Monday, April 21, 2014

Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome’s Greatest Politician

An eloquent man, my child, an eloquent man, and a patriot”, was Augustus Caesar’s remark to his grandson, on Marcus Tullius Cicero. And after I have finished this book, I couldn’t but agree with him. Cicero is not just a great—or the greatest—orator in the universe, but he is also a true statesman. Cicero is not as famous as Julius Caesar or Pompey the Great, but what he did, he has done for the sake of his beloved Republic, for the country; while Caesar and Pompey did their greatness merely for satisfying their own ambition. Thanks to Anthony Everitt through this biography, we can learn much about Cicero; both his contribution to Rome and his personal life.

Everitt has interestingly started this biography by relating the famous Ides of March—the brutal murder of Julius Caesar. After Caesar died, Brutus—the conspirator leader—shouted Cicero’s name and congratulated him for the Republic’s freedom form tyranny. Caesar’s murder became, later on, a culmination point for Cicero to return to Rome’s political arena after his first fall. Soon after this opening chapter, Everitt began by describing how Rome was already in crisis when Cicero was born; and what had caused it. This is the first simple analysis I have read about how the biggest empire in the world was on the verge of ruin.

Its fault governance systems must be the one to blame; these are several examples of its ineffectiveness:
  • Republic of Rome was a state without institution; they had neither police force, nor public persecution office. These services were run by the current elected senators, which enabled them to lead the services to their own advantages. In short, they had no independent institution that could issue fair judgment for the state.
  • The Senate, who should be the advisory committee for the Consuls, was a lifetime membership (permanent); while the Consuls (the officeholders) were not. So, the Senate was in fact the ruling instrument of the Republic.
  • The complex bureaucracy was another obstacle, especially in the widespread use of veto (Consuls and Praetors could veto their colleagues or their junior’s proposals), and in too many checks and balances of a proposal. In order to restrain one’s power, Rome has created this complex bureaucracy. However, it also led to equal and individual political competition, where one could use his power to overthrow the other. In the end, they used it not for Rome’s but their own sake.

So, when Cicero was born in a countryside near Arpinum on January 3, 106 BC, the Roman Republic was already in the start of crisis. He was an intelligent child right from the beginning, and as a youngster preferred to lead intellectual than physical (military) achievements. Cicero persistently sought literary pursuits until his end of life, and he soon found that he has been born a distinguished orator. Cicero was very good in character’s assassination; his humours were often sharp and witty. Cicero was appointed Consul at 63 BC, and during his office he thwarted a conspiracy by Catilina, not with military force, but with the force of words. He was called “Father of His Country” for this, and it was his biggest achievement.

What I admire from Cicero—and made him distinguished from other famous Roman statesmen—is that he always works sincerely and consistently for the Republic. He is neither greedy nor ambitious; and his only weakness is his exaggerated boastfulness. But, I am ready to defend him by arguing that, born without traces of great ancestors, Cicero did not have any marks of family’s glory which was very important at that time. So, it makes sense that he pointed out his achievement over and over again, because it was a family pride. Moreover, Cicero reached the highest office (Consul) and became one of the most respectable Roman statesmen without money or aristocracy background. His success came merely from his own merit; his literary background and his oratory skill were on one side, while his integrity and his consistent loyalty to the Republic were on the other.

Because of his persistency in advocating Rome, he made quite a lot of opponents. The first sign of the Republic’s collapse was the rise of Julius Caesar—perhaps the most ambitious man in Rome. He has formed the first triumvirate: Caesar-Pompey-Crassus. Cicero has also been invited to join this power sharing, but he—loyal as he was to the Republic—reluctantly rejected. Later on he was banished from Rome, thanks to Clodius, and to the triumvirate who had let it pass. Cicero was desperate; during the exile he had a setback, and even suffered from mental breakdown. It is ironic that a man from outside Rome should have loved the city more than anyone else.

Cicero was finally recalled to Rome; and the city welcomed him almost like a Triumph. It was only a sign that Cicero was distinguished as an individual. He did not belong to any office, but as a personal, Cicero still had great influence. So when the established Rome was in the threat of being ruled by a dictator (either Pompey or Caesar), the Senate needed Cicero for his independence of mind. In the end, we all know what the outcome was. Nevertheless, Cicero has put his efforts to prevent it; later on he even betrayed his own principle in order to compromise with the enemy, although with a huge burden in his heart. But the Republic was finally collapsed. If only there were more conservative men in the Senate, Cicero must have had a bigger chance to succeed. But unfortunately, most of them have been slaughtered in the era of Sulla and Marius’ reign. Or if there were still some of them (like Brutus and Cassius), they were working without no method, no plan, and no thought.

It’s so pity that Cicero must fight alone for the existence of the Republic, because his enemies only thought about their own interests. Although Cicero did not succeed in maintaining the Republic, for me Cicero is still Roman’s hero; one of its best leaders. Cicero was good in administration, and so, was able to govern well. He was a great philosopher too, and the early Catholic Church even regarded him as a virtuous pagan. His thoughts about Republic were later used by American Founding Fathers.

Thanks to Anthony Everitt who has brought Cicero to us. This biography is quite an easy reading, and you would feel like reading a Roman historical tale instead of a biography. Moreover, I like how Everitt put a thorough analysis of Roman’s fault lines, in order to get a better understanding of the collapse of one of greatest empires in the universe.

A very thorough and entertaining work of history, four stars for Cicero!


I read Random House paperback edition

This book is counted as:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Liebster Award, and 11 Facts About Me

Thank you, Ruth of A Great Book Study and Ekaterina of In My Book, for nominating me for this Liebster Award!  The Liebster Award is a way of spreading the word about blogs in the vast community of book bloggers.  It’s somewhat like a chain letter or a slam book, but a lot more fun. Although Ruth and Ekaterina nominated me for my classiclit blog, I prefer to answer it here (in case you haven’t known yet, this is where I blog about history & historical fiction).

The Rules:

*Thank the blogger that nominated you and link back to their blog.
*Display the award somewhere on your blog.
*List 11 facts about yourself.
*Answer 11 questions chosen by the blogger who nominated you.
*Come up with 11 new questions to ask your nominees.
*Nominate 5-11 blogs that you think deserve the award and who have less than 1,000 followers. You may nominate blogs that have already received the award, but you cannot re-nominate the blog that nominated you.  
*Go to their blog and inform them that they've been nominated. 

Eleven facts about me:

  1. I am an only child, and I am always grateful of being one.
  2. My father is an avid reader, and that’s why I become one myself, because I have never been living in a house without books. In short, I grew up with books around!
  3. I liked drawing pictures on a drawing book when I was a kid; mostly pictures of girls, all with detailed clothes, hair styles, etc. (though that hobby faded along my coming of age). But I was always lousy in coloring, either using crayon or water colors!
  4. I was a dancer too until I was in college. I loved modernized-traditional dances, and have performed several times on local TV.
  5. I don’t like to be among a lot of people most of the time, I prefer being solitary. I love to hang around a bookstore alone, and often go to the theatre alone. *hey, who needs a company when you have a good book with you?*
  6. I work as a business assistant in a private trading company. There are only my boss and me, and an office boy. Most of the time I am alone in my office, and I am very comfortable with it. *please boss, don’t ever think of hiring someone else, I’ll do everything myself, promise! :)*
  7. I like to do various jobs, as it won’t get me bored, and I can learn many different (and often unexpected) things. The other day I learned how plywoods were made from logs, when I must provide a short article about it for one of our customers.
  8. I wear glasses since I was eight years old (and became the only kid in 3rd grade who wore glasses).
  9. I am allergic to chicken and eggs. And as I have often a problem with sore throat, I must keep off too sweet, too cold, spicy, and fried foods. It’s annoying, but it helps me a lot to stay healthier.
  10. I am a Catholic, and serve as a Lector at my local Church. Not surprising, really, eh…for an avid reader?
  11. France is my favorite country, Roman history my favorite subject, red is my color, and I think French is the most beautiful language (I studied it years ago).

Ruth’s eleven questions for me:

I was working on Ruth’s questions while finding that Ekaterina nominated me too, and as answering 22 questions would be too much for me, I decided to answer only Ruth’s. I hope you’d forgive me, Ekaterina! :) So, here they are:

1.  Share a favorite quote from a book or author.
I have a lot of favorite quotes, but the most memorable is perhaps this: "A room without books is like a body without a soul" ~Marcus Tullius Cicero. And Cicero is one of my favorite history figures.

2.  Is there a book you have disliked immensely?  Which one, and why?
I don’t remember any. Usually I am quite good in judging a book I’d like to read. And if I don’t feel comfortable from the first chapter, I will give it up for good. My biggest failure is perhaps Dracula; I could not continue it as it was too dark for me, and it really affected my soul. Perhaps having kissed by a dementor would feel like that! LOL…

3.  Why did you start blogging? Has your purpose changed?  How did you come up with the name for your blog?
To ‘capture’ my memory about certain book I have read, just as people take photos or videos of their special moments in life. I don’t really good in creating name (and don’t have the patience to do it), so it’s usually a summary of my blog’s content. This blog bears the name ‘A Glimpse to the Past’ because reading history and historical fiction is like taking glimpses of random events in the past.

4.  Have you ever counted how many books you own?  If not, estimate.
Never! I keep discarding and adding books in my collection every now and then, so I can never be sure about the number. It is perhaps more than 30 but less than 100. :)

5.  Which author have you read the most?
Definitely Agatha Christie! She was my favorite since I was in junior high school, and I don’t even know how many books I have read. I also often forget that I have read a certain title until I read the first chapter!

6.  Which book have you reread the most?
I have never reread a book more than 3 times, but perhaps Agatha Christie’s Curtain, And Then Were None, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd are among the most.

7.  Do you have a memorable childhood book? 
Tintin! I have read most of the series, they are always entertaining, and I learned many things from them, especially about countries and cultures.

8.  Have you ever imagined an actor/actress to play a character in a book you were reading?  (For example, I always thought Sharon Stone would make a great Dominique Francon in the Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.)
The only time I imagined a real actor to play a character in book was when I was reading The Great Gatsby, with Leonardo DiCaprio plays as Jay Gatsby. But that’s after I knew he would play it, though before the movie was released. Not very imaginative, eh?

9.  Is there a book you would like to see in film version, permitting they kept it true to the book. 
I am not a book-to-movie fan, but I’d really like to see Robert Harris’ Cicero series in movie version; I think I would love to feel the Roman atmosphere, and hear Cicero’s great oratories.

10.  Name a character from classic lit that you would love to be neighbors with.
Maybe Isabel Archer of The Portrait of a Lady. I admire her; she has an independent air, and I think it would be interesting to have a chat with her sometimes, if only she lived in this century! ;)

11.  What books are you avoiding, and why?
Controversial books that attack my Christian faith, such as Da Vinci Code. I haven’t read anything from Dan Brown. I have tried Digital Fortress (which is neutral) once, but got sleepy by it, so I give up on his books entirely.

Questions for my nominees:

  1. Who is your most favorite book character? Why?
  2. Do you have a full collection of books from one certain author? If yes, which author? If no, are you planning to do that?
  3. When you are starting a new book, can you tell from the beginning how much you would like it, or you can only judge after finishing it?
  4. What book do you want to reread the most right now?
  5. What was the last book you rated 5/5 stars?
  6. The longest book you’ve ever read is…. How many pages is it?
  7. What country do you like most for book setting?
  8. When buying book that has more than one edition, how do you decide which edition to pick?
  9. How do you slip time to read books during your daily activities?
  10. Do you read while traveling (when you are not driving, of course)?
  11. Do social media hinder you from reading?

I nominated these great bloggers for the Liebster Award:

Melisa @ Surgabukuku
Karen @ Books and Chocolate
Melissa @ Avid Reader’s Musings
Astrid @ Books to Share
Bzee @ Bacaan Bzee
Listra @ Half-Filled Attic