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7 In a Roman Mirror

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Chapter Summary

The apophthegm, as Plutarch reminded emperor Trajan and as all Renaissance humanists remembered, is the truest mirror of a man's character, more eloquent than his deeds because less subject to the whims of fortune. Apophthegms are pithy sayings given currency by the great actors of history who pronounce them, and the humanists were particularly keen to collect these sayings, along with adages, and other commonplaces, and to deploy them in their own speech and writing. This chapter proposes to take the apophthegm as a key to the contested relationship between Montaigne and Cicero. In his "Consideration on Cicero" and his essay on books, Montaigne disparages Cicero's style as boring, his character as flawed, and his vanity as scandalous. Cicero can be understood from his own correspondence either as a hopeless prevaricator or as a model of independence, a non-aligned Roman who keeps his distance from either side in civil war.

Keywords: apophthegm; Cicero; Montaigne; Plutarch; Renaissance humanists; Roman Mirror

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