Cicero was a Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator, and the figure at the centre of Robert Harris' trilogy of novels: Dictator. But while many of us know about Cicero’s elegant oratory and fine wit, there’s a lot more to this towering historical figure
1. Simple pleasures
Although was a successful lawyer and an active politician in the Roman Republic, becoming a consul at 42, Cicero is best known for his philosophical writings. He once said, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
2. Shorthand & etc.
His slave, Marcus Tullius Tiro, served as his secretary and is credited with inventing an early form of shorthand. Some of this is still in use today, particularly etc. and &. He also wrote a multi-volume biography of Cicero, although this is now lost.
3. Tomb raider
While serving as quaestor in Sicily, Cicero discovered the tomb of the mathematician and scientist Archimedes, 137 years after his death. Its whereabouts today, however, is unknown.
4. The 30-year hitch
In order to finance his political ambitions, he married Terentia at the age of 27. Terentia was from a wealthy, noble family, but even though it was a marriage of convenience, it lasted for 30 years, with Terentia taking an active interest in Cicero’s affairs.
He was deeply suspicious of Julius Caesar, whom he regarded as a tyrant. Although he played no part in Caesar’s assassination, Brutus called out Cicero’s name as he raised his dagger, and Cicero later wrote to one of the conspirators, "How I could wish that you had invited me to that most glorious banquet on the Ides of March!”
6. Famous last words
Cicero was hunted down and murdered because of his opposition to Mark Antony. He didn’t offer any resistance to his killers, and his last words were alleged to be, "There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly.”
7. Renaissance man
A large collection of Cicero’s letters was rediscovered by the Italian scholar Petrarch in 1345. Their publication is credited with sparking off the 14-century Renaissance, a resurgence of learning based on classical Roman and Greek sources.
Listen to Robert Harris discussing his Cicero trilogy with the Reader's Digest team: