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Cicero was the greatest lawyer of the Roman republic. In fact, he was probably one of the greatest lawyers in the history of the world. While every generation seems to get a new biography of Cicero, Anthony Everitt has offered up a barn burner. If you care about the law, if you care about our republican form of government, and if you are shaking in your boots about the manner in which our democracy currently conducts its affairs, Everitt’s book is for you. The work is nothing less than a case study of liberty lost by the breakdown of traditional institutions and by the failure of the citizens to respond and adjust to new challenges. The story begins in 106 B.C., when Cicero was born in Arpinum, some 70 miles south of Rome. His father, while well-to-do, was on the periphery of the aristocracy that controlled the republic and the empire through its membership in the senate. Cicero was educated with a group that included Julius Caesar and Atticus. Atticus became a lifelong friend, and hundreds of letters from Cicero to Atticus survive. The Fateful Years Cicero’s skills as an advocate in the courts, along with his passion for the constitution and the republican form of government � all of which were significant factors in many of his cases � created a great demand for his legal services. Naturally, favorable results begat more cases. Success as a lawyer brought him the accumulation of vast wealth and public office. The culmination of his civic career came with his election to the position of consul in 63 B.C. Christian Meier, in his 1982 biography of Caesar, calls 63 B.C. one of the most “fateful years” in the history of Rome. The constitution of the republic was under challenge. And what had served Rome, the city-state, for centuries was not functioning as well for a world empire. Generals, such as Pompey, and other strongmen threatened the senate’s constitutional role as well as its independence. Another disaffected group attempted a coup d’�tat, which Cicero exposed. He had the perpetrators executed (without due process), at a time when capital punishment was generally outlawed by the republic. Cicero’s conduct was to haunt him throughout the rest of his career � and through history. After his term as consul, Cicero became a senior member of the senate for life, but failed to establish a personal power alignment � whether with Caesar, Pompey, or anyone else � to influence events materially or to preserve the constitution. After a band of senatorial assassins killed Caesar on March 15, 44 B.C., they hailed Cicero in the senate chambers, still wearing their bloody togas and hoisting daggers. But Octavius (the future Augustus Caesar) and Marc Antony then waged their successful civil war and installed a monarchy. Cicero fought their victorious legions with words, delivering a series of speeches in the Forum on behalf of liberty, the constitution, and the republic. But it didn’t work. “Come Here, Soldier” Cicero was executed by the forces of Antony and Octavius (now Octavian) following their civil war victory. He met his fate with dignity. Everitt sets the scene from the perspective of Cicero’s executioner, as the latter approached the condemned man: “He looked terrible: he was covered in dust, his hair was long and unkempt, his face pinched and worn with anxiety. He drew aside the curtain of his litter a little and said: ‘I am stopping here. Come here, soldier. There is nothing proper about what you are doing, but at least make sure you cut off my head properly.’ . . . He stretched his neck as far as he could out of the litter and [his throat was slit]. It took three sword strokes and some sawing to detach the head, and then the hands were cut off.” Cicero had been put on Octavian’s hit list, in part, because of a quip construed, maybe inaccurately, as seditious. Of course, Cicero was punning. While it is beyond my competency to explain the force of his Latin pun in English, if you must have your head hacked off, having it done for a good (or bad) pun, as well as for championing liberty and constitutional government, makes for a hero in my book. Random House, $25.95; 362 pages Wayne W. Whalen is a partner in the Chicago office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. E-mail: [email protected]

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