Introduction to Latin Literature and Cicero

The Roman Politician Cicero.

Latin literature has Greek origins, just like many other cultural attributes the Romans took from Greece. One of the earliest mentions of Greek literature being latinized was in 240 BC when Livius Andronicius wrote a Latin translation of “The Odyssey.” Aristotle and other Greek scholars often wrote rhetorics on other philosophers with whom they disagreed, and tried to disprove the opposing scholar’s point.

Greatly influenced by Aristotle’s polemics and debating, the Roman statesman Cicero confronted Catiline directly in the Roman senate and called for this notable senator to be executed without a trial because of his “crimes against the republic.” There had long been a conspiracy that Catiline had tried to overthrow the republic, but at this time, no one knew for sure. Cicero invoked “all good men” and “the people” to rise up against Catiline and have him killed. 

Persuading the Senate by calling them “gallant men,” Cicero accused Catiline of committing a capital crime and implied that he is plotting murder. Moreover, Cicero mentioned that traditionally  if anyone was thought to be rebelling against Rome, they would be swiftly put to death. He also offered to give Catiline a chance to defend himself and deny the accusations, but gave him no time to do so. 

Cicero’s speech in the Senate had specific goals: to isolate Catiline, scare him into leaving Rome, persuade the Senate to break with him, avoid him taking legal action, and warn his supporters that he was out of money. Cicero exclaimed that Catiline does not even deserve pity from the Senate. Stating that Catiline’s revolt would be put down, Cicero said that once it is finished, there will be no more threats against Rome, and warned him that Catiline will lose. 

Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers

Orestes pursued by the Erinyes (or Furies) for revenging the death of his  father Agamemnon by killing his mother Clytemnestra). From “Mythology of ...
Orestes being tormented by the “furies” after avenging his father’s death.

The Greek poet and playwright Aeschylus wrote “The Libation Bearers” as a sequel to “Agamemnon”. Its name comes from the ancient Greek religious practice of Libation, which is a basic showing of piety that you do often to appease the gods and dead humans. In the story, the dead were not being appeased because libations were not offered. Differing from “Agamemnon”, the chorus is made up of captured Trojan slaves who converted to Greek religion. 

In this play Zeus is once again in charge, yet seems to always be in the background instead of making every decision. Still, everyone praises Zeus since this was basic to Greek thought. The god Apollo is the most important of the Olympians in this play. Orestes, Agamemnon’s son, promises Apollo that he will kill his father’s murderers, but Apollo has to validate the legitimacy of this oath. He eventually does at the conclusion. There is another set of gods called the “furies” or “hounds.” They are gods of retribution and avenge people who have been murdered. Described as being relentless in their revenge, they are feared by the characters. 

One of the other vital Olympian gods in “The Libation Bearers” is Hermes who is a messenger of Zeus to the underground gods. He is known as a trickster and will sometimes change Zeus’ message to get what he wants. There are gods of the “hearth” who provide the well-being and success of each individual family, and they are the ones that must be offered Libations. Fate, time, fear, and justice are described as invisible forces or gods themselves. Like in “Agamemnon”, bloodshed is dealt with by more bloodshed; justice is constant and merciless. Fate is a large part of the story; the outcome of men’s actions depend on it. The succession of Agamemnon’s family is unclear and we don’t know if Orestes becomes the ruler, but in the end, Orestes kills his father’s murderers fulfilling the oath. 

Ethics and Imagery in Biblical Literature

Depiction of King Solomon.

In the Bible, there are several focuses. However, they all ultimately fall under the umbrella of ethics. Time and time again, the book of Proverbs states that ethics is not only the answer to the issues of life, but also that an ethical person will acquire wisdom. 

The words of God are pure and never unethical. All power of earthly rulers is given to them from God. “By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.” A king should avoid liquor or drinking and only marry a virtuous woman. She is a treasure, for she never stops serving others. 

Obviously, wisdom is vital throughout the Bible, partly because wisdom and ethics are intertwined. Those who hate wisdom love death. Wisdom speaks plainly, is the source of all wealth, foundation of civil rulership, and was the basis of creation. Solomon suggests constantly throughout Proverbs that wisdom is necessary beyond any earthly thing or pleasure. Drawing connections between wisdom and ethics is simple: a wise person will always choose the ethical choice and vice versa. Other themes in Proverbs include the self-destructive nature of adultery and fornication, and how the Lord ought to be feared. 

Proverbs contains heaps of powerful imagery. Many are metaphors for wisdom, which is described as “marrow to one’s bones,” “more precious than rubies,” and “the tree of life.” In contrast when describing those who hate wisdom, it says that they will be “swallowed by the graves,” “destruction will come upon them like a whirlwind,” “their ways are the ways of darkness,” “wisdom cries in the streets for them because they have become the bread of wickedness and the wine of violence.”

Proverbs, and the Bible in general, overwhelmingly deals with matters of ethics. Solomon continuously states that those who follow God’s laws and are ethical will be saved, but evil is suicidal to those who hate wisdom and goodness.