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Literature and management (6). Pro Archia Poeta of Cicero Can a good leader not be a humanist?


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Aitor Blanco Perez

Lecturer at School of Philosophy and Letters

"To be or not to be? Thirteen days ago this question could have been asked about Ukraine, but, now, absolutely not. It is obvious, we will be. It is obvious, we will be free."

On March 8, Volodimir Zelensky pronounced these words before the British Parliament. A few days earlier, in fact, the Russian invasion had posed to the Ukrainians a basic question, to be or not to be, which the most universal English writer had already written in Hamlet. Ukraine's existence was in danger and a resistance had to be undertaken in which the mediation of the Western powers could prove indispensable. Zelensky's address to a packed House of Commons would be the first of many more video conferences that the Ukrainian chief executive would deliver to curry favor with the international community and ensure its survival. These applauded speeches called for the shipment of war material, denounced commercial operations of companies that continued to collaborate with Putin, massacres... but, in addition, they included cultural references or quotations such as Shakespeare's, Churchill's "fight to the end" or, in Spain, Guernica chosen to awaken audiences and consciences.

The management of multichannel communication has been one of the most outstanding aspects of the Ukrainian president, already at the beginning of his political degree program from the television screens to his messages on Twitter and TikTok while the bombs were hitting Kiev night and day. In any of these platforms there has always been an integrating element that has underpinned this leadership so praised as fundamental and necessary before the circumstances, his ability to persuade through action and word. As Cicero insisted more than two thousand years ago, the art of oratory consists of convincing by moving and Volodimir Zelensky (together with his team) seems to have also made his own another of the reflections that the Roman politician, thinker and writer made in the work that this article intends to recommend today: Pro Archia Poeta

"Let others be ashamed if they shut themselves up in letters in such a way that, from them, they could not contribute anything to the common good or expose it to the public light [...].
Thanks to these programs of study my oratorical gifts grow and, insofar as I have them at my disposal, they have never failed my friends in the face of dangers." 

It was 62 B.C. in Rome and Cicero was defending one of those friends, Aulus Licinius Archias. The subject of the trial centered on the validity of the citizenship of a poet who, coming from Antioch, had settled in Italy when, according to his own lawyer, the peninsula "was invaded by Greek arts and disciplines". These new influences brought about far-reaching changes for Romans who were still debating between the ethnicity of their nationality or the extension of civic rights to deserving foreigners. The goal, in this case, was to demonstrate that the Greek Archias was not only a citizen by plenary session of the Executive Council right, but also that he had earned it. With this intention Cicero elaborates a speech in which he tries to present the artist as a character worthy of consideration.

In contrast to Greece, Rome had traditionally doubted all leisure activities (or otium) that were far removed from the negotium. Cicero must, therefore, defend not only a friend but also his commitment to programs of study which, according to him, "educate youth, delight maturity, enhance happy moments, offer refuge and comfort in adversity, satisfy at home, do not hinder outside, watch and travel with us". This praise of the Humanities, however, was not intended to be limited to the mere hobby staff or its spiritual pleasure, but would be contrasted in the political internship of a true leader of the Roman Republic.

The speech in favor of the poet Archias was pronounced a few months after Cicero had put an end to a conspiracy like that of Catiline that tried to put an end to his patience and consulship. That is, by the time he praises his Greek friend, the then advocate and self-confessed lover of literature had already proved himself a man of action capable of reaching the pinnacle of the magistracies in Rome. It is of great importance, therefore, that Cicero claims to have molded the exercise of his public degree program through the teachings that had inspired him the books with testimonies of ancestors "who would have remained in darkness if the light of letters did not illuminate them".

Later it would be Shakespeare who illuminated Hamlet, Picasso who illuminated Guernica with shadows and Churchill the leader who gave a halo of hope to Great Britain. They are all, in final, examples that aroused admiration and to which leaders like Zelensky, doing the common and public good of the Humanities, can refer to increase their oratory skills and continue to move audiences in the present. Cicero warned us again in his Pro Archia Poeta: "there resides in the best human being an inner feeling that, night and day, with the idea of glory stings the soul and warns him that we must not let the memory of our name be extinguished at the same time as life".