"The Most Odious Man in History"?
"To know him is to love him" did I say? Yesterday when I posted that I didn't realize how loaded of a statement I was making.
Though not done with my Shotter yet—I'm finding it to follow the Warmington in most particulars (slightly less well edited, as mention seems to keep popping up of something that was already brought up in a previous chapter, as though it were new; and here and there economics inferences seem to have been made based more on modern-day preconceptions than from the sources, but all in all a fine read)—I did read the front matter of Cicero's Letters to Atticus (Penguin edition) translated by D.R. Shakleton Bailey. He says, "No other antique personality has inspired such venomous dislike" and goes on to elaborate (even Mommsen couldn't stand him).
So, my previous readings of Cicero were mostly speeches—from among the many volumes edited by Michael Grant (also Penguins) but no single edition read solidly through: a sort of smattering of "greatest hits" as it were.
"'The City, the City, my dear Rufus—stick to that and live in its full light! Residence elsewhere—as I made up my mind in early life—is mere eclipse and obscurity to those whose energy is capable of shining in Rome.' The gusto and unmistakable note of enthusiasm in these words ring down the ages through the 2,000 years that divide the man who wrote them from our own time." This was from F.R. Cowell opening the first chapter of his Cicero and the Roman Republic which I read some time ago (also Penguin).
His Foreword stated: "With the beginning of the year 1959 Cicero's fame entered its twenty-first century. It is given to few human beings to remain a figure of interest, still remembered and still admired, two thousand years after their death, but such is the singular quality of Cicero that he and Julius Caesar alone among the Romans of the Republic have so far evoked such commemoration."
These two excerpts give you some sense of my feelings toward Cicero, which were obviously colored by them (and presumably other things Michael Grant said), as well as by his own writing and his own actions.
It is not something that I was particularly interested in, but Shackleton Bailey wrote a book, Cicero, which (in his words) "may be regarded as a biographical and historical companion to the correspondence." Given that I hope to undertake his Letters to Atticus (which is a hefty volume) I thought maybe I'd better see if a cheap copy was available. There was, and also this review by Laura Knight-Jadczyk:
Shack is way too easy on Cicero. He tries to understand him as an ordinary neurotic when it is obvious that Cicero's sick brain belonged firmly in the category of psychopathology. Better to read Jerome Carcopino's "Cicero: The Secrets of His Correspondence" for a more accurate picture of the most odious man in history. It's a shame that Western civilization and history has been poisoned by this filthy minded man and it's time to wake up and smell the coffee.
The book referred to, Secrets of His Correspondence, had a review going into greater detail by the same hand:
Another set of books to definitely read in respect of the history we are taught about Caesar: Jerome Carcopino's "Cicero: The Secrets of His Correspondence". Absolutely devastating to know the true character of the one on whom we have depended for 2K years about who and what Caesar was. I knew already that he was a dispicable egotist and probably a schizoidal psychopath, but this book lays him out like nothing I ever imagined.
The problem is that Cicero's correspondence is usually divided into volumes based on who it is to or from. It is only in reading it chronologically and remembering what that slimy creature wrote here and there and connecting the dots that you are able to put the puzzle together. Carcopino has done it. Cicero was, as Carcopino says, the most odious creature who ever lived.