Letters From Cicero To Atticus: Insight Into The Lives Of Roman Scribae
“Every man can tell how many goats and sheep he possesses but not how many friends”. Marcus Tullius Cicero Titus Pomponius was neutral both in character and in policy. Perhaps this was his natural disposition or maybe it was the enduring fear and threat that he had experienced during the violent Sullan proscriptions, but whatever the cause, Cicero saw his friend Atticus as trusted, fair minded and safe – and in Republican Rome these were rare and highly valuable commodities. The cognomen ‘Atticus’ was a personal title that he used reflecting the 20 or so years that he spent in Athens – Atticus – the Athenian. Largely friends with everyone, this was less due to any emotional need for a social network and more to do with an intellectual interest in Epicureanism as a philosophy and his engaging personality. As important as anything was that he maintained a position where he was a threat to no one.
The Young Cicero Reading by Vincenzo Foppa (1464) (Public Domain)
It was due to his travels away from Rome, a place he visited, but rarely stayed for any length of time, that one finds Cicero’s letters, tracking Atticus down in his various pursuits or homes as he moved around the growing Roman world, watching events from a safe distance and doing his own share of writing about Roman history, how to manage a large fortune and his Epicurean philosophy. Central to Epicureanism was, and is, the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. For the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who founded his teachings around 300, the essence of this world view is summed up in a short poem by one of his followers Philodemus: “ Four part cure: Don’t fear God, Don’t worry about death; What is good is easy to get, and What is terrible is easy to endure”.
This was not membership of a philosophy devoted to a hedonistic lifestyle – far from it – it was more a value judgement in everyday life about avoiding those things that bring pain and suffering and instead realizing the true meaning of life, which is to enjoy the opportunity, therefore, the relevance of what Atticus felt and believed shaped his relationship with Cicero and thus permeated his responses to Cicero’s letters. Often Cicero read with frustration what seemed like childlike innocence on the part of Atticus when compared to the daggers and cuts of political life in Rome, and responded tussling with Atticus over his advice and sometimes showing his irritation that he did not see things his way.
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Taken from The Life of Cicero, Lessons For Today From Rome’s Greatest Orator by Philip Kay-Bujak, Pen and Sword
Top Image: Cicero with his friend Atticus and brother Quintus, at his villa at Arpinum by Richard Wilson (1771) (Public Domain)
By: Philip Kay-Bujak