December 28, 2006
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Ancient Intimates

I'm having great fun with Robert Harris' Imperium . It's a fictional biography of Cicero, notionally written by Cicero's famous slave Tiro, the inventor of shorthand.

Over lunch, I pulled the Oxford Classical Dictionary off the shelf. (How many software developers have OCD on the shelf? Is this a great job or what?) Because Cicero has been taught as a model for school kids from the first century down to the present — oh, those long nights puzzling out Pro Archia!

Si quid est in me ingeni, iudices, quod sentio quam sit exiguum, aut si qua exercitatio dicendi, in qua me non infitior mediocriter esse versatum, aut si huiusce rei ratio aliqua ab optimarum artium studiis ac disciplina profecta, a qua ego nullum confiteor aetatis meae tempus abhorruisse, earum rerum omnium vel in primis hic A. Licinius fructum a me repetere prope suo iure debet.

and because Tiro did his job so well, we know quite a lot about Cicero. We have a bunch of his speeches, several volumes of his letters (many of which were not written for publication), and some of his books. We know Cicero better, in other words, than anyone else in antiquity: we see him depressed and over-excited, we seem him making mistakes.

Who is the next person who comes into detailed historical focus? Leonardo? Cosimo de' Medici? Pepys?