Moments in the Correspondence of Cicero to Atticus
Nothing has led me to slip into the anti-Ciceronian camp. Continuing on with the Penguin, I find nothing to displace my sense of charm from earlier readings. The sweep of his career has its historical trajectory—no doubt that is what gives value to the book and allowed his earlier letters to be perishable. Yet I find myself admiring some of the smaller moments.
From ostracism or banishment he writes:
"My enemies have robbed me of what I have, but not of what I am." (6 April 58)
He counted on Atticus for much. Too bad his friend's letters do not appear to have survived—he was not a man of politics yet an astute observer and well-connected.
“You must forgive me here. I am reproaching myself far more than you, and if I do reproach you it is as my alter ego; also I am looking for someone to share the blame.” (Thessalonica, 17 August 58)
Cicero counted on him for news:
“Your letters have never made me so hopeful as other people’s, and yet my hopes have always been even fainter than your letters.” (Thessalonica, 15 September 58)
“When I leave there for your place I shall let you know, and do you please write everything to me, good and bad, in the fullest detail. Results, not hopes, are what I expect now, results or nothing.” (Dyrrachium, 25 November 58)
His fortunes turned, however; while the text does not make it explicitly clear (oh for an annotated edition!) I believe even his condemned property was restored to him, if not without hassle in rebuilding.
"My heart is high, higher even than in my palmy days, but my purse is low."
“I returned to Rome for Fonteius’ benefit on 9 July, and went to the theatre. To begin with, the applause was loud and steady as I entered—but never mind that, I am a fool to mention it.” (Rome, 27 July 54)
It gives you a sense of his character. Far from a perfect man, Cicero was able to rise above himself at critical junctures—hence his enduring interest to us. One finds minute windows into how business was conducted in the affairs of state. The republic, of course, was breaking apart; but one person of integrity occasionally mentioned is Cato:
“I think these elections are likely to drag on. The tribunician candidates have taken an oath to conduct their campaign with Cato as umpire. Each of them has deposited HS 500,000 with him on the understanding that anyone found guilty of impropriety by Cato shall be forfeit his deposit, which will be distributed among his rivals.” (Rome, 27 July 54)
In spite of misgivings, it was not Cicero's way to take a passive part in politics (except as tactically necessary), and so he was careful what he said to whom, confiding in Atticus more than he would in another correspondent. (Though I can see the wisdom in wanting to read all the letters chronologically, I'm not sure that I will want to undertake Letters to His Friends next.)
“If I write to you less often than I used, I feel sure you won’t think it is because I have forgotten my old-established habit. But as your addresses and routes seem to be quite uncertain, I have given no letters to travellers to Epirus or Athens or Asia or to anyone at all unless he his on his way to you personally. Mine are not the sort of letters which can miss their destination and no harm done. They contain so many secrets that I don’t usually trust them even to my clerks for fear something might leak out.” (Rome, 1 October 54)
After a description of events for Atticus, who was away from Rome:
“You’ll wonder how I take all this. Pretty coolly, I assure you, and I plume myself highly on doing so. My dear friend, not only have we lost the essence of the free state—even the outward complexion and aspect it used to wear has gone. There is no Republic any longer to give me joy and solace. Can I take that calmly? Why yes, I can. You see, I have the memory of the proud show she made for the short time that I was at the helm, and the thanks I got in return. My withers are unwrung by the by the spectacle of one man all-powerful, which chokes the persons who found it distasteful that I should have any power at all. I have many consolations. All the same, I do not move away from my position, but turn back to the life that is most congenial, to my books and studies. The labour of pleading is compensated by the pleasure that oratory gives me. My house in town and my places in the country are a source of delight. I do not remember the height from which I fell but the depth from which I have risen. If I can have my brother’s company and yours, then so far as I am concerned these people can go to the devil. I can philosophize and you can listen. That place in my mental anatomy which used to contain spleen grew a tough skin long ago. Providing only that my private and domestic give me pleasure, you will find my equanimity quite remarkable. It largely depends, believe me, on your return. There is no one in the world with whom I hit it off quite so happily.” (Rome, between 24 October and 2 November 54)
Just how bad was the political landscape turning?
“No, no! Hurry back to Rome, come and look at the empty husks of the real old Roman Republic we used to know. For example, come and see money distributed before the elections tribe by tribe, all in one place openly, see Gabinius acquitted, get the smell of a Dictatorship in your nostrils, enjoy the public holiday and the universal free-for-all, behold my equanimity, my amusement, my contempt for Selicius’ 10%, and yes, my delectable rapprochement with Caesar.” (Rome, end of November 54)
A footnote indicates that Selicus' "10%" may have been actually 8-1/3% according to what Cicero was trying to say; but this kind of detail escapes me. A bilingual text with annotations would soothe my curiosity, but—even though it is unlikely I shall ever walk this way again—it is nice to pick up what details I can although I must miss others. I have read till a point where Cicero has been granted a governorship in Syria (I believe), and is now en route:
“Well, I have answered all your points—no I almost forgot, there’s your shortage of paper. That’s my funeral, if it means that you write less to me for lack of it. Do take a couple of hundred sheets, though my own parsimony in the matter will be evident from the way I have cramped this page.” (Beneventum, 12 May 51)