Cicero’s Biography in the Renaissance and the Rebirth of the Scholar-Citizen
By Brad Cook
Paper given at the Annual Meeting of the American Philological Association, January 2007
Introduction: In the Middle Ages the image of Cicero had become that of a reclusive, contemplative monk, writing about rhetoric in the quiet of his study. In fourteenth-century Italy, however, recently recovered texts revealed a far different portrait of Cicero as a scholar-citizen. A cultural debate ensued not only over which portrait was correct but, more importantly for contemporary Italians, which Cicero was to be praised and imitated. From the middle of the 14th century down to 1415 the debate had no decisive conclusion. In that year, however, Leonardo Bruni, himself a living scholar-citizen, wrote, with guidance from Plutarch, a lengthy, detailed biography of Cicero, his Novus Cicero. This “new” biography successfully portrayed Cicero as a scholar-citizen and supplanted the medieval monkish Cicero. Thus Bruni resolved the debate concerning Cicero’s image, but how Bruni, in fact, settled this scholarly dispute has not been sufficiently explained. I will show how, by (1) addressing the earlier arguments of the debate, (2) drawing on his own experience as a scholar-citizen, and (3) borrowing especially from Plutarch’s biography of Cicero, Bruni ended the debate once and for all.