Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cicero Psychic

I was reading from The Harvard Classic Five Foot Shelf Of Books. The particular volume, published in 1909 by P. F. Collier & Sons, was a collection of work from Cicero and Pliny (the Younger).

The introduction to Cicero by E. S. Shuckburgh (that's Evelyn Shirley, and he's a man) talks about the great Roman orator's life.  It was a time of transition, and Cicero supported Pompey over Julius Caesar. A bad move, but Caesar was lenient and let him stick around.  Cicero supported the conspirators who assassinated Caesar, and his opposition to Mark Antony didn't work out so well.  That was the end of Cicero, but he's lived on as one of Latin's greatest stylists.

Anyway, in his intro, Shuckburgh writes:

The evils which were undermining the Republic bear so much striking resemblances to those which threaten the civic and national life of American to-day (sic) that the interest of the period is by no means merely historical.

Yes, because we all remember the parlous state of the nation in the early 1900s.

Classics are classics because they're always relevant.  When they stop becoming relevant, they stop being classics.  Facile connections to life today don't make Cicero more significant--if anything they cheapen him.  Were his thoughts so specific to 1909?  More so than, say, later decades when no doubt America would be going through other, unforeseen upheaval?

If you thought Cicero would remain relevant, you should have taken the long view. If you thought he'd be less important, than maybe you should have translated someone else.  I'm disappointed in you, Evelyn Shirley.


Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

I've always wanted a measure of the classics. I don't think I've managed six inches.

2:06 AM, November 19, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even if we grant that Evelyn was foreseeing the big blowup in 1914(OK 1917 since he limited to America), I still don't see how Cicero was relevant specifically to that period of perturbation.

4:18 PM, November 19, 2014  
Blogger LAGuy said...

My guess is Evelyn was referring to anarchist outrages, including the death of President McKinley. But there's always trouble, and always factions, so this classics expert should have stuck to the ancient world.

4:41 PM, November 19, 2014  
Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

You guys are missing it. He was living through the fructification of the Progressives, so I'd say he was spot on.

4:35 AM, November 20, 2014  

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