebonius, Lepidus, and Pollio) and with lesser players in the same events. Moreover, these books of the Letters to Friends have been arranged so as to set their thematic and chronological coherence in relief. Although the default principle for organizing