Life of Cicero, 3

Plutarch  translated by Bernadotte Perrin

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3After he had finished the studies of boyhood, he attended the lectures of Philon the Academic, whom, above all the other disciples of Cleitomachus, the Romans admired for his eloquence and loved for his character. At the same time he consorted with Mucius Scaevola, a statesman and leader of the senate, and was helped by him to an acquaintance with the law; and for a little while he also did military service under Sulla in the war against the Marsians.[4] 2Then, seeing that the commonwealth was hurrying into factions, and from factions into unlimited monarchy, he betook himself to a retired and contemplative life, associated with Greek scholars, and pursued his studies, until Sulla got the mastery and the state appeared to be somewhat settled.[5]

About this time Chrysogonus, a freedman of Sulla’s, put up at public auction the estate of a man who, as it was said, had been put to death under proscription, and bought it in himself for two thousand drachmas.[6] 3Then Roscius, the son and heir of the deceased, was indignant and set forth clearly that the estate was worth two hundred and fifty talents, whereupon Sulla, enraged to have his actions called in question, indicted Roscius for the murder of his father, Chrysogonus having trumped up the evidence. No advocate would help Roscius, but all avoided him through their fear of Sulla’s cruelty, 4and so at last, in his destitution, the young man had recourse to Cicero. Cicero’s friends encouraged him to undertake the case, arguing that he would never again have a more brilliant or a more honourable opportunity to win fame. Accordingly, he undertook the defence of Roscius,[7] won his cause, and men admired him for it; but fearing Sulla, he made a journey to Greece, after spreading a report that his health needed attention. 5For in fact he was spare and lean, and owing to a weakness of the stomach could only with difficulty take a little light food late in the day; his voice, however, was full and strong, but harsh and unmodulated, and since, owing to the vehemence and passion of his oratory, it was always forced into the higher tones, it made men apprehensive for his health.

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  • [4] 90-88 B.C. It was under Pompey, however, that Cicero served (Phil. xii. 11, 27).

  • [5] In 82 B.C.

  • [6] In translating Cicero's "duobus millibus nummum," Plutarch erroneously reckons in denarii (which were equivalent to drachmas, or francs) instead of in sestertii (worth only one-quarter as much).

  • [7] See the oration pro Roscio Amerino.

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