Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cicero - Then and Now for this Reader

The other day I noticed this image on Nick's Bytes.  A very pleasing scene to one who loves books and gardens and hidden behind a quote by Cicero no less.

Until recently Cicero was one of the boring writers I read in high school during five years of Latin studies.  Now don't get me wrong.  I loved Latin as a subject. It was a twelve year old's introduction to the study of another language whose structure seemed quite "mathematical" to me and therefore appealing.  After all Latin is a language with three distinct genders, seven noun cases, four verb conjugations, six tenses, three persons, three moods, two voices, two aspects and two numbers, according to Wikipedia! It has its own set of English vocabulary to master even to study it.  Locative, ablative, declensions, etc.   

We had this terribly fierce teacher, Miss Simons.  Yes, more than fifty years later I still remember her. Every one in that class of 12 year old girls was terrified of her.   She stormed up and down the aisles picking on individuals and asking them vocabulary questions.  We kept our heads down hoping not to be called upon.  Once she asked me the word for town in Latin.  Nervously I replied, oppidum.  "Spell it!" she roared.   "O P P I D I U M," I whispered, adding an unnecessary I.  "Wrong!" she yelled.  "Stay after school for detention and write it out twenty times." 

Ah the good old days of education.   Somehow, despite this,  I continued to take Latin for five years in all, until I graduated from high school and with her as my teacher for every one of those years.  Actually I was quite good at it and I've always held that it is one of the most useful subjects I studied in school, despite Miss Simons and those very dreary (for a schoolgirl) texts by Cicero and Julius Caesar, writing about his endless battles, we had to translate. 

Back to Cicero!  I found a book for my Kindle by Robert Harris, Imperium.  Described as a novel about Cicero in the declining years of the Roman Republic, told from the perspective of his slave and scribe Tiro, it sounded intriguing so I bought it and read it with great pleasure.  I discovered it was the first book in a planned trilogy with the second, Conspirata, also available.  So I downloaded it and devoured it.  

The exploits and machinations of this famous Roman politician were indeed fascinating to me, but the third book of the trilogy is still to come.  So in the meantime I turned to Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician, by Anthony Everitt.  

What a fascinating man he turned out to be for this reader, not only as a lawyer and orator but as a politician and staunch defender of the Republic, who worked his way up the ladder of power to Consul.  He favoured Pompey over Julius Caesar whom he despised however Caesar prevailed over Pompey and Cicero was exiled from Rome for a time.  

After  Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, Cicero and Antony were the most powerful men in Rome.  But Cicero had little respect for Antony and he tried unsuccessfully to play Antony and Octavian against each other.  He ended up being proscribed as an enemy of the state.  Attempting to flee to Macedonia in December of 43 BC, he was caught and murdered, his head and hands being nailed on the Rostra in the Roman Forum.

No doubt there are still schoolchildren labouring over Cicero's words of wisdom, although not so many these days as in my time.  Fortunately his words are still valued by those better able to appreciate him than children and many of his works are widely available.  Perhaps I'll tackle those next.

The modern reader with her  whole "library" on a Kindle in her garden.
What would Cicero make of this?


jams o donnell said...

Latin was a compulsory subject for the first three years of secondary school. I took it to O level and passed but can I remember a thing now? Hardly!

Lee said...

I read a very good Cicero quote the other day...that was very appropriate for these days...but, for the moment, I've forgotten what it was! It will come back to me!!!

Moggsy said...

I remember being forced to read Shakespear at school and wondering what people saw in him. I am amaised how much his stuff has improved since then ^_^

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I loved "Imperium" too.