or, Familiarity Breeds Contempt
Did I really say, “To know Cicero is to love him”? Yes, that was me. What I meant to say...
After a hiatus, I am back to the letters of Cicero to Atticus. Really, if I finish this volume alone, it will be an accomplishment (following concurrently with the Shackleton Bailey biography). Letters to His Friends will have to wait for another time, if ever.
What I mean is, Cicero’s copiousness is his downfall. F.R. Cowell mentioned that we know no other ancient personality so well as we do Cicero’s, and that is true. Previously, as I said, I had read merely a part of what might be considered Cicero’s “Greatest Hits,” and certainly, under those conditions, “To know him is to love him.” Actually, I believe, as one grows to know him more deeply (or rather, in detail, as Cicero does not tend to burrow), it will still be possible to love him, “warts and all” as the saying goes. But I begin to see why any introduction to Cicero lists all of his character defects. He has them, they are manifold, and they are on display.
Part of it, simply, is a tad of revulsion at common humanity: as he begins his governorship of Cilicia, details of conquest emerge—the selling off of captives, the burgeoning panther trade—and it is only too easy to see human faults and foibles in undisguised form. The other part is force of his personality— “too much, too much!” I feel like crying, as he revels in his celebrity stature with some bombastic claim.
Yet he is worth knowing. To know Cicero is to know the Republic. The concluding paragraph of Tor Andrae’s biography of Muhammad floats before my mind.
In spite of everything that can be said in defense of Mohammed’s religious integrity and his loyalty to his call, his endurance, his liberality, and his generosity, we are not doing the Prophet of Islam an injustice when we conclude that this moral personality does not stand upon the same level with his other endowments; and indeed, not even upon the same level with his religious endowments. But if we would be fair to him we must not forget that, consciously or unconsciously, we Christians are inclined to compare Mohammed with the unsurpassed and exalted figure whom we meet in the Gospels, and that we cannot avoid seeing his historical personality against the background of the perfect moral ideal to which the faith of his followers tried to exalt him. And when it is measured by such a standard, what personality is not found wanting?
Hindsight is not an excuse for any (religious) apologist, even a well-intentioned one, to denigrate the past. That was not part of the Nazarene’s program.