Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Today we read orations against Verres, Cataline, and Antonius, rhetorical interventions that mark three key moments in Cicero's public career. In each, Cicero is quite enjoyably hyperbolic and demonstrably self-serving, but at once he is taking real risks (for the last one of which he paid with his life) in the service of principle. While this might seem a paradoxical observation, it actually takes us to the heart of the Roman idea of the res publica, the "public thing," the substance of a happy freedom not only enjoyed but brought into existence and maintained as such, that is to say substantiated, only through and during public contention with ones peers over matters of concern. Cicero, the New Man defending old virtues, and especially the virtue of revealing himself virtuosic, revealed as well the possibility for a transubstantiation of the Homeric hero into the one who distinguished himself not through his valor in war, and in council figured as war, but through contention within and for the sake of a set of civic institutions devoted to peaceful prosperity (not that the peace was ever much in evidence or the prosperity ever widely shared). Tomorrow we turn to his famous treatise on rhetoric (actually more than one of these survive, but this is the most influential one), De Oratore.