The Cicero Homepage

Marcus Tullius Cicero

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Did Cicero Say It?

The budget should be balanced, the treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. The mobs should be forced to work and not depend on government for subsistence.

This passage is often attributed to Cicero in conservative and libertarian writings (starting, as far as I can tell, with a speech in the Congressional Record, April 25, 1968, vol. 114, p. 10635).  No specific source text is cited, and the supposed date is given inconsistently, so there is immediate reason for suspicion.  Even worse is the content.  Cicero might well agree with this passage, but you’d have to explain it to him first.  For instance, there was no budget to balance or assistance to foreign lands.  Eventually, the original source was tracked down: a novel.  The passage is from Taylor Caldwell, A Pillar of Iron (1965).  (original leg-work: letter to The Chicago Tribune (20 April 1971), John H. Collins, Professor of History at Northern Illinois University)

A room without books is like a body without a soul.

This is best known from refrigerator magnets long distributed by, but also appears in other media.  As with the above quotation, no specific source is ever given, and dates are inconsistent.  Here the origin appears to be very lose paraphrase rather than pure fiction (

Holbrook Jackson in his inspiring “Anatomy of Bibliomania” invites the reader to “agree with Cicero” on this precise point making a reference to Lubbock’s “Pleasures of Life” (published around the time when Chesterton was barely out of grade school). Lubbock, however, only informs us that “Cicero described a room without books, as a body without a soul.” In all likelihood, what he has in mind is a phrase from Att. 4.8: postea vero quam Tyrannio mihi libros disposuit, mens addita videtur meis aedibus (it is also possible that Lubbock used a secondary source).

How Did Cicero Die?

A number of stories grew up after Cicero’s death about connections to one of his assassins (one Popilius Laenas), and some of these have made it into the modern historical record.  Unfortunately, they are almost certainly all fiction.  See Matt Roller’s excellent paper: Color-Blindness: Cicero’s Death, Declamation, and the Production of History.