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Cicero the Patriot

Review of Rose Williams' Biography of Cicero

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Cicero the Patriot, by Rose Williams

Cicero the Patriot, by Rose Williams

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Cicero the Patriot, by Rose Williams, is an amusing anecdotal look at the life of one of Rome's most versatile late Republican figures, Marcus Tullius Cicero.

In the same humorous vein as her The Labors of Aeneas - What a Pain It Was to Found the Roman Race, Rose Williams puts the great Roman statesman firmly in his place, beginning with an introductory quotation from Seneca about Cicero, which Williams translates for the reader as, "He praised his own achievements not without cause but without end."

There are fewer than one hundred pages in this Bolchazy-Carducci book, although there is a companion teacher's volume which I have not seen, that presumably doubles the heft. However, one of the virtues of Cicero the Patriot is that it is short. This is a virtue because, although there may be billions of words that could be expended on Cicero's style or the pivotal events that he witnessed, longer popular biographies -- like Anthony Everitt's Cicero -- need to explain so much of the background in which Cicero was peripherally involved, that they wind up as biographies of Caesar or general histories of Republican Rome.

Cicero the Patriot stays on topic. Williams discusses Cicero's remarkable rise to power (in chapters entitled "A Star is Born," "Polishing the Gem," "Making a Name," "Getting to the Top," and "Up Through the Offices"), his term as consul and savior of the country (in "The Catiline Affair" and "The Rewards of Victory"), Cicero's precipitous fall and his hostile relations with Clodius the Beautiful (in "Judgment Day" and "Paying the Piper"), and his return to Rome, his literary career and his relations with contemporaries like his confidant Atticus, and the (other) big names, Caesar, Pompey, Mark Antony and Augustus (Octavian). Williams also chronologically presents the materials that Cicero produced in great abundance, thanks to his secretary, Tiro. She gives some advice to would-be students suffering from rising blood pressure while trying to keep straight his similarly titled De oratore, Brutus (or De Claris Oratoribus) and Orator ad M. Brutum. Not only is the presentation chronological, but she gives insight from his life's experiences at the time to show why Cicero's views in his philosophical work on friendship seem "a recipe for sainthood."

Each chapter is headed by a quotation, many of which could be summed up by the quotation from the man himself that appears on the cover: "I think you ought to know what I have accomplished." Yet despite Cicero's obvious pomposity, he has endearing traits that Williams points out. Besides the obvious virtue of being a patriot who loved his country, Cicero very willingly took the blame when it was his and admirably administered as proconsul a previously plundered province he didn't even want.

At the end of the narrative, there is an appendix which serves as a glossary of unfamiliar terms, as well as a timeline of events in Cicero's life.

Cicero the Patriot is a compact, funny, but still amazingly comprehensive introduction to the life and times of Cicero.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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