Exile, res publica, and Cicero’s Republic of Letters

Amanda Wilcox

            After the demise of republican government at Rome, Cicero urged his likeminded correspondents to keep the res publica alive in their studies (e.g., Fam. 9.2, to Varro). In this paper, I trace Cicero’s progress from 48 to 45 BC towards restoring the republic in words rather than in reality. I focus especially on his letters written to defeated Pompeians in 46 BC.

            In 48 BC, Cicero’s son-in-law Dolabella urged him to find somewhere he might live undisturbed, in voluntary exile (Fam. 9.9). We cannot pinpoint a moment when Cicero unyoked the idea of the republic from the city of Rome,  but Dolabella’s recommendation "to be where the republic actually is, rather than to find ourselves…in a void," may have contributed to Cicero’s later explanation for his return to Italy in 48: "I came home, not because the conditions for life were very good, but because if there were to have been any form of a republic I would be as if living in my country, and if not, it would serve as a place of exile (Fam. 7.3)."

This letter to M. Marius (Fam. 7.3) and others addressed ad familiares in 46 BC expand on ideas that Cicero put forth in the Paradoxa Stoicorum, which he also wrote in that year. In that work, Cicero argues that the wise man cannot be threatened with exile, for he is a citizen of the whole world (18). In the letters from this period, Cicero offers the virtuous autonomy afforded by this disjunction of the republic and its citizens as a consolation to his correspondents and to himself. I examine letters written in 46 BC to M. Marius (Fam. 7.3), M’. Curius (Fam. 7.28), M. Terentius Varro (Fam. 9.2) and to C. Trebonius (Fam. 15.20) to show how Cicero separates the idea of res publica from Rome, and re-envisions it as an ideal state that exists within a community of letter-writing friends.

In conclusion I consider the effects of Cicero’s redefinition of exile and res publica on the development of Roman epistolography. The exchange of letters among friends could provide a virtual forum. There, good men could exercise their civic virtue without fear of repercussions for espousing republican ideas, but also without expectation of achieving the desired results of real political action.

                                                                                                Topic code: LN

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