Course objectives

The Roman orator and intellectual Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) has been studied for a long time. He was read by Latin students in the ancient world. A graffito from Pompeii reads: “if you don’t like Cicero, you will be beaten” (CIL IV 4208, see Keeline 2018: 1, 30). If you’ve ever translated any Cicero, then you’ve made a Latin-English vocab list — we still have some of these that students in Egypt made on Cicero’s Catilinarians in the 5th c. CE. Cicero came to be known as the master orator and to be associated with freedom from tyranny, and continued to be massively influential over the centuries. The rediscovery of his works in the 14th and 15th centuries meant that Cicero permanently shaped the Italian Renaissance (Grendler 1989: 122). Because of his central place in the 18th century American educational curriculum, he profoundly influenced the intellectual thought of the American founders (Richard 2015). Not all of Cicero’s influence is positive. In the modern world, Cicero is often presented as a symbol of elitism and as a result was and still is regularly invoked in service of destructive rhetoric (Zuckerberg 2018).

Long story short, Cicero is an influential figure. He was a lawyer, a politician, a political and rhetorical theorist; he was interested in philosophy, he composed poetry, and we have hundreds of his letters, including some to and from Julius Caesar (Att. 9.6a; 9.6.2-3; Att. 10.8b). He wrote in many different genres, and was intellectually eclectic (Steel 2005: 21-48). Because we have so much of Cicero’s writing, and so little writing by his contemporaries, he is our most important historical source for the era in which he lived. His works are therefore the starting point for any historian trying to reconstruct the events of the late Republic. Cicero is an interesting source because he was a political actor in the events which he describes. But since his purposes were often rhetorical, he often deliberately warps or omits the kinds of information which we might like to have (Lintott 2008).

This class, entitled “new approaches” to Cicero will attempt to achieve that “newness” in at least two ways:

  1.  Because his corpus is so large and wide in scope, Cicero is usually studied in a compartmentalized form: i.e. students learn about “Cicero the Orator” or “Cicero the Philosopher” vel sim. In this class, we will read at least a little of each genre in which Cicero wrote (speeches, oratorical treatises, philosophical treatises, letters, poems). We will also be paying close attention to the reception of Cicero over time, and how this affects our modern readings of Cicero.
  2. For your final project, I encourage you to create a digital project which explores a specific issue (of your choice) in Cicero’s works. If you would prefer to do something more traditional, you may instead write a longer essay (10+ pages) on a specific issue (of your choice).


Before every class email me: either a short passage of Cicero which interests you or a short passage of scholarship that interests you. This is due the night before we meet. I will post your selections to the blog for us to discuss in class. You may skip sending selections three times this semester. You are exempt from this if you are presenting a Text Report or Scholarship Report.

You will do two classroom presentations over the course of the semester: (1) Text Report: an analysis of a passage of Cicero; (2) Scholarship Report: summary and comment on a scholarly work (article, book chapter). This report should be around 10 mins long, and you should produce a powerpoint and/or a handout. (If you make a handout, email it to me for printing before class.) Design your powerpoint/handout as a study guide for your classmates. See the schedule of readings for your report options.

Over the semester as we read Cicero’s works, you will develop your research question. You must decide on your topic and write a short (200-300 words) project proposal outlining your primary sources, methods, and scholarship, due after Spring Break. During the last two weeks of the semester, you will present your project to the class. Your final project is due on the last day of class: Thursday 2nd May. 


Class Presentation (1) Text Report. 15%
Class Presentation (2) Scholarship Report. 15 %
Project proposal. 10%. Due: Friday 22nd March 2019.
Project Presentation. 10%. Last two weeks of semester.
Final Project. 20%. Due: Thursday 2nd May 2019.
Participation. 30%. Of this, 5% = selections.

Extra credit:
up to + 2%: 1-5 tweets on the hashtag #newcicero
up to + 4%: 10+ tweets on the hashtag #newcicero