16 May, 2008

My poor Cicero

I have watched a few DVDs of the second season of Rome, that celebration of modern vulgarity retrojected back into the 1st century BC. I remain disappointed in the way they treat Cicero. Watching the series, you'd never know that:

  • Over a period of two years, Cicero delivered fourteen long speeches critical of Mark Antony, not one.
  • Cicero delivered the first speech himself in the Senate. He did not remain home out of fear of Antony's reaction. It was Antony who failed to attend.
  • This speech occurred one day after Antony had sent armed men to drag him from his house and force him to appear in the Senate. The business that day had been to deify Cæsar, and Cicero wanted not merely to oppose the motion—he wanted not even to appear.
  • Cicero wasn't born into the upper classes, but was relatively low-born in comparison to men like Cæsar and Antony.
  • Cicero was not so much well-connected (although he was) as well-spoken. There's a reason that his speeches were saved and studied for thousands of years.
    I myself, indeed, am a man who have at all times despised that applause which is bestowed by the vulgar crowd, but at the same time, when it is bestowed by those of the highest, and of the middle, and of the lowest rank, and, in short, by all ranks together, and when those men who were previously accustomed to aim at nothing but the favor of the people keep aloof, I then think that, not mere applause, but a deliberate verdict.
    Can you imagine a modern politician saying anything like that? Yet Cicero would subsequently receive the applause of all the ranks, who shouted down his critics by pointing out that he had never done anything against the Republic, but had always worked to preserve it.
  • You will not find anything in the first Philippic tantamount to calling Antony a drink-sodden, sex-crazed wretch (or whatever they put in Cicero's words in the show). The Senators did not walk out in fear of Antony's reaction. As noted, Antony wasn't even present, so he could not possibly have seized the scroll and beat the reader to death.
  • You would never know that Cicero was, by this time, a broken man. He had never recovered from the death of his daughter Tullia.
    I plunge into the dense wild wood early in the day and stay there until evening. I have lost the one thing that bound me to life.
The creators of the show claim that they are striving for "authenticity" and not "accuracy". At this rate I am wondering how authentic Cicero's death will be.

I should care less, but I don't. The number of comments I find online praising the show's historical accuracy are depressing. I understand that liberties have to be taken for entertainment, but these are not mere liberties.


Brandon said...

Do you happen to have the reference for the second Cicero quote handy?

jack perry said...

I found it on Wikipedia. It comes from a 1940s book called This Was Cicero by a fellow named H. J. Haskell. They say it comes from a letter to Atticus.

We don't seem to have a copy of the text in our library but there are several texts by a Henry Joseph Haskell.

jack perry said...

Ack—the texts by Haskell appear to be about Rome. For example, The new deal in old Rome; how government in the ancient world tried to deal with modern problems.