Cicero's Letters, A Selection (II)
Bill Long 12/1/07
Pain, Waiting and Uncertainty Regarding Tullia
The first 10 letters in the school text from 1901 are drawn from Cicero's stay at Brundisium from Sept. 48-Sept. 47 BCE. He removed to Brundisium, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, from Greece after Pompey's defeat at Pharsalus in August 48. Not until after Cicero had met with Caesar late in Sept. 47 was he free to return to his beloved estate at Tusculum, in the Alban Hills near Rome. This one year, then, was a time of great uncertainty for him. In fact, as I have mentioned elsewhere, it was a time when his daughter Tullia was going through marital problems with Dollabella (they eventually divorced late 46; Cicero blamed himself for allowing the marriage to go forward), when Cicero was in the process of calling it quits with his wife Terentia and when his future was completely up in the air.
Rather than being able to assume the air of detachment from the world and hypergraphic intensity in writing which he had from 45-44 at Tusculum, he was clearly bothered by all this uncertainty in life. Stoic philosophy, which he largely adopted as his own creed, is a very fine doctrine--when you can live in peace! But even the Stoic is buffeted by the waves and storms of life and reacts to them like any normal person would. Certainly this was Cicero's situation while at Brundisium. I want to point to his emotions (and lack thereof) in his letters from Brundisium.
Emotions with Respect to Tullia
After he had been in Brundisium, alone, for about two months, he wrote to his wife in Nov. 48 BCE regarding his situation and his concern for his daughter Tullia. I will only quote the first sentence of XIV.19 and then comment:
"In maximis meis doloribus excruciat me valetudo Tulliae nostrae."
"Along with my (other) overwhelming sufferings, I am in extreme pain over the well-being of our Tullia."
The "well-being" here is primarily her physical well-being, but we are excused if we also think it might refer to her, as well as Cicero's, mental anguish. She had married the well-connected Dolabella in 50, shortly before Cicero had made it back from his proconsular year in Cilicia (modern Turkey). Why didn't she and Terentia wait for Cicero to return before the marriage? I am not sure. Perhaps marriages in the Roman world weren't "love affairs," as we conceive of them today; they were more "political alliances" than anything else. Yet, still, it seems odd that Cicero wouldn't have had the chance to be present at the wedding.
Perhaps there was already some hostility between Cicero and Dolabella, even though Cicero could write in 49, a year after their marriage and while Italy was being wracked with unrest, that "thanks to Dolabella, you (Tullia and Terentia) can safely stay in Rome.." (XIV.18). This hostility certainly grew from 49-47, however, as Dolabella's adultery became evident. Then, in 47 as tribune, Dolabella favored a popular measure of debt cancellation (novae tabulae), the details of which I don't yet know. Cicero would have detested this pandering to the plebs. Cicero thus had many reasons to dislike his son-in-law--for both political and personal reasons.
And, in fact, there is little evidence to confirm that Cicero encouraged the marriage. He may, according to one scholar, have tried to discourage it gently, though he was away in Cilicia during mid-51 to mid-50 when the hot and heavy negotiations for Tullia's hand were taking place. Nevertheless, as only a father can do, he blamed himself for not speaking more strongly against the proposed marriage, for not putting his foot down, so to speak, to oppose it. Perhaps he is also (w)racked by his own sense of guilt because he wanted to get something out of the marriage--a higher and more secure position in the coming troubles. Since Dolabella would be a "pro-Caesar" man and Cicero a "pro-Pompey" man, all the family's bases would be covered.
Yet, when his daughter's life became miserable because of the marriage, Cicero blamed himself. His daughter was the most precious thing in the world to him; to think that he had been the instrument of terrible pain for her was almost too much for him to bear. This pain would break out in torrents after her death in Feb. 45 BCE. Cicero was a basket case for a few months thereafter--but then with renewed energy embarked upon the most prolific, and philosophically important, writing period of his life.
Cicero longed to see his daughter (but not his wife) during his sort of house-arrest in Brundisium from Sept. 48-Sept. 47. Finally, she was well enough to make the journey, and she arrived on June 12, 47 BCE. But the reunion provoked not only a feling of joy, to be sure, but the most intense inner anguish for Cicero. Very quickly can a father get to his beloved daughter's inner concerns, and so Cicero must have done so. He writes a long and convoluted sentence describing his first thoughts after their reuinion. It is from Fam. XIV.11.
"cuius (i.e Tullia) summa virtute et singulari humanitate graviore etiam sum dolore adfectus nostra factum esse neglegentia ut longe alia in fortuna esset atque eius pietas ac dignitas postulabat."
"Her consummate excellence and exceptional kindliness have aggravated my regret that my own carelessness is to blame for being in very different circumstances from what her filial affection and her position demanded."
He sees his daugher again, and is absolutely delighted, but he cannot see her, talk to her, feel with her without the deep feeling that somehow he has failed as a parent--that he has been responsible for placing her in a situation that she now has to bear. The first instinct of parents is to protect their children; how much more is the guilt, the pain, the anguish if a parent feels that he has not only not protected a child, but has let the child be exposed to something which he, because of his greater wisdom and experience in life, should have seen was dangerous for her?
A few days later Cicero again writes to his wife, closing his letter with the tender, "Tulliam adhuc mecum teneo," "I am still holding Tullia here with me." Then, early in July, he wrote another letter to his wife, in which he says, rather cryptically:
"Quid fieri placeret, scripsi ad Pomponium series quam oportuit; cum eo si locta eris, intelleges quid fieri velim," Fam. XIV.10.
"I wrote to tell Pomponius what my wishes were later than I should have done. When you have a talk with him, you will understand what I should like to be done."
Though the words are not specific, it seems almost certain that Cicero is here beginning the process which will lead to the divorce of Dolabella and Tullia (another letter, XIV. 13, written at the same time, talks about a notice of divorce to Tullia's husband, Dolabella). That divorce didn't happen until late in 46 BCE. By that time, Tullia would be pregnant, bearing Dolabella's child early in 45 BCE and then dying the next month. If you don't think there isn't a lot of stuff here for further paternal grief and guilt, you don't know human nature very well...
But let's turn now to Cicero's other problems while at Brundisium--his own uncertainty about the future and his own marriage with Terentia.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long