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A Partial Selection
on 28 September 2009
Cicero perhaps doesn't need introducing. He was a powerful politician of the last decades of the Roman Republic, the 70s to the 40s BC. Originally a lawyer and an orator, he made his name prosecuting corrupt figures of the senatorial establishment, before joining the conservative camp against the populist tribunes and against Caesar. Cicero was consul in 63BC. His writings are massive and are one of the period's key historical sources, even if obviously not unbiased. He also wrote a set of philosophical treatises.
This edition contains only a tiny portion of the 800 or so letters, countless speeches, works on the constitution, on laws, and on moral questions that Cicero produced. The selection, furthermore, is problematic. The editors have labelled the larger section, comprising political texts, 'Against Tyranny' (which they also call, anachronistically, 'totalitarianism'). This section includes the Verrine indictment and speeches in defiance of Marc Antony, glossing over Cicero's switching to the side of Verres' friends in the intervening decades. Moreover, the editors avoid mention of Cicero's contentious role, as consul, in using extra-judicial means to repress the Catilinarian conspiracy. The Catilinarian speeches, perhaps his best known, are essential to an honest portrait of Cicero's politics; they are missing from this edition. The philosophical, second section likewise aims to portray Cicero as a grand old moral figure, comprising only On Duties and On Old Age. It misses fancier but interesting essays such as On Divination (Cicero was also an augur, an official soothsayer) and On the Nature of the Gods. The selection of letters, finally, is interesting, though only for the reader with good basic knowledge of their background (the editors' notes don't quite suffice).
Cicero's style is easy to read. Without necessarily wanting to reach for the multiple tomes of the complete Loeb edition, you may consider browsing for a meatier sample of Cicero's political writings, perhaps the Oxford Classics, and a separate selection of the treatises and letters.